Unmissable cultural attractions in Cornwall
From the historic Pendennis Castle in Falmouth to the modern Penlee House Gallery & Museum in Penzance, Cornwall is a creative hub of museums and galleries of all shapes and sizes, perfect for your staycation by the coast.
Beautiful beaches, towering cliffs and idyllic harbour towns: Cornwall is the ideal spot for a UK staycation, with something for everyone.
Its wild and rugged coastline has served as inspiration for countless artists and makers, from the renowned sculptor Barbara Hepworth to the Cornish fisherman-turned-painter, Alfred Wallis. Arguably England’s creative corner, the region is home to a number of thriving arts schools and intriguing coastal galleries, from the majestic Tate St Ives to the picturesque Penlee House Gallery & Museum in Penzance.
With dramatic views, delicious food and a whole host of activities on offer, Cornwall is the perfect cultural retreat. Pop by the gorgeous fishing village of Port Isaac, location of feel-good flick Fisherman’s Friends (2019), or swing by popular attractions such as the Eden Project or St Michael’s Mount.
Grab your bucket and spade and combine a trip to this iconic seaside location with some much-needed art and culture – here are just a few fantastic options to get you started.
Explore Cornwall’s rich maritime history right on Falmouth’s famous harbour. With interactive displays and a huge collection of objects on fishing, smuggling and rescue at sea, the museum promotes the understanding of small-boat culture and its place in people’s lives through the ages. Combine a visit here with nearby Pendennis Castle, or one of Falmouth’s beloved beaches, Gyllngvase or Swanpool.
The striking white facade of Tate St Ives on Porthmeor beach is reason enough to visit this coastal art hub. The gallery has a focus on post-war British modernism and features work by artists who lived and worked in St Ives, such as Alfred Wallis, Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth. Major exhibitions take place year-round, and there is nearly always a show to see featuring work by major national and international artists. Other things to do in St Ives include catching a boat to Seal Island, surfing at Porthmeor beach or visiting the neighbouring Barbara Hepworth Museum & Sculpture Garden.
Famous for its musical pirates, Penzance reportedly has one of the mildest climates of anywhere in the UK. It’s also home to this fantastic modern art gallery and museum, which focuses on work made by painters belonging to the Newlyn School of artists. Artists associated with the school include the pioneering painter Laura Knight, whose colourful Cornish landscapes paint a vivid picture of the dramatic coastline. Penzance also has an array of coastal paths and gardens to explore, plus you can walk in the footsteps of the Poldark characters, as the BBC drama is just one iconic programme filmed on location here.
Housed in Trewyn Studios in St Ives where Barbara Hepworth once lived and worked, the sculpture garden contains many of the artist’s signature large-scale bronze pieces, several of which remain in the same position she placed them in herself many years ago. A leading figure in 20th-century British sculpture, Barbara Hepworth is also synonymous with the region of Cornwall, the place where she created some of her most inspiring works. The studio is just a short walk from Tate St Ives and the town’s quaint harbour.
This hilltop Tudor castle was commissioned by Henry VIII in the mid-1500s and played a major part in the first and second world wars. The castle has spectacular views over the ocean in Falmouth – be transported back to wartime Cornwall and scan the horizon for ships, experience the sights and sounds of battle, or pop to the café for a cup of tea and simply admire the incredible view.
Located in Truro, Cornwall’s only city, the Royal Cornwall Museum explores and celebrates the rich history of the county. There is a substantial collection of minerals rooted in Cornwall’s prominent mining and engineering heritage, plus fine art by artists such as Hogarth, Constable and Rossetti. In Truro you can also visit the charming Victoria Gardens and the city’s grand Victorian cathedral.
Nestled in the woods close to the River Tamar, which borders Cornwall and Devon, this stunning Tudor house could have been plucked straight from the pages of a whimsical fairytale. The house retains its striking medieval features and there are wrap-around green gardens, a working mill and historic quay on the estate to explore. And, the Tamar Valley is an area of outstanding natural beauty, with boundless countryside perfect for long walks and admiring jaw-dropping views.