Top 10 Museums to Visit in Cornwall

Cornwall’s wild coastline, rugged moors and general bewitching atmosphere have influenced and inspired a unique culture and history and contemporary way of life. From artists and seafarers to natural resources, the county has a wealth of fascinating tales to tell through its many diverse museums. Whether you’re interested in smuggler lore, the communications revolution or inspired Cornish artists, we’ve rounded up the top 10 best Cornish museums for all ages.

1. National Maritime Museum Cornwall, Falmouth

Where can children learn all about monsters of the deep, from a terrifying Feejee mermaid to the spindly legs of a giant sea spider? Where can children board a chopper, dress as a pilot and play a virtual lifeguard? At the National Maritime Museum Cornwall, so climb aboard. Kids can also celebrate Britain’s sailing heritage, see boat building in progress, watch harbour wildlife in the underwater gallery and climb to the lookout. Afterwards, take a trip on the St Mawes Ferry to visit Pendennis and St Mawes Castle – keep your eyes peeled for seals on Black Rock or that elusive pod of dolphins – and grab some pasties for lunch on the beach.

2. PK Porthcurno, Penzance

For children (and adults) of the internet age, PK Porthcurno is a fascinating deep-dive into life before computers and mobile devices. Porthcurno has a unique place in history: it is where the undersea telegraph cables that linked Britain with every corner of the world came ashore. Sometimes called the ‘home of the Victorian internet,’ this beautiful Cornish cove also played a vital role through wartime – it even has an unexploded bomb on site, dropped on the telegraph station by the Luftwaffe. Even more exciting are secret underground tunnels, hidden behind bomb-proof doors, and trails with codes to crack. The museum offers masses of hands-on science exhibits, games and interactive installations, including things to make and take home. You can even send a telegram from the gift shop. Don’t miss the free sculpture gardens and the famous cable hut on Porthcurno’s beach. Refresh yourself at the PK Cafe, open until 31 October.

3. Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden, St Ives

For a remarkable insight into the world and outlook of one of Britain’s most revered 20th- century artists, head to the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden in St Ives. This almost tropical space is where trees, plants, shrubs and sculpture live in perfect harmony. Children will love exploring the sculptures  – one bronze shape is big enough to enter – and adults will enjoy learning about the former home, studio and garden of the artist, where she lived and worked from 1949 until her death in 1975. You can peer into her studio and see the tools she loved to use, all her chisels, saws and hammers, as well as her white work apron and a set of unfinished works. Next door is the Tate gallery, for those who want to enjoy more British – and international – art from 1500 to the present day.

4. Royal Cornwall Museum, Truro

Truro’s repository of Cornwall’s history and its cultural heritage is fascinating. The extensive collections at Royal Cornwall Museum range from stone age Cornwall to contemporary art, telling stories across cultures from the last 10,000 years. Explore Bronze Age Cornish gold, Roman forts, industrial growth and Cornwall’s mining heritage. Discover artefacts from Greek, Roman and Egyptian civilisations, including an unwrapped Egyptian mummy, as well as dinosaur remains, fossils, a bird display including the Cornish Chough, and millions-of-years-old minerals.

5. Penlee House Gallery & Museum, Newlyn

Penlee House was originally a Victorian villa, home to the Branwell family. It now houses a delightful museum and art gallery, specialising in west Cornwall’s rich cultural heritage, in particular the Newlyn School artists, who were famous for painting outdoors, ‘en plein air’. Newlyn’s light drew artists from far and wide, who became fascinated with the local fishermen’s way of life, immortalising it in their work. This autumn, Penlee House will be celebrating the history of Newlyn’s Anchor Studio, built especially for Stanhope Forbes, the leading figure of the Newlyn School.

6. Wheal Martyn Museum, St Austell

Who knew that china clay was Cornwall’s largest mining industry, and not tin? At Wheal Martyn Museum, find out all about how we use china clay in our everyday lives and discover the historic buildings, machinery and vintage vehicles and artefacts that have shaped Cornwall’s landscape over the past 250 years – the reason for the ‘white pyramids’ that surround St Austell. Follow the historic trail or the nature trail, which cover everything from water wheels to wildlife on the 26 acre site.

7. Geevor Tin Mine, Land’s End

Have you ever wondered what it was like to be a miner? Geevor is an outstanding and eye-opening interactive experience, where you can actually visit a real mine and go deep underground to see how men and boys would have carried out their subterranean work between 1911 and 1990. Situated in Pendeen on a dramatic stretch of Cornish coastline, Geevor also has an interactive Hard Rock museum, abandoned buildings to explore at your own pace and plenty of family activities and events all year round.

8. The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, Bocastle

Why did people seal a mouse into a block of wax? Which charms did people use to increase fertility? What would you do with a Get Lost Box? How would a Fart Bottle help with trapped wind? And why might you strip the lead from a church roof and drive a nail through it? ‘In the Land of the Bucca’ shows some of the many rich and strange stories from ancient Kernow to modern Cornwall. This ‘cabinet of curiosities' exhibition runs alongside the largest collection of witchcraft-related artefacts held anywhere in the world.

9. Shipwreck Treasure Museum, Charlestown

As you’d expect from a county mostly bordered by sea, Cornwall has experienced a lot of shipwrecks in its time. The Shipwreck Treasure Museum brings together stories of life and loss at sea, the lure of the search and the reveal of the find. Weave your way through 8,000 finds from over a hundred wrecks. See the only intact barrel of coins ever recovered from a wreck, feel the weight of a cannon ball and imagine the devastation wrought in battle at sea. Then wander around Unesco world heritage site, Charlestown, to get a real taste of Cornwall’s rich and mysterious seafaring heritage.

10. The Dark Walk, Bodmin Jail

This spooky tour is spine-chilling, so leave the small children at home! Older children and adults will be thrilled with Bodmin Jail’s ‘Dark Walk’, an immersive and interactive historical experience that transports you back to Cornwall’s murky past, as you see what life would have been like in an 18th- and 19th-century prison. Hear haunting stories about smuggling, mining and the everyday hardships facing Cornwall’s poorest people, including tales from infamous prisoners. And if that isn’t scary enough, return for more after-dark activities – there are paranormal tours, scary cinema nights and even an all-night experience in which you can explore paranormal phenomena at the jail.