If you are searching for things to do in Helston, I’m pretty well qualified to offer some suggestions. I lived just out of the town for six months, and in this time I got to know what’s on offer pretty well. Although Helston doesn’t have the big reputation of St Ives or Newquay, it is a friendly, approachable town – and there are plenty of Helston attractions.
Unlike some of Cornwall’s towns, Helston is first and foremost somewhere people live. I actually love this about it; it’s real Cornwall all year round, not just in the summer months. That said, the number of holiday lets in the area mean that you certainly won’t be the only person visiting Helston!
The town itself is pretty well set up if you need anything. It has a well-equipped high street and plenty of supermarkets (including Lidl, my favourite grocery store in London and budget heaven). Therefore, it’s a great base for where to stay in Cornwall. Once you’re there, you’ll certainly want to check out some of the things to do in Helston.
History of Helston
Although parts of Helston look quite modern, the town is actually very historic. The earliest known mention of it is actually to ‘Henliston’ in the famous Domesday Book, which surveyed England in the 11th century. At the time, Helston was the largest town in West Cornwall.
That said, Helston is said to be far older – with many believing it was an ancient port town, although this has never been conclusively proven.
The name is believed to come from Cornish hen lis, or ‘Old Court’. Try as I may, I haven’t yet managed to track down exactly why, although my sharp detective skills (sarcasm) suggest there might have been a court at some stage. This possibly refers to the Old Court House in Mawgan, which today is the Old Court House restaurant.
Like much of Cornwall, Helston grew in wealth buoyed by mining as well as agriculture. It was known as a Stannary, which is a mining region in Cornwall (and the name of the student bar in nearby Penryn, which I recommend.)
Eventually, as much of Cornwall’s mining industry declined, so did Helston’s. This period did at least give rise to one local hero – Humphrey Millet Grylls. Apart from having a seriously awesome old timey name, the banker and solicitor managed to save 1,200 jobs by keeping open the local tin mine.
The tow thanked him with a pretty badass looking monument which still stands to this day.
Nowadays, Helston is a bustling town with more than 11,000 people. As mentioned earlier, it’s well resourced, and there are also quite a few attractions in Helston to enjoy. Let’s take a look at them.
Things to do in Helston for free
Are you looking for things to do in Helston for free? If so, you’re in luck. This lively and friendly town has a number of options that are very easy on the budget.
1. Museum of Cornish Life
I love a wholesome community museum and the Museum of Cornish Life certainly fits the bill. Best of all, it’s one of the best free things to do in Helston!
Plus, the premise of this museum is really interesting. Cornwall is one of the most interesting places in England, thanks to its many phases of history. From monks to smugglers to miners, Cornwall is nothing if not unique.
The collection at the Museum of Cornish Life spans the 18th and 19th century, and gives an amazing insight into what life was like back then. Spoiler: it really wasn’t easy.
The museum is run by volunteers and they do a fabulous job. They are super passionate about life in Cornwall (and why wouldn’t you be?) and they love sharing it with visitors. If you have any questions, don’t be afraid to ask – the volunteers love sharing all their tidbits!
2. Loe Pool
The Loe is the largest natural pool in Cornwall, and definitely one of the most beautiful places to see in Helston. It is more than a mile (two kilometres) long, and has a total area of over 50 hectares.
Although the pool looks beautiful, it’s past is kind of ghastly. We know of at least two ships that were wrecked in Loe; an unidentified troop ship that is said to have sunk with 600 on board, and HMS Anson (used in the Napoleonic Wars) in 1781, which killed up to 190 on board.
Loe Pool also has links to the legend of King Arthur – it has been mentioned as the site where the Sword of Excalibur was thrown after King Arthur’s death.
Legends and tragedies aside, it’s a beautiful spot that is well worth visiting. It looks very beautiful and there are often many different species of birds around.
3. RNAS Culdrose Viewing Area
Alright, full disclosure – this isn’t totally my personal cup of tea. However, the RNAS Culdrose project is such a huge part of Helston that it felt downright wrong not to include it on my list.
Plus, I’ve known more than a handful of airplane enthusiasts in my life, so I’m sure plenty of people would get a buzz out of this Helston attraction.
The RNAS Culdrose Viewing Area is a Royal Navy site. It’s a particularly famous spot for landings of the “Merlin” helicopter, which I am reliably informed hunts submarines.
There’s a cafe where you can stop for a coffee and also a small gift section. Things depend a little on what is flying on any particular day, but military enthusiasts may get to spot some interesting aircrafts up close!
4. Coronation Park and Boating Lake
This is such a pretty spot in Helston, especially if you’re looking for a picnic spot as a family. It’s a picturesque little lakeside area with boats for hire and a playground as well.
Visiting the park is a free Helston attraction, however you’ll have to hand over some pounds if you’d like to borrow a boat. I’d definitely recommend it – it’s lots of fun when the weather is sunny.
You can also spot lots of adorable waddling ducks, who also seem to love this park in Helston.
It’s a very popular spot with locals all through the year and then it gets busier during the summer months. Whenever you visit, you’ll probably be able to enjoy the hustle and bustle of this popular spot,.
If you want a hot drink, there is a cafe which also does nice cakes and some light meals like sandwiches. There’s a paid car park very close, or if you head over the road there is a free one.
5. Gunwalloe Beach and Church Cove
One of my favourite things to do in Helston (and all of Cornwall really) is to visit Gunwalloe Beach and Church Cove. It’s such a spectacular hidden gem – even in peak tourist season, it’s never too crowded.
Gunwalloe Beach is a huge, u-shaped beach with beautiful sand and powerful waves that crash into the shore. Unfortunately, the tides are super strong so swimming is not allowed – not even the brashest Cornishman dares!
Nonetheless, walking along it is beautiful and it’s one of the few beaches which are open to dogs all year round.
Perhaps even better is gorgeous Church Cove. It’s protected from the wind and so you are allowed to swim there. I also love the stunning Church which is perched right near the edge of the water. It’s made from grey Cornish stone and I just love it.
6. Porthleven Harbour
Porthleven itself is a gorgeous little village not far at all from the centre of Helston. I definitely recommend checking it out when you’re in Cornwall, as it really is lovely.
Perhaps the village’s most famous landmark is its beautiful old harbour. The privately owned harbour is very beautiful, and then there’s a lovely harbourside walk as well. It’s a great way to spend an afternoon if you’re looking for free things to do around Helston.
The village has also established itself as a bit of a foodie hotspot, with a particularly well regarded food festival every year. There are also a number of excellent restaurants include RIck Stein’s and Kota Thai, which are both famous all over the UK.
I definitely recommend a trip to Porthleven and its harbour if you’re looking for things to do in Helston. I also recommend coinciding your visit with dinner!
7. Mawgan Church
There are lots of pretty churches around England, but if they are up your alley, I suggest stopping in at the beautiful one in Mawgan-in-Meneage.
It’s a fairly small church but it is very picturesque and made from traditional grey stone. It was built around the 13th century, although some believe that there may have been a church there much before that. Mawgan-in-Meneage means “monkish lands”, so it’s long been an important spiritual place.
There’s a beautiful stained glass window as well as intricately carved wooden ceilings. There are also some statues that date back to the 14th century. I had to have a bit of a dark chuckle at this “inspiring” poem you can find within the church:
Shall we all dye
we Shall dye all
all dye Shall we
dye all we Shall
Well… I mean the poet (unknown) was not wrong!
Things to do in Helston
Here are some more great things to do in Helston.
8. Gweek Seal Sanctuary
Not far from Helston lies the adorable Gweek Seal Sanctuary, which has been rescuing injured and sick seals for more than sixty years. Here’s my full write-up on visiting the Gweek Seal Sanctuary!
The charitable organisation does a great job in looking after some worse-for-wear seals.
One thing I love about this sanctuary is that most of the seals it rescues are eventually released back into the wild. If you are ever having a bad day, have a browse through their website and read the updates. They keep track of every seal rescued, and eventually announce when they are released! Hurrah!
The seal sanctuary is open every day except Christmas day, between 11am and 4pm. I highly recommend coinciding your visit with feeding times as this will give you a chance to see them at their liveliest! There’s also an interesting “Hospital Talk” about the rehabilitation process every day at 3.30pm.
What a great way to spend a day.
A theme park partly based on Victorian life? It might sound a bit odd at first, but it’s one of the best things to do in Helston – no matter how old you are.
This quirky attraction unashamedly mixes old and new, offering all your favourite thrill rides but often with an olde-worlde twist. While a lot of them are pretty mild, there are also a few options for the real thrill seekers amongst us.
Some other highlights include the meticulous Victorian village replica, and also a replica of London in the Blitz. Kind of odd? Maybe. Super fun? I think so!
There’s also a science exhibit which is lots of fun for kids. A number of
The opening hours vary depending on the attraction and time of year, so I recommend taking a look at the website so you can plan your visit.
Poldark Mine – one of the best things to do near Helston
10. Poldark Mine
Like much of the UK, I am kind of, totally obsessed with Poldark. Both the show and the character – a dark and handsome union-loving socialist with a penchant from breaking unjust rules? I unashamedly swoon.
Anyway, the main mine that is featured in the television series is open to the general public to explore. Mining once made Cornwall one of the richest counties in England, but it was not without danger and loss for the working class people who toiled in the mines.
You certainly get an appreciation for that at the Poldark Mine. There is a museum about mining in Cornwall, as well as an old mining chapel and the mine itself. If you’re very claustrophobic it may be best to sit this one out – Cornish miners were small. Like, really small. If you reach five feet you’ll probably be ducking most of the way.
There’s also a gift shop, cafe and museum. Do check online ahead when it’s open, as its opening days and times are a bit sporadic, especially if you’re not visiting in summer.
11. Godolphin Gardens
You might recognise this Helston attraction from my recent guide to National Trust places in Cornwall – Godolphin Gardens is one of the most beautiful.
The estate consists of both a house and garden, however the house is generally closed (you can, however, rent it as a holiday let which is pretty darn cool if you ask me). The real star is the beautiful gardens.
A large fire in the 1700s means that not all that much is known about the early history of the estate, however it is believed to have started with a very wealthy family in the 13th century.
Over time, the garden became an absolute paradise, filled with all kinds of unique plants and gorgeous blossoming flowers. It’s nice all the time, but I do get a little beside myself during spring when everything is in full bloom.
It’s free if you’re a national trust member, otherwise there’s a 9 pound entry fee for adults (without gift aid).
12. Helston Railroad
Although I’m not exactly a train enthusiast, I am enthusiastic about train enthusiasts. I just love how into it some people get, and the passion is certainly catching!
That’s definitely the case at the Helston Railroad, a fabulous historic railway which is apparently the most southerly in the UK.
Actually, visiting the Railroad is totally free, but you can’t leave without taking a ride on one, right? In this case, you’ll need to buy a ticket for the picturesque journey on a beautiful old train. You’ll feel just like 19th century aristocracy!
Plus, the scenery on the 25 minute ride is totally beautiful. I definitely think it’s worth the £8 ticket for an adult.
There’s also a buffet cafe which is served in the old railway carriage – super cute. I think this Helston attraction is a great choice for a family day out, especially if you’ve got a train enthusiast in your midst!
Helston travel tips
I hope I’ve convinced you that there are many great things to do in Helston. Plus, there’s even more a little bit further along the Lizard peninsula… but that’s a post for another day. For now, here are some travel tips for visiting Helston, Cornwall.
Great pubs near Helston
There are a couple of FABULOUS pubs near Helston, including my local (and most favourite).
The Ship Inn, Mawgan
I had the pleasure of calling this my local while living in Cornwall, and what a local The Ship Inn is. Cute exterior, lots of history and hand-pulled beers. There’s even a few wines – including an Australian variety. But the main selling point of this pub is the tremendous food… it’s the best pub food I’ve had in England and I can’t stop raving about it.
The Blue Anchor
The Blue Anchor would have been a worthy contender for my ‘oldest pubs in Cornwall’ feature, as it dates back to the 15th century. Considering it’s been brewing for about 600 years, you could say they know a thing or two about how to pull a decent pint. It also has a lovely beer garden which is great on a sunny day.
Another beautiful old pub near Helston is the Halzephron Inn. This one dates back a lazy 500 years, and is closely associated with smuggling and wrecking (and I love anything associated with smuggling and wrecking). It has a cozy, charming vibe and a calendar of wholesome local events including food fests and quiz nights (I also love quiz nights).
Where to stay near Helston
Helston is a great base for your stay in Cornwall. If you’re looking for somewhere to stay near Helston, do I have a recommendation for you!
Glebe Hall Cottages
I had the pleasure of enjoying an extended stay at Glebe Hall Cottages in the charming village of Mawgan-in-Meneage. Certainly, if you’re looking for where to stay in Helston then this is my #1 pick – the cottages are self-catering (great if you’re on a budget) and set within a beautiful old building.
There’s also a pool and a games room… it’s all the fun of staying at a holiday park with a little more luxury. Oh, and the owners are absolutely lovely and can’t do enough to help you have the perfect stay – I’m still dreaming about their home-baked bread. This is absolutely not sponsored, it’s just fabulous to find somewhere that feels like a real home away from home.
Plus, the Ship Inn is just across the road – stumbling and/or rolling distance, should you over indulge in the food and/or drink. Highly recommend.