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If you’re a history lover, then I guarantee you’ll love Cornwall. In many ways, its rugged coast is a museum of itself – however, there are even more places to unpeel the many layers of Cornwall’s fascinating history. In fact, the county is full of all kinds of weird and wonderful museums that are suitable for all ages. Let’s take a look at the very best museums in Cornwall.
Of course, it couldn’t be a Cornish attraction (or a Journey with Georgie Cornish blog post) without the mention of pirates and smugglers. However, there is much more on offer. From museums devoted to Cornish life to a medieval post office with documents to match, there are many options. Then there’s the quirky ones, like the fabulous Museum of Witchcraft and Magic.
Whether you’re a history buff looking to learn something new, or perhaps looking for things to do in Cornwall when it’s raining, you’re sure to love these fabulous Cornish museums. To help, I’ve split them up by north and south Cornwall, to help you find the best museum in Cornwall close to where you’re staying! Here we go.
The Best Museums in Cornwall
There are many great museums in Cornwall that are suitable for all ages, and all budgets. I’ve divided them up into south (Truro and below) and north (Truro to Bude) Cornwall for your convenience.
The Best Museums in South Cornwall
Looking for a museum near St Ives, Falmouth or the Lizard Peninsula? If so, let’s have a look at the best museums in South Cornwall.
Porthcurno Telegraph Museum (Porthcurno)
I can’t say telecommunication was something that interested me much before, but I was so impressed by this fabulous museum that I’d love to go back.
It’s a highly interactive museum that has lots of fun science-y exhibits. They’re suitable for everyone, from small children to adults – I happily spent over two hours here and could’ve stayed for longer. By the time we left, I was amazed at how much I’d learnt, as well.
You can also tour the fascinating World War II tunnels, which gives you a slightly chilling insight into life during the Second World War.
Don’t miss the talk that occurs daily at 3pm. It’s an accessible and fascinating introduction to the history and science of telecommunications – from the earliest railway signals through the modern WiFi, with some jokes scattered throughout.
Address: Telegraph Museum Porthcurno, Eastern House, Porthcurno, Penzance, Cornwall, TR19 6JX | Phone Number: +44 (0) 1736 810966 | Opening hours: Summer: 10am – 5pm daily, winter: Saturday to Monday 10:30am to 4pm | Entry fee: £9 (adults), £8 (students & seniors), £5.50 (children <18), £26 (family: 2 adults and up to 3 children).
Museum of Cornish Life (Helston) – FREE
One of my favourite things to do in Helston is even better, because it’s totally free!
Although the Museum of Cornish Life is small, it has a good collection of items related to life in 18th and 19th century Cornwall. I really like the fact that this museum focuses on everyday people, giving you an insight into what life was like in England’s southernmost county in days gone by.
Located in an old building that was designed to be the Helston market, the museum is run by volunteers who really are fonts of knowledge when it comes to all things Cornish.
Do stop by, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. The volunteers will love to tell you more, as they are very proud of their collection.
Address: Helston, Cornwall TR13 8TH | Phone Number: +44 (0) 1326 564027 | Opening hours: Monday – Saturday, 10am to 4pm | Entry fee: free
National Maritime Museum Cornwall (Falmouth)
Given Cornwall’s long association with the sea (for better and worse), it’s fitting that the UK’s best maritime museum outside of London is in the county.
That’s the National Maritime Museum located in the heart of Falmouth.
There are a number of permanent exhibitions, including the “rock pool” where you can spy on life under the sea, and various boats including yachts used in the Olympics. There’s also a collection of stories about people who have been lost at sea.
They also have a range of temporary exhibits on things such maritime tattoos, and most recently, the Titanic.
There’s also a dedicated space for younger children, with frequent events aimed at the little ones.
Address: Discovery Quay, Falmouth, Cornwall TR11 3QY | Phone Number: +44 (0) 1326 313388 | Opening hours: Daily, 10am to 5pm | Entry fee: £13.95 for adults and £6.50 for children under 18. Entry is valid for an entire year.
Constantine Museum (near Falmouth) – FREE
There is something just so loveable about proud Cornish villages, in my “humble” opinion. One product of all this Cornish pride is the Constantine Museum.
Constantine is a small village near Falmouth, and they have proudly put together a collection of objects that trace the history of their parish some 5,000 years.
Of particular interest to me was all the information about mining in the area. You hear a lot about the influence of the rise and fall of mining in Cornwall – but seeing how it played out in one small (and charming) parish is very interesting.
The museum also has quite a large collection of family history records, which are great if you are interested in genealogy and have any Cornish roots.
As this is another free, volunteer-led museum, don’t be afraid to ask questions! It would also be much appreciated if you’d leave a couple of pounds to support the upkeep of the museum.
Address: Tolmen Centre, Fore Street, Constantine, Falmouth, Cornwall TR11 5AA | Phone Number: +44 (0) 1326 341484 | Opening hours: Mondays (12pm to 3:30pm), Tuesdays & Wednesdays (11am to 3pm), Thursdays (11am to 2pm) | Entry fee: free
Levant Mine and Beam Engine
It’s hard to understate how important mining has been in shaping the history of Cornwall. Mining once made the county incredibly rich, but the decline was brutal.
All throughout Cornwall you can see many “chimneys” that once rose up from mines searching for tin, copper and even arsenic (yikes). Many of them are totally free to enter and explore, but there’s no much in the way of information.
The Levant Mine and Beam Engine, on the other hand, is a great place to learn more about the history as well as look at an interesting old mine and pumping engine.
One of the best National Trust places in Cornwall (click for more), the site is very beautiful with the mine clinging onto the side of the coast – viewers of Poldark might recognise it as it features in the show (the actual Wheal Leisure mine is down the road, at Botallack).
There are daily tours of the mine at 11am, which open up parts which are usually closed to public access.
Unfortunately, the Levant Mine was the site of a terrible tragedy when 31 people were killed in a mining accident.
Address: Trewellard, Pendeen, near St Just, Cornwall, TR19 7SX | Opening hours: open in summer only (although trails are year-round) from 10:30am to 5pm | Entry fee: £8.50 (adults), £4.25 (children), £21.25 (family) – free for National Trust members.
St Ives Museum
Another charming volunteer-led museum in Cornwall, the St Ives Museum is a small but has an interesting collection of items relating to St Ives and the surrounding area.
It’s located in an old pilchard factory and has been welcoming guests since 1968.
The collection showcases a lot of items relating to the industry of St Ives (before tourism arrived), and also some information about unique customs and traditions. The old Victorian clothing was particularly interesting to me.
There’s also information about shipwrecks as well as other objects relating to blacksmithing, fishing and more.
The museum is probably best for those who have some connection with the area, and children might find it a bit ‘hands-off’ to keep them interested (although there are some interactive bits). Nonetheless, if you’re looking for something different to do in St Ives, it’s a good choice.
I’d recommend picking up the museum guide for 20p as it adds a lot of context to the collection).
Address: Wheal Dream, St Ives TR26 1PR, England | Opening hours: From Easter to the end of October, Monday to Friday from 10:30am to 4:30pm and Saturdays from 10:30am to 3:30pm | Entry fee: £3
Poldark Mine and Heritage Museum (Helston)
While the name of Poldark Mine links it directly with the BBC drama (and it has been featured), its history well and truly predates it.
In the 18th century, it was one of the most profitable tin mines in all of Cornwall, set in the middle of some of the richest land in England.
Today, it is a UNESCO World Heritage site and there are regular tours that will take you through the mine. It’s fascinating – albeit a little claustrophobic – to see where the miners would have toiled away for long hours every day.
There’s also a collection of different objects that relate to the area’s industrial heritage.
The opening hours of the mine are a bit confusing, so you’ll need to check online before you go. If you’re keen to visit, I’d recommend giving them a call to check what’s open and what time the tours are on that day. The friendly and enthusiastic volunteers will be more than happy to help.
There’s also a cafe on site that seems to open a little at random… try to chances, but there is another option close by called the Slice of Cornwall.
The mine staff are also very helpful if you’re researching your family history in Cornwall and they hold a lot of records related to this.
Address: Poldark Mine, Trenear, Wendron, Helston, Cornwall TR13 0ES | Opening hours: Varies. Check the website. | Phone: +44 (0) 01326 573 173 | Entry fee: £6.25 for museum only (adults), £3.25 for museum only (children). Tours of the mine £20 – £25. 50% discount for Cornwall residents | No dogs
Royal Cornwall Museum (Truro)
For over 200 years, the Royal Cornwall Museum has been promoting Cornish history and traditions to locals and visitors alike.
Today, it is one of the best museums in Cornwall, and certainly one of the most comprehensive.
Cornwall definitely has many unique customs and traditions, and feels quite different to much of the rest of the UK. I definitely recommend a visit to this Truro museum to find out more.
Located inside a grand old building, the museum has an impressive collection. There’s a focus on local life, but also other objects including Ancient Egyptian antiquities (my fave).
Many of the items relate to the history of Cornwall, including its mining heritage and more recently, the impact of the World Wars. However, other exhibits explore modern life in Cornwall through contemporary art and other mediums.
This museum is a little more slick than some of the other community-led museums in Cornwall, however it still has plenty of heart. I particularly appreciate their efforts to make the museum accessible for people including those on the autism spectrum, people who use wheelchairs and elderly people.
Address: River Street, Truro, Cornwall TR1 2SJ | Opening hours: Daily, 10am to 4.45pm | Phone: 01872 272205 | Entry fee: £5.50 (adults), FREE for children.
The Best Museums in North Cornwall
Are you looking for a Cornish museum in the north of the county, around Bude, Bodmin or St Austell? I’ve got you covered!
Cornwall’s Regimental Museum (Bodmin)
With a collection of more than 12,000 objects, the Cornwall Regimental Museum is considered the best army museum in the south west, and a must for military buffs.
In particular, the museum is devoted to Cornwall’s light infantry, and features items from the last 300 years including uniforms, medals, documents and correspondence.
One particularly impressive room has hundreds of rifles and well as a number of canons – pretty cool, even if the armed forces isn’t usually your thing.
It’s also an incredible cross-section of history, taking in items from the Napoleonic Wars and the American War of Independence. There’s also more recent items from both World Wars.
There are quite a few interactive exhibits, including a number that are suitable for children. There’s also a selection of temporary exhibits which constantly change, as well as once-off events and tours.
The exterior of this museum is also very impressive, housed within a Grade II listed building that is more than 150 years old.
Address: The Keep, Bodmin, Cornwall, PL31 1EG | Phone Number: + 44 (0) 1208 72810 | Opening hours: Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 5pm, Sundays from 12pm to 4:30pm | Entry fee: £6 (adults), £2 for under 16s – admission is for an annual ticket | Dog friendly
Polperro Museum of Fishing and Smuggling (Polperro)
This adorable harbourside museum is devoted to fishing and smuggling, both big business in the cute fishing village of Polperro.
It’s a fairly small collection, but there are some really interesting objects. In particular, they have a lot of beautiful old photographs dating from the mid-1800s. It’s a really fabulous insight into life in Cornwall back then, especially for the brave fishermen (and smugglers).
There are also a lot of items from old shipwrecks, which is always a thrill!
This is another museum which may not be ideal for kids as the photos and records might not keep their attention – but if you’re interested in learning about days gone by, it’s well worth visiting.
Address: Mawdsley’s Room, The Warren, Polperro, Cornwall PL13 2RD | Phone Number: +44 (0) 01503 273005 | Opening hours: Easter until October, daily from 10:30am to 4:30pm | Entry fee: £2 (adults), 50p (children <15) | Dog friendly
Museum of Witchcraft and Magic (Boscastle)
If you’ve read other posts like my Cornish “spooky loop”, then you’ll know all about my obsession with the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic.
It’s one of the most unusual museums I’ve ever been to, and it’s located in such a gorgeous village, Boscastle.
The museum is dedicated to all things witchcraft and magic related, including the practise of Wicca and the historic persecution of so-called witches. I loved exploring the incredible collection of objects including ingredients for spells and Wiccan robes.
In addition, learning about the persecution of the women declared to be possible witches was very moving and eye-opening.
I don’t recommend this museum for young children as some of the items are a bit confronting, however if you are looking for a quirky and amazing museum in Cornwall, then this is one of my absolute favourites. HIGHLY recommend.
Address: The Harbour, Boscastle, Cornwall PL35 0HD | Phone Number: +44 (0) 1840 250111 | Opening hours: April to October, Monday to Saturday from 10:30am to 6pm, and Sundays from 11:30am to 6pm | Entry fee: £5 (adults – a bargain!), £4 (children/concession), £20 (family)
Arthurian Centre (Camelford)
Cornwall is intrinsically linked to the legend of King Arthur, with many myths set in and around the county. Most famously, Tintagel Castle was the alleged birthplace of King Arthur.
While many of the Arthurian sites around Cornwall require more than a little imagination, the Arthurian Centre sets it all out for you.
Located near Camelford (which is, fittingly, suspected to be the inspiration for Camelot), the museum covers an impressive 20 acres – so there’s plenty to see and do.
Most famously, there is the stone that is said to commemorate where King Arthur defeated the ghastly Mordred, but was fatally wounded doing so. Another famous site is the Dozmary Pool, said to be where the Sword of Excalibur was thrown after King Arthur’s death.
There is also a large exhibition space that tells the “stories behind the stores of King Arthur”, which is really interesting.
It’s part museum, part discovery trail, and a lot of fun for visitors of all ages. It’s definitely a great stop to add along with a visit to the legendary Tintagel Castle.
Address: Slaughterbridge, near Camelford, Cornwall PL32 9TT | Phone Number: +44 (0) 1840 213947 | Opening hours: April to October, 10am to 5pm daily | Entry fee: £4 (adults), £3 (concession), £12 (family) – Nat Trust/English Heritage members get a 20% discount
The Old Post Office (Tintagel)
This quirky and gorgeous old building is somewhat overshadowed by nearby Tintagel Castle, but is well worth a stop on its own right.
The 14th century building is utterly adorable, with a higglepiggedly roof and super low ceiling. It looks like it could have been made as a set for a movie, but it’s all real.
Run by the National Trust, inside the Tintagel Old Post Office you’ll find a collection of objects relating to the postal service, including very old letters and stamps. The collection is not quite as old as the building itself, but still fascinating to view.
It’s also a great choice on a chilly day, as there’s a roaring fire which keeps things lovely and cozy inside.
There’s also very pretty gardens out the back, which are lovely to have an explore and perhaps sit in for a bit.
Address: Fore Street, Tintagel, Cornwall, PL34 0DB | Opening hours: May to October, 10:30am to 5:30pm daily | Entry fee: £4.80 (adults) or £2.40 (children) – (free for National Trust members)
Shipwreck Centre (Charlestown)
I’ve been intrigued by shipwrecks ever since I was a small child, so I was thrilled to hear about the Shipwreck Centre in the picturesque town of Charlestown.
Side note – those familiar with Poldark might recognise Charlestown as Truro in the show (apparently the real Truro is much too modern nowadays)!
The collection at the museum is, impressively, the largest collection of shipwrecked objects in the world – and it is very impressive.
There’s more than 8,000 items from over 150 different ships, which have nearly all been wrecked around the coasts of Cornwall. Amazingly, this makes up only a small fraction of the total number of wrecks around the Cornish coast – which is estimated to be more than 3,000.
It’s also impossible to say how many of the objects were obtained lawfully, versus how many were surreptitiously ‘wrecked’ during Cornwall’s sordid heyday.
The variety of objects is totally astonishing – ranging from Ancient Egyptian beads to more modern coins and finds. I definitely recommend a visit!
Address: Quay Rd, Charlestown Rd, Saint Austell PL25 3NJ | Phone Number: +44 (0) 1726 69897 | Opening hours: Summer – daily, 10am to 6pm (last entry at 4:30pm), winter – Tuesday to Saturday, 11am to 4pm (last entry at 3pm) | Entry fee: £11.50 (adults), £4.50 (children <18)
Mevagissey Museum (Mevagissey, near St Austell) – FREE
If you are looking for a free museum in north Cornwall, then a visit to the Mevagissey Museum may be in order.
This is another charming community museum, which is a registered charity run almost entirely by volunteers.
The exterior of the museum is charming in itself, dating back from 1745 when it was part of a shipbuilder’s yard – which makes sense given Mevagissey is a beautiful old fishing village. The building was gifted to the village in the hopes it would be used for public good.
Inside the museum, you’ll find lots of old, unusual objects like cider presses and even a full (working) Cornish kitchen. There are also lots of photos and records that relate to Mevagissey.
It’s a relatively small museum and may not be ideal for children who get bored easily (a lot of the objects are fragile so it’s mostly look-don’t-touch), however it’s worth a stop if you’re in the area.
Address: East Wharf, Inner Harbour, Mevagissey, Cornwall PL26 6QR | Phone Number: +44 (0) 1726 843568 | Opening hours: Easter to October, 11am to 4pm (10am to 5pm in July and August) | Entry fee: FREE
Bodmin Jail (Bodmin)
I love a good creepy museum and Bodmin Jail certainly fits the bill. Having been a working jail for centuries – including the days of capital punishment – it is certainly an eerie sight.
Inside, there are many exhibitions that really enlighten you as to the downright horrible conditions of Cornwall’s largest jail.
One thing is for sure – you come away feeling glad that you were not an 18th century Cornish prisoner!
You can learn more about the stories of the inmates who lived in the jail, as well as the dastardly (and sometimes not that dastardly) crimes that saw them locked up. Some were even hanged – a total of 55 Cornish people were executed at Bodmin Jail up until 1909, when hangings were relocated to Winchester.
The Bodmin Jail also runs guided tours daily, which can introduce you to even more of the fascinating – and often grisly – history of the jail. The stories are incredibly interesting if you like the macabre – if you don’t, they may be a bit on the nose.
Again, I’m not sure this museum is ideal for very young children, who might find it a bit frightening.
If you think you need a drink, there is a bar where you can raise a glass to your freedom.
Address: Berrycoombe Road, Bodmin, Cornwall PL31 2NR | Opening hours: Daily, 9:30am to 6pm | Phone: +44 (0) 1208 76292 | Entry fee: £10 (adults), £7.50 (children <16), £8.50 (concession) | Not accessible for wheelchair users
Jamaica Inn Museum (Bodmin)
The Jamaica Inn is one of the most famous tourist sites in Cornwall, and it offers a range of features including a bar, hotel, restaurant, gift shop… and museum.
The museum is actually pretty modest in size, which is reflected in the small entry fee. Nonetheless, it has a good collection of items related to smuggling as well as to Cornwall’s favourite daughter of darkness, the author Daphne de Maurier. She, of course, wrote the novel The Jamaica Inn while staying in the pub.
It is a good introduction to smuggling in Cornwall, which is unsurprising given the links between the Inn and the art of smuggling. Due to the Jamaica Inn’s isolated location, it was a popular place for smugglers to store their goods, away from the prying eyes of the police.
Another highlight of the museum’s collection is the writing desk and typewriter where Daphne de Maurier penned her classic novel. I must confess feeling a lot of affinity for Daphne and her love of dark and morose tales.
The museum also has extended opening hours, so you can always drop in before or after enjoying a pint at the smuggler’s bar.
Address: Bolventor, Launceston PL15 7TS (look for the signs) | Opening hours: Daily from 8am to 9pm | Phone: +44 (0) 1566 86250 | Entry fee: £3.95 (adults), £2.95 (children)
What Cornwall museum should you visit?
Feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the options? Here are my favourites, depending on what you’re looking for in the best museum in Cornwall.
The best museums in Cornwall for children
Looking for some museums to visit as a family? Here are my top picks for museums to visit with children:
- The Telegraph Museum, thanks to its many interactive exhibits.
- The National Maritime Museum Cornwall, due to its calendar of kid-friendly events.
The best museums in Cornwall to learn about life in Cornwall
Are you interesting in finding out about what life was like in Cornwall in days gone by? If so, here are my picks:
- The Museum of Cornish Life, which has lots of interesting things!
- The Polperro Museum of Fishing and Smuggling, to learn about fishing
- The Poldark Mine, to see what life was like for Cornish miners
The best free museums in Cornwall
On a budget in Cornwall? There are a couple of great museums to visit. Here are the best:
- The Museum of Cornish Life, to learn all about Cornish life
- The Mevagissey Museum (in the north) and the Constantine Museum (in the south) to learn about the history of these picturesque villages
- The Royal Cornwall Museum is free for children (adults £5.50)
The best quirky museums in Cornwall
Looking for something quirky, unusual or spooky to do in Cornwall? There are some great museums that fit the bill. My favourites are:
- The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, because it’s just the best.
- The Telegraph Museum, with its WWII tunnels and interactive exhibits.
- The Shipwreck Centre, thanks to its fascinating (if slightly modest) collection.