OUR PICK OF THE BEST MUSEUMS IN CORNWALL TO VISIT IN 2023. READ ON TO DISCOVER ALL OF THE TOP MUSEUMS IN CORNWALL TO VISIT THIS YEAR, FROM THE SCIENCE HAVENS TO THE HISTORICAL MASTERPIECES…
We reckon that Cornwall is one big museum. It houses millions of objects of historical, cultural, artistic and scientific interest. Of course, it’s not really a museum because it’s not a building but the point is that the county, from Launceston right down to the tip of Land’s End, offers up a smorgasbord of fascinating exhibits, objets d’art and stories. And it’s home to plenty of actual museums, from the tiny one-room space in a little picturesque village right up to the county giant that stocks thousands of historical artefacts from around the world. There’s plenty for kids, plenty for adults and everything in between. So, just for you, here is our list of 15 mesmerising museums (and 11 bonus attractions!) in Cornwall (read: the best museums in Cornwall for 2023!) that we know you’ll enjoy. After all, who doesn’t love a good museum?
Type: Art museum
Suitable for: Sculpture vultures
Location: St Ives
St Ives lives and breathes art. Just like Dame Jocelyn Barbara Hepworth once did. This famous sculptor and artist was a giant in the Cornish town’s modernist art community in the mid-20th century. Her former home, studio and garden make up a museum that’s managed by the nearby Tate St Ives gallery. Works in stone, bronze, wood and plaster abound as visitors learn about an iconic Cornwall artist in the exact place she once lived and worked.
Type: Prison ‘experience’ museum
Suitable for: Rogues and ne’er-do-wells
Museums should be all light-hearted and focus on exhibits behind glass cases, right? Wrong. Museums should be places where you can learn in the most interesting ways possible. And Bodmin Jail is Cornwall’s shining light when it comes to this. Make no mistake, this place is a museum and it teaches you about serving hard time in years gone by in a pretty full-on way, particularly when it comes to its ‘Dark Walk’. Click below to read more about that…
Type: Military museum
Suitable for: Victors and veterans
Ever wondered what stories the brave men and women who have served in the Army of Cornwall over the past 300 years would tell if they had the chance? Well, wonder no more as Bodmin Keep tells their tales through more than 12,000 artefacts, such as letters from the battlefield, regimental drums and weapons of war. Housed inside barracks that are more than 160 years old, this museum is a must-visit for military buffs and fascinated families.
Type: Mining museum
Suitable for: Golden oldies and little gems
Location: Troon, near Camborne and Redruth
Of course there’s a marvellous mining museum on the edge of Camborne and Redruth in the heart of the county’s historic mining district. Of course it sits on a site that’s practically remained the same over an entire century. Of course there’s a Cornish tin mill here and of course there are regular tours taking you around exhibits and machinery that are part of the county’s rich heritage. Of course you’re going to experience it. See you at King Edwards!
Type: Cornish social history museum
Suitable for: Local history buffs
‘One of the largest social history collections in the South West’. That’s what’s been touted about this fascinating museum in Helston that quite literally gives you a potted history of the county and its people over thousands and thousands of years. A rolling programme of exhibitions, tons of workshops for kids and adults and three floors of seemingly endless exhibits like axe-heads and rare dolls. And the best bit? It’s free. Can’t argue with that.
Type: Occult museum
Suitable for: Witches, wizards and wiccans
Location: Boscastle, near Tintagel
Unnerving. Unsettling. Odd. Eerie. Weird. All these words describe Boscastle’s Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, which has to be one of our favourite museums in the county. Welcome to a breathtakingly beguiling place that exhibits thousands of bizarre artefacts that cover Wicca, witches, warlocks, wizards, ceremonial magic, folk magic, Voodoo and all things occult. Bring a strong stomach and a keen mind to a one-of-a-kind museum experience.
Type: Maritime museum
Suitable for: Captains and their crew
Does this float your boat: five floors and 15 galleries dedicated to telling the county and country’s story of the sea, its sailing vessels and its long and fascinating maritime history? It floats ours. Since it opened in 2003, we’ve been frequenting this museum to check out the world-famous boats on display, the exhibits dedicated to organisations like the RNLI and the regular exhibitions like ‘Monsters of the Deep’ and its tales of krakens. Engrossing stuff.
Type: Courthouse museum
Suitable for: Judges and their juries
Do we like old courtrooms? Guilty. And we’re especially big fans of the Old Guildhall Museum and Gaol in Looe, which was a proper town hall and magistrates court between 1587 and 1878. Apart from the original magistrates bench and the ancient prison cells that you can tour, there are exhibitions and interactive features on smuggling, monks, the Second World War, fishing, crime, the Bronze Age and, of course, Looe itself. Court dismissed.
Type: Heritage, history and art museum
Suitable for: All ages and interests
There’s a little bit of everything at Penlee. Cornish art, treasure trove, historical artefacts, archaeological items and plenty of local stories in between, all set in a fine Victorian house. The big draws are the engrossing gallery exhibitions of local artists over the past 150 years and the wealth of ancient objects on show from the past 6,000 years, plus the photos and stories from the county’s more recent history. Finish off with a cake in The Orangery.
Type: Communications museum
Suitable for: Science and comms buffs
This place is way less dull than it sounds. The fact that PK Porthcurno stands on the spot where the first transatlantic telegraph cables came ashore in the 1870s makes for a historic start to a museum that covers the subject of communications in a hugely engrossing and often interactive way, especially for kids. Live demonstrations, family activities, a Cable Hut and a secret underground bunker all make for a fascinating afternoon at the PK.
Type: Smuggling and fishing museum
Suitable for: Smugglers and fishers
Its full title is the Polperro Heritage Museum of Smuggling and Fishing, so that should give you a little teaser as to what lies ahead here. What it lacks in size, this bijou museum more than makes up for in effort as it presents the pretty area’s rich seafaring history with aplomb. It packs in the exhibits, from the model fishing boats to the tales of the old smugglers who once frequented these shores. Well worth a couple of hours.
Type: Major museum
Suitable for: Kings, queens, princes and princesses
As it’s the biggest museum in the county and it’s got ‘royal’ in the title, we think we’re justified in calling this place, quite simply, a ‘major museum’. It’s more than 200 years old and it owns more than 300,000 heritage objects that cover Cornwall’s history, heritage and culture in depth before heading out across the country, continent and world to cover anything from military memorabilia to mummies. You simply must visit the RCM.
Type: Seabed booty museum
Suitable for: Little landlubbers and their families
Location: Charlestown, near St Austell
Must. Try. Not. To. Write. Pirate. Puns… okay, we’ll stick to the facts: the Shipwreck Treasure Museum is truly absorbing as it covers Cornwall’s rich history of pirates, shipwrecks, seabed treasure and the divers who discover the booty. More than 8,000 treasures from around 150 wrecks are on display including gold bars, cannon balls and even a barrel of old coins. It’s really kid-friendly and fun as well as fascinating too-arrrrr. Damn! Almost made it to the end!
Type: Post office museum
Suitable for: Letter lovers and envelope enthusiasts
Ever stood in a queue in your local post office and thought ‘I wish I had more time here so I could look around the place?’ Nope, neither have we. So we were damn surprised when we toured Tintagel Old Post Office and found the 14th century cottage, Victorian postal equipment, rare Victorian post box and the as-they-were post room, bedrooms and kitchen were so engrossing. Step back in time here. We give this our seal of approval.
Type: China clay museum
Suitable for: Industrious types
Location: Carthew, near St Austell
Another museum that may sound dull but is anything but. Wheal Martyn covers Cornwall’s second most famous industry, that of china clay production. And, as a result, it has become the world’s most famous china clay museum. Tools, machines, exhibits, kids activities, virtual tours, stories and even local art cram the museum and then there are the modern machines in action in the clay pit outside. Trust us: Martyn will give you a wheally interesting day out.
11 more magical museums
Cornwall museums – or, at least, attractions with dedicated historical, cultural or scientific exhibitions inside or attached to them – that we highly recommend visiting…
Cornwall at War Museum
Cornwall Aviation Heritage Centre
Geevor Tin Mine
Healeys Cornish Cyder Farm
Lawrence House Museum
Moseley Heritage Museum
The Castle Heritage Centre
Wadebridge and District Museum