Launceston, the ancient capital of Cornwall and the county town, is a hidden gem nestled in the heart of the West Country. With its rich history dating back to the Norman Conquest and its vibrant surroundings, the town offers a myriad of activities and attractions for the whole family.
Often overlooked by tourists, in this guide we will explore the best things to do in Launceston Cornwall, from the historic Launceston Castle to the fun-filled Trethorne Leisure Park.
Map of Top Attractions in Launceston
One of the must-visit historical attractions in Launceston is Launceston Castle, managed by English Heritage.
Perched atop a prominent natural mound, Launceston Castle commands stunning views of the surrounding landscape. Constructed shortly after the Norman Conquest, the castle's centrepiece is a unique keep featuring a 13th-century round tower, built by Richard, Earl of Cornwall, within an earlier circular shell-keep. The tower's summit can be accessed via an internal staircase, offering breathtaking vistas of the historic town and surrounding countryside.
Serving as the administrative headquarters for the Earl of Cornwall, the castle was strategically situated to maintain control over various estates in the region.
Launceston Castle has a vibrant history as a prison, with George Fox, founder of the Quakers, being its most notable inmate. He endured harsh conditions here in 1656. The castle also functioned as the stronghold for the Cornish Royalist defence of the county.
Nestled in the heart of modern-day Launceston, the castle grounds provide a serene setting for relaxation and picnicking, all whilst enjoying the superb views of the nearby valley.
📍Castle Lodge, Launceston, Cornwall, PL15 7DR
Opening Times: 10 am - 5 pm daily
Another historical gem in Launceston is Lawrence House, a Grade II* listed Georgian townhouse that adds to the town's rich heritage. Managed by the National Trust, it's home to the Launceston Museum, which showcases artefacts and exhibits illustrating the area's Victorian past.
📍9 Castle Street, Launceston, Cornwall, PL15 8BA
Launceston Town Centre
Wander the narrow streets of Launceston's historic town centre and take in the stunning architecture, including the iconic Clock Tower.
Browse the independent shops along High Street, and be sure to visit the bustling market on Saturday mornings for a true taste of local life.
Don't forget to pop into Malcolm Barnecutt's Bakery (5 High Street) for a traditional Cornish pasty!
Launceston Steam Railway
Step back in time with a visit to the Launceston Steam Railway, a charming narrow-gauge railway that offers a delightful train ride through the picturesque Cornish countryside. The railway's beautifully restored steam locomotives and vintage carriages make it a unique and memorable experience for the whole family.
There is also a cafe and museum located at the station.
📍Newport Industrial Estate, PL15 8EX
Trethorne Leisure Park
Trethorne Leisure Park located just outside Launceston, is a popular family-friendly attraction that provides the perfect blend of adventure, entertainment, and education for visitors of all ages.
It offers a range of activities for visitors, including farm animals, outdoor play areas, and a spacious indoor play barn. While there is something for everyone to enjoy, the farm is especially well-suited for younger children aged 12 and under.
Visitors can participate in various hands-on activities such as bottle feeding baby animals, grooming and riding the ponies (it was the place all three of my children first rode a horse), and petting the guinea pigs in rabbits.
The on-site restaurant offers a diverse menu to cater to all tastes, and there is also a smaller cafe located in the play barn serving cakes and savoury snacks.
📍Trethorne, Kennards House, Launceston PL15 8QE
Opening Times: 10 am - 5pm daily, but check the website out of season as times can change.
Hidden Valley Discovery Park
Hidden Valley Puzzle Park is a quirky adventure park located a few miles from Launceston.
Young families will love the Tanglewood Hollow Play Area, while older children and adults will enjoy the Forbidden Mansion, the walk-in puzzle maze, as well as the extensive gardens and railway.
The newly refurbished Watering Hole cafe serves snacks and light lunches throughout the day. Dogs are also welcome at Hidden Valley!
📍Tredidon, St Thomas, Launceston, Cornwall, PL15 8SJ
Opening Times: April - October with booking arrival slots available from 10 am – 2 pm in half-hour increments. The park closes at 5 pm.
Dingles Fairground Museum
Located just over the border in West Devon (a 10-minute drive from Launceston town centre), Dingles Fairground Museum is dedicated to preserving the history of fairground rides and attractions.
Spanning across a vast indoor space, the museum houses an impressive collection of vintage fairground rides, games, and memorabilia, providing visitors with an authentic experience of a bygone era. From beautifully restored carousels, waltzers, and dodgems to traditional penny arcades, sideshows, and funhouses, Dingles Fairground Heritage Centre offers an immersive and educational experience for visitors of all ages.
In addition to the working rides and attractions, the museum also exhibits an extensive range of original fairground artwork, showcasing the distinctive and colourful style synonymous with British fairgrounds.
📍Milford Lifton, Devon PL16 0AT
Opening Times: Daily 10 am - 5 pm
Lifton Farm Shop
Lifton Farm Shop (also known as Strawberry Fields) is a family-run establishment located in Lifton, Devon, just a short distance from Launceston. The charming farm shop offers visitors a true taste of Cornwall and Devon's bountiful local produce while promoting sustainable farming practices and supporting the local community.
The shop stocks a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, meats, and dairy products sourced from the surrounding farms, ensuring a genuine farm-to-table experience. Additionally, you can find an array of artisanal products, including homemade preserves, chutneys, baked goods, and locally crafted beverages.
The on-site café is a popular attraction in itself, offering a selection of delicious meals prepared using the finest local ingredients. From scrumptious breakfasts (best in the area!) and mouth-watering lunches to indulgent cream teas, the café caters to a range of tastes and dietary requirements.
Lifton Farm Shop also hosts a number of events throughout the year, including seasonal celebrations (if you visit during October half-term make sure to visit the pumpkin festival), food fairs, and workshops, making it a vibrant hub for the community and visitors alike.
📍Strawberry Fields, Lifton, Devon, PL16 0DH
Dartmoor National Park
Just a short 20 minute drive from Launceston lies Dartmoor National Park, a rugged and enchanting landscape that offers countless outdoor activities. Explore the park's beautiful gardens, meandering rivers, and dramatic granite tors on foot, by bike, or on horseback. Don't forget to visit the Visitor Centre in Princetown to learn more about the park's rich history and wildlife.
Frequently Asked Questions
Launceston is a year-round destination, but spring and summer months offer the most pleasant weather for outdoor activities
No, Launceston Castle is managed by English Heritage, not the National Trust.
Launceston is approximately 15 miles (24 kilometres) from the edge of Dartmoor National Park, making it an ideal base for exploring this stunning area.
Launceston is ideally located for exploring the wider region, with numerous picturesque towns, attractions, and natural beauty spots within easy reach. Some nearby destinations include Tavistock, Tintagel, Bude, and the stunning beaches along the North Cornwall coast.
Absolutely! Launceston and its surrounding areas offer numerous walking and cycling trails, allowing visitors to explore the stunning countryside, picturesque villages, and historical landmarks. Some popular trails include the Tamar Valley Discovery Trail and the Two Castles Trail.
Yes, Launceston is well-connected by public transport, with regular bus services linking the town to the city of Plymouth and also Okehampton railway station, where you can catch regular trains to Exeter.
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