Launceston was previously one of the most famous market towns in the southwest. It is located in the east of Cornwall, close to the border with Devon. The neighbouring A30 road makes Launceston the “gateway to Cornwall” and the road used to go through the town itself!. Along with the A38, these are Cornwall’s sole dual carriageways. And it was in part due to poor transit routes, that Launceston was Cornwall’s county town for many centuries and the county court existed here because of that. When the roads improved in 1835, Bodmin took over. In the early nineteenth century, a town in Tasmania (the state’s second-biggest) was named Launceston after Launceston, Cornwall. And when it comes to names, although the town is officially known as Launceston, the Cornish refer to it as Lanson. And with that, welcome to the best things to do in Launceston!
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Where to Stay in Launceston, Cornwall
Launceston is a great place to stay in east Cornwall. Our guide to the best places to stay in Launceston is here, but our favourite places to stay in Launceston are here – here’s our top hotel in Launceston recommendation and the best holiday cottage in Launceston.
Penlaurel Holiday Cottage, Launceston
This stunning Grade II listed holiday cottage in Launceston is an absolute delight. From the gorgeous Georgian exterior to the luxury finishing touches and the fabulous hot tub, this is a simply marvellous place to stay in Launceston. The interior, which is infused with modern amenities, consists of a kitchen that wraps around to a TV room, with patio doors flowing out into the established cottage gardens. There’s a wood-burning stove in the dining room for cosy evening meals. When it comes to areas in which to relax, you’re spoiled for choice – there’s a cosy snug, an elegant lounge and the study provides a peaceful place to lose yourself in a book. You can read more details about this gorgeous place here! Each of the three double bedrooms has lovely views of the surrounding countryside, and the main room has an en-suite, while the main bathroom has a free-standing luxury roll-top bath to ease away the aches of a day’s hiking. The mature enclosed garden to the exterior is surrounded by lush foliage, stunning flowers in a riot of colour, and a charming outdoor swing. The perfect place to sit and reflect on the day’s events is here, a private hot tub completes this stunning luxury holiday cottage in Launceston. See the availability of this holiday cottage here.
Eagle House Hotel, Launceston
While the Eagle House was built in 1764, it only became a hotel in the 1960s with twelve luxurious hotel rooms that come with a flat-screen TV and a private bathroom. There are a small number of family rooms. The Eagle House offers free WiFi throughout the property, a garden, a terrace, and free parking. Click here to learn more about this luxury Launceston hotel.
Rooms at Launceston’s Eagle House Hotel offer views of Launceston Castle or the rolling Cornish countryside and come complete with free luxury toiletries. The Eagle House Hotel offers a continental-style breakfast every morning that includes a variety of hot and cold beverages, yoghurts, pastries & bread, toast, fruit juices, and many other lighter breakfast alternatives. Check for room rates here.
The Best Things to do in Launceston, Cornwall
The things to do in Launceston, from seeing the medieval castle to touring the historic town centre are pretty low-key when it comes to Cornwall. Because of its position, in the far east of Cornwall, it’s not necessarily that popular with visitors and that for me makes it a great place to visit. And yet, despite its small size, there is a lot to discover here, it’s a terrific spot to visit if you like history, are interested in castles, and if you like food, you might just find Cornwall’s best Cornish pasties here! So, without further ado, here are the best things to do in Launceston to help you plan your getaway to this lovely Cornish town.
Visit Launceston Castle
One of the best things to do in Launceston is to visit Launceston Castle. It is a medieval motte and bailey castle dating from the Norman Conquest. Launceston Castle was established around 1070 to administer the surrounding territory by Robert, Count of Mortain, William the Conqueror’s half-brother. There is also a 13th-century round tower that was built by Richard Earl of Cornwall. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the castle was used as a jail. It housed numerous prominent convicts, including George Fox, the founder of the Quaker movement. Most Cornish towns supported the royalists in the civil war, which seems unusual considering its earlier rebellions, and Launceston Castle was used for Cornish royalist defence. The castle has a museum on its lengthy history, and it’s well worth seeing for the ancient architecture and the breathtaking views of the Cornish countryside. Launceston Castle is one of the top Cornish Castles to visit – and you can more about it and other Cornish castles in our guide here.
- Opening Times for Launceston Castle: Launceston Castle closes for winter and reopens on April 1st. Regular opening hours are from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm.
- Admission Prices for Launceston Castle: The cost of admission to Launceston Castle is £6.50 for adults and £3.90 for children. English Heritage members may visit Launceston Castle for free!
Launceston Steam Railway
The Launceston Steam Railway is a narrow-gauge railway that runs through the lovely East Cornwall countryside during the summer. (you can check the train running times for the Steam Railway in Launceston here) This short train trip takes in some of the most wonderful scenery in the area, operating from Launceston to the village of Newmills, which is two and a half miles away. The train has both open and closed carriages. Newmills is a charming village that is ideal for a riverbank walk. Back in Launceston, visit the Transport and Engineering Museum and the Gift and Book Shop, both located conveniently near the train station.
- Opening Times for Launceston Steam Railway: The Launceston Steam Railway gates open at 10:30 am. The first train departs at 11:00 am and continues every hour until 4:00 pm. You can check running times here.
- Admission Prices for Launceston Steam Railway: The cost of admission to The Launceston Steam Railway is £12.25 for adults and £7.95 for children.
St. Mary Magdelene Church
One of the most remarkable churches in Cornwall is found in Launceston. St. Mary Magdelene Church has a clock tower and dominates the main street in Launceston. Inside there are several engravings representing various scenes from the town. Although the church dates from the late medieval period, the west tower is from a 14th-century church built by Edward the Black Prince when he was Duke of Cornwall. The original west tower doesn’t match the rest of the church, suggesting it was planned to be replaced. Catherine of Aragon’s pomegranate sign, Henry VIII’s arms, St Mary Magdelene, and St George and the Dragon are among the numerous exquisite carvings in the church.
- Opening Times for St. Mary Magdelene Church: St. Mary Magdelene Church is always open to the public; however, The St. Mary’s united service begins at 10:30 am or 5:30 pm.
- Admission Prices for St. Mary Magdelene Church: Free! (Donations are welcome)
St Mary Magdelene is a working church, but these fabulous converted chapels and churches are now glorious heavenly holiday homes – make your stay in Cornwall special and book one today!
Trethorne Leisure Park, Launceston
One of the most well-known destinations in Launceston for families to visit is the Trethorne Leisure Farm. There’s lots to do here, so the family won’t be bored regardless of whether they want to ride the dodgems, give ten-pin bowling a shot, take the kids to the playground, or go to the animal park. This is a great option of things to do in Launceston if you have kids and it’s easy to get to from Launceston – it’s just an 8-minute drive, or you can take the bus (number 425).
- Opening Times for Trethorne Leisure Park: Trethorne Leisure Park opens from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.
- Admission Prices for Trethorne Leisure Park: The cost of admission to Trethorne Leisure Park is £12.00 for adults and £12.00 for children.
- Trethorne Leisure Park website: https://trethorneleisure.com/
Visit the Tamar Otter and Wildlife Centre
The Tamar Otter and Wildlife Centre is a great place to see British otters. The Tamar Otter and Wildlife Centre is the only place in the West Country to consistently breed British otters. The wildlife centre also reintroduces young otters into the wild every year and runs a rehabilitation facility for orphaned cubs. There are regular feeding sessions during the day and the keepers also wildlife seminars. You’ll also be able to see three types of deer, peacocks, wallabies, Snowy and barn owls and waterfowl, as well as European and Asian short-clawed otters at the centre. The Tamar Otter centre also has nature trails and woodland walks, as well as two large lakes, a duck pond, and picnic areas. Along the nature trail, visitors may witness fallow deer and muntjacs. A waterfall also flows down the cliff of an abandoned quarry.
- Opening Times for Tamar Otter and Wildlife Centre: Tamar Otter and Wildlife Centre opens daily from 10:30 am to 6:00 pm.
- Admission Prices for Tamar Otter and Wildlife Centre: The cost of admission to Tamar Otter and Wildlife Centre is £9.50 for adults and £5.50 for children.
Gin Distillery, Launceston
The English Spirit Distillery offers visitors Tour & Tasting experiences, where you’ll learn the intricacy of manufacturing spirits from scratch in the custom-constructed copper pot still. The English Spirit Distillery in Cornwall has a unique method of distilling and making, British rum vodkas gins and experiments with single malts too! Their botanical domes house the ingredients for the spirits and the spring water that is used for the spirits is onsite too! Rum and gin tours here take 90 minutes and are a great way to learn about the industry! You can check tour availability here.
- Opening Times for English Spirit Distillery: English Spirit Distillery opens from 10:30 am to 5:00 pm daily.
- Address of the English Spirit Gin Distillery: Treguddick, South Petherwin, Launceston, PL15 7JN
- Admission Prices for English Spirit Distillery: The cost of admission to English Spirit Distillery is £20 per person.
Dingles Fairground Heritage Centre
The Dingles Fairground Heritage Centre is a 45,000 square-foot indoor attraction that offers a one-of-a-kind chance to explore our Fairground Heritage in a picturesque rural setting. Unlike any other in the UK, Dingles has been created to replicate the charm of a bygone era via exhibitions, antique engineering, and spectacular artwork displays, providing a fun day out for the whole family! There are excellent exhibitions of carnival art and memorabilia, as well as a huge number of operational antique rides, kiosks, and entertainment. Genuine carnival organs and antique fairground transportation are also available. Everything is enclosed, so you can enjoy your stay regardless of the weather. It’s a great wet weather thing to do near Launceston!
- Opening Times for Dingles Fairground: Dingles Fairground opens daily from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.
- Admission Prices for Dingles Fairground: The cost of admission to Dingles Fairground is £13.50 for adults and 11.70 for children.
Hidden Valley Discovery Centre
With its gardens, puzzles, nature paths, and miniature trains, the Hidden Valley Discovery Center has something for people of all ages! This unique amusement park is located near Launceston and covers more than 60 acres. The Hidden Valley is centred on the quest for hidden crystals, with various alternate treasure-seeking pathways to pick from. In addition to the ‘Forbidden Mansion’ and gardens, there is a miniature train, a children’s play area, and a huge outdoor maze. Visitors will discover a puzzling universe where not everything is as it appears. Some rooms seem to be ultimate upside down, and the mansion has many secret passages that might also –or it may not – aid hunters in locating their treasured possession.
- Opening Times for Hidden Valley Discovery Centre: Hidden Valley Discovery Centre opens daily from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.
- Admission Prices for Hidden Valley Discovery Centre: The cost of admission to Hidden Valley Discovery Centre is £12.00 for adults and £11.00 for children.
Things to do near Launceston, Cornwall
You now have a better idea of what to see and do in this wonderful area of Cornwall. In town, there’s Launceston Castle to explore, a steam train to ride on, and a host of both indoor and outdoor activities to keep you busy. But while you’re in the area, why not take a look at the things to do near Launceston?
Walk the Two Castles Trail from Launceston
The Two Castles Trail is a 24-mile path that connects Okehampton and Launceston Castles. The walk begins in Okehampton, Devon, ends in Launceston, Cornwall, (or the other way round) and winds along a route that is rich in history. The Two Castles Trail connects the castles of Okehampton in the east and Launceston in the west, taking you from the edge of Dartmoor, across historic battlegrounds, to the ancient capital of Cornwall. The Two Castles Trail route is split into four sections, each of which takes a full day to complete. The route includes road, woodland paths, field pathways, and open moor and downs crossings. Summers are dry, while winters are muddy on forested paths, fields, and moors.
Walk the Tamar Discovery Trail from Launceston
The Tamar Discovery Trail connects to Launceston as well. It’s a 9.5-mile (15-kilometre) hike to Milton Abbot in Devon that takes you through farms and quiet rural roads while taking in the fabulous grandeur of the river. You can catch the 117 bus back to Launceston in 20 minutes from Milton Abbot. Before you go, double-check bus schedules. Some Cornish buses are somewhat irregular, so know what bus you’re looking for before you go out! If you are unable to catch a bus, there are various cab drivers in Launceston, such as Dan’s Cabs that you can arrange collections from.
Visit the Antique Chair Museum near Launceston
Antique Chairs & Museum is a collection of antique chairs that date back 400 years. This museum also has a lot of the antiques for sale. In the exhibition, which features more than 250 chairs, the museum aims to portray some of the changes that have occurred over the previous 400 years, including the development of various forms and materials, as well as the transition from Elizabethan carpenter-made chairs to Georgian designer made chairs.
- Opening Times for Antique Chair Museum: Antique Chair Museum opens Monday – Saturday from 9:00 am to 5:30 pm.
- Admission Prices for Antique Chair Museum: Free! (Donations are welcome)
Visit the Wesley Cottage, near Launceston
Wesley Cottage is a fascinating historical site in the local hamlet of Trewint, which sits on the border of Bodmin Moor. The cottage comes from the 18th century and is where Methodism’s founder, John Wesley, preached. It was in 1744, that John Wesley stayed in this cottage. Wesley at this time was unusual, in that he preached without a book. The owner of the house, Digory Isbell had read in the bible of a Shunammite woman who built a Prophet’s Chamber for a man of God and took it upon himself to build a two-room extension to his house, a room for preaching and a room for sleeping when Wesley and his followers were in the area. The village of Trewint became a Methodist community because of this. The Wesley Cottage did fall into disrepair when other chapels were built in the area, but it was restored in 1950. There are Wesley Day Celebrations held in the cottage each year and the cottage is also thought to be the smallest Methodist preaching location in the world.
- Opening Times for Wesley Cottage: Wesley Cottage opens Tuesday – Saturday from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. (please check times here before travelling)
- Admission Prices for Wesley Cottage: Free! (Donations are welcome)
Visit Cothele near Launceston
Cotehele is a Tudor-style medieval mansion in the parish of Calstock in Cornwall’s east. It’s a vast granite and slate-stone manor house on the banks of the Tamar River that hasn’t changed much in five centuries. The principal phases of the building seem to have started about 1300, with Sir Richard Edgcumbe from 1485–89, followed by Sir Piers Edgcumbe from 1489–1520. The Tudor house is one of the least modified in the United Kingdom. A stone dovecote in outstanding shape may be seen among the outbuildings. Cothele is managed by the National Trust and members can enter for free.
- Opening Times for Cothele: Cothele opens daily from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm.
- Admission Prices for Cothele: The cost of admission to Cothele is £13.00 for adults and £6.50 for children. National Trust members get free entrance.
Visit the Tamar Valley near Launceston
If you like nature, you will undoubtedly enjoy the Tamar Valley. This lovely Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is a hidden jewel of Cornwall and Devon; while there, you may enjoy spectacular riverbank hikes and breathtaking vistas in both counties. The Tamar Valley covers 75 miles and stretches from Gunnislake to Plymouth and contains the Calstock Viaduct and other features. There is a hiking path along the route, and there’s also a train that you can take from Gunnislake to Plymouth. The Tamar Valley has been shaped by both the passage of time and the people who have lived here. There have been mines – at the peak of the mining boom, there were more than 100 mines along the river!
Explore Dartmoor National Park in Devon
Dartmoor National Park is a popular destination for visitors in the area, and it’s not far from Launceston. Dartmoor National Park, located in Devon, spans 954 square kilometres of rough moorland and villages. Dartmoor is quite simply glorious (on a nice day) and the National Park is best accessed by car. Though there are bus options if you want to visit a specific village, there is little public transportation on the moors in general.
Go to Bodmin Moor from Launceston
One of the benefits of Launceston as a location is that it’s almost centrally located between Dartmoor and Bodmin Moor. Bodmin Moor is located just west of Launceston. It is a rugged and bleak landscape that contributes to Cornwall’s lack of accessibility, although the A30 dual carriageway does run right through it!. Bodmin Moor has some glorious walks – and you can “scale Cornwall’s highest peak, Brown Willy, maxing out at 420 meters about sea level!. You can also see the gorgeous Golitha Falls waterfall, and visit the smuggler’s inn and Du Maurier’s favourite, the Jamaica Inn. Our guide to the best things to do in Bodmin is here.
Visit Tintagel Castle
Tintagel Castle is the most well-known and oldest castle in Cornwall and is located on the north coast of Cornwall, but just a 36-minute drive from Launceston. Tintagel Castle’s remains are said to be the castle of the King Arthur of myth and legend. King Arthur was a medieval king who served as the leader of Camelot and the Knights of the Round Table. Tintagel Castle is half-built on a headland projecting out into the sea and the peninsula. A bridge leads to the castle, which offers breathtaking views of the surrounding coastline. Many, if not all, of Tintagel’s stories and myths, are simple to envision and believe in.
- Opening Times for Tintagel Castle: Tintagel Castle has varying operating hours depending on the month. Tintagel Castle usually opens from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm.
- Admission Prices for Tintagel Castle: The cost of admission to Tintagel Castle is £16.00 for adults and £9.60 for children.
Go to the Jamaica Inn from Launceston
For more than four centuries, the coaching house immortalized by Daphne du Maurier in her book of the same name (and one of our top books about Cornwall) has existed on a high point of Bodmin Moor. The Jamaica Inn was founded in 1750 as a coaching inn for travellers passing across the wild and dangerous Bodmin Moor on their way from Launceston to Bodmin. Because the inn was distant and secluded, it served as a great rest stop for tourists from even farther off. It is said that the Inn gained its name because it conducted a lot of rum business. It is unknown if the inn was really used to conceal contraband, but it’s likely considering that half of the brandy and a quarter of the tea carried into the country were brought in via the beaches of Cornwall and Devon. There’s a smuggling museum here, rooms in which you can stay (see the rates here), and there’s also food available from 730am until 9 pm.
- Opening Times for Jamaica Inn: Jamaica Inn opens daily from 8:00 am to 9:00 pm.
- Admission Prices for Jamaica Inn: The cost of admission to the Jamaica Inn smuggling museum is £3.95 for adults and £2.95 for children.
Travel Tips for Exploring Cornwall
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Final Words on the Best Things to do in Launceston, Cornwall
Launceston is one of the more low-key places to visit in Cornwall. This market town is close to the Devon border and now is known as the gateway to Cornwall. Launceston has a great castle to visit and some superb walking around here as well as possibly the best Cornish pasties in Cornwall at Philip Warrens. Almost equidistant between Dartmoor and Bodmin Moor it is a fabulous place to base yourself for great moorland walking too.
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