It wasn’t until the 18th century that St Austell was anything more than a small mining town, but following the discovery of china clay pits this South Cornwall town became an influential and more prosperous market town. The china clay, or kaolin, shaped both St Austell and the economy here for centuries and you can still see its mark in and around the town. Today St Austell is centred around White River Place, which was built with recycled parts of the Bull Ring, from Birmingham. St Austell is historic, it’s one of Cornwall’s largest towns, and it’s also home to the St Austell Brewery, whose flagship beer, Tribute is famous the world around. Here are the best things to do in St Austell, Cornwall.
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Right up front, I’m going to address a nickname given to St Austell by some. Yes, that’s right, it’s been known as St Awful in recent years. Why? There has been antisocial behaviour here, there’s poverty here too (and in a lot of Cornwall) and the nickname stuck. So too, however, did the nickname “Aussie” (or Ozzie). But recent investment and economic regeneration are helping to turn the town around. I’ve been and stayed in St Austell twice in recent years and found the places that I’ve visited friendly and open. Why don’t you come too and find out for yourself? My guide to the best places to stay in St Austell is here.
A Brief History of St. Austell
St. Austell is named after the Cornish Saint Austol. This is not listed in the Domesday Book of 1086 but appears in writing for the first time in the mid-12th century. In the Middle Ages, St. Austell had a few hundred individuals. It was South East Cornwall’s main market. St. Austell also hosted once-a-year fairs reminiscent of medieval marketplaces. St. Austell was dirty and unhealthy, and plague outbreaks decimated the town in 1648. The town recovered, and between 1791 and 1795, Charles Rashleigh developed Charlestown near St. Austell, which is now known as the setting for the iconic television series, Poldark!
The 15 Best Things to Do in St. Austell
St Austell is a town on Cornwall’s south coast in a great location for visiting many of the major things to do in South Cornwall. There are some great things to see and do here – from the magnificent Eden Project to the lovely Charlestown and the beaches on the coast here are just gorgeous too. You don’t have to travel far and there’s a diverse range of eating alternatives, from more refined options to fast food.
1. Visit the Eden Project
There’s absolutely no dispute, that this is the best thing to do in St Austell, and it makes a great spot to start your trip to St. Austell! Without a doubt, the Eden Project is THE most popular tourist site in the West Country. The Eden Project is located 2 miles north of St Austell, in a deep crater left behind from centuries of China clay extraction. There are grounds here the size of 30 football fields and the Eden Project is home to two stunning “biomes” that create a climate that mimics the Tropics and the Mediterranean.
These simulated ecosystems feature a variety of plants, trees, and flowers that are native to those areas. But the Eden Project is about much more – there are a whole lot of other gardens on the vast site, from the allotments to herb gardens, while the focus is on education and environmental aspects, this is an amazing day out and one to return to time after time.
- Address of Eden Project: Eden Project, Bodelva, Cornwall, PL24 2SG, United Kingdom
- Opening Times for Eden Project: The Eden Project is from 08:45 until (last tickets) 4 pm. Winter times are 30 minutes later for opening time. Check the times of your visit here.
- Admission Prices for Eden Project: The admission fee to the Eden Project is £32.50 for adults and £11 for children.
2. Visit Hangloose Eden Adventure from St Austell
Now that you’ve explored the Eden Project, why not see it from a completely different perspective? Above. With Hangloose in St Austell, you can fly over the landmark Rainforest and Mediterranean Biome buildings, as well as the massive outdoor gardens. You don’t need to pay for entry to the Eden Project, this is a separate adventure. There’s also a climbing adventure spot here at Eden – want to see more?
- Address of Hangloose Adventure: Eden Project, Bodelva, Par PL24 2SG, United Kingdom
- Opening Times for Hangloose Adventure: Hangloose Adventure is open daily from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm.
- Admission Prices for Hangloose Adventure: Activities Fees for Hangloose Adventure start at £15 and packages start at £50. No Eden entrance is required.
3. Play Football Golf in St Austell
Sticking close to the Eden Project, Cornwall Football Golf is the first of its kind in the UK. The rules here are similar to those of golf, but instead of using a club, you kick a football into a hole. It’s a bit like crazy golf but on a bigger scale. You’ll have to deal with hazards and obstacles (see I said it was like crazy golf), and it’s suited to all age groups, from 5 to 85! There are two courses here, a level one, called Parkland and a hillier one called Hillside, all set within 18 acres with some lovely sea views as you boot your balls around the courses!
- Address of Cornwall Football Golf Park: Cornwall Football Golf, Trenowah Road, St Austell, Cornwall PL25 3GD, United Kingdom
- Opening Times for Cornwall Football Golf Park: Cornwall Football Golf Park is open daily from 10:00 am to 7:00 pm.
- Admission Prices for Cornwall Football Golf Park: The admission fee to Cornwall Football Golf Park for 18-hole parkland or hillside is £10.00 for adults and £7.00 for children. Unlimited Play Parkland & Hillside costs £15.00 for adults and £12.00 for children.
4. Visit Tregrehan Garden, St Austell
This hidden floral sanctuary in St Austell Bay is one of Cornwall’s Great Gardens. The Tregrehan Garden Estate is gorgeous, and the park here dates from the 18th century. The south terrace was designed in 1843 and changed in 1970 when there was a swimming pool added. The magnificent Victorian Glass House adds to the garden’s elegance and timelessness. The gardens include plant materials from China, Chile, Tasmania, Vietnam, Japan, and Mexico, forming Cornwall’s unique temperate rainforest. The goal is to collect data for conservation and research purposes. The charming and relaxing Tregrehan Garden is ideal for just strolling among the lovely plants and trees and enjoying their beauty. You’ll find some of the largest trees of their types in the UK here, including the UK’s largest Gingko tree.
- Address of Tregrehan Garden: Tregrehan House, Par PL24 2SJ, United Kingdom
- Opening Times for Tregrehan Garden: Tregrehan Garden is open from June 1st to October 26th, from 1:00 pm to 4:30 pm on Wednesday afternoons.
- Admission Prices for Tregrehan Garden: The admission fee to Tregrehan Garden is £10.00 for adults and children under 16 are free.
5. Visit Pinetum Gardens
Pinetum Gardens is found in the heart of St Austell, and provides a haven of serenity, and tranquillity, in the centre of town. Pinetum is a family-owned garden that stretches for 30 acres and has been more than four decades in the making. There are 12 unique themed garden rooms, which together contain one of the biggest plant collections in the country.
- Address of Pinetum Gardens: Holmbush Rd, Holmbush, Saint Austell PL25 3RQ, United Kingdom
- Opening Times for Pinetum Gardens: Pinetum Gardens is open daily from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.
- Admission Prices for Pinetum Gardens: The admission fee to Pinetum Gardens is £16.00 for adults and £8.00 for children.
6. Take a Wine Tour and Tasting at Knightor Winery
Knightor Winery is set amidst 4 acres of vines and orchards. They produce top-grade English wine only a short distance from the Eden Project. This Cornish vineyard makes a limited volume of still, sparkling, and English vermouth using grapes cultivated in their own vineyards in Portscatho and Seaton on the South Cornish coast, as well as some other English vineyards.
You can take a tour here for £20 between April and September on Sundays at noon.
- Address of Knightor Winery: Knightor Winery Trethurgy Cornwall, Saint Austell PL26 8YQ, United Kingdom
- Opening Times for Knightor Winery: Knightor Winery is open Wednesday to Saturday from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm, Sunday from 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm, and closed Monday to Tuesday.
- Tour Prices for Knightor Winery: Guided tours to Knightor Winery cost £20.00.
7. Cycle the Pentewan Valley Trail (or Walk it!)
The Pentewan Trail is a 5.5-kilometre traffic-free bike route in Cornwall that connects St Austell with Pentewan down on the coast. It’s one of the best traffic-free short bike paths in Cornwall, another, the likely more famous one is the Camel Trail that goes from Bodmin to Padstow (and you can read more about that in our guide to Bodmin here). For a period, the Pentewan Valley Trail follows National Cycle Route 3 along the St Austell River and an old railway line and then as you go into King’s Wood, there is also a wooded part.
The best location to begin is in Pentewan, at Pentewan Valley Cycle Hire, where you can rent bikes and where you can park too.
The trail to St Austell from Pentewan is simple, level, and traffic-free, cyclists should watch out for walkers (as the trail is multi-purpose) and walkers should keep their eyes open for cyclists too! The track might get muddy after rain, so dress accordingly! An additional traffic-free detour (3.4 km each way) will bring you to the Lost Gardens of Heligan, which is a great place to visit, but I’d also allocate an entire day to see one of Cornwall’s best gardens!
- Address of Pentewan Valley Trail: West End Carpark, Pentewan, Cornwall PL26 6BX, United Kingdom
- Opening Times for Pentewan Valley Trail: Pentewan Valley Trail is open 24 hours daily.
- Admission Prices for Pentewan Valley Trail: Free! (Donations are welcome)
8. Tregothnan Tea and Orchard Tours
Europe’s biggest tea garden, with a 700-year history, is home to Tregothnan Estate, in Cornwall’s optimum environment for botanical gardens. Tregothnan is an approved “safe spot” for rare or endangered trees from throughout the world and this Cornish garden has numerous ‘Red Book’ endangered plants and trees that are bigger than any that may be found in the wild. Recent plants were brought from a trip to both Japan and South America in 2007 to add colour to the garden.
Tregothnan Tours of the Tea plantation here take about 2 hours. Yes truly, you can tour a tea plantation in Cornwall and also buy Cornish tea. There are tea tours, tea experiences, Bee Keeping experiences and Gardeners workshops available here too. There’s more information here.
- Address of Tregothnan: Tregothnan, The Woodyard, St Michael Penkivel, Truro TR2 4AJ, United Kingdom
- Opening Times for Tregothnan: Tregothnan is open from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm Monday to Friday and closed on Weekends.
- Admission Prices for Tregothnan: Tregothnan’s £10 entry fee is donated to charity.
9. Visit the Wheal Martyn Clayworks Museum
The Cornish Wheal Martyn Clayworks Museum is the UK’s only clay works museum and this interactive discovery centre near St Austell is set within the preserved Victorian era china lay works. This museum near St Austell contains Cornwall’s largest working waterwheel and tells the stories of those involved in the China Clay industry. The Wheal Martyn Museum is less than 2 miles from St Austell train station and includes 26 acres of woodland and trails, there’s also a Pit View that gives you a birds-eye view of all the operations here at this current working clay pit!
- Address of Wheal Martyn Clayworks Museum: Wheal Martyn, Carthew, Bodmin Road, St. Austell, Cornwall PL26 8XG, United Kingdom
- Opening Times for Wheal Martyn Clayworks Museum: Wheal Martyn Clayworks Museum is open from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm (winter) and from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm (summer).
- Admission Prices for Wheal Martyn Clayworks Museum: The admission fee to Wheal Martyn Clayworks Museum is £12 for adults and £6.00 for children.
10. Take a tour of the St Austell Brewery
Famous for the flagship beer, Tribute, the St Austell Brewery showcases its 160-year-old brewing technique at their Visitor Centre here in St Austell. Guided tours of the Victorian Brewery explore how water is provided to the brewing process via a hidden spring, and take you through all of the brewing process. From 90-minute tours that include a tasting session to 30-minute sampling sessions, this is a great way to explore one of Cornwall’s favourite drinks. (there’s more on Cornish food and drink here).
- Address of St Austell Brewery: St Austell Brewery Company Limited, Trevarthian Road, St Austell, Cornwall PL25 4BY, United Kingdom
- Opening Times for St Austell Brewery: St Austell Brewery is open daily from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.
- Admission Prices for St Austell Brewery: St Austell Brewery’s brewing experience costs £20. This includes one Beer Token, which can be used for a pint or bottle of beer to take home.
11. Visit the Shipwreck Treasure Museum and Heritage Centre (Charlestown)
Perfect for a rainy day in Cornwall, the Shipwreck Treasure Museum in Charlestown, just down the road from St Austell contains artefacts from more than 150 shipwrecks. The museum includes more than 8,000 items and a lot of histories and tales of those who were involved in the wrecks. There’s also a big photographic collection here detailing many of the TV shows and movies that were filmed here in Charlestown.
This is a great place to visit on a rainy day in Cornwall – for more inspiration check our guide here
- Address of Shipwreck Treasure Museum and Heritage Centre: Shipwreck Treasure Museum, Quay Road, Charlestown, St. Austell, Cornwall PL25 3NJ, United Kingdom
- Opening Times for Shipwreck Treasure Museum and Heritage Centre: Shipwreck Treasure Museum and Heritage Centre is open daily from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.
- Admission Prices for Shipwreck Treasure Museum and Heritage Centre: The admission fee to Shipwreck Treasure Museum and Heritage Centre is £12.50 for adults and £8.00 for children.
12. Hike or Cycle the Clay Trails around St Austell
There are now 9 – mostly off-road – clay trails near St Austell. These multi-purpose trails, used for walking, cycling or horse-riding wind their way through the old industrial areas that were created by the clay mining industry. The trails are peaceful, being reclaimed by nature, but still with well-made paths. They’re a great way to explore a little more of the china clay history of St Austell.
- Address of Clay Trails: Wheal Martyn Car Park, Bodmin Road, Carthew, St Austell, Cornwall PL26 8XG, United Kingdom
- Opening Times for Clay Trails: Clay Trails is open 24 hours daily.
- Admission Prices for Clay Trails: Free! (Donations are welcome)
13. Walk part of the South West Coast Path near St Austell
The 10-mile length of coast walk between Mevagissey and Par is my favourite part of the South West Coast Path and you should approach it in two parts. The first section is a relatively easy stroll along the protected beaches of Par and St. Austell, including skirting through picturesque Charlestown. The walk gets considerably more difficult as you leave St Austell behind, taking in the National Trust-owned Black Head and Pentewan, with multiple climbs up the tops of the cliffs and then some pretty steep descents back down to sea level. This part of the South West Coast path finishes in the lovely Mevagissey (there’s more on what to do in Mevagissey here).
If you want to walk the path one way and then return by public transport, check the times on Go Cornwall here. The bus takes about 40 minutes, but there are only 3 a day. We recommend taking the bus in the morning and walking back to St Austell.
14. Explore the Luxulyan Valley
The 2-mile wilderness area of the Luxulyan Valley is near St. Austell (and you’ll also see signposts for it if you’re heading to Fowey). The Par River runs through this area and it’s a good place to go hunting for relics from Cornwall’s mining heritage. There are two trails – one that’s 2.5 miles long and another that’s 4 miles long that takes you from the Black Hill Luxulyan Valley car park up to the Treffy Viaduct. The trail then tracks the old horse-drawn tramway to the wheel pit, where a 30 foot waterwheel was used to push wagons back up the incline.
You can make this into a circular walk really easily and there’s more on what you can see – and the old Cornish mine relics to see along the route here.
- Address of Luxulyan Valley: Luxulyan, Saint Austell PL26 8YE, United Kingdom
- Opening Times for Luxulyan Valley: Luxulyan Valley is open 24 hours daily.
- Admission Prices for Luxulyan Valley: Free! (Donations are welcome)
15. Visit the Beaches near St Austell
St Austell is about two miles from the south coast of Cornwall, the closest beach is at Pentewan, where there is a big campsite and caravan park, but you’ll also find lots of fabulous beaches in the area too. There’s more on the best beaches in South Cornwall in our guide here.
Carlyon Bay: Carlyon Bay is the most well-known of the local beaches. This popular protected from the prevailing winds beach has a beautiful stretch of sand. Carlyon Bay is extremely popular in the summer months. There is enough space for everyone, but the car park fills up quickly, so you’ll want to arrive early.
Duporth Beach: At low tide, Duporth Beach is a nice long sand and pebble beach with rock pools. There’s no parking here, and no facilities either, which means it’s often pretty quiet.
Porthpean: Porthpean is a tiny beach in Charlestown that provides a (usually) quiet expanse of sand for relaxing and for kids to play. Porthpean has a great view over the bay to the Dodman and the Gribbin Daymark to the west and east.
Charlestown Beach: Charlestown Beach is a south-facing, sloping shingle beach accessible by stairs on the east (left) side of the historic port.
Pentewan Beach: And we’re ending with my personal favourite, I’ve spent many an hour here at Pentewan and nights under canvas in the campsite too! Pentewan is a popular family beach where it’s safe to swim unless the wind is gusting strongly from the east. Pentewan Beach faces east into St Austell Bay, providing protection from the usual wind and waves. If you fancy watersports, then you can rent canoes and sailing dinghies from Pentewan Sands Holiday Park.
Map of Things to do in St Austell, Cornwall.
You can also see the St Austell map of things to do here.
Looking for more things to do? Here’s our guide to the best things to do near St Austell.
Final Words on the 15 Best Things to Do in St. Austell, Cornwall
The china clay history of St Austell that you see imprinted on the landscapes around St Austell has impacted much of her history since the 18th century. From the china clay pits, which now gives us the Eden Project, to the Wheal Martyn Museum and the china clay trails, this is a great place to come to learn a little more about the economics of the industry and the impact it had on this once small village. St Austell is a good place to base yourself to explore the South of Cornwall, there are some super gardens to visit around, great walking and cycling trails as well as some fabulous beaches too!
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