Are you looking for some things to do in Bodmin, Cornwall’s old county town? Read on for some essential Bodmin attractions.
A local town sitting on the cusp of Bodmin Moor, Bodmin isn’t the first place that leaps to mind when you think about places to visit in Cornwall.
But its encapsulating history (it was Cornwall’s county town!), nearby hikes and range of family-friendly attractions make it somewhere that offers a different side to Cornish life.
In Bodmin, you can experience Victorian life at Lanhydrock Estate or see what the penal system was like in Bodmin Gaol, learn about the town’s origins as Cornwall’s administrative town at the Bodmin Town Museum, or head out to the moorland on foot, by car or by embarking on the Bodmin and Wenford Steam Railway.
So whether you’re on a day trip to Bodmin (it’s drive-able from most towns in Cornwall) or are staying here, here’s my list of the town’s best attractions!
Things to do in Bodmin
The best things to do in Bodmin include visiting Bodmin Gaol, exploring the enchanting Bodmin Moor, going back in time at the historic Lanhydrock House, learn about the town’s history in the town museum and at Bodmin Keep and climb on board the wonderful Bodmin to Wenford Steam Railway which traverses through the Cornish countryside.
Explore Bodmin Moor
Fancy a hike in Cornwall that’s away from the South West Coast Path?
Head to Bodmin Moor AONB.
This ancient granite moorland is home to the highest peaks of Cornwall, along with enchanting waterfalls and bright blue lakes.
But it’s the brooding grassland that has made it the setting of myths and folklore for centuries.
What is there to do on Bodmin Moor?
If you’re looking for water, head to Siblyback Lake, Colliford Lake or Golitha Falls (one of the best waterfalls in the area!).
The two highest peaks in Cornwall – Brown Willy and Rough Tor – are also in Bodmin Moor.
Summit either on a clear day, and you’ll see both coastlines and make out the minuscule outlines of Cornwall’s best villages and towns.
Is history more your thing? Bodmin delivered. It was populated during the Bronze Age, so there are ample ancient stones and cairns to discover.
Its rugged beauty certainly makes it one of the most beautiful places to visit in Cornwall.
There’s also an abundance of wildlife, including plenty of local Cornish birds and moorland ponies!
What’s the best way to explore Bodmin Moor?
If you’re hiking in Cornwall, you’ll be graced with ample trails and routes that traverse Bodmin Moor.
Whether you fancy a strenuous hike or a relaxed woodland walk, Bodmin Moor delivers!
However, if you don’t want to hike, you can road trip around the moors, driving around its main attractions.
It’s home to some of the most spectacular places to visit in South West England!
Do be aware that the moors can be very dangerous in bad weather, so make sure that you hike in the right weather conditions (read more about Cornwall weather here!) and ensure you have enough water, food, and a phone with decent coverage.
Head to a creaky prison to hear fascinating stories from times long gone…
This is Bodmin Jail, a somewhat eerie visitor attraction sitting in the heart of Bodmin town.
Bodmin Jail was refurbished in 2020 and has opened to become one of the best places to visit in Bodmin.
Tours will take you on an immersive experience around the ex-county jail, transporting back to the 19th century penal system – showing both the horrific way some prisoners were treated and the big strides that were made during this period.
This is particularly prudent at Bodmin, which many other Victorian jails were modelled on.
You’ll also learn how the bleak moorland provided a brooding backdrop for many crimes commited in the 19th century, and what this meant for the town of Bodmin (there’s even a segment about the beast of Bodmin Moor).
You can visit Bodmin Jail independently, but I would really recommend a tour.
You’ll get the chance to explore with a tour guide who knows countless jail secrets, and with them, you’ll gain a thorough education about the history of the establishment.
Are you into the supernatural? They do ghost tours too!
It’s definitely an unusual place to visit in Cornwall, but I’d argue that it’s one of the county’s iconic attractions, especially for history lovers!
Discover Cornish military history at Bodmin Keep, a historic building that used to be home of the army in Cornwall.
Nowadays, it’s a regimental museum that takes you through the military history of Cornwall, featuring some interesting displays on aspects of soldiers’ lives that have historically rarely been spoken about, such as PTSD.
Upstairs, there’s also a piece of the Berlin Wall!
It takes a couple of hours to look around all the exhibits of Bodmin Keep Museum, and it’s the ideal activity for a rainy day in Cornwall.
Set just outside of Bodmin – in the heart of Bodmin Moor – the historic coaching inn of Jamaica Inn echoes stories from times long gone.
Stop here either on your way to or from the town to learn about its history and literary intrigue, and take a drink at the bar or enjoy a slap-up pub meal!
The inn, which was built in around 1750, started life as a smuggler’s hideout – before the roads were built, smugglers could easily hide contraband in the pub on Bodmin Moor knowing that the police wouldn’t risk the journey.
Daphne Du Maurier’s book Jamaica Inn depicts this – although in a somewhat fantastical way!
Nowadays, visiting the inn is a much more relaxed affair.
The attached museum has a collection of smuggling artefacts, discussing this part of Cornish history that not that many tourists explore.
There is also a Daphne Du Maurier section that pays homage to Cornwall’s most renowned writer.
It’s one of the most unique things to do in Cornwall, that’s for sure.
There’s a farm shop on-site and a cosy pub which serves decent food and local Cornish beer.
Fancy staying the night? Rooms – both refurbished pub rooms and modern establishments – are available.
A National Trust-owned country estate and mansion just south of Bodmin, Lanhydrock sprawls over two floors, elegant gardens and a beautiful estate crisscrossed with hiking trails.
Lanhydrock blends the visual story of the Robartes family (a member of who was once called “the wealthiest in the west”), with tales of how fire devastated the house in 1881 and how a member of the family, Tommy Robartes, was killed during World War One with the life of servants downstairs.
I adore Lanhydrock House because the Victorian house reminds me of Downton Abbey (one of my all-time favourite TV shows) – walking around the house made me feel like I was strolling through the Crawley family’s home and many of the information boards follow similar themes to the period drama, including the change of British hierarchy in the early 20th century.
Keep an eye out for the 17th-century gatehouse in the grounds.
There are also some charming gardens to explore at Lanhydrock – it’s the ideal spot to explore on an afternoon walk near Bodmin if you don’t feel like braving the moors!
If you’re a National Trust member, you get free entry into Lanhydrock. Read more about National Trust membership by clicking here.
Bodmin Town Museum
For me, Bodmin’s most synonymous with museums – and another one to visit is Bodmin Town Museum.
This is free to enter and is brimming with information about the ex-county town of Cornwall.
Uncover incredible exhibitions on all parts of Bodmin’s history, including some natural history exhibits – once you’ve visited the museum, the keep and the jail, you’ll be a Bodmin expert!
As this is a small, community museum, it is staffed entirely by volunteers and only open for the peak summer period.
But if it’s open when you’re there, it offers a full education in Cornish history, from ancient times up through to the two World Wars and into the modern day.
Bodmin Beacon is hikeable from the town; it’s a vast grassy nature reserve with tremendous views over the town and moorland around it.
Perfect if you don’t want to embark on a longer hike around Bodmin Moor, this walk is 2.5 miles/ 4 kilometres and offers a brief snapshot into the moorland surroundings.
Bodmin Beach is most famous for its memorial to Sir Walter Raleigh Gilbert – not to be confused with Sir Walter Raleigh from East Budleigh in Devon.
Visit Bodmin Beacon at sunset for some of the best pictures of the Gilbert Memorial and breathtaking views of the town and moors!
Pencarrow House & Gardens
One of the finest country houses in Cornwall, Pencarrow House and Gardens is just a stone’s throw from Bodmin town.
The estate has been the residence of the Molesworth-St Aubyn family for nearly 500 years.
Nowadays, it comprises a Georgian house and some lovely gardens, an iron age fort and a children’s play area – making it ideal for a family day out.
If you’re into historic houses with a fascinating history, Pencarrow is a must-do while in Bodmin!
Camel Valley Vineyard
It’s a little-known fact that Cornwall has some excellent vineyards.
Camel Valley, founded by Bob and Annie Lindo, began producing award-winning wines in 1989, following their initial farming ventures with sheep and cattle.
Overcoming the early challenges and leveraging Bob’s experience in winemaking from Germany, they quickly won a national English Wine competition and maintained a consistent winning streak in both national and international competitions.
The winery is known for introducing Cornwall’s first Traditional Method sparkling wine and earning numerous awards, such as the Waitrose Drinks Producer of the Year in 2002 and the South West Business Challenge Award in 2003.
On a visit to the vineyard, you’ll delve deeper into the enterprise’s story by taking a tour and learning informative tales as you go and have the chance to sample some wine will looking over the vineyard panorama.
Camel Valley Vineyard is only a ten-minute drive from Bodmin.
Cycling Near Bodmin
Fancy exploring Cornwall on two wheels?
Pedal out from Bodmin town, and 18 miles later, you’ll find yourself at the North Cornwall coastline!
The Camel Trail connects Bodmin with Wadebridge and Padstow, and veers through mixed woodland and the scenic Cornish countryside.
Of course, you could also use the trail as a walking route (it’s flatter than the South West Coast Path and hikes on Bodmin Moor!).
If you make it all the way to Padstow, you can take the 11A bus back instead of doing the whole 18-mile route in reverse.
Bodmin & Wenford Steam Railway
The Bodmin and Wenford steam train puffs as it pulls away from its terminus in the centre of Bodmin town.
Originally a cargo transport route (established in 1834) but also used for passenger transport until 1967, the disused railway made a triumphant return as a heritage steam network through preservation efforts.
Now, it enthralls visitors with nostalgic rides between Bodmin Parkway and Boscarne Junction via the charming Victorian-era Bodmin General station.
Ideal for families and railway enthusiasts, it’s a nostalgic journey through the beautiful countryside around Bodmin.
Hole in the Wall
The Hole in the Wall is one of the most interesting places to visit in Bodmin.
It was the old debtor’s prison from 1749 to 1779 – used before Bodmin Gaol was opened.
It is named so because people used to pass food through the holes in the walls, and one of those holes is still viewable today!
Aside from holes in walls, it’s a decent pub – it takes advantage of roaring fires in the winter and a beer garden in the summer, with hearty Cornish pub food served year-round.
If you’ve checked off all of the best things to do in Bodmin and are looking for somewhere to recharge, here’s your spot!
If you’ve read Jamaica Inn, you will be familiar with the Vicar of Altarnun.
His involvement in the book is certainly unforgettable, but the actual village of Altarnun is a peaceful, charming country village on the edge of Bodmin Moor.
Sitting in the heart of the village, you’ll find St Nonna’s Church.
Famed as the “Cathedral of the Moors”, St Nonna’s Church in Altarnun, Cornwall, is a majestic example of Perpendicular architecture, boasting a towering 109ft steeple and intricate 15th-century woodwork.
Marrying history with mystery, this active Anglican parish church is not only enshrined in Daphne du Maurier’s ‘Jamaica Inn’ but also showcases a fine Norman font, seven stone crosses, and meticulously carved bench ends, making it a treasured cornerstone of both religious and cultural heritage.
It was also where Doc and Louisa married in Doc Martin!
It’s an 18-minute drive across the moor to reach it, but it’s a nice contrast to Bodmin town.
Where to stay in Bodmin
Bodmin town’s attractions can be enjoyed in a day, but if you want to spend some time hiking, you might like to stay in Bodmin.
In terms of places to stay in Cornwall, hotels here are relatively cheap, and they are great for moorland access.
Nestled on the fringes of Bodmin town, Castle Canyke Farm offers a tranquil farm-based B&B experience.
With cosy rooms, a serene atmosphere, and a hearty Cornish breakfast on the menu each morning, it’s an idyllic retreat for those looking to connect with nature.
Situated at the heart of Bodmin, The Westberry Hotel provides a comfortable and convenient stay.
Boasting 21 clean, en-suite rooms equipped with modern amenities, it also features an onsite restaurant for your dining convenience. Click here for more information.
At Bodmin Jail Hotel, experience the fusion of history and luxury with air-conditioned rooms fitted with modern amenities, alongside on-site facilities such as a fitness centre, restaurant, and bar.
Imagine Victorian prison meets luxury star hotel – if you can!
Cells are transformed to provide a unique, opulent experience while still retaining relics from their 19th-century history.
Immerse yourself in history and unique ambience by staying at the Jamaica Inn. This iconic hotel, steeped in lore, sits in an ideal moorland location, making it a perfect choice for hiking enthusiasts seeking a blend of adventure and heritage. Click here to read more about the hotel and book your stay.
Places to visit near Bodmin
Bodmin’s central Cornwall location makes it easy to reach almost any destination in Cornwall in a relatively short time.
Whether you want to see Looe in South East Cornwall or St Ives in the North West, you’ll be able to reach them by car in around an hour!
A few nearby places that I recommend are:
Immerse yourself in the rich lore of Tintagel, a Cornish gem steeped in Arthurian legend.
Housing the iconic Tintagel Castle, one of the most popular tourist attractions in all of Cornwall, this village buzzes with history and charm.
Tintagel Castle was allegedly where King Arthur was born (although this was a tale made up by Geoffery of Monmouth in the 13th century and is very likely untrue!).
However, there’s still an undeniable sense of magic and wonder to the village – delve into ancient stories at the National Trust Tintagel Post Office or the engaging Toy Museum.
Let the magic of King Arthur’s realm enthral you!
Newquay’s been capturing tourists of all demographics for decades.
A vibrant town in Cornwall, Newquay’s renowned for its magnificent beaches boasting the UK’s best surf breaks.
Head to Fistral Beach and look out for surfers on the Cribbar to see what I mean!
You could spend days exploring Newquay’s beautiful coast and admiring its wonderful beaches.
Particular favourites of mine are Watergate Bay Beach (where Boardmasters is held), privately-owned Lusty Glaze which is in a sheltered cove and Towan Beach, famous for its rocky outcrop connected to the inland by a beach.
In town, you’ll find everything from nightlife – Tom Thumb’s a favourite bar of mine – to family-friendly attractions like Lappa Valley and Trenance Gardens.
A gem of the north Cornish coastline, St Ives is where arty culture meets a charming beach town.
Artists have been inspired in St Ives for years, thanks to its postcard-perfect harbour and white-sand beaches lined with palm trees.
Catching waves at Porthminster Beach, visit renowned institutions like TATE St Ives, take a challenging hike to Zennor and or visit the seals at Seal Island.
St Ives beautifully blends a laid-back coastal lifestyle with a rich cultural tapestry, making it one of the most adored destinations in South West England.
Bude, perched on North Cornwall’s rocky coastline, is a vibrant holiday destination celebrated for its stunning beaches, exhilarating hikes, and family-friendly attractions.
It’s the perfect Cornish escapade, offering surfing opportunities at Widemouth Bay or b, rejuvenating swims in the Bude sea pool, and scenic trails along the South West Coast Path (including the hardest hike on the path from the town to Hartland Quay!).
The seaside town embodies a laid-back beachy vibe, making it an irresistible magnet for those seeking both relaxation and adventure.
It’s Cornwall’s only city – but despite the fact that Truro is the “capital” of the region, you won’t feel like you’re walking through a metropolis when you’re exploring!
With a population of around 20,000, this is a compact city, but its cobbled streets lined with Bath stone buildings still offer an impressive array of attractions—from its imposing cathedral and the enlightening Royal Cornwall Museum to its vibrant shopping scene and cultural events.
Truro’s also a launchpad for exploring cycling and hiking trails that crisscross the serene Cornish landscape.
With a unique blend of historic charm and modern vibrancy, Falmouth is an outstanding Cornish town with an intriguing past and a thriving present.
From exploring the centuries-old Pendennis Castle which was built to defend the area, immersing in maritime history at the National Maritime Museum Cornwall, indulging in its diverse food scene, to basking in the nearby exquisite beaches, Falmouth offers an eclectic mix of culture, history, and coastal beauty that makes it a must-visit destination in Cornwall.
Tucked away on the Fowey Estuary, this compact town brims with historical charm and attractions.
It’s another Cornwall highlight for Daphne Du Maurier fans – she lived in the town during the 1960s, and you can take a cruise to see the outside of her former home.
Fowey’s maze of ancient streets, leading to a picturesque harbour, invites throngs of curious tourists each summer.
From exploring the 16th-century St Catherine’s Castle near the serene Readymoney Cove, admiring the vibrant houses on the Esplanade, and discovering local history in the Fowey Museum, to venturing out on a harbour cruise or trying watersports, Fowey has something for everyone.
Plus, it’s also near to the indoor rainforest of the Eden Project and the beautiful Lost Gardens of Heligan.
FAQs about visiting Bodmin
Is Bodmin Town worth visiting?
Bodmin town may not be the most visually appealing in Cornwall, but it more than makes up for it with its rich history.
The town hosts various museums providing a fascinating insight into Cornwall’s past, making it an interesting visit for history buffs.
Why is Bodmin famous?
Bodmin is famous for its status as the old county town of Cornwall, a key administrative hub in times past. It’s known for its historical significance and cultural landmarks, such as Bodmin Keep and Bodmin Jail, and for its position on the edge of Bodmin Moor.
Does Bodmin have a castle?
Bodmin does not have a castle within its town limits. However, its rich history and heritage encompass other significant structures and landmarks. If you’re interested in a historic castle from an old county town, I highly recommend the one in Launceston.
What is the famous pub in Bodmin?
The most renowned pub in Bodmin is Jamaica Inn – although this actually isn’t in town itself, it’s in the middle of Bodmin Moor! This historic establishment gained fame through Daphne du Maurier’s novel, offering visitors a sense of mystery and a taste of Cornwall’s past.
What does Bodmin mean in English?
The name ‘Bodmin’ derives from the Cornish ‘Bosvenegh’, which means ‘house of the monks’. It reflects the fact that there was a monastery in town. The neighbouring moor was named after the town, with the Cornish name being Goen Bren.
Is Bodmin a town or village?
Bodmin is classified as a town, with a population of around 13,000 and a town council. Historically, it served as the county town of Cornwall – and was the most important in the region – but this has since been moved to Truro, Cornwall’s only city.
Has Bodmin got a beach?
Being an inland town, Bodmin doesn’t have a beach. Nonetheless, it’s within easy reach of the Cornish coastline, offering access to several beautiful beaches within a short drive. The closest beaches to Bodmin include Polzeath on the north, Daymer Bay on the Camel Estuary and Par Sands Beach on the south coast.
How to get to Bodmin
Bodmin is fairly easy to get to from other destinations in Cornwall and further afield.
It has a station – Bodmin Parkway station is located a ten-minute drive from the town centre and is on the Cornwall main line, with connections to London Paddington, Bristol, Birmingham and further north stations.
Are you driving to the town?
Bodmin’s just off the A30. Take the A303 (which connects to the M3, which connects to the M25 from London) or the M5 (from to Bristol or Birmingham) and then connect to the A30 into Cornwall.
As Bodmin isn’t located too far west in Cornwall, it’s a perfect location for a weekend trip!
Places to visit in Bodmin…
Bodmin doesn’t have the same glitz and glamour of Cornwall’s gorgeous villages like Port Isaac or St Ives, but as you can see, it’s one of the most interesting places to visit in Cornwall.
You’ll see another side of Cornwall at Bodmin – a side that has a fascinating, but sometimes dark, history, rugged, wild moors, and a country town atmosphere.
Whether you want to see ancient burial sites on the moorland, take in jaw-dropping views from Bodmin Beacon, see military artifacts at the regimental museum or uncover 19th century crime and punishment history, Bodmin delivers.
Add the ex-county town to Cornwall itinerary if you’re into culture, hiking or dark tourism!
I hope that this complete guide to Bodmin has been useful to you!
Please see the rest of my Cornwall posts for more inspiration!