From visiting the ancient castle to exploring the historic town centre, there are lots of things to do in Launceston.
Its inland location means that it is not that popular with tourists, but although it is not a big town, there is so much to uncover here.
It’s a fantastic place to visit if you are a history fan, interested in castles, or just want somewhere to stop on the way to other destinations in Cornwall.
It was Cornwall’s historic county town with an important Norman Castle and it’s where the Duke of Cornwall receives his feudal dues (Prince William’s ceremony date is still to be announced!).
Trust me, Launceston might surprise you!
So, if you’re wondering what to do in Launceston and other travel information about the Cornish town, we will go into it in this blog post!
Things to do in Launceston
From an ancient castle to some gorgeous churches to independent shopping, here are all of the top things to do in Launceston, Cornwall!
1. Launceston Castle
Launceston Castle is a historic motte and bailey castle dating back to the Norman conquest. It was built in 1070 by Robert, Count of Mortain, who was William the Conqueror’s half-brother, to administrate the surrounding area.
There is also a 13th-century round tower which was constructed by Richard Earl of Cornwall.
The castle was used as a prison in the 17th – 19th centuries and had several notable inmates, including George Fox, who founded the Quaker movement.
Most people in Cornwall supported the royalists in the civil war (which might seem surprising after its rebellions in the centuries before!), and Launceston Castle was used for Cornish royalist defence.
There is a display within the castle that goes into its long history, and it’s also well worth visiting for the historical architecture and the epic views over the Cornish countryside.
From the top, you can see both Bodmin Moor AND Dartmoor! We went on a glorious May day and were the only people there. It’s quite a steep climb to get to the top, but the views are worth it!
Launceston Castle is definitely one of the best things to do in Launceston and it is run by the English Heritage. You can buy tickets here.
Alternatively, click here to join the English Heritage and get unlimited access to all of their properties.
Where to park for Launceston Castle
There are a few car parks run by the Launceston town council, including this one at Castle Street which I’ve always used.
It costs £0.80 for one hour. The max you can stay is three hours (£3.80) for three hours and it’s free after 4:00 pm.
2. Launceston Steam Railway
The Launceston Steam Railway operates in the summer months and is a narrow-gauge railway that trundles through the beautiful East Cornwall countryside.
Running from Launceston to the hamlet of Newmills, which is two and a half miles away, this train ride takes in some of the most scenic views of the area, with open and closed cabins.
Newmills is a pretty hamlet and an excellent place for a riverside stroll. The Farm Park is also nearby.
Back in Launceston, enjoy the Transport and Engineering Museum and the Gift and Book Shop which are both by the station.
3. Treguddick Manor
Treguddick Manor is a newly opened distillery close to the town centre. They make copper pot-distilled spirits, such as vodka, gin, rum, single malt, and liqueur.
The distillery is open for tours and tastings. You can choose a general tour that will detail how the team distils copper pot spirits and goes through different stages – from finding the raw ingredients to bottling the spirit up.
Alternatively, there are rum and gin-specific tours available, where you can learn more about the process of each particular drink.
4. Lawrence House Museum
Lawrence House is a National Trust-owned Georgian townhouse in Launceston’s Castle Street.
The museum inside now operates as the Launceston Town Museum, with collections spread over three floors.
Learn about things like the Southern Railway Station, Launceston in the War, Victorian Launceston, notable people from the town and the Australian connection – I went to Launceston, Tasmania a few years ago and was intrigued to learn that yes, it is named after its Cornish counterpart!
Entry is free of charge, but donations are welcome.
5. St Mary Magdelene Church
St Mary Magdelene Church is one of the most interesting Cornish churches.
With a clock tower looming over the high street and engravings featuring different scenes from the town, this is definitely one of the best things to do in Launceston!
The church hails from the late medieval era, although the West Tower is from a 14th century church constructed by Edward the Black Prince when he was Duke of Cornwall.
This tower – that still stands today – was a watchtower, used to look over the town for enemy invaders (although not so much any more!).
It only had one bell at the time – this wasn’t used for church purposes but to warn citizens that the town was about to be attacked.
This always reminds me of the importance of the town of Launceston – it’s been the gateway to Cornwall for centuries.
The church nowadays has six bells which date back to 1720.
The cattle market was located at the bottom of the tower, and iron rings used to tether cattle remain there today!
The tower was also used as a weighing station, where vendors weighed wool and yarn.
And the earliest clock in Cornwall sits on the top of the tower!
The rest of Launceston’s church dates back to the late 15th century when the Black Prince’s chapel was destroyed and rebuilt. Work began in 1511 and finished in 1524.
However, the old west tower still doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the church, which suggests that there were plans to replace it as well.
There are many elaborate carvings on the church, including the pomegranate symbol of Catherine of Aragon and Henry VIII’s arms, the figure of St Mary Magdelene, and St George and the Dragon.
6. Polson Bridge
Myself and my partner are border nerds (he’s actually writing a book all about borders in the UK!) so this was one of the top attractions for us. It’s worth checking out if you’re at all interested in history!
The historic Polson Bridge used to be one of the only ways to cross the river Tamar – historically, there used to be a lot more boat crossings than there are today!
Polson was constructed not long after the Norman conquest as an easy way to reach Launceston Castle from Devon.
It was also the spot where Royalist and Parliamentarian forces fought in the Civil War, and the limit of the parole area in the 19th century – criminals who stepped over the bridge and broke their parole could be sent to prison.
It is also where the Duke of Cornwall used to collect royalties!
More recently, of course, the Cornwall/ Devon border was subject to different tier restrictions in 2020/ 2021 lockdowns, strengthening this border for the first time in around 500 years.
The bridge has been destroyed and rebuilt a few times, and the one you see today dates back to 1833. You can drive over it to travel between Cornwall and Devon!
It’s quite a busy road (it’s off the A30, but quite a few cars still take this route), so you might not be able to stop. But, if you’re interested in history, it’s worth taking a detour when driving to/ from Launceston and crossing Polsoe Bridge!
If you want to visit a historic Tamar bridge that you can walk along, drive to Horsebridge, a small hamlet in Devon, which has a bridge spanning the river that dates back to 1437!
This Medieval bridge was apparently built by French Benedictine Monks, who also opened a nunnery close by – now “The Royal Inn”, Horsebridge’s pub.
It is around a 20 minute drive from Launceston, but it’s one of the best places to visit nearby for history and countryside life!
8. The Bearhouse Gallery
The Bearhouse Gallery is a teddy bear company that was founded in the town in 2005.
The gallery is a wonderful place for children and features a vast collection of teddy bears and toys.
As well as seeing countless bears and learning about the design process, there is also a Charlie Bears store.
Entry to the Bearhouse Gallery costs £3 (free for children, over 60s and Best Friends Club Members). All entrants receive a free “Cuddle Coin”.
9. Hikes near Launceston
As it sits right in the Cornish countryside, there are plenty of hikes to enjoy near Launceston.
Two Castles Trail
One of these is the Two Castles Trail. This takes you to nearby Okehampton, where another Norman castle – with a lot of similarities to Launceston’s – is located.
This is a 24 mile hike, and most people spend four days walking the distance, dong 5-7 miles each day.
If you don’t want to do the whole hike, you could just do the first part to Lifton.
This takes you over the River Tamar and through some of Launceston’s best surrounding countryside for about five miles. It is an easy 9 minute ride on the 6A bus to get back to Launceston from Lifton.
Tamar Discovery Trail
The Tamar Discovery Trail also links to Launceston.
It is a 9.5 mile or 15 kilometre hike to Milton Abbot in Devon, which passes through some fields and quiet country roads, enjoying the epic scenery of the river.
From Milton Abbot, you can take the 117 bus back to Launceston, which takes 20 minutes.
Make sure that you check bus times before you set out. Some Cornish buses are really quite irregular, so have an idea of what bus you’re aiming for before you head off! Find 117 bus times here.
If you find that you are unable to get a bus, there are some taxi firms in Launceston, such as Dan’s Cabs.
10. Launceston Priory Ruins
The Launceston Priory ruins date back to 1127, when a monastery was constructed within the town.
The priory was sold in 1539 due to the Dissolution of the Monasteries (when Henry VIII broke with Rome and changed the country’s religion so he could get a divorce!).
Ultimately, it was an abandoned building, and the stones and roof were robbed; it fell into complete disrepair and was used as a rubbish tip!
Luckily, in recent years what remains has been preserved. It’s nothing like its former glory, but it is interesting for those who want to visit ancient ruins.
It is one of the best free things to do in Launceston and is open during daylight hours. If you’re interested in a guided tour of the ruins, contact the priory through their website.
11. Visit the independent shops in town
There are many independent shops in the centre of town, perfect if you want to do some souvenir shopping!
In fact, Cornwall Live has called Launceston “a shopping destination with something for everyone”
From boutique stores to art galleries, you should find plenty for the shopaholic in you on Launceston High Street!
12. Wesley Cottage
Wesley Cottage is located in the nearby hamlet of Trewint, which is on the edge of Bodmin Moor, and is a fascinating historical place.
The cottage dates back to the 18th century and is where the founder of Methodism – John Wesley – preached.
John Wesley stayed in this house in 1744.
The owners noticed that he prayed without a book, which meant that he was of a new religion. They had read about a woman who built a prophet’s chamber and took that as divine intervention.
So Digory, the owner of the house, constructed two rooms that he invited John Wesley to use.
Due to this, Trewint became a Methodist community.
Wesley Cottage did fall into disrepair when some other chapels opened in the area, but it was restored in 1950.
Check out the Wesley Cottage website for information about visiting.
13. Antique Chair Museum
The Antique Chair Museum is a collection of historic chairs that date from the 17th century to the early 1900s.
You’ll see the change in chair styles throughout the last 400 years and be able to enjoy some unique craftsmanship.
Plus, the Antique Chair Museum is actually a live museum – nearly all of the chairs in the museum are for sale (apart from some really rare and irreplaceable items).
So if you want a unique souvenir from your time in Launceston, this is the place!
The Antique Chair Museum is on Colhay Farm, which is a 5 minute drive or 30 minute walk from Launceston.
It is open Monday – Saturday 9:00 am to 5:30 pm.
14. Trethorne Leisure Park
Trethorne Leisure Centre is one of the best attractions for families near Launceston.
Whether you want to go on the dodgems, try your hand at ten-pin bowling, visit the playground with the little ones, or go to the animal park, there are loads of attractions here.
If you are looking for somewhere near Launceston to spend a family day, Trethorne Leisure Park is ideal.
It is an 8-minute drive from the town centre or you can take the 425 bus most of the way. It costs £12.00 for adults and children and is free for those under three.
15. Hidden Valley Discovery Park
One of the best things to do in Launceston with kids (but suitable for all ages!) Hidden Valley Discovery Park is a puzzle park with a variety of puzzle mazes, play areas and a miniature railway.
One of the best dog-friendly attractions in Cornwall, and with a lovely cafe, it’s a fun day out for all the family!
16. Dingles Fairground Museum
Have fun at the fair at this one-of-a-kind museum!
Located just over the border in Devon, Dingles Fairground Museum is home to the National Fairground Collection, the only of its kind in the UK.
See retro fairground art, be amazed at historic rides and take a seat on one of the many working fairground rides!
It’s a great day out for kids, but adults alike will love the touch of nostalgia!
Places to visit near Launceston
There are quite a few towns, villages and attractions within striking distance of Launceston – so if you’re staying in the area and have a car, you can easily drive to any of these! My favourites are:
Okehampton is located in Devon, not too far over the River Tamar and just north of Dartmoor.
Like Launceston, it is a historic market town with lots of beautiful old buildings.
The most famous of these is Okehampton Castle, which was built around the same time as Launceston Castle.
There’s also the fascinating Museum of Dartmoor Life, where you can learn all about the culture and history of the moors.
18. Tamar Valley
Nature lovers will adore the Tamar Valley.
This beautiful countryside is a hidden gem of Cornwall and Devon – while visiting, you’ll be able to enjoy epic riverside walks and stunning scenery in both counties.
The Tamar Valley runs from Gunnislake to Plymouth and includes the viaduct of Calstock and other areas.
A hiking trail runs down the route, and you can also take a scenic train from Gunnislake to Plymouth, where you can enjoy some of the most epic train scenery!
Another way to enjoy the Tamar is a canoe trip from Calstock with Serious Outdoor Skills. This three-hour trip will help you really experience the River Tamar in all its glory!
19. Dartmoor National Park
Dartmoor National Park is one of the top UK travel destinations, and it isn’t too far from Launceston.
Sitting over the border in Devon, Dartmoor National Park encompasses 954 km² of rugged moorland and charismatic towns.
There are so many things to do in Dartmoor, so I would recommend sticking to the western part of the park as this is close to Launceston. Attractions in this area include:
- The historic Postbridge Clapper Bridge
- Dartmoor Prison Museum
- The dramatic Lydford Gorge, which is the deepest in England, and the nearby town of Lydford
- The hilltop Brentor Church
- The market town of Tavistock
- The National Trust property Buckland Abbey
20. Bodmin Moor
Bodmin Moor sits just to the west of Launceston.
It’s a wild and desolate place and is part of the reason why Cornwall was historically so impassable.
There are many things to do in Bodmin Moor, including incredible hikes, climbing to the top of Cornwall’s two highest peaks, visiting the beautiful Golitha Falls and visiting the smuggler’s pub Jamaica Inn.
You can enjoy attractions in Bodmin town too, such as Bodmin Jail, Bodmin Keep and the nearby Lanhydrock House.
21. Tintagel Castle
Tintagel Castle is a medieval castle with mythical connections.
Located on the north coast of Cornwall, it was owned by Richard, Earl of Cornwall – he didn’t visit the castle much but occasionally made an appearance!
Since the Victorian era, Tintagel Castle has been a site of myth.
Rumour has it that King Arthur was born there – this, of course, is a legend, but it does add an air of spirituality to visiting!
The castle ruins are beautiful and fascinating, and the coastline is stunning, but it is quite an expensive day out. I would recommend joining the English Heritage or the Cornwall Heritage Trust before visiting.
22. Port Isaac
Port Isaac is a 45 minute drive from Launceston, and it’s one of the best places to visit in Cornwall.
Most famous for being the filming location of Doc Martin, Port Isaac has a scenic harbour and jaw-dropping views from the surrounding clifftops.
Things to do in Port Isaac include a Doc Martin tour, hiking the South West Coast Path, and browsing the shops and cafes of the village.
23. Camel Creek Adventure Park
Camel Creek Adventure Park is close to Wadebridge and is a fun theme park for all the family.
Rides include swinging chairs, a log flume, and lots more.
Where is the closest beach to Launceston?
While Launceston isn’t a beach town, you’re never too far from the coast in Cornwall and Devon!
Bude is the closest beach, about a 30-minute drive away.
Bude is a chilled-out surf town with beautiful beaches, including Crooklets Beach, Summerleaze, and Widemouth Bay.
Other things to do in Bude include strolling down the Bude Canal and visiting Bude Castle, which now operates as the town’s museum.
Bude is also connected to Launceston by the 12 bus.
Looe is the nearest beach town on the south coast.
It has been a beach resort for more than 200 years and sits on both sides of the Looe River.
There is an array of beaches near Looe, as well as the picturesque estuary.
Looe is a 50 minute drive from Launceston.
You can take the bus, but you will need first to take the 236 and then the 73, and it takes nearly 2 hours. Cornish buses can sometimes be a headache!
Where to stay in Launceston
Primrose Cottage B&B is a comfortable guesthouse offering studios or suites. Each room is spotlessly clean and has comfortable furniture, and all have their own private patio. The hosts are considerate and attentive, and serve an a la carte breakfast every day. Click here to read more.
Trethorne Hotel and Golf Club offers contemporary accommodation with well-furnished rooms and modern en suite bathrooms. As the name suggests there is a golf club on site, along with a bar and children’s play area. Click here for more information.
The Eagle House is a unique place to stay in Launceston. With a grand exterior and period decor inside, all rooms hark back to a bygone era, although there are lots of mod cons to make your stay comfortable. There is a beautiful view from the terrace and a bar on site. Click here to read more.
If you want self-contained accommodation, Avallon Lodges have villas with en suite bathrooms and kitchenettes with a fridge, a microwave and hobs. Plus each lodge has a hot tub! The lodges are 7 miles from Launceston, but they are in the heart of its beautiful countryside. Click here for more information.
Your Launceston Travel Guide!
As I said, Launceston may surprise you – and I hope this guide has proven just that!
If you’re venturing further west in the Duchy, I recommend checking out the rest of my Cornwall posts – I’ve covered most places.
Feel free to drop me a message on Instagram if you have any questions!