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Things to do in Cornwall this Christmas

With bonfire night now firmly behind us, it’s time to turn our attention to Christmas. As ever, Cornwall’s festive line-up is hard to beat. From lantern trails and markets to foodie feasts, theatre productions and craft workshops taking place across the county — plus a smattering of festive sea swims planned at beaches up and down the coast (fancy dress optional) we have scoured the county to bring you the very best things to do in Cornwall this Christmas.

Visit a market or fair

The Eden Project’s glittering festive event is returning this year with hundreds of local producers, artists and craftspeople selling their wares, from food and drink to art and homeware. In nearby Fowey, the annual Christmas Market kicks off on Friday evening with the arrival of Father Christmas by tugboat whilst Fowey Town Band leads a lantern parade through the town, and there are fireworks and late-night shopping at all the town’s indies.

Under the soaring arches of Truro Cathedral, the Made in Cornwall Christmas fair is full of artisan delights, from homewares to ceramics to food and drink. We also love the markets at Healey’s Cyder Farm, which take place every weekend until Christmas and include cookie decorating and festive storytime for kids and Christmas cocktail making workshops for the grownups.

Take a trip on a heritage steam train

Chug through the Cornish countryside this Christmas on the popular Bodmin and Wenford heritage railway. There’ll be mince pies and carols on the platform, before passengers join Santa’s elves on the 50-minute train ride, which departs for Bodmin Parkway five times a day on selected dates in December. Children will get the chance the pen a letter to Father Christmas and meet Santa himself in his beautiful Victorian carriage. At Lappa Valley, a nostalgic steam train ride near Newquay, children will be able to meet and have photos with Rudolph, visit Father Christmas and his elves in his grotto, where every child receives a present, write and post your letter to Father Christmas, as well as enjoying the soft play area and woodland railway.

See a show

On the banks of the Helford River, A Christmas Carol will be performed in the award-winning Trebah Gardens with the Kernow Chamber Players playing live music, all preceded by mince pies and mulled wine in the restaurant. A slightly less traditional version of Dickens’ much-loved tale will take place at the open-air Minack Theatre, perched on a clifftop near Penzance in Mount’s Bay, where acclaimed Cornish actor David Mynne will be taking to the open air stage with his popular one-man adaptation. Don’t forget your blanket and hot toddy!

Following the success of last year’s panto, the Hall For Cornwall will be staging Barry’s classic Peter Pan at the Truro playhouse this Christmas. Another production that’s sure to warm the hearts of children and adults alike is the beautiful adaptation of The Mousehole Cat, a puppet and live-action performance which takes place in harbour village of Mousehole, famous for its illumination display.

Food and feasts

You’ll need to book ahead to grab a place at these candle-lit communal feast nights, held in the atmospheric oak barn at Nancarrow Farm, an organic farm and rural events venue near Truro. In December, they’ll be hosting four festive feasts across the month, where you’ll dine on their own beef or lamb, alongside plenty of local, seasonal ingredients from their kitchen garden. Sign up to their newsletter to make sure you’re first in line when the tickets are released.

Meet Father Christmas

The jolly chap in red is set to make an appearance at various grottos throughout Cornwall this December, including in the charming Head Gardeners Office at the Lost Gardens of Heligan and several National Trust estates, such as Trelissick House near Truro and the Elizabethan manor house of Trerice House just outside the surfing capital of Newquay. He’ll also be dropping into the Eden Project as part of a brand new interactive theatre experience at Cornwall’s award-winning visitor attraction, as well as Enys Gardens near Penryn as part of their magical woodland-themed experience.

Go for a dip

It wouldn’t be Christmas in Cornwall without a bracing dunk in the ice-cold sea surrounded by hundreds of other hardy fancy-dressed swimmers. If you’re feeling brave, you’ll find various beaches across the county hosting swims on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day. On Christmas Day, head to Gylly Beach in the maritime town Falmouth, Coverack Harbour on the Lizard, St Agnes and Polzeath on the north coast, or Sennen Cove in west Cornwall.

On Boxing Day, choose from Poldhu Beach on the Lizard Peninsula in south Cornwall, Porthminster Beach in St Ives, Charlestown Beach, Portreath Beach, or Portreath and Perranporth on the north coast. There are also plenty of swims on New Year’s Day, with Gorran Haven, Looe, Falmouth and Newquay all planning festive dips to herald the new year.

Visit a National Trust property

When it comes to creating a traditional Christmas experience, few places match the National Trust. At Trelissick House near Truro, the festivities revolve around the stables, where Father Christmas will regale children with seasonal stories (book ahead). The cafe will be serving mulled wine and winter warmers, and there will be a Christmas craft fair in the house and carols from local choirs in the tipi.

The historic Tudor house of Cotehele will return with its 60-foot Christmas garland adorning the Great Hall, and there will be performances from choirs, seasonal drinks on offer and illuminated garden trails around the grounds. Those visiting Trerice House near Newquay will be greeted with a beautifully decorated house, carols in the barn from local choirs and festive treats and bakes in the cafe.

Follow a lantern trail

Nothing says Christmas quite like a huge neon sea serpent snaking its way through a sleepy Cornish harbour. For a few weeks in December, little Mousehole is lit up by dozens of illuminations, like the 50 metre-long Santa’s sleigh and reindeers, in one of the UK’s most renowned Christmas lights displays. Expect carols, mulled wine and lots of places selling food and drink. Further north, the mile-long lantern trail that winds through the Lost Gardens of Heligan is one of Cornwall’s finest Christmas lights displays, depicting wildlife and scenes from nature, whilst the tunnels under the Shipwreck Treasure Museum — once used to transport China clay onto ships in Charlestown’s harbour — are lit up by thousands of lights, transforming the network of tunnels into a magical polar Arctic wonderland.

Just outside Penzance in west Cornwall, the National Trust gardens of Trengwainton, which usually close over the winter, will be hosting a community Christmas lights trail around the walled gardens with lanterns made by local school children. Warm up afterwards with a hot chocolate and a browse around the secondhand bookshop. 

Get crafty

It’s no surprise that a county as creative as Cornwall has a whole host of art and craft events taking place over the festive season. Those looking to make their own wreaths using local seasonal foliage can take part at venues across the county, including Cornwall’s newest lido in arty St Ives, Trebah Gardens on the Helford, the china clay works at Wheal Martyn, and the Polurrian Hotel on the Lizard Peninsula. For something a bit different, join the head gardeners at the Minack Theatre for a Cornish succulent wreath making workshop. The day includes lunch and mince pies and a tour of the garden where you’ll learn about the different succulents you’ll use.

Try something different

We all know about Santa’s grottos but how about breakfast or tea with Father Christmas instead this year? At Newquay Zoo, you can dine with Father Christmas at this family-friendly attraction on the north coast. Bringing the dog on holiday to Cornwall this year? Truro Cathedral is back for its annual pets’ carol service this December so you can have a sing-song with your pooch by your side. Returning again this year is Penzance’s Montol Festival, which celebrates the winter solstice and Cornish midwinter traditions — expect elaborate costumes and masks, fire-lit processions, and much Cornish dancing, music and merriment. And finally, it wouldn’t be Christmas without a little tipple or two, but how about creating your own Christmas spirit? Guided by the team at Colwith Farm Distillery, you can craft your own unique gin or vodka-based recipe on a Christmas spirit making workshop. Cheers!

Planning a Cornish escape this Christmas? Check out our cottages with availability over the festive season.