Eden Project

Top choice nature centre in St Austell

Image by Will Gray Getty Images

Built at the bottom of a china clay pit, the giant biomes of the Eden Project – the world's largest greenhouses – have become Cornwall's most famous landmark, and an absolutely essential visit. Looking rather like a lunar landing station, Eden's bubble-shaped biomes maintain miniature ecosystems that enable all kinds of weird and wonderful plants to flourish – from stinky rafflesia flowers and banana trees in the Rainforest Biome to cacti and soaring palms in the Mediterranean Biome. Book online for discounted admission.

Built to mark the start of the new millennium, and now considered one of Britain's modern architectural wonders, the Eden Project aims to explore issues of environment and conservation, and point the way to a cleaner, greener future for us all, with exhibits around the complex covering everything from global warming to rubber production and chocolate-making. It's incredibly impressive as well as educational and inspiring.

From the visitor centre, paths lead down into the pit where the two biomes rise up like giant bubbled domes, surrounded by landscaped gardens. Each biome is stocked with fauna that would flourish in its native habitat, exploring the ways in which plants, climate, weather, insects and animals interact to create their unique ecosystems. The highlight is the steamy, tropical Rainforest Biome, where a gravity-defying treetop walkway winds its way through the jungle canopy.

The Core, an education centre whose design mirrors the structure of a sunflower, and contains various interactive exhibits and a gigantic seed sculpture.

Recently, Eden has added several outdoor activities, including England's longest zip wire (£25 in addition to the standard admission price), plus a giant gravity swing, a 12m-high bungee drop, a climbing wall and a heart-stopping 25m 'free fall' jump on to an airbag (for over 18s only). You have to pay for each activity, but there are combo tickets available.

In summer, the biomes provide a backdrop for live concerts during the Eden Sessions, and in winter host a full-size ice rink. There's a YHA hostel, and plans have been announced to build an eco-hotel.

The Eden site is at Bodelva, about a 5-mile drive from St Austell. There are 10% discounts for buying tickets online and arriving by public transport, and joint tickets with the Lost Gardens of Heligan. Local tourist offices also sell discounted tickets.

Note that the ticket desks open at 9.30am, but the biomes aren't open until 10am. Dogs are allowed outside on the site but not inside the biomes.

Bus 101 runs hourly from St Austell train station.