It’s good to know in our digital, virtual world that channelling incoming tides around sandcastles still provides great joy. And wrap-around beaches aren’t Devon and Cornwall’s only child-friendly assets. Rafts of activities and bucketloads of attractions ensure they’re an absolute delight for kids, and adults re-connecting with child-like joys.
Best Regions For Kids
- Newquay & the North Coast
This water-sports magnet has beaches galore, an aquarium, farm attraction and puffing steam trains. Investigate Bude, Perranporth and St Agnes, too.
- Torquay & South Devon
Torquay offers oodles of beaches plus an eco-zoo, giant cliffside aviary, prehistoric caves and a model village. South Devon serves up surfing beaches and river trips.
- South Cornwall
Head here for the Eden Project, a shipwreck museum, child-friendly maritime museum, and incredibly cute seal and monkey sanctuaries.
- Exmoor & North Devon
North Devon dishes up superb surfing, huge dune-backed beaches, and the mega-attraction, the Big Sheep. Exmoor offers deer-watching and wildlife discovery days.
Devon & Cornwall for Kids
A plethora of child-focused attractions and activities ensure the southwest delivers fantastic family holidays. Attractions are well attuned to the needs of parents and children: displays are targeted at young minds, cafes feature kid-friendly meals, and baby-changing rooms are common. Many hotels, pubs and restaurants cater well for kids, but it pays to check. As elsewhere, some people will frown on breast-feeding, while others will barely notice.
The beaches of Cornwall and Devon are glorious, but do present safety issues; sadly fatalities are not unknown. Most of the key tourist beaches have lifeguards; head for one that does, then follow the lifeguards’ advice. Be especially wary of rip currents and fast-rising tides. Lifeguard cover is seasonal (often Easter to September) and tends to finish at 5pm or 6pm. The RNLI Lifeboats website (www.rnli.org) lists which beaches it covers and when.
Some sections of the Devon and Cornwall coast are prone to cliff-falls; keep an eye out for warning signs.
- Paignton Zoo, Torquay Innovative 32-hectare, multi-habitat eco-zoo.
- Flambards, Helston Theme park with heritage-themed features plus rollercoaster and log flume.
- Camel Creek, Padstow Some 60 rides and attractions set in 40 hectares.
- The Big Sheep (www.thebigsheep.co.uk) All-weather theme park near Bideford, with an agricultural feel.
- Eden Project, South East Cornwall A heated eco-attraction with a playful feel.
- National Marine Aquarium, Plymouth Underwater walkways reveal sharks, octopuses and huge rays.
- Kents Cavern, Torquay Cavemen, a devil’s toenail and Stone Age handprints.
- National Maritime Museum, Falmouth Superb displays; crammed with hands-on activities.
- Underground Passages, Exeter Ancient tunnels and stories of ghosts and cholera.
Kid-Friendly Heritage Sites
- Arlington Court, North Devon Country estate with horse carriages, peacocks and bats.
- Pendennis Castle, Falmouth An atmospheric Tudor Gun Room, and hands-on exhibits.
- RAMM, Exeter Fun, child-friendly museum displays in a slick, modern setting.
- Geevor Tin Mine, Pendeen Underground tour and an opportunity to pan for minerals at this iconic Cornish mine.
- Castle Drogo, Dartmoor Crenellations and playhouses at the last castle to be built in England.
- Porthcurno Telegraph Museum, Porthcurno Secret war-time tunnels and a whirring telegraphy kit.
When to Go
School holidays see accommodation demand, and prices, spike. But summer, Easter and half-term also see attractions extend their opening hours, often putting on special family-friendly events.
Families fare well for sleep spots in Devon and Cornwall. Some accommodation providers can provide put-me-up beds.
Self-catering and camping offer great flexibility. Look out for the new breed of ‘comfy camping’ options, where Romany caravans and safari-style tents come with their own fire pits.
All over Cornwall and Devon, organisations run superb child-focused events. Pirate parades, rock-pool rambles, night-time hikes and archery days – these family experiences can define your trip.
Cornwall Wildlife Trust (www.cornwallwildlifetrust.org.uk)
Dartmoor National Park Authority (DNPA; www.dartmoor.gov.uk)
National Trust (NT; www.nationaltrust.org.uk)
English Heritage (EH; www.english-heritage.org.uk)
Exmoor National Park Authority (ENPA; www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk)
South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB; www.southdevonaonb.org.uk)
Torbay Coast & Countryside (www.countryside-trust.org.uk)
For all-round information and advice, check out Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children.
Cornwall Beach Guide (www.cornwallbeachguide.co.uk) Detailed guide to Cornwall's beaches.
Day out with the Kids (www.dayoutwiththekids.co.uk) Activity directory, searchable by region.
Visit Cornwall (www.visitcornwall.com) Filters attractions by age-range.
Visit Devon (www.visitdevon.co.uk) Has sub-sections on family-friendly attractions and free days out.