The southernmost city on the British mainland, Truro is in the shadow of a Gothic Revival cathedral started not long after the Truro diocese was founded in 1876. Long a port town, Truro took on new importance at the high watermark of Cornwall’s tin mining industry in the 1800s.
Solemn granite monuments built during this era now hold the Hall for Cornwall, a performing arts venue, and the first-rate Royal Cornwall Museum.
Truro borders an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is close to the unusually deep Carrick Roads, a flooded valley cleaved from the landscape in the last Ice Age.
Days can be spent sailing through unfrequented creeks, marvelling at country estates and getting lost in gardens where subtropical plants flourish in the mild Cornish air.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Truro:
1. Truro Cathedral
Possibly the loveliest Gothic Revival church in the country, Truro Cathedral was designed by John Loughborough Pearson who is credited for reintroducing the Medieval art of vaulting in the 19th century.
Made with granite, limestone and quartz-porphyry, the Truro Cathedral was completed in 1910 and is one of only three cathedrals in the country to have three spires.
Pearson gave the building a blend of English Decorated Gothic and French Rayonnant Gothic design, and the intricate windows are fitted with masterful stained glass.
The building is on the site of the 16th-century Church of St Mary, and the southeast corner incorporates the south aisle of this church.
Free guided tours are given daily at 11:00, Monday to Thursday, and there’s a restaurant/coffee shop and a gift shop.
2. Royal Cornwall Museum
The ultimate resource for Cornish life and culture, this museum stems from the Royal institution of Cornwall, which was founded in 1818. Since 1919 the Royal Cornwall Museum’s home has been the former Truro Savings Bank (1845) and the Truro Baptist Chapel (1848), a pair imposing granite-clad Neoclassical buildings.
In the galleries are insights about Cornwall’s mining heritage, along with a sensational variety of minerals collected around the Duchy.
There are also precious decorative arts, like ceramics, glass, furniture and silver, and an excellent collection of painting, including a piece by German master Lucas Cranach the Elder.
On top of that there are Ancient Egyptian, Greek, Roman and Byzantine artefacts, and a “World Cultures” collection made up of curiosities from Africa to Polynesia, picked up by Cornish people on the travels.
Set where the River Fal opens onto Carrick Roads, Trelissick is a charming country estate managed by the National Trust.
With inspiring maritime views, the gardens have exotic plants like ginger lilies, azaleas, rhododendron bushes, bananas and dahlias, as well as an orchard preserving local apple varieties.
On the main lawn is a colossal Japanese cedar, planted in 1898 and likely to live for many more centuries.
Posted on at the top of the slope over the estuary, the Neoclassical house dates 1755 and differs from many historic homes for its relaxed atmosphere.
After a spot of tea you can even have a go on the piano and take a break on the furniture and borrow binoculars to survey the landscape.
In 2018 there was an exhibition about former owner Ida Copeland, one of the first woman MPs when she took office in 1931.
4. Victoria Gardens
There’s another oasis of greenery right in the middle of Truro.
Victoria Gardens opened to celebrate Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee in 1897, partly laid out on the site of the slightly older Waterfall Gardens, which are still here.
Look west and you can admire the train viaduct, first built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel in 1859 and reconstructed in 1904. Victoria Gardens is on a stiff south-facing slope descending to the River Kenwyn.
Paths and stairways wind down to the water, next to bright ornamental flowerbeds and manicured lawns, following a design that hasn’t changed in more than 100 years.
The water for the park’s fountain, pond and waterfall all comes from the river via a hydraulic water ram.
Another Victorian holdover is the cast-iron bandstand holding concerts on Sunday afternoons in summer.
5. Cornwall Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
Truro is on the South Central portion of the Cornwall Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
This landscape is protected like a national park and is ready to be explored.
You can navigate the twisting creeks of the River Fal, edged by peaceful farmland and woodland.
The creeks attract birdlife like great white egrets and black-necked grebes, and you’ll never have to travel far before arriving at a delightful village with a Medieval church.
You can journey down the Roseland Peninsula to the eastern entrance to Carrick Roads fortified by St Mawes Castle, which dates to the reign of Henry VIII. The South West Coast Path, a National Trail, weaves along the rocky coast passing scenes that will stop you in your tracks, like the sweet harbour and beach at Portscatho.
6. Poppy Cottage Garden
A fragrant detour on your trip through the Roseland Peninsula is a magical cottage garden cramming an amazing amount of life into just one acre.
The garden, open Sunday to Thursday in spring and summer, is divided into “garden rooms” and themed borders.
You’ll be dazzled by vibrant array of exotic plants and trees, shrubs, grasses, herbaceous plants and bulbs, all taking turns to burst into flower.
A real delight is the wildlife orchard, which has miniature ducks and unusual chicken breeds.
Be sure to stop by the tearoom, which has coffee from the regional fair trade roasting house, Owens.
7. Healey’s Cornish Cyder Farm
Five miles out of Truro at Penhallow is Cornwall’s first cider mill and distillery for three centuries.
Healey’s Cornish Cyder Farm was founded in 1986 on what was then a dilapidated property, and has since become a family day out in summer.
You can visit the press house, cellars, distillery and museum to discover the knowhow that goes into cider and apple brandy.
You’ll get to sample cider, apple wine and brandy, as well as a selection of juices and jams.
For kids there are trailer rides through the orchards, and they’ll also get to meet goats, cows and pigs at the animal farm.
You can round off a visit with a Cornish cream tea at the restaurant or go for something heartier like an apple-infused “Ciderman’s Stew”.
8. Boat Trips
April to October Enterprise Boats, based in Truro, runs a timetable of cruises between Truro’s harbour and Falmouth.
Sailing through the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty on the Fal River, you’ll pass maritime locations that have gone down in history, get within metres of immense ocean-going vessels and see the beautiful historic properties that line the shore.
Once you get to Falmouth you’ll be at a dynamic port town with the third deepest natural harbour on Earth.
At the height of summer there are sailings seven days a week, on two 60-foot boats built in the 1960s.
There’s one stop during the trip, at Trelissick Garden, so you could combine your visit to the estate with this trip.
9. King Harry Ferry
There has been a ferry crossing on the Fal River between Feock in front of Trelissick Gardens and Philleigh on the Roseland side for hundreds of years.
Now, with a stunning view along the deep waters of the Carrick Roads and its wooded banks, the King Harry Ferry is often hailed as one of the most scenic ferry trips in the world, even if the voyage only lasts a couple of minutes.
The ferry runs every 20 minutes, saving a 26-mile detour around the Fal, and using a diesel-electric engine to pull its way along a submerged chain.
The first engine-powered vessel was a steam ferry introduced in 1888, and before that there was a manually propelled barge.
10. Water Activities
The gentle waters between Truro and Falmouth couldn’t be better suited to watersports.
The Loe Beach watersports centre is on Carrick Roads five miles south of Truro town.
If you’re holidaying as a family, this is the perfect opportunity to introduce children to water activities like kayaking and paddleboarding.
You can hire equipment for your own excursion or sign up for friendly lessons to learn the basics or brush up on your skills.
The centre also hires out dinghies, rowboats and motorboats for adventures along the Fal River, around Carrick Roads and up the various twisting creeks in the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
11. Lemon Street Market
By Truro’s Plaza Cinema in the city centre is an endearing indoor shopping destination set on two levels.
Lemon Street Market is an airy open building with cafe tables in its atrium and on the upper floor.
On the sides there’s a contemporary art gallery, a design shop, a Cornish fishmonger, a florist, a shop with an array of artisan gin and a zero waster refill store where people bring their own containers for household essentials like toothpaste, toiletries and dried goods.
There’s also a twee barbershop and Cliffside Clothing, selling colourful dresses and separates made from Italian linen.
12. Skinner’s Brewery
Right on the Truro River, the award-winning Skinner’s Brewery makes a range of cask-conditioned ales and bottled beer.
All take their names from local folklore, like the Land’s End ship-wrecker Madgy Figgy and Betty Stogs, a reformed neglectful mother who mends her ways after fairies steal and clean her child.
There are daily, year-round tours of the brewery, including two in July and August.
There you’ll see a brewery in action, finding out interesting details like the source of Skinner’s Cornish barley.
Your guide will have some riveting anecdotes about the day-to-day at the brewery and will introduce you to each of Skinner’s ales during a tutored tasting in the tap room.
Dating back to the 14th century, Tregothnan is a private estate owned by the Boscawen Family.
Exploring the Carrick Roads, you may catch sight of the spectacular 17th-century house above an inlet of the River Fal.
Tregothnan is best known for its garden, also private, which grew the first outdoor camellias in the UK at the turn of the 19th century, and has recently become the first place in the UK to grow tea.
Tregothnan produces goodies not normally associated with the UK, like manuka honey and rare kea plums for jam.
Avid botanists will be happy to pay the price of a private garden visit at Tregothnan or take part in a gardeners’ workshop.
But there’s another way onto the estate, during a charity garden opening once a year at the end of April.
14. St Agnes Heritage Coast
At Central Cornwall the peninsula tapers to just ten miles across, which puts the dramatic oceanscapes of the north coast in range.
The St Agnes Heritage Coast is little more than 15 minutes by car, and blends rugged coastal scenery with Cornish tin-mining heritage.
There are coves along the shore, like Chapel Porth beach, tucked into a former mining valley between daunting cliffs.
Try to time your visit for low tide as the beach is open to the full force of the Atlantic.
Other excellent local options are the Blue Flag Porthtowan, Trevaunance Cove and Trevallas-Porth beach, all of which have a savage beauty but are affected by the tides so require a bit of planning.
15. Hall for Cornwall
When this post was written in 2018 the Hall for Cornwall, a beloved performing arts venue attracting audiences of 180,000 a year, was closed for refurbishment.
Built from granite from the nearby Carn Brea hill in Redruth in 1846, the Hall for Cornwall used to be a municipal complex housing the town hall, police offices, cells, magistrates, stannary courts and the fire brigade.
After a fire in 1914 the building was refitted with a stage and reopened as a theatre in 1925. UK pop history was made here in 1970 when Queen played their first gig with Freddie Mercury as frontman.
Hall for Cornwall is the largest live arts venue in Cornwall, booking dance, comedy, music and theatre, but as a registered charity has also done much to foster interest in the arts and encourage participation in Truro and the Duchy.