A genuine secret garden, the once-thriving Heligan estate was lost for decades under dense undergrowth until a door to one of the walled gardens was discovered by accident in 1990. An award-winning restoration project followed and you can now explore 200 acres of subtropical gardens, ancient woodland and a jungle filled with strange and marvellous plants and trees.
Intrepid Victorian plant hunters brought their exotic treasures to Cornwall’s frost-free valleys to preserve and cultivate them – Heligan’s “jungle” is often several degrees warmer than the rest of the country.
We loved imagining we were plant explorers, dwarfed by towering tree ferns, giant rhubarb and banana trees in the subtropical jungle before crossing the wobbly Burmese rope bridge and seeking out the slumbering Mud Maid, The Giant’s Head and the Grey Lady sculptures on the woodland walk. There are rare breeds of sheep, pigs and cattle to meet, wildlife hides from which to observe nesting barn owls and other native birds and even an insect hotel to visit. Besides the trails, rope swings and adventure playground there are additional activities during school holidays, such as den building, storytelling and craft workshops.
There are plenty of scenic picnic spots. Alternatively, Heligan Kitchen beside the entrance offers hot and cold meals and sandwiches, using produce from the gardens and estate. A breakfast roll costs £4, sandwiches from £3.50 and homemade quiches and pies from £5; kids’ boxes are available, too. The Stewards House within the gardens also offers sandwiches (from £2.95), cakes (from £2) and hot and cold drinks.
You can bypass the gift shop if you choose but it does have an excellent selection of toys (such as handmade spinning tops from £1.50 to £10), jewellery, crafts, organic skincare products and tasty Cornish treats, many of which have been created by staff on site or local artisans.
By car, head to St Austell and take the B3273 towards Mevagissey and then follow the brown signs. The nearest railway station is St Austell, five minutes away from the gardens by the 471 bus or taxi. The gardens are linked to National Cycle Network, Route 3.
Yes, you can easily spend a full day here and it’s a memorable day out. Adults £14.50, students £8.50, children (5-17) £6.50, under 5s free, seniors £12.50. Family (2 adults and up to 3 children) £37.50. Buy a combined ticket for Heligan and the Eden Project and save 10%.
Gardens and estate open daily 10am-5pm (last tickets 3.30pm) from 1 October to 31 March and 10am-6pm (last tickets 4.30pm) from 1 April to 30 September. Closed Christmas Day.