The Lost Gardens of Heligan, Cornwall

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In a nutshell

The Lost Gardens of Heligan offer 200 acres of garden and estate to explore - from the Victorian walled gardens to the subtropical Jungle. There are mysterious sculptures to discover, animals to meet, a Burmese rope bridge and children’s play areas.

  • Pros

    Beautiful, magical space with loads to explore

  • Cons

    Some parts less easily accessible due to steep gradients

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Our review

What age are the Lost Gardens of Helicon suitable for?

  • Best for: All ages, and particularly those with lots of energy
  • Still manageable for: Those with limited mobility

How much does it cost in 2018?

Ticket prices are:

  • £14.50 per adult
  • £6.50 per child (5-17 years)
  • £37.50 for a family ticket

Are there any entry discounts available?

  • A Locals Pass is available during October, giving residents of Devon and Cornwall unlimited entry for a year for the price of a normal garden admission
  • And a combined ticket offer with The Eden Project gives up to 10 per cent off the entry to both
  • Heligan is a member of The Great Gardens of Cornwall - too, so, if you plan to visit more than one of the Great Gardens pick up a leaflet for discounted entry
  • Plus - as an RHS Partner Garden, RHS members can explore the gardens with their membership cards from the beginning of November to the end of March
  • Also - check the Best Days Out Cornwall Guide, available locally, for discount vouchers

Will there be any extra charges once we’re in there?

If you take your own food and drink there’s no need to fork out for anything else once you’re inside, and you could definitely have a very full day out for your money.

Having said that, there are a few tempting options for snacks and meals, using produce from the Kitchen Garden where possible. 

Prices are reasonable - starting from £3.50 for sandwiches and £5.50 for soups and salads, so you might want to factor in a bit extra for a nice lunch or afternoon tea.

The gift shop also features some lovely things from local suppliers, including clothes from the Cornish organic children’s brand Frugi.

How long will we spend at The Lost Gardens of Heligan?

The estate covers more than 200 acres so to see everything would take a couple of days.

The official guide suggests a minimum of 4 hours to get a taste of The Gardens, The Jungle and The Estate.

With stops for children to rest, play and have some food it’s definitely a full day out.

Opening dates and times:

April - September: 10am - 6pm (last tickets 4:30pm)

October - March: 10am - 5pm (last tickets 3:30pm)

Worth a long car journey?

The Lost Gardens are one of the UK’s iconic botanical gardens and there’s so much for families to see and do that they are worth making a special trip for.

And there’s a campsite right next door, on part of the original estate, if you really want to make a holiday of it. 

Although the garden and estate don’t open till 10am, the reception and Heligan’s Kitchen open at 9:30am, so you can arrive a little early and grab a coffee or breakfast first.

What’s it like for families?

When the weather’s OK, our best days out as a family are spent outdoors, in beautiful places where the children can run wild, exploring nature while we all get a good walk and plenty of fresh air. 

So Heligan was a dream for us - our 5 year old barely stopped running the whole time we were there.

What did the kids like best about The Lost Gardens?

Around every corner there was something new to discover. Both children loved the Giant’s Adventure Trail and iconic Woodland Sculptures, as well as the play area on the East Lawn, where we had our picnic lunch. 

We all enjoyed taking our shoes and socks off to try out the barefoot trail. And the children were thrilled to discover that Heligan boasts a real-life jungle, where our eldest bravely took on the rather wobbly Burmese rope bridge (this is not recommended for under 5s so I sat it out with our baby and three year old.)

The children were quite worn out by the time we made it to the gardens themselves, so we spent less time here, but there was a spectacular display of dahlias which they found unexpectedly fascinating, and lots of “secret” nooks and crannies to explore.

It was a very relaxed way to spend time as a family as there was loads to see and do but no pressure to try to fit everything in or get to places at certain times - we just meandered around, taking our time in places where the children were happy and moving on once they started to get bored.

How easy was it to find your way around the grounds?

We were provided with an illustrated map when we arrived, which helped us to plot a vague route taking in the locations that we thought would be most fun for the children, such as the farm animals, play areas and rope bridge. It also gave us a bit of Heligan’s fascinating history and how it was rediscovered and restored. 

Do they put on seasonal events / extra activities?

Yes - there are seasonal trails and family-orientated events throughout the year, including the popular Heligan Wild Week in May, with a host of outdoor activities and workshops. 

What to bring:

We saw a few families with buggies around the estate but parts of it are definitely not accessible on wheels so bring a sling/backpack for younger children.

There is a buggy park if you want to take a pushchair so far and then leave it. Decent footwear for everyone is also a must as some of the paths are steep and can be slippery.

I’d suggest plenty of snacks and drinks too - there’s a good range of eateries but they are closer to the entrance and garden so you may need something to keep everyone going through The Jungle!

And a basic first kit might come in handy to patch up any minor bumps and grazes.

What to watch out for:

Steep ground: The terrain is very steep in places so it’s worth planning your journey ahead to make sure it will be manageable for everyone in your group, and to allow for plenty of rests. The map is colour-coded to show the easier routes and those that are more challenging.

The Burma Rope Bridge has a one-way system and isn’t recommended for children under 5s so you will need to plan for that if you have older and younger children in your group.

Fitting it all in: My main piece of advice would be not to try to do everything - spend a bit of time planning which areas will appeal most to everyone in your group and then explore them at a leisurely pace.

Food and drink at The Lost Gardens of Heligan:

There’s a great choice of food and drink at Heligan.

Helicon’s Kitchen: Near the ticket office there’s Heligan Kitchen, serving breakfasts, lunchtime specials and refreshments, as well as a coffee bar selling takeaway hot drinks and snacks, and an ice-cream hut. 

Much of the produce is sourced directly from the estate and cooked on site. Freshly-made sandwiches start from £3.50 and a lunch special is around £10. 

Steward’s House Cafe: Further in, near the Steward’s Garden, there’s The Steward’s House Cafe, with sandwiches and cakes, a BBQ hut and another ice-cream hut.

If you’ve explored the estate first, this is a good place to stop for a treat or quick pick-me-up before moving on to the gardens, although opening times may change in quieter months.

What about taking a picnic?

While the food looked very tempting, we decided to take a picnic. There are a few picnic tables on the East Lawn and more by the Steward’s Garden.

What are the toilets like?

There are plenty of toilets in a block near the entrance/exit and more inside the gardens near at the Steward’s House.

They’re well serviced, with decent baby change facilities, disabled toilets, RoomMate technology for blind and visually impaired visitors, and a Changing Places toilet. 

There aren’t toilets in the wider grounds of the estate.

Is it pushchair/wheelchair accessible?

As mentioned elsewhere, not all of the estate is accessible to pushchairs and wheelchairs, but most of the 13-acre Northern Gardens is fully accessible.

Free Wheelchair Access maps are available from the ticket office and you can also download a copy of the access guide on the website. There’s free entry for a personal assistant for those who need help during their visit.

Other disability / special needs assistance:

Disabled parking bays are provided near the entrance and manual wheelchairs are available to borrow free of charge.

A mobility scooter is also available on loan but pre-booking is advised.

And assistance dogs on harnesses are welcome throughout the year.

What should you do before you go to The Lost Gardens of Heligan?

It’s definitely worth having a look at the website and getting a good idea of the areas you’d most like to explore during your visit.

The Families at Heligan page helpfully lists the activities and locations most popular with children so you can work them into your itinerary for the day.

And reading up a little on the History of Heligan will help to bring the magic and romance of its restoration alive for you and your children.

You might also want to check out what’s on at the Eden Project and other Great Gardens of Cornwall around the time of your visit if you’re thinking of taking advantage of the discounted tickets available.

And check the weather! This is very much an outdoor attraction, so if it’s looking very wet you might want to try to reschedule your visit.

Tips for getting to The Lost Gardens of Heligan:

By road: From St Austell take the B3273 towards Mevagissey and follow the brown tourist signs to The Lost Gardens of Heligan. 

There’s loads of free parking. Be aware that Sat Nav may take you down narrow country lanes unsuitable for larger vehicles, so it’s best to follow the brown tourist signs from St Austell.

By bicycle: The Lost Gardens are directly linked to National Cycle Network Route Number 3, providing a safe, virtually traffic-free link to Mevagissey, Pentewan and St Austell. There is a dedicated cycle park in the main car-park and cyclists will get a small discount on admission.

By public transport: St Austell is the nearest railway station and is only five miles from the gardens. There is a taxi rank outside, or visitors can catch the Travel Cornwall 471 service, which stops right inside the Heligan car-park.

By ferry: A seasonal ferry service operates between the local ports of Fowey and Mevagissey, Heligan’s nearest harbour. It’s then about half an hour’s walk to the gardens. 

Ask the ferry crew for a map and show your ferry ticket at the Heligan ticket office for a small discount on admission.

Check out the Lost Gardens of Helicon website.

Read more reviews on Trip Advisor.

MFM verdict:

The gardens were a magical day out for the whole family. The children loved running wild, getting close to nature and exploring the play areas. 

As parents it was great for us to see them having such a wonderful time in a beautiful outdoor setting, and we enjoyed it just as much.

It really is worth reading up on the history of the gardens as this will bring them to life even more when you go round them.

And if at all possible, do try and do a weather check to make sure you go on a day when the gardens are at their best. 

It doesn’t have to be hot summer weather – a cold crisp autumn day would make this a memorable experience too. 

Intro to me:

We’re a family of 5 who live in Cornwall. We visited The Lost Gardens of Heligan on a warm and sunny Saturday in September with a 5 year old, 3 year old and 11-month-old baby.