Launceston is an ancient market town that was once one of the most important in the southwest. It is known as the ‘gateway to Cornwall’, due to the A30 running very close by (the road used to go through the town itself).
Walk around the narrow streets of Launceston and you get a real sense of the town’s ancient history. Up on the hill is the Norman castle overlooking the town and rolling countryside beyond. There's the remains of a defensive wall that once circled the town, a 14th century gatehouse into the old town and tucked away below the castle is a row of grand houses that Sir John Betjeman described as the loveliest Georgian street in Cornwall.
Still a hub of activity, Launceston serves the local agricultural community who come to the town from miles around, so you’ll find traditional butchers and bakers along with independent shops selling everything from second hand books to pet supplies. The indoor Friday Market at St Mary's Hall sells locally produced food, plants and an assortment of crafts and there's a market held in the town square on the second Saturday of each month.
The town is the starting point of two walking routes, the Two Castles Trails between Launceston and Okehampton Castle, and the Tamar Valley Discovery Trail between Launceston and Plymouth.
Things to do
There is plenty to do during a visit to this part of Cornwall. Locally there's the castle and grounds to explore, a narrow gauge steam railway to ride on, Lawrence House Museum, which is very child friendly, and the parish church is famed for its carvings, both inside and out.
Nature lovers might want to head to the nearby Otter Sanctuary, time it right and you will see the otters being fed. Heading west, Trethorne has an indoor and outdoor play area plus farm animals, and just up the road is Hidden Valley where nothing is as it seems. Crossing into Devon, a short drive up the A30 takes you to a wonderful vintage fairground museum where you can enjoy all the fun of the fair on rides from your childhood.
Sitting in the Tamar Valley, there's also plenty of beautiful countryside to explore and both Dartmoor and Bodmin Moor are on your doorstep. The north coast is less than 20 miles away at Bude and being on the A30, nowhere in Cornwall is more than two hours away, even Land's End!
Launceston's favourite son
Charles Causley (1917-2003) is acknowledged as one of the finest of all 20th-century English poets. He spent most of his life living in Launceston teaching in local primary schools and writing, editing and broadcasting in his spare time. His first volume of poetry was published in 1951, but it wasn’t until the late 1960s that he published his first book aimed at children. Even then he would say that “there are no good poems for children that are only for children”
Causley was highly regarded by his fellow poets and when he turned 65, many of them, including Ted Hughes, Roger McGough and Seamus Heaney, contributed poems to a collection dedicated to him. His work is kept alive by The Charles Causley Trust, who aims is to raise the profile and appreciation of his work, and to promote writing and the other arts, specifically in South West England. Each year they hold the The Charles Causley Festival of Arts and Literature plus other events around Launceston.
Sorry, no results.
Plan your trip
Everything you need to know to plan your perfect trip to Launceston
The M4, M5 and M6 motorways have made travel to Cornwall simple and straightforward, while within Cornwall itself, the A30 and A38 continue to improve with fast dual carriageways.
Follow the M5 to Exeter, and join the A30. Launceston is just off the A30 shortly after you cross the border into Cornwall. The long stay car parked is signed as you enter the town centre.
Launceston is served by busses linking it to Plymouth, Exeter, Bude and Liskeard, plus many of the outlying villages.
National Express does not go anywhere near the town, it would be best to get off at Exeter or Plymouth.
Everything you need to know to plan your perfect Cornish getaway.View all
It is what's known as a Motte and Bailey Castle and was probably built for Robert the Count of Mortain in the late 11th century. It initially comprised an earthwork and timber castle with a large motte in one corner. Rebuilt in stone in the 12th century and substantially redeveloped after 1227, including a high tower to enable visitors to view his surrounding lands.
Although already a ruin, the Royalists used it during the English Civil War after which it was stripped for its building materials. A small jail was later erected in the centre of the bailey, which was also used for executions, but by the 1840's this had been moved to Bodmin.
The Ministry of Works took over the guardianship of the castle in 1951 and it is now managed by English Heritage. Prince Charles was officially proclaimed Duke of Cornwall there in 1973 and we wait to see if the same ceremony will take place now that Prince William is Duke of Cornwall?
The Tamar Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) straddles the border between Cornwall and Devon and covers around 75 square miles of the lower Tamar River (below Launceston) and its tributaries. Apart from a few well known areas around the villages of Calstock and Gunnislake, it is often a very quiet area.
Visitors willing to explore country lanes and secluded footpaths will discover a different side of Cornwall than the one they are used to. Away from the beaches and attractions they will find orchards and meadows, industrial heritage and wide waterside vistas.
Tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the main resorts, you will find farmhouse B&B's, up-market self-catering and village pubs oozing charm. At the same time, towns like Launceston and Tavistock offer modern shopping centres alongside local produce.
You might hear people in Launceston pronounce it 'Lanson' but the general pronunciation is 'Lawn-sten'. Don't worry if you get it wrong, most Cornish people can't pronounce Wymondham.
The north coast at Bude is less than 20 miles away and with Launceston being on the A30, even popular beach resorts like St Ives are less than one and a half hours drive away.
Discover your Cornwall
Long sandy beaches, hidden coves, rugged moorland, quaint fishing villages, deep wooded valleys, bustling seaside resorts, industrial heritage, rocky headlands, colourful gardens, idyllic rivers and a bijou city, Cornwall has a bit of everything for those who want to explore.
Your weekly dose of Cornish cheer!
When you can’t be in your favourite place all the time, catch up on the latest stories, upcoming events, holiday ideas, and offers with a newsletter straight to your inbox. Terms and Conditions / GDPR compliance: by providing personally identifiable information Visit Cornwall will use it to provide you with ongoing information about their products and services. No one from Visit Cornwall will rent, sell or lease this personally identifiable information to other companies or individuals.
Find us on socials and stay connected with the Cornwall you love.