The Minack Theatre: The Perfect Family Day Out at a Cornwall Theatre by the Sea

As much as we love them, travelling with kids can be stressful. Sometimes the only way to take the drama out of your holiday is, well… more drama.

There are many spectacular theatres in Cornwall, but none are as beautiful or as unique as the Minack Theatre. Like something out of a fairy tale, this magnificent structure sits on a rocky outcrop jutting out above the majesty of the West Cornwall seascape.

Located in Porthcurno, just 4 miles from Land’s End ­– the westernmost tip of England – this authentic open-air theatre is famed throughout the country, and the world, as a one-of-a-kind venue and a must-see destination for young and old alike.

porthcurno beach and flowers in porthcurno

It doesn’t matter if you’re interested in theatre or not; the architecture and the story of the place are enough to wow anyone (not to mention the view!). But if you do have a taste from the dramatic or a passion for performance, then you’re in for a special treat. The Minack Theatre features stone ornate seats softened by grass, stunning natural acoustics and incredible performances. A perfect day out for all the family.

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porthcurno beach views

The Minack Theatre for Families

minack theatre for families

There’s something for everyone at the Minack Theatre, but let’s start with the obvious: the plays. The Minack Theatre is proud to offer an eclectic mix of shows, from classics like Shakespeare and Pride and Prejudice to more modern pieces like Hetty Feather – from writer Jaqueline Wilson of Tracy Beaker fame. Plus, you can also catch more unique performances such as live story-telling or the Play-in-a-Day improvisations. Ticket prices vary depending on the performance and seating, but for most events, children under the age of 16 get it half price.

However, if you happen to visit outside of performance hours, don’t worry; there are still oodles to do. The Minack Theatre includes a comprehensive exhibition centre which retells the extraordinary story of the theatre – more on this below. Or you can pop into the Minack café to enjoy some light snacks or even a quintessential Cornish cream tea with breathtaking views of Porthcurno bay and the ocean. Perhaps, if you’re lucky, you’ll even spot a pod of dolphins or some seals playing in the surf on a sunny day.

Visitors are welcome to explore the whole theatre freely if the weather is good and no rehearsals are underway. Every stone and step is hand-carved with intricate shapes and patterns by the inimitable Rowena Cade. Backstage you’ll discover a delightful labyrinth of paths and caves to get lost in. Maybe nip into the gift shop or enjoy the splendid living art of the Minack gardens, a selection of tropical coastal plants which provide a stunning rainbow of blooms throughout the Minack Theatre regardless of the season.

flowers at porthcurno

Finally, once you’ve had your fill of the Minack Theatre itself (and finished in the gift shop), you can hike down the set of steep steps to the paradise of Porthcurno beach and dive into the spectacular scenery of one of the best family beaches in Cornwall, famous for its turquoise waters and silky soft sands. Whether you like swimming, lounging or exploring, you can’t go wrong with one of the most awesome attractions in Cornwall. But be warned, this 5-minute walk down from the theatre is a harsh descent. Keep in mind you’ll need to come back up once the fun is done!

History of The Minack Theatre

history of the minack theatre, cornwall theatre by the sea

Coming from the Cornish word meynek: meaning stony place, the Minack Theatre has a history almost as impressive as the venue itself. You might think this majestic open-air theatre with its archways and stone carvings was hewn out of the rock by the Romans or even the ancient Greeks, but in fact, the story is more surprising than that – the Minack Theatre is barely a hundred years old and was built almost single-handedly by a magnificent woman named Rowena Cade.

In 1893 Rowena was born into a wealthy family and the genteel surrounding of Cheltenham. But she fell on hard times when her father tragically died in the First World War, and in the early 1920’s she relocated to Cornwall in search of a simpler (and cheaper) life. She bought the Minack headland for the princely sum of £100 and built a home, the Minack House, for herself and her mother to live in – you can see the house on the cliff above the theatre.

However, she soon grew tired of the simplicity and sought out some culture. In those days entertainment was a bit different to how it is now (Netflix really wasn’t a thing), so she joined the local theatrical society and soon found herself organising and acting in all manner of performances. Inspired by an upcoming rendition of The Tempest, Rowena had a brave but brilliant idea. Why not do it outdoors? On a Cornish cliff edge?

And so it began. The first-ever performance at the Minack Theatre took place in the summer of 1932. And by all accounts, it was an amazing night and a glorious success. For the rest of her life – until her eighties – Rowena Cade would dedicate her life’s work to crafting an iconic location, not just for Cornwall but for the whole world.

There was no machinery involved in the construction of this open-air theatre. Instead, she used sticks of dynamite, hand tools and cement mixed with sand from the Porthcurno beach, laboriously carried uphill by Rowena from the Minack beach, one wheelbarrow at a time. Her only helper throughout this Herculean endeavour was her loyal gardener Billy Rawlings, who she described as ‘quick, strong, courageous and tenacious.’ And as a lasting monument to her respect and gratitude, she constructed a special granite seat in the auditorium just for him.

There’s plenty more to the story. If you’d like to learn more about the extraordinary Minack Theatre history, don’t hesitate to check out the Minack Theatre Tours.

Minack Theatre Location

The address is The Minack Theatre, Penzance, Cornwall, TR19 6JU, UK

But please be prepared when you visit Minack Theatre for narrow roads and be aware that the route from Porthcurno and the lanes nearby can get very congested, especially in the summer. So drive carefully and keep your eyes on the road! You can look at the spectacular views when you stop.


How to get Tickets to The Minack Theatre

The Minack Theatre is open daily all year round, but due to weather conditions, performances are only staged from April to October.

Whether you’re coming for a stroll or to catch a show, you must buy a ticket before you arrive. Tickets can be purchased either through the official theatre website or affiliated websites – which sometimes offer deals. Alternatively, you can book by phone between 10 am and 5 pm on: 01736 81018.

There is disabled and wheelchair access to the top levels, spectacular balcony and toilets, but due to the tricky nature of the theatre, there is no disabled access to the lower levels or the auditorium.

Please be aware if you’re visiting that the last entry is 60 minutes before the theatre closes. The summer opening hours are 9 am to 5.30 pm. The winter opening hours are a little shorter, opening at 10 am and closing at 4.30 pm.

Again, to be clear: you cannot access the Minack Theatre without advance tickets.

red flower overlooking the minack theatre

Parking at the Minack Theatre

Once you’ve survived the tricky Cornwall lanes, you’ll be pleased to hear that the theatre has free parking in a very spacious car park close to the theatre. Though you are asked to leave as soon as your visit ends, and you’re not allowed to park overnight. There’s also an accessible car park on a tarmac section close to the Minack Theatre entrance.

It’s also worth mentioning that the car park is rather exposed on a south-facing cliff-top without any shade, so please be careful if leaving your pets in the vehicle.

The theatre is dog friendly during visiting hours, but you’re asked to keep your pets on a short lead. However, during live performances, only guide dogs are allowed.

Enjoy the Minack Theatre Webcam

As an open-air stage, it goes without saying that you need to plan for your visit. Blankets, warm clothing and an umbrella, are essential. Due to the unpredictable nature of the great British weather, the theatre has taken the generous precaution of offering a life webcam service, so that visitors can take a peek before arrival and plan their adventure to end when the theatre closes.

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