If all tourist attractions could be as autism-friendly as the Eden Project in Cornwall, it would increase the success rate of our family days out by a billion per cent.
When we visited in the middle of the summer holidays last year, it had the potential of being a (really expensive) disaster. Crowds, queues and noise awaited most visitors. And while that might be a mild inconvenience for most families, for us it would have triggered anxiety, meltdowns, arguments and stress.
Thankfully, however, the Eden Project has a wonderful accessibility policy which made it one of the best days out we’ve ever had.
If you’re thinking of going to the Eden Project with one or more children with additional needs, here’s how to do it.
What is the Eden Project?
A breathtaking global garden housed inside tropical biomes that nestle in the crater the size of 30 football pitches. It includes the largest indoor rainforest in the world. The attraction runs lots of exciting activities throughout the year, especially in the holidays.
Platforms near the Visitors Centre offer a spectacular overview of the Eden Project. The array of colours, shapes and patterns within the attraction mean there’s always something interesting to look at. The fact that it’s a living project means that you’ll also see something different every time you visit.
The biomes offer a full sensory experience, from the humidity of the rainforest to the dry warmth of the Mediterranean. There are many natural textures that can be explored in the outdoor garden.
The rainforest canopy walkway features mist jets which The Bears enjoyed walking through.
Book a relaxed session
Throughout the year, particularly during school holidays, the Eden Project opens early (8am) to allow people with additional needs to enjoy the experience without the crowds. the attraction works with the Sensory Trust to make sure these sessions are the best they can be. They had a special space exhibition and activities while we were there and we had an hour and a half to explore before everyone else came in, which was bliss.
The Bears loved the inflatable ring water slides and went down about 10 times without having to queue. Big Bear also went ‘cave exploring’ through small tunnels which was only made possible because he was the only person in there and there was nobody behind him trying to make him go quicker. The rocket experience and space exhibition was tailored to our needs. Ear defenders were on offer, and if The Bears had had enough of a particular section, the member of staff switched off the audio and special effects and showed us to the next section. They also did their best to engage The Bears in the experience. It was all very easy and not stressful.
Even when the crowds came in, it wasn’t overly crowded until after lunch by which time we were ready to go anyway.
Carers get in free
What should have been a £70 day ended up costing our family £12.60 because carers and under 5s get in free. You can also save up to 10 per cent by booking online up to the day before.
There are wheelchair-friendly routes throughout the site. All the toilets on site are easily accessible and offer accessible facilities. The accessible toilets in the Visitors Centre and Link are equipped with the RoomMate device for blind and visually impaired visitors. There is also a Changing Places toilet.
If you attend a relaxed session, parking is easy as there are few visitors at that time. If you are a blue badge holder, there are disabled parking spaces. If you don’t have a blue badge but require certain access needs, then you can speak to the venue beforehand or on the day to discuss requirements.
If you need extra help during your visit, The Eden Project has a team of volunteers to assist visitors around the project. There is no charge for the service but you need to book at least two weeks in advance by telephoning 01726 818558 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
This takes you from near the visitors centre to the stage area. If the kids don’t want to/can’t walk back up the hill when you’ve finished your visit, I recommend buying an ice cream and getting the land train. You might have to wait for the train if there’s a queue but the ice cream should prove to be a distraction.
There is a cafe in the link building near the biomes – one of the main areas of the Eden Project. There are also plenty of picnic areas, including some under cover.
Have you been to the Eden Project? What was your highlight? Let me know in the comments below.
If you enjoyed reading A guide to visiting the Eden Project with autism, please share this post
While you’re here, check out 7 fantastic things to do in Cornwall with young children