One of England’s most remote and beautiful counties, Cornwall has endless appeal. White-sand beaches, pretty fishing villages and a footpath that hugs a dramatic, craggy coastline all make for a beguiling holiday.
Whether you want lively little towns, quiet coves or simply some cider in the sun, here are ten of the best places to visit in Cornwall for a memorable summer holiday.
A lively university town, Falmouth is probably Cornwall’s most bustling coastal hub. With stories of pirates and smugglers in its past, it’s a fascinating little place for a long weekend. Kids will love the National Maritime Museum on the waterfront, while shoppers can mooch about the indie stores on its cobbled high street. A day well spent is on Gyllyngvase Beach, where white sand and blue seas are a dreamy combination. Get lunch from the beachfront cafe and don’t miss out on their excellent ice-cream before tackling the coastal path that backs the sand.
Pendennis Castle – a 16th-century fortification overlooking the ocean – is a good hike up a hill with fabulous views, and the ferry over to St Mawes, where another castle sits above the Carrick Roads, is a great day out.
Sitting right at the end of the Great Western Railway line, Penzance feels really rather far away from everything – come down on the Night Riviera, one of Britain’s two sleeper trains, and you’ll really get that feeling as you wake up with a bacon sandwich to the Cornish countryside whizzing by the window.
The town itself isn’t the county’s prettiest, but there are some choice attractions here that make it well worth the journey down. Stop by the Egyptian House right in town, a spectacular Georgian edifice of Egyptian Revival architecture, then head to the Newlyn Art Gallery to see an exhibition. Go swimming in the UK’s only geothermally heated lido, which sits right on the seafront, and then take a stroll out to the star attraction: St Michael’s Mount, a dramatic island castle sitting at the end of a causeway.
St Ives is an artistic little community sitting right between two stunning beaches on its own peninsula in southern Cornwall. Here you’ll find local creatives selling their wares in the small boutiques that line the winding lanes of the town centre, and well-known international artists exhibiting at the Tate St Ives – the southern outpost of the London-based art gallery.
The former home of Barbara Hepworth is a compelling place to visit, with its sculptures amid tropical plants and sea views, and the endless ocean views from St Ives Head offer opportunity for a moment of quiet reflection. Spend some time on the beaches – Porthgwidden is great for swimming, while surfers should head to Porthmeor Beach – and don’t miss a hike along the vast sands of The Towans.
This enormous beach is surfer central and is by far the most spectacular stretch of sand near Newquay. Backed by towering cliffs and blessed with a wide expanse of sand that gets even larger when the tide is out, it’s one of Cornwall’s most popular beaches – largely thanks to the surf school, Extreme Academy. You can hire equipment if you already know what you’re doing, but there are classes on offer for novice wave catchers.
There’s also paddleboarding, hand-planing (a bit like surfing but with your hands and a miniature board) and bodyboarding classes, and in summer, the beach is home to the Boardmasters Festival. The hotel atop the cliffs offers a luxurious place to spend the night and a gorgeous spa where you can soak in a hot tub with beach and sea views.
Jagged rocks and black, craggy cliffs have made the Lizard a truly treacherous place for ships that find themselves in shallow waters – hundreds of vessels have smashed up on these shores over the centuries. Things are much safer on land, where in summer you can walk among wildflower meadows atop the cliffs and swim in its crystal-clear waters. There are countless beautiful bays and beaches for days spent on the sand – Kynance Cove is one of the prettiest and most popular, and Gunwalloe is the largest.
Look out for the Cornish chough, a red-beaked bird that almost became extinct before re-establishing itself in the cliffs around the peninsula.
Sitting on the Camel Estuary, Padstow is in prime position for fishing, and so it makes sense that the town is famous for its seafood offering – namely from celebrity chef Rick Stein. The food mogul has a number of restaurants in town, from classic fish and chip shops to high-end, fine dining restaurants.
A handful of great beaches sit just beyond the town – Tregirls and Harlyn are two of the top closest stretches of sand – and the town itself is packed with boutiques and shops for the visitors who come here in summer to fill their boots with fresh fish and cider.
This lesser visited stretch of coast sees far fewer tourists than the likes of Newquay and Watergate Bay, so come here to avoid the crowds. There are beautiful, secluded coves like Talland Bay and Lantic Bay, and gorgeous seaside villages such as Polperro or bustling towns like Looe.
Fowey, a delightful town that’s spread across a steep hill leading down to the mouth of the River Fowey, is an excellent pick here. Sit on the waterfront to watch the yachts and boats come and go in the harbour, and stop in at the lovely artist galleries and trinket shops in town to pick up souvenirs. Stay at the Fowey Hall Hotel for spa days and sea views.
Marooned just off the coast of Land’s End, the Isles of Scilly mark the very southern tip of Britain. Accessible only by boat or helicopter from Penzance, or on the small planes that leave from Newquay, Land’s End and Exeter, it’s also the remotest part of Cornwall. But there are great rewards for those who make the journey out here. Expect Caribbean-esque sugar-sand beaches, miles of footpaths for hiking and some spectacular coastal scenery.
There are five inhabited islands and lots of uninhabited isles, and in the waters surrounding the archipelago there are seals and dolphins aplenty. You can swim with the seals on an excursion from St Mary’s or St Martin’s, and budding ornithologists will love spotting the myriad seabirds in the skies here. Don’t miss a taste of Bryher crab or lobster scampi – the seafood here is as fresh as it gets.
Famous for its working Georgian harbour, Charlestown is as quaint as they come on the Cornish coast. Live out your Poldark fantasies here – the waterfront played a starring role standing in as Truro in the TV series – and keep an eye out for tall ships with towering masts and billowing sails coming and going in the harbour.
There’s a brilliant museum all about treasure and shipwrecks, and some fantastic food to be had at the Longstore. Plus, there’s a decent stretch of sand for sunning yourself on good weather days on the eastern side of the harbour.
For an entirely different side of Cornwall, head inland to the gorgeous Bodmin Moor. It’s a kind of bleak beauty you’ll find here, with swathes of heathland and granite hills – including the highest point in the county at a not-so-towering 420m. There are some fascinating ruins here, so channel your inner historian and visit King Arthur’s Hall, the Stripple Stones henge and Cheesewring, where a series of rocks not unlike the Michelin Man have been whipped into odd shapes by the elements.
Look out for the wild ponies that graze on the moors, and don’t miss a visit to the Carnglaze Caverns, where a glistening subterranean pool sits where hand miners once worked inside the rocks.
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