With blissfully untouched beaches, charming fishing villages, secluded locations, and the best of the local food scene, Cornwall still has a few surprises up her sleeve. Here are our favorite hidden gems in Cornwall.

By: Paul | Last Updated: 21 Nov 2023 | Jump to Comments & Questions

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There’s a lot to love about Cornwall.

The sunny county in England stretches out to the Atlantic Ocean, adorned with a string of blissful beaches and picture-postcard harbors as it makes its way to the far reaches of the British mainland.

Untouched by the Romans, Cornwall has remained a final haven for Celtic culture, leaving behind a legacy that can still be seen in its exotic place names and historical mysticism.

While the remnants of the mining industry have enhanced the dramatic scenery, the tourism industry, its rebounding counterpart, has transformed popular towns into converted theme parks.

However, scattered among the tourist attractions, it is still possible to lose yourself in a few Cornwall hidden gems. Support wonderful local businesses, and enjoy a relaxing weekend getaway.

We have already covered all of our favorite things to do in Cornwall, but this guide unveils the region’s best-kept secrets.

1 – PEDN VOUNDER BEACH

Pedn Vounder is one of our favourite secret places in Cornwall and possibly the most beautiful in the United Kingdom. Set under huge granite cliffs, a beautiful curve of sand is entirely covered at high tide.

But as the water retreats, a golden sandbar rises out of the sea creating a shallow crystal-clear lagoon. At low tide, you can wade through the shallow water out to the sandbar or play in the surf that pounds the far side.

Pedn Vounder is one of Britain’s naturist beaches, so swimming gear is optional.

When to visit Pedn Vounder? The beach begins to appear about 90 minutes after high tide, with the sandbar visible 2 hours either side of low tide.

HOW TO GET TO PEDN VOUNDER?

Pedn Vouder is a 15-minute walk from either Treen or Porthcurno Car Park with the last section requiring a 15-metre scramble down to the beach below. You’ll need your hands and there are a couple of big steps, but if you are steady on your feet and careful, it’s very doable.

2 – PORTHLEVEN

Every year half a million people descend on Padstow, one of the most popular places to visit in Cornwall.

A much quieter foodie experience can be found in the humble fishing village of Porthleven where a host of diverse eateries are dotted around the working fishing harbour.

Here are some places to try:

  • Kota is quality Asian dining that has been awarded a Bib Gourmand – Michelin’s quality at affordable rating accolade – every year since 2013.
  • The more affordable, Kota Kai Bar & Kitchen has similar flavours in a more relaxed setting. 
  • Join the locals leaning against the harbour wall munching on the daily specials from Mussel Shoal.
  • Try Cornwall’s freshest lobster served in front of colourful bobbing boats from Dan’s Van.

Porthleven is one of our favourite Cornish gems thanks to its relaxed friendly vibe and great food options. Go before it changes.

3 – NANJIZAL SEA CAVE

Nanjizal Bay is nestled amidst some of Cornwall’s most rugged and picturesque scenery. This hidden gem is a small beach adorned with boulders, featuring a narrow sea cave at its eastern end.

Dubbed the ‘Song of the Sea,’ a majestic rock wall has been sculpted by the forces of nature into a slender passageway.

Despite the beautiful location, the 25-minute to walk from the nearest road, keeps this stunning cove delightfully tranquil.  

When to visit? Nanjizal Sea Cave can be seen at any time, but it’s best at low tide when you can wade through pools and scramble over rocks to explore under the arch.  

HOW TO GET TO NANJIZAL SEA CAVE

There are two options to get to Nanjizal:

  • A 25-minute walk (via Trevilley Farmhouse) from the laybys in Trevescan;
  • A 50-minute walk via scenic coastal path from Porthgwarra.

Both the parking spots in Trevescan and Porthgwarra are clearly marked on our map below.

4 – 45 QUEEN STREET, PENZANCE

Penzance is a real Cornish city that attracts significantly fewer tourists than other well-known places. The result is a hospitality sector that’s set up for locals rather than visitors.

A delightful by-product of this is 45 Queen Street. Set in a repurposed warehouse, the cavernous interior with wooden tables, mismatched chairs, plants and mood-enhancing lighting, sets a cool mood in an age-old fishing town. 

The concept is simple. Select from a menu of 10 to 15 items, each costing £3 or £4, to construct a tasting board from the freshest local ingredients. It lands somewhere between a basic charcuterie board and a cool Ploughmans. With well-priced local beer and good house wine, it’s a wallet-friendly alternative to another pub meal. 

DETAILS | 45 QUEEN STREET

where – 45 Queen Street, Penzance, TR18 4QB | when – 10 am to 11 pm (Wed-Sat) | bookings – via their website: 45queenst.com

5 – SAINT JUST, ROSELAND

St Just Church in Roseland has been a place of worship since the 6th century. The current stone church – built in the 13th century – is surrounded by picturesque waterside grounds that make it a lovely hidden gem in Cornwall.

St Just is nestled under hills on the edge of a creek running into the River Fal. The gardens are revealed via a winding path that meanders along old stone graves covered with moss and conquered by twisted vines.

Bamboo, rhododendrons and camellias are mixed with azaleas, wild garlic and bluebells to create a beautiful garden.

DETAILS | ST JUST

Entrance is free, but the car park asks for a donation (£2) for the upkeep of the church. Payment is made via a ticket machine which should take card but wasn’t working on our visit. If you have a mobility sticker, you can drive through the gates to be at the church level.

6 – MOUSEHOLE TIDAL POOL

Mousehole is a charming fishing village just south of Penzance with a labyrinth of narrow streets converging on a tiny harbour.

Tucked a few steps down from the car park on the north side of town, the Rock Pool Café has an enviable position on the rocks overlooking the sea. On their terrace, enjoy contemporary café goodness in a vibe that oozes Victorian seaside charm. The coffee is ok, the cakes are tasty, the cocktails creative and the views are splendid.  

The rock pool directly in front of the café starts to appear around three hours (or so) either side of low tide. While it may be more of a paddle than a swim, it’s a scenic spot for the kids to play while adults relax with a cocktail in hand.

7 – LANTIC BAY BEACH

Compared to other parts of the county, fewer visitors make it to eastern Cornwall. Even less make it to Lantic Bay.

This secluded cove is surrounded on three sides by towering cliffs that reach a height of nearly 100 meters, making it one of the most awe-inspiring and unspoiled attractions in Cornwall.

From the coastal path overlooking the beach, panoramic vistas unfold, showcasing a sprawling expanse of bracken, gorse, and heather-laden headlands.

In a relatively remote location on the coast with no facilities, you’ll often have Lantic Bay to yourself. Explore the rocky coves, swim across to nearby Little Lantic Bay, or just soak in those craggy cliff views draped in green.

HOW TO GET TO LANTIC BAY

Park in the National Trust Lantic Bay Car Park. It’s then a 15-minute walk from the car park to the beach. The last part is steep but there are steps and you won’t need to use your hands. Gravity helps you on the way down, less so on the way back up.

8 – GOLITHA FALLS

The picturesque Golitha Falls is a popular tourist attraction in peak season. But venture a little deeper down the valley and a secluded section of the river provides a tranquil escape and a surprising hidden gem in Cornwall.

Beyond the main waterfall, the path appears blocked by a fence. However, a rugged track continues for another 200 metres heading deeper into the ravine where several shallow hidden pools appear amongst the rocks.

Shrouded in jungle-like scenery, moss clings to the rocky walls, and vines hang from trees overhead. It’s a magical ancient oak and beech woodland and one of the most atmospheric wild swimming spots in Cornwall.

HOW TO GET TO GOLITHA FALLS  

Park at Golitha Falls Car Park in the southern section of Bodmin Moor. From here, it’s a 15-minute walk to the pool. We have marked the exact location on the map below. A couple of the pools have sandy bases, but be careful clambering on the rocks as they can be slippery.

9 – MOOMAID CAFÉ ZENNOR

The secluded Zennor cove, nestled on the outer edges of the Penwith Peninsula, is imbued with Celtic mystery. According to legend, the captivating Mermaid of Zennor enchanted the hearts of local lads, leading one young man with an exceptional singing voice to follow her into the sea, never to be seen again.

Today the village is home to the Moomaid of Zennor café, known throughout the land for its quality ice cream.

You can pick up a coffee and cake to have in their little courtyard garden, which was pretty good. Surprisingly, however, it was the gift shop that really won us over. Stacked with a wide range of oddities including books called “Cabin Porn” and “Norwegian Wood Stacking,” it’s quirky all the way.

10 – PORTHTOWAN TIDAL POOL

The St Agnes headland has some of the finest scenery in Cornwall. The ruins of old mines stand above the heather and gorse-clad cliffs which are a swathe of colour in late summer. It’s a beautiful section of the coast that houses one of the best-kept secrets in Cornwall.

Just northeast of Porthtowan, steep rocky steps descend the cliff face to a deep tidal pool walled off at one end. Only revealed a few hours either side of low tide, it’s an enticing way to cool off overlooking the sea and a lovely beach.

It can be a little tricky to find, which makes it fun to discover and possibly deserted when you do.  

HOW TO GET TO PORTHTOWAN TIDAL POOL  

We have marked the exact location on the map below. Access is via the beach from Porthtowan, or down the steep steps from the headland.

11 – HIDDEN HUT, PORTSCATHO

Word is spreading about the Hidden Hut at Portscatho. Perched above Porthcurnick Beach, deep in the Roseland peninsula, this wooden shack produces a tasty selection of creative dishes. Rotating the menu daily, we had a choice of beef chilli, chicken cacciatore, and dahl with raita.

The dishes are simple but well put together, and easy to eat with one hand so you can sit on the wooden benches at the top of the beach overlooking superb views.

The Hidden Hut have their own cookbook with showcases their dedication to simply prepared beach/street food. They also have some of the friendliest staff we met in Cornwall.

HOW TO GET TO THE HIDDEN HUT

It’s an 8-minute walk from the car park in Portscatho or three minutes from one of the few parking spaces along the road opposite the Rosevine Hotel. There’s no covered area so you’re at the mercy of whatever weather you get. The café has toilets.

12 – HOLYWELL BAY & PORTH JOKE BEACH

This may not be a secret beach, but only 6 miles from Newquay, Holywell Bay is far less crowded and it’s difficult to work out why.

A huge sweep of golden sand is backed by 60 ft dunes, with cliffs on either side and two rocky promontories out at sea. It’s a gloriously sheltered beach and a scenic place to relax.

Stroll the rocky headlands, explore the tidal estuary, swim in the sea, take a surf lesson, or simply laze on the golden sands with a good book. At low tide you can explore grotto-like Holywell Cave.

A 30-minute walk north around the headland brings you to Porth (Polly) Joke Beach, a small cove completely untouched by commercialism. Its turquoise waters, funneled by two headlands, lap at pristine sands.

Check out this guide to some other great surfing beaches in Cornwall.

HOW TO GET TO HOLYWELL BAY BEACH

Holywell Bay is owned and run by the National Trust. The car park is free to members and there are toilets in Holywell village. Porth Joke beach can be accessed via a 30-minute walk around the headland or a 15-minute walk from the Polly Joke car park. 

MAP | CORNWALL HIDDEN GEMS

Download the map below which includes all the top places to visit in Cornwall we’ve listed in this guide, plus helpful points of interest like where to park.

How to use this map / Click on the top left of the map to display the list of locations, then click on the locations to display further information. Click on the top right corner of the map to open a larger version in a new tab or the star to save to your Google Maps.  


WHERE TO STAY

There’s no shortage of places to stay, but to truly experience the secret side of Cornwall, we recommend a quirky escape in a Unique hideaway stay. Enjoy the heart and soul of Cornwall in perfectly positioned glamping, repurposed shepherd’s huts or a luxury pad with a hot tub.

Here are some recommendations from us.

GLAMPING POD

DEMELZA

Surrounded in rolling landscape, Demelza is a compact glamping pad with beautiful furnishings and enough facilities to whip up a romantic meal for two. It’s around 30 minutes from the stunning Lantic Bay.


RETRO CARAVAN

THE CORNISH AIRSTREAM

Complete with a hot tub, this shiny silver American dream is ideal for escaping the everyday with a touch of retro charm. Fully refurbished with style, it has all the kitchen essentials you need to lock yourself away from the world for a weekend.


COSY NATURE

TREE TOPS CABIN

For a calm and cosy stay, Tree Tops Cabin is a charming cabin tucked in a forested area beside a small brook. Although it has all you need for a great stay, the nearby fishing village of Cadgwith has a top pub to complete your relaxing country getaway.   


// This guide was produced in partnership with Classic Cottages.

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