Fuelled by the sea and charmed by a Celtic culture, there are a host of wonderful things to do in Cornwall. Get the most out of Britain’s sunny county in our guide to the best places to visit in Cornwall

By: Mark | Last Updated: 2 Jan 2024 | Jump to Comments & Questions

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The picturesque triangle of southwest England is defined by the elements.

Golden sun-soaked beaches, coastal trails framed with heather, spring-fed natural swimming holes, wooded glens teeming with wild garlic and the remnants of Cornwall’s mining industry.  

With a justified reputation for being one of the best places to visit in the UK, there are a host of interesting things to do in Cornwall.  

Go off-grid on the wild open moors or wander the manicured grounds of manor houses with subtropical gardens. Capture the mighty rock formation on the rugged coastline or stroll bohemian villages with a cool, independent art scene.  

Our guide to the best places to visit in Cornwall covers popular attractions, as well as off-the-beaten-track activities. Try our latest food finds, enjoy the best outdoor activities, wander the most authentic villages, and enjoy this beautiful corner of England.

narrow gap in rocks on a shallow beach in Cornwall

IN THIS GUIDE

BEST PLACES TO VISIT IN CORNWALL


CORNWALL, ENGLAND MAP

Cornwall is a county located in the southwestern part of England, United Kingdom. It is bordered by the Celtic Sea to the north, the English Channel to the south, and Devon to the east. We have included all our recommended attractions and top places to visit in Cornwall on the below map.

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.  


1 – WATERGATE BAY  

The gently sloping sandy beach and consistent swell, provide the perfect conditions for surfing at Watergate Bay. It’s one of the finest surf beaches in the UK.

But you don’t need to be a pro to surf here. Different parts of the beach have different levels of swell, suitable for all levels of ability.

We took surf lessons with Wavehunters at the Extreme Academy who got us complete amateurs standing for a few seconds.

Even if you don’t surf, Watergate Bay is one of Cornwall’s premier attractions and a beautiful place to visit in England.

The beach is excellent, the coastal path on the cliffs has superb views and it’s one of the best locations in the UK to catch a magnificent sunset.

2 – NEWQUAY

Newquay is the surf capital of the UK, located among some of the best beaches in the area.

You’ll find nightlife, a great café scene, family-friendly attractions, and good transport links. Newquay has firmly established itself as one of Cornwall’s most sought-after destinations.

Here are a few of the top attractions. For more, read our guide to the best things to do in Newquay.

  • Surf at Fistral Beach – Facing westerly, Fistral is one of the top surf beaches in the UK.
  • Coasteer on the Gazelle – Experience one of the best outdoor activities in Cornwall, on the rugged coast surrounding Newquay.
  • Take a coastal hike – The walk from Newquay to Watergate Bay takes 1.5 hours and includes beautiful coastal scenery.

3 – ST IVES

St Ives is a charming, bohemian town, squeezed in the middle by two sandy beaches.

After the decline of the fishing industry, disused lofts behind the main beach were transformed into artist studios.

This re-purposing gave St Ives a new lease of life. Today the town has a creative, independent spirit, that remains despite its popularity.

Here are some great things to do in St Ives:

  • Visit Tate St Ives, housed in a beautiful art deco building overlooking the sea.
  • Stroll the down-a-long, a maze of narrow lanes bursting with shops, galleries, and cafes.
  • Take a boat trip to Seal Island to see the grey seal colony.
  • Hit Porthminster Beach, a golden sweep of sand under verdant cliffs.

Read more in our guide to the best things to do in St Ives.

4 – PEDN VOUNDER  

Cornwall has magnificent beaches, however, our top pick would be Pedn Vounder. Tucked under the cliffs in a remote location, it’s one of the most beautiful places to visit in Cornwall.

At high tide, you wouldn’t even know it was there, but at low tide, mother nature transforms a rocky cove into a beautiful untouched corner of paradise.

When the sun’s shining, light glistens off a central sandbar with hidden coves in rocky walls and jagged headlands overhead.

How to get to Pedn Vounder — Park at Treen Car Park (20p, coin only), then follow the signs to Pedn Vounder. From the car park, it’s a 20-minute walk. There is a short scramble down some large boulders to get to the beach.

The Scramble — Please note, getting to Pedn Vounder requires a short but steep scramble down some large boulders. You’ll need to use both hands to lower yourself down.

Facilities at Pedn Vounder — There are no facilities on the beach so you’ll need to take everything with you. There are toilets in the car park and a cafe in the village nearby.

TIP | PEDN VOUNDER VIEWS WITH NO SCRAMBLING


If the scramble down to the beach is not possible for you, park at the car park and walk 20 minutes to the cliff tops above the beach. The views are breathtaking.

5 – PORTHLEVEN FOOD SCENE

The humble fishing village of Porthleven has a thriving local restaurant scene that is outshining Padstow.

A host of diverse food joints fill the working fishing harbour. Here are some to check out.

  • 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.

We also recommend the coffee and pastries from Origin and an on-the-go lunch from Ced’s Bagels. There are a few small outlets in Shipyard – a warehouse-style market – including Radish, with a great vegetarian menu.

Porthleven is one of our favourite places to visit in Cornwall which still feels like a bit of a secret. Go before it’s too late.

6 – FISHING VILLAGES OF CORNWALL

For centuries Cornwall was sustained by the ocean. A legacy now found in working fishing villages with a side hustle in tourism. Visiting the local villages is one of the best ways to experience Cornish culture.

PORT ISAAC

Perched on the North Cornwall coast, Port Isaac is a picturesque fishing village. Narrow, winding lanes of white-washed cottages lead to a busy harbor, where local fishermen still land their daily catch.

With its rich maritime history and vibrant artistic community, Port Isaac is a charming place to visit.

MOUSEHOLE

Nestled on the edge of Mount’s Bay in Cornwall, Mousehole is a small fishing village with an untouched charm. Granite-clad cottages on cobbled streets lead to a cozy harbor housing a smattering of colorful fishing boats.

More off the tourist trail than other villages, Mousehole is a great place to go in Cornwall for a more local experience.

POLPERRO

Polperro has a web of narrow streets, flanked by colourful cottages and a quaint harbour nestled between steep hills.

It was once a thriving hub for smuggling and fishing, today it’s one of the prettiest villages in Cornwall. There’s a small sandy beach and plenty walking paths to explore the coastline.

7 – LIZARD PENINSULA & KYNANCE COVE   

The Lizard Peninsula is the most southern point on the British mainland. It has a unique geology dominated by a smooth green rock called serpentinite.

This unusual geology combined with a warm climate provides the area with a vast array of flora and fauna. As a result, it’s both a National Nature Reserve and an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB)

Comes here for dramatic cliffs, sheltered coves, beautiful sandy beaches, and scenic coastal paths.

The most picturesque area on the Lizard Peninsula is Kynance Cove. Battered by the surging surf, the coastline forms a curve of multi-colored rocky outcrops.  

As the tide retreats, swathes of golden sand appear between the rugged crags. Explore the caves at low tide, or head over the headlands for a superb coastal view.

Swimming at Kynance Cove — It’s one of our favourite places to wild swim in Cornwall. If you come here to swim, keep in mind that the beach is completely covered at high tide.

DETAILS | KYNANCE COVE


hours – dawn to dusk | parking location TR12 7PJ, 10 minutes walk to the cove | cost – parking is free for National Trust members. Non-members need to pay on the PayBy Phone App or coins | facilities – cafe & toilets near the car park, 9 am to 4 pm daily.

8 – LANHYDROCK HOUSE

Cornwall has several grand houses and gardens, many run and owned by the National Trust. Lanhydrock is one of the finest.

Built in 1642, a fire damaged the house in 1881. Although the rebuild is impressive, only the magnificent 116-foot barrel-vaulted ceiling remains.

Several rooms are open to the public including the Billiard Room, Smoking Room, and huge Gallery. The house is set amongst manicured gardens and a wooded estate with views over the river and estuary.

Mountain Biking Trail — You can rent bikes at the entrance to Lanhydrock House and try one of the easy mountain bike trails around the grounds.

DETAILS | LANHYDROCK HOUSE


hours – 11 am to 5:30 pm (daily) | cost – £19 Adults / £9 Children | location – PL30 4AB | parking – £1.50 per hour or £6 per day. Pay & display machines take cash only but you can download the PayByPhone App

9 – ST MICHAELS MOUNT  

Crowning a rocky island rising out of the sea, the medieval church and castle of St. Michaels Mount is one of the iconic things to do in Cornwall.

Building on the church and priory began in 1135 but over time the priory was converted into a castle.

At high tide, the island is cut off from the mainland, but at low tide, a causeway stretches across the water from Marazion to the castle.

It’s well worth strolling over the causeway to explore the island and you can pay to enter the castle itself.

Where to photograph St Michael’s Mount — The best way to capture St Michae’s is from the lanes along the seafront in Marazion. There are several good vantage points near the start of the causeway that are especially good for sunrise photography.

DETAILS | ST MICHAEL’S MOUNT CASTLE & GARDEN


castle hours – 9:30 am to 5 pm (Sunday to Monday). Closed Saturday | garden hours – 9:30 am to 5 pm (Sunday to Monday). Closed Saturday | cost – Castle £15 | Garden £11 | Combi £26

10 – BODMIN MOOR  

Bodmin Moor, one of the wildest and most remote places in England, is a wilderness area in the heart of Cornwall.

Swathes of heather and bracken are broken by rocky tors and ruined tin mines. Hiking on the moor is a wonderful remote thing to do in Cornwall.  

Don’t miss the Cheesewring where natural slabs of granite have been smoothed into strange towers. Nearby, Goldiggins Quarry is a deep and wide spring-fed quarry that is a great place to swim on a sunny day.  

One of the highlights of Bodmin Moor is Golitha Falls, a tranquil section of a secluded wooded glen.

The quarry and the falls are two wonderful places to swim in Cornwall.  

11 – PADSTOW

Padstow is a popular coastal town in Cornwall. It’s known for its picturesque harbour, narrow streets, and renowned culinary scene.

Explore the waterfront, take a stroll along the charming streets, and immerse yourself in the maritime atmosphere. One of the must-do activities in Padstow is indulging in the culinary creations of renowned chef Rick Stein.

While Padstow has undeniable charm, it attracts a huge number of tourists, and the town centre can get rammed. We recommended booking restaurants well in advance, as it can be difficult to get in anywhere without one.

Here are a few great things to do in Padstow:

  • Hire a bike and enjoy a scenic ride along the Camel Trail.
  • Visit Rock Beach, located just across the estuary, for a relaxing retreat on its sandy shores.
  • Explore Prideaux Place, a magnificent manor house with beautiful gardens.

12 – THE MINACK THEATRE  

The Minack Theatre is a spectacular amphitheatre carved into the coastal cliffs near Porthcurno Beach.

Following the natural contour of the bay, outdoor terraced seating is set amongst beautiful gardens. Take in a show in a dramatic location overlooking the coast.

During the day you can pay £10 to look around in pre-booked slots between 10 am to 4:30 pm or you can come and see a show with tickets often as little as £20.

Season — The season runs from May to September, and performances will continue in all weather (including rain) unless it’s dangerous.

What to bring — The seat are concrete, so bring a cushion to sit on and a blanket to stay warm.

Drinks + Snacks — There’s a small bar where you can pick up snacks and drinks on the way in, but you can also take food and drinks in with you.

porthcurno beach cornwall 013
MINACK THEATRE

13 – THE LOST GARDENS OF HELIGAN

Cornwall is host to some of the finest gardens in Britain, with ideal conditions for a wide variety of plants rarely seen in the rest of the country.

One of the best is the Lost Gardens of Heligan, not far from St Austell, one of the largest towns in Cornwall.

The site features over 200 acres of jungle terrain and a variety of different horticultural spaces.

Inspect the large collection of unusual plants on raised wooden boardwalks. The giant rhubarb and towering bamboo trees are particularly cool.

There’s a mysterious lost valley and colourful blooms in the English country garden. The kitchen garden is bursting with herbs and the Italian gardens are ornate and impeccably maintained.

It’s a fantastic diverse garden, teeming with quirky and unusual plants.

DETAILS | LOST GARDENS OF HELIGAN


hours – 10 am to 6 pm (last entry 4:30 pm) | cost – adult £22.50 | child £9.50 | Family £58 | locationPL26 6EN | facilites – cafes + bakery | websiteheligan.com

14 – BEDRUTHAN STEPS  

There are few more dramatic coastal sights than Bedruthan. Pounding surf has split several enormous rocky stacks away from the main headland, leaving them stranded in the sea.

The clifftop walk offers magnificent views all the way, making it worth an hour or two of leisurely stroll. Rocks emerge from the sea at high tide, while at low tide, sand surrounds their bases.

Step Closure at Carnewas — The main footpath down to Bedruthan Rocks from Carnewas was blocked by landslides in 2019 and 2021. It remains closed while restoration works take place.

Access to the beach — There is another path down to the beach a little further north (see our map above). It’s very important to allow plenty of time to get back up before the tide comes in.

15 – EDEN PROJECT

The Eden Project is a unique attraction in Cornwall that fuses art, nature, and environmental education.

Iconic biomes, resembling giant bubbles, recreate diverse ecosystems from around the world. Wander through the lush rainforest and marvel at exotic plants. Then continue through the Mediterranean section.

Outdoor gardens showcase sustainable gardening practices and native plant species. There are interactive exhibits for the kids and educational workshops.

While it’s a very popular thing to do in Cornwall, to be honest, we found the whole experience a little more theme park than eco-sanctuary. Nonetheless, the biodomes are very impressive structures.

It’s worth checking out the Eden Sessions to see what live acts are taking place during your visit.

DETAILS | EDEN PROJECT


hours – 9:30 am – 6 pm (1 May to 26 July) / 9 am – 6 pm (27 July to 30 April) | cost – Adult £33 / Young adult £28 / Child £11 (please note, they increase the price during busy periods) | locationPL24 2SG | parking – free.

16 – HOLYWELL BAY

Only 6 miles from Newquay, Holywell Bay is a beautiful beach that attracts far fewer visitors.

A huge sweep of golden sand is backed by 60-foot dunes, with cliffs on either side and two rocky promontories out at sea.

It’s a gloriously sheltered beach and a thoroughly scenic place to relax in Cornwall.

At low tide you can explore grotto-like Holywell Cave and a 70-year-old wreck pokes out of the sea.

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

Parking at Holywell Bay — There’s a National Trust car park (post code: TR8 5PF) which cost £2 for 1 hour, £4 for 4 hours or £8 all day. Pay and Display machines only accept coin, however you can also pay with the PaybyPhone App – location code: 803548. Parking is free for National Trust members.

Beach Kiosk — There’s a small kiosk selling drinks and snacks near the car park.

17 – HIKE THE CORNWALL COASTAL PATH  

The Southwest Coastal path stretches over 600 miles from Minehead in Somerset to Poole Harbour in Dorset. During its journey, it passes some of the country’s finest scenery, including the iconic Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door.  

Walking the entire route takes around 50 days, but many of the highlights are in Cornwall and it’s well worth picking off a few of the best stretches. Our favourites are:  

  • Lizard Point to the glorious rocky boulders and pinnacles of Kynance Cove;  
  • The wild heather-strewn clifftops of the St Agnes Headland between Porthtowan and St Agnes;  
  • The clifftop path around the giant stepping-stones at Bedruthan Rocks;  
  • The magnificent sandy coves and hidden caves stretching between Mousehole and Sennen

18 – LAND’S END

Land’s End is a rocky peninsular on the westernmost point of Cornwall. There are scenic coastal trails and tourist attractions exploiting the region’s geographic position.

It’s technically free to enter Land’s End, although parking starts at £4 and increases to £6 during peak periods.

There are several theme park-like attractions that incur a charge, including the Land’s End sign which cost £12 to snap a selfie in front of.

In our opinion, the best thing to do at Land’s End is the beautiful hike to Porthcurno Beach. This hike includes Nanijzal Beach, one of our favourite hidden gems in Cornwall.

It takes around 2-3 hours to complete the 5-mile walk.

19 – TINTAGEL CASTLE

Tintagel Castle is a medieval fortification, perched on the cliffs of an island off the North Cornwall coast.

Across a footbridge to the island, explore the remains of the 13th-century castle built by Richard, Earl of Cornwall. There’s not much left except for a few sections of granite balls. But, the dramatic location on a promontory overlooking the Atlantic Ocean is a testament to the appeal of the cornish coast.

Geoffrey of Monmouth, a 12th-century cleric, furnished the King Arthur legend with details that are now an integral part of the story. One of which was that Arthur’s conception took place at Tintagel.

Today, still takes quite a bit of imagination to appreciate Tintagel – one of the most popular places to visit in Cornwall.

DETAILS | TINTAGEL


cost – adult £18 / child £11 | hours – 10 am to 6 pm daily

tintagel cornwall
TINTAGEL

WHERE TO STAY IN CORNWALL

Cornwall is spread over 1,300 so it’s important to decide where you want to stay. We recommend 5 areas in Cornwall which are great places to base yourself.

Find a description of all of them, plus hotel recommendations in our guide to the best places to stay in Cornwall.

BEST TIME TO VISIT CORNWALL  

The best time to visit Cornwall is from May to early July when the days are long and dry, the gardens are at their most magnificent, and the school holidays have not yet begun. September and October are also good options.  

From mid-July to the end of August the weather is at its best and the outdoor cinemas and shows are in full swing. However, this is also peak tourist season, and the area can get incredibly busy. If you plan to visit over this time, be prepared for queues and make sure to book your trip well in advance.  

Winter months can be cold and wet, but if you can book late and wait for a window of good weather, it’s particularly good for photography with lovely winter light.  

CORNWALL FESTIVALS

Timing your visit to coincide with one of Cornwall’s festivals is a great way to get under the skin of the Celtic culture of the area.

Eden Sessions // From early to late June, international bands and artists perform in front of the Eden Biodomes at the Eden Sessions. Previous acts have included Diana Ross and Bryan Adams. The 2023 line-up is headlined by Lionel Richie on 7 June 2023.

St Endellion Summer Music Festival // A symphony orchestra and a world-class chorus of 75 voices provide uplifting classical, choral and chamber recitals for the St Endellion Summer Festival in northern Cornwall.

Boardmasters Festival // Held on Fistral Beach and Watergate Bay, the Boardmasters Festival celebrates surfing and skateboarding with live music on panoramic beach stages. The 2023 line-up includes Liam Gallagher and Florence + The Machine.

Porthleven Food Festival // For a taste of what Cornwall can deliver, the Porthleven Food Festival is a free-to-attend, 3-day celebration of food including, farmers markets, cooking demonstrations and celebrity chefs.

things to do cornwall 2

TIPS FOR VISITING CORNWALL  

01 – The National Trust owns a lot of land and houses in Cornwall. Members can visit their properties and park for free. If you have ever thought about joining, it might make sense to do so before you visit Cornwall.  

02 – Driving times in Cornwall are often longer than you might think. At peak times the roads can get clogged and frustrating so try to arrive early or late in the day. Furthermore, keep to the main roads rather than follow the SatNav or Google Maps along single-lane tracks through tiny villages.

03 – Many car parks use the JustPark App. Download and enter your details before you travel to save some time. Also, some of the credit card facilities on the parking machines weren’t working on our last visit, so carry a bit of cash.  

04 – It is not always possible to get mobile data in Cornwall. The headlands and coves create plenty of dead spots, so download any information (like navigation maps or things to do) before you head off.  

05 – Time your activities with the tide. Many beaches and coves only reveal themselves at low tide.

things cornwall

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Fuelled by the sea and charmed by a Celtic culture, there are a host of wonderful things to do in Cornwall. See then all on our guide to getting the most out of Britain’s sunny county.

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