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

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 Cornwall covers some of the most 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.

Booking your trip via the links on this page (or on our book page) will earn us a small commission, at no extra cost to you. Thanks for your support – Paul & Mark.

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CORNWALL, ENGLAND MAP

We have included our list of the best things to do in Cornwall on the below map to help you find all the main attractions dotted along this rugged & beautiful county.  

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 – EXPLORE ST IVES

Squeezed in the middle by two sandy beaches, the bohemian hub of St Ives continues to nurture its creative, independent spirit despite its increasing popularity.

After the decline of the fishing industry, disused lofts behind Porthmeor Beach were transformed into artist studios; a re-purposing which gave St Ives a new lease of life making it one of the most interesting things to do in Cornwall. Artists have been coming here ever since, seeking inspiration from this beautiful seaside port.

The main strip along the front contains the bulk of the restaurants, bars and cafes. But just a street or two back, wander white-washed laneways and discover contemporary art, discreet wine bars and some of the best coffee you’ll find outside London.

After exploring the town, relax on one of the two excellent beaches on either side of the narrow promontory. Read more in our guide to the best things to do in St Ives.

2 – HIT THE BEACH AT PEDN VOUNDER  

Cornwall is blessed with magnificent beaches – golden arcs of sand lapped by turquoise waters. There are family beaches with gentle waves; secret coves pummelled by rising tides; bays swept by surging surf.  

However, for our pick, the most perfect beach would be Pedn Vounder. Tucked under the cliffs in a remote location, it could easily be the most beautiful beach in the UK.  

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. On a nice day, light glistens off a central sandbar with hidden coves in rocky walls and jagged headlands overhead.  

Getting to Pedn Vounder involves a 15-minute walk and a short scramble down rocks. But, if you are up for an off-the-beaten-track adventure, this is a wonderful thing to do in Cornwall. Read more in our guide to visiting Pedn Vounder.

3 – EAT IN PORTHLEVEN  

While Padstow has a reputation as Cornwall’s foodie destination, the humble fishing village of Porthleven has a thriving local restaurant industry. A host of diverse food joints are dotted around the working fishing harbour, here are some to check out.

Kota // Kota is quality Asian dining which has been awarded a Bib Gourmand – Michelin’s quality at affordable rating accolade – every year since 2013. For similar flavours in an even more affordable setting, Kota Kai Bar & Kitchen is just a few doors down.  

Mussel Shoal // Join the locals leaning against the harbour wall munching on the daily specials from this very relaxed seafood joint.

Dan’s Van // Try Cornwall’s freshest lobster served in front of colourful bobbing boats.  

A few more // We recommend the coffee and pastries from Origin and an on-the-go lunch from Ced’s Bagels, a cool hole-in-the-wall bagel shop. 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 things to do in Cornwall that’s still a bit of a secret. Go before it’s too late.

4 – SURF AT WATERGATE BAY, NEWQUAY  

There are few finer surfing beaches in the UK than Watergate Bay. Facing southwest towards the Atlantic rollers, the gently sloping sandy beach and consistent swell is a mecca for wave-riding enthusiasts looking for fun adventure activities 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 and beginner lessons are available. We went with Extreme Academy and while we didn’t quite enter the Blue Room (inside the curl of the wave) they did at least get us 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.

5 – VISIT A FISHING VILLAGE

For centuries Cornwall was sustained by the ocean. Returning with their catch, fishermen would seek shelter from the tumultuous seas in tiny harbours tucked into rocky coves. Today, many of these sanctuaries are now working fishing villages with a side hustle in tourism. While some have suffered from commercialisation, others successfully married their dual industries.  

Port Isaac // As one of the most charming things to do in Cornwall, Porta Isaac has a maze of tiny alleyways wedged between cliffs, hidden behind a tiny harbour.

Mousehole // In the west of Cornwall, the village of Mousehole has a relaxed untouched vibe with a few great places to eat.  

Polperro // Probably our favourite village in Cornwall, Polperro has a series of narrow lanes that navigate towards the sea, collecting charming flower-adorned cottages. A labyrinth of medieval buildings surrounds the small harbour filled with bobbing boats.   

6 – SWIM AT KYNANCE COVE   

The entire Cornish Coast is rugged and dramatic, but nowhere is more picturesque than Kynance Cove. Battered by the surging surf and blustery winds, the coastline forms a curve of multi-coloured rocky outcrops.  

As the tide retreats, swathes of sand appear between the rugged crags. Investigate hidden caves, leap off rocks into the ocean or head over the headlands for a coastal hike. It’s one of our favourite places to wild swim in Cornwall and the hidden Mermaid’s pool is a great spot to explore.  

Kynance Cove is owned and run by the National Trust. There’s a café and toilets above the beach and the car park is 10 minutes’ walk along the coastal path. At high tide the beach is entirely covered, so the best time to visit is either side of low tide. Although the car park is big, in peak season it fills up quickly so come early or late if possible.

7 – LANHYDROCK HOUSE

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

The house was built in 1642 but it was severely destroyed by a fire in 1881. Although rebuilt to a very high standard only the magnificent 116-foot barrel-vaulted ceiling remains. The house was redesigned with extensive servants’ quarters making it a model for the traditional Victorian way of life.

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. For a family excursion, rent bikes at the entrance and try one of the relatively easy mountain bike trails.  

8 – 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. Today it is run jointly by the St Aubyn family and the National Trust.  

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.  

The best way to capture this castellated Cornwall attraction is to explore 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.

9 – HIKE IN BODMIN MOOR  

Bodmin Moor, one of the wildest and most remote places in England, is a wilderness area right in the centre of Cornwall. Swathes of heather and bracken are broken only by rocky tors and ruined tin mines. Hiking on the moor is a wonderful remote thing to do in Cornwall.  

The highest point is Brown Willy, where on a fine day you can see a good deal of Cornwall. To the south and east is the Cheesewring where natural slabs of granite have been smoothed into strange towers. Nearby, Goldiggins Quarry is a deep and wide spring-fed quarry which 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. Pack some sandwiches and head off for a scenic picnic. All the details about getting there are in our guide to swimming in Cornwall.  

10 – THE HIDDEN HUT, PORTHCURNICK

Perched above Porthcurnick Beach in the Roseland peninsula, the Hidden Hut is a small food van that produces a tasty selection of creative dishes overlooking a beautiful spot on the beach. They have a rotating daily menu but expect to find interesting stews and pots including beef chilli, chicken cacciatore and dahl with raita, plus a few other small bites.  

The dishes are simple and easy to scoff down while sitting on a bench overlooking the beach. Everything is made with fresh local ingredients, so you feel like you’re having a taste of Cornwall.  

While the food is the start of the show, they also have coffee, flavoured hot chocolates and a choice of cakes to finish up. The Hidden Hut have their own cookbook which showcases their dedication to simply prepared beach/street food. The hut is an 8-minute walk from the car park in Portscatho or 3 minutes from one of the few parking spaces along the road opposite the Rosevine Hotel.

11 – THE MINACK THEATRE  

Porthcurno Beach is a beautiful part of Cornwall with excellent beaches and scenic coastal paths. Carved into the cliff face, the spectacular Minack Theatre is an unmissable attraction in Cornwall.

The first performance at Minack was in 1932 and continual improvements over subsequent decades have seen it listed as one of the world’s most spectacular theatres. Following the natural contour of the bay the grand outdoor terraced seating set amongst beautifully maintained gardens welcomes around 250,000 visitors a year.  

During the day you can pay £10 to look around in pre-booked slots between 10am to 4:30pm. However, it’s a much better experience to come and see a show. Tickets can be as little as £20 and it’s a remarkable experience to watch a performance as the sun sets on the ocean behind.

The season runs from May to September, and performances will continue in all weather (including rain) unless it’s dangerous. Bring a cushion to sit on and a blanket to stay warm. 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.

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12 – THE 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. There are formal manicured gardens and wild woodlands; rainforest biomes and sculpture gardens; sub-tropical paradises and exotic blooms.   

One of the best is the Lost Gardens of Heligan. Spread over 200 acres, walk through jungle terrain over raised wooden boardwalk past giant rhubarb plants and towering bamboo trees. Explore the lost valley and smell the colourful blooms in the English country garden; wander the kitchen garden bursting with herbs and stroll through the ornate Italian gardens.  

Its magnificently maintained, gloriously diverse and teeming with quirky and unusual plants. Allow at least a couple of hours to explore, longer if you take a break in one of the cafes dotted around the grounds.

13 – BEDRUTHAN ROCKS  

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. Legend has it that a giant called Bedruthan used the giant stacks as stepping-stones to shorten his journey across the bay. Today, they make a great focal point for a photo or a hike around the headland.  

The views are magnificent all the way along the clifftop walk and it’s well worth spending an hour or two strolling around. At high tide, the rocks rise out of the sea, but at low tide the bases are surrounded by sand.  

Unfortunately, the main footpath down from Carnewas was blocked by landslides in 2019 and 2021 and is currently closed. There is another path down to the beach a little further north (see our map below), but you need to allow plenty of time to get back up before the tide comes in. Every year, someone needs to be airlifted off the beach, having underestimated the speed of the tide.  

If you are unsure, stay on the stunning clifftop and soak in the views.

14 – 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

15 – HOLYWELL BAY

Only 6 miles from Newquay, Holywell Bay is far less busy than many of the other beaches in the area providing a beautiful location to soak up one of the most pleasing things to do in Cornwall: nothing at all.

Holywell Bay is a huge sweep of golden sand, the largest on this stretch of coast, 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 thoroughly 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 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 gem of a cove completely untouched by commercialism. Its turquoise waters, funnelled by two headlands, lap at pristine sands. There are no facilities here, just a slice of heaven offering a break from the hectic pace of day-to-day life.

16 – ATTEND A CORNWALL FESTIVAL

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 mid-May to early July, 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.

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OTHER GREAT THINGS TO DO IN CORNWALL  

We prefer to curate our guides so that we are presenting only the best things an area has to offer. The above attractions are the ones we think you shouldn’t miss. However, if you have the time, here are a few more great things to do in Cornwall. For other ideas, read our guide to the best hidden gems in Cornwall.

SUP // The calm waters of the Fowey River are perfect for a Stand Up Paddleboarding session. Fowey River hire has all the gear you need for a tour or you can just hire the equipment.

Wild Swimming // Cornwall not only has a wealth of magnificent coastlines but also rivers, natural pools and spring-fed quarries. We’ve collated all the best wild swimming in Cornwall locations so you can go exploring.

Tintagel Castle // There’s not a lot left of Tintagel Castle, the mythical home to King Arthur, but its position on a rocky promontory gives it a mystical and eerie feel.

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.

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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.  

All our trip tools can be found on our book page.  

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.  

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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.