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15 best places to visit in Cornwall

We know that travel is especially difficult right now. But alongside the latest COVID-19 travel advice and updates, we want to continue to inspire you with new travel content so that when the world opens its doors again, you'll be ready.

2020 has been a difficult year, and many Brits are looking to recuperate within our own borders. While international travel begins to recover – keep an eye on our updated-daily Coronavirus travel page – consider a closer-to-home trip on the UK’s sandy capital. As one of the UK’s most sun-soaked corners, with its wild, windswept beaches that tempt artists, surfers and boutique hoteliers alike, Cornwall offers seaside escapism unrivalled in the UK. Here are our recommendations of the 15 best places to visit in Cornwall.

1. Botallack Mine

A former tin mining area between St. Just in Penwith and Pendeen village, these abandoned mines hark back to the county’s industrial past and are now even more of a star Cornwall attraction, since featuring in 2015’s TV hit Poldark as the setting for the hero’s home, Nampara. What else makes it one of the best places to visit in Cornwall? It doesn’t cost a penny to take a 1.6km stroll through the Cornish Mining World Heritage Site to see the stone engine houses crumbling precariously near the surf, or explore Bottallack Count House, where the workers and mine captains once lived.

Botallack Mine is one of Cornwall's star attractions

2. St. Loy

Head to the south west coast, and the valleys and boulder strewn sands of St. Loy, for a beach holiday in one of the best places to visit in Cornwall. The best way to see what the gorgeous Cornish coves here have to offer is by taking a hike. Follow the 9km section of the South West Coast Path starting and finishing near the Lamorna Cove Hotel through pretty woodlands, passing historical monuments and enjoying panoramic views from Logan Rock headland over Lizard Point, the UK’s most southerly tip.

Pedn Vounder Beach is visible from Logan Rock - one of the best spots to visit in Cornwall

3. Cawsand and Kingsand

These two super-cute villages on the Rame Peninsula were once favourite spots for smugglers. Though only around 45 minutes drive from Plymouth, they’re often referred to as ‘the forgotten corner of Cornwall’ so if you’re looking for places off the beaten coastal path, these might be your bag. You’ll also find plenty of fishermen here who supply local restaurants with the freshest daily catch. The gastronomic delights of France meet the Cornish coast at The Devonport Inn in Kingsand, which serves classic dishes using only fresh locally sourced produce like Kingsand Bay lobster and crab.

For more chocolate box villages, check out reader’s tips on more delightful villages around the UK.

The seascape at Kingsand, Cornwall, is one of the area's top spots for a gastronomic meal

4. Porthcurno

Set in a small valley that slides towards a beautiful white beach that wouldn’t look out of place in the South Pacific, is one of the best places to visit in Cornwall. Porthcurno is two and a half miles from Land’s End. This pocket-sized point played a big part in World War II – its submarine communications cable station was a major hub, used to pass on important intelligence. Tunnels were built to protect the cable station from attack, and today you can visit them to see the exhibits on display in the Porthcurno Telegraph Museum. Note that it’s currently closed due to coronavirus restrictions, so keep an eye on the website for updates.

The beautiful white sand at Porthcurno bay, one of Cornwall's most stunning beaches

5. Wheal Coates, St. Agnes

This former tin mine still stands proud atop the cliffs between Porthtowan and St. Agnes on Cornwall’s north coast, protected by the National Trust as a site of historical significance. The surviving building dates from the 1870s and is rumoured to be haunted by the ghosts of the old mine workers. You can venture inside the mine shaft at low tide via a cave on Chapel Porth Beach, just one of the many beautiful beaches around St. Agnes. Stay in the centre at St. Agnes Hotel for easy bus connections to Truro, or opt for one of the romantic self-catering cottages strewn near beaches like Trevaunance, if you’ve got your own wheels.

Surfers at sunset in Cornwall

6. Camel Estuary

Springing from Bodmin Moor and flowing out to the Celtic Sea, the River Camel stretches for about 30 miles. On the banks of the estuary lies the famous fishing port of Padstow, and on its west side acheologists have uncovered evidence that people have lived on this little patch of England since the Bronze Age. Just as famous for Rick Stein’s flagship Seafood Restaurant, you can also get a posh takeaway for under a tenner at Stein’s Fish and Chips in Padstow, best enjoyed out in the fresh breeze by the harbour in one of the best places to visit in Cornwall.

The beach near Padstow, Cornwall, is one of the area's best places to visit

7. Rough Tor

A tor is a rocky outcrop that juts out from the top of a hill, very characteristic of this south-western part of England. Rough Tor is stacked with enigmatic stone formations and is one of Cornwall’s twin peaks, sitting not far from the highest point in the county, Brown Willy. An 8km walk from the car park at Poldue Downs encompasses both sites and allows you to lose yourself in the epic horizons of the north Cornish moorlands, dotted with neolithic monuments and Bronze Age stone circles. Avoid getting lost by always checking the weather for mist warnings before heading out.

Ramble over Britain’s best countryside with this rundown of the best hiking routes around the UK.

8. Land’s End

It’s the final destination, or first port of call depending on your direction, on the UK’s longest road trip from John O’Groats to Land’s End – over 1,407km from start to finish. Affectionately known as The First and Last, Land’s End has enough natural beauty to postpone your epic journey for at least a few days. Walk along the clifftops to Sennen Cove for blooming carpets of heather and sea campion in the summer, stunning views across Britain’s most southwesterly point and prime bird-watching – look out for gannets, fulmars, shags and razorbills to name a few. Sunset walks can be finished up with a meal at the Land’s End Hotel next to the viewpoint. Try a steaming bowl of Cornish mussels from the bar menu to sample the best of the local waters in what’s certainly one of the best places to visit in Cornwall.

Pedn Vounder Beach Cornwall, near Land's End, one of the best places to visit in Cornwall

9. Fowey

It’s a right royal affair in Fowey, home to the Royal Regatta for one week every August. But this popular event isn’t just about spruced up sailboats. Watch the Red Arrows put on a spectacular show right above your head in the harbour, join the party during the carnival parade or enjoy the fireworks display. Fower Harbour is as pretty as a picture whenever you visit, and it’s worth the 15 minute walk up to St. Catherine’s Castle from Readymoney Cove for windswept views of the estuary from the battlements.

Discover more of our favourite ruins in this guide to the best 11 castles in England.

One of Cornwall's most popular 
 spots, Fowey, as seen from Polruan

10. Trevose Head

Another of the many Cornwall place names beginning with ‘Tre’ (meaning ‘homestead’), you can take in amazing panoramic views all the way up the north coast of Cornwall and in to neighbouring county Devon from Trevose Head. Staring out to sea between Newquay and Padstow, Trevose Head Lighthouse has been safely guiding seafarers to shore since 1847 and is one of the best places to visit in Cornwall. It remains a working lighthouse whose beams you can see up to 37km away. You can even stay in the former keeper’s cottages there, for early morning access to beautiful Constantine Bay a few miles down the coast.

11. St. Ives

Have a jolly holiday in the quintessential British seaside town of St. Ives. From striped deck chairs lined up on Porthminster Beach, to traditional tearooms like Olive’s Cafe serving up delicious Cornish cream teas, St. Ives is a great place to come for some good old fashioned family fun. Culture fans can also add a dash of art to their holiday at Tate St. Ives: the little town with the big views has inspired a host of modernist painters and sculptors, including Barbara Hepworth and you can visit an entire gallery dedicated to her work here. Who needs London?

Read more: 10 incredible places to visit in England (other than London)

The sand and houses at Porthminster beach, St Ives, Cornwall's cultural hub

12. Marazion

On the theme of arts and crafts, Marazion is arguably the best place to visit in Cornwall for a creative hit, with plenty of resident artists who make and sell their works in the town’s galleries. It might have something to do with the dramatic sight of St. Michael’s Mount rising out of the sea half-a-mile offshore. Make the journey to the National Trust island on foot at low tide, or jump on a short boat ride to visit the castle, which has been the St. Aubyn family home since around 1650. Check the website for the most up-to-date tide times.

13. Bedruthan Steps

Between Padstow and Newquay lies the Bedruthan Steps, stone stacks which have been separated from the mainland by sea erosion over hundreds of years; legend has it that a giant named Bedruthan used them as stepping stones to make a short cut across the bay. The south west coast path passes through these parts as well – take the short hour and a half walk from Carnewas car park and stop off at the handy Carnewas Tearoom on your return for the best angle on the Steps (over a big slice of cake, of course).

14. Newquay

Considered the surf capital of the UK, Newquay’s got to be top spot in Cornwall for anyone looking to hang ten, or just hang out on one of the pretty patches of sand that dot the Cornish coast. Crantock Beach is just outside the city centre and a perfect place to get some sea air if you’re flying in and out of town on a tight schedule. Great Western Beach is popular with families and has plenty of cafés for a quick ice cream cone, while the Headland Hotel overlooking Fistral Beach is certainly the most stylish place to stay; its red brick Victorian frontage can be spied for miles around.

Tolcarne beach in Newquay. one of the best places to visit in Cornwall for sea and surf

15. Polzeath

Another great spot to catch some waves, Polzeath is a coastal town near Wadebridge with plenty of other charms as well as surfing. Tracks and trails made for keen cyclists wend their way through the countryside, like the 17 mile Camel Trail along a disused railway line from Bodmin all the way to Padstow (start in Wadebridge for a shorter section in either direction). For something less strenuous, walk the coastal path from family favourite Greenaway Beach to Daymer Bay, where the waves are smaller, making it ideal for swimmers and windsurfers. 

The waves at Polzeath, near Wadebridge, one of the best places to visit in Cornwall

The best places to visit in Cornwall FAQs

1. How do I get to Cornwall?

From within the UK, you can fly to Newquay Cornwall Airport, or simply hire a car to get you there – something you’ll want to do when you get there, anyway, as Cornwall’s not known for its public transport. If you take the train, your best bet is also to aim for Newquay. The Great Western Railway (GWR) service gets you there from London Paddington in five hours.

2. Where should I base myself to visit the best places in Cornwall?

If you have a car, you can get anywhere in the region fairly easily, so it doesn’t matter too much where you rest your head. But when it comes to where to stay, there’s a different kind of Cornwall for each type of person. St Ives is generally home to a posher brand of hotels, while Falmouth is arty and Newquay is your best bet for nightlife. For many visitors to Cornwall, it’s a chance to go to sleep to the sound of the sea, so look up rural hotels throughout the region.

3. When should I visit Cornwall?

Much like the rest of the UK, Cornwall can be prone to wind and rain, so it’s best to come in spring and summer when you can safely explore the great outdoors. If you’re looking for a quieter stay, avoid the school holidays and opt for June or September, when the average temperature is at a mild 15 degrees Celsius and rainfall is around its lowest.

4. What should I eat in Cornwall?

One word: seafood. With a coastline like that on your doorstep, it would be criminal not to make the most of the fresh lobster, crab and sea bass that’s caught every day. Try Prawn on the Lawn in Padstow, or the Rum & Crab Shack in St Ives.

Looking for more UK staycation inspiration?

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