The Cornwall Hotel’s guide to visiting and exploring Cornwall on a friendly budget
A Cornish holiday needn’t be expensive. There’s a great variety of days out in Cornwall that will cost you little more than a bite to eat and the car park charge.
Read on for our favourite free things to do in Cornwall, as well as some hidden gems and tourist attractions that are well worth the entrance fee.
Head to the beach
One of Cornwall’s main attractions is free — its wonderful collection of sandy beaches and coves. Swimming, exploring, or simply lying on the golden sand with a book, the coast is the perfect place to spend your holiday without spending your savings.
If you If you are here to hit the waves then you’ll find some of Cornwall’s best surf breaks on the north coast. Don’t miss Newquay’s world-famous Fistral Beach and the sweeping beaches at Perranporth and Watergate Bay. There’s affordable rental shops on and close to these spots if you don’t have your own surfboard and wetsuit.
A free day on a Cornish beach with the kids is easy to achieve, too. Exploring rock pools for treasures is a great way to spend a day, even off-season. All you need is grippy footwear and a container to (temporarily) put your discoveries in for closer inspection. Beachcomb for shells and sea-glass for rainy-day craft projects, or try pebble art on the sand.
Keeping it clean
Share your love for the shore by joining in with an organised beach clean. Surfers Against Sewage organise regular sessions in Cornwall. As well as making a difference to Cornwall’s environment and wildlife, you’ll get a great sense of camaraderie with like-minded people. You can also make a difference when meeting seals, sea lions and penguins at the Cornish Seal Sanctuary. All profits at this sea life center are put towards the preservation of the animals.
Miles of coastal path
Glance up from the sands of whichever beach you’re on and you’re bound to see walkers striding out along the cliff paths. The South West Coast Path runs from Minehead in Somerset to Poole in Dorset, and is 630 miles in total; and almost 300 these follow the Cornish coast.
To cover the entire path would be ambitious for a weekend’s walking, so choose a stretch that appeals to you and set off along the coast. The path’s website recommends walks based on certain criteria (location, dogs, kids, pubs…). Perhaps stroll between the quaint fishing villages of Port Isaac and Padstow, or wander around the Lizard Peninsula via Kynance Cove. In west Cornwall the path travels above the dramatic cliffs of Lands End.
Breathtaking Cornish Countryside
It's not just the Cornish coast that dazzles in this picturesque corner of South West England. Bodmin Moor is one of the inland highlights of north Cornwall. There’s Bronze Age monuments and medieval bridges to spot dotted around lush pastures and moorlands here.
A walk in the woods
Or, you can head inland, and enjoy some forest bathing. Welcomingly shady on warm days, and providing shelter on rainy ones, a woodland walk is a real pleasure at any time of year.
Kings Woods are close to The Cornwall, in the Pentewen Valley. This mixed woodland is home to varied local flora and fauna, and is easy to walk through. Try some of the pretty paths through Tehidy Woods near Redruth (which has Cornwall’s cheekiest squirrels), or spend an afternoon at the Forestry Commission woods at Cardinham. If you fancy a change from walking, there’s also a 12-mile bike trail at Cardinham – and speaking of which…
On your bike
Cornwall has some superb cycle trails to compliment walks on the rugged South West Coast Path. The best-known is the Camel Trail, which is on the site of an old railway line between Padstow and Wenford Bridge. This 18-mile-long, and mostly flat, trail passes amid beautiful scenery along the estuary. Closer to The Cornwall, Pentewen Valley Trail also uses a former railway route, is pretty level, and leads you to a sandy beach.
This is technically a “free thing” if you’ve brought your own bikes. If not, you can hire bicycles and cycling equipment from Pentewen Valley Cycle Hire near The Cornwall; and even with a hire fee, it’s still a reasonable cost for a whole day’s fun.
Family Friendly Parks and Gardens
Whether you are coming with younger kids or teens, your family will have a blast discovering the rainforest biomes and subtropical gardens at The Eden Project. Yes, there’s an admission fee, but once inside you can stay as long as you desire. Not far from Eden, the Lost Gardens of Heligan is a delightful Victorian garden and tearoom. Children under five go for free at these sister attractions. For a non-beach tourist attraction in the heart of Newquay check out the Trenance Gardens. It’s free to enter the gardens, use the playgrounds and walk around the lake; you just need to pay for activities such as crazy golf, pedal boats and a toy train.
Cornish history and heritage
If you want to learn more about Cornish heritage and culture, there are plenty of ways you can do this free-of-charge. Falmouth Art Gallery takes you through the county’s long relationship with artists, as well as holding exhibitions and activities for families. You can discover Cornwall’s mining legacy at Heartlands in Pool. There’s a free permanent exhibition, an events programme, and a first-rate adventure playground. It does a good Cornish pasty, too. Talking about the Cornish pasty, there’s few better places to tuck into a piece of Cornish culinary heritage than on the harbourfront in St Ives.
Delve deeper into Cornwall’s history by visiting some of the Duchy’s ancient monuments; and there’s an Iron Age hillfort near Porthpean beach. West Cornwall has a cluster of ancient sites, including the fascinating settlement at Carn Euny Ancient Village, near Penzance.
While you're in the west, the castle or gardens at St Michael’s Mount are a must. There’s a charge to enter; however you can walk across the causeway and explore the harbour without needing to pay. Check the causeway times to amble across at low tide, or pay a small fee for the ferry boat. This isn’t the only castle in Cornwall, either. If you are an English Heritage member then you’ll get your money’s worth at all of Tintagel Castle, Pendennis Castle and St Mawes Castle. The latter two stand on opposite sides of Falmouth Bay and can be visited in a day with a ride on the St Mawes Ferry.
To find out more about fun things to do in Cornwall, have a chat with the team at The Cornwall — we’ve got plenty of tips to help you make the most of your Cornish holiday. If you have any recommendations yourself on the best places to visit on a budget we’d love to know!