There’s so much to see in Cornwall’s relatively modest 1,375 square miles that it can be hard to know where to start. Let us make it easy for you. We’ve grouped Cornwall’s main attractions into types, and recommended our favourite in each group.
With around 400 miles of coastline, Cornwall has a fantastic choice of beaches. Whether you’re a surfer, a snorkeller or simply a sunbather, you’ll find your new favourite beach here. St Ives’ Porthminster, Constantine, Sennen, and Fistral Bay in Newquay are some of the UK’s best beaches – and we also love the hidden little coves. One of our local beaches, Porthpean, is fantastic for water sports.
If you just visit one… Well, this was a toughie, but we went for Harlyn Bay near Padstow. This stunning beach has everything, from good surf to year-round dog access.
Fascinating old harbours
The Cornish coast is scattered with historic harbours, all with different characters. There’s the important fishing port of Newlyn in the west, and picture-perfect Cadgwith Cove on The Lizard. St Ives is one of the county’s most famous harbour towns, with the bonus of several world-class beaches, and the same description applies to Padstow. Fowey is sophisticated, Charleston elegant, and Mousehole endearing.
If you have time to hang out in just one harbour town, we’d recommend our lovely local one, Mevagissey.
Cornwall’s mild winters allow our gardeners to be creative, and we have a wonderful collection of subtropical gardens. If you’ve packed your National Trust card, you’ll more than cover your membership as you explore gardens from wooded Penrose on the Lizard to the subtropical valley and maze in Helford’s Glendurgan. The Eden Project has taken visiting gardens to a whole new level, with its famous biomes and spectacular outdoor planting.
It’s a tough call, but we always go for The Lost Gardens of Heligan, both for its incredible story and its proximity to The Cornwall.
Renowned British Art
Cornwall has attracted artists for generations, drawn by its landscapes, subjects and light. Falmouth Art Gallery will take you through the history of Cornish art, and visit Penlee House Museum and Gallery in Penzance to find out about the Newlyn School. Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens near Penzance and the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden in St Ives combine art with subtropical planting.
If you’re interested in modern Cornish art, visit Tate St Ives.
St Michael’s Mount, a tidal island crowned by a mostly medieval castle, is one of Cornwall’s best-known landmarks – and going there by boat or causeway is always an adventure. There are the twin Tudor castles of Pendennis and St Mawes (both English Heritage) guarding the entrance to Falmouth harbour. Restormel Castle (also EH) has beautiful grounds.
If you just have time to visit one, Tintagel Castle has the most spectacular location – and it’s the birthplace of King Arthur!
Evocative tin mines
Cornwall was a land rich in tin, and the landscape is marked for ever with the dramatic silhouettes of engine houses. You can find out more about the story of tin and copper mining at Geevor Tin Mine near Penzance, and even go underground. Heartlands in Pool has a free exhibition about mining, as well as a fun adventure playground and a great value café.
Head west to the National Trust’s Botallack Mine, home of Captain Ross Poldark’s Wheal Grace.
World-class theatre and music
Try to catch a performance by Cornwall’s renowned Kneehigh Theatre, who as well as touring have a summer base at the Lost Gardens of Heligan. The county’s main theatre, Hall for Cornwall in Truro is closed for refurbishment until 2020; however, its box office remains open to sell tickets for other exciting shows across Cornwall. There are several annual festivals, including Boardmasters, St Endellion classical music festival, and St Ives’ folk-based festival in September.
If you’re visiting just one venue, there’s nowhere on earth like The Minack.
Yes, it’s the South West, and rain is not unlikely. There’s plenty to do, from sheltering in a tropical biome at Eden, to exploring the corridors of Lanhydrock House near Bodmin. Head for the shops, restaurants, galleries and museums of Truro and Falmouth.
When it rains, it’s the National Maritime Museum Cornwall in Falmouth for us, every time.