Holidays in Cornwall – a taste of the Caribbean close to home # Itineraries
Wild moors, jagged cliffs and stunning sandy beaches: Cornwall has a lot to offer and should definitely make it onto your travel bucket list. We’ve put together a guide of its most beautiful spots, local delicacies and practical tips for travelling around our very own coastal paradise.
But there’s much more to Cornwall than beaches: here, you’ll find some of the friendliest people walking these isles, with a language and culture they’re fiercely proud of, an unusual sense of humour, and a habit of wearing shorts and T-shirts all year round (alright for some). Combined with the breathtakingly beautiful (and wholly un-British) weather, great pubs and bracing coastal walks, this makes it a unique gem practically on your doorstep. Here’s everything you need to know to plan a great trip.
Cornwall as a holiday destination
Look at a map of Cornwall and you’ll find some of south-west England’s most familiar and evocative place names: well-connected towns like Newquay, home to Cornwall’s airport, rub shoulders with some of Britain’s best-known tourist destinations, like St Ives, Penzance and Bude.
But Cornwall has a lot more to offer than its beautiful beaches and big names. With a population of around 565,000, Cornwall has a strong sense of identity, with its own Cornish language and culture stemming from its Celtic heritage. You’ll be treated to a warm Cornish welcome: tourists, newcomers and locals alike love to sit down to a delicious Cornish cream tea between two and four in the afternoon. OK, the delicious scones might have sweetened us up – but we think Cornwall might just be the friendliest place in the whole UK.
Holiday in Cornwall: north, south and Scilly
Cornish fishing villages are full of charming cottages with slate or thatched roofs. Every day, local fishermen and women head out onto the open sea to catch crabs, lobster, mackerel and all kinds of other fantastic fresh seafood.
Cornwall offers a variety of shifting landscapes, with a perceptible difference between north and south. In the north, the Irish Sea shapes the dramatic coastline, with rugged, vertiginous cliffs, stunning beaches and wild countryside. Meanwhile, the south of Cornwall, with a more sheltered coastline, gentler winds and coarser sand on the beaches, is known as Cornwall’s Riviera.
Inland, you’ll find vast moors, while on the Lizard Peninsula, dark-green and reddish rocks resemble the earth’s crust. The fertile soil is a fruitful place for palm trees, rhododendrons and other rare plants such as Cornish heath. Cornwall is also home to the Isles of Scilly, surrounded by the Gulf Stream and blessed with mild weather and plenty of sun.
In our opinion, the most popular Cornish beaches are Kynance Cove and Sennen Cove. Yet Portreath Beach, Hayle Towans Beach, Porthcurno Beach and Summerleaze Beach are also well worth a visit, with stunning crystal-clear water, magnificent waves and dramatic rocky landscapes. One thing’s for certain: with so many incredible Cornish beaches to choose from, there’s something for everyone.
Cornwall – a paradise for sea lovers and water sports
Speaking of beaches: Cornwall is the perfect spot for water sports. It’s a paradise for surfing and sailing. Surfers share the blue-green sea with seals and basking sharks. Canoeing, paddle boarding and coastal hikes are on offer, too.
A lot of areas in the UK might lay claim to the best fish and chips, but we reckon Cornwall might snag the title. Scrumptious seafood is a staple of every restaurant menu. But nothing holds a candle to the Cornish pasty, the jewel in the crown of Cornish cuisine. Strictly speaking, the traditional Cornish pasty combines minced beef, potatoes, onions and turnip. These days, however, you’ll find tasty modern twists in even the farthest-flung corners of Cornwall – including delicious veggie and vegan varieties.
Getting to Cornwall
You can reach Cornwall from London in less than five hours. Let the motorway speed you along the first part of the journey from the capital or further north: take the M4 from London, or the M6 from Manchester if you’re heading from further north, then the M5 from Exeter. Alternatively, you can take the M3 before following the A303 across Salisbury Plain. Once you’re in the Cornish neck of the woods, you can choose between dual carriageway or a more scenic route. The Atlantic Highway A39 from North Devon offers impressive scenery. Roads can be busy with tourists in the summer months, so if you’re not travelling in the off-season, it’s worth your while getting creative with travel times and setting off earlier or later to avoid the peak. If you’d rather skip the monotony of the motorway, hop on a Great Western Railway train to Bristol, Bath or Exeter and hire a motorhome to take you the rest of the way.
When to visit Cornwall
At the peak of the summer season, from late June to late August, you might struggle to find a spot to lay your towel on the busy Cornish beaches. Yet with temperatures at their highest, this is also the best time of year to take a dip in the stunning blue sea. Low season, from March to May and September to October, finds Cornwall less crowded, with more room to relax.
Its temperate climate means Cornwall is home to tropical plants. In spring, some already begin to bloom, making the place look magnificent. Temperatures range from 8°C to 16°C – depending on where you’re coming from, that can be pretty mild for this time of year. May to August see the most hours of sunshine, while according to rainfall statistics, April to September find Cornwall at its driest.
September and October are a decent option, since the warm weather lasts a little longer here than in the rest of the UK. Temperatures are in the double digits until November – sometimes reaching as high as 17°C (yes, you read that right). What’s more, the Cornish countryside looks particularly magnificent in the golden October light. The sea is still 14°C in October – just three degrees cooler than in the warmest month of August.
Whenever you want to explore Cornwall is truly up to you.
A tour of Cornwall
On our motorhome road trip, our family of three set off from London on the motorway and made our way to Cornwall via the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – which certainly lives up to its name.
The Jurassic Coast is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a fantastic start to a Cornish road trip with its palm trees, leafy coastline and crystal-clear waters.
Our next stop is St Marys Bay, towards South Devon, where we eat huge portions of fantastic fish and chips on a stunning strip at beautiful Brixham harbour. Here, we were able to inspect crabbers hard at work. Today’s food tip: a magnificent local millionaire’s shortbread.
Our third stop is St Austell. On Carlyon Beach, we treat ourselves to our first taste of soft Cornish ice cream – and wet Cornish rain. The next day, when the sun has its hat back on, we head out for a round of mini golf.
On the way to Porthleven, we discovered The Lost Gardens of Heligan, with its stone and plant sculptures, jungle and rope bridges.
The Lizard is next on our list. It’s home to Henry’s Campsite, a friendly campsite with a hippie vibe that’s off the beaten track. This is where we first join the South West Coast Path. At Lizard Head, we’re lucky enough to spot a wild seal. Heading in the other direction is Kynance Cove, one of Cornwall’s most stunning beaches. Today’s food tip: a Cornish pasty with cheddar cheese and Newlyn crab.
Land’s End is stop number five, where we visit the thrilling Minack Theatre. The hike there and the Shakespeare play are an incredible experience, even for our five-year-old. Land’s End itself greets us with grey clouds and drizzle, though at least we can say we’ve visited the southernmost point in the UK – that’s ticked off the bucket list.
Cornish tour part two: Land’s End, Penzance, Newquay and Tintagel
Between Land’s End and Sennen, we come across a shipwreck you can visit at low tide. Sennen Cove is simply magnificent, with dramatic waves and squalling wind.
We head on to the sixth stop on our tour – Penzance. England’s first city to go plastic-free is just off the coast and has a touristy feel. We stumble upon the enchanting The Edge of the World Bookshop. We continue to St Ives that day, where we find another enjoyable section of the Coast Path that’s great for walking with kids.
Newquay is next – with an aquarium that’s perfect to keep the kids occupied in a rare spot of bad weather – then on to Dennis Cove. Cyclists can hop on their bike here and enjoy the Camel Trail. If you’re feeling hungry after all that exercise, the Atlantic Ocean Express at Wadebridge is well worth a visit.
Padstow is something of a foodie hub, with a handful of restaurants and a deli owned by Rick Stein. This is a great place to stop and pick up a Scotch egg for the road.
Stop number eight is Tintagel, a feast for the eyes with its rugged coastal cliffs and lush greenery. We stopped at Ye Olde Malthouse Inn for refreshments. Along the way, we discovered three miles of stunning gorges, peaceful cows and green meadows. The waterfall in St Nectan’s Glen is a must-see. Surrounded by tropical vegetation, it’s said to be home to all kinds of fairies and gnomes. A truly magical ending to our Cornwall road trip.
Walking in Cornwall
If you’re visiting one of countless stunning Cornish beaches, whichever way you turn, you’re likely to find yourself on the South West Coast Path. Spanning 630 miles, this path by the coast is the longest walking trail in the UK. It has easy, moderate and difficult sections, making it perfect for families, keen walkers and dogs – provided they can cope with stumbling upon an unexpected cow or two. You can discover many of Cornwall’s best sights from the South West Coast Path.
As you walk along the South West Coast Path, you can explore shipwrecks (at the Coast of Legends at Hartland Point, for instance, or Menabilly Cove) or visit Cornish Mining World, a restored zinc mine in Geevor that’s been named a World Heritage Site. At low tide, you can walk out to the magnificent castle St Michael’s Mount, and if you’d like something to eat or some (comparative) hustle and bustle, head to Mousehole, which might be Cornwall’s most charming little town – beating stiff competition.
Minack Theatre is a jewel in Cornwall’s crown: an old amphitheatre staging incredible performances with a breathtaking sea as its backdrop. You’ll also find a unique tidal swimming pool in Bude. Tintagel is known as the birthplace of King Arthur, and its statue of this legendary figure makes it well worth a visit.
Family holidays in Cornwall
Sandy beaches, spooky castles, marvellous mussels and cute critters: Cornwall is a great place to take the kids on a family holiday. Although compared to some parts of the UK, sunny Cornwall is practically Spain, you should still take wellies, wind-proof jackets and wetsuits for the trip. Even when the sun’s out, it can still get pretty chilly – but don’t forget to pack your factor 15.
Family days out in Cornwall
Your kids will love a day trip to the Cornish Seal Sanctuary in Gweek, Pendennis Castle, The Lost Gardens of Heligan, where trolls and fairies dwell, and lots of fun farms across Cornwall. With their own jungle, rope bridges, wooden walkways and giant plants, the Lost Gardens are a particularly great place for kids to explore.
As long as you don’t drop the dreaded ‘H-word’ (hiking), most kids can even manage a one- to three-hour walk without getting too tired. Strolling past meadows full of peaceful cows, hunting for shipwrecks and hopping from rock to rock, your little ones will hardly notice the time passing by.
Play the local way: rockpooling and crabbing
Kids in Cornwall love rockpooling and crabbing, two fun activities perfect for the Cornish coast. At low tide, clamber inside a rockpool with the kids and discover what dwells there. Here, you’ll meet some of the local wildlife: the seabed is home to starfish, fish and crabs. Pop your wellies on or go barefoot if you’re feeling brave.
Going crabbing, or crab lining, is another seaside favourite. Kids flock to the seashore to fish for these cute crustaceans. They use bait to catch the crabs and pop them in a bucket, then set them free again.
As you can see, a family holiday in Cornwall is a fantastic idea. You might even catch yourself feeling like a kid again. As Steffi would say:
‘I want to live there when I grow up.’