From golden Fistral Beach to medieval Tintagel Castle and the Lost Gardens of Heligan, Cornwall has it all. Explore the highlights of this wild, inspirational landscape, tucked away in the southwest corner of England. Read on for the best things to do in Cornwall.
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Lost Gardens of Heligan, St Austell
Here, you’ll find a Cornish jungle with giants hiding under carpets of moss, mud-maids swimming in the rain and enormous towers of flowers, bursting with colour, at every turn in the path. Wonderful, fantastical and full of whimsy, the Lost Gardens were hidden beneath undergrowth for over 70 years until they were rediscovered in 1990 and restored to their former glory. Discover this real-life Secret Garden between April and October for the best blooms. Kids and dogs are welcome.
St Michael’s Mount, Penzance
This majestic National Trust castle is only accessible via a man-made causeway when the tide is out, which only adds to the ethereal air. With an 800-year history of giants, war and heartbreak, you’ll get a real sense of the past – from the Mount’s role as a priory to a present-day family home. Alongside the castle and church, there’s a village and harbour that was an important trading hub for centuries. Watch out for the heart-stone on your way to the top.
Minack Theatre, Porthcurno
Watching a show at the Minack Theatre overlooking the Atlantic is a must-do experience for any visitor to Cornwall. This unusual amphitheatre was carved into the cliff face by eccentric owner Rowena Cade as a place for local theatre groups to gather and perform. It’s since attracted performers from all over the country, from Shakespeare acting troupes to comedians and poets. The turquoise sea, dolphins, sunsets and storms all enhance the drama of the theatrical performances set at the Minack.
Barbara Hepworth Museum, St Ives
Hidden away behind an unassuming door in St Ives is a quiet and shady garden, filled with the greatest works of art by sculptor Barbara Hepworth. The modernist pioneer lived in this Cornish cottage for the last decades of her life; her garden studio is preserved just as she left it, complete with scattered carving tools and clay-spattered aprons. Marvel at the organic metal sculptures, and don’t forget to check out the Tate St Ives just up the road.
Tresco Abbey Gardens, Isles of Scilly
Sub-tropical Abbey Gardens is an exception to all usual British garden rules, with giant succulents and swaying palms not only surviving, but thriving in the path of salt water and strong Atlantic winds. Over 20,000 plants from 80 countries make up the remarkable collection here. The gardens form part of the privately owned Tresco Island, the second-largest of the Scilly Isles, 30mi (48km) off the coast of Cornwall. Look out for the jewel-coloured golden pheasants roaming around the grounds.
Kynance Cove, the Lizard
Turquoise waters meet dramatic cliffs at Kynance Cove, a well-known Cornish beach that has graced many postcards and tourism adverts over the years. Walk barefoot along the golden sand, watch bodyboards ride the pounding surf, or grab an ice cream from the Kynance Cove Cafe. Just make sure you visit at low tide; the entire beach is submerged beneath the waves at high tide. Lizard Point is just 45 minutes from here on foot.
Bedruthan Steps, Mawgan Porth
Legend has it that a giant once used these enormous stepping stones as a shortcut across the bay. Nowadays, it’s a glorious stretch of sand and steep cliffs with dramatic rock formations scattered across the beach. Head here at low tide to snap photos of this beach in all its glory. The cliffside steps down are currently closed after a rockfall, but you can still admire Bedruthan from above.
Perched on a windswept bluff overlooking the north Atlantic, you’ll find the remains of what was supposedly King Arthur’s Cornish retreat. These castle ruins hint at life here in the Middle Ages, when thatched cottages were replaced by the stone fortifications, which were known as Richard’s castle (brother of Henry III). Walk across the 58m-high (190ft) suspension bridge to explore the island; what’s left behind is an epic reminder that nature will always take back what is hers.
Fistral Beach, Newquay
Surfers flock to Newquay, the home of British surfing, to ride waves at this world-famous beach break. Book a beginners surf lesson, where the instructors will help you learn how to pop up and catch your first wave, or just kick back on the sand and watch the pros at work; it’s previously hosted World Surf League events like the Quiksilver Open. Afterwards, refuel with a pizza and a pint of local Skinners ale in the Stable, overlooking the water. It’s also dog-friendly all year round.
Land’s End may be one of the most overrated tourist attractions in Cornwall. However, get through the tacky theme park-style entrance and head straight to the cliffs for crashing waves, the freedom of the sea, and nothing but the Isles of Scilly between you and America. Make sure you get that obligatory photo with the white signpost.
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