The Best Things to See and Do in Cornwall

St Michael's Mount is one of Cornwall's most visited landmarks
St Michael's Mount is one of Cornwall's most visited landmarks | © imageBROKER / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Siobhan Grogan
30 October 2020

Though Cornwall may be famous for its outstanding beaches, the county is also stuffed with historical landmarks, picturesque fishing villages, renowned galleries and some of Britain’s most magnificent countryside. And the beaches are pretty special, too.

The Celtic Kingdom of Cornwall is one of the prettiest counties in England and also one of the largest. Famed for its sprawling moors, rugged coastline and delightful harbourside towns, the region is classed as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Together with some wanderlust-inducing photos, this handy guide recommends only the top Cornwall highlights for the perfect UK staycation.

Learn to surf in Newquay

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If you’ve watched locals riding the waves from a beachfront café and secretly yearned to learn surfing, there’s nowhere better to have a go than Newquay. Britain’s unofficial surf capital and home to the National Surfing Championships, the town’s sweeping sandy beaches, excellent year-round waves and top-notch facilities mean it’s a doddle to don a wetsuit and book a lesson. Just don’t expect to stay on the board for long the first time…

Reach Britain’s southernmost landmark at Lizard Point

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The southernmost tip of the British mainland, Lizard Point is Cornwall’s wildest and most wonderful destination. Loved by walkers, scuba divers and nature lovers, the craggy cliffs, hidden coves and white sand beaches are thrashed by the relentless churn of the Atlantic Ocean, the cause of countless shipwrecks in this spot over the years. Nowadays, you can spy Shetland ponies, seabirds and seals from the clifftops or visit the 260-year-old lighthouse for jaw-dropping ocean views.

Get back to nature on the South West Coast Path

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At 630 miles (1,014km) long, the breathtaking South West Coast Path is a walker’s paradise – whether you’re a determined long-distance hiker or want to stretch your legs before settling down in a cosy pub. The route passes meadows bursting with wildflowers, cliffs stretching dramatically to the ocean below, fishing villages humming with activity and white beaches that seem transported straight from a tropical island. Rest assured you’re never too far from a cream tea or real ale either.

Explore St Michael’s Mount

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Cut off from the mainland at high tide, St Michael’s Mount was originally the site of a Benedictine chapel and is now one of Cornwall’s most notable sights. A rocky island topped with a 14th-century castle, the mount looms from the water like a mythical land rife with legends of giants, royalty and saints. You can tour the ancient castle, wander tropical gardens built on steep ledges and take in sweeping sea views from the tiny harbour back to the mainland.

Nurse a pint in Mousehole Harbour

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The title for Cornwall’s prettiest fishing village is hotly contested, but few can beat the cuteness of Mousehole. With its maze of whitewashed cottages, cobbled streets crammed with galleries and cafés and colourful boats bobbing in the harbour, the village is the perfect place to get away from it all and relax. Find a low-beamed pub to while away the afternoon, or spread out with a picnic on the small sandy beach watching fishermen return with their catch.

Stand on the edge of England at Land's End

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It’s impossible to leave Land’s End without snapping a selfie at the world-famous signpost, proof that you’ve visited the westernmost point in mainland England. The views are the real attraction, though: think sheer cliffs pounded by waves, miles of churning, swirling ocean and even the faint sight of the Isles of Scilly, 28mi (45km) away. There are shops, restaurants and exhibitions outlining the area’s history in the nearby visitor centre, but really that view is all you need.

Walk in King Arthur’s footsteps at Tintagel Castle

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Said to be the birthplace of legendary King Arthur, Tintagel’s clifftop castle ruins command an astonishing position over the rolling countryside and craggy coastline below. Alive with myths and history, the castle was also once home to Cornwall’s kings, and outdoor displays throughout recreate life as it may once have been in the hallowed halls. Don’t miss eerie Merlin’s cave – where he is claimed to have cast his spells – and the dizzying footbridge connecting the island with the mainland.

Go deep into the jungle at the Lost Gardens of Heligan

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Keen gardeners, wannabe explorers and romantics will all be charmed by the Lost Gardens of Heligan, a mysterious secret garden lost for decades in the undergrowth until it was accidentally rediscovered in 1990. You can now explore 200 acres (80ha) of woodland, farmland and even the UK’s only outdoor jungle, with winding paths to follow past banana plantations, ancient pastures and bamboo tunnels.

Take a dip in St Ives Bay

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A dead ringer for the Caribbean when the sun’s out, St Ives Bay has the blinding white sand, endless skies and glittering cobalt sea with none of the jet lag. Surfers and families flock to enjoy the bay’s stunning Blue Flag beaches with views out to Godrevy Lighthouse and the Atlantic Ocean beyond. The beach-weary can take refuge in upmarket St Ives with its tranquil harbour, world-class seafood restaurants and popular Tate St Ives gallery. This old fishing town is also one of the best for sampling the region’s signature snack: the mince meat-filled Cornish pasty.

Be wowed by Cornwall’s most beautiful beach at Kynance Cove

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You need to arrive early to beat the crowds, but Kynance Cove on the Lizard Peninsula is well worth setting the alarm for. The contrast between the cove’s brilliant white sand, turquoise sea and distinctive red and green serpentine rock formations will take your breath away (if the steep walk down from the cliff top hasn’t already). Take a dip, potter round the mysterious arches, islands and caves, then grab a Cornish pasty at the superb café.

Catch a show at Porthcurno

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Nature provides unbeatable scenery for shows held at the Minack Theatre, clinging to the granite cliffs high above Porthcurno Beach. Set amidst tropical gardens with extraordinary ocean views behind the stage, the outdoor theatre hosts music, drama and comedy shows as well as popular storytelling sessions for children. Far below, Porthcurno’s sheltered beach deserves another standing ovation for its translucent turquoise sea and glaring white sand, used as an exotic paradise during the filming of Poldark.

Swim lengths at Bude Sea Pool

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When you don’t fancy braving the waves, the huge outdoor swimming pool in the rocks at Summerleaze Beach is the ideal alternative. Built in 1930, the tidal pool is washed by the sea twice a day, yet is often warmer than the open water, making it great for kids, serious swimmers and anyone craving sea views without the Atlantic chill.

Explore the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden

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Best known for her tactile sculptures in stone, plaster, wood and bronze, Barbara Hepworth was one of the most important artists of the 20th century. She worked in this studio from 1949 until her death in 1975, with her evocative sculptures often inspired by the Cornish landscape. Her home and garden were later preserved as a museum according to her wishes, showcasing a vast collection of her work, some half-finished pieces and even the much-loved studio she worked from.

Discover rare and tropical plants in the eco-friendly Eden Project

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One of the most visited attractions in the southwest, the Eden Project comprises huge biomes that are home to thousands of plant species from a multitude of climates across the planet. The two largest biomes are made of inflated plastic hexagonal and pentagonal cells, with steel frames creating the iconic domed building. As well as its Rainforest and Mediterranean environments, the Eden Project is also home to an enormous outdoor botanical garden boasting native British plants and wildlife. You can catch a number of events here every year, including the Easter extravaganza and the World Pasty Championships in March.

This an updated version of an article originally written by Jessica Buck

These recommendations were updated on October 30, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.