Cornwall has a glorious and varied coastline on the southwestern tip of England, with 250mi (402km) of dramatic cliffs, stunning beaches, incredible wildlife and secret coves once used by smugglers. But which beaches are the pick of the crop? From Perranporth to Sennan Cove, Culture Trip gives you the top 10.
If you’re into watersports, or surfing more specifically, a visit to Cornwall would not be complete without a stop at Fistral in Newquay. Considered the heart of the UK’s surfing scene, this beach is as busy as one might expect for such an accolade. That means it’s not to everyone’s taste, but it definitely has its pluses: a wide sandy beach, incredible waves and a buzzy surf vibe. The beach is in three parts: South Fistral, the main beach and Little Fistral in the north, which is where you can find lots of amenities. If you’ll be enjoying the area with a large group of friends or family members, you can rent out this six-bedroom luxury beach house, which offers private access to the beach. Up to 14 guests can revel in the house’s open-plan dining and living spaces, with French and bi-fold doors that open to far-reaching sea views.
Just 3mi (5km) from Newquay, Watergate Bay is backed by high cliffs and is a beautiful sight. As with other beaches in this area, it has golden sand and decent waves for surfers, as well as rock pools for the little ones to play around in. It’s also a popular destination for people who want to try more extreme water sports, such as kite surfing and kite buggying. For a decent snack stop, there’s the Beach Hut and Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen restaurant, which have helped put Watergate Bay on the culinary map. Within walking distance of the beach is the Little Cottage, a one-bedroom stone cottage that is the perfect place to stay for a couple. With a bright and modern interior, the cottage benefits from a roll-top bath with valley views and private off-road parking.
A stone’s throw from Padstow on the north coast, Polzeath is another surfing mecca and was much loved by the late poet Sir John Betjeman. This golden-sand and shingle beach is located on quite a dramatic stretch of coastline, so be careful near the cliffs and on your guard for strong rips during windy weather. Lifeguards are present during summer daytimes. There are also a few rock pools to explore, as well as a nature reserve, and it’s possible to see dolphins and puffins. When it’s high tide, the beach pretty much disappears, so use that time to explore the local area, where you’ll find good walks such as the 1.7mi (3km) amble on the South West Coast path to Daymar Bay. This route takes you near St Enodec Church, where Sir John Betjeman is buried. Families or groups of friends can rest their heads at No. 1 Cranfield, a refurbished three-bedroom apartment with interrupted sea views and direct access to the beach. Sleeping up to six people, this place is furnished to a high standard with thoughtful touches and stylish colour palettes.
Just round the corner from Land’s End on the Penwith coast, Sennen Cove is a sleepy little fishing village blessed with a shimmering beach called Whitesands Bay. There, you’ll find the crystalline blue sea with rolling waves that draw in keen surfers due to the swell from the Atlantic. The cove is protected from the gales by the headland Pedn-men-du, a favourite spot for climbers. For a unique place to stay in the area, check out the Piggery at Escall, a gorgeous, detached conversion of an old farm building. Perfect for couples, this cosy one-bedroom cottage is a five-minute drive from Sennen Cove and a 10-minute walk from the more local Gwenver Beach.
In bright sunshine, Praa Sands is whiter than many of Cornwall’s more golden beaches, thanks to all the seashells that have been broken down into tiny pieces over the course of time. It’s on a fairly sheltered stretch of the south coast near Helston, and in the summer months, the sea is fairly flat, so it’s good for swimmers and beginner surfers rather than more experienced surfers hoping for huge waves. The southerly end of the beach is known as Hendra and has a more secluded feeling. To enjoy the scenery from your own private balcony, book a night or two at this nearby studio apartment known as Little Seas. With two beds sleeping up to four guests, Little Seas is the perfect place to gaze up at the stars after a day out on the sand.
Visitors to picturesque, characterful St Ives are lucky to have a few beaches at their toes, as well as a wonderfully mild microclimate that can reach such heights in the summer that it feels as if you’re in the Caribbean. The largest beach is Porthmeor, and it’s widely regarded as the finest, with Porthminster at a close second. Both are Blue Flag-awarded, so they are clean and well maintained but often busy with holidaymakers, families and surfers. The town centre is just a flip-flop throw away between the two if you need to top up on any sunbathing or swimming essentials. For a memorable overnight stay in the area, step back into the Bronze Age at this magical roundhouse and treehouse. Up to two guests can sleep in the roundhouse, while the treehouse contains the kitchen and bathroom.
Although it’s just 35mi (56km) off the Cornish coast, the Isles of Scilly feel like somewhere much farther away, as they’re an unspoilt paradise unlike anywhere else in the UK. It’s worth making the voyage across the waters on the passenger ferry from Penzance just to experience them. There are umpteen beautiful beaches, so it’s hard to narrow down the best one, but Porthcressa on the southern side of the islands’ largest settlement, Hugh Town, is a strong contender, with its soft sand, turquoise sea and snorkelling opportunities. Other recommended beaches are Green Bay on Bryher and Appletree Bay on Tressa. As for where to stay, you can’t go wrong with Clemy’s Cottage, a newly refurbished self-catering holiday cottage just a stone’s throw from the beach. With three bedrooms sleeping up to six guests, the place is centrally located near the main facilities of the island in Hugh Town.
Christina Collins contributed additional reporting to this article.