15 Best Places to Visit in Cornwall (England)

Written by Alex Bird
Updated on
Our travel recommendations are based on our personal experiences and research, written by locals and travel experts with deep familiarity with the destination. When you book a hotel or tour that we link to, we may earn a commission.

With a Celtic heritage and rocky granite coastline, Cornwall has as much in common with somewhere like Brittany as it does the United Kingdom.

Sheltered by deep inlets on the coast are village ports that hark back to a different time for their fishing boats and stone cottages.

Visit these for tales of smugglers, boat trips and superb fish and seafood.

These smaller communities share Cornwall with a handful of the country’s most cherished seaside resorts, like St Ives, with an ensemble of beaches that almost defies belief, or Newquay, the UK’s surfing capital.

Lets explore the best places to visit in Cornwall:

1. St Ives

St IvesSource: flickr
St Ives

In the 20th century St Ives evolved from a fishing harbour to possibly England’s prettiest seaside resort.

This has much to do with the abundance of heavenly beaches close by.

The choice is almost dumbfounding, but Porthminster and Porthmeor and their soft golden sands and natural seascapes are the cream.

St Ives’ fishing heritage makes the resort all the quainter: You can still see the colourful fishing vessels pulling in and out the  harbour, and on the winding cobbled alleys in the town are twee old shops and inns to investigate.

As if that wasn’t enough, you have culture too, as town became an artists’ colony in the 1930s.

There’s a fantastic Barbara Hepworth sculpture garden and a branch of the Tate Museum, as well as independent galleries to potter around

2. Newquay

Porth beach, Newquay, CornwallSource: flickr
Porth beach, Newquay, Cornwall

For most people the name “Newquay” immediately conjures images of surfing.

This is surf central for the UK, blessed with six superb beaches for riding waves.

But the reason for Newquay’s fame is the Fistral, with a beach break that causes tall, hollow waves that will test the skills of seasoned surfers and give newcomers the ideal intro to the sport.

Much of Newquay is geared towards surfing, but with seven miles of sandy coastline there’s a lot more to the resort.

You can bring littler beachgoers to play on the calmer bays, go on steam train trips and befriend the animals at Newquay or Dairyland Farm World.

Couple meanwhile can stay at cute bed & breakfasts, take scenic walks and the sublime Elizabethan Trerice House.

3. St Austell

Lost Gardens of HeliganSource: flickr
Lost Gardens of Heligan

Like the best towns in Cornwall, St Austell has hilly, scurrying lanes enticing you to explore.

China Clay was the big industry here in the 1800s, and embedded in a former clay pit is the Eden Project, a mind-blowing botanical project that was unveiled for the new millennium.

There are two sensational geodesic biomes, one sustaining rainforest plants and the other a Mediterranean environment.

And if you plan ahead you could be here for the Eden Sessions, a series of summer concerts welcoming some big names in rock and pop, like Brian Wilson, the Flaming Lips, PJ Harvey and Sigur Rós.

Much older are the Lost Gardens of Heligan, around the 17th-century Heligan house and cherished for their enormous rhododendron  and camellia bushes.

4. Penzance

Penzance, CornwallSource: flickr
Penzance, Cornwall

As England’s most westerly town Penzance has had a lot of maritime visitors, some friendly, some not so much, like Barbary corsairs or foreign fleets like the Spanish Armada in 1595. It’s a handsome port, with lot of granite-built regency and Georgian architecture.

Check out Chapel Street, with its Egyptian House from the 1830s, or the sleek art deco Jubilee Pool Lido from 1835. And, whether you watch you watch a production or just take a tour the Minack Theatre, cut from the granite cliffs in the 1930s, is a spectacle in its own right.

In Penzance’s balmier climes there are Cornish palms on the streets, and an astonishing choice of subtropical gardens to visit.

Tanglewood, Trengwainton and Morrab are musts, but you should also keep the National Dahlia Collection in mind.

5. Falmouth

FalmouthSource: flickr

Lots of things contribute to Falmouth’s fame as holiday getaway.

First is the Fal River estuary, widening into the third-deepest natural harbour on the planet.

You can’t beat this place for hikes,  and on the water you can hop from village to village on boat trips that you’ll remember all your life.

Then there’s the town’s harbour, where daring round the world voyages have been launched and where the American fleet was based in the Second World War.

All of this is documented at the National Maritime Museum, and that is just the tip of the iceberg.

There’s the enchanting Trebah Garden, family-friendly beaches, quirky shops and Henry VIII’s coastal fortress, Pendennis Castle.

6. Bude

Bude, CornwallSource: flickr
Bude, Cornwall

In the far north of Cornwall, Bude is like Newquay as it faces the Celtic Sea, which is essentially the Atlantic Ocean.

The two main beaches, Crooklets and Summerleaze, are broad, windswept and have awesome conditions for surfing on the right days.

Summerleaze has sweet pastel-painted beach huts as well as the Bude Sea Pool, which is replenished at  high tide and gives you safe salt-water swimming.

There’s a bunch of other phenomenal beaches along the coast, while the wild scenery will inspire the adventurer in you.

The highest sea cliffs in Cornwall could hardly be closer, and epic sandstone rock formations like these are a honeypot for climbers, hikers and even people intrigued by their unusual geological composition.

7. Truro

TruroSource: flickr

A dinky city, Truro is smaller than many market towns but doesn’t suffer for its size.

The cultivated Georgian and Victorian architecture in the centre dates to the time tin mining was a way of life, putting Truro on the map as the centre of political power.

The cathedral was built at this time, in the gothic revival style at the end of the 19th century, and is pretty unusual for having three spires.

Apart from dawdling around the cute shopping streets like Cathedral Lane and St Mary’s Street, you can have a peek at the Royal Cornwall Museum in a fine Palladian hall.

For a city, local activities are very rural, like open farms, boat trips, country parks, cider presses and breweries.

8. Bodmin

Lanhydrock HouseSource: flickr
Lanhydrock House

In tin-mining country at the heart of Cornwall, Bodmin’s streets are furnished with bold granite architecture funded by this historic industry.

The County Court in its neoclassical splendour conveys Bodmin’s standing in centuries past.

One creepy attraction you have to see is Bodmin Jail, dating to the 1700s and innovative in the sense that it was the first institution to put prisoners in separate cells.

Take the tour, which informs you about the ghosts claimed to haunt these walls, as well the First World War, when the crown jewels and Domesday Book were stored for safekeeping.

A more polished day out can be had at the Pencarrow or Lanhydrock House, two beautiful country piles.

9. Tintagel

Stairway to Tintagel CastleSource: flickr
Stairway to Tintagel Castle

The mysterious and wild coast of north Cornwall is a place conducive to legends, and these don’t come more romantic than King Arthur.

Tintagel Castle, a beautiful 13th-century ruin balanced precariously on rocks, is the birthplace of the mythical king.

The setting is epic, with “Merlin’s Cave”, “Rocky Valley”, dark cliffs and grassy slopes and it’s not hard to see how people’s imaginations might run wild in such a place.

In the village, take in the Old Post Office, a delightful granite building from the 1300s, or the Norman Church of St Materiana, which has a Roman milestone inside.

10. Mevagissey

MevagisseySource: flickr

A lovably quaint village on the Roseland Heritage Coast, Mevagissey still has a small fleet of fishing boats departing and returning to the unusual double harbour laden with sole, turbot and lobster.

The inner quaysides are medieval, while the outer harbour walls are from the 18th century.

Fishing trips and ferry rides to outlying villages are the order of the day in Mevagissey.

But you need to give yourself time to look around the this place, which has a tangle of streets that wind up the green hillsides, fabulous seafood restaurants and lots of tempting shops.

11. Polperro

PolperroSource: flickr

Tucked into a rocky inlet on the Polperro Heritage Coast, this gorgeous little port has an in famous history.

Ever since Polperro took shape in the 1100s smuggling was rife here, but the activity peaked in the 1700s while Britain was fighting in America and in the Napoleonic Wars.

The Heritage Museum of Smuggling & Fishing by the water will highlight the tricks of the trade and characters involved.

You can amble around Polperro window shopping at one-off shops and art studios, or set off on a more purposeful walk over craggy shoreline on the way to Polruan via the Southwest Coast Path.

Some of Polperro’s fishing vessels will also take you out of the harbour to get a better look at the coast, spot basking sharks or go fishing.

12. Padstow

PadstowSource: flickr

Food-lovers come to Padstow for some of the best seafood restaurants in Cornwall.

If you value food provenance you’ll be thrilled by the way these restaurants are connected to Padstow’s working fishing port, ensuring quality and freshness.

And it’s also worthwhile to just plonk yourself here on a sunny day and watch the activity around the port and observe an industry that has almost disappeared from Britain.

You can check out the conservation work being done by the National Lobster Hatchery, head off along the coast to discover unspoiled beaches, or wander by the River Camel Estuary, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

13. Redruth

Old Mine Works, RedruthSource: flickr
Old Mine Works, Redruth

We’ve mentioned tin mining a few times, and if you want to grasp exactly what this industry meant to Cornwall for hundreds of years Redruth could be your best option.

Here you can enter the East Pool Mine, part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site protecting Cornwall and Devon’s mining legacy.

This mine operated from the 1700s to 1945, and the amount of antique machinery, including two beam engines and an intact engine house, is an eye-opener.

In the countryside, Wheal Pinvor is a ruined mine slowly being reclaimed by nature, while Gwennap Pit is a strange phenomenon, a terraced amphitheatre fashioned by mining subsidence up to the 1700s.

14. Boscastle

BoscastleSource: flickr

Despite being a small coastal village, Boscastle is pleasure to wander around because it stretches out a long way beside its natural harbour.

There’s the combined allure of old fishing cottages and inns, together with the rocky green hills that bank sharply from the water.

At the entrance to the harbour on a spectacular promontory is the Lookout, built first as a summer house by the local landowner and then used as an observation point to combat smugglers.

Further back, where the harbour is just a narrow channel, is a National Trust cafe and the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, with what might be the largest hoard of ritual magic artefacts in the world.

15. Looe

Looe, CornwallSource: flickr
Looe, Cornwall

In a county of adorable fishing ports, Looe is one of the most adorable of all and still has a fleet of fishing boats.

Get up early for the fish auction first thing in the morning on the quayside, or try catching your own seafood by going crabbing on the old harbour wall.

For littler members of the family the Monkey Sanctuary recues woolly monkeys and  eventually returns them to the Amazon.

There’s a diverting museum in the town’s guildhall, and you can board a boat for St George’s Island, which was a hotbed of smuggling in the 1600s and 1700s.

15 Best Places to Visit in Cornwall (England):

  • St Ives
  • Newquay
  • St Austell
  • Penzance
  • Falmouth
  • Bude
  • Truro
  • Bodmin
  • Tintagel
  • Mevagissey
  • Polperro
  • Padstow
  • Redruth
  • Boscastle
  • Looe