10 Best Things to Do in Cornwall

What is Cornwall Most Famous For?

    Cornwall is England’s most south-westerly county that built its reputation on fishing, mining and farming (and a bit of smuggling, too). Known to Cornish speakers as Kernow, it’s now the place to come if you seek isolated craggy coves, wide expanses of smooth sand or wild, rugged moorland.

    Quaint cottages crowd tiny harbours while ruined mine buildings and ancient castles occupy loftier positions on cliff tops. There are surf breaks to conquer, walking and cycle trails that criss-cross the county and rich sightseeing in its stately homes and gardens. If you don’t know where to begin, check out our list of the best things to do in Cornwall.

    1

    Learn to surf on Newquay’s Fistral Beach

    Catch a wave like a pro

    West-facing Fistral Beach is exposed to Atlantic swells that are as consistent as they are dramatic. Whether you’re a nervous beginner or an experienced pro, the UK’s most famous surf beach delivers. Locals tend to congregate at the northern end of the beach where the waves come in steep and fast. The fickle Cribbar, where waves break perilously close to the rocks, is for advanced surfers only.

    Cut your teeth in the middle of the beach where things are a lot more predictable. Leave an hour or 2 either side of high or low tide for reliably uniform lines of white water (excellent for novices) and the gently rolling waves that give intermediates an achievable challenge.

    Location: Newquay, UK

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    photo by a.froese (CC BY-SA 2.0) modified

    2

    Follow the King Arthur trail from Tintagel Castle

    Bring the legend to life

    Follow the King Arthur trail in Cornwall and find the setting of the legend that has entertained us for generations. So the story goes, Excalibur, the King’s sword, was thrown into Dozemary Pool on Bodmin Moor. An inscribed stone-slab at Slaughterbridge marks the spot where Arthur ended the fellowship of the Round Table. 

    But it’s Tintagel Castle, whose ruins span a gap between the mainland and a rocky headland, that’s the poster child for the King Arthur story. The 12th-century writer Geoffrey of Monmouth identified it as Arthur’s birthplace. This association with the Arthurian legend inspired the Earl of Cornwall to build a castle on the site in 1230 and ensures a steady stream of visitors to this day.

    Location: Castle Rd, Tintagel PL34 0HE, UK

    Phone: +44 (0)370 333 1181

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    photo by Reading Tom (CC BY 2.0) modified

    3

    Watch a performance at the Minack Theatre

    Enjoy the classics in an al-fresco setting

    Minack Theatre is a clifftop amphitheatre that has much in common with the open-air theatres built by the ancient Greeks and Romans. Yet, this spectacular venue was born from more humble origins, the brainchild of am-dram enthusiast Rowena Cade. She moved to Minack Point and built herself a house. When the local theatre company were looking for somewhere more suitable to stage their productions than the village green, she offered them her garden.

    The result was the Minack Theatre, hewn from the granite in the early 1930s. Since then, performers delivering classics fro the likes of Shakespeare and Dickens have had to compete with nature’s own spectacle – a magnificent, panoramic view over Porthcurno Bay.

    Location: Porthcurno, Penzance, Cornwall, TR19 6JU, UK

    Open: Hours vary by season

    Phone: +44 (0)1736 810 181

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    photo by Nilfanion (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified

    4

    Walk to St Michael’s Mount at low tide

    Cornwall’s answer to Mont St Michel

    From Marazion beach, St Michael’s Mount looms large out in the bay. As the tide ebbs away, a cobbled causeway emerges, tempting walkers to cross the damp stones on foot. A castle and 12th-century abbey built by Benedictine monks dominate the island.

    Kids will love the tales of Jack the Giant Killer. A giant called Cormoran used to wade across the shallows and snatch grazing livestock. Jack snuck out to the island and dug a deep pit, blowing on a horn to trick the giant into running down the mount and fall into the well. Amusing tales aside, explore the island at leisure – if you get stranded by the tide you can always catch a ferry back to the mainland.

    Location: Marazion TR17 0HS, UK

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    5

    Dine at a celebrity chef’s restaurant in Padstow

    Rick Stein knows a thing or two about fish

    Cornwall has long attracted several celebrity chefs but none more so than Rick Stein – the county has been his adopted home since the mid-70s. These days he puts his name to no fewer than 10 restaurants in the county, including traditional pub fare at The Cornish Arms in St Merryn.

    His flagship, The Seafood Restaurant, is in the heart of Padstow, causing local wags to nickname the town Padstein. If you want to fit in, call it Padster. Regardless, the fish is freshly caught, making this as much of an essential stop for foodies as eating a Cornish pasty.

    Location: The Seafood Restaurant, Riverside, Padstow PL28 8BY, UK

    Open: Sunday–Friday from midday to 3pm and from 6pm to 10pm, Saturday from midday to 3pm and from 6pm to 9.30pm

    Phone: +44 (0)1841 532 700

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    6

    Chill out at Kynance Cove

    Explore one of the National Trust’s most photogenic sites

    Singling out one beach from so many worthy challengers is a tough gig, but Kynance Cove is a standout. The west side of the Lizard Peninsula once inspired poet Alfred Lord Tennyson, who wrote of the cove’s ‘glorious grass-green monsters of waves’.

    Brilliant white sand contrasts with dark rock and Tiffany-blue water to create a scene that delighted Victorian botanists and artists as much as it does 21st-century beachcombers. The cove encloses Asparagus Island, named for the plant that grows wild there. While The Parlour and The Drawing Room are actually landforms, there’s a café nearby for when you’re feeling peckish.

    Location: Helston TR12 7PJ, UK

    Phone: +44 (0)1326 222 170

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    photo by Barney Moss (CC BY 2.0) modified

    7

    Go for a scenic drive to Land's End

    Drive until the road runs out

    The B3306 connects St Ives to the village of Sennenforms, forming one of the UK’s great scenic drives. Providing sweeping views of the Bristol Channel to the north and moorland to the south, it hugs the shoreline for much of its route, giving the road its alternative name: the West Cornwall Coast Road.

    A little beyond St Just, you can make a right onto the A30 for the arresting sight of the granite cliffs of Land’s End meeting the sweeping mighty blue of the Atlantic. Too touristy? For a quieter alternative, you can try nearby Cape Cornwall instead.

    Location: Land's End, Sennen, Penzance TR19 7AA, UK

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    8

    Ride the Bodmin and Wenford Steam Railway

    Travel back in time

    Revisit the age of steam with a ride on the Bodmin and Wenford Railway. This 6-mile heritage line connects Bodmin General to Boscarne Junction. Dogs and bicycles are allowed on board and there are regular event days including murder mystery evenings and seasonal tie-ins.

    While you might be satisfied with the view from your seat, it’s worth alighting at Colesloggett Halt for a walk in the nearby Cardinham Woods or at Bodmin Parkway for a stroll through the Lanhydrock Estate. Boscarne Junction is the gateway to the Camel Trail, where you’ll find the Camel Valley Vineyard at Nanstallon, just outside Bodmin.

    Location: Bodmin General Station, Bodmin PL31 1AQ, UK

    Open: Hours vary by season

    Phone: +44 (0)1208 73555

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    photo by Andrew Bone (CC BY 2.0) modified

    9

    Discover The Lost Gardens of Heligan

    Visit one of England’s most captivating gardens

    The Lost Gardens of Heligan has been called “the garden restoration of the century”. Tim Smit led the project to bring the Lost Gardens of Heligan back to their former glory. When the army of gardeners that tended them set off to fight a different battle in 1914, the plants and paths they’d so lovingly tended were lost under a tangle of weeds and creeping ivy.  

    These forgotten gardens were once part of the Tremayne family estate and reopened in 1992. Today, exotic planting showcases tree ferns, towering stands of bamboo, banana plantations and brightly coloured camellias.

    Location: Pentewan, Saint Austell PL26 6EN, UK

    Open: Daily from 10am to 6pm

    Phone: +44 (0)1726 845 100

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    photo by Dunphasizer (CC BY-SA 2.0) modified

    10

    Experience the Eden Project’s unique biomes

    From china clay to coffee bushes

    The Eden Project skilfully repurposed the remnants of Cornwall’s industrial past by turning a disused quarry into a series of climate-controlled domes that house plants from across the globe. Inside, wander through structures which resemble giant upturned bowls of bubble wrap.

    Protected from the elements, these domes house plants from across the globe. Absorb the scent of the lemon trees and olive groves of the Mediterranean Biome, or enjoy the lush planting of the Tropical Biome, dubbed the world’s largest greenhouse. Bring a refillable water bottle to cope with the warm temperatures inside and pack a picnic to make the most of the grounds.  

    Location: Bodelva, Par PL24 2SG, UK

    Open: Hours vary by season

    Phone: +44 (0)1726 811 911

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    Julia Hammond | Contributing Writer

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