Cornwall is one of the UK’s hidden gems for foreign tourists. During the summer, British people flock to the beautiful beaches and seaside towns to enjoy the stunning coastal walks and excellent food in the area, yet Cornwall attracts very few foreign tourists.
Full of charming seaside towns and villages, Cornwall is one of the UK’s most beautiful regions. The area was inhabited since the Neolithic and Bronze ages and was later populated by Britons, they were descendants of the Celts and you can see Celtic motifs all around Cornwall as well as incredibly difficult-to-pronounce place names.
The people of Cornwall have a strong sense of Cornish identity and some of them even retain their language, Cornish. They do not appreciate being mistaken as English so remember to avoid this when addressing them.
The area was once popular for mining and farming and the agricultural industry continues to thrive to this day, though the mines have long been closed down. Cornwall is the ideal holiday destination to enjoy beautiful coastlines, hikes, beaches, and of course the typical fare, Cornish pasties! But more on that later…
Here we give you the ultimate guide to Cornwall!
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Table of Contents
How to get to Cornwall
International visitors can fly into Exeter airport and there are also many budget flights that fly into Exeter from around Europe and all over the UK.
You can also get to Cornwall by train and the Great Western Railway provides regular trains from all over the UK. High-speed trains run between London Paddington Station and Penzance, as well as from Bath and Bristol. You can find out more on www.nationalrail.co.uk
You can also travel to Cornwall from other parts of the UK by coach, and the National Express Service will offer connections to many towns. For more information the UK has a telephone information service called Traveline there is a website where you can find more information: www.travelinesw.com
How to get around Cornwall
Once you get to Cornwall, the easiest way to get around is by car. Having a car will allow you explore off the beaten track and discover small, sleepy villages inaccessible via some public transport services. Cars can be rented from Exeter Airport. It’s important to remember that people drive on the left. Cornwall is the land of roundabouts and you will encounter one after another! Getting used to navigating and driving on the left will be highly important!
Carshare Cornwall is an option for those who prefer not to drive around Cornwall. It functions in a similar way to the platform Blablacar, people offer lifts from one place to another and you can join a journey whilst saving money on travel costs! Though most of the members are commuting, there are plenty of people offering lifts to different destinations for leisure or events. For more information, visit https://liftshare.com/uk/community/cornwall.
If you prefer to take public transport, Cornwall has an extensive service run by two companies, the Western Greyhound or First Devon and Cornwall. The Ride Cornwall Ranger ticket is a fantastic purchase, which allows you to travel all over Cornwall and between Cornwall and Plymouth. A day ticket costs £13 for adults, £9.75 for children and £26 for an entire family. You can buy this ticket at all train stations. There are also seven-day options.
You can find out about bus schedules on the Cornwall travel information page: www.cornwallpublictransport.info
Best time to visit Cornwall
Cornwall is an ideal destination from people who wish to avoid sweltering temperatures in other European countries. Temperatures reach around 20 degrees centigrade, even though in 2018 a heat wave brought temperatures up to over 30 degrees!
Summer is the most popular time to go to Cornwall but the beaches never get that crowded. There are so many long stretches of beach that you will not have to worry about overcrowding!
One disadvantage of summertime in Cornwall is that there is usually a lot of traffic, especially camper vans and caravans heading down for surfing and camping.
In the summertime, it’s advisable to book early as a lot of the accommodation fills up.
To avoid the busiest season, visit in May or September. Temperatures are slightly lower at around 14 degrees in May, but maintains at a nice temperature of 17 degrees in September.
What to expect in Cornwall
The language spoken in Cornwall is English, though some locals may speak Cornish. It is important to respect that the Cornish don’t appreciate being labelled as Brits as they feel a very strong sense of cultural identity, which is Celtic in its roots. The Cornish people are incredibly warm and friendly and will strike up a conversation with you in shops, pubs and out and about. Locals will be more than happy to provide recommendations and directions.
The local currency is the British Pound and tipping is appreciated, but not obligatory. In restaurants a tip of 10 to 15% is customary as is tipping taxi drivers, normally with taxi fares, you round up the fare at the end.
As in all of the UK, people drive on the left. Traffic is often terrible in the summertime and it is common to encounter traffic jams. Also there are many narrow country lanes, which are lined with hedges, and walls that allow for very little visibility. It is advisable to drive with caution, there are many laybys or areas where you can reverse and you will need to be able to do so with confidence as you will be sure to encounter cars, farm vehicles, trucks and even horses on these country lanes. The local drivers drive quite quickly on these narrow lanes so be aware when travelling around on the narrow lanes. It isn’t recommended for the faint of heart!
Though you may most likely be visiting in summer, the weather in the UK is quite changeable and there are still downpours of rain. It is worth bringing a raincoat and some wet-weather or cold-weather gear just in case. As Cornwall is on the coast it does bear the brunt of sudden weather changes across the Atlantic ocean, always make sure that you check the weather forecasts before heading out on any long hikes as sudden weather changes can create dangerous conditions on the coast.
Finally, the power plugs and sockets are type G and voltage is at 230 Volts so be prepared to bring an adaptor if necessary.
Things to do in Cornwall
Cornwall is surfer’s paradise! Most British tourists come down to the surf on the coast and there are excellent beaches for surfing. The most famous beaches include Polzeath, Fistral Beach in Newquay, Perranporth Beach and Porthmeor beach.
For those who have never surfed, there are plenty of surf schools including Fistral Beach Surf School in Newquay and Ride Surf School in Perranporth. Bear in mind that some of the surf sites in Cornwall are recommended for experienced surfers and can be dangerous; it’s always best to check the weather conditions and the difficulty level of each site.
Ride the camel trail to Padstow
Hop on your bike and get out for the day on the Camel Trail, a cycle path that runs along an old railway line with views of the Camel Estuary.
This 28 km cycle route is a perfect way for you or your family to spend the day and will make your trip to Cornwall unforgettable! The trail is flat and relatively easy with many places to stop along the way.
The route starts at Wadebridge where you can rent a bicycle and begin the Camel Trail. There is a lot to see on the trail and you can go bird spotting, enjoy the woodland views and also head to picturesque Padstow to enjoy the coastal views and visit Rick Stein’s famous fish and chip shop before hopping back onto your bike to cycle back.
See the sunset at Land’s End
Go to the very tip of the UK, a place known as Land’s End and stay for the spectacular sunsets. Here you can see the rugged rock formations emerging from the sea, the most famous of which is the “armoured knight” rock. There is also a haunting lighthouse which was built in 1875 and can be seen roughly a mile off the coast.
Buy some Celtic jewellery
Truro is a port town where you can find some unique Cornish jewellery to take home. A visit to Canary Blue Jewellery will stun you with handmade unique gold rings and jewellery.
Places to visit in Cornwall
Eden Project is Cornwall’s most famous attraction, a series of bio domes replicate the conditions of a tropical jungle or the Mediterranean. It is the perfect day out for the whole family, there is an excellent on-site restaurant, gardens, zip lining and other educational and adventure activities. It also hosts an annual music festival that is a huge event in Cornwall. Tickets should be booked in advance and online to avoid disappointment and save money, as they are 10% cheaper online! Find out more at https://www.edenproject.com/
Visit Port Isaac
The picturesque Port Isaac is one of the small fishing villages that is just too cute to miss. It’s renowned for being the set for the British TV series “Doc Martin”. The winding roads lead down to a small fishing port with tiny little streets. Here you can take in the sea air and the local atmosphere and enjoy a Michelin star meal at Nathan Outlaw’s Fish Kitchen.
From Port Isaac there are some breathtaking coastal walks, recommended for experienced hikers. Always remember to check out the weather report before heading out on a coastal cliff walk.
Visit St. Michael’s Mount
The tidal island of St. Michael’s Mount can be reached by crossing on a boat or walking the causeway in low tide. On the island you’ll find medieval pathways leading to a castle, complete with sub-tropical gardens due to its microclimate which is home to plants from Mexico, South Africa and the Canary Islands.
This stunning island offers views of the coastline and you can take the train to the nearest station in Penzance. From there you can check the tidal charts to ensure crossing times in low tide.
St. Just in Roseland
This tiny place is in the Roseland peninsula is both special and magical. The 13th century church is located next to a small creek where you can observe small boats moored up and kayakers lazily paddling in the waters. Strolling through the churchyard you will see Celtic symbol gravestones nestled among tropical plant species. John Betjeman, the famous writer, described this place in these words: ‘to many people the most beautiful churchyard on earth’.
Just across from the church is a small van serving up delicious cream teas and you can explore St. Mawes on foot for a leisurely hike from here.
The easiest way to get there is by car; you will need to cross a car ferry to get to the peninsula.
This place with a funny name is a charming seaside town and birthplace of the regional specialty, Stargazy pie (see more in the What to eat in Cornwall section). In this bustling town you can find plenty of charming thatch cottages and yellow lichen covered houses. The seafront is lined with little art galleries, gift shops and restaurants and there is a small sandy beach where you can go for a swim, if you’re brave enough!
Mousehole is a perfect stop on the way to visiting other famous sites of Cornwall such as St. Michael’s Mount or land’s End. You can even visit the open-air Minack theatre nearby which hosts live opera and classical music concerts looking out onto the Atlantic Sea. Visit https://www.minack.com/ to see their full programme of events.
Visit St. Ives
The gorgeous town of St. Ives is home to amazing coastal views and two stunning museums, the Tate and also the Barbra Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden. If you prefer more rugged nature, get your hiking boots on and walk towards Land’s End on the South Western Coastal Path. You can also explore the hamlet of Zennor, a four-hour hike or go dolphin spotting whilst on your coastal walk between the months of May and September.
Visit the Smuggler’s Harbour of Polperro
Polperro was a 13th century fishing village, which was once a smugglers cove. In the 18th century, Britain was at war and due to increased duty costs on many goods the local fishermen would smuggle in tea, brandy, tobacco and gin from nearby Guernsey.
Here you can see the little fishermen’s cottages dotted along the craggy cliffs and a leisurely wander around the village followed by a lovely filling pub lunch and a pint will be sure to make anyone’s day!
What to eat in Cornwall
Though the British food has a poor image abroad, there are a lot of excellent dishes to discover in Cornwall. Due to its agricultural landscape, Cornwall is home to prime quality meats such as beef and lamb and a variety of fruits, vegetables and cheeses. Travelling around in Cornwall you will encounter a number of artisanal producers for cheese and other produce, there are also a number of farm shops where you can drop in and purchase authentic farm-grown vegetables and fruits or enjoy a traditional British meal.
An annual festival of Cornish foods is held in Truro in September, called “The Great Cornish Food Festival”. Here you can try the best there is on offer as well as sample all the award winning cheese, clotted cream and local beer and cider, all in one place!
The most iconic of Cornish foods, this perfect package of meat wrapped in steaming hot pastry is the perfect food on-the-go! The pasty has earned a Protected Geographical Indication status meaning that only pasties made in Cornwall can be endowed with this name. This food became popular during the 17th and 18th century as the food of tin miners to sustain them during the long and weary shifts in the mineshafts.
The fillings often consist of meat, swede, potato and onions but there are a wide variety of flavours to try and no one can resist the steamy fragrance wafting out from the small pasty shops all over the region! Some of the very best pasties can be found at St. Ives Bakery in St. Ives, Padstow’s Chough Bakery or Tasty Pasties in Bude, to name but a few.
Cornwall is surrounded by a spectacular coastline and fresh fish is always on the menu. One of the most popular ways of cooking fish around Cornwall is the Stargazy pie that originates from Mousehole.
Mousehole is a beautiful and charming coastal town that is a must-visit! The pie dates back to the 16th century and according to the tale, the recipe was invented by a fisherman who braved the rough seas to catch enough fish to feed his small village. He took his catch and baked the different types of fish into a huge pie and left their heads sticking out of the crust to show that they were there and managed to save his whole village from starvation!
Fish and Chips
A trip to the UK would be incomplete without having some fish and chips. A perfect stop whilst out cycling in Padstow is Rick Stein’s restaurant “Stein’s Fish and Chips”, the Padstow branch often has queues out the door and the homemade beer batter crisped and fried in beef dripping makes it mouth-wateringly delicious. Other winners of the best fish and chips of Cornwall include the famous Harbour Lights of Falmouth.
Cornish Ice Cream
Cornwall is famed for its milk production and produces some of the most delicious ice cream made from thick Cornish clotted cream. You will find ice cream vans and shops all over the region and a visit to a local ice-cream factory makes a perfect activity for all the family. One of the most popular brands is Callestick and you can visit their farm and factory on a free tour to sample their delicious ice cream. There is also a playground for children to keep them entertained.
Cornish Cream Tea
One of the unmissable food experiences to have in Cornwall is the traditional cream tea. A cream tea consists of two freshly baked scones served with a dollop of thick clotted cream and strawberry jam and served along steaming cups of tea. Some of the very best places to enjoy a cream tea are Martin’s Dairy, East Looe, Pauline’s Creamery in Newquay and the Duchy of Cornwall Nursery Café in Lostwithiel, to name a few.
Cornish Yarg Cheese
Yarg is an artisanal cheese produced in Cornwall from pasteurised cow’s milk and wrapped in nettle leaves. The Yarg is fresh and creamy and is perfect eaten fresh. You can visit an award-winning cheese farm at Lynher Farms and Dairies. Here you can enjoy a whole day out in the Lynher Valley and sample the variations of local cheeses.
Not technically a food, but Cornish Cider is the perfect accompaniment to local dishes. This sweet cider is delicious and refreshing in the summertime. There are lots of cider farms where you can do a tour of the farm and enjoy cider tasting for free. Be careful as you may end up a little tipsy after all those cider samples! One highly-recommended cider farm is Healey’s farm where they have activities and farm animals which makes a tour there perfect for families.
Where to stay in Cornwall
The many towns and villages of Cornwall are spread out all across the region, so a car is necessary to get around, meaning that it allows for more flexibility in where you stay in the region. Prices vary in the summertime, as it is peak season but the cost of rooms may start from around £60 upwards. Airbnb is also a fantastic option, as it will allow you to live in a real Cornish house probably complete with a charming garden in a little village tucked away from the main towns.
Here is a selection of some of the best budget hotels in Cornwall:
Highcliffe Bed & Breakfast – This charming hotel is beautifully decorated and makes the best homemade granola for breakfast. The location is spectacular; it is situated on an estuary and offers striking views whilst still being within reach of the cliff walks and the nearby town centre. Prices start at £72 per night. Visit https://highcliffefalmouth.com/
Rick Stein’s Café – This cosy hotel is part of Rick Stein’s chain of restaurants and hotels across the region. The rooms are tastefully decorated with a maritime theme and the bedrooms are reached via a twisted staircase just above the café. The rooms are cosy with traditional fireplaces and a taste of France in the décor. Prices start at £100 per night. Visit https://www.rickstein.com/eat-with-us/rick-steins-cafe/ for more information.
Artist Residence – In the town of Penzance, just up the road from the harbour is Chapel Street, where you will find this gorgeous Georgian hotel. Each bedroom is decorated in a charming, quirky style and breakfast is delivered every morning in a pink carrier bag to your room, allowing you to feast on Danish pastries, fruit salad, yoghurts, granola and juice. Rooms start at £85 per night. Find out more at https://www.artistresidence.co.uk/our-hotels/cornwall/
Fistral Beach Hotel and Spa – This sophisticated adult-only hotel is situated near Fistral Beach and offers views of the beach and the surfers catching waves. The colonial styled restaurant is contrasted with a modern bar, which is a perfect place to enjoy a drink after a day of exploring Cornwall. Rooms start at £46 per night. https://www.fistralbeachhotel.co.uk/
Tours to do in Cornwall
For those who want to explore Cornwall from the skies, you can hire a hot air balloon for an unforgettable hour soaring across the rugged coastlines and cliffs and postcard perfect villages of the Southwestern tip of Cornwall. The tour includes a glass of complimentary champagne so you can feel like king or queen of the world! The price stars from €146.23 per person.
Day trips from Cornwall
Lost Gardens of Heligan
The magical gardens of Heligan makes a perfect day trip where you can enjoy discovering sculptures merged with nature on a woodland walk, explore the diverse wildlife and enjoy nature trails, rope swings and an adventure playground. There are plenty of activities for families including storytelling and craft workshops making this a wonderful day out for all of the family. Prices start from €14.50 per adult and €6.50 for children. Find out more at https://www.heligan.com/
Go whale and dolphin spotting
The Cornish coastline is home to a diverse array of wildlife including Minke Whales, dolphins, oceanic sunfish and the occasional blue shark. A four-hour boat trip with AK Wildlife Cruises can show you the wonders of the British marine wildlife and perhaps even reward you with a close encounter!
Take the Bodmin Prison Ghost Tour
Bodmin Prison organises a night-time ghost tour that will be sure to give you the chills. The visit is guided around by a medium and starts at 8:45 pm and ends at 5:00 am and includes a sit-down dinner. The prison dates back over 230 years and the tour leads you around the prison and each ghost hunt mini-expedition is followed by a return to a well-lit room, or safe space, and hot drinks are provided to keep you going through the night. The After Dark event seems to be a really long night, yet time passes quickly and will be sure to leave you spooked! The tour runs twice or three times a week and starts at £90 per person.
Want to learn how to travel on a Budget? Check out our dedicated “Budget Conscious Travel Guide”
Recommend budget tours in Cornwall
- Doc Martin Tour in Port Isaac, Cornwall
- Private one-day luxury guided tour of Poldark TV-series locations from Cornwall
- South West Experience 5 day (Small Group) tour from London (Very affordable)
- Ultimate UK Experience 12 day (Small Group) tour from London (Very affordable)
- Sunrise or Sunset Champagne Hot Air Balloon Flight from Cornwall
Get your guide is a Great company, that often offers heavily discounted tours! Check out a few options below:
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