25 of the Best Things to Do in Cornwall in 2024

If you’re planning a Cornwall holiday, a weekend away or a longer break, here are 25 of the best things to do in Cornwall.

The beach at Bedruthan Steps, viewed from the surrounding clifftops. The sky and sea are blue and there are purple flowers growing in the grass on the cliffs.

Beautiful Cornwall is ideal for a holiday in the UK, whether you’re planning a weekend away or a longer staycation.

While you’re there, you’re sure to want to check out the glorious golden sandy beaches and sample some of the fabulous seafood on offer in towns like Padstow. 

In fact, Cornwall offers plenty to keep you occupied, and the wide variety of self-catering cottages in quaint fishing villages and luxury hotels make it a great destination for your UK holiday.

So, we’ve rounded up some of the top things to do in Cornwall. You’ll find legendary castles, lost gardens and magical islands – no wonder Cornwall is such a popular place to visit!

The Key Takeaways

  • Cornwall is a great place to visit for a few days or a longer holiday.
  • Some of the best places to visit include historic castles, beautiful gardens and even a magical island.
  • ​Cornwall is also a great place for walkers and hikers, with plenty of trails to explore.
  • The county’s beautiful sandy beaches are perfect for surfing, swimming, sea kayaking or just relaxing.
A stone archway in the ruins of Tintagel Castle in Cornwall, England.

Tintagel Castle

If you love British myths and legends, Tintagel Castle should certainly be on your list of things to do in Cornwall.

Now under the care of English Heritage, Tintagel Castle sits high on the north coast of Cornwall, around five miles away from the town of Boscastle. The castle is built half on the mainland and half on a rocky island, and a newly reopened bridge connects the two.

The castle you see today was built in the 12th century, but the site has been inhabited since Roman times. In the 12th century, the British cleric Geoffrey of Monmouth named Tintagel the birthplace of the legendary English King Arthur.

You can explore the castle ruins, visit Merlin’s cave, and cross the Tintagel bridge to the island. And don’t forget to visit the magnificent 8-foot-tall bronze statue of King Arthur on the clifftop.

The circular structure of St Mawes Castle overlooking the sea near Falmouth, Cornwall.

St Mawes Castle

Another castle worth visiting is St Mawes Castle. It lies on the south side of Cornwall, close to Falmouth, and is the sister site to Pendennis Castle.

This castle was built on the orders of Henry VIII in the 16th century to defend against the threat of invasion from France and Spain. It is one of the best-preserved artillery fortresses of this time, with beautiful grounds and stunning views.

While you’re exploring the castle’s interior, look out for the glass panel covering the entrance to the ‘oubliette’. This was a deep, dark underground prison used to hold prisoners and unruly soldiers!

St Mawes Castle is now under the care of English Heritage, and you can book tickets on their website.

A view of St Michael's Mount in Cornwall, taken from the causeway that leads to the island.

St Michael’s Mount

The magical tidal island of St Michael’s Mount lies off the coast near Marazion, in the southwest of Cornwall.

St Michael’s Mount has been home to the St Aubyn family since the mid-17th century. A small community also lives on the island, where you’ll find beautiful gardens, a medieval church and a castle.

It is cut off by the sea at high tide but can be reached by an artificial causeway between mid tide and low tide. If you don’t fancy the walk to the island, you can take a ferry ride across instead.

St Michael’s Mount is managed by the National Trust and the St Aubyn family, and you can book your tickets on the St Michael’s Mount website

A view looking down into the open auditorium at Minack Open Air Theatre in Cornwall, England.

Minack Theatre

The Minack Open Air Theatre is a truly unique Cornish experience – an outdoor amphitheatre carved into a cliff face at the most southwesterly tip of Cornwall.

Although the theatre may look like it has been there for years, it actually only dates back to 1931. The programme of events includes family shows, operas, Shakespearean plays and even the Minack Proms.

Garden lovers will enjoy a visit to the Minack as much as theatre lovers. The site has 1.5 acres of beautifully planted gardens full of sub-tropical plants, which take advantage of the sheltered location.

The Minack Open-Air Theatre season opens for booking in January/February; advance booking is essential.  

The Lost Gardens of Heligan

Discover one of Europe’s largest garden restoration projects, a magical place full of nostalgia and romance. The Lost Gardens of Heligan sit on the south coast of Cornwall, a few miles from St Austell.

More than 200 acres of colourful gardens are waiting for you to explore. You’ll find a Jungle full of tree ferns and banana trees, and a Victorian Productive Garden complete with glasshouse.

Heligan also hosts the National Collection of camellias and rhododendrons. You can see many magnificent specimens which flourished into maturity during the Gardens’ period of decline.

If you plan to visit more than twice while you’re in Cornwall, ask the ticketing team to upgrade your ticket to a weekly pass at no extra cost. 

The lush green trees of Trebah Garden, Cornwall.

Trebah Gardens

The subtropical gardens at Trebah is a magical addition to your visit to Cornwall. You’ll find Trebah Garden on the south coast of Cornwall, around five miles south of Falmouth.

These formal gardens are packed full of innovation and creativity, and have all sorts of secluded corners and exotic planting. Four miles of paths wend their way around the site, and there’s an outdoor theatre and even a secluded beach. 

It’s hard to believe you can find all this in an English garden!

Pre-booking isn’t required, but you can book tickets in advance on the Trebah Garden website.

The Japanese Garden at St Mawgan

For a very different style of garden, pay a visit to the Japanese Garden at St Mawgan. You’ll find it around five miles north of Newquay in North Cornwall.

This tranquil garden has been designed in an authentic Japanese style, providing a peaceful and beautiful place for meditation and contemplation. Traditional features in the garden include the Zen Garden, Teahouse, a Torii Gate, and plenty of lush bamboo planting. There’s also a small bonsai nursery on site, and free parking is available.

The Japanese Garden closes for the winter but opens again to visitors in early March. Day passes are very affordably priced, and the season tickets allow unlimited visits during the open season.

The large dome structures of the  indoor biomes at the Eden Project in Cornwall, England.

The Eden Project

The Eden Project enjoys a sheltered position in a large crater in South Cornwall, a few miles from St Austell. It displays plants from around the world, both outdoors and in two fascinating indoor biomes.

The Rainforest biome houses the largest rainforest in captivity, full of stunning plants. These include the world’s largest flower – the Titan Arum, also known as the corpse flower. The Mediterranean biome hosts a landscape featuring plants found in temperate regions such as South Africa, California and Western Australia. And outside in the gardens, you can also enjoy summer concerts and family attractions.

Booking your Eden Project tickets in advance gives you the best pricing. Although you can generally pay for admission upon arrival, pre-booking may be required at busy times, such as school holidays. 

A stone cross surrounded by lush green ferns on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall, England.

Bodmin Moor

Rugged Bodmin Moor offers a stark and beautiful contrast to the coastal paths and beaches of Cornwall. Although Bodmin Moor isn’t a National Park, the moorland invites exploration, with plenty of trails stretching over the mainly private land. 

Bodmin Moor is steeped in fiction and folklore, from the Arthurian legend of Dozmary Pool, where King Arthur relinquished Excalibur, to the real-life ‘Jamaica Inn’, where contraband was smuggled and Daphne du Maurier found inspiration for her novel. 

The Smugglers Way and the 60-mile Copper Trail showcase the moor’s high points, Brown Willy and Rough Tor, and its historical mining villages. 

Pendennis Castle

Travel back in time to Tudor Cornwall when you visit Pendennis Castle, one of Henry VIII’s imposing seaside fortresses. Perched on a headland with panoramic views over the Falmouth coast, Pendennis Castle has plenty of fun things to do.

A family trail, pirate adventures, and knights’ tournaments will keep younger visitors busy. History lovers can explore the castle’s history through interactive exhibits and a fascinating weaponry collection from Tudor, Napoleonic and modern times. If you have time, you can also take a ferry ride to the sister site at St Mawes’ Castle.

The grounds are perfect for a picnic in fine weather, and the on-site cafe serves local and seasonal dishes. 

Book your tickets in advance for the best admission prices.

The golden sands and clear blue sea of Fistral Beach near Newquay in Cornwall. People can be seen walking on the sands and surfing in the water.

Explore Cornwall’s Beautiful Beaches

The Cornish coastline is peppered with beautiful beaches and countless small secret coves. The golden beaches are perfect for swimming, surfing or just taking a stroll. Here are just a few of the most popular beaches in Cornwall:

Porthmeor Beach, St Ives

Porthmeor Beach is renowned for its miles of golden sand, which make it one of the top beaches in Cornwall. It’s regularly awarded the coveted Blue Flag for cleanliness, and families flock here in the summer, thanks to its excellent facilities. 

With a prime position facing the Atlantic Ocean, Porthmeor Beach is a great spot for surfing, and the St Ives Surf School offers lessons right on the sands. But if you’re in the mood for a more leisurely day, the beachside cafe, coastal views and tasty Cornish ice cream make Porthmeor the quintessential Cornwall beach experience and a must-visit for anyone exploring the area.

Fistral Beach, Newquay

Newquay’s Fistral Beach in Fistral Bay, around half a mile west of Newquay on the north coast of Cornwall. It’s known as the home of British Surfing, thanks to the quality and consistency of the surf there. 

The rocky headlands at Fistral create a natural amphitheatre, making it the perfect location for the International Surfing Centre, which opened in Fistral Bay in 2003. The centre offers surf shops, equipment hire and places to eat. 

Whether you visit Fistral Beach on a day when the sea is calm or watch the bravest surfers tackling Cornwall’s big wave, the Cribbar, Fistral is one of the best beaches in Cornwall. It’s also the home of one of Cornwall’s biggest events, the Boardmasters surf and skate festival in August.

Sennen Cove Beach

Another fantastic premier surf destination in Cornwall is Sennen Cove Beach, which has a near-perfect blend of golden sands and powerful swells.

Located close to Land’s End and Penzance, this beach has a unique position that picks up both northerly and southerly swells, creating surf conditions that rival even the top Cornish surf spots. 

Dogs are welcome at Sennen Cove outside the main summer months, and the beach has lifeguard cover from Easter to October. With golden sands that are perfect for sunbathing and plenty of local amenities, Sennen Cove promises an unforgettable Cornwall beach experience.

Enjoy a Geothermal Soak

Cornwall has some of the UK’s warmest sea temperatures, but it will never feel like swimming in the Med!

The beautiful Jubilee Pool at Penzance is an open-air saltwater lido with gorgeous 1930s Art Deco styling. This pool is unheated, so the water tends to be around 1-2 degrees above sea temperature.

However, there is also a separate geothermal pool filled with water from a geothermal well over 400 metres underground. The water in this pool sits around 30 to 32°C (86 to 95°F), a much more comfortable temperature for relaxing in.

Tickets for the Geothermal pool sell out quickly so book in advance.

A stretch of the South West Coastal Path in Cornwall, England.

Walk the South West Coast Path

You might not want to walk the entire 630-mile length of the South West Coastal Path. But this coastal walk, twice winner of ‘Britain’s Best Walking Route’, is a great way to explore the Cornish countryside and scenic coastline, perfect for keen hikers and nature enthusiasts alike.

Designated a National Trail and holding the title of Britain’s longest waymarked long-distance footpath, the South West Coastal Path stretches from Minehead in Somerset through Devon and Cornwall to Poole Harbour in Dorset. Along the way, it passes through two World Heritage Sites – the Jurassic Coast and the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape. 

Some stretches offer a more challenging hike with frequent elevation changes, but the path is also suitable for recreational walkers who can soak in the spectacular views. 

The stone ruins of the Crowns Engine Houses of Botallack Mine on the Tin Coast of Cornwall, England.

Discover Cornwall’s industrial past

If you fell in love with Cornwall while watching the BBC TV series Poldark, you’re sure to want to visit Botallack Mine on Cornwall’s wild Tin Coast. This National Trust property is part of the Cornish Mining World Heritage Site and one of the filming locations for Poldark. You’ll be amazed by the sight of the famous Crowns engine houses clinging to the rugged cliffs.

A few miles away, at Levant Mine, you can see the world’s only operational steam-run Cornish beam engine in action. For a deeper insight into Cornwall’s past, you can also visit the Man Engine Tunnel. In 1919, this tunnel was the scene of the worst mining accident in Cornwall, when 31 men lost their lives when the engine used to transport them through the mine failed.  

The old life boat station near Lizard Point in Cornwall, England. The disused boat ramp can be seen leading down to the clear blue waters.

Lizard Point

The Lizard peninsula lies at the southern tip of Cornwall, and has been a popular destination for visitors to Cornwall since Victorian times. Lizard Point is England’s most southerly point, and the beautiful coastline around here offers spectacular cliff-side walks through grasslands and heaths and views over the white sands of Kynance Cove. 

However, the Lizard coastline is particularly treacherous for sailors, which earned it the nickname of ‘The Graveyard of Ships’.

There are several sites for nature lovers to explore on the Lizard peninsula. These include Predannack Nature Reserve, the birdwatching site at Mullion Island just a short boat trip from Mullion Cove and the Cornish Seal Sanctuary near the village of Gweek.

Freshly baked scones topped with generous amounts of raspberry jam and clotted cream.

Sample Traditional Cornish Food

When you’re in Cornwall, you have to try a Cornish Pasty. This crescent-shaped pastry treat was originally baked as a complete lunchtime meal for Cornish tin miners and is now a great way to sustain yourself through a long day of sightseeing.

Inside, you’ll discover a mix of beef, potato, swede and onion, generously seasoned with salt and black pepper. The distinctive crimping provided an easy way for miners to hold the pasty without tainting their food with arsenic from the tin they were mining. It was discarded once they’d finished eating the rest of the pasty.

And if you fancy a traditional sweet Cornish delicacy, pop into a tearoom or cafe for a Cornish cream tea. Fresh baked scones, sweet jam and thick clotted cream are a delicious mid-afternoon treat, accompanied by a pot of hot tea or coffee. Just remember to put your jam on first, as that’s the right way for Cornish cream teas – cream first is the Devon way!

Fishing boats in the harbour at St Ives in Cornwall. The sun is shining, the sea and sky are blue, and people are walking around on the golden sands and harbourside.

Visit St Ives

If you’re keen to explore the cultural and artistic heritage of Cornwall, you must visit St Ives, which lies at the most southwesterly tip of West Cornwall. 

In addition to being a charming seaside resort, the town is home to the Tate St Ives gallery and Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden. Both of these Cornwall attractions are very popular, so advance booking is recommended.

Beyond the town’s cultural delights, St Ives has a lot to offer visitors and you could easily spend a full day here. Its crescent-shaped bay is lined with the soft golden sands of Porthmeor Beach, the perfect place for surfing and swimming, and Porthminster Beach, just a few steps from the train station. You can also buy fresh local produce at the St Ives Farmers Market or watch fishermen land their catch in St Ives Harbour.

View from above of the cliffs at St Agnes village in Cornwall, England.

Take a stroll around St Agnes 

The pretty Cornish village of St Agnes lies within both a World Heritage Site and an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. You’ll find plenty of independent shops and businesses to explore, excellent pubs and restaurants, dog-friendly beaches and some of Cornwall’s best coastal walks.

The Blue Flag beach at Porthtowan is ideal for surfers and swimmers, or you can walk up to St Agnes Beacon for stunning views over St Ives. St Agnes also inspired Winston Graham’s ‘Poldark Country,’ making it a must-visit for fans of the books and TV show.

Enjoy a Cornwall Wine Tour

Foodies love Cornwall for its fantastic seafood and harbourside eateries. But if you’re a wine lover, head further inland to sip a glass of wine at a Cornwall winery.

The first Cornish vineyard was planted in 1978, and the county now produces award-winning wines. Cornwall’s mild climate with long, warm days and cooler nights, combined with the slate and granite soils, make it the ideal location for grape varieties including Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Noir.

Several Cornwall vineyards offer wine tours and tasting sessions, including Camel Valley Vineyard near Bodwin and Trevibban Mill near Padstow. Booking in advance is generally recommended.

The abandoned and ruined St Helen's Oratory at Cape Cornwall in Cornwall, England.

Explore Cape Cornwall

Everyone knows that Land’s End is the most westerly point of mainland England, and that means it attracts vast crowds of tourists. So, if you want a quieter experience, it’s better to head to the point that used to hold that title.

The wild and rugged headland at Cape Cornwall is part of the Cornish Mining World Heritage Site and was considered England’s most westerly point until the early 19th century. It’s around seven miles from Land’s End but attracts much smaller crowds and really feels like it could be the end of the world.

You’ll discover a ruined chapel from early Christian times, a 19th-century chimney stack dating back to Cornwall’s mining heyday, and the tiny Priest’s Cove, which local fishermen have used as a landing place for centuries.

Cape Cornwall is also a good spot for birdwatching, as many seabirds nest on the Brisons rocks.

Go sea kayaking 

For a different perspective on Cornwall, head to the water. The long coastline and rivers of Cornwall are perfect for exploring by kayak, with countless secret coves, creeks and cliffs. 

Whether you’re a novice kayaker or an experienced paddler, you’ll find plenty of sea kayaking tours in Cornwall, like Sea Kayaking Cornwall and Cornish Rock Tors. All equipment and instruction are provided, so all you have to do is turn up and get on board!

A signpost at Land's End in Cornwall, England, showing distances to New York, John O'Groats and the Isles of Scilly. The sun is shining and the sea and sky are blue.

FAQ

If you’re looking for more information to help you plan your Cornwall holiday, here are some of the most frequently asked questions:

When’s the best time to visit Cornwall? 

The warmest months in Cornwall are usually July and August, when the average daytime temperature is around 19°C. However, this is also the peak tourist season, which coincides with the school summer holidays, so expect large crowds, high accommodation costs and long lines at tourist attractions.

If you want to avoid the crowds, the best time to visit Cornwall is the shoulder season on either side of the peak season. Visiting in June or September means you’ll still enjoy temperatures around 17°C but with lower prices and smaller crowds.

On the other hand, if you’re visiting Cornwall for a surfing holiday, the best time to surf is from late autumn to spring. At this time of year, the weather is still fairly mild, and the swells are large.

A young woman with red hair sits on the cliffs overlooking Lizard Peninsula in Cornwall, England.

What’s the weather like in Cornwall?

The weather in Cornwall is generally warmer than in other parts of the UK, making it a popular holiday destination throughout the year.

Cornwall’s position on the Atlantic Ocean means it can see frequent rain all year round. December and January are the wettest months, with around 23-25 days of rain per month. 

However, it’s pretty rare for Cornwall to experience freezing weather. If the temperature does dip below 0°C, it doesn’t stay there for long.

The stage at the Open Air Minack Theatre in Cornwall, England.

Where is the best weather in Cornwall?

Cornwall’s position in the southwest of the UK means it enjoys a milder climate than most of the country. The south coast of Cornwall enjoys even milder weather than the rest of Cornwall, which allows subtropical plants like palm trees and agave plants to flourish.

How many days is enough for Cornwall?

Getting to Cornwall from most parts of the UK can take quite a long time. So you’ll probably want to spend at least three days in Cornwall, but a longer break of seven days will give you more time to explore the sights.

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With so many amazing places to visit, you’re sure to enjoy your holiday in Cornwall. Which of these attractions in Cornwall would you like to visit next time you’re there?

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