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11 Places to Visit in Cornwall
Looking for places to visit on the coast of Cornwall? Cornwall has picturesque towns, historic attractions and stunning views. Located in Southwestern England, the charming and picture-postcard attractions promise fun-filled adventures.
Here are 11 places to visit on the coast of Cornwall.
1. Land’s End
Welcome to Land’s End, the legendary Cornish destination and one of Britain’s best-loved landmarks. Located in Western Cornwall, England, it’s the most westerly point. Tourists have been visiting Land’s End for over three hundred years. The earliest visitor was John Taylor, a poet in 1649. He visited the region hoping to find subscribers for his new book.
Today, Land’s End has several attractions such as the tourist centre, Longships Lighthouse off Land’s End and Signpost. You also have the Cornwall Underground, where you can explore the secret underworld of mining from Cornwall’s past. The caves provide an authentic adventure experience and a first look at the unique work created by Cornish miners.
Don’t forget to visit the Minack Theatre in Western Cornwall. This world-famous open-air theatre is typically carved into a granite cliff. Set in gardens overlooking the Porthcurno Bay, you can experience the magic of live performance.
Uncover Cornwall’s hidden communication history at the PK Porthcurno. This museum of Global Communications hides a secret – undersea cables. You can also explore new interactive exhibitions, family-friendly activities and live demonstrations.
The port of Padstow is a popular tourist destination in Cornwall. Centred around the attractive harbour, Padstow has a mix of merchant houses and fisherman cottages. While fishing declined over the centuries, Padstow is a premier holiday resort.
Padstow is not a beach town. But less than 10 minutes along the coast path from the harbour are fantastic family beaches. They include Hawkers Cove, St George’s Cove and Tregirls. These family-friendly beaches have a huge expanse of golden sand.
The Prideaux Place is an Elizabethan century home complete with a deer park and formal gardens. Built in 1592, it passed down through generations to the current owners – Elisabeth and Peter Prideaux-Brune.
Another must-visit attraction is the Camel Trail. As one of Cornwall’s recreational trails, it follows the route of the former Cornwall Railway. The 17-mile trail has no steep inclines. It starts in Padstow and passes through Wadebridge, then Bodmin, and finally the village of Blisland. If you follow the course of the River camel, there is plenty of wildlife to spot.
At the Padstow Harbour, there are plenty of boats of all shapes and sizes. They take tourists up and down the coast. You can spot wildlife such as dolphins, seals, puffins and basking sharks. At the harbour, there are shops and cafes where you can relax and refuel.
3. St Michael’s Mount
Explore sweeping lawns, sloping subtropical gardens and an ancient castle at St Michael’s Mount. The castle has been home to the St Aubyn Family. It has ancient doorways, old corridors and layers of history.
At the castle, you’ll discover a clock that tells the time of tide, a frieze with hunting scenes, and a piece of Napoleon’s coat. You will also find a statue of St Michael offering mercy to the Devil, a sofa where Queen Victoria sat and a Samurai Warrior.
From the village, ascend to the cannons at the summit where you can enjoy spectacular views of the island and sea. On your way, check out the following attractions:
- Pilgrim Steps
- The Dairy
- The Cornish Cross Garden
- Giant’s Heart
- Giant’s Well
- Murdering Hole and more
The Church of St Michael is the beating heart of the island. Built in 1135, it has a 15th century Cross made from Cornish stone. The four panels of the cross represent the virgin, child, king and crucifixion. Inside the church, you’ve a bronze statue of St Michael defeating the devil.
Behind the altar are three alabaster panels. Made in Nottingham, the panels feature John the Baptist severed head being received in Heaven by assorted saints and the Holy Trinity.
Nestled beneath the castle walls is a lawn boasting of sweeping views over Mount’s Bay to the peninsula. You can relax and watch the waves. The garden is free for all visitors, but you need to book a castle or garden ticket.
St Michael’s Mount is a tidal island. At low tide, the causeway opens, and ticket holders can walk across to the island. In high tide, you’ve to book a boat.
4. Smuggler’s Harbour of Polperro
Smuggling prospered in Polperro since the port’s development in the 12th century. In the late 18th century, high taxation of imported goods due to war made it worthwhile for fishermen to smuggle.
Polperro’s isolated position made it easy for smugglers to smuggle goods which often landed at secluded coves along the coast. Its position also made it particularly difficult for authorities to catch smugglers. Repeated efforts by authorities were often frustrated.
Once smugglers reached the beach, the goods would disappear through well-trodden paths inland. They smuggled tea, tobacco, gin, brandy and a wide range of luxury goods. Today, you can listen to fascinating tales about smuggling and fishing at the Polperro Heritage Museum of Smuggling and Fishing.
Located in The Warren is the museum is home to fascinating collections chronicling the history of Polperro. Housed in the village’s Old Pilchard factory, it’s one of three owned by the Teglio family.
You will also find 18th-century memorabilia that includes photos dating as far as 1860 and ship models. Other displays feature knitted jumpers or knit frocks plus family history catered for with records for viewing.
Open Easter until the end of October, the admission charges for adults is £2 and £0.50 for children under 12 years. It’s free for children under 5 years.
Truro is the southernmost city in Britain. Founded in 1876, the former port town took a new importance as Cornwall’s tin mining industry in the 1800s. During the 17th century, they built granite monuments. Today, they hold the Hall for Cornwall. This is Cornwall’s Royal Museum and performing arts venue.
In the museum, there are precious decorative arts like furniture, paintings, glass, ceramics, and more. You’ll find Ancient Roman, Greek and Byzantine artefacts and a World Cultures collection from Polynesia to Africa.
The town is home to the Truro Cathedral, the loveliest Gothic church. Designed by John Pearson, it’s made with limestone, quartz-porphyry and granite. Completed in 1910, it’s only one of the three cathedrals with three spires.
In the middle of Truro is the Victoria Gardens. Opened to celebrate Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee, it sits on the former site of the Waterfall Gardens. If you look west from the gardens, you’ll see the train viaduct. Stairways and paths wind down to the water. Along the path, you’ll see manicured lawns and ornamental flower beds which haven’t changed for more than 100 years.
Another garden you should visit is the Poppy Cottage Garden. Open Sunday to Thursday in Summer and Spring, the garden has themed borders. In the garden rooms, there are vibrant plants, trees, grasses, and shrubs. You’ll also see the wildlife orchard with its miniature ducks..
6. Port Isaac
On the Atlantic coast, north of Cornwall is a small fishing village called Port Isaac. Founded in the 14th century, it features narrow winding streets lined with old whitewashed cottages. It also has slate fronted houses which are of historic importance.
Between the Middle Ages and mid-19th century, Port Isaac handled various exports and imports. They include pottery, timber, coal and Delabole slate. After the introduction of the railway, it became a fishing port.
Visitors can take scenic and fishing trips from the harbour in summer. Port Isaac is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Heritage Coast Area. As such, there are lovely trails and walks inland and along the coast towards Tintagel or Polzeath. You can enjoy walking with a local guide to beautiful sites of interest such as:
- King Arthur’s Castle
As you walk at a relaxed pace, enjoy the stunning scenery.
Port Gaverne is a pretty cove located in Port Isaac. It has a sheltered, sandy beach with a rock pool. Safe for young children, it’s a great place for family-friendly fun. There is an interesting walk from Port Isaac to Port Quin. Climb up Roscarrock Hill from the harbour and take the route to Pine Haven. Along the trail, there are beautiful views such as Doyden Castle, used in Poldark.
7. Kynance Cove
On the west side of the Lizard peninsula is one of the most photographed locations – Kynance Cove. Located on the Eastern side of Mount Bay, it’s situated approximately two miles north of Lizard Point. The reason why it’s the most photographed location is because of the cove’s white sand beach and the green and dark red serpentine rock. This mix produces a breath-taking sight.
It’s a 15-minute walk from the top of the cliff to the beach at the bottom. Note, there are uneven and slippery rocks. At low tide, visitors can explore the caves and towering rock stacks with names such as The Drawing Room and the Parlour.
Above the beach is an eco-friendly cafe where you can refuel and relax. The cafe serves homemade cakes, baguettes, fresh sandwiches, Cornish pasties, cream teas and others. There is a 2-mile scenic walk between Kynance Cove and Lizard Point.
The National Trust owns and looks after the Kynance Cove. The cove usually features on lists of the most beautiful beaches globally. Be sure to plan your visit by the tide. This is because the beautiful beach disappears at high tide. Members can park for free all year at the National Trust car park. There is no vehicular access to the cove.
8. Watergate Bay
About three miles on the North Cornwall coast from Newquay is Watergate Bay, a large beach with golden sand stretching two miles at low tide. As a popular kitesurfing and surfing spot, Watergate Bay is popular with surfers and families.
The beach catches the swells from the Atlantic. As such, it earned the reputation of being one of the top surf beaches globally. Whether it’s mid-winter or summer, there are lots of activities to do. All year-round, you’re guaranteed to see surfers getting to grips with the waves.
Other water activities at Watergate Bay include:
- Beach Polo
- Thundercat Racing
- Kite flying and others
Lifeguards watch the water from May to September from 10 AM to 6 PM. This is because there are strong rips in either direction. Surf instructors are available on the beach all year round. You can learn how to surf from the Westcountry Surf School and O’Neill Surf Academy. They offer tuition in paddle boarding, surfing, kite surfing, hand planing and waveski.
From Newquay, it’s a 15-minute drive or a 45-minute walk to Watergate Bay. However, the walk is strenuous as you will pass many valleys and hills. To refuel, head to The Beach Hut, a relaxed restaurant. You also have The Watergate Bay Hotel that serves a classic brasserie-style menu.
9. Hartland Heritage Coast
Hartland Heritage Coast is one of the Cornwall Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Managed by the National Trust, it’s a 60-mile long coast featuring rugged cliffs. Popular with surfers and sunbathers, the coast begins north of Bude. Here, the majority of sunbathers gather to soak the rays of the Sun. The beach is not the only attraction in Hartland Heritage Coast.
You’ve a little church at Morwenstow. It was once run by Reverend Stephen Hawker, a philanthropist and poet. Inspired by the sheer cliffs and wild landscape, Stephen wrote several poems including “Song of the Western Men,” the Cornish anthem. Made of ships’ timber with a turf roof, the Reverend smoked opium and entertained guests in the hut.
At the church, there is a graveyard of shipwrecked sailors where Reverend Stephen buried sailors. Down the road, you’ve treeless pastureland running to the cliff edge. Further inland, you can find medieval fields enclosed by grassy banks. The area is sparsely populated with isolated farms and single track roads.
A short walk along the 300 foot high jagged cliffs at Hartland Quay brings you to Speke’s Mill Mouth. This is a dramatic waterfall cascading down the cliff. At Stowe Barton, you’ve the National History property. It has historic and archaeological importance since it was the site of the great country house built in 1679.
10. St. Ives
There are several things to do in St. Ives. The town has four beaches within walking distance of St. Ives. The best-known beach is Porthmeor, conveniently facing into the Atlantic. Porthminster is the second biggest beach and it’s located next to the bus and train stations. Next, you’ve the Harbour beach situated right in the centre of the town. Lastly, there is Porthgwidden tucked away from all the hustle and bustle of the town.
Surfing is very popular in St. Ives. During winter, Porthmeor beach provides the best surfable waves with the “Boiler” rated as the most challenging wave. Several secret spots produce great waves. If you want to learn surfing, take advantage of Porthmeor’s sheltered beach in summer.
The Tate Gallery is another must-visit attraction in St. Ives. Opened in 1993, the gallery overlooks Porthmeor beach. Inside the gallery, you’ll find contemporary art from artists such as Alfred Wallis. Another museum you should check out is the Barbara Hepworth Sculpture Garden.
Barbara was one of the most influential artists in St. Ives. She is best known for her geometric abstract sculptures made of bronze. The gardens and museum acted as her studio between 1949 to 1975. After her demise, they opened the gardens to the public. You can find many of her sculptures around the garden.
Penzance is a historic port famous for its pirates. As the most westerly town in Cornwall, it has one of the mildest climates. Towards the end of the 19th century, Penzance became Cornwall’s only promenade. As an attractive town, it has many wonderful granite buildings, especially around the two central parks.
The most historic street in the town is Chapel Street. It runs from the town down to the harbour. Along the street, you can find a mix of hotels, houses and shops dating back as far as the 18th century or before. One of the most unusual buildings is the Egyptian House. It has colourful Egyptian styling and adornments. Every building along Chapel Street has a story, including the Rotterdam Buildings.
On the corner of Chapel Street is The Exchange. This is a contemporary art gallery that features works from local to international artists. The building was a former telephone exchange. But they altered it to include 100s of coloured LED lights.
Next is the Penlee House Gallery and Museum. This Victorian manor house specialises in Newlyn School artists. It is best known for Walter Langley and Stanhope Forbes. Upstairs, the museum features local history from the stone age onward. You can also find an extensive library of photos.