Over the years, we have taken numerous trips to Cornwall. Situated on the south west tip of England, Cornwall is one of the country’s most popular holiday destinations. With its spectacular coastline, sandy beaches and great surfing, it’s a perfect place for outdoor lovers. Additionally, there are many temptations for foodies and the local cuisine is definitely one of the highlights of Cornwall. The county is home to numerous fishing villages where restaurants serve fresh and tasty seafood. Cornwall is also known for its delicious cream teas and Cornish pasties.
On our last visit, we had a housesitting gig in the tiny village of Charlestown, looking after a cute dog called Mollie. We travelled from our home town of Brighton to Cornwall, just under three hundred miles away. Charlestown is a small historical harbour town located on the south coast of the Cornish peninsula. The town is often used by TV and movie companies and was where the TV series, Poldark, was filmed. It was also a great base from which to explore the rest of Cornwall. We visited Truro, Fowey, Mevagissey and the Heligan Gardens as well as taking Mollie for long walks along the nearby South West Coastal Path.
On previous trips, we packed up the car with tents, sleeping bags and plenty of food and headed for campgrounds near Newquay and St. Ives. We took a surfing course at Watergate Bay, explored Padstow, Tintagel and enjoyed a visit to the Eden Centre. With its stunning beauty along with tales of myths and legends that capture the imagination, Cornwall has a unique vibe which feels distinctively different to the rest of the country. Without further ado, here are twenty-one highlights of Cornwall.
1) Take a Hike across Bodmin Moor
Bodmin Moor consists of eighty square miles of unspoilt, rugged granite moorland and is a perfect landscape for hiking. A sixty-mile route known as the Copper Trail circumnavigates the moors and takes in some of the best scenery of the area. Bodmin Moor is home to Brown Willy, the highest point in Cornwall and the moor is still grazed by wild ponies. Disused mines and granite tors, together with ancient stone circles, are just a few of the features that can be seen whilst hiking on the moor.
2) Sample a Cornish Pasty
A Cornish speciality, the pasty, is believed to have become a staple in the 17the century. Eaten by miners and farmers as an easily transported and tasty snack, they are available in towns and villages throughout Cornwall. A baked pastry, pasties are filled with beef together with diced potatoes, swede, onions and seasoning. These days a wide range of options are available including vegan and veggie.
3) Go Surfing
Cornwall is England’s surf capital. Due to its position, it attracts consistently impressive swells which are perfect for surfing. We took a surfing course with at Watergate Bay which was both fun and exhilarating. None of our group had surfed before and the instructors were excellent and incredibly patient! Other great surf beaches include Fistral, Portreath and Polzeath. The annual surf tournament, Fistral Boardmasters, attracts some of the best surfers in the world.
4) Walk the South West Coast Path
Covering 630 miles of coastline, the South West Coast Path is England’s longest National Trail. The trail runs along the entire 300-mile Cornish coast and takes in mile after mile of dramatic landscapes and breath-taking views. The diverse scenery includes rocky headlands, sandy beaches, countryside and estuaries along with bustling harbours and fishing villages.
5) Take in some Art at the Tate St Ives
The Tate St Ives overlooks the sea in the picturesque town of St Ives. In former times, the building was a pilchard curing cellar, chapel, laundry and a cinema. These days, it hosts cutting edge exhibitions by both local and international artists. For those who want to learn more about the art on display, there are two free tours a day. The gallery also has a lovely café with a roof terrace which overlooks the sea.
6) Explore Haunted Bodmin Jail
This historic jail is located on the edge of Bodmin Moor. Built in 1779, it became obsolete as a jail in 1927. Nowadays, it’s a popular tourist attraction where visitors can take spine-chilling tours to learn about the horrors that took place in the prison in bygone times. The prison is believed to be haunted – paranormal and after dark tours are available, complete with creepy special effects. Furthermore, the prison has a surprisingly good restaurant.
7) Meet Seal Pups
The Cornwall Seal Sanctuary nurses and rehabilitates injured seal pups until they are ready to return to their natural habitat. Visitors have the opportunity to view seal pups at close range as they splash around and play together in the pools and also learn about their individual stories. In addition to seals, the sanctuary also cares for penguins and sea lions. There is a café on the grounds which sells drinks and snacks.
8) Check out King Henry VIII’s Castle
Pendennis Castle was constructed by King Henry VIII in order to defend the country against invasion. It is situated on a headland near Falmouth and offers sweeping views over the nearby estuary. There are secret tunnels to explore, along with an array of guns and cannons on display. Throughout the year, re-enactments take place on the castle grounds.
9) Take a Stroll in Barbara Hepworth’s Sculpture Gardens
Former home of sculptor, Barbara Hepworth, this small garden in St Ives is a delight to visit – a lovely oasis in the middle of bustling seaside town. Much of Hepworth’s work is on display, including several bronzes which are in the same position as when placed by the sculptor herself. Although the sculpture garden is compact, it’s beautifully laid out and it’s also possible to take a peep inside her studio. We were lucky enough to visit on a beautiful bright day and loved the tranquil vibe of the garden.
10) Indulge in a Cream Tea
Indulging in a scrumptious Cornish Cream Tea is an essential experience and there’s certainly no shortage of tea rooms to choose from. In fact, every village, town and city in Cornwall has an abundance of options. A traditional cream tea consists of freshly baked warm scones, clotted cream and strawberry jam together with a pot of tea. A few of the best places to head for a cream tea include Wavecrest at The Lizard, Tea on the Quay at Mevagissey, Sunset Surf at Gwithian and the Rock Pool Cafe at Mousehole.
11) Take in a Performance at the Minack Theatre
Even if you don’t attend a performance, this stunning cliffside ampi-theatre is well worth a visit. The setting is sublime, with panoramic views across the Atlantic Ocean. Exotic plants are situated between the levels, giving the surroundings a tropical vibe. In fact, on a sunny day, you could imagine yourself in the Mediterranean. Performances take place between May and October. Four miles from Land’s End, the Minack Theatre is situated in Porthcurno.
12) Learn about Local History and Culture at the Museum of Cornish Life
Staffed by volunteers, this excellent local museum which is spread out over three floors, is a great place to learn all about Cornish life. Located in Helston, there are well-presented and informative displays on archaeology, home gadgets, people, fishing and geography as well as interactive exhibits for children. The staff are friendly and knowledgeable and the building itself has an interesting history. Built in 1837, it was originally a market house selling meat, butter and eggs.
13) Follow in the Footsteps of Doc Marten
The popular long-running TV show, Doc Martin, is filmed in the picturesque fishing village of Port Isaac in North Cornwall. Known as Portween in the TV series, the village brims with quaint cobbled streets and whitewashed houses. Visitors queue to pose outside Doc Marten’s surgery and explore the streets that are so recognisable to them from the TV show. Port Isaac is also home to the narrowest alley in England, Squeezy Belly Lane.
14) Try the Local Seafood
As you would expect, Cornwall’s freshly caught seafood is delicious! There are numerous seafood restaurants throughout the county and they are especially abundant on the quays of the fishing villages and harbours. Many of Britain’s top chefs head to Cornwall to open restaurants. Whether it’s traditional fish n’ chips or an innovate take on lobster, the choices are vast and varied. Some of the best restaurants include the Mackerel Sky Seafood Bar in Penzance along with The Fish House in Fistral, Prawn on the Lawn in Padstow and The Wheel House in Falmouth.
15) Explore a Rainforest at the Eden Project
The Eden Project is situated three miles from the town of St Austell. Two huge biodomes dominate the landscape of a reclaimed china clay pit showcasing plants that have been collected from all over the world including Africa, the Americas, Asia and Europe. One of the biodomes is dedicated to the rainforest, while the other focuses on the Mediterranean. Outside, there is a botanical garden featuring plants from Cornwall and elsewhere in the UK.
16) Visit the Sea-Faring Village of Charlestown
Charlestown, just one mile outside St Austell, offers an unspoilt example of a Georgian Harbour. Built between 1791 and 1801 by Charles Rashleigh, it harbours a fleet of square rigger ships reminiscent of a bygone era. Consequently, the harbour has been featured in several TV shows and movies including Poldark, Hornblower and The Eagle has Landed. The village is also home to the Shipwreck, Rescue and Heritage Centre where you can learn about Charlestown’s maritime past.
17) Get Lost in the Lost Gardens of Heligan
Since the outbreak of World War One, the Lost Gardens of Heligan were, indeed, lost. It wasn’t until around thirty years ago that the overgrown gardens were re-discovered and Europe’s largest ever garden restoration took place, re-opening in 1990. The gardens consist of two hundred acres, located near the fishing village of Mevagissey. From Italian gardens to sub-tropical jungle, along with quirky sculptures and countryside pathways, there is plenty to explore.
18) Chill out at Lizard Peninsular
The Lizard Peninsular is an area of great natural beauty located at the most southerly point of England. On a sunny day, the ocean appears turquoise and the weather is consistently warmer than elsewhere in the UK. The craggy coastline is home to white sand beaches and hidden coves galore. Tiny villages are home to small thatched cottages and colourful fishing boats bob about in the harbours. Lizard Peninsular is a perfect place to escape, chill out and connect to nature.
19) Take the Ferry to St Michaels Mount
St Michaels Mount is a small granite and slate island which is located a mere few hundred yards from the mainland. A castle sits mystically atop the island overlooking Mounts Bay and the Lizard. At low to mid tide, it’s possible to walk across to the island, but when the tide is high, a ferry service runs between the island and mainland.
20) Meet the Local Monkeys
This small monkey sanctuary near the town of Looe, can be found at the end of a labyrinth of narrow winding country roads. The monkeys are loved and cared for by attentive and knowledgeable volunteers, who are clearly passionate about their work. The sanctuary is very much a conservation project rather than a zoo. There is a tiny gift shop and coffee house.
21) Take a Trip back in time at Tintagel Castle
The history of Tintagel Castle is shrouded in myth and famously linked to the legend of King Arthur. Situated on a peninsula of Tintagel Island, on the north coast of Cornwall, the site has a magical ambience. The rugged cliffs, ruins and countryside combine to create a captivating spectacle. It’s especially atmospheric on a stormy day when the sea crashes against the rocks. There is a new footbridge which which leads the way to the 13th century castle.