If you’re planning a holiday to Cornwall there’s plenty of things you need to know before you get here. These range from the most common questions to the unwritten (Cornish) rules no one tells you about.
If you’re visiting Cornwall, let’s make it memorable, for all the right reasons.
When it comes visiting Cornwall, we have lots of loyal holiday makers that come here year after after. There’s a good reason for this. Cornwall offers much diversity within one county, it’s slower and more relaxed than other parts of the UK, and it remains unique in its identity. In fact, I’d argue that visiting Cornwall feels different to anywhere else in the UK.
While this post includes recommendations for places to visit in Cornwall, it’s more of a comprehensive guide to help your visit go as smoothly as possible. If you’re visiting Cornwall, there’s lots you need to know besides which beach to frequent or coastal town to visit. Especially of you want a taste of what it’s like to live in Cornwall and embrace the Cornish life.
This is an insiders guide to Cornwall, from a Cornish person who knows her stuff. Here, you’ll find essential nuggets of information on how to embrace the local culture and make the most of your time in Kernow.
Organising your holiday in Cornwall
When’s the best time to visit Cornwall?
This will very much depend on what you want from your Cornish holiday. Temperature and weather wise, July and August are meant to be the best months to visit, but it’s not always the case. Plus, it can become unbearably crowded in the summer months.
Personally, I like the shoulder months when Cornwall is slowly coming to life or winding down. The evenings and mornings are lighter and the air is a little a warmer. I really like September as Cornwall has calmed down after the busyness of summer. For me, this time of year feels more like home. The weather’s pleasant (we’ve had some cracking Septembers) and the sea is at its warmest.
If you’re after a more authentic Cornwall experience, visit in low season. You may end up being surrounded in mist and mizzle, but the beauty remains. Some independent coastal businesses will be closed with Cornwall being quiet, wild and real. I love it!
If you’re planning to stay in Cornwall in low season, check the opening times of the businesses and restaurants you’d like to frequent, and plan accordingly.
Planning where to stay in Cornwall
Again, choosing where to stay in Cornwall can be hard. It’s quite a large county, taking a good few hours to drive from the Devon Cornwall border to the depths of west Cornwall.
Think about where you’d like to explore. Are there certain beaches you’re desperate to see? Or coastal towns and villages you’d like to experience? Let’s face it, there’s no point staying on the north east coast if you’re wanting to visit St Ives and explore west Cornwall.
What to pack
Obviously this depends on the time of year. Most of Britain can be grey and wet in summer and Cornwall’s no exception (although Instagram would have you thinking differently).
If you’re visiting Cornwall in the summer, my advice would be to pack clothes that can be layered should the weather be a bit rubbish or the evenings feel a bit cold. Walking boots or shoes, or at the very least trainer, are a good idea too, especially if you plan on walking the Cornish coast path (which I’d totally recommend). Don’t forget your swimmers and a wetsuit.
In winter, bring all the wet weather gear, warm jumpers and fluffy socks. Enough said!
Driving in Cornwall
Driving in Cornwall is an experience.
We have no motorway here, the main road is a (mostly) dual carriageway, the A30. During your stay in Cornwall you’re going to have a navigate some narrows lanes and country roads. This means reversing for oncoming vehicles. I’ve seen tourists scrape and knock their cars doing this, so if you can, get a bit of practice in before you come down.
Another word on this, some people can be funny about reversing. I’ve no idea if these people are locals being awkward, holiday makers not wanting to reverse (because they can’t), or both. My bug bear is when people refuse to reverse and they’ve just passed a gate or passing place. Do take note of these and the wider bits of roads as you’re driving. You may need them.
Sat nav, or no?
If you rely on sat nav to get you to your Cornish destination, double check the postcode online. If you’re visiting a business or tourist attraction, I’d recommend checking the postcode and/or directions on the their website. Simply relying on sat nav won’t always get you there, and companies will have the right details online.
Sat nav may claim some routes to be the fastest/shortest but you can’t hammer along these roads. If you’re nervous about backroads and shortcuts, consider taking the long way round. Aim to stay on A-roads rather than the smaller B-roads.
Use your horn!
If you do drive along our narrow roads, don’t be afraid to honk your horn! Use on sharp bends to warn any oncoming traffic. I do it all the time.
Getting through Truro
The main road running through Cornwall’s capital, Truro, gets congested in winter time so you can imagine what holiday season’s like. The road is largely a single carriage way that carries all traffic through our city. In summer it can take ages (and I mean ages) to drive through and it’s only a few miles.
In peak season, consider a detour or take the train, if you can (see below).
If you’re planning on going into Truro, use the Park and Ride. There’s one at each end of the city and both run regularly.
Planning your visits and days out in Cornwall
Cornwall has so many wonderful places to explore. While there are plenty of idyllic beaches and traditional Cornish villages to discover, we also have beautiful woodland and moorland.
If you’re looking to head to the coast, do plan ahead to make it as stress free as possible.
Check the weather
I’m obsessed with the weather and with good reason. The weather in Kernow can be changeable. I’ve known there to be 3 seasons in one day, starting with mist, mizzle and fog and ending with blue sky and a late trip to the beach.
Check tide times and conditions
Needless to say, when it comes to spending the day at the beach, check the conditions and tide times. Some beaches completely disappear at high tide so time your visit right. For time tides there are lots of sites online, like this one but it doesn’t register every single beach (although one nearby will do). Alternatively, google the name of the beach and “tide times” and you’ll get what you need. If you’re wanting more detail about on or offshore winds, and everything else to do with the weather and the sea, windy.com is the place to go!
Also, do learn about rip tides and sea safety before you visit. I can’t stress this enough. Our beaches are enticing and beautiful but every year people die here because they get caught in a rip tide. The RNLI have some excellent resources and guidelines on their website.
If you get stuck, remember: Float to Live.
Some of Cornwall’s beaches are lifeguarded, more so on the north coast. You can find your nearest lifeguarded beach here.
Think about when others are travelling around Cornwall
At peak season, there’s inevitably more cars on the roads. It can take ages to get to anywhere. Your travel time can be extended by an hour due to the volume of traffic. Do consider when the best time to travel is and try to avoid the busy hours when others are on the roads.
We have commuter traffic in Cornwall too, some of us Cornish folk have to work in the summer, you know. As someone who works in the community, we complete less visits in summer because of the time it takes to get anywhere. Yu’d be wise consider this when planning your Cornish adventures.
Use trains and ferries
If you can, I’d recommend using other modes of transport in Cornwall. I’m a fan of train journeys and we have some scenic branch lines that hug the coastline, such as this one to St Ives which also stops at Carbis Bay. Travelling by train isn’t always possible but it’s cost effective. It’s definitely cheaper than buying fuel and paying to park in peak season.
Catching one of our ferries makes for a good day out too. One of my favourites is the St Mawes to Falmouth ferry (by foot only). Falmouth’s an amazing town with loads of independent retailers and excellent eateries. St Mawes is definitely worth a visit too, offering several things to see and do, including St Mawes castle.
Yes, most places have a car park but they fill up very quickly. Most of Cornwall’s fishing villages and towns have one main car park so you can imagine how in demand spaces can be. Again, factor this in when thinking about when to travel. If you rock up at somewhere like Pothcurno at lunchtime in peak season, you may be waiting a while.
Visiting popular beaches in Cornwall
In the summer, Cornwall’s beaches are basically heaving. If you can, arrive early or later in the day, tide times permitting. I’ve been known to meet friends before 9am at our local beach. We fire up the BBQ, cook our breakfast and play in the sea. If you do this, you’ll have the beach largely to yourself for a while. Bliss!
Take your stuff home
I’ve just mentioned BBQs so make sure you know how to dispose of yours before you leave. The same goes for your rubbish, please make sure you have everything with you.
Leave only footprints.
Plan and book activities
There’s an abundance of outdoor activities and sports to do in Cornwall. From fast and exciting rib boat rides to hiring bikes and cycling along one of our many trails. Whatever you choose to do, book anything you want to hire in advance. Kayak and SUP hire is popular too.
Places to visit in Cornwall
Sharing top places to visit in Cornwall warrants a stand alone blog post, but I’m going to mention a few here. Obviously, this isn’t an exclusive or exhaustive list, simply some ideas to whet your taste buds and pique your interest.
St Michaels Mount
If you’re visiting Cornwall, a trip to St Michael’s Mount is definitely worth it. Now owned by the National Trust, walk the causeway at low tide, let your feet take you along Pilgrims Way, and head into a captivating and magical world of old Cornish tales and folklore. Explore the castle and gardens, and wander around the postcard pretty harbour.
Here’s my blog post on visiting St Michael’s Mount.
I’m a big St Ives fan for many reasons. The light is insane (the sea actually glows, even in rubbish weather) and it has so much going for it. St Ives has excellent restaurants and coffee houses, plus plenty of art galleries, including The Tate. St Ives has six beaches to laze on, all with soft yellow sand, and a good quantity of interesting independent retailers.
These last few years we’ve had more people visiting Cornwall than ever before, and St Ives has been incredibly crowded. This may deter some people from heading there for the day but if you go, you’ll have a wonderful time.
Want to know more? Here’s my blog post on a day out in St Ives.
The Eden Project
The Eden Project is usually on people’s “must see” places in Cornwall. I agree, it’s certainly an experience and a unique place to visit.
If you’re unfamiliar with The Eden Project, it’s an eco venture like no other. Here you’ll find two Biomes, a rainforest Biome and a Mediterranean Biome, housing rare plants and vegetation from all around the world.
Built in an old china clay pit, The Eden Project supports art and culture as well as emphasises the importance of nature, sustainability and regeneration. You’ll find extensive gardens, lots of interactive things to do, and storytelling for children; it’s an excellent day out.
The first thing to know about visiting The Eden Project is, you need to wear layers. The rainforest Biome is, as you’d expect, very warm. If you visit in winter, you won’t want to be walking around in your favourite chunky knit. You’ll literally melt.
The second thing is, if it’s wet, everyone flocks to The Eden Project. I’ve been before on a rainy day and there were crowds of people, shoulder to shoulder, going from one Biome to another. It was bonkers, so just bare that in mind.
Just so you know, if you complete the Eden Project parkrun on a Saturday morning, you gain free entry. The same goes for if you attend one of the Eden sessions (these are great and we’ve had some amazing acts come to Cornwall as a result) or any other events they have on, like the October Eden Project marathon. Spoiler alert, it’s a toughie!
Port Isaac is such a beautiful Cornish village. It’s probably best known as the filming location for Doc Marten and is also the home of Cornish folk music group, Fisherman’s Friends.
I like ambling along Port Isaac’s narrow alleys and roads and having a spot of food and a shandy in The Golden Lion. I’d recommend strolling on the south west coast path to neighbouring Port Gaverne; it’s a popular walk. Go in the other direction and you’ll come across Port Quin. It’s a longer walk on the coast path, or you can go by car.
You can find my blog post on visiting Port Isaac and Port Quin here.
Kynance Cove is definitely one of the most beautiful spots in Cornwall. If you go anywhere, go here!
Looking wild and unforgiving, Kynance Cove is a wondrous sight. With stacks and rock formations stretching into the sea, you’ll be amazed at the vibrant coastal colours and beauty before you. Make your way down to the beach and spend a day in Cornish heaven.
If you need more information, I’ve a comprehensive guide, answering your queries, on visiting Kynance Cove
On the same scale as Kynance Cove is, Carnewas and Bedruthan Steps. Sadly, the beach is no longer accessible but it’s remains one of Cornwall’s most popular places to visit, which says a lot about the view alone. Walk the coast path to Mawgan Porth or Pothcothan Bay, or simply take a picnic and while away the hours looking beyond the stacks, and out to sea.
You can find my blog post on Bedruthan Steps here.
Venture off the beaten track
If you’re wanting to stay away from the crowds when visiting Cornwall, head off the beaten track and find your own quiet, special spot, away from all the other tourists.
Now I can’t get specific about where these spots are but if you walk the south west coast path, you’re likely to find a little cove or beach. Check an OS map or google maps for sandy inlets (in my experience not all are marked). Once out and about, look for gaps in hedges and narrow, discrete paths, and see if you can access one of Cornwall’s stunning hidden gems.
Hint: The Lizard peninsula is good for this.
Where to find Cornish history
If you’re wanting to brush up on your Cornish history, there’s so much to find while you’re visiting Cornwall. Walk around any Cornish town or village and you’ll spot original fisherman’s cottages, old Cornish pubs and narrow streets and alleys.
The National Trust have some visit worthy places, like Lanhydrock House as do English Heritage who own Pendennis Castle. Both offer brilliant days out for all the family. If you’re an English Heritage member, you may be interested in Carn Euny, an old settlement dating back to the 2nd to 4th century. It’s believed to be one of the best preserved settlements in the south west.
Another obvious (and in my view, amazing) choice are the Crown Engine Houses at Botallack Mine, along Cornwall’s Tin Coast. I think they’re an incredible sight; a feat of engineering and architecture given their position. From Botallack Tin Mine, it’s only a mile along the south west coast path to Levant Tin Mine. Alternatively, walk from Chapel Porth beach towards St Agnes and you’ll find the iconic Towanroath Engine House at Wheal Coates.
If you need somewhere that offers historical information out of the cold, I’d highly recommend a visit to Bodmin Jail and a spot of lunch in The Jolly Hangman Tavern.
Visiting Cornwall’s woodland and moorland
It’s not just beaches and epic coastline in Cornwall, you know. There’s peaceful, rich woodland and vast moorland to explore. I’m a big fan of woodland walks. I love entering a quiet, fresh woodland where the air feels cleaner and the only sounds I hear are from nature.
Kennall Vale is a great place to walk. There’s a small waterfall and the vegetation have claimed the abandoned gunpowder mill as their own. With derelict buildings to explore and a designed path to take you round, it’s a true gem.
Grab a Cornish pasty
Seriously, you can’t have a holiday in Cornwall and not taste a traditional Cornish pasty. Golden flaky pastry encasing beef, potatoes, swede and onion, perfectly crimped and eaten from a paper bag – yum!
Whatever you do, don’t walk along harbours or by the sea eating a Cornish pasty. We’ve many streetwise seagulls here and your pasty will be taken out of your hands before you can say, “I’ll do it dreckly.” If you’re eating and walking, go inland a bit, find a cute little street to stroll along, and you’ll increase your chances of eating a whole one!
Of course, you could try your hand at making your own. If so, check out my family Cornish pasty recipe which has been passed down for generations. Delicious!
Yeah, our seagulls are partial to one of these too so the above advice applies.
As for where to find good Cornish ice-cream, Jilberts in Penzance is really good. Failing that, check out She Sells in Mevagissey, or the Chapel Porth Beach Cafe for one of their famous hedgehog or foxy ice creams.
Scones, jam and cream
There’s only one thing to say here – it’s jam first in Cornwall. Cornish clotted cream is the crowning glory on any scone, and make sure there’s lots of it. This is the Cornish way to have your scone, jam and cream and yes, it matters.
When in Cornwall, and all that…
Eat and drink local
We’re incredibly lucky to have some proper top notch places to eat. Local fish and seafood are a no brainer but wherever you stay, you’ll find some excellent eateries.
Our local Cornish businesses appreciate your support so please, when you can, visit our local pubs and restaurants.
You can find a collection of blog posts on places to eat in Cornwall here.
Well, that’s my round up of top tips for visiting Cornwall. Hopefully, these essentials will make your holiday flow as easily as possible.
What’s are your main tips for visiting Cornwall?