Cornwall is on everyone’s lips these days. Those lingering shots of wild moorland, Grecian blue sea and soft pale sand in every episode of the BBC’s Poldark have drawn visitors from around the world. Despite such popularity the county retains its cloak of tradition and sense of isolation. Yet hidden behind the stone walls of farmhouses and fishermen’s cottages are stylish apartments and restaurants where acclaimed chefs serve up the finest seafood.
The largely unspoilt coastline inspires Enid Blyton-style adventures: tripping through fields fringed in wildflowers to a remote beach; digging around in rockpools that are works of marine art, and swimming with seals or learning to surf a wave. Beyond the beach there is plenty to entertain, from wildlife conservation centres and hands-on farm experiences aimed at children to historic sub-tropical gardens, steam railways and working mines, reminders of the county’s rich industrial heritage. A few days of breathing fresh, clean Cornish air, eating fish straight from the sea and sleeping deeply in a clifftop eyrie is the perfect antidote to the stress of city living.
Explore our interactive map below for all the local highlights, and scroll down for our suggested day-by-day summary of the best things to see and do. For further Cornwall inspiration, see our guides to the city's best hotels, restaurants, beaches, nightlife, cream teas and things to do.
Start the day in Fowey on the south coast. Park at the Bodinnick Ferry and cross the river to start the four-mile circular walk to Polruan. The house on the right, Ferryside, was Daphne du Maurier's first home in Cornwall. Head uphill and take a footpath marked Hall Walk on the right. The path skirts the estuary, rising and falling through oak woods, with constantly changing views over Fowey.
After crossing Pont Pill strike uphill to the medieval Cornish church of St Wyllow (where du Maurier married) and drop down to sandy Lantic Bay before heading west to the boat-building village of Polruan and the foot ferry back to Fowey. Head for the quayside King of Prussia, named after the infamous smuggler John Carter, for the best fish and chips in town.
Visit the Lost Gardens of Heligan near Mevagissey, a brilliant reclamation of a productive Victorian estate garden by Tim Smit, the man behind the Eden Project. If the thought of navigating narrow roads between high hedges doesn’t scare you, take a rollercoaster drive from Mevagissey through the historic fishing communities of Gorran Haven, Porthluney Cove and Portloe, which provide plenty of chances to stop for a dip. For more suggestions of the best beaches in the area, see our guide.
It’ll be time for tea when you reach yachtie St Mawes. Book ahead for afternoon tea at The Idle Rocks, a feast of finger sandwiches, bite-sized cakes and locally grown Tregothnan tea served on its elegant harbourfront terrace. For more suggestions of the best cream teas in the area, see our guide.
Cross the River Fal on the King Harry Ferry where ocean-going tankers moor up to wait for a buyer. In Falmouth, where sailors used to drink and fight in the narrow opes, today you’ll bump into students from the nearby university. Newly renovated Pennycomequick has become an instant hit with locals for its convivial atmosphere, choice of local brews and farm-grown food.
Delve into Celtic Cornwall today with a tour of the Land’s End peninsula. Start the day by taking a short boat ride (or walking the causeway at low tide) from Marazion to St Michael’s Mount. The terraced gardens are filled with exotic species and the castle looks very handsome after its recent renovation.
Then drive – or take the open-top hop-on-hop-off bus from Penzance – along the south coast to reach the photogenic golden funnel of Porthcurno. A cliffside path climbs to the magical open-air Minack Theatre and museum to its creator Rowena Cade. Note that seats for shows are rarely available on the day. Book online well in advance and bring warm windproof clothes and a rug even on a summer’s evening.
Land’s End, England’s most westerly point, was known to the Romans as Belerion, Seat of Storms. To get a real sense of what that means walk there from Sennen Cove where the Old Success Inn serves up a delicious fish platter.
The B3306 coast road from St Just to St Ives crosses a landscape of extraordinary beauty: drystone walls dating back to the Iron Age radiate from ancient farmsteads enclosing luminous green fields that stretch into the sea. Drop into the village in Zennor to see the famous carved mermaid in its medieval church and grab an ice-cream at the Moomaid Cafe.
Arrive in St Ives in time to catch the latest show at Tate St Ives. The gallery reopened in 2018 having doubled in size to show more of its permanent collection of 20th-century modernist art. A few minutes away is sculptress Barbara Hepworth’s home and studio.
Head for Porthmeor Beach and watch the sun sink into the cerulean sea as surfers catch the last wave of the day. In pole position is Porthmeor Beach Café which serves superb tapas and, along the sand, its sister venture West Beach Cafe serving fresh fish suppers upstairs and stone-baked pizzas below. For more suggestions of the best restaurants in the area, see our guide.
Visit Magicseaweed for surf reports, beach webcams and times of low tides (best for swimming and rockpooling) at Cornwall's best beaches. Watch out for rip tides on remote beaches: if you get can’t get back in, swim parallel to the beach until you can.
You’ll enjoy the Eden Project more on a sunny day when it’s much quieter in the biomes and easier to get a slot on the thrilling zip-wire flight across the valley.
Did you know?
very mile of Cornwall’s 300-mile coastline is accessible on foot. Visit southwestcoastpath.org.uk for information. If time’s short do the one-hour circular walk from Treen Village to Penberth on the Land’s End peninsula.
Leave the car behind and travel on one of Cornwall’s branch train lines. A day rover costs around £5, depending on the line, and you can stop off along the way. For routes and timetables visit greatscenicrailways.co.uk.
Watergate Bay Hotel has turned the space once occupied by Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen Cornwall restaurant into seven stylish beach lofts. The sea views are mesmerising with drama guaranteed whatever the weather.
More places to stay
The Scarlet is the ultimate escape for grown-ups. It’s an outstanding example of how a hotel can be both luxury and eco. The spa has a big treatment menu, clifftop outdoor hot tubs and an indoor pool with a big sea view. Newquay Airport is just 10 minutes away.
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Two catered suites with knock-out views over Mount’s Bay have been added to Chapel House, an elegant six-room hotel in a listed Georgian house. The decor is a feast for the eyes as covetable antique pieces take their place alongside modern designer icons. Personally run by owner Susan Stuart it has a convivial air as guests mingle over drinks in the double sitting room or the pretty walled garden.
Doubles from £160. Chapel Street, Penzance; 01736 362024
Each of the double rooms at Ednovean Farm, a handsome converted granite barn, has its own terrace as well as access to the flower-filled Italianate gardens. There’s a magnificent view across the sea to St Michael’s Mount. There’s a hearty breakfast and plenty of sound sightseeing advice. Dinner is a short walk across the fields to the Victoria Inn pub. For more suggestions of the best hotels in the area, see our guide.
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What to bring home
A nautical T-shirt or pretty summer frock from Seasalt, a Cornish clothing company with branches in all the bigger resorts.
A Cornish art work from St Ives: check out the New Craftsman and Livingstone both on Fore Street and the Penwith Gallery (01736 795579) on Back Road West. On Fish Street, Earthworks sells covetable placemats, cushions and lamps with a seaside theme.
For a fleece beanie or a stylish sunhat visit Claire Francis in her studio at Salt Cellar Hats in Porthleven.
Forgotten to buy a present: drop by the Mid Cornwall Galleries on the A390 at St Blazey Gate.
When to go
Spring comes early here. Daffodils bloom in January and camellias and magnolias in mid-February, when many gardens open to the public. Himalayan azaleas, rhododendrons and daphnes are at their best in April and May is the peak month for hedgerow flowers and edible plants.
June and July are usually dry and warm, never hot. August can be wet and the roads clogged with traffic. September and October are usually glorious. The water is at its warmest and the surf’s up. Winters are mild and damp, perfect for exploring the sheltered valleys with their own micro-climate on the Land’s End and Lizard peninsulas.
Know before you go
• Tourist information: For advice on events and attractions visit visitcornwall.com.
• Opening times: Last orders for food in restaurants and pubs is usually 8.45pm with no exceptions, even in high summer.
• By air: British Airways flies to Newquay from London Heathrow; easyJet from Gatwick, Manchester, Glasgow and Newcastle; Loganair from Manchester, Edinburgh, Teeside and Newcastle, and Eastern from Humberside and Gatwick. For more seasonal departures visit cornwallairportnewquay.com.
• By train: Journey time from London to Penzance is five hours on Great Western Railways. Advance fare tickets released 11 weeks before travel; from £50 return.
• By car: Don’t use the "shortest route" option on your sat-nav. It will take you off faster A-roads and down lanes no wider than a car. Never use it to navigate around fishing ports as you’ll end up on footpaths. The wise use the park-and-ride schemes.
• There is a patchy bus service county-wide, with extra summer services in tourist areas. Find routes and timetables at firstbus.co.uk.
• The Lands End Coaster runs a summer open-top hop-on-hop-off service around the peninsula perfect for getting back to the car after a coast path walk.
• The River Fal has a linked network of ferries, boats, buses and trains to explore the river estuary between Falmouth, St Mawes and Truro.
• To reach the Isles of Scilly, which lie 30 miles offshore, take the daily ferry from Penzance or light aircraft from Newquay or Land’s End. For online booking for the Scillonian ferry and Skybus flights, visit see islesofscilly-travel.co.uk or call 01736 334220. There’s also a helicopter from Penzance to Tresco and St Mary’s via penzancehelicopters.co.uk.
• Most towns and larger villages have a metered taxi service. Ask in the pub or village shop for a taxi number.
Gill Charlton is a regular writer in the Telegraph’s travel pages. She has lived in Cornwall for 25 years and loves to walk along the coastal path and reward herself with a proper steak pasty and a pint of Betty Stogs ale.
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