How to spend a week in Cornwall – still Britain’s greatest holiday destination

Cornwall - expert travel guide
A holiday in Cornwall offers pretty harbour villages, coastal walks, traditional pubs and spectacular beaches. - RolfSt/RolfSt

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.

For further Cornwall inspiration, see our guides to the city's best hotels, restaurants, beaches, walksnightlife, cream teas and things to do.

In this guide

How to spend a weekend in Cornwall

To experience Celtic Cornwall – the land of prehistory, of Ross Poldark, and of ancient trails along granite crags above an azure sea – you should base yourself in the far west. St Ives has a plethora of accommodation (try Trevose Harbour House, from £220, or the Beach Lodges at Carbis Bay, from £360), award-winning beachside dining, and streets packed with art galleries and craft shops.

Unless your accommodation comes with parking, leave the car at St Erth Station and enjoy the scenic train ride into town as Victorian holidaymakers once did. Art lovers will want to head for Tate St Ives and Barbara Hepworth’s home and studio or, if the weather is fine, stride out west along the coastal path into the landscape that inspired her. Find more of the region's top attractions in our guide.

st ives, cornwall
Make St Ives your base for easy access to the top attractions

There is no better place to dine than Porthmeor Beach Cafe where you can watch the sun go down over the Atlantic. If the cafe is full try its sister restaurants: West for sourdough pizzas and the Fish Shed for perfectly-cooked catch of the day and crab-loaded chips. Find more of the region's best restaurants in our guide.

Devote a whole day to tour the peninsula using the open-top Land’s End Coaster bus. Start by heading south to Marazion for the boat service across to St Michael’s Mount. Its medieval castle, set in terraced gardens filled with exotic plants, looks very handsome after its recent restoration. Journey on west to the famed sands of Porthcurno and the magical open-air Minack Theatre, a good spot for lunch whatever the weather. You may even catch a matinee.

Minack Theatre, Cornwall
The magical open-air Minack Theatre is a good spot for lunch - John Harper

Land’s End, England’s most westerly point, was known as Belerion, Seat of Storms, by the Romans. To get a real sense of what this means walk back there along the cliffs from Sennen Cove.

The north coast from Pendeen to St Ives crosses a landscape of timeless beauty: drystone walls dating back to the Iron Age radiate from ancient farmsteads enclosing luminous green fields that stretch from moor to sea. Drop into the village of Zennor for a pint in the 13th-century Tinners Arms or a farm-made ice-cream at the Moomaid Cafe before returning to St Ives. You will have earned supper at the town’s other famous beach restaurant, the Porthminster Beach Cafe. Find more of the reigon's best pubs in our guide.

How to spend a week-long holiday in Cornwall

An extra five nights in Cornwall gives the chance to explore the south coast’s hidden creeks and sub-tropical gardens as well as the north coast’s wilder surfing beaches. For the next three nights base yourself in or around Falmouth, a lively port thanks to the nearby university and one with a long seafaring history. Stay either in town (Merchants Manor, from £118) or along the peaceful Helford River (Budock Vean, from £151) where Koru Kayaking offers guided kayak trips to Frenchman’s Creek, made famous by Daphne du Maurier.

falmouth, Cornwall
Falmouth allows you to access the south coast's hidden gems - Holger Leue/Holger Leue

This part of Cornwall is famous for its sub-tropical gardens: Trebah, Glendurgan and Trelissick are the stand-outs; all tumble down to the water’s edge and have plenty to keep families entertained. Trelissick can be reached on one of the regular pleasure boats that run from Falmouth to Malpas near Truro. A shuttle bus takes passengers to Truro which has a fine cathedral and the county museum. Or cross by foot ferry to pretty St Mawes for afternoon tea on the terrace of the Idle Rocks Hotel and enjoy a grandstand view of the yachting harbour.

If the thought of navigating narrow roads between high hedges doesn’t scare you, take the King Harry car ferry across the Fal to the Roseland peninsula for a rollercoaster drive through the historic fishing communities of Gorran Haven, Porthluney Cove and Portloe. There are plenty of chances to stop for a dip (Caerhays Beach is the best) before visiting the Lost Gardens of Heligan near Mevagissey, a brilliant reclamation of a productive Victorian estate garden.

Trebah gardens, Cornwall
Trebah gardens are among some of the region's best - Alexander Jung

Round off the week with a couple of nights on the dramatic north coast. The best places to stay lie just beyond the big resorts such as Lewinnick Lodge on Pentire Headland outside Newquay (from £122) and Watergate Bay (hotel and self-catering apartments from £210) where expert tutors at Wavehunters welcome everyone, from beginners to experts, for surfing and stand-up paddleboarding lessons. Do walk along the beach towards Newquay where the cliff face is layered in myriad shades of blue and ochre. Find more of the region's best beaches in our guide.

The Eden Project, brainchild of Tim Smit of Heligan fame, and the National Trust’s Lanhydrock House, both within a 30-minute drive, are ideal refuges on a rainy day. Afterwards drop in the 15th-century St Kew Inn for a pint of Cornish Rattler cider; pre-book its signature dayboat whole fish cooked over a woodfire.

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.

Where to stay

Best for families

There’s free childcare at Fowey Hall Hotel (family rooms from £159 per night) so parents can enjoy the spa or a romantic dinner. Older children will love the Bedruthan Steps Hotel (rooms from £156 per night) which has lots of supervised activities.

Find more of the best family-friendly hotels in Cornwall in our guide.

Best for spa breaks

The Scarlet Hotel (rooms from £240 per night): adult-only and eco-friendly with clifftop hot tubs above Mawgan beach. For a serious health and fitness break, head for St Michael’s Resort in Falmouth (rooms from £98 per night) which has a huge range of treatments and classes.

Find more of the best spa hotels in Cornwall in our guide.

The Scarlet, Cornwall
Experience a restorative coastal escape at The Scarlet, an adults-only, eco-friendly retreat

Best escapes into the wild

Clifftop and moorland drama are on the doorstep of The Gurnard’s Head (rooms from £125 per night) on the Land’s End peninsula, while on neighbouring Lizard, the Mullion Cove Hotel (rooms from £135 per night) stands in proud isolation on a sunny clifftop.

Find more of the best boutique hotels in Cornwall in our guide.

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 the Penwith Gallery on Back Road West. On Fish Street, St Ives Ceramics displays museum-quality works and 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.

The county is filled with award-winning nurseries: check out Duchy Nursery in Lostwithiel or Trevenna Cross on the A394 at Breage near Helston.

Forgotten to buy a present: drop by the Mid Cornwall Galleries on the A390 at St Blazey Gate.

Duchy Nursery, Cornwall
You can take home a delightful selection of plants from the Duchy Nursery – but help yourself to a cake or two in the award-winning café before you leave

Know before you go

Essential information

  • Opening times: Last orders for food in restaurants and pubs is usually 8.45pm with no exceptions, even in high summer.

  • Tourist information: For advice on events and attractions visit

Getting there

  • By air: easyJet flies from Manchester and Glasgow; Loganair from Manchester, Edinburgh and Newcastle; Eastern from London Gatwick, Ryanair from Edinburgh and London Stansted, and Aer Lingus from Belfast and Dublin. For more seasonal departures visit

  • 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.

Getting around

  • There is a patchy bus service county-wide, with extra summer services in tourist areas. Find routes and timetables at

  • 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 or call 01736 334220. There’s also a helicopter from Penzance to Tresco and St Mary’s via

  • Most towns and larger villages have a metered taxi service. Ask in the pub or village shop for a taxi number.

About our expert

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.