Cornwall Holiday Planning Guide
Cornwall, or Kernow as the locals often call it, features the longest stretch of continuous coastline in Britain. Once an uninterrupted series of idyllic beaches and imposing cliffs, today this rugged region has recently experienced a cultural and culinary revival that has turned it into one of the most vibrant parts of the country. Considered home of the legendary King Arthur, Cornwall is one of the more distinct parts of the UK, where visitors can immerse themselves in its diverse Celtic heritage and an enormous wealth of archaeology. During your Cornwall trip you'll meet many friendly locals, fiercely protective of their Celtic roots and considering themselves more Cornish than British. No matter how you see it, the land of the proud Cornish proves a captivating blend of ancient and new, where modern attractions juxtapose historical mines and picturesque market towns.
Places to Visit in CornwallNewquay
: Considered the United Kingdom's surfing capital, this relatively small city offers several long and easily accessible sandy beaches, flanked by many pubs, bars, and clubs.Penzance
: An increasingly popular vacation idea in Cornwall, this busy port town boasts a long history and rich architectural heritage, serving as an ideal base for exploring the surrounding countryside.St. Austell
: In addition to claiming status as Cornwall's center for the china-clay industry, St. Austell draws visitors with its famous Eden Project, a large-scale complex of enclosed natural environments sheltering exotic species from around the globe.Falmouth
: Situated on the region's southern coastline, Falmouth boasts one of the deepest natural harbors in the world, along with several picturesque beaches, ideal for a relaxing Cornwall holiday.St. Ives
: Though many people visit St. Ives for its beaches, this small seaside town also offers numerous shops and a branch of the celebrated Tate Gallery, home to a fine collection of international modern art.Helston
: The southernmost town on the island of Great Britain, little Helston remains best known for its annual street fair, an ancient festival of dancing, musical parades, mock battles, and floral pageants.Washaway
: Once a thriving administrative and religious center, this small town in the middle of Cornwall now attracts visitors with its historical jail and proximity to scenic walking and cycling trails.Bude
: Outstanding beaches and great surfing opportunities make laid-back Bude one of the most popular destinations for seaside holidays in Cornwall.Truro
: Cornwall's main administrative center, the cathedral city of Truro attracts travelers with a good selection of shops and pubs, perfect for tasting local treats and meeting up with native friends.Tintagel
: Associated with the legend of King Arthur and his knights for centuries, tiny and picturesque Tintagel and its eponymous castle sit on the region's Atlantic coastline and draw amateur photographers, history buffs, and nature lovers.
Things to Do in Cornwall
Popular Cornwall Tourist AttractionsThe Lost Gardens of Heligan
: This botanical garden, one of the United Kingdom's finest, boasts colossal rhododendrons and camellias, as well Europe's only remaining pineapple pit, displaying one of the oldest methods for growing tropical fruit in colder climates.St. Michael's Mount
: A good place to add a bit of mysticism to a Cornwall vacation, this rocky promontory long served as the source of local myths and now features a castle filled with antique furniture and armor.Tintagel Castle
: Legendary birthplace of King Arthur, the remains of this castle sit on a peninsula looking over the Atlantic Ocean and provide an almost magical setting for sweeping views of the sea and surrounding hills.Belgrave Gallery St. Ives
: A far-flung outpost of a world-famous cultural institution, this seaside gallery features a collection of modern art and offers guided tours to help interpret developments in 20th-century art.Fistral Beach
: Ideal for visitors looking to add a surfing location to their Cornwall itinerary, this west-facing beach offers great Atlantic swells and easy access to rental shops and surf lessons.Land's End Landmark
: This park features dramatic paths carved into the steep Cornish cliffs as well as a stunning diversity of avian life including gannets, fulmars, kittiwakes, shags, razorbills, and choughs, a species once nearly extinct in this part of the world.Cornish Seal Sanctuary
: This popular Cornwall attraction makes its contribution to the protection of endangered species by caring for stray, sick, and injured seal pups discovered along the region's rugged coastline.Flambards Theme Park
: Hosting regular performances by popular characters like Peter Pan and Snoopy, this family-friendly attraction offers numerous rides, exhibits, and activities suitable for visitors of all ages.Padstow Harbour
: Made famous by celebrity chefs Rick Stein and Paul Ainsworth, this fishing port features numerous bars, shops, and restaurants, playing host to thousands of visitors drawn by good food and fine sea views.Newquay Zoo
: Cornwall's window into the world of wild and exotic animals, this zoo shelters over 130 different species and runs a renowned breeding program for threatened red pandas, lemurs, tapirs, lions, and meerkats.
Planning a Cornwall Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Cornwall with Kids
Though you may not instantly think of it as a kid-friendly destination, Cornwall contains numerous towns and villages suitable for a memorable family vacation. Start your Cornwall tour in Tintagel
, where children can learn about the legend of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. If the youngest members of your trip prefer animals to historical sites, head to Gweek
, where you can visit outstanding wildlife sanctuaries. For great surfing and sandy beaches offering access to plenty of modern amenities, visit the seaside towns of Newquay
. If you need some classic amusement-park fun, drop by Wadebridge
, home to a popular Cornwall attraction suitable for toddlers, teens, and parents in tow.
Things to Do in Cornwall with Kids
Many tourists visiting England end up basing their trip in London, rarely leaving the capital city's immediate vicinity. If you're planning a family vacation and wish to spend some quality time away from the country's biggest urban center, consider the family-friendly attractions and activities offered by Cornwall's lively towns and quaint villages. You can start by visiting Blue Reef Aquarium
, featuring a stunning mangrove habitat housing a range of ray and shark species and offering visitors up-close views from above and below the water tanks. To add a bit of witchy fun to your Cornwall itinerary, visit The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic
, housing a huge and very eclectic collection of Wiccan artifacts. If the kids need a place to let off some steam, take them to one of the region's popular beaches, like Porthmeor Beach
or Perranporth Beach
. Another great option for outdoor fun is Adrenalin Quarry
, where visitors of all ages can coast through the air on eco-friendly rides including a zipline and a giant swing.
Tips for a Family Vacation in Cornwall
A great place for a pleasant holiday at your own pace, Cornwall remains one of the United Kingdom's favorite family getaways. The region offers diverse activities that range from swimming and walking along the coastline to shopping for souvenirs, dining at quaint family-run pubs, and exploring ancient ruins scattered across the picturesque countryside. When you prepare your Cornwall itinerary, try to select attractions that will keep the entire family interested and entertained. Ask your kids what they want to do and see while in the region, and mix outdoor fun with indoor activities like visits to local art galleries, museums, and theaters. Create a flexible schedule of things to do in Cornwall, picking just a few distant destinations you can explore by car or train, and leaving enough time for shorter trips the family can enjoy on foot or by bicycle.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Cornwall
Cuisine of Cornwall
Drawing a growing number of international foodies with its Michelin-starred restaurants, Cornwall serves as one of the United Kingdom's major destinations for gastronomic itineraries. Although you can find plenty of swanky restaurants to visit, including those established by well-known chefs Jamie Oliver and Rick Stein, perhaps the best places to experience the region's distinct cuisine are small family-run pubs. These cozy eateries offer everything from hearty pies and cakes to fish stews and hog's pudding (spicy pork sausages). For outstanding seafood specialties, visit Newlyn
, a busy fishing port in the southwestern section of the region. If you're cooking for yourself, visit Pengelly's
to choose from a broad selection of locally caught fish.
Add a bit of sweetness to your Cornwall trip by trying some Cornish clotted cream, usually served on scones (or splits, as the locals prefer to call them). Remember that in Callington
you can taste arguably the best Cornish pasties, flaky creations filled with meat and vegetables. If you pass through Padstow
and need a quick pick-me-up, tuck into a saffron bun, traditionally baked on sycamore leaves. To try some outstanding local beverages head to Truro
, home to a renowned producer of fine cask ales and bottled beers.
Shopping in Cornwall
While Cornwall certainly doesn't rank among the world's top shopping destinations, the region offers plenty of options likely to impress even hard-core shopaholics. One of the best places for finding everyday essentials and great souvenir ideas is Lemon Street Market
, home to dozens of independent vendors and well-known shops. For an outstanding variety of handmade gifts, Kingsley Village
sells everything from jewelry and cosmetics to locally produced baskets, candles, and glassware. If you can't finish your Cornwall vacation without picking up some edible souvenirs for everyone back home, be sure to stop by Healey's Cornish Cyder Farm
, operating on a 19th-century farm and selling local jams, juices, ciders, and brandies.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Cornwall
History of Cornwall
Cornish people are extremely proud of their Celtic history, which predates the arrival of Anglo-Saxons in Britain. There is abundant evidence of human habitation in Cornwall dating back to the Stone Age, with numerous prehistoric remains scattered across the region. You can see the remnants of ancient monuments and get a feel for Cornish history by visiting sites like Lanyon Quoit
The Bronze Age saw the onset of mining in the region, with copper and tin mines developing in various places across Cornwall. Some historians believe local merchants successfully organized transport of Cornish tin to the Mediterranean region, exporting their product through France. If you wish to learn more about the history of Cornish mining, add King Edward Mine Museum
to your Cornwall itinerary.
Romans arrived in the 1st century BCE, yet their rule had very little influence on this area. Cornwall's wild moors and the lack of safe ports apparently kept the Romans at bay, which allowed Cornish Celts to preserve their distinct cultural heritage and unique way of living. By 410 CE, the region reverted to rule by Celtic chieftains from the Cornovii tribe. Christianity also made its impact during this time, brought from Ireland and Wales by 5th-century missionaries. Expand your understanding of this period by visiting Tintagel Castle
, one of the region's major historical sites.
Following William the Conqueror's takeover of Britain, Cornwall came under the influence of Saxons. William's brother Robert controlled the region from Launceston Castle
, which you can explore on your Cornwall vacation.
The Middle Ages saw a succession of rebellions and bloody wars fought on Cornish soil. The invention of the steam engine in the 18th century largely reversed the setbacks of those unsettled medieval years. Revolutionary advances in mining helped employ a large section of the population in local mines. Despite this, the golden years of Cornish mining lasted only until the 19th century, when Cornwall's mines became uncompetitive and gradually closed down. A visit to Royal Cornwall Museum
lets you delve into the details of Cornish social history.
The 20th century brought a revival of interest in the Cornish language, which remains a key element of the region's distinct cultural identity. A growing number of people speak this Brittonic Celtic tongue, now recognized and protected as a minority language in the United Kingdom. The last hundred years also brought an expansion of tourism in Cornwall, making it an increasingly popular destination for holidays year-round. Explore the region's thriving towns to discover a range of modern attractions, including renowned sites like Eden Project
Landscape of Cornwall
In addition to a lengthy and varied coastline, Cornwall also features wild moorlands, characterized by low-growing vegetation and uncultivated hills. The United Kingdom contains an estimated 15 percent of the world's moors, and Cornwall boasts one of the most notable examples of such landscapes. Bodmin Moor
in northeastern Cornwall covers an area of over 200 sq km (80 sq mi) and is the source of several Cornish rivers. If you're looking for some outdoorsy things to do in Cornwall, consider exploring this vast area, home to a famous megalithic monument and the highest point in the region. Cornwall also includes Lizard Peninsula, famed for its spectacular cliffs and rare plants, and protected as an area of outstanding natural beauty. The region's coastal areas feature extensive stretches of sandy beaches, hugely important to the Cornwall tourism sector. Watergate Bay
remains one of the region's top seaside attractions, its exposed northeasterly location making it an ideal spot for surfing and kite flying.
Holidays & Festivals in Cornwall
As one would expect, Cornwall observes the major public holidays in England, including New Year's Day, Easter, Christmas, and Boxing Day (December 26). In addition to these days, when most public and private businesses remain closed, the region also celebrates a number of local festivals. These events offer foreign visitors a chance to learn about Cornish culture, artistic heritage, and culinary traditions. If you're planning your Cornwall trip with regional events in mind, consider starting your visit in Helston
, host to the famous Furry Dance street fair each year in May. Summertime in Constantine
brings the popular Brass on the Grass concerts, attracting brass bands and fans of live music. Visit Falmouth
to take part in or observe one of the largest sailing events in the country, with over 400 yachts participating in various races over the course of eight days in August. If you choose to visit the area in the autumn, head to Penzance
for a Halloween-like festival offering a range of activities suitable for families with small kids.
Cornwall Travel Tips
Climate of Cornwall
Cornwall's relatively warm weather goes a long way in explaining the region's appeal to visitors from around the world. With a temperate Oceanic climate, this area is one of the mildest and sunniest in all of the United Kingdom, enjoying over 60 days of sunshine per year. Most of the region experiences pleasant summers and very little frost and snow during the winter. Thanks to its southerly latitude and the moderating effect of warm ocean currents influenced by the Gulf Stream, Cornwall remains a good vacation destination throughout the year. Perhaps the best time for a trip to Cornwall is September, when the sea is at its warmest, the roads are quieter, and you can easily find great bargains on boutique holiday homes and seaside hotel lodgings.
Transportation in Cornwall
Although you can explore many areas of Cornwall by private car or motorcycle, train travel is arguably the most pleasant way to discover this region. If you prefer to avoid the stress of driving on your Cornwall holiday, use the main train line to journey between London and Penzance in just over five hours. If you can't find a railway line to suit your itinerary, explore Cornwall on the public bus system, offering a reliable and affordable option for sightseeing around the region. Cornwall's bus operators service all the main towns, as well as many of the small coastal villages. If you like ferry trips, don't miss a chance to experience the popular King Harry Ferry
, offering travelers a scenic way to cross the River Fal.
Language of Cornwall
Most people in Cornwall speak English as their native tongue, yet a growing number of residents also use Cornish. Descended from the Brittonic language spoken here before English, Cornish has undergone a major revival in recent decades and represents an integral part of Cornwall's cultural identity. Recognized as a minority language in the United Kingdom and taught by some Cornish schools, this tongue serves as an example of a successfully revived local dialect. Be prepared for bilingual road signs on your Cornwall trip, and impress the locals by learning a few basic phrases in their ancestral tongue.