6 mins

Top 10 things to do in Cornwall

Ice-cream, home brews, surfing and beaches: here's how to experience classic Cornwall...

Land's End rock formations (Shutterstock: see credit below)

Cornish pasty (RF: Fotolia)

1. Eat Cornish pasties til your heart’s content

Crumbly yet crispy, with a pedantic beef-to-potato ratio: you haven’t had a Cornish pasty until you’ve had a REAL Cornish pasty. Basking in the delights of a good Cornish pasty is an absolute must when heading to the county – try the Chough Bakery, in Padstow. Run by the Ead family for over 30 years, these traditional Cornish pasties are made using local ingredients, including meat sourced in nearby Wadebridge. Uniquely each steak pasty also includes a dollop of Rodda's Cornish clotted cream for a bit of extra richness.

Or why not head for the Bodmin-based Proper Cornish? As the name suggests, the company’s pasties boast a traditional D-shape, side crimping and top-quality beef, all signs of a true Cornish pasty.

Cornish Ice-cream (RF: Dreamstime)

2. Get fat on Cornish ice-cream in Bodmin

Who doesn't love ice-cream or clotted cream? How about both together? Cornwall is famous for its smooth Kelly's of Cornwall flavours – in particular, those of the clotted cream variety – and a visit to the county leaves you spoilt for choice: there are more than 40 parlours, plus vans, dotted across the region. Try the Harbourside parlour in the quaint fishing village of St Austell – a great visit, come rain or shine. A map of all the ice-cream spots is on offer here.

Alternatively you can really get a taste for the sweet snack at the Kelly's of Cornwall ice cream factory in Bodmin. The team occasionally arranges tours of the building (including several rounds of ice-cream AND sorbet tasting!), especially for schools, charities and special occasions.

Cornwall dolphin (RF: Dreamstime)

3. Spot sealife in Penzance

The Cornish coastline is one of the best places in the UK for spotting common, Risso's and bottlenose dolphins, the harbour porpoise and the basking shark. Most Cornish beaches have wildlife groups that regularly monitor any activity in its waters, but according to whalewatching community Planet Whale the best places for sneaking a peak of these creatures are Lizard Point and Penzance. Marine Discovery Penzance offers boat trips from £18p/p; you can explore seal colonies, spot seabirds and watch the waves for cetaceans – a must for wildlife enthusiasts.

Tintagel (Supplied: Alexandra Gregg)

4. Step back in time in Tintagel

With steps carved into cliff sides, dramatic sea views and a history steeped in myth and mystery – from the legend of King Arthur to the tale of Tristan and Isolde – Tintagel Castle is a Cornish icon where culture meets natural beauty. It has too many highlights to mention, but for just £6.10p/p you can explore a secluded pebble beach, walk through magical caves and cross a bridge to discover the rugged fortress ruins that hang over the sparkling, wild Atlantic.

Rattler beer (Supplied: Alexandra Gregg)

5. Taste Cornish tipples in St Austell

Cornwall is worth a visit for its beers alone. Explore St Austell Brewery with its fascinating museum, Victorian Brewery and 21st-century brewing equipment and you can discover some of the south-west’s favourite brews: Tribute, Proper Job, HSD, Trelawny, Proper Cool IPA and Korev Cornish Lager. Tours run from 11am-3pm, Monday-Saturday, adult tickets are £10p/p. Entry includes free samples as well as two half pints of beer or a soft drink.

Don’t fancy a tour? Head to your local pub to try any of these drinks on tap – as well as the beloved Rattler, a cloudy Cornish cider that tastes like drops of heaven.

Surfing Polzeath (RF: Dreamstime)

6. Hit the waves in Polzeath

The surf’s up! And it’s up in Cornwall. Famed for being the best place to hit the waves in Britain, it’s no surprise surfing has made our Cornish top ten. Polzeath – with its gentle yet consistent waves – is perfect for beginners. It’s a crime to not give learning a go if you’re staying here. That said, be prepared to make an idiot of yourself. ‘Popping-up’ (aka standing up on the board as it floats), takes quite a few attempts.

The experienced chaps at George’s Surf School are easy on you though – and usually don’t laugh when you smack your face into the sand or get walloped in the head with a surfing board fin. Their tuition is also private, so you won’t have to fight for that much-needed one-on-one guidance. Trust us: you’ll need it. A weekend surf course, including a three-hour beach and water session, is £150p/p. If you want to become proficient, it’s completely worth it.

Coasteering (Supplied: Aaron Parsons Photography)

7. Traverse the rocks in Newquay

Feeling adventurous? Cornwall’s mild temperatures and craggy shorelines make it a great spot for coasteering. You can scramble through caves, spot sealife from clifftops and clamber across rock faces above the deep blue before jumping into the bracing waters below. It’s a thrilling activity – not for the faint-hearted – and will really get your heart racing.

Try the Newquay Activity Centre for exploring waters at low and high tides as well as discovering inaccessible parts of the Cornish coastline. Prices start from £45p/p. The centre also specialises in surfing and bodyboarding – Newquay’s Fistral Beach is a great place to ride the waves when you’ve conquered Polzeath and become a more competent (and confident!) surfer.

Land's End (RF: Dreamstime)

8. Stand at the tip of the UK, Land’s End

If it’s unbridled beauty you’re looking for, Cornwall has it in abundance. And few places in the country are as stunning as Land’s End, the most south-westerly point of mainland Britain. With the sun shining overhead, active travellers can walk the coastal Heritage Trail, intersecting 100 acres of wild Cornish countryside and seaside, before taking a picture at the famous Land’s End Signpost (pictured). Even if the weather is stormy you can still watch as the sea crashes over the Longships Lighthouse, or take in inspirational views from the First and Last Point.

For more organised fun there’s Arthur’s Quest, an interactive exhibition that takes you on a journey of Dark Age discovery, and the 200-year-old Greeb Farm, a restored Cornish homestead where you can meet the animals.

Eden Project (Supplied: Alexandra Gregg)

9. Experience nature at its best at the Eden Project

With its striking gardens and landmark biomes, the Eden Project is one of Cornwall’s most renowned attractions. See towering tropical trees, jungle plants and crashing waterfalls in the hot, humid rainforest biome before relaxing on the whitewashed terraces of the Mediterranean biome, surrounded by the scent of dried chillies and fine wines.

The outdoor gardens are equally interesting: spot thousands of plants, from hemp to the raw ingredients for beer, hops and barley. You can also test out some interactive displays and revel in nature-inspired art in the Core, from the giant nutcracker to the soaring Seed Sculpture. Entry is £23.50p/p on the door, or £19.95p/p in advance.

Feeling brave? Once you’ve explored Eden on the ground, head back to the entrance for an aerial view of the biomes. The 660-metre Skywire – the longest zipwire in England – flies right across the site at over 48km/h, giving you a bird’s-eye view of the gardens. Tickets are £15p/p; fifth persons in a group go free.

Polzeath beach (Supplied: Alexandra Gregg)

10. Unwind… anywhere

Slow down the pace and opt for a bit of relaxation – something that Cornwall knows plenty about. Its laidback locals and atmosphere makes it the ideal spot for a touch of escapism. Strolling along the county’s many beaches is a good place to begin: from Polzeath you can meander to Rock, Daymer Bay and Trebetherick – to name a few – or join the South-West Coast Path along the sand dunes of St Ives Bay. Take your time to explore and do everything – you’ll soon find yourself wonderfully losing track of time and days, shrugging off the woes of the busy city lifestyle. Bliss.


Where to stay?

If you’ve got your family in tow – or simply like bundles of space and a killer view – try three-storey Doyden in Polzeath, with its balcony overlooking the beautiful beach of the same name. This four-bedroom lodge is not only in a prime location in the heart of one of the world’s most renowned surfing destinations, but it’s also a great base for foodies too: try nearby eateries like The Oystercatchers, The Waterfront and Nathan Outlaw’s two Michelin-starred restaurant in neighbouring Rock.

It’s also ideal for exploring the northern coastline, not to mention the rest of Cornwall. It’s only a short drive from the pretty town of Bodmin (and all that ice-cream!) and just 40 minutes from Newquay and the Eden Project. If you want to head for the tip of the UK, it’s a 90-minute drive from Polzeath to Penzance and Land’s End. Rentals start from £950 for a short break, or £1,150 for a week and include a free concierge service.

Nearest airport:
Newquay Airport

Other routes: High-speed sleeper trains from London Paddington to Penzance take around six hours. Other routes are available. It takes less than five hours to drive from the capital to the heart of Cornwall. Take the M4 motorway from London, the M5 to Exeter and finally the A30 into Cornwall.

June and July are dry and warm, August can be wet and the roads clogged with traffic. We say go NOW: September and October are glorious. The water is at its warmest and the surf’s up. Winter is mild and damp, perfect for exploring in your waterproofs.

Main image: Land's End rock formations (Shutterstock)

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