Why would you want to go to Cornwall when the sun itself has gone on holiday elsewhere? Well, a trip down to the South West out of season is not as unusual as you may think. In fact, contrary to popular belief, a lot of places stay open all year round – after all, the locals still need entertaining!
The pros for venturing to Kernow far outweigh the cons and, even if the weather is rather chilly, it’s (on average) warmer than anywhere else in England!
Reasons to go to Cornwall during the winter:
- Photographic opportunity: head here to watch, film and photograph ocean storms
- Good dining: it’s a good time to get a table at the county’s best restaurants
- Dog heaven: dog-owners love the fact that there are virtually no dog restrictions at any of its 300 beaches
- Surf’s up: if you are a pro surfer, it’s the season for the gnarliest waves
- Dress up: you also get to wear your designer wellies and chic winter togs in beauty/charm enhancing locations
- Ice skate: you could ice-skate at the Eden Project with your family
- Create envy: brag to your less adventurous friends back home about the freaky one-off warm weather days they are missing
- and finally…
- Stay warm and cosy: try not to hibernate in the pubs as they are ever so cosy with their log fires (our best pub tip is to head to The Tinners Arms in Zennor).
Another victory for intrepid winter guests is that you get the chance to see The Duchy cast in a new light; the whole county looks different from the way it does in the summer time. If you are a regular visitor to Cornwall, it gives an extra perspective on how your favourite spots look on a quiet day. Having the place to yourself makes very romantic if you are looking for a great way to use the remainder of your annual leave – it’s perfect for short breaks if you only live a few hours away or intend to fly in. Dress up warm, pack a flask, wear a big hat and a winter trip to Cornwall could be a real revelation for you.
Here is a compilation of fantastic spots to venture out to on a winter trip to Cornwall. Some of you will have a love of the outdoors regardless of what the weather is up to, and a few are indoor choices because you can’t spend every day of your holiday braving the elements unless you are Bear Grylls, Shackleton or Hilary.
Shopping & eating - Falmouth
Whilst Truro has all the High Street shops, Falmouth holds the surprises. With its labyrinth of narrow shopping streets, this is a haven for independent shop owners, like bookshops and bric-a-brac stores. And if you know where to look, you can probably buy anything you need here. Although the main streets are adjacent to the harbour, you are still relatively sheltered from the elements and never too far away from a cosy café or restaurant to hide inside.
For the most relaxing café and best for the laidback atmosphere, we recommend Jam, hidden half up the High Street at no.32. It doubles as a record shop that stocks all-new vinyl and a few old bits. Some of the retro hi-fis and TVs will also inspire a visit – it’s super cosy. For a lunch, the best around for a swift meal is Cribbs – a Jamaican-style eatery that treats its customers like royalty by serving up some of the best Caribbean dishes around. Also, seek out Habanero’s Burrito Bar for something hot and tasty to eat on the run (there's also a branch in Truro). It’s not all pasties and cream teas in the South West!
The Falmouth Bookseller is one of those great independent shops that make you wish there were more like this remaining up-country. Friendly staff will recommend you something cool beyond the bestsellers list. For clothes check out the Cornish chain Sea Salt; or find a ridiculous bargain in the wonderful Dig & Delve antique and bric-a-brac shop. Restaurants with a view include the Gylly Beach Café round at Gyllyngvase, or Café on The Quay at Penryn. Finally, The Poly is a superb place to take in some touring or local abstract or contemporary art – the establishment also showcases live theatre performances and off-mainstream feature films from around the world. Falmouth is home to one of the UK’s best universities for arts-focused degrees which goes a long way to explain the presence of the vibrant cultural scene and atmosphere.
Other top places to stop by for shopping, food, drink or entertainment in Falmouth and Penryn are: The Shed, Palacio, Mariner’s Fish & Chips, Good Times, and Number 20 for a cocktail. Falmouth also has a second cinema, The Phoenix, which shows a good selection of mainstream and arthouse movies.
Storm watching – Welcombe Beach and Porthleven
Welcombe Beach is a secluded beach about 5 miles north of Bude and it’s the ultimate front row seat to the theatre of the ferocious winter ocean. Exercise caution, dress well, and watch the sea boil on a winter’s day – chances are you will have the place all to yourself. There are no facilities at the beach, but you can warm up at The Old Smithy Inn a few miles inland. This beach is on the North Cornwall/Devon border.
Porthleven is on the South Coast of Cornwall and is the best place to observe storms (from a safe distance). A succession of massive precips like Storms Brian, Maeve, Ophelia, Callum, Hector and Imogen have all collided with the seaside town to dramatic effect in recent years. Caught on camera, some of the imagery has made the national newspapers. Its distinctive double harbour and church sit at the brunt, exposed as the onslaught hits the sea wall. Waves can peak at 30 feet on a bad day – it’s invigorating to watch but proceed with extreme caution and care. It’s the best and most energetic show in the UK – who needs Strictly Come Dancing?
Other great spots to observe the sea or the ocean: Chapel Porth Beach, Botallack, The Minack Theatre, Land’s End and Cape Cornwall (you can see both at once), Godrevy Head, Cligga Point, The Dodman, Portreath & Porthtowan, Fistral Beach and Gribbin Daymark.
Get locked up – Bodmin Jail
Bodmin Jail is a great perennial visitor attraction in Cornwall. The owners definitely have a taste for the theatrical and have really ramped up the horror and intrigue in the style of the London Dungeon in places. So if you go, you can be sure of some edgy entertainment which will thrill brave children and bemuse and enlighten accompanying parents too.
Find out stories about the Crown Jewels, the Doomsday Book and several ‘believe it or not’ facts to rival Ripley’s. You can see many of the restored penal instruments and chambers used to rehabilitate prisoners back in the 18th century too. Be sure not to get locked in after closing time – the ghost walks are no joke.
Embrace the elements - The Lost Gardens of Heligan
It can’t rain all the time and, if you wear the right kit, the Lost Gardens of Heligan are a wonder to visit no matter what the weather’s like. Whilst the majority of flowers aren’t in full splendour, head lower down the park into the tropical gully where you’ll be surprised to see what thrives throughout the year. Naturally protected by the descending columns of conifer trees, they begin to give way to the imported wonders of the arboretum.
Tropical fronds vie for your attention transporting your mind to warmer climes. It’s like another world and you may well feel warmer too. Outside the gully are the woods where you can see staff make charcoal for logs at the bottom of the valley. The café, shops and walled garden are all open too for you to learn about the colossal restoration project that took place in the 1990s at Heligan.
Other gardens and parks to visit: Lanhydrock, Cothele, Tehidy, Trebar and the hugely popular temperate biodomes at The Eden Project.
Find Frenchman’s Creek – The Helford River
Hire or take your own kayaks up the tidal Helford River and discover its many inlets and tributaries. You can paddle up the famous Frenchman’s Creek from Daphne du Maurier’s romantic novel. You can set off from numerous points along the river to take advantage of rising and dropping tide levels, so work out the best time to go and ride the river up or downstream with the least exertion – it can be easy if you get it right. Just be mindful that there aren’t any facilities at any of the launch points, and although there’s little danger to the pursuit be sure to tell people where you’re intending to go.
As you can see, Cornwall is far from a closed shop during the winter. An increasing number of places are remaining open (some with reduced hours) to welcome in visitors from around the world, all year round. This list is far from exhaustive, but you could consult our Cornish beach guide or our tips on things to do in Cornwall - because chances are you’ll find even more excellent places to visit!
Also visit: Gweek Seal Sanctuary, Newquay Aquarium, Flambards Theme Park, Sharpe’s Brewery, Skinner’s Brewery, Truro Cathedral, Geevor and Levant Mining Museums, Tate Cornwall in St Ives, Roskilly’s and Callestick Ice Cream farms, and more.
We have some lovely holiday cottages across Cornwall that appeal to everybody from young families to groups of friends. Take a look at our collection for inspiration.