Cornwall is one of the most diverse counties in the whole of the UK with everything ranging from incredible beaches all the way to the most modern of tourist attractions. It is the ultimate destination to try out a whole host of new experiences that will leave you with fantastic holiday memories. Maybe a gorgeous garden one day, a gallery, castle or museum the next, or perhaps something a little more active – surfing, sailing, clifftop walking, coasteering…take your pick.
Discover the top things to do in Cornwall in our travel guide, from iconic attractions such as the Eden Project and Tintagel Castle to the natural beauty of the South West Coast Path. Trust us, while on holiday in Cornwall you’re in for a big adventure!
The county is home to 12 designated Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty with the only non-coastal AONB in Cornwall being Bodmin Moor. The Moor is made up of granite tors and these are a captivating sight to see while in Cornwall. You can walk across the moors visiting notable landmarks, Brown Willy (the highest point in Cornwall), and the slightly smaller Rough Tor. The moor is also the source of several rivers in the county with a relaxing walk along the riverside being a great activity.
Our Local’s Guide to Bodmin offers a wealth of insider knowledge if you’d like to know more
The remaining 11 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty are found along the Cornish coastline with plenty of historical and dramatic cliffs that line the coast featuring on the list. If you would like to make the most of these with long walks, then you’re in luck as The South West Coast Path stretches the entire length of Cornwall’s coastline. Take in the stunning sights from the sky for the best views. Aerosaurus Balloons offer Champagne Balloon Flights in Cornwall. Enjoy a unique and relaxing experience with 360-degree uninterrupted vistas, then celebrate with a glass of chilled champagne on touch down.
For some of the best hidden beaches and coves along the coast, check out our interactive map
However, if you don’t want to walk the coast you can sit back and relax on some of the most picturesque beaches in the whole of the UK. Many of them have a Mediterranean feel with turquoise water and sub-tropical plants lining the sand. Cornwall’s beaches are also renowned for being some of the best surfing beaches in the whole of Europe with the national championships regularly being hosted here. It’s not just surfing that you can get up to while on holiday in Cornwall either, with coasteering, bodyboarding, stand-up paddle boarding and sailing all being widely available on the Cornish coast.
Discover the best beaches in Cornwall with our Essential Cornwall Beach Guide
Family days out
If you want to get away from the beach, there are plenty of exciting family days out in Cornwall. Get up close and personal with animals at one of the many farm parks, zoos or aquariums, including Newquay Zoo, Paradise Park and the popular Cornish Seal Sanctuary (above), where rescued animals live in replicas of their natural environment without risk of destruction. For a thrill, you could head to a family theme park, like Flambards, where you’ll find rides to get the pulse racing. And if the weather doesn’t quite suit a swim in the sea, you can visit one of the fantastic swimming pools in the area featuring slides and wave machines.
Arguably the most famous tourist attraction in Cornwall is the Eden Project. You’ll find the world’s largest captive rainforest recreating the wild environment with a steamy atmosphere and plants native to the rainforest. You can even combine your visit here with one of the ever-popular Eden Sessions where some of the biggest names in the world of music perform each summer.
Here’s some Affordable Family Days Out in Cornwall for further inspiration
History and culture
Cornwall is steeped in history, myth and legend, and you can delve further into its fascinating past at the many great museums in the county such as the Charlestown Shipwreck Centre, The Levant Mine and Beam Engine, the National Maritime Museum Cornwall and the Royal Cornwall Museum.
With some incredible landmarks dotted across the county, you’re never far away from Cornwall’s history. From St Michael's Mount (above) which is cut off from the mainland at high tide to Tintagel Castle with its intriguing links to King Arthur, the Minack Theatre, one of the world’s most famous outdoor theatres, and the Cornish Mining World Heritage Sites, there are plenty of opportunities to journey into the Duchy’s rich past.
If you want to check out grand artwork, you can head to Tate St Ives which has stunning views out to the beach as well as breathtaking art. Penlee House Gallery and Museum is home to regularly changing exhibitions which feature renowned ‘Newlyn School’ artists and the Newlyn Art Gallery not only hosts rolling exhibitions of local artists and international names but holds a range of interesting workshops and classes.
Our guide to Castles in Cornwall features some of the most impressive fortresses in the county
Food and drink
Fresh-from-the harbour seafood, indulgent Cornish cream teas, the mighty Cornish pasty – the county is deservedly a foodie’s paradise. So much so, that some big names in the chef world have opened up several Michelin-starred restaurants including Paul Ainsworth, Jamie Oliver and Nathan Outlaw. And you can’t mention fish without talking about Rick Stein who now has eight restaurants in Cornwall as well as mouth-watering fish and chip shops, delis and bistros.
When it comes to drink, the region is home to some excellent breweries such as Padstow Brewing Co, Rebel Brewery and Harbour Brewery, as well as a fine selection of vineyards and cider mills. Camel Valley Vineyard near Bodmin is the largest vineyard in Cornwall and one of the most respected wine-makers in the UK and Polgoon near Penzance boasts a great on-site café and welcomes visitors for tours and tastings of its refreshing wines and ciders.
While visiting Cornwall, a trip to a local farmers’ market is a must in order to pick up some of the delicious local produce that the county is famous for. Markets take place regularly in locations across the region with some of the biggest in Camborne, Falmouth and Helston. For the perfect gifts to take home to friends and family, head to Cornish Market World where you will find all manner of crafty goods from quirky local manufacturers.
Tempt your taste buds with the finest Cornish cuisine in our Cornwall Food and Drink Guide
Gardens and country houses
Cornwall is blessed with some magnificent period properties. Grand houses with even grander gardens are dotted throughout the Cornish landscape from Prideaux Palace in Padstow to Lanhydrock in Bodmin and Trerice in Newquay. These architectural gems offer a fascinating insight into the histories of past residents. Wander from room to room, peeking out through beautifully draped windows to admire the surroundings and if you listen carefully, you may hear the walls whispering with secrets of days gone by.
Due to Cornwall’s subtropical climate, you will find the most unique gardens in the UK with colourful and rare plants living in spectacular displays. There are over 40 glorious gardens in Cornwall to visit including Trebah Garden near Falmouth, a 25-acre sub-tropical paradise which descends to its own beach, The Lost Gardens of Heligan in St Austell which has over 200 acres of exotic jungle waiting to be explored and Trelissick Garden near Truro with a massive 375 acres of plants and woodland and jaw-dropping views of the Fal estuary.
Did you know that some of these sites have featured as the backdrop of your favourite films?
Events and festivals
From spring through to winter, there’s always something happening in Cornwall whether a sporting event, an annual celebration or a music festival. The World Pasty Championships at the Eden Project is always a firm favourite event on the calendar, as are the popular Newlyn Fish Festival and the Falmouth Oyster Festival, perfect for foodies. For those with an interest in surfing and sailing, Boardmasters Festival in Newquay features the best in action sports, while the Fowey Regatta and Carnival Week is one of Britain’s premier sailing events.
And the more traditional annual Cornish festivals include the Royal Cornwall Show in Wadebridge, the county’s biggest annual agricultural event, the Obby Oss in Padstow, one of the oldest surviving festivals in the UK and Helston Flora Day, which sees the streets of this old market town filled with flowers, greenery, multicoloured bunting and hordes of jolly revellers.
Our Cornwall Food Festivals Calendar has some great events to pop in your diary
There is so much to do and see while on holiday in Cornwall and our guide is just the start of your memorable time in the county! For more information about Cornwall, be sure to take a look at our handbook where you will find a wide variety of local guides. Perhaps you might like to enjoy a relaxing pub walk in Cornwall or discover some of the most romantic places in Cornwall to take your loved one. We have even compiled a list of the best free things to do in Cornwall if you’re on a budget!
And if you need somewhere to stay, we offer a superb collection of holiday cottages, hotels, B&Bs and holiday parks in Cornwall to make your next getaway a memorable one.