Escape to the Cornish south coast on a fantastic South West holiday. Make the most of the serenity offered by these top things to do in South Cornwall, from hidden coves and secret beaches to getting lost in the cobbled streets of Cornwall’s vibrant towns and discovering exciting attractions for families and adults.
With a beautiful yet dramatic coastline to explore, an intriguing mining heritage to uncover inland and family-friendly things to do throughout the region, you and your guests can expect a wonderful holiday to South Cornwall.
Things to do in South Cornwall:
Places to visit in South Cornwall:
Experience these fun things to do with a stay in one of our hand-picked holiday cottages in South Cornwall.
Things to do in South Cornwall
The renowned Eden Project and its sister attraction, The Lost Gardens of Heligan, come top of the list for many people on their first visit to scenic South Cornwall. However, the more you investigate this unique part of the UK, the more incredible places you will uncover.
Follow the spectacular South West Coast Path to see the best of the Cornish coastline and take in breathtaking views, or get up close and personal on a coasteering adventure or a kayaking trip in the turquoise waters.
Trek along waterfall walks and deep into caverns in the Bodmin Moor Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), and seek out treasures in the art galleries in picturesque seaside towns and villages. For wildlife, you could visit the Monkey Sanctuary, Porfell Wildlife Park or stroll across any of the exquisite natural spaces across the county to bird spot. Children and families will enjoy a trip to spooky Bodmin Jail, exciting Adrenalin Quarry or exploring the Tamar Trails. Not to mention there’s a whole host of idyllic beaches - from wide, open sandy spaces to secret coves - that everyone will love, including your four-legged pup if you choose to bring your pet along with you on a dog-friendly holiday.
Visit the world’s largest indoor rainforest, explore the atmospheric filming locations of Poldark and sunbathe on silky golden sands beside crystal-clear waters; forget flying to the Caribbean or finding a far-flung exotic escape, South Cornwall offers an abundance of exciting days out for all the family. But with so much on offer, how will you decide what to see first?
To make planning your holiday easier, we have drawn up this guide to the top things to do in South Cornwall. And of course, the spectacular scenery, picture-postcard fishing ports and fabulous restaurants are all a given…
The top garden in South Cornwall
A wild Cornish jungle and botanical haven, the Lost Gardens of Heligan near St Austell offer 200 acres of mystery, magic and whimsy. This real-life Secret Garden is an astonishing recovery of a Victorian country house garden lost in the brambles of time, by Tim Smit - the man behind the Eden Project. There are several different areas of this horticultural wonderland to explore, including a flamboyant Himalayan spring garden and a lost-world Jungle Valley of ferns, palms, tropical blooms and giant rhubarb.
At every twist and turn of the winding pathways, you’ll discover something exciting: giants hiding under carpets of moss, a 100ft Burmese Rope Bridge, and enormous tunnels of towering bamboo. Even your dog can join in the fun, provided they are kept on a short lead. And of course, after a long walk, the only thing left to do is indulge in a Cornish cream tea in the Kitchen & Bakery restaurant.
The top family attraction in South Cornwall
Puff through the beautiful Cornish countryside on a magical journey onboard the Bodmin and Wenford Railway. Listen for the whistle of the conductor and smell the burning coal as you chug along in a 1950s steam locomotive through 13 miles of breathtaking scenery. You’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time. The only 'standard gauge' line of its type left in Cornwall, this is a very special experience which children of all ages and nostalgic adults are sure to love.
At Boscarne Junction you can even hop off and pick up the popular Camel Trail (bikes can be taken on the train if there’s space). Look out for special trips in summer, including Pullman-style dining trains with a silver-service supper, plus several family-orientated and 'children's character' events including Santa specials at Christmas. There’s no need to leave the dog behind either as the line is pet friendly.
The top beauty spot in South Cornwall
One of the best places to savour South Cornwall’s natural beauty is the Golitha Falls Nature Reserve near St Neot. This series of dazzling cascades and waterfalls is reached via an enchanting journey through a wooded, leafy valley alongside the tumbling River Fowey. Tiptoe across stepping-stones, venture over bridges and keep your eyes peeled for a variety of rare flora, fauna and birdlife along the way. You might even catch a glimpse of the renowned Cornish piskies, a mischievous fairy tribe which supposedly lives here.
The falls are at their most spectacular after a period of heavy rain when the water gushes down the gorge. There are plenty of spots for a paddle and a picnic but come prepared – there are no facilities or refreshments en route.
The top museum in South Cornwall
Dive into the Charlestown Shipwreck Centre, located within the Historic Port of Charlestown, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Boasting the largest private collection of shipwreck artefacts in Europe, you can take a fascinating journey into Charlestown’s seafaring heritage and uncover secrets from the seabed. Nearly 8,000 artefacts from over 150 shipwrecks are on display, including a treasure trove of telescopes, muskets, coins, and howitzer cannons. There are even a few pieces from the stricken vessels of the Titanic and Lusitania.
One of the highlights of this South Cornwall museum is the opportunity to venture deep underground through atmospheric tunnels that were once used to load clay on to ships moored in the harbour. A combined ticket also gives entry to the Port of Charlestown nearby, a filming location for BBC’s Poldark. A shipwreck spy trail is available for children, and a well-stocked shop at the end of your visit offers all manner of nautical-themed gifts and paraphernalia. And if you’re bringing your dog on your South Cornwall holiday, then they are most welcome on a lead too.
The top day out in South Cornwall
With its striking gardens and landmark biomes, the Eden Project near St Austell is undoubtedly one of the most popular things to do in South Cornwall and is perfect for a full day out. Nestled in a crater the size of 30 football pitches, its bubble-shaped biomes maintain incredible miniature ecosystems. Wander amongst soaring tropical trees, jungle plants and crashing waterfalls in the hot, humid Rainforest Biome, before climbing up to the gravity-defying Canopy Walkway where you can get a bird's eye view from high above the forest floor.
Then, relax on the whitewashed terraces of the Mediterranean Biome, surrounded by the scent of orange and lemon trees, dried chillies and fine wines. Beyond the biomes, there is a colourful 30-acre Outdoor Garden to explore and if you’re feeling brave, Britain’s longest and fastest zip wire which is the nearest you’ll get to flying! Plus, there is a myriad of events throughout the year, from rock concerts in the summer to ice skating in winter.
The top beach in South Cornwall
South Cornwall is renowned for its beautiful sandy beaches, but one of our favourites is Whitsand Bay in Torpoint. This 3-mile stretch of glistening golden sand is reached via a tricky scamper down some steep rocky paths, making it somewhat of a South Cornwall hidden gem. Backed by towering cliffs, the bay sweeps across from Portwrinkle to Rame Head with its windswept headland and crumbling 14th-century chapel. It’s one of those blissful sections of the Cornish coastline that never seems to get crowded, so you can lay out a blanket and make the most of the unspoilt views in peace and quiet.
Studded with craggy rocks, the beach is a haven for rock pooling, and if you follow the shoreline to Sharrow Point, you can have a peek in the mysterious Lugger’s Cave, a small grotto excavated by hand in 1784 by a sailor who inscribed enigmatic verses on the ceiling. The constant swell keeps surfers happy too riding some huge waves, though we don’t recommend swimming here as there are sometimes strong rip currents. The bay is also well known as a diving site, home to HMS Scylla, an ex-naval frigate sunk in 2004 to form an artificial reef. RNLI lifeguards patrol certain areas of the beach during peak seasons, and dogs are welcome without restrictions all year round.
Where to visit in South Cornwall
Are you seeking an exciting seaside getaway or a tranquil rural retreat? From the sandy beaches of Torpoint to the wild walking of St Neot, the south of Cornwall encompasses a varied range of landscapes offering all kinds of wonderful holiday experiences to visitors.
St Austell is just the place for those hunting down fun attractions to investigate, while Polruan and Fowey offer a calm coastal location where you can go sailing or sit and enjoy estuary views over your morning coffee.
Stroll around the ancient harbour of Mevagissey, duck inside Polperro’s model village, or explore the Tamar Valley from your base in Saltash – wherever you choose to stay, you’re sure to enjoy a wonderful Cornish break with your guests.
A quaint and quiet country escape that’s perfectly positioned for uncovering the best of South Cornwall and the South West’s AONBs, Callington is a small town complete with delightful independent shops, cafes and pubs.
Tamar Valley, with all the beautiful scenery and exciting activities it offers, is less than 5 miles away, while Bodmin Moor and bustling Plymouth are both less than 15 miles away.
Local’s tip: Track down the beautiful artwork created throughout the town on the Callington Mural Trail.
Less than 2 miles from the vibrant and eclectic St Austell, yet set within a tranquil setting on the South Cornish coastline, Charlestown is the perfect spot to hide out while remaining within reach of wonderful attractions, bars and nightlife – not to mention the renowned Eden Project (4 miles away).
This town is probably best known for its stunning harbour where you can charter a boat or just dine in one of the cafes or restaurants while you people-watch the sailors and visitors bustling about.
Local’s tip: For a bit of peace and quiet, explore the Pinetum Gardens where there’s a scenic arboretum, tranquil water garden and further serene gardens to wander.
Cobbled houses sit in neat rows overlooking the beautiful River Fowey in this characterful riverside town. Fowey sits on the Polperro Heritage Coast, with a few quiet beaches within the local area, and the quaint village of Polruan just across the estuary – a ferry ride away.
Warm and cosy pubs, a ruined castle and Readymoney Cove Beach are all pleasant places to while away lazy days, while 15 miles around the corner of this coastline you can uncover The Lost Gardens of Heligan or take a jaunt into St Austell, just 8 miles away.
Local’s tip: Visit Daphne du Maurier’s hometown during the Fowey Festival of Arts and Literature.
Less than 5 miles from the wonders of Bodmin Moor and full to bursting with quaint, independent shops and eateries to discover, Liskeard is a bit of a hidden gem of Cornwall.
Entertain children and big kids with a trip to Adrenalin Quarry (4 miles) or spend your time exploring the waterfalls, caves and moors of Bodmin. It’s ideal for families, walkers and ramblers, and couples seeking a romantic countryside getaway.
Local’s tip: After heavy rainfall, follow the waterfall walk to Golitha Falls to see the crashing waters at their best.
Looe is a small yet ever-popular coastal town straddling the East Looe River, this ancient fishing community boasts proximity to a wonderful selection of attractions and beaches and is just a couple of miles from the Polperro Heritage Coast.
Visit the Monkey Sanctuary (4 miles), take a boat trip to Looe Island, spend your days at Looe Golf Club (3 miles), or dine out down by the shallow, turquoise waters of the harbour.
Local’s tip: Talland Bay hides two small and beautiful sandy beaches where you can swim, investigate rock pools and visit a beach café.
Hide out in this ancient stannary town where a wealth of unique events, traditional pubs and antique shops provide ample things to see and do during your stay.
The Eden Project, Porfell Wildlife Park, Lanhydrock House, Bodmin Jail, Cardinham Woods, Polkerris Beach and the Polperro Heritage Coast are all fantastic local attractions within 10 miles – visit Lostwithiel for a holiday packed with adventure.
Local’s tip: It’s become known as Cornwall’s antiques capital so ensure you investigate these hidden treasures; Deja-vu Antiques is a charming place to start.
Mevagissey is an attractive old town that still has a working fishing harbour where you can watch the boats haul in their catch at the end of the day and sample the locally-caught produce in the seafront restaurants and bars.
The aquarium, model railway and famously beautiful harbour offer wonderful sights in town, while The Lost Gardens of Heligan is just 3 miles out and the bustling town of St Austell only 7 miles.
Local’s tip: The Fountain Inn is a favourite that has visitors returning again and again, make a beeline for this warm, dog-friendly, coastal pub.
This country escape is settled in a wonderful corner of the South Cornwall coast and is all about water. A beautiful lake dominates the centre of serene Millbrook while this region is surrounded by two rivers and the English Channel, offering endless opportunities for kayaking and canoeing, diving and swimming.
It’s also ideal for beach days with the wide, seemingly endless shoreline of Whitsand Bay and the scenic Kingsand Beach both with 3 miles. If you miss the buzz of the city, travel 6 miles to Torpoint and hop on a ferry to bustling Plymouth.
Local’s tip: Seek out the famously beautiful beach at Cawsand Bay (2 miles) and dip your toes in the clear, shallow water found there.
Surrounded by the Polperro Heritage Coast with lovely Talland Bay to the east and the National Trust-managed Lantic Bay to the west, Polperro is just the place for a tranquil coastal getaway.
A model village, heritage museum and exquisite harbour complete with small sandy beach offer places to explore within this tranquil village itself, while the town of Looe (5 miles) provides further choice when it comes to dining and attractions.
Local’s tip: Uncover the Cornish coast on foot by following the South West Coast Path to the scenic seaside spot of Lansallos.
Follow the single road into this ancient fishing village, all the way down to the quay where a sandy beach and warming pub welcomes you. Take a sea cruise out of Polruan harbour or hop aboard the ferry to visit neighbouring Fowey, just across the estuary.
Meander the exquisite walking route out to National Trust’s Lantic Bay, watch yachts bob on the waters and spot sea birds soaring overhead, before circling back around to return to your cosy cottage in pretty Polruan.
Local’s tip: Polperro Model Village is an old favourite around these parts; make sure you visit this iconic attraction.
Known as the ‘Gateway to Cornwall’, holidaymakers travelling by train will pass through this bustling town as they enter Kernow. Take in the cityscape of Plymouth across the epic River Tamar and visit the city for shopping and nightlife.
Saltash is just the place to stay if you’re looking to explore the beautiful Tamar Valley, head out on the water by kayak or canoe, visit Cotehele or follow footpaths across the region.
Local’s tip: Keep an eye out for the vibrant, Union Jack-painted Union Inn as you pass over the bridge and into Cornwall.
A wonderful large town boasting pubs, shopping and places to visit including what is arguably the South West’s most famous attraction – the Eden Project. Its sister project, The Lost Gardens of Heligan, is also in the area at 7 miles away while the beautiful towns and villages of Charlestown, Fowey and Mevagissey (all less than 8 miles) offer further chances for Cornish exploration.
In St Austell itself, visit the St Austell Brewery for a tour and a pint, and ensure you follow the beautiful China Clay Mines Trail for stunning views and to uncover the area’s mining heritage.
Local’s tip: Keep an eye on the Wheal Martyn Clay Works website as they host a wonderful array of events and activities for families and adults throughout the year – this year there’s a particularly special laser show taking place.
Discover St Austell
Travel into the beautiful Roseland Peninsula and at the end of the road, you’ll arrive at the exclusive holiday destination of St Mawes. Traditional cottages tumble down the side of the coast to meet the water’s edge where yachts and pleasure boats depart to sail in the protected estuary.
A ferry can take you across to Falmouth where you can explore the harbour and waterfront high street, while a couple of art galleries, wonderful pubs and the Lamorran Gardens ensure there’s plenty to entertain in St Mawes itself.
Local’s tip: The Roseland Peninsula boasts a coastline of hidden beaches and secret coves, why not try The Dodman Long Loop to make the most of this dramatic and dreamy coast?
Discover St Mawes
Found right on the edge of the unspoilt dramatic landscape of Bodmin Moor, with the River Loveny running through the heart of the village, St Neot is an idyllic country destination, just the place for walkers and ramblers excited to begin exploring Cornwall’s magnificent and most famous AONB.
Venture over to the Carnglaze Caverns to tour the underground mine and walk through beautiful woodland, and travel to Golitha Falls (4 miles) or further to reach the English Heritage-managed Hurler’s Stone Circles (7 miles).
Local’s tip: Colliford Lake is home to the famous smuggler’s haunt that inspired Daphne du Maurier, The Jamaica Inn; walk the lake’s shoreline before heading in for a hearty meal.
Discover St Neot
Just across the Tamar from the city of Plymouth, you’ll uncover the Cornish gem of Torpoint. It’s long been a port town and you can catch a ferry across to the city if you feel like it or stay put and explore the beautiful Rame Peninsula.
National Trust-managed Antony House and Gardens is a scenic attraction to visit, the beaches of Whitsand Bay are 4 miles from town, while any walkers among you must take the time to ramble the epic, dramatic coastline of Rame Head (8 miles) and take in those far-reaching coastal views.
Local’s tip: Dine out at one of the waterfront eateries to enjoy an evening meal with views across the magnificent River Tamar to Plymouth.
Which of these wonderful destinations do you prefer? Let us know!
Stroll along sandy sheltered beaches and secret coves, wander the tropical domes of the renowned Eden Project and take in breathtaking views as you explore St Austell’s China Clay Trails. Visit one of the exquisite National Trust properties scattered across the region or delve into the wilds of Bodmin Moor.
Stay in South Cornwall with us!
After fun-filled days of exploring these top things to do in South Cornwall, you’ll be needing somewhere to put your feet up and relax with your loved ones. From beachfront boltholes on the sparkling coast to rural retreats in the peaceful countryside, our cottages in South Cornwall are sure to impress.
And if you’re looking for more great days out in South Cornwall, check out our guide to the best beaches in South Cornwall.
Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing,
please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.