Cornwall is at the extreme southwesterly tip of mainland UK and as such enjoys its own microclimate. Breathtaking scenery, from sheltered sandy coves to windswept moorland, makes it one of the top visitor destinations for tourism. Whether you love dramatic surfing beaches, castle ruins, cultural festivals, scrumptious food or history and heritage you'll find Cornwall packs it all into its 80-mile-long peninsula, where you're never more than 20 miles from the sea.
Want to learn a few more fascinating facts and figures about Cornwall? Here's our A-Z of Cornwall, so dive in and see just how much you didn't know!
A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z
Let's start with axe-throwing and the aquapark at Adrenalin Quarry, Liskeard. Double zip-lines, coasteering, karting and a gravity-defying Giant Swing can all be found at Cornwall's craziest adrenalin adventure park. Who said Cornwall's dull and boring?
This sea-bound county naturally has several aquariums such as the award-winning Blue Reef Aquarium in Newquay. You'll find smaller aquariums at Mevagissey and Fowey filled with local marine life. And don't miss the underwater viewing chamber at the National Maritime Museum on Falmouth waterfront.
Award-winning Cornwall incorporates flagship Blue Flag beaches with their clean waters, Michelin star dining and outstanding attractions and businesses. It's worth mentioning that in 2019 Cornwall retained their long-standing run of Gold Awards in the British Travel Awards for ' Best Favourite UK holiday county or region'.
Voted "Best UK Seaside Town 2018" by the British Travel Awards (with Silver the following year), award-winning Bude is officially the UK's best coastal resort! There are more beaches in Bude than there are days of the week! This family-friendly resort has a saltwater pool and a host of shops, pubs and take-aways for easy self-catering.
In 2018, The Lost Gardens of Heligan were awarded Gold for "Best UK leisure / heritage attraction". Other large and small attractions that picked up some shiny credits to add to their collection recently include Geevor Tin Mine, Wingz Bird and Animal Sanctuary, National Maritime Museum, Penlee House Gallery and Museum, Cotehele and Tate St Ives.
When it comes to accommodation, check out the many properties that achieve four and five star grading. These are all good reasons why Cornwall is one of the most visited counties in the UK and frequently bags those coveted tourism, business and visitor awards.
B is for beaches, and Cornwall has 300 real beauties around its 422-mile-long coastline! They range from sandy coves and sheltered harbours along the south coast to miles of golden sand, rugged cliffs and white-crested surf along the rugged north coast. This southwest corner of England boasts the most clean, Blue Flag awarded beaches in the UK including Carbis Bay, Gyllyngvase, Porthmeor, Great Western, Porthtowan, Trevone Bay and Widemouth Bay. Arguably the most beautiful beach in Cornwall is Kynance Cove with its clear aquamarine waters and soft white sand.
Beer and booze
Nowhere does beer and booze better than Cornwall! Cider (or the rougher scrumpy) is still a Cornish staple, and for beer the St Austell Brewery (est. 1850) rubs shoulders with relative newcomers Skinners (1997), producing award-winning ales with bizarre names such as "Betty Stogs" and "Cornish Knocker". Take a brewery tour and learn the secret of brewing the best beers!
The Camel estuary is particularly popular for birdwatching with several hides for spotting ducks, shovellers, peregrines, osprey and even the occasional flash of blue from a kingfisher.
Being the most southerly point in the UK, the county sees many unusual visitors including a Black-browed Albatross at Lizard Point in 2019. Home to the Cornish Chough, one of the UK's rarest birds, other treats for ornithologists include Puffins, Razorbill, Guillemots, Chiffchaffs, Wagtails, Wheatears, Hen Harriers and Peregrines.
Less popular, and infinitely more common, are Herring Gulls. Known to have developed a keen taste for fish and chips and ice cream cones, they are found in most Cornish harbours looking for easy pickings!
Bodmin Beast Bike Trail
Bicycles are prominent in Cornwall with several traffic-free trails such as the Bodmin Beast Bike Trail, First and Last Trail, Coast and Clay Trail, St Piran Trail and the Coast to Coast Route. The best known is the Camel Trail. Bike rentals are available at either end of the route which runs through 18 miles of glorious views from Padstow along the Camel Estuary to Wadebridge and Bodmin.
Arriving by car or train, the border between Devon and Cornwall is the River Tamar. It is spanned at Saltash by two iconic bridges. The Royal Albert Bridge was designed and built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel in 1859. At 100 feet above the water, it carries the Cornish Main Line Railway for 666m. Over 100 years later, in 1962, it was joined by the adjacent Tamar Bridge (toll eastbound) which carries the A38 on four traffic lanes plus a separate pedestrian / bicycle lane.
Churches and cathedrals
Cornwall has over 600 churches and cathedrals ranging from the splendid Truro Cathedral (one of England's newest, built 1880 – 1910) to the 6th century St Piran's Oratory which was buried for centuries in sand dunes! One of the most famous and atmospheric is St Endelienta Collegiate Church which hosts the international St Endellion Music Festival every year.
Churches provide a quiet place of contemplation and many are rich in local history. Check out the stories on tombstones in churchyards such as the 98-foot long grave in Veryan, the resting place of 19 seamen washed up from a shipwreck in 1914.
Cornwall boasts the mildest and sunniest climate in the UK thanks to warming ocean currents. It has some of the longest hours of sunlight (1,541 hours per year) and has gardens filled with palms and exotic plants that could not survive elsewhere in the UK's cooler climate.
Cornish clotted cream is a must and goes with everything from ice cream to apple pie. However, the best way to indulge is with a Cornish cream tea, enjoyed in a sunny courtyard garden with scenic views or a characterful tearoom brimming with antiques. Warm lighter-than-air scones are split in half, lathered in fruit-laden jam (strawberry of course) and topped with a cholesterol-laden dollop of thick Cornish cream. The only required accompaniment is a pot of tea.
Note that Devon cream teas traditionally spread the cream under the jam, while Cornish cream teas add jam first with the cream on top. Either way, a cream tea is simply divine!
Tiring of the long wait between lunch and dinner, we have the Duchess of Bedford to thank for the invention of afternoon tea. What started out as simply ordering tea and treats to her room when peckish soon evolved into a gowns-and-all social affair, inviting friends to join her in her country house. By the middle of the 19th century, afternoon tea was an every day occurrence; a spread of sandwiches, cakes, scones, cream and jam – the first hint of cream teas as we know them today.
There are many different designs of Cornish cross including round or wheel-headed crosses, pillar / slab crosses, lantern crosses and holed crosses, but what do they all mean?
The earliest stone crosses marked burial grounds, often pre-dating the church beside which they now stand. Wayside crosses were route markers, often guiding pilgrims across fields, moors and unmarked terrain to holy sites and chapels. Market crosses were common, such as the one at St Ewe. Boundary crosses were erected on the edge of parishes and glebeland while memorial crosses are self-explanatory.
Incidentally one of the oldest and most famous crosses is the beautifully carved King Doniert's Stone at St Cleer. Now in two parts, the 9th century cross stands over a cruciform chamber and underground passage. A carved inscription refers to Doniert / Dungarth, King of Cornwall, who died in 875AD.
When it comes to cuisine, Cornwall has its own take on tasty take-away food! Better known as "oggies", Cornish pasties are a meal in themselves. The semi-circular pastry case (shaped to slip into a miner's pocket) is crammed with potato, swede, steak and seasoning and tastes surprisingly good. The thick crimped seam was intended to be held by dirty hands and then discarded.
The best Cornish pasties (in my humble opinion) are from one of the 13 Barnecutt Bakeries around the county. The family have been making pasties since 1930. They have perfected the art of delivering crisp shortcrust pastry and a moist well-seasoned filling that takes some beating!
Discover some of Cornwall's cultural attractions that define its history and heritage. From Delabole slate, which is featured on many roofs and fireplaces, to the Dairyland farm attraction, you'll be surprised at what Cornwall has to offer.
While you're here, discover your own favourite hidden cove, breakfast cafe, lively bar or romantic seafood restaurant. Everyone has their own special memories of magical moments spent in this eclectic county, often going back to childhood visits which are then recreated with their own children and grandchildren. No wonder Cornwall has been voted one of the top places to retire in the UK!
Eden ProjectOne of the most exciting educational attractions is the Eden Project, tucked away in a former clay quarry near St Austell. Massive biomes shelter the world's largest indoor rainforest with its tumbling waterfall and separate Mediterranean garden. Learn where rubber comes from, see bananas and pineapples growing and learn about how nature has adapted to more arid climates. All this along with a fascinating visitor centre, contemporary outdoor gardens and a calendar of top events.
Cornwall has had more than its share of famous residents, particularly in the literary world. Daphne du Maurier's home in Fowey is almost as well-known as her dark Cornish-set novels including Jamaica Inn, The Birds, Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel. On a lighter note, romance author Rosamunde Pilcher's classic The Shell Seekers captures an idyllic Cornish lifestyle. She was born in Lelant near Hayle.
Winston Graham, author of the historical Poldark novels, moved to Perranporth when he was 17. He used many local place names for characters in his novels such as Warleggan and Demelza, a hamlet on Bodmin Moor. These books all make great holiday reads for lazy days on the beach.
Dawn French is a staunch ambassador for Cornwall from her beach home near Fowey. Check out her TV series Delicious which captures many local haunts around the river port of Calstock.
Charles Causley "the best Poet Laureate we never had" is celebrated as a former schoolmaster in Launceston, his home town.
More recently famous, double Olympic rowing champion Helen Glover grew up in Penzance. Her family owns and runs the scrumptious Jelbert's Ices in Newlyn.
Yorkshire-born sculptor Barbara Hepworth made her mark in St Ives and her Museum and Sculpture Garden is now part of Tate St Ives.
Last but not least, >Rick Stein and his family are just some of the top restaurateurs and TV chefs who love to showcase their cuisine in restaurants and food festivals county-wide. Enough of the name-dropping – let's move on!
Festivals, fairs and feasts
From Allentide to the Zennor Feast, Cornwall has some of the most funky, cultural and downright off-the-wall festivals on the planet. They provide a unique treat for visitors and locals alike. Cornish festivals always feature lively folk music, bands, food stalls, games, parades and plenty of dressing-up.
The Midsummer Golowan Festival features bonfires, fireworks and rituals steeped in myth and mystery. Helston, with its Victorian "Furry Dance" through the streets, attracts people from all over the world on Floral Day (8 May). Dancers traditionally wear long dresses and sprays of Lily of the Valley. On the same day, the Hal-an-Tow pageant plays mix tales of Robin Hood, St George and St Michael with the Spanish raid on Newlyn.
These unique Cornish festivals are just a tiny taster of what's in store. Most villages have their own celebrations and Feast Days, along with Charter Fairs and numerous Saint's Day Feasts. You'll also find arts and literary festivals, international music festivals, food, beer and surf festivals celebrating everything that's best about Cornwall.
Films & TV
With dramatic coastlines, charming villages, grand estates, old-as-the-Ark fishing harbours and windswept moors, Cornwall is every film director's dream. It lends itself beautifully as a breathtaking backdrop to historical dramas and romantic tales. From the mining saga of Poldark to a cameo of Cornish village life in Doc Martin, Cornwall presents itself at its prettiest. Don't miss Dawn French performing in her home county in the TV series Delicious to get your Cornwall "fix".
Get "hooked" on Cornwall by taking a fishing trip from one of the harbours such as Mevagissey, St Ives or Fowey. Small boats stay close to the coast and provide dramatic scenery for those who don't want to trail a line for mackerel. Shoals of pilchards that were once a protein staple went into terminal decline from the 1880s, a lesson in the dangers of overfishing. (See the entry under S for Stargazy Pie)
Commercial fishing around the Cornish coast includes a lucrative trade in lobster and crab for the insatiable restaurant industry. Fishing fleets also haul in catches of hake, shark, monkfish and conger eel. Oyster beds can be found in the Helford River.
The National Lobster Hatchery at Padstow is devoted to conservation, research and education into European lobster. They do sell lobsters commercially with a "Buy One, Set One Free" policy to safeguard future stocks.
Flambards Theme Park near Helston has been thrilling generations of families since it opened in 1976. It has kept pace with the changing times with thrilling water rides and white-knuckle roller coasters in the Big Ride Zone. Whether you want to challenge the family to a go-kart race Formula One style, feel the G-force on the Sky-Force or admire the view from Skyraker, it's all here.
There's also a recreated Victorian Village with 50 shops and trades, Britain in the Blitz Experience and War Gallery, and a Century of Flight in the Aviation Experience. Definitely a full day out!
Blend with the locals by pronouncing Fowey the Cornish way as "Foy". This ancient coastal town has a natural harbour on the River Fowey which can be crossed using the Bodinnick car ferry or the smaller Polruan foot ferry. Boats of all shapes and sizes clutter the harbour including fishing boats, motor boats, yachts, kayaks and tour boats.
Once the hub for tin mining and china clay exports, this working port town has a tangle of narrow streets leading uphill in all directions. There's a Grade I listed church dedicated to St Finbarr, St Catherine's Castle (ruin) guarding the estuary, and a sheltered sandy beach at Readymoney Cove.
Visitors often wonder what all the tall chimneys are that stand alone next to derelict buildings. They mark the underground mine shafts and the buildings were the engine houses. Since 2006, Cornish mining has been part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site that includes sites across Cornwall and northwest Devon. There are many opportunities for visitors to go underground and experience life as a miner.
Many mines had the term "Wheal" in the name, which is Cornish for "works" or "mine". Tin mining has a long history in Cornwall, with some 2000 active mines in the 19th century. They also mined silver, arsenic, copper and other minerals. Today there are less than 10 mines remaining as attractions including the award-winning Geevor Tin Mine with its underground guided tour and informative visitor centre. The neighbouring Levant Mine and Beam Engine is National Trust-owned and has the only operating Cornish steam-driven beam engine in the world.
The King Edward Mine near Camborne is the hub for the World Heritage area with a preserved mine site and restored workings. Other mines that are open for visitors include Botallack, Wheal Peevor, Poldark (underground tours and open-air museum) and East Pool Mines.
Ghosts and ghouls
Cornwall is a land of myth, superstition and legend so ghosts and ghouls are part of its birth-rite. With so many ancient inns and buildings, bleak moors and 5,000 years of history, it has plenty of tales that will give even the most grounded individual goosebumps and a racing heartbeat.
Creepy Bodmin Jail is said to be haunted by many executed prisoners while the aptly-named Bucket of Blood Inn at Phillack has several ghostly visitors. The Dolphin Tavern in Penzance has three permanent "residents" including an old sea captain with a tri-corn hat named George, a fair-haired young men who often sits at the end of the bed of visitors, and a female ghost in Victorian dress. She materialises in the main bar, drifts across the floor and melts into the solid stonework. You can hear a pin drop!
Misty Dozemary Pool has a sinister air and legends aplenty. Despairing cries have been heard by many from the dark spirit of magistrate Jan Tregeagle who murdered his wife and children. Legend has it that his eternal task is to empty the dark pool using only a seashell.
Pengersick Castle at Praa Sands is one of Britain's most haunted locations. Photos show white orbs and weird shapes on some pictures that are strangely absent on photos taken seconds later. And beware the demon dog with its fiery red eyes!
Cornwall is definitely "up-and-coming" in the food and wine sector with some great grub on offer. Michelin star restaurants, pubs and beach cafes all make use of the tasty local produce such as fresh seafood, clotted cream, artisan cheese and mouthwatering pasties (see a mouthwatering description under Cornish pasties).
On the sweet side, saffron buns, spicy Cornish fairings, Cornish fudge and anything containing Cornish cream (such as ice cream) has to be a winner.
Several celebrity chefs have made their mark on the Cornish epicurean scene including Michelin-star chef Nathan Outlaw and Rick Stein. Speaking of the Michelin Guide, Cornwall boasts 41 restaurants that feature in the 2020 Guide, from coastal pubs to cosy restaurants, making this a haven for gourmands.
Cornwall has many sites of wells which were far more than just a source of drinking water from natural springs. Holywell Bay is named after a well that can still be seen in a cave accessible at low tide at Kelsey Head. Some of the best known wells in Cornwall are protected in their own stone shelters including St Clether Well, St Keyne Well, Liskeard Pipe Well and Dupath Holy Well.
Important for the Druids and Celts, many wells were believed to have special powers. There is more than one account of people drinking from St Madron's Well near Mount and being healed of their infirmities. The wells were often the site of votive offerings, flowers, coins and other valuables which have been unearthed by archaeologists.
Isles of Scilly
Yep, still part of Cornwall the Isles of Scilly are a fantastic place to visit. Fly from Newquay or Land's End Airport in 20 – 30 minutes, or take the RMV Scillonian III Ferry (2 hours 45 mins) from Penzance and visit the UK's southernmost point. The five main islands include Tresco with its world-famous Abbey Gardens and Valhalla Shipwreck Museum, St Mary's (the largest), St Martin's, St Agnes and Bryher. Warmed by the North Atlantic current and lashed by winter storms, the islands have a fearsome history of shipwrecks. Largely traffic-free, the islands are perfect for walking, birdspotting and enjoying the remote natural beauty.
Cornwall has plenty of wild adventurous activities, including jumping off cliffs into safely charted water far below as part of a coasteering adventure. The word "coasteering" is defined as mountaineering around coastal terrain. As well as climbing, scrambling, abseiling and traversing, it includes some necessary leaping and jumping.
If you prefer to stay dry, try Tandem Skydiving or Static Line Parachute Jumping with one of the Skydiving companies such as Skydiving Adventures in Perranporth.
You can't get further west on the British mainland than the ancient kingdom of Cornwall, or Kernow as it is known in the Cornish language. It comes from the Celtic word "kernou" meaning "horn" or "headland". Kernow is now used by born-and-bred Cornish locals to refer to themselves.
Kingsand and Cawsand
The twin villages of Kingsand and Cawsand are located on the Rame Peninsula on the southeast Cornwall coast. Their boundaries merge so the two towns are generally referred to as one. Tucked off the beaten path of progress, their smuggling and fishing past has evolved into a charming laid-back community.
The community has three beaches and a summer ferry that runs from Cawsand Beach to the Mayflower Steps in Plymouth, a 24-mile journey by road. Look out for the landmark Clock Tower on the Kingsand Institute building which was erected in 1910 to commemorate the coronation of George V.
Don't miss a visit to Mount Edgcumbe House and Country Park. It offers forest trails, house tours, the Orangery Café and stunning formal gardens.
Land's End is one of the UK's most well-known landmarks with stunning coastal views from the headland. The iconic signpost stands on a 60m-high granite cliff and indicates distances to John O'Groats (874 miles), Isles of Scilly (28 miles), New York (3147 miles) and Australia (12,000 miles). On a clear day, visitors can spot the Longships Lighthouse (1.5 miles away) and the Isles of Scilly (see more info under the letter I).
Land's End attractions include visiting Long Rock Beach, strolling the South West Coast Path (but it can be VERY windy here!), having an ice cream at First and Last House and visiting the Visitor Centre for souvenirs.
In case you were wondering, Land's End clothing company (UK) is actually based in Rutland!
The Cornish language is being resurrected in some die-hard corners of the county after being "dead" for 200 years. However, visitors will definitely come across the broad Cornish dialect used by born-and-bred locals. As well as referring to close family and strangers alike as "Me darrrrling" or "Me Loverrr", other Cornish turns of phrase need to be understood.
"Dreckly" is the Cornish equivalent of "manyana" and despite originally meaning "directly" it now means exactly the opposite! Other phrases made up of words running together include "dearovim" (a term of endearment); "didnus" (didn't we) and "wasson?" an enquiry to know what's happening. It's all part of the refreshing charm of visiting Cornwall for those who live "up the line".
If you visit the old market town of Launceston (pronounced Lan-son), you can't miss the landmark motte-and-bailey castle perched on the hill overlooking the town. Now owned by English Heritage and dating back to Norman times, it includes a preserved gatehouse, battlements and even the circular keep. The most famous prisoner was George Fox, founder of the Quaker movement.
Views from the castle include the Lawrence House Museum and the restored narrow-gauge Launceston Steam Railway. The 2.5 mile track runs to Newmills and the nearby Farm Park. All aboard!
Launceston was the county town of Cornwall until 1835 when it moved to Bodmin and later to Truro in 1877.
Looe Island lies just offshore from Looe and is now managed by Cornwall Wildfire Trust as a nature reserve. It was owned and inhabited for decades by two sisters who managed the remote lifestyle until well into their 80s before leaving the island as a bequest. Book a guided trip and see rare plants, birds and wildlife.
The nearby seaside town and fishing port of Looe is a great centre for walking with plenty of pubs, restaurants and take-aways to return to at the end of a busy day's activities. Highlights include Looe Museum with its smuggling memorabilia, Banjo Pier (viewed from above it looks like a round banjo) and a small sandy beach with rock pools.
The town is packed with costumed revellers to see in the New Year. Looe Music Festival is gaining a reputation as a top outdoor music event. Past performers include Lulu, Jools Holland, Chas & Dave and Bryan Ferry.
Cross the 8-span bridge to West Looe and explore Hannafore Point. From here the South West Coast Path provides a breathtaking 5-mile walk to Talland Bay and Polperro. Ride the scenic Branch Railway to Liskeard or visit the nearby Monkey Sanctuary.
Lost Gardens of Heligan
How do you misplace a 200-acre garden? The Lost Gardens of Heligan are among the finest gardens in England, but 30 years ago it was a Sleeping Beauty, buried beneath 70 years of brambles and neglect. Following the outbreak of WW1, the Victorian estate gardens with their sub-tropical plantings, lawns, flower gardens, greenhouses and melon pits were left abandoned. Rediscovered by Tim Smit (later of Eden Project fame), he galvanized teams of volunteers who worked to uncover and restore the gardens to their former glory. The country watched with bated breath as progress was unearthed (literally) through a series of TV programs.
Now a glorious estate, it includes an Italian Garden, Summer House, the Walled Garden, Vegetable Garden, East and West Rides and the aptly named Jungle with its triple lakes and boardwalks. Holder of the National Collection of Camellias and Rhododendrons, the Lost Gardens of Heligan are a worthy holder of countless awards including Garden of the Year and Best UK Leisure Attraction 2016 – 2018.
Infamous for its car-wide streets that frequently get jammed, Mevagissey is none-the-less a delightful harbour town to visit. Be smart; leave your car at the car park on the outskirts of the town and stroll in. Five miles from St Austell, the inner and outer harbours at Mevagissey are always filled with working and pleasure craft including a small fishing fleet and popular fishing tour boats. Stroll around the shops and restaurants or enjoy an ice cream and fish and chips on the harbour wall. The museum, aquarium and model railway serve as local attractions and there's a summer ferry to Fowey (much easier than driving and parking!)
Ooops, you've missed it! Check out G for ‘Go underground’.
Monuments, menhirs and monoliths
Cornwall is littered with ancient monuments, menhirs, monoliths and sites marking 20,000 years of inhabitants. West Cornwall and Bodmin Moor in particular have dozens of stone circles, quoits and monuments. Dating back to the Bronze Age, they are thought to relate to burial sites, astronomy and ancient Celtic beliefs.
One of the most interesting is Men-an-Tol near Penzance with its uprights and a holed stone. The unassuming village of Duloe near St Keyne has its own quartz stone circle. The Pipers of Boleigh, near Lamorna, stand 15 feet tall and are said to be pipers turned to stone for making merriment on the Sabbath. A similar story exists of the Merry Maidens, a near-perfect stone circle nearby.
The Cheesewring on Bodmin Moor is a recognisable landmark and the stack of rounded stones is not a natural formation as you might suppose. The Hurlers near Minions are another series of Neolithic stone circles worth investigating.
Mousehole (pronounced Mow-zel) is a delightful small fishing port on Mounts Bay with a colourful history. Attacked by a Spanish raid in 1595, the only surviving building was the Keigwin Arms inn, now a private residence.
One of the highlights of the local calendar is Tom Bawcock's Eve, celebrated on December 23 with a Lantern Parade and the eating of Stargazy Pie (see definition below under S). The harbour is always decorated with lights and illuminations well worth seeing.
Tragedy struck on 19 December 1981 when volunteers responded to a shout by the nearby Penlee Lifeboat, the Solomon Browne. In rough seas they went out to assist the Union Star ship whose engines had failed. Both vessels were lost including 8 sailors and 8 local lifeboatmen. It had a devastating effect on the local community. Every year, the village pays its respects by turning off the Christmas lights at 8pm for an hour on the anniversary as an act of remembrance.
The National Trust has 50 sites in Cornwall with 9 grand estates including Antony Estate, Cotehele and Lanhydrock. It maintains several exotic gardens which are top Cornish attractions (think Trengwaiton, Trerice, Trelissick, Glendurgan and Godolphin). The tidal island of St Michaels Mount is a unique landmark and a full day out. The National Trust also protects some of the most beautiful stretches of coastline and beaches. One thing you can always count on is a good pot of tea and homemade cakes at any NT café!
Newquay and nightlife
Known as the Surf Capital of the UK, Newquay has 15 beaches including the famous rolling Atlantic surf on Fistral Beach. It is also a top spot for nightlife, shopping, bars, boat trips, fish 'n' chips, sandcastles, festivals and a host of adrenalin sports such as coasteering and kitesurfing. It is also home to several top attractions including the Blue Reef Aquarium and Newquay Zoo. It welcomes over a million day visitors and 1.2 million staying guests so if you want a quiet getaway, Newquay probably isn't for you!
The 'Obby 'Oss Folk Festival is a unique opportunity to see male dancers cavorting through the town of Padstow dressed as horses, prodded on by masked Teasers. Pretty young maidens beware! Locals gather outside the Golden Lion to sing the "Night Song" with bawdry gusto followed by street parades and dancing around the maypole the following day. Only in Cornwall!
Padstow has plenty of claims to fame with its cultural festivals, working fishing port and top foodie restaurants (many connected to TV chef Rick Stein and Michelin star chef Paul Ainsworth). Older than Domesday, the port is popular for crabbing from the quay. Explore the art studios and gift shops or hop across the Camel estuary by ferry and spend the day in Rock.
Pirates of Penzance!
Almost at the toe of Cornwall, Penzance is the county's most westerly town. Arrive by train and see the town that inspired Gilbert and Sullivan's comic opera The Pirates of Penzance. This lively port and parish has some fabulous buildings including the extraordinary Egyptian House, the Union Hotel and Branwell House where the mother and aunt of the Bronte Sisters lived before heading north. Apparently the house was built from bricks salvaged by a buccaneer from a Dutch cargo ship. The whole terrace is known as the Rotterdam Buildings. The Admiral Benbow pub is straight from the pages of Treasure Island; in fact the opening scenes were filmed here! Explore quirky shops, Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens, Penlee House Gallery and Museum and cool off in the Art Deco Jubilee Pool (one of the oldest in the UK) on the seafront.
Historical TV drama series based on books by Perranporth-based author Winston Graham (featured in F for famous people). Follow the life, love, joys and disasters that follow Captain Ross Poldark and then visit some of the breathtaking locations that feature in the series. These include St Agnes Head, Botallack and Poldark Mines, Gunwalloe Beach (shipwreck),
Polperro is a 13th century Cornish village in miniature with tiny fishermen's cottages stacked up the steep sides of the valley and now highly desirable as holiday homes. Rich in tales of fishing and smuggling, the idyllic harbour is definitely worth exploring. Cars are banned, so park at the Crumplehorn car park next to the Grade II listed 14th century water mill – a local landmark. Horse and carts and electric milk floats provide transport for those who do not want to make the ½ mile walk to the harbour. The Polperro Heritage Museum of Fishing and Smuggling provides interesting photographs of floods, storms, fishing boats and other highlights. Pick any of the historic pubs or tea rooms and absorb the village atmosphere which exists in its own enchanting time-warp.
See W for watersports.
People & population
Cornwall has a population is just over half a million (568,210 in 2019 to be exact) putting it 40th out of 48 counties in terms of population. It has just one city, Truro (21,000 pop.) which is naturally the county seat. Camborne (21,600) has a larger population than Truro) and along with neighbouring Redruth (15,600) makes up Cornwall's largest urban area. The largest town in Cornwall is St Austell (pop. 27,400) followed by Falmouth (22,300), Newquay (20,300) and St Ives (11,500).
All these numbers pale into insignificance when compared to the five million annual visitors!
The unassuming village of Porthcurno has many surprises in store. The beach marks the start / end of the first Transatlantic telegraph cables which between world wars was the largest submarine cable station in the world. Home to the open-air Minack Theatre (learn more under T for theatre) and the award-winning PK Porthcurno Telegraph Museum (PK being the station handle used by telegraphers) you'll hardly have time to visit serene Porthcurno Cove.
Quoits are not a game but a collection of ancient stone structures that were erected as a burial tomb, mausoleum or dolmen. Some of the best preserved can be found in remote spots in Cornwall's ancient landscape. Trevethy Quoit consists of five standing stones 2.7m high topped with a granite capstone. Clearly they took lessons from the Ancient Egyptians when it comes to stone moving.
The largest quoit (a stone slab structure with internal chambers) is Trevethy Quoit, aptly nicknamed the "Giant's House". Lanyon Quoit is older than the pyramids, dating back to Neolithic period (3200 – 2500BC) and before metal tools were used. The mammoth capstone is 17 feet long, weighs over 13 tonnes and was once high enough for a horse and rider to pass underneath. (See more mysterious stone monuments under M).
Don't be misled by the name; Rock actually has a sandy beach. This prosperous fishing village caught the eye of Prince William and Catherine during their student days, and consequently the attention of the world media. Nicknamed the "Kensington of Cornwall" it is easy to reach by helicopter, if you happen to have one, or the Black Tor II ferry from Padstow. This enclave of luxury second homes is known for its watersports (water-skiing, windsurfing, dinghy racing, sea fishing, paddle-boarding, sailing etc), resident Sharp's Brewery and celeb visitors. Who knows who you'll rub shoulders with over a pie and a pint at The Mariners!
Most people miss Saltash as they hasten further into Cornwall. Known as the A38 "Gateway to Cornwall", Saltash is known for its landmark bridges (see under B), Mary Newman's Cottage (first wife of Sir Francis Drake) and attractive Guildhall. Mainly a dormitory town for Plymouth, it's worth visiting for the Regatta and Gig Races and award-winning St Mellion Golf Club nearby.
Shipwrecks and salvage
Shipwrecks were always eyed by opportunists in coastal communities. There are even shameful tales of Cornishmen using lights to falsely lure ships onto the rocks for easy plundering and salvage. Shipwreck history continues to have a strange fascination for landlubbers, hence the popularity of the Charlestown Shipwreck and Heritage Centre, Looe Museum, Polperro Heritage Museum, Mevagissey Museum, National Maritime Museum in Falmouth and the Valhalla Museum with its collection of figureheads from countless wrecks around the Isles of Scilly.
Cornwall's romantic past is steeped in tales of smuggling, contraband, wrecking and tax evasion. Far from the eagle eye of the authorities, tiny harbours including Polperro, Mousehole, St Mawes, Kingsand and Cawsand took ashore some 500,000 gallons of French brandy per year which was hidden in caves, churches, cellars and tunnels. Other prized goods included gin, rum, brandy, tea and tobacco.
The most infamous smuggler was John Carter from Prussia Cove. Nicknamed "the King of Prussia" he organised a successful smuggling ring for years in the 1700s. In a daring raid, he even broke into the Penzance Custom House to take back his seized contraband.
Learn more at the Bolventor Smugglers Museum at the Jamaica Inn and Polperro Heritage Museum.
Six hundred and thirty miles
The one of the Top 10 Walking Routes in the World. Due to its rugged terrain, expect to walk at 1 – 4 miles per hour, but the glorious coastal views and wildlife are a just reward.
The path originated as a route for coastguards to walk between lighthouses and patrol for smugglers. It's now a fantastic recreational traffic-free resource for walkers maintained by Natural England and the National Trust.
This Cornish dish is made from pilchards, eggs and potatoes beneath a pastry crust. The top is cut to reveal fish heads peeking upwards, hence the name Stargazy Pie. Originating in Mousehole, it is still eaten on Tom Bawcock's Eve to celebrate his heroic catch in winter storms that saved the village from starvation. The full story is told in The Mousehole Cat, a storybook by Antonia Barber which won the British Book Award and was later adapted into a musical. Was there ever a more famous pie than this?
Surf's up dude! North Cornwall has some of the best surfing beaches in the country, topped by Newquay's world-class Fistral Beach. Other beaches with thrilling breaks include Widemouth Bay, Bude, Polzeath, Watergate Bay and Lustyglaze Beach. You'll find plenty of Surf Schools and equipment hire, and don't miss seeing world champions compete at the annual WSL Boardmaster's Festival.
As theatres go, the Minack Theatre is pretty special, realising the ambitious dream of one young girl, Rowena Cade. Carved from the granite cliffs overlooking Porthcurno Bay in 1932, the open-air theatre gradually took shape with dressing rooms added in 1955. A visit to this "Theatre under the Stars" should be on every visitor's bucket list. Pop into the coffee shop and visitor centre by day and stay for the evening performance with a sunset backdrop over the sea. It's magical. Bring your own cushion and prepare to be wowed!
Visit the ruins of Tintagel Castle near Boscastle and immerse yourself in centuries of legend and myth connected with King Arthur. The newly constructed Tintagel Castle Bridge makes it easy to access the ruins on Tintagel Island and Merlin's Cave. From the Medieval Gateway to the Great Hall, re-connect with history at this scenic clifftop site.
If you have time, pop into the slate-built Old Post Office with its Victorian exhibits and walk to the waterfall at St Nectan's Nieve.
Located on the remote Rame Peninsula, Torpoint is within sight of Plymouth City and Devonport Dockyard, just across the Hamoaze estuary. The reason for its popularity for residents is the Torpoint Ferry. Three car-carrying vessels operate as a chain ferry, cutting the 24-mile trip by road to just seven minutes by sea.
Torpoint is the nearest town to Mount Edgcumbe Country Park and the National Trust owned Antony Estate.
Cornwall's pint-size capital, Truro, is the UK's southernmost city. Well worth a visit, this former port and stannary town has a grand Gothic-Revival Cathedral, Royal Cornwall Museum, Hall for Cornwall concert venue and County Courts. It's a shopper's paradise with independent shops, markets and chain stores all represented in the tangle of cobbled streets. Best time to visit is before Christmas when the Victorian-themed Christmas Market takes over Lemon Quay.
GThe site where the first undersea telegraph cables were laid in 1870, Porthcurno remains an important hub for international telecommunications. Learn more under our PK Porthcurno entry.
Climate change has prompted the development of many small family-run vineyards in Cornwall which produce surprisingly good sparkling wines. Take a tour of Camel Valley Vineyard or enjoy a tasting at the boutique Looe Valley Vineyard. Other serious contenders include Polgoon Vineyard, Penzance; Trevibban Mill Vineyard and Orchard, Polgoon and the Knightor Winery, St Austell. Set in beautiful countryside, most offer tours, tastings, lunches and cellar door sales.
Where better to appreciate some of Cornwall's best visual arts than in the quaint artists' colony of St Ives? This coastal harbour town has its own quintessential charm with galleries, shops, bars and studios occupying the whitewashed cottages lining the steep narrow streets. Five golden sandy beaches, a harbour and RNLI lifeboat station are just some of the local attractions.
Often referred to as "Cornwall's Best Beach Town" St Ives is home to the prestigious Tate St Ives in its own purpose-built light-filled galley with stunning views across Porthmeor Beach. Art lovers will also appreciate the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden. Other famous residents from the art world include Bernard Leach, J.M.W. Turner, Henry Irving and American artist James Whistler.
Check out the Camel Trail, the six interconnecting Mineral Tramways Trails near Illogan, St Michaels Way (12.5 miles Lelant to Penzance), The Saints Way or Forth an Syns (27 miles Padstow to Fowey), Bude Canal Trail (3.6 circular mile walk) and the 2.6 mile Woolley Loop also near Bude. The Tamar Valley Discovery Trail is one of several that start at the Tamar Trails Activity Centre near Gunnislake while Cardinham Woods near Bodmin has a choice of 4 walking trails and 3 for mountain bikes.
You'll find every type of watersports somewhere in Cornwall. We've covered some in Newquay and Rock but you can also go windsurfing and fishing at Stithians Lake Country Park, rent kayaking and motor boats, learn to sail in Fowey, go diving in Whitsand Bay and try standup paddle-boarding with a BSUPA instructor at Tywardreath.
You're never far from a Cornwall Wildlife Trust Nature Reserve which manages over 50 local havens protecting flora and fauna. From butterflies to hedgehog conservation and wildflower meadows to marine conservancy areas, you'll find Cornwall has many exciting opportunities for interacting with wildlife. Seals, puffins, dolphins, sea birds and birds of prey, badgers, bats and even wild ponies all find their place in the beautiful Cornish countryside. For more animal attractions, check out Z for zoos.
Cornwall is a year round destination and December is a fantastic time to visit and see the Xmas Lights. Every town, harbour and village lights up and Truro Festival of Lights is a magical must-see. St Ives, Falmouth and Padstow harbour all go overboard (excuse the pun) on lights but the most poignant has to be Mousehole. Every year at 8pm on 19th December. The lights go dark for an hour as a sombre mark of respect for the Penlee lifeboat crew that lost their lives answering a distress call in 1981.
Although Yarg is not an official Scrabble word, it is a semi-hard cheese made from cow's milk. It's wrapped in nettle leaves and left to ripen into a mild creamy cheese. The resulting mouldy rind is considered an edible delicacy with a herby flavour. Garlic lovers may prefer the Yarg version that is wrapped in wild garlic leaves for a definable garlicky tang.
Yeghes da is an essential phrase to use when drinking with friends. This Cornish phrase means "good health". Pick up some more must-know tips and phrases under Language.
Everyone loves to visit a Zoo and Cornwall has some belters. Let's start with the 13-acre Newquay Zoo that has 1,000 rare and endangered animals to admire, photograph and coo over. From armadillo to zebra it has its own A-Z of residents!
If you want to get up-close to other wildlife, visit the Cornish Seal Sanctuary, Tamar Valley Donkey Sanctuary, Paradise Park, Porfell Wildlife Park and Sanctuary, <>a href=”https://holidaycottagesindevonandcornwall.co.uk/wingz-bird-and-animal-sanctuary-promotes-conservation-in-par”>Wingz Bird and Animal Sanctuary, Newquay Zoo, Dairyland, Old McDonald's Farm, Wild Futures Monkey Sanctuary or one of the aquariums (under A).