Gulf-stream warmed island paradise off Land’s End, with pristine land- and seascapes for adventurers to explore.
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Destination guide for Cornwall
Cornwall, United Kingdom (UK)
Cornwall is the wild west of Britain and it can feel like the edge of the world. It’s primarily about the landscape: a mix of craggy cliffs, long sandy beaches, boat-filled estuaries and bleak moorland. Interspersed are notable buildings including medieval and Tudor castles, stately homes with sub-tropical gardens and granite cottages.
The pagan beauty of the landscape has long caught the imagination of artists and writers. The light can be magical, and legends of Arthur, tragic shipwrecks and midnight smuggling escapades abound.
More recently, it’s become foodie heaven too, with exceptional food and drink – a combination of fine local artisans and fresh, locally-produced ingredients.
Cornwall is a big place; for the visitor, it can be subdivided into four main areas: the north coast (around Padstow to Bude or Padstow to Mawgan Porth), the Penwith peninsula (around St Ives and Penzance), the Lizard and/or Roseland peninsula (around Helford, Falmouth and St Mawes) or the south-east (around Fowey).
Culture & Customs
Living the Cornish dream is about being at one with nature: surfing, sailing and walking; catching your own fish; foraging for herbs. To look the part, you need a wetsuit, a pair of deck shoes or – at the very least – some muddy boots.
Most locals are laid back and hospitable. If you can understand the accent, a visit to a historical pub can be a colourful experience, full of old characters and local lore.
When to go
Peak season is the summer, when the sun can be warm, even if the sea is cold. Prices are at their highest then, though, and the roads are often congested, so spring (Easter to the end of June) and autumn are preferable.
September, when the sea has warmed up, and the kids are back at school, is a great time to go, but don’t rule out the winter. For many, Cornwall is at its peaceful and poetic best then; it’s hard to beat an invigorating cliff walk followed by a pint (or cream tea) beside a roaring fire.
Getting there and away
Driving from London takes a minimum of 4 hours, without traffic, but can be double that in high season. The mainline train runs from London through the centre of Cornwall to Penzance, with key stops at Bodmin and Truro; for the other major hubs, either hire a car from these stations or switch to a scenic branch line: from Liskeard to Looe, Truro to Falmouth, Par to Newquay, or St Erth to St Ives.
Or take the Night Riviera. This overnight sleeper train runs six nights a week (Sunday-Friday) between London Paddington and Penzance (with stops at Reading and Taunton). It departs at 23.45pm, and deposits you in Penzance at 8am, fresh and raring to go.
Newquay is Cornwall’s main airport, a little over an hour’s flight from London.
Getting around Cornwall is never easy, so it’s best to stick to one of the four main areas per visit (see ‘orientation’) and make the most of it.
Cars are easiest, but Cornwall’s small lanes and highways get choked with traffic and it can take hours to travel short distances. Ferries only run short-distance routes e.g. Falmouth-St Mawes, Padstow-Rock.
Cycling is great for short distances, and there’s now a network of long-distance, mostly off-road trails that crisscross the county. See our summary of The Cornish Way and the multiple subsections.
Where to stay
North Cornwall is the trendiest and most testosterone-fuelled part of the county, a magnet for surfers (Watergate Bay, Polzeath, Bude), yachties (Rock) and foodies (Rock, Padstow).
South Cornwall is the most charming: this is where Daphne du Maurier wrote (in Fowey), where the fortresses of Pendennis and St Mawes tower over Falmouth Harbour, where estuaries are filled with boats (Fowey, Falmouth, St Mawes, Helford) and gardens sprout sub-tropical blooms.
West Cornwall (the Penwith peninsula) is the most romantic, with artists’ hubs in St Ives, Penzance and Newlyn, and a sweep of fog-cloaked moorland and wave-ravaged cliffs that runs from St Ives to Sennen Cove.
Health & Safety
Lock cars and look after valuables, avoid binge drinkers in Newquay, and beware of sudden high tides and strong currents. Watch out, too, for weaver fish with poisonous spines when splashing in the shallows or rock pooling – wear plastic or neoprene shoes.
Take a wet suit. Not just for surfing, but for swimming and boogie-boarding too – the water is cold!
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