If you close your eyes tightly enough, you might be able to convince yourself that you are there. The lap of the sea, the peaceful restraint of coastal life, the salt in the air, and the admittedly alarming screech of gulls make a beeline for what can only be described as gourmet fish and chips.
Cornwall is the archetypal British tourist county, with a conveyor belt of seaside settlements that are as full of character as they are stunning views, while the inland portion is all forested valleys and untamed moorland. Cornwall is the pinnacle of tourism on this strange island, and these are the top locations to visit in Cornwall.
Best Places to Visit in Cornwall
With all of the small hamlets, jagged rocks, and beaches that make you want to stay all day, you won’t want to leave this beautiful part of England. Take a look at some of the top sites to visit along the Cornish coast.
1. Saint Ives, Cornwall
The train ride to St Ives (which holidaymakers have been doing since the line was completed in the 1870s) is a sight to behold.
The single-carriage train chugs along the curve of St Ives Bay, revealing glorious vistas of golden sands and providing a bird’s-eye view of the UK’s most perfect seaside town: a pretty old granite harbor scooped out of the bay, filled with water the color of lime cordial, and a tangle of cottages and lanes vying for space.
St Ives has always been a draw for artists due to its exceptional light quality, and it retains a beautifully exotic feel.
2. Truro, Cornwall
The ‘capital’ of Cornwall, located at the end of the Carrick Roads estuary, has an air of cultural and financial self-sufficiency that distinguishes it from the rest of the county, with rows of pastel-painted Georgian mansions and a triple-spired Gothic Revival cathedral.
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Truro, with its boutiques, martini bars, and expensive delis, attracts big-city residents looking to live out the country dream without getting their feet muddy.
The somber, no-frills town of Bodmin is the largest of the moor’s communities. The town was an important religious center throughout the Dark Ages due to the establishment of a priory at St. Petroc in the sixth century, and it now contains a spectacular 15th-century granite church dedicated to the saint.
As evidenced by the numerous important-looking public buildings in the center, Bodmin was also once the county town of Cornwall until judicial and administrative authorities were transferred to Truro. Beyond the historic high street, there are a few visitor attractions, such as the gloomy Bodmin Jail on the outskirts and the charming Bodmin & Wenford Railway.
Launceston (called ‘Lanson’ locally) is the old ‘capital’ of Cornwall and a lovely, richly historic market town. It serves as the ancient gateway between Dartmoor and Bodmin Moor and is one of the most intriguing interior villages to explore in the area.
Although much of the 12th-century town wall has been destroyed, evidence of Launceston’s medieval defenses may still be found in the form of Southgate Arch (formerly one of three entrances to the town) and the 11th-century castle, which served as the seat of the first Earl of Cornwall. The 16th-century St Mary Magdalene Church is notable for its ornately carved facade.
The expressed plan to visit ‘Fowee Hall’ quickly identifies a newcomer to the south Cornish coast. It’s pronounced ‘Foy,’ and the location is as intriguing as the word. This natural harbor is constantly packed with visiting yachts and boats due to its steep, winding streets and lively tiny harbor, which is located at the mouth of the same-named river.
Fowey’s regatta week, normally held in the third week of August, is regarded as one of the greatest in the country, with the stunning Red Arrows performance above the harbor as a highlight.
Fowey is a well-heeled base for visits upriver and out to the adjacent beaches, with its sophisticated stores, galleries, delis, cafés, and tastefully painted residences.
The Lizard Peninsula’s lone town of any size is Helston, famed for its annual Flora Day celebrations held on May 8 (unless it falls on a Sunday or Monday). The town is decked with bluebells and gorse during this historic celebration, and kids dress in white and wear garlands in their hair.
7. The Lizard
South of Helston, the peninsula takes on an entirely different personality. Due to its peculiar geological makeup, the serpentine rock, a greenish metamorphic stone, is underlain by gloomy, dramatic expanses of heathland collectively known as the Lizard National Nature Reserve.
This area is home to some of Britain’s rarest plants. The swaths of pink-flowering Cornish heath (Erica vagans) are especially lovely in the summer.
Morwenstow, nestled between Bude to the south and Hartland Point to the north, fits neatly into a little forested combe close to the Devon border.
The hamlet is best known for its association with the eccentric, opium-smoking Victorian vicar, Reverend Stephen Hawker, who served at the parish church and is credited with popularizing the Harvest Festival in English churches.
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Hawker’s presence is felt in the Morwenstow Vicarage’s stepped mock Tudor gables and Gothic windows, where each chimneypot resembles a church spire. The Grade I-listed church, placed against the backdrop of the ocean, is a spectacular sight.
The train is the best way to get to Penzance. Partly for the sense of having arrived at the end of the line, but also because the railway emerges from the Cornish countryside onto the curve of Mount’s Bay, revealing a beautiful view of the town on the hill above.
Penzance, the commercial heart of Penwith, was formerly a fashionable beach resort, the trappings of which may still be seen in the fading but magnificent architecture along Cornwall’s sole seaside promenade, particularly the art deco Jubilee Pool.
Almost connected to Penzance to the south, Newlyn preserves its own character, with a history deeply rooted in art and fishing. Despite the collapse of the fishing sector, this is the county’s largest fishing port and the location of the Newlyn Fish Festival, which takes place during the August bank holiday.
In contrast to Mousehole, a few miles up the coast, Newlyn has the appearance and feel of a working port, and anyone interested in fishing should take a closer look at the harbor—or, at the absolute least, buy some glittering fish or fresh Newlyn crab from W. Stevenson and Sons on the main street.
I’ve been going to Cornwall practically every year since I was born, and it’s still one of my favorite locations to visit in England. Cornwall’s beaches are varied, with jagged coastal cliffs, wild surfing beaches, and tranquil, sandy swimming beaches.
Cornwall is famed for its cream teas (though Devon may try to claim them), Kelly’s Ice Cream, popular Cornish pasties, and St Austell beer.
Trying out the native cuisine is one of the nicest things to do in Cornwall. With lobster, crab, and some of the freshest fish straight off the boat available to enjoy, foodies are in for a genuine treat in Cornwall.