On a family trip to the UK, we decided to spend two days in Cornwall…without really knowing what to do in Cornwall. We just knew we wanted to go! (Mostly thanks to British film and tv.)
I wanted to go because of the beautiful landscape cinematography in the PBS show “Poldark”. My sister wanted to go because it’s where Domhnall Gleeson’s character is from in the movie “About Time”. And my parents wanted to go because they enjoy the show “Doc Martin” that takes place in Port Isaac.
So, we all made our way out to the edge of England and ended up having a really wonderful time. Cornwall is a magical land of beaches, tin mines, and Cornish pasties.
At the southernmost tip of England, Cornwall gets more sun than most of the rest of the country. It’s a popular summer holiday spot for Brits and international visitors alike.
That said, we went in the fall, and while it was still delightful, it wasn’t exactly swimsuit weather. The plus side though was that we met very few crowds, and often had places all to ourselves.
Cornwall has a long and fascinating history. Still connected with its Celtic roots, you’ll see signs with both English and Cornish spelling. And according to some legends, it’s where King Arthur was born.
Standing at the edge of a cliff, looking out to sea, the place certainly feels ancient and wild. (Did I stand there, letting the wind whip my hair, pretending I was Demelza Poldark? Sure did.)
If you’re on a trip to the UK, I highly recommend spending some time in Cornwall.
- By train: The most popular routes are to take the Great Western Railway (GWR) from Paddington Station in London to Newquay, Truro, or Penzance. This trip takes 4-6 hours, depending on your destination. Be sure to check the train schedule and book your train tickets in advance to save money!
- By car: The drive from London takes about 4-5 hours, via A303 and A30.
The best way to get around Cornwall is to rent a car since public transportation is limited. We used Hertz Rental out of Truro, and got some great advice about where to go from the gentlemen working at the counter. (I was so proud when we returned the car and they were surprised that, as Americans, we hadn’t scratched it!)
Remember you’ll be driving on the left side of the road (and on some pretty narrow lanes), so take your time and use the pullover spots to let others pass you.
Where to Stay
Look for a bed & breakfast or AirBnb in any of these following towns:
- Truro: centrally located, Gothic architecture, good for sight-seeing and shopping
- St. Ives: lots of art galleries, beaches and coastal walks
- Penzance: tropical gardens and museums (though no pirates like you would think)
Wherever you decide to stay, I encourage you to see as much of Cornwall as you can. Here are some of my favorite things to do in Cornwall…
Things to do in Cornwall
Walk the St. Michael’s Mount Causeway
Walking to St. Michael’s Mount was one of the things the car rental folks suggested, and I’m so grateful they did, as it was one of my favorite things to do in Cornwall.
Similar to Mont Saint Michel in France, St. Michael’s Mount is a tidal island. It feels like something out of a fairytale (looking at you “Tangled”.)
To access the island, you can either take a boat or you can walk the ancient cobblestone causeway during low tide. (We went around sunrise and had the causeway almost to ourselves!)
Once you get across to the island, explore the castle (which has been a family home since the 1600s) and gardens. Cornish legend has it that Cormoran the Giant took up residence on the Mount, stealing livestock for his meals, until he was defeated by young Jack from nearby Marazion.
Try a Cornish Pasty
Eating a Cornish pasty is one of those things you simply must do in Cornwall. (I mean, it’s in the name!) “What is a Cornish pasty?” you may ask. My answer: delicious.
A pasty is a baked savory pastry, filled with meat and veggies (traditionally beef, potato, and onion). Recognized as the national dish of Cornwall, they were invented to be a portable meal for those working in the fields.
You can find them anywhere in Cornwall, but some of the highest-ranked are St Ives Bakery or the Cornish Deli in St Ives, Chough Bakery in Padstow, and Over the Top Cornish Pasties of Callington.
Visit Porthcurno Beach
Wandering around the cliffs and descending into Porthcurno Beach, was perhaps my absolute favorite thing to do in Cornwall. (And not because it’s the beach in which Aiden Turner splashes around on “Poldark”…but y’know.)
Take the steps down next to the Minack Theatre, an open-air theatre situated on an outcrop. Note: The steps are steep and will most likely be slippery! Again, we were alone on the beach, and the wind and the waves were just exhilarating.
Porthcurno was once the termination point of submarine telegraphs, and it was a critical communications center during WW2, so escape tunnels were built into the cliffsides. (Visit the Porthcurno Telegraph Museum for more info.)
Take a walk in Padstow
Padstow is a picture-perfect fishing village and port. Park in the Padstow Town Car Park to explore the shops, galleries, and restaurants, then take the South West Coast Path. This path actually is actually part of a 630 mile route, England’s longest National Trail. Walk as much, or as little as you’d like.
For a quick hike with pretty views of Padstow’s harbor and surrounding area, climb the gentle incline to the WWI memorial at Saint Savior’s Point (about half a mile one way). For an easy, but longer walk, continue on the South West Coast Path and turn inland at Harbor Cove and loop back to Padstow (about 3 miles total).
Eat Fish and Chips in St Ives
Yes, you can get decent fish and chips all over England, but there’s just something about enjoying it right beside the sea. St Ives is another seaside town and port in Cornwall that was once dependent on fishing, but is now a popular holiday spot.
As you can imagine, seafood is a-plenty in St Ives, particularly along Wharf Road. We had some wonderful fish and chips at Harbour Fish & Chips, which uses locally caught ingredients. Other favorite places for fish and chips include The Balancing Eel and The Seafood Cafe.
I wish we had more time in Cornwall so I could’ve also seen these places! They’re definitely on my list for next time.
- Tintagel Castle: the ruins of a medieval castle, with dramatic views of the coast and connections to Arthurian legends
- The Eden Project: botanical garden with thousands of plants housed in biome, spherical buildings, with various sculptures and art exhibits
- Land’s End: the “most westerly” part of England, a headland with the English Channel to the east, and the Celtic Sea to the west
I can honestly say I loved Cornwall even more than I thought I would. I can’t wait to return and explore more! What are your favorite things to do in Cornwall?
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