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Boasting a longer coastline than any other county in the United Kingdom, with 143 out of 400 miles of it protected as a designated Heritage Coast, Cornwall is spoilt for choice when it comes to scenic cliffs, hidden coves, bustling beach towns and quaint fishing villages.
But it’s not just the extraordinary scenery and incomparable nature trails that draw people to this remote corner of the country, it’s also the world-class surfing, Michelin-star food, and the quaint seaside vibes.
Cornwall is the kind of place you could spend forever exploring without getting bored, but just in case you haven’t got forever, we’ve narrowed down a list of the most worthwhile places to visit.
Explore the charming ST. Ives seaside
With rows of charming whitewash hillside cottages overlooking the old fishing harbour, St. Ives is one of the most scenic seaside towns in England.
Its beauty has attracted many prominent artists over the years, like Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepburn and Alfred Wallis, and this artistic heritage is celebrated throughout the town with a number of excellent galleries including the Tate.
The town is also popularised by its four sandy beaches, which are ideal for sunbathers in the summer and surfers in the winter. Behind Harbour Beach you’ll find cute, quirky and typically British independent boutiques, eateries and small galleries aplenty.
Road trip along the Cornish Riviera
The Cornish Riviera, as it has been affectionately nick-named over the years, encompasses 50 miles of Cornwall’s southwestern coastline from Gribbin Head to Black Head, much of which is a certified Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
But not only is the riviera home to some of Cornwall’s most astonishing coastal scenery, it’s home to some of the most ‘English’ coastal towns, including Pentewen, St. Mawes and Falmouth, where you’ll find Henry VIII’s infamously impenetrable 16th century Pendennis Castle.
By driving along the riviera, you can take it at your own pace and reach the more remote villages, beaches and coves.
Kayak along the rugged Fowey Estuary
Fowey Estuary is a 11km-long flooded valley owned and protected by the National Trust due to its natural beauty and historical importance.
Its impressive natural harbour has played an integral role in British sea trade for many centuries, and while it is still an active port today, the estuary has also become a popular place for watersports.
You can hire paddleboards, canoes and kayaks, or hop on a river or sea cruise if you want to explore farther and wider around the open sea. Fowey itself is a wonderful town to explore, with historical buildings like St. Catherine’s Castle which dates back to the 16th century.
Chomp on some grub in Cornwall’s scenic pubs
If you want to experience England like a true Brit, then you must spend an afternoon (or a few) at one of Cornwall’s scenic traditional pubs dotted along cliff tops and beaches around the dramatic coastline.
While some of the smaller pubs are more of a local watering hole for the beer-hearted, most of them are in fact a place to find delicious English delicacies, or, as Brits like to call it, ‘pub grub’.
These delicacies include fish and chips, bangers and mash, steak and ale pie, and the Sunday roast dinner complete with ‘Yorkshire puddings’, whatever they are!
Discover Cornwall’s breathtaking beauty on its scenic nature trails
Standing at the edge of England with the Atlantic Ocean beating it on one side, and the English Channel caressing it on the other, Cornwall is distinguished for having vast and varied nature.
A 300-mile-long nature trail circles its coastline, much of which is defined as a ‘Heritage Coast’, meaning the land is of scenic and environmental value, and therefore it remains preserved.
While Cornwall’s south coast is known for its whimsical woodlands and exotic flora, the north coast is characterized by its towering cliffs, rocky coves and wild moors, where you can find historic henges and monoliths from the country’s mysterious Neolithic past.
Explore the Lizard Peninsula and Kynance Cove
The (strangely named) Lizard Peninsula, most of which is a preserved heritage coast, not only beholds some unique scenes of nature, such as those in the subtropical Trebah Garden, it is also where you’ll find Lizard Point.
This landmark is the southernmost tip of England, marked by a white 18th century lighthouse, from which you can enjoy incredible sea views.
Just a two mile walk along the coast is the National Trust’s Kynance Cove. This is undoubtedly the most photographed and painted scene in Cornwall with stark white sands and clear cerulean sea contrasted by tall, dark, and craggy rock stacks and caves, which can be explored at low tide.
Catch a wave in England’s surf capital, Newquay
Driving into Newquay, you’ll see a sign reading ‘Coast of Dreams’, a tribute to the town where Britain’s enigmatic surf scene was born.
There are nine surfable beaches along Newquay’s coast, which together allow you to surf at any stage of the tide. Fistral Beach is of course the most famous, having held the BUCS and English National Surf Championships, as well as hosting the annual Boardmasters Surf & Music Festival.
Thanks to its raging surf scene, Newquay is one of Cornwall’s most hip, vibrant and trendy towns with plenty of quirky shops and cafes. Remember to bring a wetsuit though, the sea here is a tad cold.
Go back in time in Penzance and St. Michael’s Mount
Penzance rose to fame after the musical Pirates of Penzance hit Broadway in the late 1800’s, and yes, it’s true that pirates did occupy the town once upon a time.
While there may not be any remnants of its crooked seafaring past now, this market town has plenty of history. For a deeper, darker kind of history, you can visit the Neolithic monuments which happen to surround the town, or head across the causeway to St. Michael’s Mount, upon which stands a mighty Medieval castle.
While views of the mount towering out of the sea from the coast are exceptional, nothing compares to the views you find from the mount of the English coastline itself.
Sail around the sensational Isles of Scilly
The Isles of Scilly is a captivating archipelago of subtropical islands 25 miles off the Cornish coast. With calm teal waters lapping softly onto white powder beaches and palm trees leaning over them, nothing resembles England as we know it…until you turn to see the seaside towns behind you lined with familiar cobblestone cottages.
Only five of the islands are inhabited with a mere combined total of around 2,200 people, allowing the archipelago’s wilderness to thrive, making it a great place to go for those who want to reconnect with nature.
However, the best way to experience the sensational Scilly’s is by taking a sailboat around the islands.
Visit the Victorian era at Lanhydrock country house and estate
Cornwall is home to a great number of estates and gardens, but none are quite as magnificent as Lanhydrock House, a late Victorian era mansion and 890-acre estate owned and preserved by the National Trust.
The entrance is guarded by an ornate Gothic gatehouse which opens out onto a symmetrical topiary garden cut by a pathway leading directly to the mansion’s grand front door.
On a tour of the house, you will be able to visit the mansion’s impressive reception rooms and family bedrooms filled with art and antiques, the service quarters, and the extensive woodlands and gardens.
Explore all things exotic at the Eden Project
The Eden Project is a man-made rainforest filled with rare plant species built into a crater and encapsulated by honeycomb-like biomes to create the optimal ecosystem for them to thrive.
Inside this breathtaking architectural masterpiece, you will find everything from insect-eating pitcher plants to a three-foot-wide flower named titan arum.
It may sound like a strange place, but the Eden Project has become one of the UK’s biggest attractions; not only is it leading scientific research, it is preserving endangered plant species and educating visitors both young and old on the importance of sustainability and a balanced ecosystem.
Watch Shakespeare by the sea at the Minack Theatre
The Minack Theatre is often argued to be one of the most beautiful theatres in the country, and even the world. Why? It is an open-air theatre built into a rocky outcrop in Porthcurno reaching out to Land’s End and overlooking the open sea.
From the higher seats, not only can you watch performances below, you can also watch the sea crash melodically against the rocks below. The theatre is open to view year-round, but performances run from May to September, so as not to subject viewers to England’s ‘less favourable’ climates.
Originally, the theatre was used for Shakespeare plays, and while those are still scheduled, there’s now 20 plays a year produced by companies from all over the UK and US.
Hike from Porthcurno along the coast to Lands’ End
The aptly named Lands’ End marks the edge of one of Cornwall’s two peninsulas, overlooking the English Channel from a steep cliff.
The best way to reach this famous landmark is by hiking five miles along the peninsula from Porthcurno; it’s not an easy stroll, but you’ll undoubtedly come across some of the country’s best coastal scenes.
The trail starts from Porthcurno Beach, a small sandy beach hugged by tall cliffs, and continues along the coast past the open-air Minack Theatre, and a handful of other stunning villages, beaches, bays and coves that will take your breath away, if the hike didn’t already.
Dine Michelin-star in the foodie haven of Padstow
While the Cornish pasty (a delightful crisp pastry bake filled with meat and potatoes) often steals the county’s claim to foodie fame, Cornwall is also famed for having an exceptional concentration of Michelin-star chefs and restaurants in the once unassuming fishing port named Padstow.
Of course, seafood is a prominent focus for Cornish cuisine, and The Seafood Restaurant and Prawn on the Lawn serve some of its finest. However, you can also find typical fine English dining in Paul Ainsworth at No. 6, or even just a good old Cornish cream tea in Cherry Trees Coffee House.
About the Author: Emily Draper
Originally from the UK, Emily Draper has lived in Chile, with an Amazonian tribe in Peru, in a Wisconsin trailer park, and on a boat in the Mediterranean Sea. Considering herself, and the rest of us, as global citizens, Emily’s mission as a writer and journalist is to expand global consciousness of the fundamental importance of travel, culture, and diversity.