Ultimate Cornwall Guide - Top tips for visiting Cornwall
With a 5 hour drive time from London, most people would ask, why visit Cornwall? The little corner poking out of the south-west of England is a world away from the smog and hectic streets of London. Rolling cliffs laced with native wildlife, friendly people, excellent surf, delicious fresh food, a rich naval history and romantic beaches that wouldn’t look out of place in the Mediterranean, are all characteristic of Cornwall.
Having lived there for three years, I might be slightly biased, but one thing I can guarantee, Cornwall is a unique destination in the UK. Most British people escape to Cornwall in the summer as it’s a remote part of the UK that feels like you’re stepping back in time to 50 years ago, a time without the many stresses of modern life. So without further ado, I break down my best local tips for travelling to Cornwall from my time living there.
North vs South Coast
A constant battle between those living on the North and South coast of Cornwall is which is better? As a visitor, you can enjoy both in pleasant harmony! It all depends on what you want from your holiday in Cornwall.
The North is much more rugged and remote, with fantastic surf, whilst the south is more geared for tourists with young children, with more facilities and pretty towns. Newquay in the north is most known for its long, stretching surf beaches, best enjoyed before a famous pasty at the well-photographed town of St Ives. Hideaway at a campsite or B&B in St Agnes for a more mellow stay. The South offers the cute university town of Falmouth, where the best family-oriented swimming beaches, history tours and kayaking spots are found. Also on the south coast is the well-trodden Lizard Heritage Coast, where visitors can try and spot seals from the cliffs, and St Michael's Mount, an island castle only accessible at low tide.
Adventure in Cornwall
It is not uncommon out of the summer season to find a hidden cove or beach completely unoccupied. Locals won’t disclose these locations to tourists but some hidden gems of mine include Church Cove, Treen Bay and Trevellas Cove. Cornwall is made for long walks along the coast, where dramatic lunch spots provide the chance to spot seals, basking sharks and a plethora of sea birds. Follow part of the famous South West Coast Path, England’s longest national trial at 630 miles, at any point around Cornwall’s edge. There are sections for beginners to expert trekkers, and it really is the best way to soak up the incredible nature and endless ocean. The more adventurous traveller should head to Penzance for rock climbing, caving and cliff diving on the granite cliff faces on a guided tour with Kernow Coasteering, who also head underground into the many labyrinths left behind by Cornwall’s rich mining history.
If you in this for sightseeing or you have seen tv series such as Poldark and Doc Martin there is tours to visit the bays, villages and areas they are filmed. Despite the tourism, it still remains charming and quaint.
The Cornish People
The Cornish are extremely relaxed and it’s easy to see why when you start to explore it’s a natural beauty. Since there is only one road and train track in and out of Cornwall, it's safe to say the area is quite remote compared to the rest of the U.K. Cornwall used to be its own country even, boasting its own language. Like when driving around Wales, you will become familiar with the old Cornish words such as ‘Kernow’, meaning Cornwall, displayed on many road signs.
Understandably, the Cornish are very proud of their quiet pocket of England, untamed by skyscrapers and the need to wear a suit, so make sure not to offend any elderly Cornish with your city ways. You can happily wander around Cornwall in flip flop and shorts on every occasion, and it’s seemed rude not to say hello to any passers-by on a walk in the countryside. Foreign visitors may struggle with the west country accent, but all you need to know is that ‘me lover’ means ‘my lover’, a common term of endearment in the heartwarming accent of Kernow.
Cornwall’s coastal location and natural harbours have made it a place of intrigue for many invaders, and there are castles dotted around the coast full of interesting and rich pirate ghost stories.
The Pirates of Penzance is a famous British musical, written by Gilbert and Sullivan, based around the legends of the Cornish pirates. You can visit the setting on a walking tour of Penzance or enjoy a smugglers tour in Newquay with a costumed guide for children to also enjoy. Whether you are a theatre buff or not, you have to watch a performance of Pirates of Penzance at the Minack Theatre. Cut into the cliff face of Porthcurno, the theatre overlooks the sea, creating a dramatic backdrop to any performance, especially at sunset.
Food & Drink in Cornwall
You can’t go to Cornwall and not enjoy the local food. It may not be the healthiest but it sure tastes good. My top picks include a clotted cream ice cream with roasted hazelnuts on Swanpool Beach, a traditional Cornish Pasty (pastry with filling) from Pengenna Pasties in St Ives, an afternoon tea in the Rectory Tea Rooms on the Hartland Heritage Coast and a classic British staple, Fish n’ Chips, from The Harbourside in Falmouth.
So what is it about Cornish food that makes it so good? The main reason, the fresh and local ingredients used! Being a coastal destination, the fish is superb, but vegetarians and vegans will enjoy the many other options available such as battered halloumi and chips or a vegan pasty from the Vegan Pasty Company in Perranporth. To match your delicious Cornish meal, enjoy a local brew or gin. Healey’s is known for its scrummy apple juice and strong Rattler Cider. Learn about the production process during a tour of the Healey’s Cornish Cyder Farm, where you can have a go at apple pressing and meet the resident farm animals. There’s also Tarquin’s Cornish Gin tours, where you can discover the distinctly blue topped gin and it’s incredible taste.
If I have managed to sway you to travel to Cornwall, then here are the best transport options. It is possible to get around using public transport but it is very limited compared to the rest of the UK, with buses blocking up tiny country roads in Cornwall on a daily basis. The best option is a car, but driving in Cornwall is not for the faint hearted! Make sure you have a vehicle that can handle very steep hills and can fit around tight corners, where local drivers often hurtle around with no regard for tourists. Also, top tip, bring cash with you as many Cornish car parks still haven’t progressed to card or phone payment! If you find a car park that can pay by phone, also be aware you are unlikely to have any signal in a lot of places in Cornwall (it’s that remote!) so always have cash just in case.
Meike Simms, otherwise known as ‘Wholesome Travel Girl’, wants to explore the positive impact travellers can have on the wildlife and communities they visit, what she has coined as ‘Wholesome Travel’. Her zoological background and travel career have given her the opportunity to explore the big questions behind these issues through blogs and vlogs.