Dedicating just one blog article to the best days out in Cornwall is a near impossible task.
Given the county’s vast and varied landscapes – its sandy beaches and harbour villages – it’s difficult to prioritise just where you should visit.
However, and thanks to both the pandemic and the arrival of two new babies, we have spent the last two years exploring every corner of this spectacular county – travelling from the North Cornish coast down to Cornwall’s very southerly tip (and back again). During that time, we’ve made many day trips of our own; mentally compiling a list of our favourite spots and beaches as we’ve gone.
Below are the results of this two year long audit – a list of what we believe to be 9 of the best days out in Cornwall. From hiking the Atlantic coastline in Port Isaac, to sunbathing in St Ives, these day trips will, we hope, show off the very best of Cornwall and all that this diverse, rugged and – outright exotic – county has to offer.
Days Out in Cornwall: FAQs
The Best Way to Travel Around Cornwall
Before planning your road trip to Cornwall, it’s worth nothing that public transport across the county can be thin on the ground. Although it’s possible to visit some parts of Cornwall without a car, a road trip around the region would prove difficult by bus or train alone.
If you don’t own a car, I’d recommend getting the train to Penzance station and then hiring one for the rest of your Cornish road trip.
Europcar is available at Penzance station and offers affordable car hire.
Alternatively, Zip Car are a brilliant alternative to the traditional car hire option. This handy app gives you access to over 3,000 cars around the country, which you can easily pick up from dedicated bays.
The Countrywide Rover Permit, Cornwall
As we own a car, we decided to embark on the six hour journey from Milton Keynes to Cornwall. Before arriving, however, I booked a Countrywide Rover Permit for our week’s stay. This very handy permit allows you to park in the majority of Council owned car parks across the county, for a one-off fee.
For a week’s Rover Permit, we paid £49.24.
The permit was far cheaper than having to pay individually for parking at each destination – and saved us from readily needing spare change.
A list of the long-stay car parks covered in Cornwall by the permit can be found here.
9 of the Best Days Out in Cornwall
1. Kynance Cove Beach, Cornwall (South Cornwall)
Kynance Cove is one of the busiest spots in Cornwall during the summer holiday – and for a very good reason.
National Trust protected, Kynance has been classed as one of the ‘world’s most spectacular beaches’. A rocky tidal beach surrounded by glorious blue sea, green cliffs and soft white sands, this beach (in my humble opinion) is one of the prettiest spots in Cornwall.
When we arrived around 11:30am, the small tidal beach was already bursting with families and windswept children. Given the crowds, we chose to instead walk to the other side of the beach to the grassy cliffs above. Here, we set-up a picnic blanket and enjoyed breath-taking views of the beach below.
Tip: If you’re keen to enjoy the beach and brave the sea (bring a wetsuit), make sure you arrive early to claim your spot.
Parking at Kynance Cove
We were a little concerned that with the crowds, parking in the National Trust carpark at Kynance Cove would be difficult. We were pleasantly surprised, however, to find a huge car park, with plenty of space for hundreds of cars.
Although you can pay by card here, phone signal was touch and go, so it’s easier to have some change ready.
If there was one place I was desperate to visit during our road trip to Cornwall, it was the picturesque fishing village of Mousehole (pronounced ‘mow-zuhl’). Once a bustling port, the village is now a sleepier more laid-back affair, with narrow cobbled streets, independent shops and bobbing fishing boats.
Located on the south coast of Cornwall, in between Penzance and Land’s End, Mousehole is a 40-minute drive from St Ives. For those arriving by public transport, there is even a handy bus service from Penzance to Mousehole.
Although Mousehole is utterly charming under blue skies and beaming July sunshine, it’s said that the sleepy village truly comes alive at Christmas. During this time, twinkling lights are hung across the harbour and it proves so popular that helicopters even fly over to catch a glimpse of this picture-perfect spectacle.
The highlight of our trip to Mousehole was lunch at the very cute Rock Pool Cafe. Located just outside of the village centre, Rock Pool Cafe can be accessed by a private car park (you must have change available).
The food was incredible and I would highly recommend the calorific hot chocolate and marshmallows for dessert.
Tip: book ahead as this is a busy cafe. We booked via email using the restaurant’s website.
3. Lizard Point
We decided to visit Lizard Point after our own morning at Kynance Cove. Located just a 20 minute drive from Kynance, the more active among you can, instead, take the rugged coastline walk between the two coves if you don’t want to drive.
Lizard Point, cared for by the National Trust, is the most southerly point of mainland Britain. A place of long-forgotten ship wrecks, colourful flora and turquoise seas, this is the place to come for blustery walks and seal watching.
There isn’t an awful lot here, but it’s worth visiting (however briefly) during your own days out in Cornwall.
Parking at Lizard Point
Lizard Point is also owned by the National Trust, with ample parking for visitors. Again, it’s worth bringing some change along with you to pay for this.
We visited Porthcurno after a morning spent in sleepy Mousehole.
The beach was a short 25 minute journey from Mousehole and we found ample parking at the Council run long-stay car park (located next to the beach). With our handy Rover Permit, this meant that we could park without any worry of additional parking charges.
Porthcurno beach, located in the far west of Cornwall, has been described as ‘paradise’ by visitors – and it’s not hard to see why. Despite the clouds rolling in, the scene that greeted us took our breath away. With pristine sands contrasting against the roaring Atlantic Ocean, and steep cliffs filled with colourful flowers, Porthcurno feels like an untouched escape.
After some time on the beach, watching brave souls jumping in and out of the water, we decided that the only way was up – along the coastal path. The climb up was a sweaty one, but well worth it for the incredible views it gave us of the beach and surrounding area.
Above Porthcurno beach sits the world-renowned Minack Theatre. An open-air theatre, perched delicately above the Atlantic Ocean, this is a truly spectacular place to visit during days out in Cornwall.
We visited Minack by walking up the steep steps from Porthcurno Beach. Please note: these steps are very steep and without a handrail. We did encounter a woman with vertigo who was really struggling to climb down from Minack, so you may want to consider this before embarking on the trek.
5. Carbis Bay
Travelling to Carbis Bay from St Ives is a simple journey. We hopped on the train from St Ives for the short, but sweet, three minute journey. Tickets to and from St Ives and Carbis Bay cost as little as £1 each way.
What to do in Carbis Bay: Located in the next cove along from St Ives, Carbis Bay is the more serene and relaxed neighbour. Home to Carbis Bay Beach, visitors flock here for the sandy stretch of beach that has a calmer feel than the beaches of St Ives.
We visited in the early afternoon and had a lovely wander along the beach before dinner further in town. Although there isn’t a great deal to do in the town itself, Carbis Bay still makes for an enjoyable day trip.
We enjoyed delicious Spanish Tapas at Las Casita in Carbis Bay, which was recommended by a knowledgable local on Instagram. Unsure what to expect, we were pleasantly surprised by authentic, tasty dishes and excellent cocktails.
In terms of the best days out in Cornwall, a visit to Polperro is definitely one.
A historic warren, filled with white washed cottages, hidden alleyways and some of the best coastal walks in Cornwall, Polperro is a Cornish village that I’ve been wanting to visit for a long time.
Once a smugglers’ hideout, the village has preserved its swashbuckling atmosphere; remaining the sort of place you might expect an eye-patch wearing pirate, or a gang of sardine-stealing moggies, to reside. Hidden inside a sheltered cove, the village is small but vibrant – with life largely revolving around a wind-battered granite harbour.
Parking in Polperro: As with most of Cornwall’s villages (particularly those nestled within a cove), visitors are only permitted to park at the top of the valley – in a large, privately run carpark. Unfortunately, this means both a walk into the village (although, it’s fairly short and not too steep – taking around 15 minutes) and expensive parking fees.
We parked for three hours and it set us back £5. Be warned, you’ll also need to pay for access to the public toilets.
Things to do in Polperro: A tiny bolthole of a place, Polperro is not overflowing with activities or historical sites. However, the very fact that it isn’t geared entirely towards tourism is what makes this village such a beautiful place to visit. Filled with photogenic streets, hidden back alleys and coastal views, a trip to Polperro could easily fill an afternoon.
Take the Coastal Path to Looe: Although this beautiful coastal walk will take you around three hours (factoring in rests), it’s well-worth the journey. Offering not only outstanding views, the route passes an early Christian historic site and leads to the very place that Jesus was once said to visit with his uncle, Joseph of Arimathea.
To get back to Polperro, you can catch a fairly frequent bus from outside the Fire Station in Looe.
You can find the map for the full trail here.
Visit the Polperro Heritage Museum of Fishing & Smuggling: small, atmospheric and definitely niche, a visit to Polperro’s only museum is well worth your time. Costing £3 to enter (children go free), the Museum also has a lovely outdoor cafe, serving scones and cream tea, complete with beautiful views of the harbour.
Where to eat in Polperro: Although small, Polperro boasts an impressive number of independent and high quality coffee shops and eateries. For great coffee, head to Herringbone, or for a more substantial meal, be sure to stop by the mouth watering Burgers in a Brioche.
7. St Ives
St Ives is easily one of the most popular summer holiday spots in Cornwall.
Famed for its surf beaches and arty scene – boasting the seafront Tate St Ives gallery – St Ives makes for one of the best days out in Cornwall. A balmy maze of independent stores and restaurants, this is a town that has plenty to offer all visitors.
Having now spent two summers in St Ives, we’ve written a bumper post on everything you need to know when visiting.
Read our full guide to Things to do in St Ives, Cornwall.
8. Port Isaac (North Cornwall)
A little like Polperro, there isn’t a great deal to do in Port Isaac – and for this reason, is often a popular spot with day trippers, or for those making a road trip down the Atlantic Highway.
However, we decided to make Port Isaac our base during our own trip to Cornwall last year, staying in the beautiful property – Mount Pleasant. Alongside enjoying stunning views over the Port’s small bay, we also spent a week crabbing, paddling and enjoying the fantastic hikes you can take out of the village.
What to do in Port Isaac: We’d highly recommend the walk to Port Quin and the (much shorter) walk down to Port Gaverne. Port Gaverne is just half a mile from Port Isaac and therefore makes for a lovely evening stroll – especially if it’s combined with a pint at the 17th Century Inn found at the bottom of the bay in Port Gaverne.
The walk (read: hike) to Port Quin is a truly spectacular one – although be warned, it does include many steps. Known as the ‘Rollercoaster Path’, this hike is, unsurprisingly, a tumultuous one – taking you up towards lofty clifftops, before plunging you back down towards rock pools and frothing inlets. Spanning five miles, this hike isn’t long – but it will leave you out of breath.
Back in Port Isaac and you’ll discover a warren of narrow alleyways, weaving their way through slanting and bowing white-washed cottages. It’s an incredibly atmospheric place and come the summer, is an intoxicating place to visit.
Where to eat in Port Isaac: For such a small village, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by just how many fantastic places there are to eat in Port Isaac – some of which cater to even the most discerning of palates. For those planning an upmarket affair, we can highly recommend a meal at the Michelin starred Outlaw’s Fish Kitchen. Situated inside a leaning 15th century Fisherman’s cottage, here you can enjoy a fixed price seafood menu for £80, whilst enjoying views immediately out over the harbour.
Their sister restaurant, Outlaw’s New Road, is also Michelin starred and can be found at the top of Port Isaac, with views across the coastline. Here, a fixed seafood menu will set you back £95 per person.
For a more relaxed (cheaper) meal, we highly rate The Mote, located immediately on the harbour front. We also took advantage of their takeaway menu when visiting – enjoying crab sandwiches back in our garden, as the sun set.
For breakfast and afternoon tea, we regularly headed The Chapel Cafe – which offers delicious food, inside a gallery and shop, filled with local artwork and handmade items.
Is there parking in Port Isaac? There are two main car parks in Port Isaac, which I’d highly recommend you use. Other parking options are limited and given the narrow alleyways that make up this village, almost impossible.
Please note that only one of these car parks accepts the Rover tickets – the New Road car park.
9. The Eden Project (South Cornwall)
When it comes to the best days out in Cornwall, a trip to the county’s famous Eden Project is surely one.
A former clay mine, the Eden Project was transformed into a spectacular ‘global garden’ in 2001. Boasting two large ‘biomes’ – the Mediterranean Biome and its Rainforest Biome – a trip here is the opportunity to immerse yourself in two wholly different worlds – filled with exotic plants, animals and exhibitions.
By far the most popular attraction here is the Project’s Rainforest Biome – declared the world’s largest indoor rainforest. The canopy walk, which takes you through 1,000 varieties of plants (all whilst enjoying a balmy 18 – 35 degree temperature), is truly fantastic and was definitely the highlight of our trip.
For children, there is also a huge amount to do – including zip wire and adventure activities, and themed activities throughout the holidays.
Tickets for non-members begin at £32.50 and under 5s go free (please note online pre-booking is essential before visiting).