Unusual Things to do in Cornwall
Cornwall is one of the most popular places to holiday in the UK, with some incredible beaches, amazing tea shops and stunning rural scenery. But what happens when you’ve been visiting Cornwall for years and want to do something a little different? We’ve spent a LOT of time in this neck of the woods, and have come up with a list of our favourite unusual things to do in Cornwall:
Picnic on a Secret Beach
It’s no secret that Cornwall has some of the best beaches in the UK, but rather than heading to busy St Ives, or crowded Sennen, there are plenty of coves that are far less visited, and only really known about by locals. One of our favourite such spots is Portheras Cove, hidden out of sight off the beaten track, just a short walk from Pendeen lighthouse where there’s also parking. After a short, and in places steep, scramble down the path, the beach opens up before you. It’s perfect for a paddle and a BBQ or picnic in complete peace and solitude.
Where: Portheras Cove, east of Pendeen Lighthouse on the north coast
Stay Here: The Hayloft, St Just – a very stylish barn conversion with superb views, hot tub and BBQ area
Our Top Tip: make sure you keep an eye on the tide, when it comes in the beach can get cut off and it’s then a rocky scramble to get back to the path.
Walk the Great Flat Lode Mines
There are lots of tin mines in Cornwall, the most photographed being the ones along the northern coast. But if you want to see something a little different, head over to Great Flat Lode near Carn Brea, between Camborne and Pool, for a lovely circular walk, taking in several mine ruins and engine houses. The mines were once some of the most successful in all of Cornwall, thanks to the large vein of tin ore found here. Our favourite was definitely the South Wheal Francis mines, with several buildings that had half been taken back by nature. So beautiful.
Where: Carn Brea, near Camborne
Stay here: Penventon Park Hotel, Redruth – a Georgian mansion set in private parklands with a heated indoor pool
Our Top Tip: the best place to park is at South Wheal Frances Car Park
Sleep in a Round House
One of the most unusual places to sleep in Cornwall is Bodrifty Roundhouse, a Celtic roundhouse built using only traditional methods and authentic materials. Tucked away in a private woodland glade on a remote farm on the Penwith Moors, the roundhouse is just a few fields away from the original Iron Age Settlement of the same name, the remains of which you can still see today. There’s a small ‘treehouse’ with a kitchen area and private bathroom facilities, so you don’t have to forgo the mod-cons, but by night it’s all about building a fire and toasting marshmallows, before snuggling up in the four-poster bed made out of trees, and falling asleep feeling like you’ve gone back in time.
Where: on the Penwith Moors, between Penzance and Zennor
Our Top Tip: pack a small overnight bag for staying here…everything will smell of smoke so only take the essentials you need.
Eat Crab soup at Cadgwith Cove
We once drove on a four-hour round trip just for the crab soup at The Old Cellars cafe at Cadgwich Cove. Only to find that they’d run out so we had to make do with a crab sandwich instead. Which wasn’t exactly a hardship, as all the fish here is so deliciously fresh. We love coming to Cadgwith Cove, not just for the incredible soup, but to wander around this gorgeous little fishing hamlet, complete with thatched cottages, stunning headland views, and colourful fishing boats. In our mind it’s the most beautiful fishing village in Cornwall, and a must if you’re visiting the Lizard Peninsula.
Where: on the south-east Lizard Peninsula, not far from Lizard village
Our Top Tip: You can’t drive down to the village, instead there’s a car park located on the hillside above, then it’s a short walk down to the cove. It costs just £2 per day.
Cast a Spell in the Museum of Witchcraft & Magic
We love Boscastle. Not just because it’s far less touristy than nearby Tintagel, or because the coast around here is some of the best in the south west. One of our favourite things to do in Boscastle, and certainly one of the more unusual things to do in Cornwall, is visit the quirky Museum of Witchcraft & Magic, which reputedly has the world’s largest collection of items relating to witchcraft. A slightly bizarre way to spend an afternoon, but pop in for half an hour enroute to walking along the headland, and you might even learn a spell or two.
Where: on the far north coast, not far from Tintagel.
Stay here: Bridge House B&B, in the heart of Boscastle – with hearty breakfasts and its very own tearoom
Our Top Tip: the coastal path here is beautiful, and far less crowded than deeper down in Cornwall.
Pretend to be a Pirate in Charlestown
There’s something cool about pirate ships, especially ones that are used in many films and TV dramas (including Poldark!). Charleston is a small and picturesque port village, complete with a Shipwreck Centre, some top class seafood restaurants (we loved the Longstore), and the clearest water we’ve ever seen in the UK! It’s a lovely peaceful spot to stay for a few days, and we found it a perfect base for exploring south Cornwall.
Where: on the south Cornwall coast near St Austell.
Stay here: Seaways B&B, a friendly, luxurious and immaculately designed guest house with incredible coastal views and amazing breakfasts. One of our favourite places to stay in Cornwall!
Our Top Tip: Charlestown is a popular place, so if you plan to eat dinner here, do book ahead.
Climb up to St Catherine’s Castle in Fowey
Overlooking the beautiful Fowey Estuary, the picturesque town of Fowey is famous for it’s boating scene and is a lovely place for an amble around on a sunny afternoon whilst trying some local ice-cream. Yet further down towards the mouth of the estuary is Readymoney Cove, a gorgeous little beach hidden away from prying eyes, with a tiny shop hiring out beach games for free, a swimming platform in the sheltered bay, and a gorgeous woodland walk up to the 16th century ruin of St Catherine’s castle perched up on the headland. The castle itself isn’t really much to look at, but the views from here are the best in Fowey!
Where: Readymoney Cove is out towards the mouth of Fowey Estuary (you can walk here from Fowey)
Stay Here: Fowey Harbour Hotel, Fowey – a gorgeous and elegant Victorian boutique hotel just steps away from the beach.
Our Top Tip: there’s no parking at Readymoney Cove, but just before you turn off the road to walk down to the beach, there’s free roadside parking if you get there early enough.
Hike the St Agnes Heritage Coast
The South West Coast Path is one of the most beautiful coastal trails in the country, but you don’t need to do the whole thing (unless you have a couple of weeks to spare). We always choose a different section of the path to walk whenever we’re down in Cornwall, but the one we can’t help but return to is the stretch up on the St Agnes Heritage Coast. It’s a stunning backdrop for those tin mine photographs, and the cliff views and pink foxgloves dotted around in the gorse are what Cornwall is all about. St Agnes is a lovely little town too, and there’s a fabulous glamping site with safari tents and a secluded woodland cabin just a couple of miles down the road.
Read More: Luxury Glamping at St Agnes in Cornwall
Where: On the north coast of Cornwall
Stay here: Wrinklers Wood Glamping – a luxury woodland retreat with safari tents and complete seclusion.
Our Top Tip: there’s plenty of parking a short distance from the coastal path, just above the Wheal Coates mine
Eat Fish and Chips in Mevagissey
Eating fish and chips al fresco whilst sat on the harbour-side of a Cornish fishing village is an absolute must. Usually we make a bee-line for Mousehole (such a cool name) for this particular pleasure, but recently we discovered Mevagissey, which is just as picture postcard, but with very few other tourists in sight. Indeed we had the harbour pretty much to ourselves, and not even the gulls were interested in stealing our chips. Result! It’s a great little spot to stroll around, and there’s a (fairly steep) path leading up to the headland with great views down to the boats bobbing on the water. If you like quaint little boutique shops and cute cafes, this is the place for you.
Where: just south of St Austell on the south east coast.
Stay here: The Old Parsonage, Mevagissey – a delightful B&B and charming 19th century building in the centre of the village with free private parking.
Our Top Tip: there’s a one way system in place, and only a few small car parks, so you might have to drive around a few times to nab a space. Come early or later in the afternoon.
Visit a Jungle at the Lost Gardens of Heligan
Suddenly as we approach our 40s we find we’re starting to enjoy visiting gardens. Slightly worrying? Not at all, especially when they’re as incredible as the Lost Gardens of Heligan. There are several different areas of the garden to explore, including a jungle with a rope bridge spanning a small ravine, a woodland walk with unusual mud sculptures, and the ‘Lost Valley’ which was awash with bluebells when we were there. It’s a photographer’s paradise, and comes complete with restaurant, ice-cream hut and as many walking trails as you can handle. If you’re looking for slightly more unusual things to do in Cornwall, then this ticks all the boxes.
Where: just off the south coast near St Austell
Stay here: The Carlyon Bay Hotel, St Austell – an elegant luxury hotel and spa perched on rugged cliffs overlooking the sea.
Our Top Tip: get there early so you can make a full day of it (and get your monies worth from the ticket £15 price).
Hunt for Fairies at St Nectan’s Kieve
If you’ve ever wondered if magic really does exist, take a walk to this mystical 60 ft waterfall and find out once an for all! It’s a place of mystery and legend, and many believe it’s where the fairy folk congregate. The ‘Kieve’ is the pool at the base of the falls, whilst at the top there are ruins of an ancient hermiage built to honour St Nectan, a 5th Century holy man who lived nearby. The Pagan tradition of leaving gifts such as crystals is still evident here in St Nectan’s Glen, and you’ll see these as you explore the valley. For those with more modern needs, there’s a tea shop to enjoy after your walk.
Where: just outside Tintagel
Stay Here: Camelot Castle Hotel, near Tintagel Castle – go back in time, sleep in grand four-poster beds and enjoy incredible sea views.
Our Top Tip: there are actually three waterfalls accessed on a woodland board walk, so take sensible footwear, especially if it’s been raining.
See the Wildflowers at Restormel Castle
On the trail of more unusual things to do in Cornwall, we found ourselves at Restormel Castle by the River Fowey near Lostwithiel (don’t you just love Cornish names!). It’s a perfectly circular 13th Century keep standing on a huge Norman mound, with fabulous views and a swathe of colourful wild flowers growing around the moat.
Where: just outside Lostwithiel
Stay Here: Roosters, Lostwithiel – just 2 miles from Restormel Castle, Roosters is a characterful holiday cottage on an ancient farmstead.
Our Top Tip: come at lunch time and bring a picnic, the views of the surrounding countryside are fabulous.
Get Spooked at The Hurlers
The first time we visited the stone circle called The Hurlers it was cold, misty and rather unsettling. We were groping around in the gloom trying to find these wretched stones, only to be greeted by wild ponies galloping at us out of nowhere. Very spooky. This year we returned on a sunny day and actually got to see the stone circle! There are actually three stone circles here, dating back to the Late Neolithic or early Bronze Age. Apparently they’re the remains of men petrified for playing the ancient game of hurling on a Sunday. Oops.
Where: on the south east edge of Bodmin Moor near Minions village (nothing to do with Despicable Me).
Stay Here: Jamaica Inn, Bodmin Moor – Cornwall’s most famous smuggler’s inn, made famous by writer Daphne Du Maurier.
Our Top Tip: there are tin mines here too, with several walking trails, so it’s a great place for a stroll if the weather is being kind. Parking is 1/4 mile away at Minions.
See a Play at the Minack Theatre
Lost of people visit the precariously perched Minack Theatre on their Cornwall holiday, but why not go one step further and attend an evening performance. The atmosphere is incredible, with the stunning backdrop of the Cornish Coast and Porthcurno beach behind the stage area. This open-air theatre was built by local girl Rowena Cade, and today hosts a dazzling array of theatrical performances, comedies, musicals and story-telling throughout the year.
Where: just above Porthcurno Beach, near Lands End
Stay Here: The Land’s End Hotel, Sennen – a contemporary hotel on the westernmost point of Cornwall, with breathtaking scenery and fresh seafood restaurant
Our Top Tip: take a cushion to sit on (those stone seats are hard, although you can hire mats when you purchase your ticket), and some Pimms and strawberries for the interval. Performances are rarely cancelled so pack your waterproofs if it looks like rain!
Have you got any more unusual things to do in Cornwall to add to the list?