While it’s the beaches and coastline that put Cornwall on the list as a holiday hotspot, there’s much more to do here than go surfing and build sandcastles. Plunge into coastal adventures on a coasteering or monster SUP adventure, take a spin along cycle routes criss-crossing World Heritage landscapes, cast away by boat and feel the wind in your sails, or walk in the footsteps of pilgrims, artists, writers and film makers.
Coastal scenery and countryside delights
One of the best ways to sit back and take in the scenery is aboard one of the county’s stunning railway journeys. Hop on the scenic coastal railway from St Erth to St Ives and you can take in the coastal scenery that inspired so many of the artists that have lived here over the years. Or why not try the Looe Valley Rail Ale Trail – stopping to sample local ales in a series of characterful country inns along one of the Great Scenic Railways of Devon and Cornwall?
The Maritime Line Rail Ale Trail between Falmouth and Truro is also a pretty and popular route, or you can choose to travel between these two towns by ferry with Fal River Links. Get your hands on a Fal Mussel Card and you can enjoy unlimited travel on any of the Fal River Links services, so you can float to Flushing, Mylor or St Mawes, cross the river on the King Harry chain ferry, or take a river cruise to Trelissick Gardens.
Other scenic ferry hops include the Black Tor ferry from Rock to Padstow, and the boat cruise from Cawsand to Plymouth’s waterfront Barbican. New for 2019, the Talland Bay Hotel is launching half- and full-day cruises to Looe Island and Fowey on its Princess 40 Flybridge Cruiser. If you want to explore further afield book a day trip on the Scillonian Ferry from Penzance to the Isles of Scilly – a paradise archipelago 28 miles from Lands’ End.
Upping the ante on water-based adventures, surfing is at the heart of Cornwall’s beach culture – and from the Lizard Peninsula to the northern reaches of Bude there is no shortage of surf schools, hire outlets, and surf shops to ensure you are kitted out and ready to ride the waves. Yet it’s not just the surfing industry that’s booming; there are plenty of other water sports to try. Head to Newquay Activity Centre for a range of adventures where the land meets the sea – from stand-up paddleboarding to coasteering. Or castaway from Carbis Bay on a Hawaiian canoe with underwater viewers, gather a group of friends for some sidesplitting fun on a giant stand-up paddleboard, and brave a power-coasteering adventure from Port Quin.
Not all water sports take you out to sea: at Adrenalin Quarry you can fly down the zip wire, make a splash at the aqua park and go wild swimming in a flooded quarry. At Retallack Resort you can ride the FlowRider wave, try wakeboarding or attempt the total-wipeout inflatable course around the lake. For something more relaxing head to the Art Deco Jubilee Pool in Penzance, where you can bask in the brand new geo-thermally heated section of the pool, which is being opened in spring 2020.
Hop on the scenic coastal railway from St Erth to St Ives and you can take in the coastal scenery that inspired so many of the artists that have lived here over the years
Attractions for all the family
With the Cornish weather being so unpredictable, there are plenty of all-weather attractions, too. If the kids are climbing the walls, let them loose on the walls of Penryn’s Granite Planet or Clip and Climb at Cornwall Services.
Dive into the underwater world without getting wet at Newquay’s Blue Reef Aquarium, or discover Cornwall’s seafaring heritage at the National Maritime Museum. Camel Creek Adventure Park in Wadebridge is a year-round, all-weather attraction, with heated indoor play for the coldest winter days and an array of rides and animal attractions for the whole family.
Arguably the best-known and most popular all-weather attraction is the Eden Project. Here amidst the iconic biomes where you can ice skate in winter and visit the rainforest in every season, recent developments include the major new exhibition Invisible Worlds exploring planetary phenomena beyond our senses, and a Western Australia Garden in the Med biome.
There are plenty of other garden wonderlands blooming in the county’s sub-tropical climate, including the historic Lost Gardens of Heligan, where you can tunnel through bamboo, banana palms and gigantic rhubarb plants, to ancient woodlands and water meadows. Lost to the brambles of time since the outbreak of World War 1, this sleeping beauty was re-awakened in 1990 to become Europe’s largest garden restoration project. Another firm favourite with families – and dogs, too – is Trebah Garden, where you can wend through colourful foliage to a divine sandy beach perfect for skimming pebbles.
Other must-see gardens include sub-tropical Glendurgan, which tumbles to the edge of the Helford River, and Trelissick’s stunning 500-acre estate, where you wander along the banks of the River Fal and climb magnificent beech trees before afternoon tea in the courtyard.
In a county so well endowed with flora and fauna, it’s no wonder that there are so many places where you can enjoy close encounters with wildlife. Watch playful otters at the Tamar Otter and Wildlife Centre, near Launceston, meet rescued seal pups dipping and diving their way to recovery at the Cornish Seal Sanctuary in Gweek, and witness lobsters at different stages of their life cycle at the National Lobster Hatchery in Padstow. A day at Newquay Zoo is always a real crowd-pleaser, where you can stroll from the African Savannah to Madagascar, observing over 100 species of wildlife from lions to poison dart frogs. Both the Screech Owl Sanctuary (near Newquay) and Paradise Park (in Hayle) put on incredible free-flying bird shows, and, in addition to its many species of exotic birds, Paradise Park also has farm animals and a huge soft play barn that lures visitors on even the rainiest days.
There are plenty of other garden wonderlands blooming in the county’s sub-tropical climate, including the historic Lost Gardens of Heligan