Cornwall has been on the top of my England travel list for awhile, but I just hadn’t made it there yet. . Every time we travel within England, it’s always amazing, but the lure of the $50 roundtrip flights out of Stansted sometimes puts trips within England on the back burner. For those unfamiliar, Cornwall is the most Southwestern region in England; it’s about a 7 hour drive from where we live. Cornwall is known for it’s stunning turquoise blue beaches, dramatic coastal cliffs, history, and perhaps most importantly – it’s delicious ice cream! Cornwall has always been a popular holiday destination in England, only being made more popular by shows like Poldark. It feels more tropical than English (though it gets rain and fog) and when I shared photos from our trip with friends, many remarked they didn’t realize places in England could look like that! The area is definitely spectacular, and I’m glad this pandemic forced this trip upon us. At the time of planning the trip, the United Kingdom had imposed a two week quarantine for those arriving to the country, effectively making it difficult to leave the country. The idea of being locked inside our homes for two weeks, unable to ride or bikes, go for a walk, or buy groceries, made it an easy decision to take a holiday within the United Kingdom. As an added bonus, we contributed to the economy of our host nation, and had a pretty incredible trip!
When researching our trip, I realized you could probably spend an entire summer in Cornwall and not get bored because the area is quite large and there is a lot to do. I decided to make our base in Southern Cornwall, and explore that area, saving the middle and northern part of the peninsula for a potential future trip. I don’t know about you, but too often we ping-pong around on these 2 and 3 day trips and don’t get to fully enjoy each spot. I wanted the freedom to spend more time at each place went, without a super tight schedule to follow. I ended up booking an airbnb in St. Levan, which is near Land’s End. The place is called Faraway Loft, and I highly recommend it. It was so adorable and perfect for two people! While arguably one of the best things about travel is trying food in new places, we live in England, so we didn’t need to eat at a pub or restaurant every night. I decided the airbnb would save us some cash AND calories (which were later splurged on ice cream, freaking amazing, more on that later). Our drive down to Cornwall was pretty uneventful, or so I’m told, I slept for over half of it. For some reason, I always fall asleep as a passenger, and I’m not complaining about it. After we arrived at our place, we unloaded the car and headed back to Penzance to grab some groceries for the week. Both Sainsburys and Tesco are in Penzance (about 20-25 minutes from where we were staying) which made it convenient. One thing about Cornwall, the mileage between places might not be much, but it always takes longer than you’d think to drive there because of the narrow back roads; many “two lane roads” require pulling over to let oncoming traffic by. After a quick dinner, we drove over to the Land’s End attraction, with hopes of seeing the sunset, but it was super foggy with little visibility.
From the window of the bedroom at our loft, you can see the ocean. Unfortunately, we woke up that morning to fog and almost zero visibility. Since I’m prone to overreacting and excessive worrying, I immediately thought the trip was ruined and the weather would suck the entire time. Luckily my husband convinced me that we should still head out and explore a little after breakfast, so I begrudgingly put on a sweatshirt, bitching about how it should be warmer in July. We headed down to Nanjizal Beach, which boasts a popular cave. What’s that expression – if you don’t like the weather, wait a few minutes. By late morning, the fog had cleared and the sun came out and in that moment I knew we were in for some gorgeous views on our trip. We explored a little bit of the coastal path in both directions, stopping to take too many pictures, and not really going anywhere. No matter where you stay in Cornwall, my recommendation would be to staying near the coast. The Coastal Path is absolutely amazing, and there are so many beautiful hikes (or “walks” as the British call them) to do. I’m glad we made the decision to stay about a 10 minute walk from the coast, and brought our hiking boots.
After our beach exploration and hike, we headed back to the loft to grab lunch before the rest of our day. Our next stop was Minack Theatre, about a 15 minute drive from our place (but ridiculously close, it was just a lot of back roads). Minack Theatre is an outdoor theatre that’s built into the hilltop overlooking the ocean. Not only is the view breathtaking, but the gardens in the theatre are beautiful as well. The stone chairs have the names of the plays carved into the rock. The architect was Rowena Cade, who lived in the house near the theatre. She built the theatre circa 1932 for her local theatre group to perform. By 2012, some 80,000 people have come to see performances at the theatre. Due to Covid, there are no performances for 2020 but it would be an amazing thing to see. From the theatre, we were able to enjoy the beautiful views of Porthcurno Beach, with it’s beautiful green water and sandy beaches. Porthcurno Beach is a popular spot, so if you plan to spend the day there, get there early or you risk not getting a parking spot. You could easily visit the theatre, and then take a quick walk to the beach from there.
After spending around an hour at Minack Theatre, we headed to our next stop, Mousehole Harbour. Presumably this little village got it’s name because the harbour is small and round like a mousehole. Interestingly enough, the British pronounce it “Mow-ZUHL” instead of Mousehole. This is a cute little village, with a small beach area and pretty views of houses overlooking the harbour. It’s worth a visit if you have time, but be warned, the roads to get there from the direction of the theatre are extremely narrow and hilly. We were able to find parking down by the harbour. As with most places in Cornwall, the parking machines take change, but not card, so bring your coins. Mousehole Harbour was an adorable village to walk around and take some photos. We also enjoyed sitting on the beach, and watching those braver than us, get in the cold water. You know the water is cold when you see children swimming in wetsuits. We also had our first Cornish ice cream experience; a little sweet shop that served Roskilly’s Ice Cream. While the flavor selection was great, it was just ok. Honestly, it wasn’t cold enough so the texture was off, but still better than no ice cream at all. We only spent two hours in Mousehole, which was enough to enjoy the scenery. Being on the beach prompted my husband to wish he had remembered to pack his suit (called a swimming costume in the UK). Since we were so close to Penzance, we headed back to the Super Sainsburys to see if they had suits, and they did. If you’re anything like us and forget things on your trip, it’s likely you can find them in Penzance. We picked out the brightest, most obnoxious bathing suit in the store, and also grabbed a bottle of Cornish Mead to have at the loft. It is hard to describe the mead, but definitely worth a try; we liked the Blackberry Mead. You can also find a large variety of Cyder in this part of England as well.
As mentioned, the Cornish Coast is absolutely stunning. We decided to take advantage of how close we were staying to the beach, and headed down there after dinner. The tide was in a little more, and we attempted to walk through the cave, but stopped because the water was pretty cold! It was beautiful just to enjoy the beach, despite being overcast. We even climbed a hill in hopes of seeing some sort of sunset, but no luck. Even on a cloudy night, Cornwall still is beautiful.
You know those places that are clearly tourist traps and overrated, but you still just have to go?? That’s how our second day started and I am 100% ok with that; sometimes you have to do the touristy things! One claim to fame for Cornwall is the Western most point in England, named Land’s End. The attraction is built on the coast, and has beautiful coastal walks in both directions, food, gifts, and different attractions (some of which were closed) as well as the iconic signpost. Parking is 6 pounds for the day, and we pre-booked parking as they are limiting visitors due to Covid-19. The vendors, toilets, and attractions are open from 10-4 but you can come back to catch the sunset or walk on the trail. We went in the End to End exhibit when we fist arrived, which details the incredible feat of so many who travel from John O’Groats, Scotland (the northern most point in the UK) to Land’s End. I knew there were cyclists and endurance athletes who completed the 874 mile journey in insane amounts of time, but I didn’t realize some of the other ways people attempt the distance. There are people who travel by lawnmower or even a motorized toilet (I guess he didn’t have to stop for bathroom breaks?) all the raise money for charity. It was really neat to see this free exhibit and it’s definitely worth spending 15-20 minutes reading about their stories.
The main attraction (and most photographed I’m sure) at Land’s End is the iconic white sign post listing the distance to John O’Groats and New York. The signpost has photographers there during the day and they charge you to get a photo in from of the sign. They will put the city you are from and the mileage on the sign for you. We did not do this, but I did snap a picture of the sign alone. It was one of those expectation vs reality moments for me as you don’t see much of anything but the sign in my photo. Unfortunately, it was another foggy morning when we arrived at 10am (mini-meltdown was had because that’s how I roll) and while it cleared up later on, it never became a sunny day.
From Land’s End we took the trail to the right and walked to Sennen Cove. It’s an easy walk, and I honestly don’t remember how long it took because I’m one of those annoying people that stops and takes a million pictures every five seconds. You will pass a shipwreck which is interesting. Cornwall is notorious for shipwrecks, which isn’t too surprising given all the rocky cliffs. The hike into Sennen is beautiful, and it’s a cute beach town. We walked around and enjoyed our first Cornish pasty, which was absolutely delicious and something you MUST try when in Cornwall. I was amazed at how many people were in the water on a cloudy and cool day. Many surf camps were going on as well, so if you’re a beach lover and don’t mind cold water, Sennen Cove might be the place for you! After spending about 45 minutes in Sennen, we re-traced our steps and headed back to Land’s End.
We had a couple other stops planned for the day, wanting to take advantage of our National Trust membership, but they were thwarted by insanely narrow, gravel roads that were almost impossible to drive. I’ll say this over and over, but there really is no way to prepare yourself for some of these roads! We did make it to the National Trust site, Botallack Mines, complete with actual gravel roads and a parking lot. There is so much history on the Cornish Coast! The area was known for mining, and the ruins of former mines are everywhere on the Peninsula. The Botallack Mines were submarine mines, which means the mining tunnels went under the seas. In operation for almost 100 years during the 1800s and early 1900s, the mines produced cooper, tin, and arsenic. The remains of the two engine rooms are dramatically situated on cliffs above the sea. The views from the site are stunning as well. We had our mountain bikes in the car, so we hopped on them to check out some of the sites that had the narrow roads. From the mine parking lot, we rode to the remains of more mines, and on to the crumbled ruins of Kenidjack Cliff Castle. The best part was the sweeping views of Cape Cornwall from the Castle. We had originally wanted to ride to Cape Cornwall, but decided to skip it because the views were incredible from where we were!
Our day ended with ice cream. Because we were on vacation, and we can do what we want! Also, there is something addicting and beyond delicious about Cornish ice cream – it’s the clotted cream! Don’t ask me to explain it, just try it for yourself. My husband has a raging sweet tooth (and remains lean regardless of what he eats, its so not fair) so we were on a mission to try different brands of Cornish ice cream. Kelly’s is amazing and available at the grocery store where we live, but we wanted to try some lesser known or smaller brands. We read about a place, and decided to try it – Moomaid’s of Zennor. We stopped at their St. Just store and had the brownie sundae which comes with three scoops and is so decadent! This was our favorite ice cream of the trip and it was worth every calorie.
Whenever I plan a trip, there are days I plan too little, and days I plan too much. This was a day I planned too much, and we were on a schedule to fit in all the things I had planned in a certain area, but it was worth it. We spent a lot of time on the “Lizard Peninsula”, which is a specific part of Cornwall that is home to the southernmost point in England. Our first stop was Lizard Point; the parking lot is free to National Trust members and fills up, so get there early. If you are not a member you can park there for a small fee. From the lot, you walk down the steps to the coast, where there is a cafe and gift shop of course. Lizard Point is the southernmost point in England and also has spectacular cliffs and views. From there, we walked the coastal path to Kynance Cove, a little over 2 miles each way. The walk has a few steps and slight uphills, nothing too strenuous. The only reason it took us over an hour to get to Kynance Cove was because I stopped to take so many pictures and we also would give away on the trail for social distancing. People were really good about that, so we felt safe. Kynance Cove is simply beautiful, and I wish we had stayed longer but we had a packed day. This was probably the prettiest hike we did in Cornwall. It was around 11 when we got to the cove and it was already getting crowded, so go early.
Our next stop was the Cornish Seal Sanctuary. Living near the Norfolk Coast, we have learned the United Kingdom has 40% of the world’s population of grey seals. Many of them live in waters off the coast near us, so we’ve been to see them in winter when they come ashore to give birth. The Cornish Seal Sanctuary is a charity that rehabilitates sick or injured seals with the goal of bringing them back to the ocean. Every year they rescue about 80 seals and most end up back in the wild. Unfortunately, some are unable to return to the wild either from illness that requires daily medication or blindness. Those animals are given a permanent home at the sanctuary and you can see them when you visit. The sanctuary also provides a home for a handful of other animals (penguins, sea lions, otters) that came from other zoos or sanctuaries. If you like animals, it is worth a visit, but you need to book ahead of time online due to covid restrictions. During our visit, there were no little seal pups in the rehabilitation pool – which is a good thing, they all made it back to the wild!
You’re probably sick of hearing me talk about ice cream and thinking I must be completely addicted to sugar, but our next stop was Roskilly’s Farm. The venue is adorable, complete with ice cream counter, restaurant, shops, and farm animals. They have a wide variety of flavors and their ice cream is good, but I stand by my statement that Moomaid’s of Zennor is the BEST! But don’t take my word for it, do a taste test yourself; calories don’t count on vacation.
Speaking of calories… our next stop was in central Cornwall; we visited Healey’s Cornish Cyder Farm and it was amazing! We even have a case a case of cyder sitting in our kitchen to prove how much we enjoyed it. Cyder is one of those things we had before, but didn’t truly discover or appreciate until we moved to England. There are so many different varieties to try, and many come from the Somerset area near Cornwall. The property is quaint and we loved the self-lead tour at Healey’s. You can even go in their farm area and see cute animals. I know the highlight of what they do is cyder and alcohol, but I don’t understand how employees can work there without wanting to steal a baby goat. Your 5 pound entry fee (book ahead of time online, because covid) is actually an annual pass and includes a very generous tasting session! We tried the original Rattler cyder, Berry Rattler, Pineapple Rattler, Pear Rattler, Strawberry Lime Rattler, and my husband tried the Peach (gross!). They also have juices and cyder based gins and liquors. The visit was well worth the price, and we loved it. I highly recommend checking it out.
While most of our meals were cooked at home in the airbnb, we did plan some nights out. Based on a recommendation, we booked a table at Carn Brea Castle Restaurant in Redruth. They ONLY take bookings, and don’t have a website, but you can call them at 01209 218358. It’s an intimate setting in a castle tower, by candlelight, but it isn’t pretentious. The owner is Jordanian, so the food is a Middle Eastern/Mediterranean variety, which was a huge draw for us. We had a delicious meal and enjoyed the views from the roof. After all, how often do you get to eat in a castle? In true Cornwall fashion, the gravel road to get there is painfully narrow and lined with tall shrubs and grass so you just kinda say a prayer and hope no one is coming. It’s all part of the vibe when you go to Cornwall. LOL.
Our fourth day in Cornwall started out with the excursion I was most looking forward to, Saint Michael’s Mount. I figured, if the pandemic was keeping me from a roadtrip through France to see Mont St. Michel, I might as well check out the much smaller, British version. Saint Michael’s is a tidal island 500 meters off the coast of Marazion, accessible only when the walking path is exposed during low tide. Normally, ferries are run during high tide, but because of social distancing, the mount is only open for the hours of low tide. A National Trust property, you have to book online ahead of time. The island boasts vibrant and incredible gardens that make you feel like you’re walking through a dream. We loved all the symmetrical and perfect succulents. There is also a castle on top of the cliff that looks truly magical, but unfortunately we were only able to gain entry tickets for the garden, not the castle. Definitely try far in advance so you won’t be disappointed! The island also has a couple cute shops and cafes that are worth checking out. Saint Michael’s Mount is a must-do in Southern Cornwall, if only a for a quick photo. FYI, there are large parking lots in Marazion near the entrance to the tidal path.
The town of Marazion is charming and worth a quick visit if you have time. The day we were there was sunny and gorgeous, so it felt great to walk around, browse shops, and catch the view of the mount from other perspectives and angles. Even though we had packed a lunch in the cooler, we abandoned it, being the fatties that we are, for a traditional Cornish Pasty. (To be fair, we shared one, but still). Pasties are dough filled goodness. I’m sure I’m not doing them justice by saying this, but it’s like a chicken pot pie and a hot pocket had a baby, and they are homemade! Pasties come in different varieties – chicken, vegetable, steak, and I even saw some with chorizo. You simply must have one!
After Marazion, we drove into Penzance to explore, since the only thing we’d seen so far of the town, was Sainsburys. To be honest, I was a little let down by Penzance. I think I had higher expectations and then realized it wasn’t what I expected. Don’t get me wrong, its a cute town, but if I’m being honest I was expecting more of a beachy charm. We did enjoy walking around the shops and such, and bought a few souvenirs, but we didn’t stay too long. Parts of it were also a little more crowded for my liking, given the pandemic. It looked like Chapel Street had some fun restaurants and pubs, so perhaps we should’ve planned differently and gone in the evening for dinner and drinks.
One thing we had read about online was the local Newlyn crab sandwich, and since Newlyn was on our way home and we had shared a pasty a few hours earlier, we set off in search of a late lunch. The little village of Newlyn is very close to Penzance; likely walking distance. When we arrived a little after 3 we learned THE place to have this sandwich was closed. Instead we wandered around and came to a cute little bistro, the Mackerel Sky Seafood Cafe. The entire menu was mouthwatering, and we ended up not getting the sandwich. We did however, enjoy our calamari and plate of crab nachos. It was a tasty late lunch, and a place I’d definitely recommend. We ended up heading back home after walking around a bit.
The evening was clear and sunny, so we set out for another hike. We left from Nanjizal Beach and followed the coastal path a few miles to Land’s End. The views were stunning and it was the perfect evening for a hike. I can’t even describe how gorgeous the coast is, and pictures don’t do it justice. There is something so peaceful about being together in nature, with only one or two other people around; it was a nice relief from the crowds in town. I think all this social distancing is something I may prefer to keep up when the pandemic is over. Feel free to continue staying at home! When we got back to the beach, we headed up a steep hill to watch the sunset, as it is not visible from the beach. It was worth the climb, and no words are needed to describe watching the sunset over the water. The coolest thing about? Just as the sun was about dipped halfway below the water, a cargo ship was moving across the horizon, in front of the sun!
After several jam packed days, it was time for a relaxing day, and luckily the weather complied. The sun and temperatures were perfect for a beach day! Even though there were beaches near where we stayed, we loved the Lizard Peninsula and Kynance Cove so much that we decided to head back that way. The 55 minute drive ended up taking almost an hour and 40 minutes because of road works. When we arrived at Kynance Cove, the parking lot was full and there was a line of cars turning around. This took up more time, but also gave us time for another game plan. We figured if the parking lot was full, the beach would be crowded and not the experience we wanted. In the end, we decided to park in the village of Lizard and walk to the coastal path and find the secluded beach we saw on our hike a few days ago. The town of Lizard ended up being an unexpected and adorable stop! The main parking lot operates on donations, and there are public restrooms as well. For lunch, we stopped for another Cornish Pasty (sensing a theme here…) and then headed on our way to the trail. You can get to Kynance Cove walking from the town of Lizard, but this is not the path we took. We walked down the road to the coastal trail, took a right and did a short hike until we came to what is referred to by the locals as Pentreath Beach. There used to be steps built in to the cliff to get you to the beach, but part of the staircase was washed out; you kind of have to scramble down the cliff a bit to get to the stairs. It isn’t too hard, but I was grateful we wore actual shoes. The views from the beach were incredible, and being surrounded by cliffs helped break the wind. It was the perfect beach day I had been longing for. It was so relaxing, we didn’t even leave until almost 5:30. That night was a low key night in, as we were tired from the sun and wanted to get moving somewhat early the next day.\
Our time in Cornwall was coming to an end, but there was still so much to see! We enjoyed a lazy breakfast at home before heading out for another hike. This time we hiked from Nanjizal Beach to Porthgwarra. Again, it’s not a technical hike and not difficult, but I stop SO MUCH to take pictures. The hike was stunning as expected, and we even ran into some local cattle. The Moms were a little protective of the babies and did not want to move from the path; they were staring us down so we went around the them. There isn’t much when you get to Porthgwarra, but it was great to get our legs moving and see more of the coastline, especially after a relaxing beach day.
Our experience at Healey’s Cyder Farm was so good, that we decided to support a local vineyard. We had driven past Polgoon Vineyard a few times on our way through Penzance, so we decided to book a tour and tasting. I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but because of Covid you book online ahead of time, and the tour is self-guided (they give you a paper with information so you know what you’re looking at). I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the wines, simply because we were served some white, sparkling, and rose. I’m normally a dry or medium bodied red wine fan, but everything we tried was delicious. It was such a relaxing afternoon on their patio, that after our tasting flight we ordered a glass and just enjoyed the view and sunshine. The location is perfect, and from the vineyard you can see the ocean. Check this place out if you’re in the area.
One of the most popular destinations in Cornwall is the idyllic seaside village of St. Ive’s with it’s seemingly endless white sand beaches and blue-green water. Sounds amazing, doesn’t it?? That was our last stop of the day. We had looked into staying in St. Ive’s but places were much more expensive and we worried about the possibility of social distancing in a tourist town. The parking lot is on the hill above the city, and you either need to bring a TON of coins, or download the app (which is what we did). I think it was around 8 pounds to park for more than a few hours, but it was our only option. The town itself is adorable, with a lot of speciality and unique shops. We picked up some Cornish liquor that is similar to Bailey’s but it is wine based. The stuff is really good! We didn’t have much of a purpose other than to hit a few shops and walk around, and I was ok with that. Of course the beaches are a huge perk as well, and it was nice to walk around them. The iconic harbour is almost all sand at low tide, and then all water at high tide.
I had been looking forward to dinner in St. Ive’s all week; this was our other “dinner out”. I had a reservation booked at the Rum and Crab Shack, because it looked like a fun vibe with good, local seafood. To be honest, it was a bit of a let down. The food was delicious, what there was of it. I ordered a crab and shrimp salad; I was disappointed that it came out in what looked like a Chinese Take Away box. There was very little crab on my salad, and the shrimp was the tiny, miniscule stuff that comes in a can. My husband enjoyed his fish tacos though. I’m not sure if it was Covid, but it seemed like a waste for the food to come out in throw away containers with no presentation. I will say, the cocktails were AMAZING. I can’t remember the name of what we ordered on the Happy Hour specials but it was delicious and they didn’t skimp on the alcohol. After dinner, we had more of the best Cornish ice cream, from the shop Moomaid’s of Zennor (which if you’ve been paying attention you’ll remember was our favorite). While I am glad we went to St. Ive’s, it was very crowded. I’d love to stay here sometime, just not during a pandemic.
Our last day in Cornwall was really just a few hours in the morning, and then heading home after lunch. We had tickets booked at the Eden Project at 10:00, which was about 90 minutes from our place (and that much closer to home). It made sense for our to do this on our way out of Cornwall since it is so much farther north than the other places we went. The Eden Project is a complex attraction built on reclaimed land that used to be a clay mine. If you are into science and environment, as well as sustainable projects, this place is for you! The Eden Project boasts the world’s largest indoor rainforest. They also have a Mediterranean biome to walk through, as well as other gardens and exhibits. They promote fair trade and sustainability. Their goal is to create their own energy to run the attraction. It was a really unique experience and I’m glad we went. After visiting the Eden Project (we spent a little over 2 hours there) we hit the road for an uneventful trip home!
Cornwall was the perfect destination for a week long getaway. You could take a shorter trip, or even stay longer, as there is so much to do. It’s the perfect place if you enjoy nature and the beach. There are multiple National Trust places, as well as English Heritage. I can’t wait to go back someday and explore different areas! Here are a few tips to remember when planning a trip to Cornwall:
- Preplan and prebook as much as possible as the Cornish peninsula is large and you’ll want to book things in the same region on the same day to avoid unnecessary travel.
- Many roads in Cornwall are narrow, single lanes, and you’ll have to pull over on to the grass to allow oncoming traffic to get by. Take a dramamine and make your husband drive.
- Bring good walking shoes. I brought my cute sandals with me, but for coastal walks they aren’t enough.
- Be sure to eat Cornish Pasties and Cornish ice cream (specifically Moomaid’s of Zennor).
- The parking lots at many scenic stops are run by the National Trust; if you aren’t a member bring change for parking.
Have you been to Cornwall?? What is your favorite part?