It took me almost 30 years to discover the delights of West Cornwall. And now I can’t stop talking about it to just about anyone I meet.
From the sleepy coastal towns to the quaint buildings and mesmerising beaches, West Cornwall is undoubtedly one of the most glorious places I’ve ever visited in the UK. I visited last September with my friend Sophie, when the weather was still dry and warm walks on the beaches at sunset were still an option.
One of the things that always put me off visiting West Cornwall was the fact I don’t have a car. I always worried that that would make some of the best places to visit inaccessible. Turns out I needn’t have worried: the public buses were so efficient, we were able to tick off all the places we had on our list!
In the end, we chose to base ourselves for the duration of our trip in Penzance because it sits at the end of a direct train line from London. But we had absolutely no problem visiting all of these unmissable West Cornwall sights, all at our own leisure. There are so many wonderful places to stay in this part of the world too – the selection at Classic Cottages will give you plenty of opportunities to live out your charming English, cottagecore fantasies!
While this isn’t a completely exhaustive list of everything there is to see on a West Cornwall trip, I hope it gives you a head start on the things to work into your schedule.
As soon as I stepped off the bus at St Ives, I knew I was about to fall hook, line and sinker for this coastal town. With swathes of white sands and turquoise sea in front of us, it felt like we had been dropped off at the Mediterranean instead.
Porthminster Beach, which has direct access from the adjacent St Ives train station, was where we based ourselves for much of the morning, lapping up the giant waves. Initially keen to just sticking to paddling, it wasn’t long before we were freely swimming out further into the sea – something I’ve been reluctant to do on an English beach since I was a child!
A quick walk along St Ives’ harbour and some of the quaint backstreets bring you to Porthmeor Beach and the slopes of St Ives Head. If it’s the cultural scene you’re after, though, then you’re in luck: St Ives has a plethora of one-of-a-kind local shops, cafes and galleries – not least its very own Tate!
There are plenty of places to stay here too, including gorgeous cottages with sea views.
Along with St Ives, Penzance is one of the other most well-known spots in West Cornwall. This is where we chose to base ourselves for the duration of our trip, planning a different place to visit each day.
It worked out perfectly, as public buses from Penzance out to all other tourist hotspots in West Cornwall run frequently. Penzance is also home to a number of top attractions, including the art deco lido of Jubilee Pool and Morrab Gardens, a plant lover’s dream.
We also loved our evenings out playing arcade games along the Promenade, as well as many daytime walks around the high street (mostly trying out different kinds of vegetarian Cornish pasties).
A picture-perfect fishing village just outside of Penzance, Mousehole is surprisingly easy to access by public transport, with buses running every 30 minutes or so.
Although small in size, Mousehole is the perfect addition to your West Cornwall itinerary. Take photos of the village’s stone houses stacked up overlooking the harbour, go for a dip, head for a wander around the independent shops, or soak up the old-world charm from a seat within one of the harbour-front cafes. I can definitely recommend the Rock Pool cafe: its table overlooking the sea provided the perfect spot for a tea and a delicious snack.
St Michael’s Mount
You’ll need to head to the town of Marazion, 2 miles east of Penzance, to visit St Michael’s Mount. Sitting on a tidal island half a mile off the coast, it’s unique in that you can actually walk out to it – although only once a day. At low tide, the cobbled causeway is revealed, allowing guests four hours to come and go.
Once on the island you can visit the ancient castle, take in the colourful gardens and wander around the historic harbour area which is now home to around 30 islanders!
And don’t worry about getting trapped on the island – boats also run between the mainland when the causeway is underwater. When you book your ticket to tour the castle and gardens, you’ll be prompted to pay for a boat fare if needed.
I’m still reeling from just how beautiful Porthcurno beach is! Many places describe it as paradise, and I honestly can’t think of a better name for it. It is absolutely stunning.
The beach is wedged between two cliffs, providing a sheltered spot for visitors to take a dip. It’s a very unspoilt area: so much so, the nearest toilets and cafe facilities are a short walk back at the car park (so worth bearing that in mind if you’re looking to spend a whole day there!)
As if the white sand and turquoise waters weren’t enough, at one point we saw a seal bobbing along just a few metres from the shore. Talk about absolutely idyllic!
The beach is overlooked by the Minack Theatre (see next unmissable West Cornwall sight). It is possible to climb up a cliff staircase from the beach to the theatre itself, but be warned – this isn’t for the faint of heart!
The Minack Theatre
The Minack Theatre is a beautiful open-air theatre perched high up on the cliffs, overlooking the sea. Built by hand by a small team headed by a woman called Rowena Cade, the theatre is considered one of the most spectacular theatres in the world.
There’s a steady stream of shows on at the theatre from Easter to September, including musicals, dramas, comedy and bands. If you’re not able to grab a ticket, don’t fret – for the princely sum of £10 per adult (or £5 for children under 16), you can visit the theatre all year round.
Land’s End is so much more than just the most westerly point of mainland Cornwall (and England, for that matter). It’s home to family attractions, restaurants, cafes, coastal walks, and the iconic signpost where a photographer will set up your choice of hometown as well as the number of miles away it is.
It’s worth taking a short stroll along the coast to admire the 270 million-year-old rock formations out at sea. The Enys Dodman rock formation (or Elephant Rock) is one of the most recognisable, and can be seen after just a 15-minute walk along the clifftop.
This list has an inordinate number of beaches for a UK post, but that’s just what you get when you visit West Cornwall! The beach at Sennen Cove is called Whitesands Bay, which tells you just how idyllic it is.
You can walk from Lands End to Sennen Cove quite easily – the two are just three miles apart. When you arrive at Sennen Cove you’ll be treated to almost a mile of fine-sand beach and a sea that’s perfect for surfing, bodyboarding or a short paddle.
This post was created in collaboration with Classic Cottages – all love of Cornwall is mine!