In this article, we will discover 11 of the best towns in Cornwall; one of the UK’s most beautiful areas. This region of the UK is one of the most magical and beautiful and is just waiting to be discovered.
If you love the cliffs and hikes of the Peak District combined with stunning beaches and a microclimate you won’t find elsewhere in the UK, then you’ll love Cornwall.
Cornwall makes for one of the best UK road trips and that in itself can be a worthy holiday. Town hopping around Cornwall is one of our favourite summer adventures.
There are so many wonderful things to do here and beautiful towns to visit, you won’t want to miss any of it!
Where is Cornwall?
Cornwall is the westernmost county in England and has been a popular holiday destination for centuries thanks to its natural beauty and excellent beaches. It has a rich and interesting history that includes pirates, witches, and even King Arthur!
Located all the way in the southwestern part of the country, it can be quite the drive to get to Cornwall, but it is well worth the journey (and there are lots of wonderful places to explore along the way, too!).
Why Visit Cornwall?
The county is one of the most picturesque places in the UK thanks to its gorgeous fishing villages, dramatic clifftop paths, quiet coves, and vast expanse of sandy beaches with clear blue waters.
For outdoor enthusiasts, Cornwall provides a never-ending list of activities from surfing, kayaking, whale-watching, horse riding, and hiking to name just a few.
Food lovers will find themselves in heaven as Cornwall is home to the cream tea, clotted cream, the Cornish pasty, local ice cream, and the freshest seafood you could find anywhere. From traditional pubs to Michelin-starred restaurants, there is something to suit every palate and budget!
So, let’s dive right in and discover some of the prettiest towns in Cornwall!
The Best Towns in Cornwall
If you aren’t familiar with where to go in Cornwall, be sure to check out these 11 incredible places in Cornwall.
1. Port Isaac
Port Isaac is one of the best towns to visit in Cornwall for its picturesque harbor with a backdrop of quaint, stone-bricked fisherman’s cottages. The town is so picture-perfect in fact that it was chosen as the set for the popular British television series “Doc Martin”. This small town includes not one, but two Michelin-starred restaurants making it one of the best towns in Cornwall for foodies.
With its narrow, cobbled streets, fresh fish market, small lifeboat museum, and plenty of rustic, old pubs, Port Isaac really is one of the prettiest towns in Cornwall. Sitting on the harbor wall and enjoying a Cornish pasty or fresh-dressed crab while watching the fishing boats come in and out is an experience you won’t soon forget! Follow the road up the cliff from the harbor for fantastic views out across the headlands and inlets of North Cornwall.
Where to Stay in Port Isaac: The Slipway is a B&B located inside a Grade II listed building that dates back to 1527. It is right across from Port Isaac harbor and has the sweetest little outdoor garden in the restaurant area. Rooms start at $182 per night. Book a stay at Slipway here.
After Port Isaac, Padstow is probably the other major town in Cornwall that most people know. It is certainly one of the prettiest towns in Cornwall thanks to its large harbor in the center of town and rustic, stone buildings dating as far back as the 13th Century.
Padstow is most famous for being the home of Rick Stein’s Seafood Restaurant and no trip to the town is complete without popping in for a bite to eat!
The town sits at the head of the Camel Estuary and one of the best things to do is to cycle the Camel Trail; an old, disused railway line that leads all the way from the center of town to Bodmin 18 miles away. The track follows the Camel River the whole way and is one of the most enjoyable ways to experience picturesque Cornwall at a comfortable pace.
Check out our article all about the best things to do in Padstow here.
Where to Stay in Padstow: The Old Custom House is a stunning pub and B&B with a delicious (and HUGE) full English available each morning (as well as some lighter options, too). The location couldn’t be better right in the middle of town. Rooms start at $205 per night. Book a stay here.
Cornwall will always be synonymous with surfing and Newquay is the firm favorite for those looking to catch a few waves. This hip and vibrant Cornish town is packed with surf shops where you can hire everything from boards to wetsuits (this is the UK, not Costa Rica)!
Whether you are a seasoned pro or want to try boarding for the first time, Fistral Bay is the perfect place to try. You can book lessons with the Fistral Beach Surf School, who have years of experience helping people ride the perfect wave.
Newquay is also a great place for those wishing to indulge in other ocean activities such as kayaking, fishing, or even whale watching! Because of the town’s popularity, you can find some of the best restaurants, bars and especially nightlife in all of Cornwall.
Newquay can get very busy in the summer months, which is fine for those who enjoy its lively atmosphere. However, if you are someone that prefers things a little quieter, keep reading – we’ve got you covered.
Where to Stay in Newquay: Esplanade Hotel is literally on the beach. If you leave the hotel it will take you less than a minute to have sand beneath your toes. Many of the rooms even have views of the sea as you soak in the tub. The rooms are luxurious, there’s an indoor pool and a restaurant on-site. Rooms start at a very affordable $112 per night. Book a stay here.
Polzeath is one of the best Cornwall towns thanks to its huge, sandy beach, perfect for surfing and swimming. Here you can splash around in rock pools looking for starfish and other marine life. There is also a much smaller and quieter beach around the headland where you can find a little more solitude if you so wish.
Like Newquay, there are plenty of places to hire surfboards, boogie boards, wetsuits, snorkeling gear, and more.
For those who love hiking the cliff paths up around Polzeath are some of the most spectacular in the whole of the UK. The town doesn’t get as busy as Newquay and offers a great alternative for those looking for a slightly slower pace.
The walk from Polzeath to Port Isaac is just under 10 miles and takes around four to five hours. You will pass through abandoned fishing villages, tiny coves, waterfalls, pasture, and farmland. Along with the Camel Trail, if you want to experience Cornwall in all its beauty, then this mildly strenuous hike is a must.
Where to Stay in Polzeath: Polzeath Beach House is a beach-front hotel with views of the ocean. Rooms are clean and modern and breakfast is available each morning for a small additional fee. You can rent paddleboards, go for long walks on the beach, or grab some bikes from the nearby rental shops and get out along the bike paths to explore more of Polzeath. Rooms start at $188 per night. Book a stay here.
5. Saint Kew
Saint Kew is definitely a contender for the prettiest village in Cornwall. The St Kew Inn is a centerpiece of the village and the building dates back to 1460. The pub hosts many original features such as its large fireplace, perfect for winter evenings!
The 15th Century St James church is another icon of the village and is famed for its stained-glass windows depicting the Passion of the Christ. The church was renovated in 2005 thanks to donations from locals and holidaymakers alike.
Where to Stay in St Kew: Swallow Barn is a stunning little holiday rental that feels like you’re in a converted old barn. The interior has been redone to be modern and open-plan. The doors open out onto a patio with a hot tub and views over the Cornish countryside. The price depends on the time of year you visit, but it starts at $157 per night. Book a stay here.
For lovers of myth and legend, Tintagel is truly one of the best towns to visit in Cornwall thanks to its ties with King Arthur. Tintagel Castle sits on a rocky outcrop jutting into the North Atlantic. Beneath the castle is “Merlin’s Cave”, a 330-foot cave that stretches from the rocky shore into the cliff. It is here that King Arthur was allegedly washed ashore and discovered by the wizard Merlin.
Tintagel is also the perfect place for walking along the coastal paths for incredible views across the north Cornish coastline. It’s easy to see why this wild and windswept place is so synonymous with legend.
The town is only five miles from Boscastle, another of the best villages in Cornwall thanks to its small harbor, granite buildings, and coastal paths. Be sure to check out the Witchcraft Museum, voted one of the best independent museums in the UK.
Where to Stay in Tintagel: If you’re going to stay in Tintagel, it has to be at the Camelot Castle Hotel, doesn’t it? High up on the cliffs, the hotel offers stunning views back down over the coastline. Rooms feel grand and breakfast is included in your stay. Rooms start at $86 per night. Book a stay here.
7. St. Austell
We’ll move now to the south coast, which is a little less dramatic than the windswept north of Cornwall, however, it is filled with beautiful fishing villages and sandy beaches perfect for relaxing.
St. Austell is most famous for its brewery of the same name, making it one of the best towns in Cornwall to visit. The St Austell Brewery has been making beer for over 170 years, and you can’t help but notice its flagship ale; Tribute, on the menus of many of Cornwall’s pubs. This light, crisp, and immensely refreshing beer is as Cornish as Kelly’s Ice Cream, cream teas, and Cornish pasties.
The town also makes a great base for discovering the nearby Eden Project; Europe’s premier biodiversity attraction. The Eden Project opened in 2001 and is home to a vast array of plants, housed both outside and within specially built “biomes”. This is a great attraction for the whole family and is a must-visit for anyone coming to Cornwall! You can book tickets on the Eden Project website.
Where to Stay in St. Austell: If you want to enjoy some luxury on your trip to Cornwall, book a stay at the Cornwall Hotel Spa & Lodges in St. Austell. Situated on 43 acres of parkland, you will feel completely relaxed like a true vacation should be. Enjoy a spa treatment, use the steam room or sauna, or simply go for a walk on the property. Rooms start at a very affordable $116 per night. Book a stay here.
Here’s an interesting fact for you; Falmouth is home to the largest natural harbor in the world after Sydney Harbour in Australia! So, is it any wonder Henry VIII chose it as the perfect place for his Pendennis Castle and considered it one of the best Cornwall towns?!
Everything about Falmouth is geared towards the ocean. From its centuries-old fishing industry to the D-Day landings and round-the-world yacht races, this Cornish town is well worth visiting.
Falmouth has many wonderful attractions including the abovementioned Pendennis Castle, the National Maritime Museum, and two excellent beaches within walking distance from the centre of town.
Looking for the best views in Falmouth? Then dare to ascend “Jacob’s Ladder”; a narrow staircase of 111 steps that leads to sweeping panoramas of the harbor and estuary.
Where to Stay in Falmouth: Poltair Guest House is located a five-minute walk from the beach as well as a short walking distance from the promenade. Head to the top floor of the guest house for incredible views back over the bay and of Pendennis Castle. There are only 11 rooms in the hotel and it is run by a very friendly couple who want you to enjoy your vacation as much as possible. Rooms start at $71 per night. Book a stay here.
Penzance is a small market town and the most westerly in Cornwall. The town’s heyday has since passed but it retains a quiet charm and is a haven for local artists with many galleries around town. There are sandy beaches, a large outdoor swimming pool (Jubilee Pool) and two large and pleasant parks.
There are so many great things to do in Penzance. If you are looking for peace and quiet with stunning views then Penzance makes a great base for exploring the peninsula. The town is only 9 miles from Land’s End, the westernmost point of mainland UK and a popular tourist destination in its own right.
Another nearby attraction is the incredible Minack Theatre; an open-air theatre set on a rocky outcrop above the ocean. From May to September every year you can enjoy a performance in one of the most magical settings in the world. From Shakespeare to kids’ shows and concerts, there will surely be something you want to see in this “theatre under the stars.”
Where to Stay in Penzance: Precisely 275 meters from the shores of Mount’s Bay, this B&B is a quick walk from the breakfast table to the beach. It’s a very cute little guest house that offers a spectacular breakfast, clean rooms, and friendly staff to make your trip a good one. Rooms start at $99 per night. Book a stay here.
10. St Ives
St Ives is the jewel in Cornwall’s crown and has been voted one of the best beaches in Europe by Tripadvisor. Its beaches have also been rated as “Blue flag” meaning they are some of the cleanest in Europe and the town is another popular place for surfers.
The town has three beaches to choose from:
- Carbis Bay – picturesque bay with a beautiful sandy beach perfect for swimming and surfing
- Porthmeor Beach – a half-mile long beach with great views
- Porthminster beach – a beautiful stretch of sand overlooking the nearby Godrevy Lighthouse
St Ives is one of the best Cornwall towns for holidaymakers and is packed with activities, museums, galleries, and restaurants. Tate St Ives is an offshoot of its London cousin the Tate Modern and a great place to soak up Cornwall’s art scene.
Where to Stay in St Ives: Primrose House is the sort of boutique hotel I expect to find in London or Manchester, but beachside suits this stylish spot in St Ives. In addition to very chic rooms, you are a two-minute walk to the beach and the breakfast, which consists of homemade bread and locally sourced Cornish ingredients, is utterly delicious. Rooms start at $161 per night. Book a stay here.
Although not a holiday destination as such, the centrally located town of Bodmin is a great place to explore the wild Cornish expanse of Bodmin Moor. But be careful, the mythical “Beast of Bodmin”, a large jaguar-type creature, maybe on the prowl!
The town’s principal attraction is Bodmin Jail; an old prison dating from the 1700s. If you like creepy old buildings and ghost stories, then this is a great place to explore! You can book tickets through their website.
Bodmin is also the starting point (or ending point) of the Camel Trail, the cycle path and old railway line that stretches all the way to Padstow on the coast. It is possible to hire a bicycle at one end and deposit it at the other and makes a wonderful day out.
There is also a steam railway for those less able or less inclined to exertion. See their website for timetables, fares, and upcoming events!
Where to Stay in Bodmin: Churchgate Cottage is a sweet little two-bedroom holiday let that is perfect for people who want to have an active holiday cycling or golfing. You’re close to fantastic bike trails here and several golf courses. There is everything you need to self-cater and you are still not too far from the beach for a day by the seaside. Depending on the time of year, prices start at $85 per night. Book a stay here.
Visit the Best Towns in Cornwall
It’s easy to see why Cornwall has been popular with travelers and holidaymakers for so long. From the fresh sea air of the charming coastal fishing villages to the vibrant surf spots along the coast, there is truly something for everyone to enjoy.
We hope this list of the best towns in Cornwall has inspired you to visit this beautiful part of the UK. The only question now is: “Which one to visit first?!”