Located in the rugged southwestern tip of England, Cornwall juts into the Atlantic Ocean and forms a long, exposed peninsula of sweeping moorland and sandy bays. In the north of Cornwall are craggy cliffs lining the blustery shoreline, where waves sometimes reach 12 metres high and are the key reason that the region is the surfing capital of the UK.
In contrast, the south of Cornwall boasts calmer and warmer weather, feeling almost subtropical in the summer. Charming coves and picturesque harbour towns dot the coast, giving the south the name Cornish Riviera.
With over 400 miles of coastline, there are plenty of beautiful beaches in Cornwall. Whether you want to surf, swim, or soak up the view, find your ideal Cornwall beach in this comprehensive Cornwall beach guide.
Best Surfing Beaches in Cornwall
- Summerleaze Beach, Bude
As Bude’s most popular seaside resort, Summerleaze Beach is big on watersports, including kayaking, paddle boarding, and surfing. It also has plenty of surf schools for beginners and those who want to brush up on their skills.
Summerleaze is also known for its colourful Victorian beach huts lining the shore and a sea pool at the foot of the towering cliffs, where swimmers can take a dip sheltered from the big waves. If you love history, Summerleaze Beach is within walking distance from the historic Bude Castle, making this a great place to spend a whole day.
- Sennen Cove, Land’s End
Just around the corner from Land’s End is the idyllic fishing village of Sennen. Fringed by grassy hills on one side and astoundingly blue waters on the other, the narrow white-sand cove is one of the most scenic beaches in Cornwall.
What draws visitors to Sennen Cove the most are the consistent big waves that are ideal for surfing. After riding the waves, head to the Old Success Inn; a 17th-century fishermen’s pub known for its fresh seafood, traditional ploughman’s lunch, and scones with Cornish clotted cream.
- Fistral Beach, Newquay
Fistral Beach is the heart of the famous Cornish surfing scene and one of the most sought-after destinations in Cornwall. The beach constantly produces waves over eight feet, luring professional and amateur surfers alike. Even if you are not a surfer, the beach is still worth seeing for its striking ocean views.
You can lounge on a beach chair on the shore and watch surfers ride the waves. If you don’t mind the crowds, visit Fistral in August to experience Boardmasters; a five-day festival of skating and surfing competitions along with plenty of live music. The nearby Watergate Bay hosts the festival and provides camping and parking.
Best Family Beaches in Cornwall
- Porthpean Beach, St Austell
If you’re looking for nice beaches in Cornwall for a family outing, consider the small but stunning Porthpean Beach. The waters are calm, clear and suitable for swimming, and the fine sand is perfect for beach games.
Add some thrill into the mix and kayak past stone arches, rock formations and caverns along the seafront at Porthpean Beach. Close by is the historic shipping village of Charlestown, famous for its stone fishermen’s cottages, seaside inns, and a fleet of tall ships in the harbour.
- Penhale Sands, Perranporth
When the bustling seaside resort of Perranporth gets too busy, head to the neighbouring Penhale Sands, a Special Area of Conservation that features a diverse dune system. The beach is ideal for nature-spotting strolls, as it houses rare flora, including brackish water buttercup, fragrant evening primrose, and Cornish gentian.
Half-buried in its sands are the ruins of the 6th century St Piran’s Oratory, one of the UK’s oldest Christian sites. The waters can be rough due to strong winds, but there are plenty of spots where you can have a picnic and enjoy the view. Penhale Sands also welcomes dogs all year round, so you can take your pet with you.
- Carbis Bay Beach, St Ives
Carbis Bay Beach is a mile-long sweep of golden sand flanked by verdant hills and azure blue sea. This Blue Flag awarded beach is the perfect spot for families with younger kids, as the waters are clean and clear and protected from the winds and waves by large tree-covered cliffs.
Apart from swimming, the beach offers various activities such as boating, rock climbing and tennis. It also has excellent beach facilities, including a cafe, toilets, seasonal lifeguard service, and a lost child centre. At low tide, you can hike to the adjacent Porthkidney Beach, the location of an RSPB bird sanctuary, where you will discover an abundance of seabirds in their natural habitat.
Best Quiet Beaches in Cornwall
- Kingsand Beach, Kingsand
Laid-back and secluded, Kingsand Beach is your ultimate escape from the noisy bustle of the more touristy Cornish beaches. This tiny sand and shingle sliver of paradise lies in a sleepy village of the same name, and rarely gets busy even in the summer months.
The village’s most iconic landmark is the Kingsand clock tower, built in 1911 to commemorate the coronation of King George V. Go rock pool hunting at low tide or stroll on the quiet shore at sunset, and be sure to explore the rustic pubs along the coast and have a sundowner by the beach.
- Porth Joke Beach, Crantock
Nestled between grassy headlands, Porth Joke is a deep sandy cove accessible only by foot. Its fine sand, pristine waters, and tranquil atmosphere more than make up for its lack of beach facilities, shops and cafés, so if you are seeking to escape the crowd, Porth Joke is your go-to destination.
Just because Porth Joke is peaceful, does not mean it is boring. You will have as much fun surfing, body boarding or fishing while having the beach all to yourself.
- Porthcurno Beach, Porthcurno
The glistening white sand and clear turquoise waters of Porthcurno Beach make you think you are in the Caribbean. The high rugged cliffs surrounding the beach provide shelter from the wind and keep the spot relatively remote, even during peak season.
While you’re in Porthcurno, watch a show at the spectacular open-air Minack Theatre or take in the ocean views from its terraced gardens. You can also visit the Porthcurno Telegraph Museum, with its tunnels housing top-secret equipment used in the Second World War.
Best Sandy Beaches in Cornwall
- Porthcurnick Beach, Portscatho
One characteristic of Cornish beaches is fine silky sand, and in that aspect, Porthcurnick Beach does not disappoint. High cliffs surround the beach, but you can access it from Portscatho through a slipway.
Porthcurnick offers plenty of opportunities for scenic walks along its coastal footpaths. Don’t forget to sample the fresh king prawns and hearty bouillabaisse at the Hidden Hut, an alfresco café on a hill overlooking the cove.
- Harlyn Bay Beach, Harlyn
Wide and spacious, crescent-shaped Harlyn Bay is known for its soft, yellow sand, rock pools, and mild waters. The beach is popular among people learning to surf and has a handful of surf schools that specialise in training novice surfers.
For those who love a good old scenic hike, Harlyn Bay has pleasant routes that lead to Mother Ivey’s Bay and Trevose Head, where you may spot grey seals, common dolphins, basking sharks, and various sea birds. Harlyn Bay is one of the few Cornish beaches that allows dogs all year round, so is ideal for holidaymakers who have brought their furry friends along.
Best Beaches in Cornwall for Swimming
- Kynance Cove, Mount’s Bay
Located in the southeastern tip of the Lizard peninsula, Kynance Cove is a sandy beach known for its tiny tidal islands, sea stacks, and jumbles of greenish serpentine rocks used to carve ornaments. The cove first became popular in the Victorian era, receiving prominent guests, such as Queen Victoria and Lord Alfred Tennyson.
With its vividly blue waters, Kynance Cove is ideal for swimming, especially at low tide. Go around Asparagus Island and explore the sea cave and pristine rock pools on the opposite side of the bay. If you work up some appetite, visit the Kynance Cove Café, where you can take in spectacular vistas while enjoying freshly-cooked Cornish pasty.
- Gyllyngvase Beach, Falmouth
Gyllyngvase Beach is one of the few beaches in Cornwall to receive the Blue Flag Award, which recognises a beach for having high-quality, clean, and safe water. Gyllyngvase beach is buggy-friendly and includes superb amenities, such as sun lounges, a public toilet, and a spacious car park.
There are shops and cafés close by, including the lively Gylly Beach Café, which hosts gigs by local musicians. Because of its popularity, the beach gets quite crowded, especially during weekends and summer. Fortunately, its vast stretch of sand provides plenty of space for everyone to spread out.
After swimming, you can make a beeline to Queen Mary Gardens to admire its subtropical plants or hike to Swanpool Beach and Nature Reserve for its array of wildlife and waterfowl.
Best Beaches for Rock Pools in Cornwall
- Pendower Beach, The Roseland Peninsula
Undoubtedly one of the most beautiful beaches in Cornwall, Pendower is a mile-long sweep of deserted coast offering scenic views of Gerrans Bay. Its mild weather and clear water are ideal for swimming, bodyboarding, and snorkelling.
Along the seashore are low-lying cliffs that form crystal-clear rock pools, which are named a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Explore these tidal pools and discover various marine life, including tiny crabs and jellyfish. If you are lucky, you might also spot the rare Cornish chough, a distinctive bird with black plumage and bright red bill and legs, thought to have disappeared from the UK until its sighting in 2001.
The surrounding grassy sand dunes make a perfect setting for a picnic. If you forgot to bring your own food, grab some delicious meals at the food trucks at the end of the beach.
- Mawgan Porth Beach, Trenance
Located just four miles from Newquay, Mawgan Beach shares the same golden sand and Atlantic swells of the more popular beaches of the region, without the crowd. Popular among families and surfers alike, this sweeping sandy beach has numerous rock pools, sea caves, rock outcrops and sand dunes to explore.
On one end of the beach, you’ll find a small river that flows out to the sea. Although Mawgan Port beach is quite secluded, it offers excellent facilities, including disabled access and seasonal lifeguard.
The village itself has a handful of cafés, restaurants and pubs. If you want to venture somewhere more remote, walk farther south to Beacon Cove. Sheltered by steep rocky cliffs, this small bay is accessible only through a rough rocky and trail.
Best Beach in Cornwall for Sea Glass
- Marazion Beach, Penzance
Sea glass comes from glass bottles that made their way into the sea. Salty water and rough sand smoothen and break down the glass into beautiful and frosted pebble-like shapes.
If you’re an avid beachcomber, sea glass might be part of your prized collection. It can be hard to find in places with very sandy beaches like Cornwall, but Marazion Beach has a decent amount of blue, purple and light green pieces on its shores, particularly near the rock pools.
Marazion Beach is also known for its calm waters, lively atmosphere, and stunning views. There are shops, cafés, pubs and restaurants in the charming Marazion town, and across the beach is the iconic St Michael’s Mount, accessible via a granite causeway at low tide.
Cornish beaches are undisputedly among the most gorgeous in the UK. The beaches may not have the glitz and glamour of the resorts in the Mediterranean or the party atmosphere of the Caribbean, but they are rife with adventure, natural gems, and surprising discoveries.
You can surf massive waves, swim in cool and calm rock pools, spot rare wildlife, scramble over rocky sea cliffs, and walk on windswept tracks. Everywhere the rugged beauty of the untamed and unspoiled coast is unmissable. If you’re after some of the best beaches in the UK, Cornwall is the undisputed champion location.
If you’re planning a holiday to Cornwall and are looking for somewhere to stay, why not check out our range of self-catering properties.