Located at the tip of the United Kingdom and jutting out into the sea, Cornwall forms a peninsula that consists of wild moorland, numerous beaches, and beautiful towns and villages. It’s a faraway land famous for its gorgeous beaches and stunning sunsets, and as you explore the best towns in Cornwall, you will understand why thousands of tourists come to visit the region each year.
Boasting the longest coastline of any English county, at more than 100 km long, Cornwall is famous for its beaches. Many of the region’s best towns are on the coast, offering seaside scenery as well as charming places to stay, eat and explore.
If you’re planning a trip to one of Britain’s most popular holiday destinations and wondering which places to visit, check out this list of the best towns to visit in Cornwall.
- St. Ives
St. Ives is one the best towns in Cornwall to visit for many reasons – rugged cliffs, scenic bays, art galleries, and a fantastic selection of restaurants. This town is a truly magical place to visit in the UK, and one of the most popular places in the region.
Although St. Ives is famous for its fabulous beaches and surfing opportunities, there’s more to discover in this charming town. There are beautiful narrow streets, vibrant markets, colourful cottages, atmospheric pubs, and so much more! If you want to truly enjoy its captivating beauty, you should explore the town slowly, savouring its laid back atmosphere and discovering hidden gems every day.
Padstow is an ideal place to base yourself for a holiday in Cornwall. It’s a charming port town surrounded by beautiful beaches and offers many exciting things to discover. It’s also home to some of the best eateries in the UK, making it one of the best towns in Cornwall for foodies.
Padstow is also an excellent destination for those who love water sports and other outdoor activities. Here, you can spend your day trying out an abundance of fun activities, such as rock pooling, bodyboarding, surfing, and more.
Cycling is also a fun activity around Padstow. Rent a bike and pedal your way to the beautiful Cornish countryside through the famous Camel Cycle Trail, which ends in Wadebridge.
Falmouth has a thriving harbour that’s the getaway to the scenic River Fal, running through an Area of Natural Beauty (AONB), that has been designated for conservation because of its significant landscape value. This beautiful town is also known for its creative buzz, home to many art galleries showcasing contemporary arts.
As one of the most charming towns in Cornwall, there are many reasons to visit Falmouth. Along with its artistic legacy, it’s also a popular venue for live bands and independent film festivals, with a packed schedule of events taking place throughout the year. It’s surrounded by beautiful scenery and has a popular beach, so there’s truly nothing else you could ask for from this Cornish town!
Looe actually consists of two towns, the East and West Looe, divided by River Looe. East Looe is home to a beautiful harbour and is the town’s main shopping centre, whilst West Looe is much quieter, home to several shops, restaurants, and hotels.
While in Looe, it’s truly worth exploring the harbourside quay. Here, you can entertain yourself by watching fishing boats coming to unload the day’s catch, enjoy some classic seafood by the water, or watch the sun set over the sea in the evening.
The town is also home to a few historical sites, such as the Old Guildhall in East Looe, which is the town’s oldest building. Dating back to 1500, it’s a former town hall and is now home to a museum.
Set in the corner of the majestic Mount’s Bay, home to St Micheal’s Mount, Penzance is truly one of the most beautiful Cornwall towns to visit. It offers plenty of exciting things for visitors to explore, from the lovely, cobbled alleys to dockside taverns, not to mention a vibrant local arts and crafts scene waiting for you to discover.
Discover the town’s winding streets, charming promenades, range of independent cafes and subtropical gardens. Penzance is one of the last large towns before you reach the very tip of the southwest coast of the UK, making it a great place to base yourself to visit places like Land’s End.
Located to the south of Looe, Polperro is a quaint Cornish fishing village with narrow streets and pretty cottages. The roads are so narrow that cars are banned here, creating an incredibly peaceful atmosphere as well as making this a very safe place to bring children on a family holiday.
As you walk along Polperro’s narrow streets, you’ll find shops selling paintings, jewellery, pottery, and other souvenirs. There are also bakeries, boutiques, and galleries with interesting art exhibitions. The village was renowned for being a prime location for smuggling in the 18th and 19th centuries, which visitors can now learn more about at the Polperro Heritage Museum of Smuggling and Fishing.
Despite its small size, Polperro has a great calendar of events taking place throughout the year, including an Arts Festival in June and the village’s Water Carnival. It can get very busy during the peak season for tourism in the region, so you might be better off visiting first thing in the morning if you come to Cornwall in the summer months.
A trip to Cornwall would not be complete without visiting Truro, one of the prettiest places in Cornwall and the region’s only city. The Truro River, which flows through Carrick Roads and River Fal, used to play a significant role in the town’s trade and commerce, but it is now primarily a tourist hub because of its large size.
One of the most popular attractions in Truro is its cathedral, which was built in 1910 and dominates the skyline of the city with its Gothic silhouette. If you’re interested in historic architecture, there can be no doubt that this is the best place in Cornwall to come and see it.
As one of the most important shopping centres in the region, Truro is also a popular shopping destination. Here, you will find large, high street stores sitting alongside antique shops, art galleries, and boutiques.
There are also numerous cosy cafes and restaurants around Truro where you can sample the tastiest local delicacies and gourmet markets. Head to Lemon Street, where you will find vibrant markets, and check out the weekly Farmer’s Market happening in Lemon Quay.
Famous for its vast golden sand beaches set at the bottom of stunning cliffs, it’s no wonder Newquay is considered the best seaside town in Cornwall. Historically, the town was originally the fishing port of Towan Blistra, but it’s now best known as being the location of the incredibly popular Boardmaster Festival which takes place on the coast every year.
With its spectacular crescent-shaped bay and colourful beach huts, Newquay is a breathtaking Cornish location. It’s one of the best places in the region to visit if you’re a fan of surfing, with Fistral Beach the real hub of the watersport. Newquay is also known as being the best place in Cornwall to visit for nightlife, so be sure to head over for the evening if you’re after a fun night out on the town!
Bodmin is rich in culture and history, and a number of its older buildings have interesting histories attached to them. While it’s outside the main tourist trail, it’s one of the best towns to stay in Cornwall as an excellent base for exploring some of the region’s exciting sites and attractions.
Since Bodmin is famous for its interesting history, one of the best things to do here is to explore its two museums; the Military Museum and Town Museum. Both tell the interesting story of Bodmin dating back to prehistoric times.
If you’re interested in history, also check out the Pencarrow House & Gardens, located four miles north of town. This attraction features a splendid Georgian mansion that’s over 500 years old and decorated with lavish interiors. The gardens are equally stunning as well, featuring a variety of colourful flowers and beautiful landscaping set in lush woodland.
There are so many things to explore in Boscastle that make this beautiful historic harbour one of the best places to visit in Cornwall. It’s one of the most picturesque parts of the North Cornish coast, situated in a narrow ravine and boasting fascinating history, cosy cafes, and friendly locals.
Boscastle has a vibrant history dating back to Medieval times, which you can learn about at the town’s Witchcraft Museum. The name of the location is derived from the Botreaux Castle, a 12th-century motte and bailey owned by the Botreaux family. Unfortunately, most of the recorded history and remains of this castle vanished a long time ago, so historians are still totally unsure about the family’s significance.
The town’s colourful past has shaped it into a beautiful coastal location, making it a popular tourist destination in Cornwall. With its rugged cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, ancient woodland valleys and many historical sites, there is something for every type of traveller to enjoy in Boscastle.
Narrow cobblestone streets lead you down to the centre of Mevagissey, located on the south coast of Cornwall a little way down from the tourist hub of St Austell. As one of the prettiest places in Cornwall, Mevagissey features postcard-perfect scenes where cute cafes, galleries, and shops line along the lovely streets of its harbour.
Around Mevagissey’s maze of streets, you’ll find numerous seafood restaurants that this scenic town is particularly well known for. Tuck into some mackerel and scallops and end your day walking along its picturesque harbour while admiring the twinkling village lights reflecting on the water.
Aside from its pretty harbour, Mevagissey is also home to interesting attractions, such as the Lost Gardens of Heligan; an 80-acre ground with a complex of walled gardens set in a mysterious estate of Heligan.
Fowey is a bustling port town with a busy commercial life, offering attractive moorings for fishing boats and yachts. Its harbour is lined with 14th-century blockhouses, where chains used to be suspended close to the harbour’s mouth.
During World War II, Fowey became the centre for air-sea rescue and was one of the places where the infamous D-Day invasions were launched. Today, it’s one of the best towns in Cornwall to visit, featuring plenty of Medieval and Georgian buildings that populate the harbourside at the mouth of River Fowey.
You can follow in the footsteps of the notable writer, Daphne du Maurier, in Fowey, who used to live in the town and is celebrated at the Daphne du Maurier Literary Centre and with the Du Maurier Festival held every May. Soak up the sea air, enjoy scenic coastal walks and visit the nearby beaches of Crinnis or Par Sands if you fancy a paddle.
- St Austell
St Austell is a gem of Cornwall. It’s an old market town located just a few miles from Bodmin. With sweeping views along the coast, interesting culture and history and numerous museums and art galleries, St Austell is definitely one of the best towns in Cornwall to explore.
As a pedestrian-friendly destination, walking is the best way to explore St Austell. Walk around town to visit its popular attractions, head to the beach, admire the scenic views, or explore nearby sites like Restormel Castle which is one of the only four Norman castles in Cornwall.
Perhaps the most popular attraction near St Austell is the Eden Project; several large geodomes built in an old clay pit and home to a huge number of plants from around the world who are preserved in the artificial habitat the domes create. You can get a bus directly to the site from St Austell, which is a great option if you’ve visited Cornwall on the train.
While most people only think of Newquay when it comes to their Cornish holidays, there’s a whole lot more to explore in Cornwall. The region has a whole heap of pretty seaside towns, and if you’re not sure where to visit, you can refer to this list of the best places to visit to help plan your trip.
If you’re planning a holiday to a town in Cornwall and are looking for somewhere to stay, why not check out our range of self-catering properties in the region.