Cornwall in January: things to do and tips

Cornwall in January? Are you sure?

People often ask me this when I recommend tourists visit this month (or any time in winter). 

Cornwall may be dark and cold in January, but there’s next to no tourists, some attractions are still open, and while it is stormy sometimes, there are also plenty of lovely clear days. 

Here’s all you need to know about visiting Cornwall in the off-season! 

What’s Cornwall in January like? 

Exposed cottages by the sea on Bamaluz beach, in the fishing harbour of St Ives, in north Cornwall.

As a new calendar year begins, Cornwall, like pretty much everywhere in the UK, remains pretty chilly, with unpredictable weather and short days. 

However, that doesn’t mean you should completely write off a trip to Cornwall in January – I’d just recommend managing expectations!

Tourist-wise, Cornwall is all but deserted.

You won’t experience traffic on its main roads (a huge problem in the summer months, particularly in August), the few tourist sites that are open shouldn’t be packed out and you won’t need to prebook your restaurants.

In fact, you might not even need to prebook your hotels (although I’d still recommend doing so). 

For some, this is heaven. Cornwall’s charming culture shines through in the winter – you’ll have more chances to chat to locals and see what the real Duchy is like. 

Of course, a trip to Cornwall means that your activities change. Boat trips and beach days are out, and layering up for country walks and pub lunches around the fire is in! 

Some attractions are open (I’ve listed some of the key ones further in this blog post), but many do close for the winter season. 

Days are short – it doesn’t get light until around 8:00 am, and will be pitch black by 5:00 pm – so you do need to be mindful if hiking or doing anything outdoors, even if the weather’s not too wild. 

Speaking of, let’s take a look at the weather!

Weather in Cornwall in January 

The harbour of Padstow with dark storm clouds hanging over it. You can see the water in the harbour and historical buildings of the town.

Cornwall generally does not have as cold winters as the rest of the UK, thanks to its maritime climate. But that doesn’t mean it’s warm by any stretch of the imagination – expect temperatures from 5-10°C. 

Snow is extremely rare in Cornwall, but it does happen – usually in the higher areas of Bodmin Moor (away from the coast). 

But what Cornwall can have in winter is wild storms with windy, wet weather – in fact, some enterprises like The Headland Hotel in Newquay have even cashed in on this, as they offer storm watching! 

These storms are exciting from the comfort and safety of a building but do not attempt to walk on the cliffs, be too close to the sea or be in any exposed places when they happen. 

There are also plenty of things to do in Cornwall in the rain, too – check them out here.

Things to do in Cornwall in January 

Contrary to popular opinion, there are a few things to do in Cornwall in January! 

Sure, many attractions are closed, but not all. 

Here are some of Cornwall’s key attractions that stay open in January: 

Lost Gardens of Heligan 

Lost Gardens of Heligan

You’ll see a different side of the Lost Gardens of Heligan when you’re in Cornwall in the low season. 

Once quite literally “lost”; they were overgrown and forgotten about after WW1, these gardens were “found” again in the 1990s and are now one of the Duchy’s best tourism sites. 

The 200-acre gardens were originally a part of the Heligan Estate (fun fact: official documents state that John Tremayne, who once owned the estate, was my my great x 8 grandfather!)

In the winter, you’ll have them virtually all to yourself! 

It’s a dreamy place for a winter walk. Walk over the rope bridge at the Lost Valley, take in the subtropical plants and check out herbs in the kitchen gardens. 

Check out up-to-date opening times on their website.

Eden Project

Eden Project, Cornwall

Closed some days in January

The Eden Project is open for about half the days in January (do check on the website for your dates before driving here!). 

Essentially two huge greenhouses, one housing tropical and one with Mediterranean plants, the Eden Project is an excellent place to visit to learn about global environments and conservation. 

The rainforest section is usually set to a toasty 28°C (it’s the perfect place to warm up when it’s chilly outside!) and there’s a rope bridge hovering over the tropical flora

Jamaica Inn

Outside of Jamaica Inn, the sign and stone pub is in the shot. The sunset is in the background and there's a cobblestone courtyard.

The brooding Jamaica Inn is touristy, but in my opinion it’s well worth the hype. 

Sitting amidst the foreboding Bodmin Moor, Jamaica Inn started life as a coaching house, quickly turning into a smuggler’s hideaway. 

Smugglers would unload their contraband (from both coasts of Cornwall, although it was most common for them to do so on the South Coast) and transport it up to the moor, where Jamaica Inn’s location was ideal as a hiding place. 

The inn’s history inspired Daphne Du Maurier to write the novel with the same name in the 20th century. 

Visit the cosy pub for lunch or dinner (it’s all smuggler-themed), enjoy the smuggling and Daphne Du Maurier Museum and purchase some local produce at the farm shop. 

You can even stay at the inn!

Check out my full guide.

Tintagel Castle

Sun peeking through the clouds at Tintagel Castle

Friday, Saturday, Sunday only – can also be closed due to weather

Perched on a rocky headland surrounded by the crashing waves of the Atlantic, Tintagel Castle sometimes doesn’t seem like the most inviting place. 

But for me, it’s this location that makes it so compelling. 

This ancient site, allegedly the birthplace of King Arthur (although these claims are almost certainly not true), encapsulates the wild Cornish coast. 

While King Arthur almost certainly didn’t live there (this was #fakenews spread by Geoffery of Monmouth back in the 12th century!) it was the seat of Cornish kings and was connected to Europe with ancient trade routes – – Andalusian pottery and Mediterranean goods have been found here. 

Tintagel village will be much quieter in the winter months – although, if you’ve ever visited in the summer, you’ll probably think that’s a good thing!

Check out the best things to do in the village using my blog post, but be aware that many attractions may be closed. 

Geevor Tin Mine

Pendeen.Cornwall.United Kingdom.February 20th 2020.View of the Victory Shaft at Geevor tin mine in Cornwall

Open Sunday to Thursdays

Head west – really far west – and you’ll find Geevor Tin Mine, next to the village of Pendeen (not too far from St Ives). 

This mine was at the heart of Cornwall’s tin mining industry, and operated as so for over a century, before its first closure in 1986. 

It then reopened briefly before closing again in the 1990s. 

Set against the dramatic backdrop of the rocky Cornish coast, the scenery around Geevor is spectacular – but it’s the historical immersion that makes it one of Cornwall’s top attractions. 

Discover the history in the mining museum, go underground into what is known as “Mexico Mine” and visit The Dry

These were the old offices and changing rooms of the mining staff, and they’ve eerily been left pretty much untouched since the last day the mine closed, in the early 1990s.

Geevor’s a really underrated tourist attraction in Cornwall, and I was really happy to see they’re open throughout the winter months! 

TATE St Ives

TATE St Ives

Open Tuesday to Sunday

Perfect if the weather isn’t too kind while you’re in Cornwall, the TATE St Ives is an extensive art gallery featuring Cornish, national and international artists. 

Dating back to the 80s, in response to the growing artistic culture in the town, the TATE is a branch of the London alternative. 

Unfortunately, unlike the London gallery, the TATE St Ives isn’t free to enter (it’ll set you back £12). 

Have a Cornish cream tea (and proper pasty!)

Devon Cream Tea

When the weather’s cold, hearty Cornish food becomes so much more appealing. 

There are two things you should try when you’re here. 

  1. A Cornish cream tea: Virtually every cafe will sell this. It consists of a scone served with cream and jam. It’s very important that you spread the cream and jam in the right order – jam first in Cornwall (cream first in Devon!). 
  2. A Cornish pasty: Pretty much every town and even most villages has somewhere you can get pasties. Popularised during the mining boom, pasties consist of meat, carrot and onion, enclosed in golden pastry. 

Storm-watching at the Headland Hotel, Newquay

Beautiful beach near Newquay in Cornwall

Don’t try to run away from the storms – embrace them at the Headland Hotel in Newquay!

This luxury spa hotel has a crackling log fire in the winter months, with huge windows. Its clifftop location is prime for watching the huge waves and heavy rain. 

I wouldn’t recommend heading out onto the coast path in poor weather, but you can by all means sit by the fire, gin and tonic in hand and enjoy the cosiness! 

Do one of the shorter South West Coast Path walks

The South West Coast Path isn’t just for summer!

I’ve hiked it all months of the year (I live on it in Exmouth), including a few sections in Cornwall. The Cornish coast in winter can be foreboding; don’t head out there in a storm – but it’s beautiful on clear, crisp days!

Don’t try to bite off more than you can chew in the winter months – you’ll have minimum daylight, and you don’t want to be on the coast path after the sun goes down! 

One of my favourite hikes is the Looe to Polperro walk. It only takes 2-3 hours (around 10 km) and you can warm up in the Blue Peter Inn at the end of the walk! 

What to pack for Cornwall in January 

Here are some things to pack for your January holidays in Cornwall!

  • Waterproof jacket
  • Insulated coat
  • Fleeces
  • Long trousers
  • Waterproof pants
  • Hat, gloves, and scarf
  • Sturdy waterproof boots
  • Warm socks
  • Indoor clothing
  • Umbrella
  • Waterproof backpack
  • Portable charger
  • Kindle or e-reader
  • Lip balm and moisturizer

Are you ready for the quiet season in Cornwall? 

Streets of Camborne

Cornwall seems to be in a sleepy slumber in January; while there’s nowhere near as much going on as in the summer, I adore the slower pace of life, chances to chat with locals and feeling like I’m the only tourist in a particular town or village. 

For more information, visit my Cornwall in winter blog post, check out my Cornish archives or feel free to reach out to me on Instagram if you have any questions. 

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