Cornwall in May promises long days, warm weather, excellent camping conditions and all attractions fully open.
While it’s not as warm as the summer months, it’s also nowhere near as busy (with the exemption of May half-term week); this makes it many keen travellers’ (including myself) favourite month.
Enjoy Cornwall in May for long hikes on the South West Coast Path with tonnes of daylight, beach picnics, road trips or exploring Cornwall’s many castles, stately homes and museums.
I’m a West Country local who comes from a long line of Cornish ancestors; I live over the border in Devon, but lots of my family reside in Cornwall. I’ve visited Cornwall in all months, so here’s my full guide to exactly how and why you should visit this southwestern region in the month of May!
Weather in Cornwall in May
The weather starts to warm up in May. Officially, temperatures are around 15°C, but I’ve experienced them well into the 20s in May.
Expect a mix of sunshine and showers, packing a waterproof jacket and some layers. But storms are unusual throughout the month!
The sea temperature is still chilly; surfers hit the waves every month of the year, but if you’re swimming for any length of time it’s best to use a swimming wetsuit.
What’s Cornwall in May like?
As spring continues, the days get longer and the weather gets warmer.
But May’s not considered quite warm enough to attract tourists in their droves; generally, the official start of the season is May half-term, the last week of the month.
So, Cornwall during the first three weeks of May is a glorious sweet spot where there’s a high chance of sunshine and outdoor weather, but fewer crowds to deal with.
Reasons to visit Cornwall in May
Hiking, long days, warmer weather… here are the best reasons to visit Cornwall in May!
Perfect weather for hiking
Hiking is one of my favourite Cornish activities, so it’s no surprise that this is one of my top reasons to visit Cornwall in May!
In the summertime, climbing up and down the rocky Cornish coast path can be a slog – but in May, temperatures are cooler and the days are long, leaving you with plenty of time to reach your destination.
There are 400 miles of Cornish coast path to enjoy, or in good visibility, you could hike on Bodmin Moor. Other trails include the relatively flat Camel Trail that follows the Camel Estuary from Padstow to Wadebridge or the Saint’s Way which connects the north and south coasts of West Cornwall.
Plenty of flowers
Spring has fully sprung by May, with an abundance of glorious flowers to enjoy. Visit one of the manicured gardens to witness them, or just head out onto the coast path to see wildflowers.
Not too many crowds
May is busier than the winter months, but it’s a sweet spot with mild weather and not too many people. If you want to spend your days enjoying the great outdoors as much as possible but with fewer crowds, May could be your answer.
Possibility for some beach days
The hottest days in Cornwall are usually in July; but May can be sunny and warm too, and there’s certainly scope for beach days.
You might not be sunbathing and swimming (many people do swim in Cornwall in May, but see my considerations for more information about staying safe) but beach walks, picnics and rock pooling are typically all on the cards throughout May!
Considerations for visiting Cornwall in May
Generally, May is a wonderful time to visit Cornwall, with mild weather but fewer crowds.
Safety-wise, there’s not too much to think about, aside from all of the usual precautions – but I would recommend anyone going swimming in this month to be cautious, particularly if you don’t have experience in swimming in colder waters.
The weather may be warm, but the water can still be freezing!
It’s best to swim with a wetsuit or only go in for a short amount of time, and ensure you have dry clothes and preferably a warm drink for when you exit the water.
My other main tip for planning a May trip to Cornwall would be to avoid May half term if possible. If that’s the only time you can visit, then see my tips for Cornwall in May half term below!
Cornwall in May half term
If you have children aged between 5-18, or if you are a teacher or work in a school, you may only be able to visit Cornwall in May half term.
If you can avoid this week (usually the last week of the month), I’d recommend it; it will be much quieter in the first three weeks of May – or indeed the first couple of weeks of June!
May school holidays are busy in Cornwall, but not as busy as the school summer holidays. However, be mindful that there can be a lot of traffic on the area’s small country roads and book any accommodation in advance.
Things to do in Cornwall May half term (with kids)
If you are visiting in half term, Cornwall’s a family-friendly destination with plenty of activities and attractions to keep kids of all ages entertained.
The Eden Project
One of the top things to do in Cornwall with kids is the Eden Project, home to the world’s largest indoor rainforest.
Kids (and big kids!) will love exploring the different biomes and learning about the plants and animals that live there.
The Eden Project also hosts a range of family-friendly events and workshops throughout the year.
The Lost Gardens of Heligan
Another fantastic family-friendly attraction is the Lost Gardens of Heligan.
This grand 200-acre estate had elegant gardens that were “lost” after WW1, rediscovered in the 1990s and has been restored to its former glory (I have a very vague link to the Tremaynes, who were the original owners of the estate!).
Kids will adore exploring the gardens, playing in the woodland area and meeting the resident farm animals.
For a more active day out, head to one of Cornwall’s adventure parks. Flambards is a popular option, with a range of rides and attractions to suit all ages.
Things to do in Cornwall in May
South West Coast Path hiking
Not too hot weather, lightness until past 8pm and less rain than other months mean that May is one of the best months of the year to hike the South West Coast Path!
We began our South West Coast Path trip in May and loved hiking from town to town and camping under the stars.
As the days are longer, you could tackle some of the longer hikes like Hartland Quay to Bude; this trek starts in Devon and spans for 15 miles, covering some of the most challenging parts of the path.
Or, try Pendeen to Sennen Cove, a personal favourite of mine, which bypasses Cape Cornwall.
Explore Cornwall’s gardens
Flowers thrive in Cornwall in May, with spring buds still blooming, making this the ideal time to visit!
The Lost Gardens of Heligan and the Eden Project are the most famous gardens in Cornwall; but there’s a range of other smaller gardens to explore.
Visit Trebah Garden near Falmouth for a stunning collection of exotic plants, or head to Morrab Gardens in Penzance (which are walking distance from the town centre and completely free), to enjoy sub-tropical palms.
See the famous Tintagel Castle and the northeast of Cornwall
May’s the ideal time to explore Tintagel Castle and other northeast Cornwall attractions.
In poor weather, Tintagel Castle closes (it’s on a craggy island jutting out from the north coast of Cornwall!), but in May it usually stays open. However, apart from during May half term, it’ll be a lot quieter than in the summer months!
Port Isaac is nearby; this tiny village is famous for being the filming location of Doc Martin, with rustic fishermen’s cottages leading down to the . in the summer months it bursts with tourists, but in May, it should be quiet enough to enjoy peacefully!
If you’re a Doc Martin fan, you can do a tour of all of the filming locations; or explore independently if you’re just seeking the old-world fishing village setting.
Explore the Minack and Land’s End
The Minack Theatre sits close to the southwestern tip of Cornwall, a majestic Roman-style amphitheatre that was created by a woman called Rowena Cade in the 1930s; in a spectacle of female empowerment, she more or less dug it entirely out by hand!
It’s open throughout May for both self-guided tours and shows (it’s still a working theatre). I once saw 39 steps here, enjoying both the show and backdrop as the sun glittered on the Atlantic Ocean.
Take boat trips from Padstow, Falmouth or Fowey
Paddleboarding, kayaking and canoeing are all possible in Cornwall throughout May, but if the water’s still a little too cold, try a boat trip.
Padstow Sealife Safaris offer comprehensive boat tours which lead from the town centre, and voyage into the surrounding waters, looking out for seals and dolphins en route.
Alternatively, there’s a range of cruises around Falmouth, where you’ll learn about the natural beauty of the Fal Estuary and the fascinating history of Carrick Roads.
Or, jump on a boat in Fowey to see the estuary and sail past Daphne Du Maurier’s old house!
There’s a plethora of other boat trips to enjoy in Cornwall, but these are my personal favourites.
Events and festivals in Cornwall in May
Helston Flora Day
Helston Flora Day is a lively and colourful celebration of spring and the town’s heritage. Held annually on May 8th, locals dressed in traditional costumes dance through the streets to the sound of brass bands. The highlight of the day is the midday dance, where the whole town comes together to celebrate.
St Ives Food and Drink Festival
The St. Ives Food and Drink Festival is also held in May, offering a chance to sample some of Cornwall’s finest local produce. Taking place on the legendary Porthminster Beach, the festival showcases the best of local produce, with a focus on seafood and traditional dishes.
The Fowey Festival of Arts and Literature
The Fowey Festival of Arts and Literature brings together a diverse mix of writers, artists, musicians and performers from around the world to celebrate creativity and engage with audiences through talks, workshops and performances.
Where to stay in Cornwall in May
Provided you aren’t visiting in May half-term, you can often find reasonably affordable rates at some of Cornwall’s main tourist towns.
Perfect if you want to stay somewhere like Newquay or St Ives, but don’t want to pay premium tourist rates!
However, hotels in these towns do book early and you’ll still pay more than elsewhere. I’ve mentioned a few popular towns to stay at in Cornwall and some nearby alternatives, so there’s options for all depending on your tastes and budget.
A Cornwall highlight for nearly everyone, St Ives remains an ever-popular place to stay, not least for its golden beaches with palm trees, giving an essence of being somewhere much more tropical!
Streets are lined with holiday cottages (it has suffered a little from over-tourism in parts), and there are a few high-quality hotels, including Carbis Bay Hotel which hosted the G7 conference in 2021.
For an alternative, check out accommodation in nearby Hayle. The town’s quieter and more local-feeling, but it still boasts plenty of places to stay, many at much cheaper rates.
Newquay’s both family-friendly and popular with young tourists; it boasts a host of kid-friendly attractions but in the nighttime, many pubs and bars make it a fun nightlife destination.
This gives it a great atmosphere, but means it can be busy throughout the year! However, May is quieter than the summer months, so if staying in Newquay’s on your bucket list, it could be the ideal month to do so.
For an alternative, check out the surf town of Perranporth, just down the road. There’s a huge Haven park here, with some great deals outside of May half term.
The culinary capital of Padstow has found fame for being Rick Stein’s haunt; it’s even known as Padstein by locals! Its tranquil harbour makes for a charming place to stay, although hotel prices here can be steep.
For an alternative, head inland to Wadebridge, a small, lesser-touristy town with a range of places to stay, and in proximity to North Cornwall attractions like Padstow, Polzeath, Port Isaac and Tintagel.
If you’re after something a little more affordable, many campsites are open by May, with some pitches starting from £20 per night. I use Pitch Up to find campsites across Cornwall.
Or check out Cornwall’s caravan parks for fully-furnished self contained mobile homes (with kitchens and full shower rooms, along with 2-4 bedrooms), at great rates. These caravan parks can be costly in the summer season, but you can still get some value deals for May.
Are you ready to visit Cornwall in May?
May is, without a doubt, one of my favourite months to travel to Cornwall (potentially second only to September!). Spring is in the air, and there are ample opportunities to get outdoors and enjoy the Duchy’s glorious nature, but it’s still a relatively well-kept secret.
Check out the rest of my Cornwall blog posts to plan your trip to the region.