Are you looking for free things to do in Cornwall?
With the ever-impending cost of living crisis, stretching our budgets has become increasingly essential over the last year.
But just because you’re stretching your budget, it doesn’t mean that you need to miss out.
It’s still possible to have a great holiday in Cornwall (or anywhere!), by enjoying the best free and low-cost activities.
I live very close to Cornwall and have spent years checking out the incredible attractions in the region – both free and paid-for!
My family are Cornish, so I’ve been on lots of cheap family days out in Cornwall, and recently my partner and I spent the entire summer hiking the Cornish coast path, making the most of free attractions to try to keep travelling for as long as possible.
There are lots of hikes, free attractions and stunning coastlines to admire in the region.
And there are even some free things to do in Cornwall in the rain!
So, let’s check out the full list and help you to start planning your budget-friendly Cornwall trip today!
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Top free things to do in Cornwall
One of the best things to do in Cornwall is to take to its many trails!
There are plenty of paths with breathtaking views all over Cornwall. Here are some of the best:
South West Coast Path
The South West Coast Path is a 630-mile-long trail, 330 miles of which traverse Cornwall.
It’s one of the most incredible long-distance walks in the UK, with amazing views over craggy cliffs and magical beaches.
It goes through or past every coastal town and beach in Cornwall.
So wherever you’re staying, you can just find the nearest beach and start hiking!
Some parts that I particularly recommend are:
- Morwenstow to Bude: very, very difficult but beautiful (you could also do Sandymouth to Bude to Widemouth Bay for an easier hike with similar scenery)
- Boscastle to Tintagel: quite tough, but short and incredible views
- Porthcothan to Newquay: fairly easy, with lots of beaches on the way
- Perranporth to St Agnes: historic mining landscape
- St Erth to St Ives: an easy, short walk, and you can take the train or bus the other way
- St Ives to Zennor: more challenging, like a scramble, but beautiful scenery
- Pendeen to Sennen: some of the best scenery on the whole path
- The Lizard coast path: this will take you 2-3 days and it’s a rugged, scenic coastline
- Looe to Polperro: this is only a two hour hike, but it’s not too challenging and links two lovely coastal towns.
- Rame Peninsula: this is in ‘forgotten Cornwall’ and is an incredibly lovely quiet place
Bodmin Moor is a wild, enigmatic moorland in the middle of Cornwall.
It’s 200 square kilometres in size, designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
There are plenty of hiking trails all over Bodmin Moor, including a route up the highest point in Cornwall, Brown Willy and the second-highest, Rough Tor.
The legendary Jamaica Inn, a smuggling pub immortalised in Daphne du Maurier’s novel of the same name, sits in the middle of the moor.
While you’ll need to pay to visit the smuggling museum, eat at the restaurant or stay the night, you can pop in to enjoy the exterior and browse the shops.
Be careful when exploring Bodmin Moor. Mist can fall very quickly, so I’d recommend only visiting on a clear day.
Also, there are reports of a Bodmin beast that roams the moorland.
This may be a simple Cornish legend – but I’d still watch out if I were you!
Laze on the beautiful beaches
Of course, one of Cornwall’s main attractions is its incredible beaches.
The region has over 250 miles of coastline and more than 300 beaches.
While some of these can be packed in the summer, there are plenty of others that are quiet and relaxed.
Here are some of my favourites:
- Kynance Cove: this beach can be packed, but it’s one of the most beautiful. Visit early in the day if you can, and beware of the tide times.
- Holywell Bay: this is a beautiful beach near Newquay that is rarely as busy as Newquay’s other beaches.
- Porth Joke (Poly Joke) Beach: a local’s favourite that rarely gets too busy
- Widemouth Bay: a popular surfing beach near Bude.
- Carbis Bay Beach: one of the most popular beaches in Cornwall, but worth the crowds for the sub-tropical views. It’s a true Cornish holiday destination!
- Sennen Cove Beach: a popular surfing beach right on the edge of Cornwall. It can be busy, but it’s a vast beach, so there’s always plenty of space.
- Porthcurno Beach: one of my favourite beaches in Cornwall, with towering cliffs.
- Readymoney Beach: a delightful little cove by Fowey
- Fistral Beach: Potentially the most popular surfing beach in the UK!
You can see all of my favourite beaches in Cornwall here.
Cycle the Camel Trail
The Camel Trail is a disused railway-turned-cycling trail that leads from Padstow, through Wadebridge and to Bodmin, then onto Wenfordbridge.
At 18 miles in total, traverses the Cornish countryside and is a lovely snapshot of the Duchy away from the crowds.
As most people tend to stick to the coastal path, it’s one of the best hidden gems in Cornwall!
Of course, you’ll need to pay to rent a bike (you can do so at Padstow Cycle Hire), but you can also walk down the trail for free (it’s very flat!) or bring your own bike.
Walking tour of Penzance
There are quite a few town walking tours in Cornwall, and while many have a fee, the one in Penzance is completely free.
Run by Anna, a Penzance local, this tour will take you around the historic town and through its harbour.
You’ll learn about famous people from Penzance throughout the centuries, how the town developed as a port, the smuggling trade and the Spanish invasions.
We did this tour when we were travelling around Cornwall and it was a fantastic free activity where we learned so much.
Cycle Trails in Lanhydrock
If you haven’t got a National Trust membership, you’ll need to pay to enter the gardens and house at Lanhydrock.
However, you can enter the beautiful grounds for free. There are hiking and cycling trails spanning around the estate, perfect for a cosy walk or body-boosting cycle.
Roskillys Organic Farm
If you love ice cream, Roskillys is a fantastic place to visit!
It’s the home of Roskillys Cornish Ice Cream, which is sold in lots of cafes and outlets throughout the Duchy.
Situated on the Lizard Peninsula, the farm is completely free to walk around.
You’ll find farmyard animals including Jersey cows and take in some lovely walks.
When you’re hungry, visit the restaurant for a tasty pizza or try some of their fresh ice cream. There are even some vegan options!
Bude Sea Pool
Bude Sea Pool is a natural swimming pool by Summerleaze Beach in Bude, on the North Coast of Cornwall.
Summerleaze is one of my favourite sandy beaches in the area, but as the waters around Bude can be rough, many locals and tourists take to Bude Sea Pool.
This is 91 metre long pool that fills with sea water. It’s semi-natural and dates back to the 1930s.
Run by the Friends of Bude Sea Pool, it’s completely free to use, and a godsend on a warm summer’s day!
Merlin’s Cave Tintagel
Tintagel Castle certainly isn’t free – in fact, it’s the most expensive castle in Cornwall (and I wouldn’t visit it without an English Heritage or Cornwall Heritage Trust Membership – a Cornwall Heritage Trust Membership gets you into Tintagel and is actually cheaper than one entry ticket!).
However, you can walk down to the beach by Tintagel and see Merlin’s Cave – which, in my opinion, is just as enchanting as the castle!
Tintagel Castle is said to be the birthplace of King Arthur (although this is basically the world’s most on-going rumour that Geoffery of Monmouth started in the 12th century and that is still told today…) and Merlin was thought to live in the cave below.
You can see the rocky cave, enjoy the beach in the shadow of Tintagel Island, and take a look at the waterfall all for free!
There are plenty of ancient monuments in Cornwall. Some of these, like Tintagel Castle, cost a fair amount of money.
But there are lots of ancient stone circles that you can visit for free. These were places of worship, ceremony, burial and social gathering places back in ancient times.
- Trippet Stone Circle: This circle in Bodmin Moor dates back to Neolithic times. “Trippet” is associated with dancing, and along with the Merry Maidens, legend has it that the stones once were a group of girls dancing on the Sabbath who were turned to stone!
- Merry Maidens: Near Lamorna, the Merry Maidens date back to 2500 – 1500 BC. They have the same legendary connotation as Trippet Stone Circle!
- Duloe Stone Circle: This is the smallest in Cornwall, located near Looe, but is still fascinating!
Visit a fogou
Cornish Fogous (which means cave in Cornish) is an underground structure that was used for storage, refuge or even potentially some historic rituals.
They are manmade, but not a huge amount is known about them.
There are a few fogous in Cornwall, and not that many people know about them.
It’s a bit of a niche attraction – I’m fascinated by anything to do with Cornish history so I’ve visited a few – but if you’re looking for something offbeat, then head to a fogou!
Probably the easiest to visit is in Carn Euny, which is an ancient village close to Penzance, looked after by the English Heritage.
While it’s an English Heritage site, it is completely free to look around.
There’s also a fogou in Chysauster Ancient Village between Penzance and St Ives, but this village costs £6.70 to look around (unless you’re an English Heritage member).
Plus, we once drove all the way to Chysauster and it was closed!
There are lots of botanical gardens in Cornwall, many of which you’ll need to pay for.
But the Morrab Gardens in Penzance are free.
These public gardens boast sub-tropical plants that thrive in the mild climate of Cornwall.
A horticulturalist’s delight, Morrab Gardens boast plants like Mexican Agave and the Azalea, which is the national flower of Nepal.
Stroll around the gardens for a while and take in the peaceful atmosphere, or enjoy a picnic in the sunshine!
Trenance Gardens and Leisure Park
Situated close to Newquay, Trenance Gardens and Leisure Park is chock-a-block with fun-filled attractions for the whole family.
With an abundance of playgrounds and parks which are all free, there’s plenty to keep everyone entertained here!
There are a range of paid-for attractions, including crazy golf, Newquay Zoo and the Heron Tennis Centre, but the gardens, with rose bushes and towering trees.
If you go to the Visit Newquay office before heading to Trenance, you can pick up a free Tree Walk Booklet which will detail all of the trees in the area!
Free things to do in Cornwall in the rain
Purchase an English Heritage or National Trust membership
Ok, this isn’t techically a free Cornwall attraction, but it’s a fantastic way to save a lot of money on your Cornwall holiday.
If you purchase an English Heritage or National Trust membership, you can visit plenty of heritage sites in the area like Pendennis Castle and Lanhydrock House.
English Heritage and National Trust memberships cost £64/ £72 per year respectively, and you can choose to pay in monthly instalments.
It’s only one upfront cost, and then you effectively can enjoy attractions for free in Cornwall and beyond.
Or click the buttons below to go to the respective websites and read more about memberships on there.
Heartlands is Mining World Heritage Site in Pool (between Redruth and Camborne); it celebrates Cornish mining heritage through its free attractions.
My great-grandad was actually a miner in Camborne, so I find it especially topical!
It’s a charitable trust and the Mining Museum and Exhibition is completely free to visit.
You could also pop into the Cornish Diaspora Gardens if the rain isn’t too bad!
There’s a cafe and soft play on-site, although these are paid-for attractions.
Helston Museum of Cornish Life
The museum documents Cornwall through the ages, going into its history and culture, with some fantastic statues and artefacts made into historic scenes.
It’s completely free to visit!
Falmouth Art Gallery
While Falmouth’s main attractions (Pendennis Castle and the National Maritime Museum) are paid-for, Falmouth Art Gallery is completely free!
It showcases a range of art from Cornwall and beyond.
There are a few other art galleries in Cornwall that are free to visit as well, including the Ebenezer Gallery in Polperro.
Tintagel Toy Museum
Take a trip down memory lane at the Tintagel Toy Museum, a small exhibition which will take you back to your childhood.
This free museum is in the heart of Tintagel and boasts a collection of toys, models and collectibles. If you do collect, some are available for purchase.
However, all are welcome in to have a look, and entry is totally free.
The only cathedral in Cornwall, Truro Cathedral dates back to 1880 (although building finished in 1910). The heart of Anglican Christianity in Cornwall, Truro is one of the only cathedrals in the country with three spires and showcases some incredible Gothic Revival Architecture.
It’s completely free to visit although donations are welcome.
Is the TATE Gallery in St Ives free?
Unfortunately, while it’s London branch doesn’t charge, TATE gallery in St Ives is not free. You will need to pay around £17 to visit.
Budget accommodation in Cornwall
Accommodation in Cornwall isn’t always the most budget-friendly – especially during school holidays. But I do have some tips for securing some good deals!
Caravan parks out of peak season
While Cornish caravan parks can be extortionate in the peak season, you’ll find much cheaper rates during the shoulder and lower seasons.
Avoid booking during June, July and August, but you should find good deals anytime up until May or after September.
I once booked a week’s stay at the start of October for £150!
Haven have some great deals out of season, and they have two holiday parks in Cornwall; Perran Sands and Rivere Sands.
If you like the great outdoors, then go camping!
I use Pitchup to find campsites, and can often get them for around £20 per pitch per night.
My favourite campsite in Cornwall is Stithians Lake, which also has a watersports centre.
I’d recommend booking directly with them as they have the cheapest rates on their website.
Cheaper towns to stay in (and hotel recommendations)
One of the best budget tips for Cornwall is to simply stay out of the main touristy areas!
So forfeit Newquay and St Ives (you can still visit them for the day!) and head to the following towns:
I’ve always found Liskeard, which is near Looe and Fowey, to have some of the best rates for hotels in Cornwall.
It’s inland (which is part of the reason why rates are cheap!), but it’s only a 15 minute drive to the coast.
Plus, it’s a market town and is quite charming!
Sportsmans Valley Hotel is a cosy bed and breakfast with free WiFi, a flat-screen TV and tea and coffee making facilities. It’s attached to the Sportsmans Arms, a popular pub with a beer garden. Click here for rates and to book.
Sitting in the centre of Cornwall, Bodmin has a lot more to it than meets the eye.
I love visiting the town for its range of museums: it’s home to Bodmin Keep which is all about Cornish military, the historic Bodmin Jail and the interactive Discovering 42.
Plus, it’s in striking distance of the enigmatic Bodmin Moor and it’s not too far from some of Cornwall’s best beaches.
There’s also Colliford Tavern, which is just outside of Bodmin but offers budget-friendly camping pods with small kitchenettes, a cosy sleeping area and tons of outdoor space – it’s a glamping experience at fairly low prices! Click here for more information.
If you can’t bear the thought of staying in Cornwall and not being by the coast, I recommend Penzance.
It’s not as scenic as places like nearby Mousehole or Port Isaac, but it still has a beautiful waterfront area with views to St Micheal’s Mount and, as it’s a lot larger than many other coastal settlements in Cornwall, there’s less demand for accommodation.
Guest Lodge Penzance is about a 10 minute walk from the town and has en-suite rooms with mini-fridges and tea and coffee-making trays. It’s one of the most affordable guesthouses in Cornwall. Click here to read more about it.
How to find cheap eats in Cornwall
Here are a few of my top tips for eating cheaply in Cornwall!
Try a Cornish pasty
Some of the cheapest food that you can find in Cornwall are the staple Cornish pasties.
They are traditionally made of beef and vegetables and wrapped in pastry.
However, there are lots of options nowadays, with veggie and vegan pasties and even some exotic flavours like Thai green curry!
These Cornish pasties usually cost £3-5 and are very filling.
Choose a cream tea
You can also enjoy Cornish cream teas from bakeries for relatively cheap prices.
You don’t need to head anywhere fancy for these – head to The Cornish Bakery (it’s a chain with a few branches in Cornwall!) or a tea room and enjoy.
Just remember – you’re in Cornwall, so the jam goes first!
Meal deals cost around £3 and you can purchase them from most supermarkets, like Sainsbury’s and Tesco.
They consist of a “main” (sandwich, pasta or salad), a “snack” (crisps, chocolate, fruit etc), and a drink.
We often buy these for lunch when we’re touring around Cornwall as they’re cheap and easy to eat on the go!
If you want to save a few pennies, there are Wetherspoons pubs in Newquay, Perranporth, St Ives, Camborne, Helston and a few other places in Cornwall.
Wetherspoons offer budget-friendly food and drink, including burgers, pizzas, fish and chips, curries and wraps, with plenty of veggie and vegan options.
When we were hiking the Cornish coast path, we ate at Wetherspoons quite a lot to save money – and while I recommend supporting local businesses where possible if you want to make your money go a bit further when on holiday in Cornwall, having a Wetherspoons meal or two is a good option!
The cheapest way to get to Cornwall
Most tourists drive to Cornwall; and it is the best way to get around and see all of the best free attractions.
However, if you don’t have a car of it there is just one or two of you travelling, getting the National Express bus, which runs from London to Penzance and stops at a few places in Cornwall in between, may be more budget-friendly. Just be aware that it’ll be trickier to get around the region if you don’t have a car.
Trains are expensive, but there is a route that runs through Cornwall, and tickets are generally cheaper if you book in advance.
Also, make sure that you have a Railcard if you’re applicable, which will save you 1/3 off your rail fare.
Budget travel in Cornwall!
If you’re looking for free things to do in Cornwall, I hope that this blog post has been helpful! Do feel free to check out my Cornwall archives for my many posts about visiting this region, and drop me a message on Instagram if you have any questions – I’ll try my best to help!