Do you want to learn about the best towns in Cornwall?
From the coastal gems of Fowey and Falmouth, to the tourist hotspots of Newquay and St Ives to inland settlements like Truro and Bodmin, there are so many wonderful towns to visit in this part of the country.
They embody the very essence of Cornwall’s charm, and by exploring their vibrant streets, trying some of the Duchy’s best dishes at its many restaurants or seeing natural sites outside of town, you’ll learn a little more about Cornwall.
I live just over the border from Cornwall in Devon, and I come from a long line of Cornish ancestors (I’ve traced my family back to the 14th century!).
I visit different Cornish towns once a month and once spent a whole summer living here, so I definitely know what I’m talking about when I write about these places!
So, what are the best towns to visit in Cornwall?
I’ve broken it down, so you can choose a few to focus on during your trip here.
Best towns in Cornwall
The best towns in Cornwall include Bude, Penzance, St Ives, Falmouth and Fowey.
The very best for your trip will depend on your group’s travel style and needs!
Below are the very best towns to visit in Cornwall, with information about the atmosphere and amenities in each, so you can make an informed decision about which to visit or stay in.
Welcome to Bude, a surfers’ paradise nestled in the northeastern corner of Cornwall, just a hop away from Devon!
This vibrant town is a utopia for wave riders as the beaches around boast some of the best surfing conditions in Cornwall.
Personally, I consider it to be the best place for surfing in Cornwall (Newquay’s more popular, but Bude doesn’t get as busy!).
Not a fan of surfing? No worries!
There’s plenty more to do in Bude as well.
Bude is renowned for having some of the best beaches in Cornwall, with Summerleaze Beach (home to the Bude Sea Pool), Crooklets Beach, Widemouth Bay and Sandymouth Bay Beach stealing the show.
Whether you’re a surfer or not, these picturesque stretches of sand will leave you in awe.
For nature lovers, the South West Coast Path weaves through Bude and climbs up the steep cliffs on either side.
If you’re up for a challenge, embark on the Bude to Hartland Quay walk, a rugged stretch that crosses into Devon.
In my (and many other hikers’) opinion, this is the most difficult section of the South West Coast Path; but there’s no denying that the mesmerising cliff-top vistas and the solitude of the trail make it truly unforgettable.
Nearby, the quaint village of Boscastle awaits, under the care of National Trust and home to a dramatic natural harbour.
Whether you’re seeking to ride the waves, explore Cornwall’s finest hiking trails, or simply enjoy a lively beach town that’s easily accessible, Bude is a fabulous all-rounder with something for everyone!
Step into the captivating harbour town of Padstow, where culinary wonders and natural beauty converge!
Today, Padstow sits nestled around a quaint harbour – it’s just inland on the Camel Estuary – and is most famous for being home to various high-end restaurants serving top-quality gastronomy.
Padstow holds a special place in the hearts of both locals and visitors; it’s most famous for being Rick Stein’s town of choice in Cornwall (he owns three restaurants in town!).
However, some locals feel less than pleased about how Stein has changed Padstow to a high-end, gastronomical capital, with many even naming the town “Padstein”.
One of my personal favourites is the Italian restaurant, Caffe Rojano by celebrity chef Paul Ainsworth; although this was largely because prices aren’t as high as other restaurants in town and there were more vegetarian options!
Prawn on the Lawn and Barnaby’s also have good reviews.
But Padstow’s not all about its culinary delights.
As it is nestled in the vivacious Camel Estuary, just a short journey from the open sea on the North Cornish coastline, this area’s natural beauty is astounding.
Head out on a Padstow Sealife Safari to look out for dolphins, seals or even basking sharks, or explore the best beaches around Padstow.
You can take a boat over to Rock and then hike out to the coast at Polzeath and then to Port Isaac; which is a bit of a rollercoaster over some of North Cornwall’s signature up and down cliffs, but it’s a wonderful hike nonetheless!
Ah, Newquay – the crown jewel of Cornwall.
This town holds a well-deserved reputation as a haven for surfers, with Fistral Beach offering world-class waves (in particular, The Cribbar) that attract swell seekers from around the world.
But there’s so much more to Newquay than its surfing scene.
While Newquay may have a youthful vibe and vibrant nightlife, the town does cater to all ages.
Family-friendly attractions are all around, including Lappa Valley Steam Railway, a fun family park with attractions and (as the name suggests) a railway spanning through the middle!
Now, let’s talk about the beaches!
Among my personal favourites is the privately-owned Lusty Glaze Beach.
As you descend the steep steps, you’ll be greeted by a secluded paradise which is shielded from the wind.
I also love Towan Beach (with its famous rocky outcrop), Watergate Bay (home to Boardmasters festival in August) and Holywell Bay (a quieter beach to the south of Newquay.
Another gem near Newquay is Bedruthan Steps.
These majestic stacks rising from the sea and jutting out from the coastline are nothing short of mesmerising.
As a National Trust-managed area, it’s one of my favourite places in Cornwall to appreciate the rugged beauty, with the craggy cliffs standing tall against the azure Atlantic Ocean.
Back in town, of course, Newquay’s reputation for its vibrant nightlife is well-deserved!
The town offers plenty of bars and clubs to keep the party going – my favourite when I was 18 (and on my first clubbing holiday) was Sailor’s, which is still going strong today!
Newquay does cuisine as well.
The Boathouse, a street food market right on the beach, is one of my personal favourites.
Here, you can savour an array of delights, from mouthwatering tacos to soul-warming ramen, all while literally sitting on the sand!
So, whether you’re seeking nightlife, a place to unwind on pristine beaches, or a destination with family-friendly attractions, Newquay offers something for everyone.
The only drawback? It’s about the furthest thing from a local secret, and can be very busy (and very expensive) in high season!
Step into the picturesque town of St Ives, one of Cornwall’s most beloved destinations!
It’s not hard to see why this town is an absolute gem, with its breathtaking white sand beaches, shimmering turquoise waters and charming historic buildings lining cobblestone secrets.
But like Newquay, St Ives absolutely not a Cornish hidden gem.
During the summer months, the historic streets are jam-packed – if you plan to stay here, book your accommodation well in advance (you can check out the best places to stay here).
Even if you’re visiting for just a day, I recommend arriving early, especially during the peak summer season, just to secure a parking space.
When we visited in July a couple of years ago, we arrived at 10:30 am and the main car park was already full (there was overflow parking by the Rugby Club).
So, what is it about St Ives?
Picture palm trees swaying along the pristine beaches, and you’ll feel like you’ve been transported to the Caribbean.
The stunning scenery has long captivated artists, leading to the proliferation of art galleries in town, including a branch of the prestigious TATE.
It’s also worth visiting the Barbara Hepworth Sculpture Garden. This renowned sculptor called St Ives home until her tragic demise in a fire in the 1970s.
Today, her gallery stands as a testament to her talent, inviting visitors to explore her artistic legacy.
Or, for a quintessential St Ives experience, simply relax on the picturesque harbour, savouring a delicious Cornish pasty or indulging in ice cream.
Just be aware of the crafty seagulls that have become expert food snatchers, taking advantage of distracted tourists!
If you’re seeking respite from the crowds, venture to the quieter beaches of St Ives, such as Porthkidney Sands or Gwithian Beach in nearby Hayle.
I also highly recommend walking on the cliffs past Mutton Cove, a hidden gem where you can witness seals in their natural habitat.
Speaking of seals, you can embark on a boat excursion to Seal Island from St Ives, home to a charming colony of the creatures!
And let’s not forget the mesmerizing sections of the South West Coast Path that weave their way around St. Ives.
Take an easy hike past Carbis Bay towards Hayle for stunning coastal views. You can even take the train, often regarded to be the most beautiful in the UK, to get back to St Ives.
For a more challenging adventure, tackle the St Ives to Zennor section.
While it may be tougher, the trail’s a lot quieter, and it terminates in the beautiful village of Zennor.
The correct way to end this hike (I won’t be told otherwise!) is to savour a delightful lunch at The Tinners Arms, a beloved local haunt that’s popular with tourists and locals alike.
You can then take the Land’s End Coaster bus back to St Ives!
Discover Penzance, a quieter coastal town, but one that’s definitely still worth visiting.
As one of the largest towns in the area, Penzance offers an escape from the tourist crowds; but there’s plenty in town that you should stick around for!
Immerse yourself (quite literally) into Jubilee Pool, an ocean-front lido that offers a safe swimming alternative to the sea.
Or walk down Chapel Street, where you’ll find historic houses and charming pubs like the Turks Head, where tales of smuggling and Barbary pirates come alive.
Soak up picturesque views at Penzance Harbour, a place where maritime charm meets coastal tranquillity.
Penzance town itself isn’t famous for its beaches, but you can make the short journey to some of Cornwall’s best stretches of sand.
Don’t miss Porthcurno Beach with its turquoise waters, the secluded beauty of Porthgwarra Sands, and the captivating Prussia Cove.
Penzance’s prime location also offers easy access to West Cornwall’s finest destinations, with Land’s End being a notable highlight.
The Land’s End landmark attraction itself is quite touristy and gimmicky, but you can just walk a short distance on the cliff paths to see some of the area’s more rugged and real beauty.
Plus, Penzance has direct rail links to London, Bristol, Plymouth and Exeter (it’s right at the end of the line), making it one of the easiest towns to visit in Cornwall – you can even take a sleeper train here!
Let me introduce you to my absolute favourite town in Cornwall—Falmouth!
Bursting with a vibrant atmosphere, Falmouth is home to a branch of Exeter University, exuding an artistic vibe that translates into an array of bars, pubs, and outstanding restaurants.
But there’s more to Falmouth than just being a university town.
Its rich history is intertwined with one of the world’s deepest harbours.
As ships navigated these waters, the Falmouth Packet postal system emerged, connecting Cornwall with far-flung places like South America, Portugal, and West Africa.
Messages arrived in Falmouth days before they reached London, which turned the town into a well-connected and cosmopolitan place!
This has shaped Falmouth into the international haven it remains today; which is reflected in the town’s diverse culinary scene.
Falmouth boasts a fantastic array of international restaurants – as I favour international restaurants over fine dining eateries, it’s my personal preference over Padstow.
For a deeper understanding of Falmouth’s maritime heritage and its reliance on the Falmouth Packet, don’t miss the National Maritime Museum Cornwall.
And while exploring the town, be sure to visit Pendennis Castle, an iconic fortress built by Henry VIII.
Predating the town itself, this castle stands as a testament to its historical significance, defending the Fal estuary during the English Civil War and both World Wars.
If you’re stuck on which town to visit in Cornwall and want somewhere with a fun vibe, excellent restaurants and a charming harbour, don’t miss Falmouth.
Now, let’s move on to one of the most underrated tourist towns!
Camborne’s far off the tourist trail, but it’s actually where much of my Cornish family comes from; my great-granddad was actually a miner in the town, pretty much up until the industry ended.
When you visit Camborne, mining history takes centre stage.
The town boasts several remarkable museums, such as the Heartlands Mining Museum, King Edward Mine Museum, and East Pool Mine Museum.
These immersive experiences shed light on the vital role mining played in shaping both the town and Cornwall as a whole.
While Camborne may not be the typical choice for accommodation, with only a few hotels available, rates are much more affordable compared to other parts of the region.
And although the town centre may not fit the conventional idea of prettiness, it exudes a certain charm with its historic 18th-century buildings.
Camborne’s not coastal, but the village of Portreath is just a short 10-minute drive away.
Right next to Camborne (and where some more of my family are from!) is Redruth.
This ex-mining town also has charming 18th-century buildings, and while the town centre does have its run-down parts, you’ll also find charming street art and interesting historical sites around the town centre.
Just like its neighbouring town, Redruth boasts a rich mining heritage that shaped its identity and left an indelible mark on its character.
Take the town trail to learn a little more about the town, or head to Heartlands, which is halfway between Redruth and Camborne but is home to the Cornish Diaspora Gardens and a Cornish Mining Museum.
Discover the enchanting town of Looe, nestled in a picturesque part of South East Cornwall.
Known for its family-friendly atmosphere, Looe is an ideal choice for visitors seeking a delightful experience. Explore attractions like the Monkey Sanctuary, home to adorable animals and Adrenalin Quarry which is ideal for older kids.
The town itself boasts a plethora of independent shops, charming cafes, and enticing restaurants – head to the Smugglers Cott in Looe where you’ll learn all about its fascinating history.
Don’t miss the nearby fishing village of Polperro, renowned for its captivating beauty and (even more) intriguing smuggling history.
You can even take the South West Coast Path hiking trail between the two towns!
Complete your day with a delectable lunch at the Blue Peter Inn in Polperro, one of my favourite pubs in Cornwall!
Immerse yourself in the captivating town of Fowey!
Nestled along the stunning South Coast of Cornwall, this town is a coastal gem, known for its rich maritime history and a plethora of activities for all ages.
Begin your journey at the bustling Fowey Harbour, where boat trips and watersports await.
You could embark on a leisurely cruise along the picturesque River Fowey, immersing yourself in the tranquillity of its waters, or perhaps grab a paddleboard or kayak and navigate the river’s gentle currents, discovering hidden coves and breathtaking vistas along the way!
The River Fowey leads past Daphne Du Maurier’s old home (Menabilly House); she lived in the town in the 1960s and was inspired by its natural beauty.
My granddad was the police constable of Fowey when Daphne Du Maurier lived in town, and he always liked going to Menabilly House for police duties because the cook would always make him an excellent ham sandwich!
If you want to explore with your own two feet, embark on the scenic trail to Readymoney Cove.
Here, you can follow the coastal path, which winds through lush greenery as it takes in panoramic views back to the harbour town.
The trail also winds past St Catherine’s Castle, a tiny fortress that’s perched on a rocky promontory overlooking the sea, originally used to defend the Fowey Estuary.
Or, just relax on the idyllic sandy beach of Readymoney Cove, dipping your toes into the refreshing waters or basking in the sun’s warm embrace.
End a wonderful day in Fowey by walking along the Esplanade (my family lived in one of these houses – in the 1960s it was owned by the police force and used by policemen and their families – these days they’re all idyllic holiday homes!) and check out the town’s best bars and restaurants.
I love Bufala, a pizza restaurant that serves delicious doughy pizzas overlooking the river.
Explore the hidden gem of Bodmin, a town that often flies under the radar but holds immense appeal for those seeking access to the captivating Bodmin Moor.
Nestled on the outskirts of this rugged landscape, Bodmin boasts a rich history and unique attractions, with plenty to fascinate the curious traveller.
Once the county town of Cornwall, Bodmin carries echoes of its past as you delve into its intriguing heritage.
Step inside the formidable Bodmin Jail, an iconic landmark that set the blueprint for prisons across the country.
Immerse yourself in an immersive experience that transports you to the depths of Victorian England’s penal system, providing a glimpse into the lives of prisoners and the harsh realities they faced.
For history enthusiasts, Bodmin Keep offers an insight into Cornwall’s military past.
Here, you can uncover the stories of brave soldiers who were trained in Bodmin and learn about their contributions to the region’s military history.
Or, visit Discovery 42 to learn some science and the Bodmin Town Museum for an education into its history as Cornwall’s county town.
Many people visit Bodmin due to its proximity to the moor.
This untamed land stretches across Cornwall’s interior, boasting lofty peaks, enchanting waterfalls, and serene lakes.
Once a vast and mysterious expanse, today it is easily accessible with a road traversing the middle.
Take the opportunity to venture into this wild landscape, where you can witness the moor’s natural beauty and find a spot of tranquillity – even in Cornwall’s busy summer!
Best cities in Cornwall
There’s not much point in writing a full blog post about the best cities in Cornwall because there’s only one: Truro!
Truro was actually a town until 1877 when it was granted city status: the Diocese of Truro had been formed the previous December and the cathedral was built three years later.
Here’s all the information you’ll need about Cornwall’s only city!
Best for culture, Truro stands proudly as the only city in Cornwall, offering a vibrant and enriching experience for visitors.
From its stunning architecture to its thriving arts scene, Truro is a cultural hub that seamlessly blends history and modernity.
Start your exploration of Truro by marvelling at its architectural gems.
The iconic Truro Cathedral dominates the city’s skyline. It’s a relatively new cathedral, built at the turn of the 20th century, but its gothic architecture is mesmerising – plus it’s one of the only cathedrals in the country with three spires!
Once you’ve seen the cathedral, wander through the city’s charming streets, lined with Georgian and Victorian buildings that house an array of boutiques, independent shops, and art galleries.
Truro’s bustling Pannier Market is a must-visit; here, you can browse a vibrant mix of stalls selling local produce, crafts, and vintage finds.
Truro boasts a thriving arts and culture scene, with numerous galleries and theatres showcasing the talents of local artists and performers.
The Royal Cornwall Museum is a cultural gem, housing a diverse collection of historical information that spans centuries and deals with Cornwall’s extensive and fascinating history extremely well – answering questions about Cornwall’s identity extremely well.
The Hall for Cornwall is the city’s premier venue, hosting an exciting lineup of performances throughout the year. Some are Cornish focused (like the Fisherman’s Friends the Musical) and others are more international!
From traditional Cornish pasties to international cuisine, the city offers a diverse range of dining options to satisfy every palate.
We recently went to Hubbox which serves up delicious burgers, with an extensive vegan menu!
Beyond its cultural offerings, Truro is a gateway to exploring the rest of Cornwall.
Situated centrally, it provides easy access to both the north and south coasts, as well as nearby attractions such as the stunning Roseland Peninsula and the enchanting Trelissick Gardens.
Best towns in Cornwall FAQs
Which is the nicest part of Cornwall?
The nicest part of Cornwall is subjective and depends on personal preferences.
However, many people find the coastal areas particularly appealing.
Locations like the rugged cliffs and hidden coves of the Lizard Peninsula, the picturesque villages along the south coast like Polperro and Fowey, or the stunning beaches and landscapes of the far west, including Land’s End and St Ives, are often considered among the most beautiful parts of Cornwall.
What is the prettiest place in Cornwall?
Cornwall is known for its stunning landscapes and picturesque locations.
While opinions may vary, the fishing village of Mousehole is often regarded as one of the prettiest places in Cornwall.
With its narrow streets, colourful cottages, and scenic harbour, Mousehole offers a quintessential Cornish charm that captivates visitors.
What is the best seaside town in Cornwall?
Cornwall is home to many delightful seaside towns, making it difficult to single out one as the best.
However, Newquay stands out as a popular choice.
It offers beautiful beaches, excellent surfing opportunities, and a vibrant atmosphere.
With its range of amenities, coastal walks, and water sports facilities, Newquay has something for everyone seeking a seaside adventure.
What towns are in North Cornwall?
North Cornwall features several charming towns, including Bude, known for its sandy beaches and excellent surfing conditions.
Other notable towns in this region include Padstow, famous for its picturesque harbour and culinary delights, and Tintagel, associated with Arthurian legends and boasting a stunning coastal castle ruin.
What towns are in South Cornwall?
South Cornwall is home to several lovely towns, including Falmouth, a bustling maritime town with a rich history and vibrant cultural scene.
Other notable towns in this region include St Austell, renowned for its beautiful gardens, and Fowey, a charming harbour town that attracts visitors with its scenic estuary and literary connections.
How many towns are in Cornwall?
Cornwall is estimated to have around 200 towns and settlements, ranging from small villages to larger urban areas. These towns contribute to the diverse and unique character of Cornwall as a county.
What towns are in East Cornwall?
East Cornwall is home to notable towns such as Liskeard, known for its historic buildings and proximity to Bodmin Moor.
Saltash, situated on the River Tamar and linked to Plymouth by the iconic Royal Albert Bridge, is another significant town in this region.
The city of Truro, Cornwall’s administrative and commercial hub, is also located in East Cornwall.
What towns are in West Cornwall?
West Cornwall boasts charming towns such as Penzance, a coastal town with a rich maritime heritage and access to attractions like St Michael’s Mount.
St Ives, known for its artistic community and beautiful beaches, is another popular town in this region.
Other notable towns include Hayle, Newlyn, and Marazion, each offering its own unique attractions and coastal charm.
How many towns are there in Cornwall?
Cornwall is estimated to have around 200 towns and settlements, ranging from small villages to larger urban areas.
These towns contribute to the unique identity and character of Cornwall as a whole.
What are the main towns in Cornwall?
Some of the main towns in Cornwall include Truro, the only city in the county and its administrative centre, Penzance, a prominent coastal town, and Newquay, renowned for its beaches and surfing culture.
Other significant towns include St Austell, Falmouth, Redruth, Camborne, and Bodmin, each offering its own attractions and distinct character.
Are you ready to check out the best towns in Cornwall?
While Cornwall’s most famous for its rocky coastlines and dramatic moors, it also boasts a plethora of incredible towns where you can soak in Cornish culture and atmosphere!
Whether you seek surfing adventures in Newquay, family-friendly fun in Looe, or a cultural trip in Truro, Cornwall’s towns have something for everyone.
Which one will you choose?