Cornwall has been a popular holiday destination for decades, and with so much to offer, it’s easy to see why. Over 300 miles of coastline envelop stunning countryside, magical woodlands and quaint villages. On arrival in Cornwall, you’ll discover there’s so much to do, and it doesn’t have to cost the earth as a great deal of activities are completely free!
Need some inspiration before you arrive? Read on to find out more about some of our favourite free days out in Cornwall.
Spend the day at the beach
No holiday to Cornwall is complete without a trip to the beach; glorious golden sand and turquoise waters are arguably this coastal county’s greatest appeal. Whether you want to spend the day sunbathing on the sand, rockpooling with the kids, swimming in the sea, or surfing the waves, you’re sure to find the perfect place. With so many beaches along the coast, choose from quiet sheltered coves to vast open beaches.
If you’re planning to spend the whole day at the beach, be sure to pack the essentials (towels, beach toys, suncream, etc), as well as that all-important picnic. Unless you’re walking, expect to pay for the car park, but after that you have a free day ahead of you. Simply find a spot and settle in for a day of sun, sand and sea!
Ride some waves
While surfing is generally a costly activity, it is in fact possible to give it a go completely free in Cornwall! Traditional wooden bellyboards, made in Cornwall at Dick Pearce, can be hired for free at 16 locations across Cornwall as part of their ‘Surf Wood for Good’ project. With so many broken polystyrene boards discarded each year, Jaimie Johnstone of Dick Pearce felt compelled to do something to prevent the use of these ‘disposable’ boards. Sticking to his motto ‘Simple wave riding fun. For everyone.’ he decided to offer a selection of his wooden bellyboards free of charge, available to hire at popular Cornish beaches. Simply turn up to one of the 16 locations and the proprietor will give you all the information you need to hire the board for free.
Unlike polystyrene bodyboards, wooden bellyboards do not float, instead they act as a planing surface on top of the water, allowing you to glide with the waves. Bellyboards should be used by proficient swimmers and always between the red and yellow flags at a lifeguarded beach. If you want to learn to surf properly, or are not very confident in the water, it is important to book lessons with a surf instructor/school.
Make a splash
Surrounded by the sea, Cornwall is fortunate to have many fantastic swimming spots. However, if you’re not a particularly confident swimmer, swimming in open sea water can be daunting. Luckily, there’s a perfect solution that’s also completely free – tidal pools. Dotted along the coast, natural and manmade sea pools are a great way to take a dip in sea water, while remaining protected from the open ocean. Many of these tidal pools, which vary from bath-sized to pool-sized, have been around for centuries, with locals and tourists alike taking the plunge to experience the benefits of natural sea water.
From easily accessible popular sea pools to quiet tidal pools tucked away from the crowds, here are some of the best ones to visit:
Mousehole Tidal Pool: This shallow pool is surrounded by a manmade cement wall which separates the water from the open sea. Relatively small and quiet, it’s ideal for children.
Priest’s Cove, Cape Cornwall: Built in the 1950s, and only accessible at low tide, the most westerly of tidal pools is small, shallow and ideal for a quick dip.
Bude Sea Pool: Built in the 1930s, this semi-natural tidal pool has provided a safe and sheltered spot for sea water swimmers for decades. The large size of the pool means that it’s ideal for getting in those lengths.
Porthtowan Tidal Pool: Venture off the beaten track along the coastal path from Porthtowan and you’ll discover a stunning tidal pool, hidden away from the busy beaches. It’s perfect for a soothing soak or gentle swim.
Lady Bassett’s Baths: Located in Portreath, while not for swimming, these historic baths are perfect for a soothing soak. Six bath-shaped holes were carved into the rocks at Portreath for Lady Bassett, whose father believed in the healing powers of cold seawater.
Explore the vast coastline
Wrapping around the Cornish peninsula, the South West Coast Path offers some of the very best walking routes in the county, with breathtaking views stretching far across the Atlantic Ocean. Little changed over time, a ramble along the rugged coast path is the perfect antidote to the chaos of everyday modern life. Blow away the cobwebs and cleanse the soul as you soak up the awe-inspiring views.
Walking the coast path offers the chance to see Cornwall from a different angle. It’s the opportunity to see the coast that shaped the county, with smuggler’s coves, engine houses, and fisherman’s huts showing signs of an industrious past.
Discover hidden woodlands
Venture inland from the coast and there’s a whole other side of Cornwall to discover. Winding lanes lead to wooded valleys where luscious trees, babbling streams and an array of wildlife create a mystical atmosphere. Sheltered and away from the crowds, head to the woods for a relaxing walk amid nature.
Whatever the season, wooded areas are perfect for an adventurous walk. Multiple paths, winding streams, log bridges and rope swings add variety and excitement to the journey. Children will love splashing in their wellie boots and discovering wildlife, from ducks and squirrels to birds and insects. During the summer months, a woodland walk can bring a moment of calm, while the autumn and winter months provide more excitement and atmosphere.
Stunning woodlands can be found throughout Cornwall; just be sure to pack your boots…
Cardinham Woods: Located near Bodmin, this fantastic natural space has something for everyone. As well as the stunning setting to explore, visitors will find a café, activity trail for kids, bike hire, off-road mobility vehicle hire, and a play area. The whole family will enjoy a day out here.
Tehidy Country Park: The largest area of woodland in west Cornwall, Tehidy boasts 250 acres of woods and lakes and over nine miles of paths to explore. With five different access points, there’s plenty to discover, including a café, friendly squirrels (remember to bring nuts) and other wildlife, cycling routes, and dog friendly as well as dog free areas.
Kennall Vale: With a fascinating history, this enchanting wooded valley has much to be discovered. Once home to the Kennel Gunpowder Company, signs of its industrial past now blend seamlessly with nature, creating a magical setting. Be prepared to be amazed by the sights and sounds of this mystical place.
Meet some animals
An opportunity to meet and greet animals doesn’t have to involve an expensive trip to the zoo. If you or your little ones love animals, there are some great places where you can pop along to see some animals free of charge, though you may be tempted by an ice cream, cake or cuppa!
Take a look at some of our favourites:
Mullion Craft Centre: Located on the Lizard Peninsula, The Chocolate Factory and Craft Centre welcome visitors to pop along and say hello to resident llamas Tim, Legend, Zebedee and Hans, along with their chicken friends.
Roskilly’s Farm: Also situated on the Lizard Peninsula, along the road in St Keverne, is home to the famous Roskilly’s Cornish ice cream and its dairy herd. It’s free to visit the farm and meet the animals, though feed can be purchased from the café if you wish to feed the menagerie of animals. Expect to see calves, goats, pigs, sheep, turkeys, geese, chickens and more!
Trevaskis Farm: Located in Connor Downs near Hayle, this working farm has grown over the years, and as well as a popular farm shop and restaurant, there’s also a Farm Park. Free to explore, you’ll find pigs, ponies, sheep, chickens and more as well as seasonal Pick Your Own fruit and veg.
Sea View Farm Shop: Located in St Teath on the north coast, this well-stocked farm shop is set in the middle of a working farm, where goats, lambs, hens, pigs and other animals can often be seen wandering around.
The Flicka Foundation Donkey Sanctuary: Situated near Falmouth, this fantastic charity works tirelessly to rescue and rehabilitate donkeys. The sanctuary is free to visit, though donations are most welcome and there is a café onsite.
Embrace Cornwall’s unique culture/heritage
Cornwall has its own sense of identity, with a rich history and vibrant culture. From fancy buildings and famous artwork, to stone circles and literary legends, there’s lots to discover.
Historic buildings: Wherever you stay in Cornwall, the chances are you’ll be close to a building of historical interest. Discover engine houses dotted along the rugged coast; WWII pillboxes on popular beaches; remains of an explosives factory nestled in the dunes, lookout huts and towers on clifftops, and churches aplenty.
Stone circles: Approximately 16 known stone circles can be found in Cornwall, some dating back 20,000 years ago! The theory around the purpose of stone circles varies, though it is likely they were for ritual and ceremonial use, as well as astronomical measurement. Some of the most well known sites include, The Merry Maidens, Men-An-Tol and The Nine Maidens.
Art galleries: Cornwall is an incredibly creative space; many artists and writers have discovered its beauty over the years, including Barbara Hepworth and Daphne Du Maurier. Embrace your artistic side with a visit to a free gallery: Porthminster Gallery in St Ives, The Harbour Gallery in Porthscatho, and Falmouth Art Gallery are all free to enter. Better still, grab a piece of paper and some pencils or paints and have a go yourself!
Visit the park
Though it may seem like an underrated activity, a family trip to the park, especially one that has a sea view, can be a wonderful way to spend a morning or afternoon while on holiday. It will also give you a chance to have a little sit down while the kids run around.
Cornwall has some fantastic parks that not only have excellent play equipment, but are also located in beautiful areas, often boasting spectacular views. Be sure to check out the parks nearby your holiday home! Here are some of our favourite parks in Cornwall:
Mylor Bridge: Located in one of the most peaceful settings, Mylor Bridge play park is situated at the mouth of Mylor Creek, overlooking the gentle water and bobbing boats. Consisting of natural play areas, toddler play equipment, swings, play equipment for older children and a large grass area, there’s something for the whole family. There’s on-road parking available, however, dogs are not permitted.
Port Isaac: Perched above the village of Port Isaac, this playground offers breathtaking views stretching far along the coast, with Tintagel Castle in the distance. A fantastic selection of play equipment made from natural materials will keep the kids busy, while the adults can enjoy a coffee from the small café. Conveniently, there’s also toilets for those mid-play emergencies.
Marazion: Boasting views of the famous St Michael’s Mount, there are two parks for kids to enjoy in Marazion. Just opposite the beach is a large sandy playground, with facilities nearby and incredible views of the mount. However, head to the top of the town and opposite the Community Centre is a fantastic, newly built playground. This quieter play area also has a large green for letting the kids have a run around. Parents can relax taking in the far-reaching views.
Get on your bike
If you’re bringing your bikes on holiday, or looking to hire bikes on arrival, it’s a fantastic way to see Cornwall. Whether you cruise along coastal roads, follow winding trails through the countryside, or pedal along seaside promenades, it’s the perfect way to soak up the sights and scents of Cornwall.
Skip the traffic as you travel from A to B by bike, and if you want to get around more efficiently, why not consider hiring an ebike while on holiday? However, if you don’t fancy relying on two wheels for your mode of transport, get on your bike for a fun day out instead!
Try one of these popular trails:
Camel Trail: One of the most well-known cycle routes in Cornwall is the Camel Trail, an 18-mile multi use trail running from Padstow to Wenfordbridge; it’s almost entirely flat and traffic free. Popular among locals and tourists alike is the section from Wadebridge to Padstow, just over five miles each way and with beautiful views, it makes a wonderful day out (and you can explore Padstow in between).
Marazion to Newlyn: Completely refurbished, this popular route runs along the seafront from Marazion to Newlyn. Just under three miles each way, the flat, surfaced path is ideal for families. Enjoy sights of St Michael’s Mount along the whole stretch and be sure to stop for a Jelbert’s famous ice cream in Newlyn before heading back!
The Mineral Tramways: Thanks to Cornwall’s rich mining heritage, central Cornwall benefits from 37.5 miles of multi-use trails, following the original tramway and railway routes that once transported ore and supplies to and from the mines. Consisting of six trails, there’s plenty to explore; step back in time and discover old mining sites.
Embrace local events
Cornwall remains a traditional county, with towns and villages celebrating events that have been a part of their history for decades and even centuries. Each year, Cornwall hosts a variety of events, including dances, carnivals and family fun days, the majority of which are free to attend.
While spring and summer are generally the busier months in the events calendar, Christmas time also sees communities coming together, to display magical twinkling lights for all to enjoy.
Whatever time of year you choose to visit, be sure to check out the calendar for what’s on in Cornwall! Here are just a few highlights:
Golowan, Penzance: Each year in June, the coastal town of Penzance celebrates its annual week-long Golowan Festival, culminating with the incredibly popular Mazey Day and Quay Fair day at the weekend. Expect parades, stalls, live music, street food, a fair and more!
Mevagissey Feast Week: Once a religious Feast Day, over the centuries, this celebration has evolved into a whole week of festivities. With a focus on local food, especially fish, visitors can enjoy foodie demonstrations and dishes to try, while enjoying live music and entertainment. There’s plenty happening throughout the week, including dances, carnivals and a raft race, all concluding with a fantastic firework display.
Mousehole Christmas Lights: The quaint fishing village of Mousehole really comes alive during the festive season when thousands of twinkling lights illuminate the village and harbour. It’s free to visit the lights, but donations are welcomed to keep them running each year.
However you spend your time on holiday, there’s no need for it to cost the earth. Spend time together and make memories that last a lifetime.