Cornwall, the rugged peninsula that occupies the far southwest corner of Great Britain, is a county steeped in myth and legend. Much of its history centers around its dramatic coastline—a collection of sheer cliffs and hidden coves, world-class surf breaks, and great swathes of golden sand washed by turquoise water. With 422 miles of coastal beauty to explore, there’s a beach for every kind of traveler this side of England. From the breathtakingly beautiful Kynance Cove to family friendly Pendower Beach, these are Cornwall's best beaches.
Best for Families: Pendower Beach, Veryan
If you’ve got little ones in tow, Pendower Beach is a guaranteed hit. Located on the Roseland Peninsula near Veryan in South East Cornwall, this National Trust beach is easy to get to, with a large parking lot located roughly 300 feet from the sand. The golden beach has plenty of space for sunbathing, building sandcastles, and beach cricket, whereas the calm bay is safe for swimming and snorkeling. Rock pools at the west end of the beach provide hours of entertainment, while Shallikabooky Beach Hut caters to hungry visitors with ice cream and Cornish pasties. Dogs are welcome year-round but must be kept on a leash in summer.
Best for Romance: Pedn Vounder, Treen
Most Cornish beaches have a touch of romance about them, but one of the best for couples is Poldark filming location Pedn Vounder. Located near the picturesque village of Treen in South West Cornwall, Pedn Vounder stands out for its almost tropical beauty, with white sands and azure waters ringed by rugged cliffs. Its remote location and difficult access via a (very) steep cliff path make it relatively secluded, too, especially outside peak season. For the ultimate romantic day out, combine your visit with a performance at the open-air Minack Theatre, perched atop the surrounding cliffs.
Best for Surfing: Fistral Beach, Newquay
Renowned as the Home of British Surfing, Newquay’s Fistral Beach is famous for its consistent surf, with two headlands funneling spectacular barreling waves that frequently reach 8 feet in height. There are waves for all skill levels, including The Cribbar, England’s only big wave spot for pro surfers. Fistral’s International Surfing Centre features surf clothing shops, surf schools, wetsuit and board rentals, and restaurants, and in August, Europe’s largest surf and skate festival (Boardmasters) is held here. Highly qualified RNLI lifeguards are on patrol from April to October; other useful facilities include toilets, showers, and a parking lot.
Best for Swimming: Summerleaze Beach, Bude
Undertows and rip tides make swimming a risk at many Cornish beaches. Summerleaze Beach in the town of Bude, North East Cornwall, provides a solution with a stunning tidal pool. Part man-made and part natural rock pool, it's filled with fresh seawater during every high tide, and sheltered by the cliffs that tower above it. Kept clean by the non-profit Friends of Bude Sea Pool, the pool has been providing safe swimming for visitors of all ages since 1930. It is free to use, with RNLI lifeguards in residence throughout the summer. Other Summerleaze activities include surfing, stand up paddleboarding, kayaking, and fishing.
Best for Rock Pooling: Rocky Beach, Trevone
Rock pooling is a staple of any Cornish beach holiday, with kids and adults alike spending many idyllic hours searching for shells, shrimp, crabs, and starfish in placid tidal pools. One of the best destinations for a fun day out with a net and bucket is Rocky Beach (sometimes called Newtrain Bay) in Trevone. As its name suggests, there’s very little sand; instead, the beach is a series of rocky platforms and mussel beds, interspersed by pools rich with marine life. It has a natural sea pool perfect for swimming and snorkeling, while small stretches of sand and shingle are treasure troves for shell hunters.
Best for Walking: Porthleven Sands, Porthleven
Located next to quaint Porthleven Harbour on the Lizard Peninsula, Porthleven Sands’ strong undertow makes it unsafe for swimming. However, it is one of the best beaches in Cornwall for a scenic, windswept walk down 3-plus miles of pristine sand. Along the way, admire dramatic views of the Atlantic surf crashing in from Mounts Bay, then reward yourself with an award-winning seafood dinner at Porthleven’s Kota Restaurant. Want to keep going? Portleven Sands is part of the South West Coast Path, which at 630 miles in length is the longest way-marked National Trail in England.
Most Scenic: Kynance Cove, Lizard Peninsula
Also situated on the Lizard Peninsula, Kynance Cove’s exceptional beauty is confirmed by its status as the most photographed and painted location in the country. The kind of place that makes you exclaim in wonder the first time you see it, the cove boasts pearlescent sand and turquoise waters studded by dramatic rock stacks. The latter are carved from local serpentine rock, which shimmers in shades of dark green and red in the sunlight. The views are spectacular from the cliff top and the historic Kynance Cove Beach Café. You can also venture down onto the sand itself via a steep cliff path, but be careful not to get trapped by the swiftly rising tide.
Best for Wildlife: Mutton Cove, Godrevy Point
If catching a glimpse of the county’s abundant wildlife is your top priority, head to Mutton Cove near Hayle in West Cornwall. This secluded beach is famous for its resident gray seal colony, which can be observed year-round from atop the surrounding cliffs. Make sure to come at low tide to catch them basking, nursing, and playing on the beach (at high tide the sand is underwater and the seals are off fishing). To reach Mutton Cove, park at the National Trust lot at Godrevy Point and walk along the coastal path. The headland is known as a prime vantage point for dolphin and seabird viewing, and for shark sightings from May to September.