Sandy beaches, wildflower-covered moorlands, and clifftop walks await in the UK's southwest corner.
Jutting out from the southwestern tip of England, the rocky peninsula of Cornwall is brimming with outdoor adventures. Hop between lively seaside resorts and tranquil fishing villages, hit the surf beaches of the north coast, or relax at the award-winning beaches of the Cornish Riviera. Hikers can enjoy endless sea views along the South West Coast Path, which skirts the entire peninsula, or head inland for a tent pitch among the natural beauty of the Cornish countryside. Late spring to early autumn is the best time for a camping holiday, while winters are wet and windy—best to swap the tent for a campervan or motorhome instead during this time. Either way, whether it's a secret garden hideout with just a handful of tent pitches or a family-friendly farm overlooking the sea, there'll be a campsite in Cornwall to suit your needs.
Cornwall’s north coast has some of the UK’s best surf, so the surf meccas of Newquay and Bude draw surfers year-round—in fact, some of the best swells are from late autumn through winter. Campers can tuck into fresh-from-the-ocean seafood in the foodie hub of Padstow, make the most of the dog-friendly beaches at Perranporth and Port Isaac, or enjoy coastal walks atop the sea cliffs in Tintagel. You can even spot dolphins along the coast in the summer months.
This patchwork of green hills rolls down to the calmer golden shores of Cornwall’s south coast, nicknamed the “Cornish Riviera.” Falmouth and Fowey are the go-to destinations for a summer beach vacation, while sandy beaches dot the shores around Polperro, Mevagissey, and Looe, and there’s always camping within easy reach. Check into a family-run holiday park with a swimming pool onsite, try glamping in a yurt, and don’t miss regional attractions, including the Lost Gardens of Heligan and the Eden Project in St Austell.
Venture inland to explore the rocky tors and windswept moorlands of Bodmin Moor, where you can hike to Bronze age ruins and spot wild ponies grazing on the heath. It’s most magnificent in summer, when purple heather blazes across the hilltops and campers can pitch up at quiet country camping sites. Climb the two summits, Brown Willy and Rough Tor, for incredible views across the area and all the way back toward the sea. Further west, the Tamar Valley is the place for riverside walks and scenic river cruises away from the crowds.
From the wave-ravaged shores of the Lizard Peninsula to the cultural hub of St Ives, the western tip of Cornwall serves up sea views and beautiful beaches all around. Holiday homes and camping parks line the coast of Helston, Hayle, and Penzance, while must-do activities include the hike to St Michael’s Mount and a visit to Land’s End, the westernmost point of mainland Britain.
Marooned 25 miles off the west Cornish coast, the Isles of Scilly offer an idyllic getaway with heathland walks and deserted beaches. Getting there is all part of the adventure—ride the ferry from Penzance or fly out from Newquay or Land’s End from March through November. There are five inhabited islands to choose from, and campers can escape to a farmland campsite or pitch a tent within walking distance of the beach. Feel the sand beneath your toes as you traipse across dunes back to your tent and build epic sand-castles as the sunsets before hurrying back for an evening campfire.
Campsites in Cornwall are always a real hit with the kids. Why? There’s the proximity of most campsites to the coast, but also a wealth of other family-friendly activities besides. With the beaches, blue skies, old tin mines, and ancient smugglers' haunts, Cornwall is a land full of mystery and intrigue that will enliven the imaginations of your children. Even better, many campsites are on family-run farms where children can get hands-on with the animals, while some are tiny, tent-only campsites in gardens where little'uns can safely run free away from cars.
And as such a popular camping destination, you'll never be the only one taking the kids on holiday to Cornwall. Think campsites full of kids where they can make friends before you've even pitched the tent—places where space is never at a premium and buckets and spades are almost obligatory. Places perfect for marshmallows on the campfire and a clotted cream ice-cream for your walk to the beach. The only tough bit? Getting them in the car and heading home until next summer.
The Eden Project hardly needs any introduction, now a staple for visitors to Cornwall. The sight of the massive biomes as you approach is awesome and, inside, they’re a fair treat too. The fascinating twin indoor biomes—rainforest and Mediterranean—sit on the land like giant space-age structures. There’s plenty going on in the “outdoor biome” as well, with some 32 acres of garden containing almost 2,000 plant species.
Yet while the Eden Project gets all the hype, there are plenty of smaller horticultural attractions for those on the hunt for interesting flora (or a good space for children to go wild among the undergrowth during family holidays). The Lost Gardens of Heligan are a particular highlight and 26-acre Trebah Gardens, a sub-tropical wonderland, is also great for family days out. Adults might like a tour of the Camel Valley Vineyard, where the grapes make a lovely local speciality.
For a mix of seaside views and high-brow culture, take a trip toward the furthest point in Cornwall for a stop at the open-air Minack Theatre. Despite its amphitheatre-like architecture, it was actually built in the 1930s with the rugged appeal of any ancient space. Dug into the cliff-side, this outdoor theatre puts on spectacular shows throughout the summer, all with the stunning backdrop of the Atlantic blue. Evening shows are usually timed so that you also have the sight of the sunset as the actors or musicians perform.
For animal lovers, family-friendly Newquay Zoo and Porfell Wildlife Park are great picks—though skipping the exotic species in favour of local wildlife is arguably more rewarding. The Tamar Otter and Wildlife Centre is perfect for this. Look out for native species such as fallow deer, badgers and the rare Scottish wildcat, along with the otters, of course.
For most, it's the Cornwall beaches and natural spaces that are the real attraction (often all connected via a walk on the South West Coast Path). These coastal capers can even be turned up a notch with water sports, whether it’s renting a surfboard and taking lessons with a local school or heading off on a coasteering trip to jump off cliffs and plunge into wild swimming holes. Try the Adrenalin Quarry near Liskeard for a good place to start—fly on the long zip-wire, glide on the giant swing, and traverse high rock ledges around the former quarry.
The birthplace of King Arthur and pock-marked with stone circles from even older times, Cornwall is a county awash with intriguing history. It was at Tintagel Castle that King Arthur was reputedly born and, today, campers can still visit these mysterious ruins that nestle among the cliffs just above Merlin’s Cove. From there, it’s a short stroll to the site of his final battle, too, where King Arthur's stone commemorates the occasion.
There are other allusions to Cornwall’s dramatic past, too. Not least famous is St Michael's Mount, the ancient island settlement that can be reached across a causeway at low tide and is a must on any Cornwall holiday. Launceston Castle, Restormel Castle, and Falmouth’s impressive Pendennis Castle offer yet more turreted family fun, while the likes of Truro Cathedral show an even grander side of the local architecture.
Cornwall’s industrial heritage is equally rewarding to discover. Many of the county’s old tin mines are open to the public or visible to walkers who hike the off-beat footpaths. National Trust-owned Wheal Coates, near St Agnes, is particularly well known, largely since it is so photogenic against a backdrop of vast blue ocean and atop impressive cliffs.
From truly ancient monuments, such as Iron Age hillforts and Neolithic stone circles, to these more modern tin mining structures, you can really trace Cornwall through the ages. It has a visible, tangible history that is a delight to explore.