Cornwall is most famously a summer destination – so much so, that many people have never even considered visiting Cornwall in winter. I think this is a shame, as Cornwall has so much to offer during the colder months.
I moved from Australia to Cornwall in winter, and there was no way I was going to let that stop me from searching out the highlights. What I found was that there is a totally different – and arguably even more interesting – side of Cornwall in the cold.
So, if you’re considering a trip down to the southwest of England in winter, here are my best tips and 15 fun things you can do in Cornwall while you’re there!
Note: This post contains affiliate links. Please see disclosure for more information.
- Cornwall in Winter: What to expect
- Things to do in Cornwall in winter
- Bonus: How to spend Christmas in Cornwall
- Where to stay in winter in Cornwall
- How to Get from Cornwall to London
- Visiting Cornwall in Winter
- Expert Tips for visiting Cornwall in winter
Cornwall in Winter: What to expect
The history of Cornwall is peppered with dramatic stories of smugglers, shipwrecks, and pirates. When you visit Cornwall in winter and see the waves crashing against the jagged cliff edges, you certainly get a sense of this spooky history.
Having lived in Cornwall through both summer and winter, I can honestly say the eerie and moody months between November and February are some of my favorite times in the county.
It’s not just that everything gets rather atmospheric and brooding. The roads are quieter, and the locals are a little more friendly and open when there are fewer visitors clogging the roads.
Not to mention that the beaches are all but deserted – as are the roads, shops, and most attractions. It feels like a different county – one that is more isolated, rugged and moody.
Of course, winter in Cornwall does have its downsides. The days are short, and drizzle is common. You’ll want to prepare accordingly – plenty of jackets and a “can do” attitude are all important!
Things to do in Cornwall in winter
Hopefully, I’ve convinced you that Cornwall is a pretty a-okay place in the winter. Next step: planning what to do in Cornwall in winter! While a few things do operate seasonally, you’ll find more than enough to keep you busy.
Outdoor things to do during winter in Cornwall
Winter in Cornwall doesn’t mean you need to run for cover and stay inside at all costs. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the English is that you don’t need to let the questionable weather stop you from getting out into the countryside.
Just rug up, put a smile on (and maybe your wellies) and join the Brits in the gorgeous outdoors.
1. Visit the beaches anyway
Cornwall’s coast is pretty exceptional. As an Aussie expat, I have to admit I was suspicious of whether any British beach could live up to those of my homeland.
Britain: I owe you an apology.
What I love about Cornwall’s beaches is just how beautiful and atmospheric they are. While they may not be huge, they are so full of character and charm. In particular, I love the little coves along the Lizard Peninsula – it’s no surprise they were peak smuggler’s spots.
There are lots of beautiful ones but one particular place to visit in Cornwall in winter is Church Cove near Gunwalloe. The gorgeous, 13th century Church of St Wynwalloe stands perched by the edge, and the cliff-faces are battered by waves and seafoam. Nearby Gunwalloe Beach is also beautiful.
2. Flicka Donkey Sanctuary
I don’t think it’s possible to feel gloomy while looking at a cute and adorable donkey. That’s why I love visiting the Flicka Donkey Sanctuary, even on a rainy day!
This beautiful sanctuary is home to over 100 rescued donkeys who are cared for so lovingly by a team of local volunteers. They have a huge, beautiful space where they can run around – as well as a warm and cozy barn for when it’s cold out.
You can learn more about the great work of the Flicka Donkey Sanctuary and also meet some of their lovable residents. To warm-up, there’s a cute cafe called Take a Brayk, which serves yummy coffee and vegetarian food.
3. Visit gorgeous Cornish villages
All over Cornwall, you’ll find gorgeous villages that look like they are plucked off the set of an old British television show. I just love them and think they’re even more beautiful to explore and photograph when they’re quiet and drizzly.
If you love the coast, then some of my favorite villages include the picturesque fishing village of Mousehole (that’s Mowzel to the locals), as well as Charlestown with its historic harbor. Charlestown is also famous as a backdrop for the popular TV show Poldark.
If you’re further up north and inland, then I absolutely love the towns of Boscastle and Altarnun. Boscastle is a bit larger and more famous, while Altarnun is just a teensy little town that time seems to have forgotten. Be sure to bring your camera!
4. Explore a tropical garden
While it might not be perfect if it’s raining out, I think exploring some gardens is one of the best things to do in winter in Cornwall. A lot of the Cornish gardens are tropically-inspired, and during winter they are so incredibly green and beautiful.
Trelissick House is worth a visit even in the cold. Not only does it boast a spectacular garden complete with its own private cove, but there’s also a beautiful old house. Perfect to duck inside if the weather suddenly turns on you!
Another option if you’re in North Cornwall is the Eden Project, one of the UK’s most popular tourist attractions, Dedicated to encouraging sustainability and a love of nature, it features giant glass bubble-like biomes nestled in a crater with all different plants and flowers. They put on special events throughout winter, and much of it is undercover!
Buy your tickets to the Eden Project online here.
Indoor things to do in Cornwall in winter
While I’m all for braving the elements outdoors, there’s also plenty to do indoors so you stay warm and dry! Here are my recommendations.
5. Jamaica Inn, smuggler’s pub
Perhaps the most famous pub in Cornwall, the Jamaica Inn is so named after the grim novel of the same name by Daphne de Maurier. A somber tale of wrecking and smuggling, the book is one of the most famous Cornish tales.
Daphne de Maurier actually wrote the book while staying at the Jamaica Inn. One look at it and it’s clear why she was inspired to write such a story. The slate grey pub deep in the Bodmin Moors certainly looks like a home for pirates and smugglers.
My preferred time to drop by the pub is in winter. You can just imagine smugglers inside, swapping war stories while a storm raged outside. You can try a pint of local ale from the bar, or there are a cafe and restaurant as well.
6. St Austell Brewing Company
If you visit any of Cornwall’s pubs, chances are you’ll see the name St Austell Brewing Company. They’re probably the region’s largest and best-known brewery, and you’ll find their beer on tap all over the county and beyond.
They also have a great visitor’s center where you can do a tour and taste some of their brews. Given it’s all undercover, it’s perfect for a wintery day – there’s really no bad time for a good brew, right? They also have a cafe and restaurant if you’re hungry.
7. Lanhydrock House
Visiting Lanhydrock House is not only one of my favorite things to do in Cornwall in winter but in the UK full-stop. This ostentatious mansion was built by a “new money” family in Cornwall, who went about filling it to the brim with the finest things in life.
Eventually, their fortunes soured and the home – along with nearly all of their possessions – was handed over to the National Trust. They have painstakingly kept it exactly as it was, making it an amazingly preserved example of a Victorian mansion. You half expect the family to pop back in at any moment, and it’s easy to get lost admiring this amazing place. There’s also a beautiful garden to explore if the weather is reasonable.
8. Museum of Witchcraft and Magic
One of the quirkiest Cornwall attractions in winter is the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Boscastle. Thought to be the largest museum devoted to witchcraft in the world, it’s said to have inspired JK Rowling when she wrote Harry Potter.
Don’t be fooled, however – the museum isn’t all black cats and broomsticks. It’s full of pieces of anthropological importance, and definitely has a serious side. It also unflinchingly explores the persecution of ‘witches’ in the UK, which is both interesting and moving.
It’s not really kid-friendly and probably not for everyone, but this is easily one of my personal favorite attractions in Cornwall – no matter the weather.
9. Polperro Museum of Smuggling
Just in case you hadn’t got enough of Cornwall’s smuggling history, you could always visit the Polperro Museum of Smuggling! This little museum has the benefit of being located in Polperro, which in itself is a gorgeous place to visit. The museum is not very big but it only costs a couple of pounds to enter. Once inside, you’ll find a collection of records, photos, and objects related to the history of smuggling in Polperro and elsewhere.
10. Tintagel Post Office
I stumbled on the Tintagel Post Office totally by accident. Seeing the signs, I actually had a bit of a giggle wondering what could be so special about a post office. Well, how about a post office that was built in the 14th Century, and is completely charming?
I just adore the higgledy-piggledy roof of this building, as well as the roaring fire inside – perfect for a cold and wintery day! This National Trust site also has a small collection of historic letters and postal equipment, as well as a small but adorable back garden.
11. Shipwreck Museum in Charlestown
After exploring Cornwall’s jagged coasts, seeing the dramatic cliffs and submerged rocks, it probably won’t surprise you to learn how many ships have been wrecked there. It’s estimated that hundreds and hundreds of ships have run aground around the coast over the last four centuries.
If you’re as fascinated as I am by shipwrecks, I highly recommend a visit to the Shipwreck Museum in Charlestown. The museum has a collection of over 8000 objects relating to shipwrecks around Cornwall and abroad.
Things to do in Cornwall in winter with kids (and kids-at-heart)
Cornwall is a popular family holiday hotspot, so there are plenty of attractions that little ones can enjoy. That said, I have unashamedly visited these as an adult, and had a great time! So, kids-at-heart are totally welcome as well.
12. Porthcurno Telegraph Museum
A telegraph museum might not sound like the most interesting place to visit, but this is one of my absolute favorite places in Cornwall. There are so many fun activities to enjoy – from sending morse code messages to trying on sailor’s clothing – that it’s just a great day out.
It’s not just fun, but also educational (don’t tell the kids!). You can learn a lot about how telecommunications work, all in a building that was once the largest telegraph station in the world.
In particular, I highly recommend attending the free daily talks, as they are entertaining and informative. As well as the main museum area, there are also WWII tunnels which played a key role in code-breaking during the Second World War.
13. Flambards Victorian Village
Another more unusual activity that is perfect if you’re looking for things to do in Cornwall in winter is Flambards. In particular, the Victorian Village is super interesting – and totally undercover! The Victorian Village is a meticulously reconstructed set that looks just like London in the mid to late 1800s.
You can pop into little shops from bonnet makers to saddlers, admiring all the little details. I particularly love the pharmacy, where all the items are genuine. It’s like a little time capsule!
The village is always open, but on certain days Flambards also opens rides and other attractions. These do depend a little on the weather, so look ahead online if you’re interested in the rides.
Other things to do in Cornwall in winter
Still looking for more ideas for places to visit in Cornwall in winter? Don’t worry, here are a few more!
14. Take a drive down the tin coast
Another important part of Cornwall’s history is mining. For a long time, it was the lifeblood of the county and the saying throughout England was, “if you can find a mine, you’ll find a Cornishman at the bottom of it.”
The industry eventually ground to a halt, however you can still see crumbling relics of this time all over Cornwall. One of the most spectacular ways to take it in is to drive down the Tin Coast, past various heritage mining sites like Botallack and Levant. The coast is also really beautiful, and you can easily stop off at hotspots like St Ives or tiny Zennor.
15. Indulge at Rick Stein’s Restaurant for Fish and Chips
Trying to get a table at the restaurant of Cornwall’s celebrity chef can be a challenge in summer. Luckily, in winter the crowds have well and truly departed and you can expect to get a great spot!
If you’re looking for a fancy – and scrumptious – meal then the flagship Rick Stein’s restaurant is in Porthleven. But I’m even more fond of grabbing some delicious fish and chips from Padstow and enjoying them with some sea views.
Bonus: How to spend Christmas in Cornwall
Winter in Cornwall also brings with it the festive season – and people in the county sure know how to celebrate Christmas! If you’re lucky enough to spend the holiday season in Cornwall, you’re sure to love it.
All throughout December, many villages go all out with Christmas light displays. Mousehole, Looe, and Padstow are home to some particularly impressive lights. Other villages and towns put on Christmas markets, complete with delicious food and locally made arts and crafts.
Many Cornish attractions like the Eden Project, Pendennis Castle, and all the National Trust sites also get in on the fun with special events. So, if you’re looking for Christmas cheer – you’ll find it in spades in Cornwall!
Where to stay in winter in Cornwall
Cornwall’s best winter attractions are located all over the county, so you can really take your pick for where to stay.
I personally love South Cornwall, which gives you easy to access to the Lizard Peninsula as well as Land’s End. We love staying at Glebe Hall in Mawgan near Helston, which has gorgeous holiday cottages and is dog-friendly!
Click here to check pricing and availability for Glebe Hall.
Other hotspots to stay in include St Ives, Newquay, Mousehole, and Falmouth. These are all perfect if you like things a little more bustling, and you’ll find lots of accommodation to suit all budgets. You can find some charming options on Airbnb or book a hotel. Booking.com
Another great thing about visiting Cornwall in winter is you can score some great off-peak deals on holiday rentals. If you have a car and are comfortable driving in the UK, there are lots of gorgeous places to stay like Coverack, Helford, and Porthcurno.
How to Get from Cornwall to London
It’s probably best to drive from London to Cornwall. It’s about a five hour drive and will give you the most flexibility while you are there.
If you prefer it is possible to travel from London to Cornwall on public transportation. There are trains from London Paddington Station to Penzance. Check prices and schedules here.
National Express provides bus service to Newquay, Truro, and Penzance in Cornwall. The best will be your cheapest transportation option. Find more information about the bus to Cornwall here.
Visiting Cornwall in Winter
As you can see, don’t let the weather scare you from visiting this amazing part of England. There are plenty of fabulous things to do in the winter in Cornwall.
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Expert Tips for visiting Cornwall in winter
- Several of the sites on this list are managed by the National Trust. You can pay admission at each one, but it may be cheaper to sign up for a membership. UK residents can sign up for an annual membership here, or there is a short-term international visitors pass available as well. Click here for more information about the National Trust touring pass.
- Be careful around the cliffs in Cornwall. Coastal erosion is a big problem, particularly around the Lizard Peninsula, and rockfalls can and do happen. Don’t stand too close to the edge of the cliffs, or directly under the edge of them.
- Another thing to be careful of is the water. Cornish surfers, in particular, will hit the water no matter the conditions – but be aware it can be cold with strong currents. It’s not really ideal for general bathing, so do be careful.
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Last Updated on March 19, 2023