Updated: October 2023
Although Cornwall is never completely empty, it’s oh so quiet in winter. The crowds thin out and everyone has more room to breathe in lungfuls of fresh sea air. Exploring the county in its off-peak beauty is a breeze by car, foot or bike, and all in your own sweet time. Discover the top ten reasons to visit Cornwall this winter.
Cornish cliff paths are navigable in winter months, and beaches empty out for runners, dogs and stone-skimmers to enjoy peace and quiet. Walk in any direction from Padstow and connect with breathtaking scenery on the South West Coast Path. The trail from the harbour to Stepper Point provides stunning views of the estuary and rocky coastline. Or venture further afield on a walk from Marazion to Mousehole, where you may get a glimpse of the famous St Michael’s Mount castle through winter mists. Alternatively, head from St Ives to beautiful Zennor, a route where summer gorse gives way to slate-grey skies, ending in a hamlet with a pub and church. This is one of the last places where Cornish was spoken and is picture-perfect.
More space on cliffs and beaches also means more room on the roads. Now you can travel under your own steam, taking scenic route or shortcut as you please. Cornish roads are notoriously tight, but much easier to drive on when it’s off-season. The stretch of road that runs above Whitsand Bay, on the south coast, gives end to end views of this three-mile stretch of sand. On the north coast, the Padstow to Newquay coast road is busy in summer, so wait until winter to enjoy the endless bay views all along the route. Along the way, you’ll catch glimpses of beaches, headlands and beautiful coastal cottages. The road past Bedthuthan Steps to Mawgan Porth and through Watergate Bay is an absolute pleasure to drive, whatever the weather.
Even though the crowds have gone, the ocean never stops. There’s no better rush than charging into the waves with a board under your arm when the tide’s just right and the water’s all yours. Now you can try all your fancy moves with room to manoeuvre. Most beaches aren’t manned by lifeguards in winter and sea temperatures are on the cool side, so get yourself a good wetsuit and check tide times. After that it’s playtime for you and those big rollers. For winter surf stays, choose beachside accommodation in Harlyn or Trevone.
There’s no season like off-season to take your wheels onto the open highway. Empty roads means better biking, and miles of Cornish cycle trails are yours to explore. Take the 12km Bodmin Beast route and enjoy the autumn woodlands of Cardinham Valley. With two tricky sections and lots of tight corners and single tracks, there’s more room for cyclists here in autumn and winter. If you’re a pro at biking, tackle the Cornish Way, a route that runs the length of Cornwall from Bude to Land’s End. Sections of the trail are traffic-free, so you can be sure of some peaceful cycling moments as you pedal the county from top to toe. Or stay local to Padstow, with a pedal along the Camel Trail.
Walking the trail at fairy-like Golitha Falls, near Bodmin Moor, you can marvel at the River Fowey running over stones through dense woodland. In the rainy season, you can expect an emptier woodland and a more impressive cascade, thanks to a bigger volume of water making its way through the well-worn channels. There are two trails to explore, both of which take less than an hour for an average-paced walker. Look out for carpets of fern and moss, and savour being in the heart of nature.
Watching the clouds roll in from a high, windswept point is never more romantic than on one of Cornwall’s misty moors or stormy cliffs. Bodmin Moor’s romantic and tufty terrain is busy in summer, but winter months reveal its rugged side, and give walkers space to breathe. Aim for one of the iconic granite landmarks like Rough Tor or Brown Willy. Once you’ve scrambled to the top, Cornwall is spread out in all her beauty below. If it’s too misty to see much, you’ll know it’s time to return to the warmth of your holiday home.
Where better to watch a storm rolling in than from a lighthouse? These tall watchtowers looking out to sea make great vantage points, and Cornwall has nine. At Trevose Lighthouse, near Padstow, you’ll be right beside the majestic sweep of Constantine Bay, so be sure to make the most of those empty winter sands by strolling the beach. Or take a tour to the top of the lighthouse at Lizard Point, one of the most windswept and romantic points in the county.
Cornwall has plenty of country pubs with woodfires and cosy seats. Hurrah for winter, when there’s more chance of getting a seat. Jamaica Inn in Bolventor on Bodmin Moor was the subject of Daphne Du Maurier’s famous novel – it’s said to be haunted so look out for a different kind of spirit. St Kew Inn, also reputedly haunted, has original 15th-century features and a great menu, better accessed when crowds have dispersed. Cornish Wrestling happened in the meadow here (now the car park) until the 1960s, but in winter all you’ll want is a peaceful pint in front of the big crackling fire.
Plenty of famous authors either came from – or wrote bestsellers in – Cornwall, including Daphne Du Maurier, Thomas Hardy, Charles Causley and the current author Patrick Gale. Writing requires solace and beauty, just what off-season Cornwall has in abundance. Set up your desk with a view of the sea then let the peace and quiet of the darker months be your inspiration. Or simply curl up with a good book to read in front of a roaring fire in your cosy holiday cottage.
Festive Cornwall has plenty of Christmas light trails to explore. At Trebah Garden near Falmouth, Trelissick near Truro, and the Lost Gardens of Heligan in St Austell, there are tree lanterns and fairy-lit pathways to get you in a Christmas mood. Meanwhile, at the other end of the county, the annual Christmas lights in St Ives and nearby Mousehole turn the harbour and streets into a living display. Time your visit for dusk, then watch as the village comes alive. Or hang out in Padstow and enjoy the festive atmosphere and twinkling lights around the harbour.
For more ideas on what to do in Cornwall during winter, click here.
If you have been inspired to visit Cornwall this winter, book a stay at one of our wonderful self-catering cottages in and around Padstow on the fabulous north coast .
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