There are many beautiful villages and small towns in Cornwall. The southwestern tip of the United Kingdom is easily one of the most scenic places to visit in England and a fantastic destination for your summer holidays – though it is packed with atmosphere in the winter too.
Lovely villages abound in this part of the country; there are many beautiful beaches and the classic cottages where you can stay that you will find along the coast add to the charm.
Curious to discover the nicest towns in Cornwall? Continue reading and pick which Cornish villages visit or – even better – where to base yourself!
18 Must-See Villages And Small Towns In Cornwall
Visiting St. Ives is easily one of the best things to do in Cornwall. This picturesque, small seaside town is packed with narrow, cobbled alleys and lovely fishermen sea-view cottages. You will find nice shops (most are scattered along Fore Street), and the Tate Gallery St. Ives, which houses an impressive collection of contemporary art with works of important 20th century British artists – among them Barbara Hepworth (there’s also a museum and garden entirely dedicated to this artist who called Cornwall home), Ben Nicholson and Graham Sutherland.
St. Ives is also one of the most popular places in the region to go surfing – you won’t have shortages of good beaches and waves there!
For the best seafood in Cornwall, head to Padstow, a nice small fishing town. Nicknamed Padstein after Rick Stein, one of the UKs most well-known chefs, this is where you will find the Seafood Restaurant, a local institution since the 1970s. Other than being a foodie destination, Padstow has a nice array of beautiful sandy beaches.
Make sure to read my post The Best Beaches In Cornwall.
Home to national trust managed St. Michaels Mount, Marazion is located on the shore of Mount’s Bay and known to be the oldest town in Cornwall and one of the oldest in Britain.
The castle is definitely the most important landmark in this small town. It can be accessed on foot via a causeway during low tide; whereas during high tide you can take the ferry for a small fee. Make sure to also pop by the beach on the way there, for the most impressive views of the castle – the beach is great on a sunny day. You can even spot seals and take boat tours to go dolphin watching.
Other than the castle and the beach, you will find a lovely historic town lined with narrow alleys; nice cottages, and where you will have an abundance of small shops, cafés and restaurants for a bite. There even are some art galleries.
One of the main harbors in Cornwall until the 16th century, Mousehole is characterized by narrow alleys, art galleries, small restaurants and shops. The oldest building in the village is the Keigwin Arms – the only one left standing after the Spaniards completely raided the village. The harbor is the main attraction and the best place for views of Mount’s Bay. Make sure not to miss Harbour Beach – it’s best enjoyed at low tide.
Foway, on the mouth of Fowey River, was founded in the 14th century. With its colorful harbor, Georgian buildings, small independent shops, cafés and classic pubs, this is one of the prettiest small towns in the region.
When visiting, make sure not to miss the Daphne Du Maurier Literary Centre, entirely dedicated to the life and works of the famous author; Fowey Museum and the Aquarium. Take a walk around town, along the Esplanade, to reach the tiny St. Catherine’s Castle, which was built by Henry VIII – a perfect place to enjoy views of the river estuary and the cliffs.
Fowey is also a great place to enjoy water sports – SUP is particularly popular here!
With cute cobbled streets, small shops, art galleries, lots of good restaurants, and beautiful beaches perfect for a relaxing walk, St. Mawes is one of the most popular towns in Cornwall. The main attraction here is the 16th century St. Mawes Castle, built for defensive purposes facing the river to Falmouth. From St. Mawes you can also access St. Anthony Lighthouse and Fisherman’s Shelter in Portscatho.
This is one of the most touristy villages in Cornwall, thanks to the British TV Series Doc Martin. It’s a truly charming Cornish town, with plenty to see and do. If you’ve followed the TV series, definitely join a tour to spot all the filming locations. Other things to do include walking around town to spot all the lovely cottages; hiking to the cliffs and nearby villages; and taking a boat or kayak tour to admire the coastline and for a chance to spot dolphins.
Close to Land’s End, St. Just-in-Penwith is the perfect base to explore the south and west of Cornwall. Located about 8 miles (12.9 km) from Penzance, this is a former tin mining town characterized by granite cottages. Scattered around the area you will find the disused engine houses from the mines; whereas the center of town is home to Plain-an-Gwarry theater, which has been functioning since medieval times.
Not far from St. Just there’s Cape Cornwall, Cornwall’s westernmost point. That’s where you can spot a 138-year-old mine chimney stack that rises 229 feet (about 70 meters) above sea level. Other nearby places to visit include Pedn Vounder beach and Sennen Cove, a favorite for surfing.
Cornwall’s only city is actually more of a small town, but a lovely place to visit nonetheless. The main attraction is the old town center, a series of cobbled streets lined with Gothic and Georgian buildings. That’s where you will also find Truro Cathedral, which features a beautiful ebony statue of the Madonna with Child and beautiful stained-glass windows. To learn about the history of the mining industry in Cornwall make sure to visit Truro’s Royal Cornwall Museum.
6 miles (9.6 km) south of Truro, Saint-Just-in-Roseland is a small village is home to a gorgeous 13th century church with a gorgeous churchyard that are both worth visiting. You may want to add it to your itinerary!
Home to the quirky Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, Boscastle is one of the most charming villages in Cornwall. Sadly destroyed by a flood in 2004, the village has been completely restored to its former glory and boasts a beautiful harbor; lots of nice small shops; an artisan pottery and some small restaurants. Tintagel Castle is just 10 minutes away.
The most famous attractions in this small Cornish village are King Arthur’s Tintagel Castle and Merlin’s cave. Other than that, this is an extremely pleasant place to explore, with nice shops, pubs, cottages. St. Materiana’s Church is a bit of a walk, but incredibly rewarding: it’s a great place for views of the Castle and the sea. Make sure to also visit King Arthur’s Great Halls, home to beautiful stained-glass windows.
One of the nicest small fishing towns in the region, Mevagissey was once the capital of Cornwall, known across the country for the boat building industry and for pilchard trade.
The village is a maze of steep, narrow alleys lined with historic buildings, most dating back to the 19th century. You will find a small museum, an aquarium and plenty of good restaurants. If you happen to be in the region in late June, make sure to attend the Mevagissey Feast Week, a fun festival with parades, races and lots of local food.
Close to Devon, Bude is a favorite among the surfers’ community. Summerleaze Beach is one of the best beaches for beginner surfers; whereas Bude Sea Pool is a semi-natural pool where you can swim safely. Not far from Bude, Widemouth Bay and Sandymouth Bay are also worth visiting.
One of the largest Cornish towns, Newquay is a very popular place to visit thanks to the gorgeous beaches and the excellent choice of restaurants, pubs, bars and accommodation options.
If you are into hiking and walking, you will enjoy the South West Coast Path – Newquay has some of the most scenic bits. If you are into surfing, head straight to Fistral Beach or to Lusty Glaze Beach. Other beaches perfect for a walk or simply relax are Great Western Beach (Newquay’s main beach); Towan Beach and the nearby Tolcarne Beach, which is an easy walk away on low tide; and Porth Beach, where you’ll find The Mermaid, a nice pub with good food and cozy atmosphere.
A short drive from Newquay you can visit St. Agnes, a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the prettiest villages in Cornwall. From St. Agnes, you can follow the South West Coast Path to Perranporth, a small village with a fantastic beach perfect for surfing and where you can catch an impressive sunset.
Cornwall’s university town is lesser visited compared to other places mentioned in this post (though it can get quite busy during peak season), yet still worth exploring. It is home to some nice beaches – Gyllyngvase Beach and Swanpool Beach to name just a couple; art galleries and museums (ie the National Maritime Museum) and Pendennis Castle, built by Henry VIII in order to protect Cornwall by invaders and as a starting point for expeditions to Europe. Another place to visit is Trebah Garden, one of the great gardens of Cornwall.
This is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Cornwall. It’s actually really small – most of the village develops around the harbor – but the views are amazing throughout. The harbor is home to Polperro Beach, but if you fancy a quieter spot head to Talland Bay on the way to Looe – you can get there (and to Looe) by walking the South West Coast Path.
A favorite artists’ hang-out, in Polperro you will find plenty of art galleries and the interesting Polperro Harbor Heritage Museum. If you are hungry, you won’t have troubles finding a place for a bite: the best one is the Blue Peter Inn, a nice pub serving classics as well as earthy portions of fish and seafood locally caught.
This southeastern Cornish town is close to Devon and easily accessible from Plymouth – thus being a very popular tourist destination. The main attraction here is the Adrenalin Quarry. Make sure to also ride the train to Liskeard – it’s one of the most scenic rides in Cornwall. Scattered around town you will find plenty of good pubs and restaurants and independent shops. Make sure to also visit the harbor!