Cornwall is one of the UK’s favourite holiday hot spots with many families eager to return year after year. Blessed with balmy weather thanks to its position on Britain’s south western tip, Cornwall lures visitors back with its glorious beaches, gasp-worthy scenery, exciting clifftop walks and rugged moorland.
The south coast, dubbed the Cornish Riviera, is home to picturesque coves and scenic harbour towns like Fowey and Falmouth while the north coast offers a wilder landscape and surfers’ paradise at resorts like Newquay.
We asked locals and regular family visitors to tell us their favourite places to escape the crowds and still have family fun with no cost (bar sometimes parking and an occasional ice cream).
One top tip: check tide times to max your beach fun, so the smugglers’ caves aren’t submerged at high tide or your beach walk doesn’t become too rushed.
Don’t forget to bring buckets and spades and body boards - and a picnic of pasties.
Once you’ve found the perfect beach and layered on the sun cream, children really don’t need any other entertainment than sea, sand and exploring.
Best for rock pools and caves
“Trebarwith Strand has something for everyone - striking rocks formations, caves, rock pools and golden sand, this beach. At low tide, the enormous caves are revealed, and it’s easy to imagine smuggler and pirates making use of these amazing natural hideouts,” says Louise Conway who runs Coombe Farm Cottages, self catering cottages in a rural setting (but with heated pool!) near Launceston in North Cornwall, with her husband Jeremy.
They’re pros at making local recommendations for their guests and are parents to Ella, eight, and William, five. “At low tide, you can find fantastic rock pools at Crackington Haven on each side of the beach, surrounded by high cliffs.”
“Cornwall is one of my favourite places in the world,” says Emma Lux. “St Ives is beautiful and has incredible beaches, and Port Isaac is where they film Doc Martin.
“As kids we always used to spend our summers there rockpooling on the beaches and exploring the caves and pretending we were smugglers.There’s also a huge adventure playground called Heartlands.”
Best hidden beach
“Tregardock Beach is known locally know as the ‘secret beach’ and kids love the walk down,” says Louise. “You can either set off on foot via Trebarwith Strand and Backways Cove or through the valley from Delabole. It’s a bit of a walk, and the last few metres consist of very steep steps calved into the cliff but it’s well the expedition and a true Cornish hidden gem.
“Pedn Vounder is a beautiful beach, with a tricky path down (Will was four when he made it down) and breathtaking views all the way down to the beach. We all just loved the beach and had the best day. We paddled, swam, found jellyfish, played rounders, ate pasties and sunbathed. It has my vote for the most beautiful Cornish beach.”
Best for vast stretches of sand and surf
“At high tide Daymer Bay is still a lovely beach, but when the tide goes out it opens up into one of the most glorious expanses of sand you’ve ever seen with walks as far as Rock (keeping an eye on the tide!),” says Louise.
“Sandymouth is amazing - great waves, rock pools, scenery,” says Becky Dickinson.” My kids love it there and it’s one of my favourite beaches too (and that from a Devon devotee!).”
“Gwithian Beach near St Ives always blows my mind. It always gives me that “This place is magic” feeling. It’s vast and so you always have that sense of fill-your-lungs space!,” says Camilla Rigby. She’s seconded by Amy Condon who says: “I come from a seaside town, so am not easily impressed by just any stretch of sand, but Gwithian is one of the absolute best!”
Best for sand dune jumping
“Summerleaze Beach in Bude, is always a favourite and has all the facilities that the more remote beaches lack. The sand dunes behind the beach are great for a sheltered picnic, a game of hide and seek, or rolling down and jumping off, ” says Louise.
Walks Children Will Love
Novelist Emma Burstall has been holidaying with her three children in Cornwall for years and the Rame Peninsula provides the inspiration for her Cornish series, Tremarnock. “Children aged five or six upward will love walking the three and a half miles or so along the south west coast path to the spooky, ruined chapel at Rame Head, enjoying the crashing waves below and passing wild ponies en route,” she suggests.
Alternatively she recommends walking along the coast to Mount Edgcumbe Country Park, past fallow deer and through woodland and formal gardens, the majority of which are free and ideal for hide and seek.
Parents Clara Wilcox and Naomi Palmer both recommend the thrill of beating the tide and walking across the causeway to St Michael’s Mount. “The walk across the causeway is the best bit and there’s a good play park on the Marazion side. We also liked Land’s End, and the children loved climbing on the cliffs,” says Naomi.
“We love crabbing in Helford River,” says Gemma Bowes. “There are lovely walks through the woods down to the estuary there, then you can catch crabs right by where the little ferry boat crosses to the other side.”
Louise recommends scaling a tor on Bodmin Moor. “Rough Tor and Brown Willy are the highest summits on Bodmin Moor. It’s about a 4 mile walk around Rough Tor, Brown Willy and Showery Tor (follow the signs from Camelford).
“Ella was four when she and her granddad both made it to the top of Roughtor, though it is steep. If you don’t fancy the climb there is a lovely short walk down along the river, which would be a great spot for a picnic. You can just walk up the clearly marked footpath to the summit of Rough Tor.”
She also recommends the woodlands of Bodmin Moor, particularly Golitha Falls (near Liskeard). “It’s a great place for a picnic with the kids by the river; in fact along the river are a series of little beaches, ideal for splashing around in. It’s especially beautiful in bluebell season.”
Or you can get on your bikes
The Camel Trail bike ride from Wadebridge to Padstow - or other sections - is really fun for kids and nice and flat for unfit adults,” says Sophie Winn.
Other recommendations include Cardinham Woods which has marked trails for walking and cycling and a children’s playground and Caradon Trail for cycling over some of the most beautiful parts of Bodmin Moor including The Hurlers, and Cheesewring, former tin mining country with its tell tale dips and mounds.