When most people think of Cornwall, they think of hot weather, beaches, surfing and way too much ice cream. Aka the UK’s answer to a summer holiday. But with the summer comes a mad rush of locals and tourists; everyone wanting to get out and about to enjoy the weather. So when the winter arrives, it may seem like there isn’t much to do, leaving you simply waiting for June to come around again. I mean, it’s no surprise that very few people think that winter is the best time to visit the UK. But I’m here to give you a little winter inspiration, as Cornwall is one of the best places to visit in the UK all-year-round, not just in summer! So here are 11 amazing things to do in Cornwall in winter.
This article is written by Faraway Lucy writer, Hope Titley.
1. Visit The Cornish Seal Sanctuary
Address: Gweek, Cornwall TR12 6UG
Phone number: 01326 221361
What better way to spend your day than by visiting the Cornish Seal Sanctuary and seeing all the cute animals? The sanctuary is home to Cornwall’s only seal hospital. Malnourished, injured and distressed seals (as well as other marine life such as Sea Lions and Humboldt penguins) are rescued and rehabilitated, before being released into the wild.
In the marine experts’ safe hands, these animals are nurtured back to full health, allowing them to return to their natural habitat. If they are unable to be released, they have a permanent home at the sanctuary, with ongoing care so they can live their happiest life.
Each seal has a story, so why not attend one of their talks to learn about them all? Then head to the Convalescence Pool and meet them in person. Not only does this charity do all this fantastic work, but they also work to educate and inspire people to protect the seas and marine life. A vital mission for us all to undertake!
2. Surf at Fistral
Address: Newquay, Cornwall TR7 1HY
Yes, even during winter there is fun to be had out on the waves. You can rent all the gear you need, from skullcaps to gloves, to stop you from turning into an ice lolly mid-surf. If you head out during October, the water will actually still be pretty warm. Well, for England anyway.
The winter storms over the Atlantic bring in bigger and more consistent swells, meaning that you get the perfect surfing waves hitting the coast. Arguably, autumn and winter are actually the best times to surf because of this. There are also fewer people so no overcrowding!
Whether you are an experienced big wave surfer who wants to attempt the famous Cribbar or you are after something a little gentler, Fistral Beach is suited to all abilities. Before you go, be sure to check Magicseaweed to find out the conditions and wave height. That way you’ll know if they are good for your ability!
3. Explore Pendennis Castle and the surrounding ruins
Address: Castle Dr, Falmouth, Cornwall TR11 4LP
Phone number: 01326 316594
One of Henry VIII’s famous fortresses, Pendennis Castle protects the River Fal entrance, as it has for nearly 500 years. The fort was initially built to defend against a potential invasion from both the French and the Roman Empire, meaning the 360-degree panoramic views are unparalleled. This also makes it a great lookout point to see if you can spot dolphins and basking sharks!
Now open to the public, you can visit all year round, exploring everything from the keep to the cannons. If you visit between April and October, you might even get to see a demonstration of them being fired! Pendennis Castle is also available to be rented. It has played host to graduation balls, music festivals and even weddings.
If you have more time to explore, head down from the castle to Pendennis Point, where you can find ‘Little Dennis’. This site would have been one of the first lines of defence against foreign warships, as well as pirates!
4. Stay the night at Bodmin Jail
Address: Berrycoombe Rd, Bodmin, Cornwall PL31 2NR
Phone number: 01208 76292
Sticking with the historical theme, but making it a little spookier, head to the supposedly haunted Bodmin Jail. The old prison has a rather dark history, with the constant overcrowding causing the jail to be expanded multiple times. The resulting building is one that towers over Bodmin Moor. Using theatrical effects and the latest technology, you’ll be transported back through time, learning about the tales of the inmates who lived (and often died) within the walls.
Why not tag along on one of their paranormal tours, or stay overnight if you are really feeling brave? One of the more unusual things to do in Cornwall in winter, Bodmin Jail offers an After Dark experience. At this experience, the lights go down and the Ouija boards come out. They guide you through the night, using spiritual and scientific methods to explain the paranormal phenomena.
5. Visit the beaches anyway
If you know anything about the Cornish, you’ll know that a little bit of bad weather doesn’t stop them! Flip flops and shorts are the attire all year round, come rain, shine or snow. I had a Cornish friend who would wear shorts in the French Alps… I know.
So, take a leaf out of their book and brave the weather to visit one of the many beaches! Usually, due to the weather, they are quieter and more peaceful, except for dog walkers (bonus: pet some dogs) and the odd sea swimmer. The beach cafes are usually open too, so if you start getting cold, warm up with a hot chocolate and a pasty!
I used to love going to the beach when the weather turned stormy. Marvelling at the rough seas and that sharp sea air will clear your head. The rough waves and beautiful sunsets make for some pretty stunning photo opportunities too.
6. Swim in the sea
I hear you. It’s the middle of winter. Why on earth would you want to go into the sea? Well, for one, there are numerous health benefits to cold water swimming. But the slightly more fun reason is it becomes a big social event.
During the winter, locals celebrate holidays such as Christmas Day and New Year’s Day by running into the sea (sometimes donning Santa hats). The Christmas Day Swim has become something of a Cornish tradition, so if you’re down south over the festive season, I dare you to join in. Popular spots such as Watergate Bay and Sennen Cove always garner large crowds. But I can guarantee you’ll find groups at your local beach too!
7. Take a stroll around Trebah Garden
Address: Trebah Garden Trust, Mawnan Smith, Falmouth TR11 5JZ
Phone number: 01326 252200
Just because it’s winter, doesn’t mean there’s nothing to see! One of my favourite things to do in Cornwall in winter is to visit Trebah Garden. Trebah Garden is a sub-tropical garden that hosts a stunning array of plant-life all year round. Try and find all the ponds and pools, which are amongst the most beautiful of any UK garden. The Koi Pool feels like it has been plucked straight out of a fairy tale. And the Mallard Pond could give Monet a run for his money, with a bridge connecting the hydrangea covered banks.
Of course, I have to mention the beach. As I said before, Cornish beaches hit differently in winter. Trebah Beach is no exception. Sheltered and hidden away at the bottom of the gardens, it’s the perfect spot to hideaway for a while. With the winter chill keeping the tourists at bay, you can have a peaceful moment to look out over the waves, or even paddle!
8. See The Mousehole Christmas Lights
Address: Mousehole, Penzance, Cornwall TR19 6RS
Starting in 1963 by local artist, Joan Gilchrest, The Mousehole Christmas Lights are one of the best things to do in Cornwall in winter. What began as a chain of coloured bulbs put up along both Quays has grown into a spectacular light display. Illuminations of all shapes and sizes surround the harbour during the festive season, with the switch-on usually occurring at the start of December. The lights are run solely by volunteers, so make sure to donate if you can to keep the lights going for years to come.
Try and keep an eye out for the illumination of the Stargazy Pie below The Ship Inn. Cornwall’s most famous fish dish, Stargazy Pie, came about during one particularly stormy winter when the fishermen could not leave the harbour, and the entire village was starving. One fisherman decided to brave the storms and managed to catch enough fish to feed the whole village. Then, he baked them into pies with the fish heads poking out to prove that they had fish in! Tom Bawcock’s Eve is celebrated on the 23rd December, where The Ship Inn recreates Stargazy Pie in his honour.
9. Go storm watching
The weather in Cornwall can be unpredictable and wild in the winter, with heavy rain, high winds and some pretty impressive storms. Instead of complaining about the rough weather and burrowing under the duvet, brave the outdoors to go storm watching.
Porthleven is one of the best places you can visit for this. The waves come up and crash over the harbour walls, making for some pretty impressive displays. It’s one of the best places to observe these big storms, with Ophelia, Brian and Maeve all having collided with the seaside town. On bad days, the waves can reach up to 30ft in height as they crash against the sea wall and the church exposed to the elements. Make sure you go with a camera at the ready and proceed with caution! Keep a safe distance, but don’t worry, you won’t miss a thing.
10. Have one too many at Healey’s Cornish Cyder Farm
Address: Penhallow, Truro TR4 9LW
Phone number: 01872 573356
This family-run farm has been making their award-winning cyders, juices and spirits for nearly 40 years. No wonder they taste so good. Anyone who has lived in Cornwall has tried a Healey’s cyder at least once. Whether it’s a pint of Rattler or a bottle Cornish Scrumpy, Healy’s are an iconic Cornish brand that never fails to disappoint.
Luckily for you, you can visit the farm where they make the stuff. Take a guided tour of the farm, taste some free samples in the cellar and even take a walk through their orchards. If you have little ones with you (or just really love animals) make sure you go and say hello to the farmyard animals down in the courtyard. From shire horses to pygmy goats to donkeys, these guys love getting a bit of fuss. Once you have seen the animals, take a stroll over to The Rattler Bar. There is a wall full of each different flavour of Rattler cyder, ready for you to pull a pint and chill with your friends.
11. Spend a day at The Eden Project
Address: Eden Project, Bodelva, St Austell, Cornwall PL24 2SG
And finally, of course, no visit to Cornwall is complete without a trip to The Eden Project. It may not be a Cornwall hidden gem but it’s amazing nonetheless. Take a step out of the winter chill and walk into the Tropical Biome. Home to the largest indoor rainforest in the entire world, you’ll be shedding your layers in no time. The site is enormous. With two Biomes of differing climates (rainforest and Mediterranean), outdoor gardens and even a stage for live performances, it’s easy to spend the whole day exploring.
Apart from the abundance of nature and plant life to discover, The Eden Project offers many other activities. Head up above the Biomes, and try England’s longest and fastest zip-wire. Reaching speeds of up to 60mph, you’ll soar over Eden and get the adrenaline going!
If you prefer to keep your feet on solid ground, why not take your time to explore the many exhibits that are on display? From art to sustainability to interactive exhibits, there is plenty to occupy your time, and you just might learn something NEW. But if all of that still isn’t quite enough, then grab your skates and head over to the ice rink, which is only around during the winter!
As you can see, there is no shortage of things to do in Cornwall in winter. There’s something for everyone, and quite a few of these things won’t cost you a penny. Cornwall can be just as much fun in winter as it is in the summer. So get down there, enjoy the quiet and take advantage of everything on offer!