For anyone planning family holidays in Cornwall for 2021 I thought it might be helpful if I finally shared the highlights from our holiday during the pandemic last summer. While not everything was open and we had to do a little pre-planning in terms of booking popular restaurants, we had a wonderful time exploring historic fishing villages and watching our toddler run carefree on endless sandy beaches around the St Ives area.
We travelled in late August/ early September and the weather was splendid for most of the week. The climate in Cornwall is much more temperate than where we live and the light around St Ives, in particular, is extremely mood-boosting. I can see why artists love to paint it.
We stayed not far from St Ives (15 mins in the car or 10 minutes on the train) in a cosy, Scandi-style cabin with views of St Michael’s Mount. I’d 100% recommend this property for couples or a family with a young baby. The hosts are supremely welcoming and helpful and the cabin is well-equipped for whipping up easy meals and enjoying them with a glass of wine on the private deck overlooking nearby fields.
You can read more about this cabin and other cool shepherd’s huts available for hire in Cornwall here.
So, what did we actually do?
Bearing in mind we were travelling with a 20-month old toddler (sprinter) during the pandemic, I think we did rather a lot! My husband and I had never visited this part of England before so we spent our mornings walking along beaches and our afternoons checking out a different town, village or landmark along the gorgeous coastline.
These are some of the best things we did on our Cornwall family holiday over the course of the week.
What to do on a Cornwall family holiday
On the journey from our home in Berkshire to our Airbnb in Cornwall we stopped at Polperro Harbour for lunch.
Polperro was one of Cornwall’s notorious smuggling hubs in the 18th and 19th centuries and the buildings of the traditional fishing village are so well preserved I was expecting to find a pirate every time we turned a corner.
Narrow cobbled lanes house a handful of bakeries, pubs and curio shops to keep you busy as you soak up the scenery.
St Michael’s Mount
St Michael’s Mount is a myth-laced castle which sits on a tidal island that you can access by boat or causeway from Marazion Beach at different times of the day. We were too slow to get tickets to enter the castle during our visit but we enjoyed walking the cobbled causeway at low tide to get a closer look at the lonely fortress.
Marazion village on the mainland is also a quaint little spot with art galleries and a café that we enjoyed visiting.
Just down the coast from Penzance is picture-perfect Mousehole Harbour. Mousehole strikes me as a lovely place to stay for a writer’s retreat. (I’ll take a room in one of those whitewashed buildings overlooking the water please!)
Fancy a sweet treat? Right by the car park (on the hill before the harbour) is the Rockpool Café, which serves cream teas and homemade cakes on their little terrace overlooking the water.
St Ives Bay Line
If you have a little (or big!) train fan in your life then you need to ride the St Ives Bay Line from St Erth to St. Ives Station. Not only is this a convenient way of visiting St Ives – the St Erth train station has a massive car park, with chargers if you have an EV, whereas parking in St Ives can be difficult – but it’s a beautiful ride along the coast too.
The journey takes just 10 minutes, with 1 stop at Carbis Bay, but it gives you an ideal view of this gorgeous stretch of coastline before handily dropping you right by beautiful Porthminster Beach. O and tickets are just £4 return each, so it’s a bargain to boot.
St Ives and its beaches
Did you know St Ives has 6 golden beaches? No? Me neither. But not only does it have 6 beaches an easy walk from the train station, but they are all drop-dead gorgeous too. We walked along them all, stopping for coffee at Source Kitchen and pastries in St Ives Bakery, before resting on the toddler-friendly sands at Porthmeor Beach.
These beaches reminded me so much of Australia it was crazy. The sand, the water, the sky, even the beach cafes reminded me of places you’d find in Sydney!
Speaking of beaches, Hayle Beach was a wonderful discovery for us last year. Situated a little outside of town, it feels like you’ve made a wrong turn as you head towards Harveys Towans Car Park but once you’ve found the path down to the water it’s a stunning place to bring dogs or little ones for long walks and paddles in the estuary.
The car park is, rather handily, free. I say handily because almost everywhere else on this list had car parks with coin only machines and when you’re travelling during a ‘cash-free’ pandemic having coins to put in them is difficult. Anyway, I digress, the point is the car park is free and if you’re lucky there might be an ice cream van or artist painting atop the clifftop during your visit.
Brand new and causing a buzz in Hayle Beach last summer was the Lula Beach Shack. Specialising in Cornish seafood and ribs in a casual waterfront venue, Lula’s made us feel like we were back in Montauk, USA. The food was delicious and once social distancing is a thing of the past I can see this place pulling in a really cool crowd of all ages.
The Minack Theatre and Porthcurno Beach
Definitely worth a visit in this part of Cornwall is the Minack Theatre. This stunning working theatre was carved into the cliff-face by theatre-fan Rowena Cade who began building the open-air theatre in her clifftop garden in the 1930’s. While we weren’t able to see a performance there we enjoyed exploring this unique arts venue and garden and learning more about its history in the Minack Exhibition Centre.
Just next door is the gorgeous triangle of sand known as Porthcurno Beach. Warning: it’s a fair walk from the car park to the beach so you might not want to lug 3 kids, buggies, tents and lilos – not without enough adult muscle – but it’s a gorgeous spot for bathing and we had a delicious Cornish ice cream from the van in the car park too.
I’m a bit reluctant to mention Land’s End in this post as we went there but weren’t sure why we bothered. If you have a free afternoon with unpleasant weather like we did you might enjoy the novelty of saying you’ve been to the southernmost point of England.
There’s not much there apart from some very touristy souvenir shops, takeaway outlets and the iconic Land’s End signpost, which you have to pay to have your picture taken with. We let Miles play in the playground and then came home again.
Our visit to the Eden Project was a bit of a let-down too because it turns out visiting giant tropical-plant filled conservatories while wearing a mask and shepherding a toddler is not the best fun you’ll ever have.
We did enjoy scaling the Rainforest Canopy Walkway in the Rainforest Biome, and the sculptures and digital art dotted around the grounds are really cool. But to be 100% honest the queues for food were lengthy and we ended up coming home early.
I think the experience may have been spoiled a little by comparison to the botanical gardens in Singapore and also the effects of the pandemic which had closed some things including the playground.
Strawberry Fields Farm Shop, Lifton
Finally, I’ve got to give a mention to the most wonderful place to stop on a road trip to Cornwall. Situated just over the border in Devon, the Strawberry Fields Farm Shop is a farmer’s market and restaurant with a fun area for little ones and a field where you can pick your own Sunflowers.
We were delighted they had electric car chargers here as it meant we could enjoy hearty sandwiches, one last homemade cream tea, and play outside while the car got enough juice for the journey home. If you need to refuel your bellies on a road trip to Cornwall, definitely stop here.
Pin for later: