North Cornwall is Cornwall’s Champagne Coast – long popular with A-Listers, high society and royalty, and catering to its glamorous crowd with impressive restaurants, residences and resorts. The appeal of North Cornwall is undoubtedly its incredible beaches – from surfing paradises like Polzeath, to hidden gems like Bossiney Cove, its glittering seaside towns like Rock and Padstow, and its ridiculously good food and drink scene. North Cornwall is also home to some of Cornwall’s most striking heritage and historical sites, with Tintagel Castle taking centre stage and historic Boscastle simmering with intrigue and wonder. Here are 10 things not to miss on a trip to beautiful North Cornwall.
‘Posh Rock’ earned its nickname courtesy of its famously fancy clientele in the summer months. It’s a smart resort, make no mistake, but it’s perfectly possible to enjoy all the good bits of Rock and largely avoid pretentiousness. Step forward St Enodoc Hotel – a low-key luxe take on the classic British seaside hotel. This gorgeous, comfortable, informal but high-end hotel offers airy rooms, brilliant dining, and a terrace with incredible sea views – a perfect spot for afternoon tea or a sundowner cocktail after a busy day exploring the North Cornish coast. Paul Ainsworth has transformed Rock’s local pub – The Mariners – into a dining destination, serving up delicious, local food in relaxed Cornish style. Rock is also the perfect place to pick up a tasty pasty and hit the coast path for a brisk walk to nearby Polzeath – one of Cornwall’s most beautiful beaches. Or, for something more tranquil you can hop on the foot ferry over to Padstow.
If you’re looking for a classic example of a North Cornwall resort look no further than perfectly poised Polzeath. Acres of golden sand stretching into sparkling seas dotted with surfers. Polzeath is a seriously picturesque surfing beach, with endless ocean and sky – it’s the sort of place you find yourself exhaling deeply, breathing in the sea air, shoulders dropped, all the stresses drifting out to sea, it’s that gorgeous. It’s particularly special at sunset when in the summer months you can pick up a woodfired pizza to enjoy on the beach or climb up to New Polzeath for an incredible view of the sun melting into the ocean. It’s also the perfect place to soak up a bit of surf culture, with Ann’s Cottage pretty much the ultimate Cornish surf shop, and sandy-floored stores all selling body boards and wetsuits. No trip to North Cornwall is complete without a stop-in at Polzeath.
A disclaimer here, Padstow is packed in the summer – it can be a nightmare to park, and not all that pleasant on the busiest days – unless you have a plan, in which case it’s well worth a visit. My tip would be to arrive by ferry from Rock, or by bike via the Camel Trail from Wadebridge, to avoid the parking misery. And have a booking for lunch/dinner that gives you an anchor for your day – a sanctuary from the busy streets. If you’re feeling fancy then No6 by Paul Ainsworth is a Michelin-starred delight and worth a trip to Padstow all by itself, it’s that special. For something more relaxed, Rojanos is a seriously impressive take on bistro dining – totally delicious, and, importantly, a gorgeous setting in which to kick back and relax. Sticking with the Ainsworth theme – they just do things so bloody well – Padstow Townhouse is one of North Cornwall’s very best places to stay and provides the ultimate retreat, tucked off the main street and a perfect base for exploring this action-packed, foodie’s paradise.
Harlyn Bay is one of North Cornwall’s most family-friendly beaches – its Northerly aspect lending it a more sheltered disposition than some of its neighbouring bays. There are dunes to explore and rockpools to investigate, making it a perfect place to spend time with little adventurers. The arrival of The Pig at Harlyn Bay, has seriously levelled up this North Cornwall resort, adding the sort of relaxed glamour that the Champagne Coast does so well. And the recent addition of Saunas by the Sea, a mobile wood-fired sauna run by North Cornwall natives with a vision of introducing the joys of hot and cold therapy – try a wild swim in the sea followed by a toasty sauna session – makes Harlyn Bay more appealing than ever.
Another beach resort for the list, Treyarnon is often my top tip for families looking for a beach day in North Cornwall. Unlike its famous neighbours at Constantine, Polzeath and Rock, Treyarnon quietly attracts those in the know who want a low-key beach day with all the trimmings. Its excellent water quality, clean white sand, abundant rock pools and fantastic surf make it a hit with the whole family, and you’ll often find it’s full of Cornish people who really know their beaches!
Wadebridge is a classic Cornish market town – and an incredibly useful hub when you’re on holiday in North Cornwall, particularly if you’re self-catering. It’s home to bakeries (I have a soft spot for Barnecutts who still make the cheese and bean pasties my sisters and I used to love as children), butchers, fishmongers, a brilliant wine shop, and some larger supermarkets to stock up on essentials. There are also lots of cafes, art, souvenir and fashion shops – including a large and well-stocked branch of Ann’s Cottage. It’s a key stop on the Camel Trail, a brilliant cycling route along a disused train line. There are lots of bike hire centres in Wadebridge where you can pick up a bike for a few hours and take a scenic cycle to foodie-haven Padstow for lunch, or head off in the other direction and explore the pretty woodland scenery towards Bodmin.
There is so much more to North Cornwall than golden sand beaches and luxury resorts. Like the rest of the county, the North Cornish coast is rich with history and heritage. Tintagel Castle is a Cornish icon and never fails to take your breath away – a dramatic, atmospheric and photogenic ruined castle perched on the cliff edge over the crashing ocean. It’s an arresting sight, and a fascinating place to explore. Much of the castle is accessible on foot and the bridge across the chasm between the mainland and the headland makes for an epic crossing and show-stopping photography location.
Tintagel’s near neighbour Boscastle continues the myth-and-legend theme, with its romantic harbour and narrow winding ravine leading out to the wild sea. For dramatic vistas and another perfect photography spot head to Willapark Lookout and be awed by the panoramic views. Make time to visit the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic which is wonderfully eccentric and fully fascinating – housing the world’s largest collection of witchcraft and magic artefacts. If you come away with a taste for the fantastical, you’ll find no shortage of crystals and charms in the independent shops dotted along Boscastle’s twisting streets. And if you’re looking for stand-out food in this seriously picturesque village, The Rocket Store is one of Cornwall’s best places to dine, dishing up delicious local, seasonal cuisine in a rustic, relaxed setting.
Port Isaac is one of Cornwall’s most photogenic fishing villages and a popular filming location for shows like Poldark. Traditional white-washed cottages and charming granite-slated houses line the alleyways that lead down to its picture-perfect harbour. As well as Port Isaac’s enduring beauty, visitors now also flock to its great selection of pubs, hotels, cafes, and shops. Port Isaac is home to two restaurants by renowned chef, Nathan Outlaw, and is a charming location to enjoy delicious local seafood and Cornish produce.
Perhaps thanks to its location, right on the border with Devon, Bude seems to fly under the radar compared to some other North Cornwall resorts – making it all the more appealing to its devoted fans. It has something for everyone, cafes, colourful beach huts, a broad range of hotels and accommodations, a lively nightlife, an arty scene, and it’s nailed the Cornish knack of balancing laidback and fabulous. It has a lovely sea pool, a golden sand family-friendly beach bang in the middle of town (with ample parking!), brilliant restaurants like Sea Fever, and some fantastic Coast Path walks.