South West Cornwall’s 10 Best Beaches and Beauty Spots

Escape to the Cornish coastline sans the crowds. Discover Cornwall's most photogenic pockets and the best under-the-radar beaches.

Cornwall - or Kernow, as the locals say - is renowned for its beauty spots, and nowhere more so than its sun-soaked south west. In the summer, the population of many towns here quadruple in size as tourists rush in with their buckets, spades and SPF 50. Don't follow the crowds. We have a little inside knowledge to make sure you're heading to the right places.

White-sand shores, surf spots and the lighthouse that inspired Virginia Woolf

Porthmeor Beach

St. Ives, Cornwall

Best for: pleasing the crowd

This soft-sand haven is affectionately known as Mother Meor among many Cornwall natives, so central is this beach to their childhood. Thankfully, it's just as welcoming to visitors too. Situated below the Tate St Ives, a four-minute walk from the town centre, it's prime territory for those who want to make the most of the area's many attractions. With Porthmeor Beach Café and West Beach bar and café directly on the sand, you won't have to stray far from your patch of sand for lunch. Porthmeor has a fairly exposed beach break, so check out St Ives Surf School for lessons and equipment before hitting the waves. Don't worry if the surf is flat, you can hire a paddleboard to navigate The Island.

Porthcurno Beach

Porthcurno, Cornwall

Best for: awesome scenery

Porthcurno is a small cove surrounded by some of Cornwall's most dramatic landscape. It's almost like it's compensating for something that it doesn't have to. Not only are Porthcurno's sands are golden and soft, the waters crystal clear and cliffs rugged and green, but it's also common to see pods of dolphins enjoying the ocean a little farther out. If you do see a larger fin don't be too afraid; basking sharks also feed off plankton on the sea currents here. After a day on the beach, head to the open-air Minack Theatre, built into the cliff by stone - it's one of the best places to watch the sunset.

Porthminster Beach

St Ives, Cornwall

Best for: families

Heading down to Cornwall for a family-friendly trip? Sheltered in St Ives Bay, Porthminster enjoys safer waters than its big brother Porthmeor. Hit up St Ives Watersports for paddleboards and kayaks to see the town from a whole new perspective. Afterwards, head over to Porthminster Restaurant to refuel. Plan your trip at spring tide you'll likely be able to walk from the beach to the harbour front without ever having to leave the sand. If you're travelling in from outside St Ives, park up at St Erth railway station and catch the train in; the views out of the window are spectacular.

Sennen Beach

Sennen, Cornwall

Best for: surfing

Situated just up the coast from Land's End, Sennen Cove is open to the full force of the Atlantic Ocean. It gets some of the heaviest swell in the UK, so be wary if you're new to surfing. Ask the lifeguards where's best for you to hone your skills as the beach has been known to have strong rip currents.

Kynance Cove

The Lizard, Cornwall

Best for: pretending you're abroad

There's a reason you'll have seen this juicy number on every must-see list ever made about Cornwall - its beauty is hard to explain without reaching for obnoxious clichés. Yet the fact that this picturesque spot isn't a well-kept secret isn't reason enough to shy away. If you've been supping a few too many Cornish Rattler cyders the night before, you'd be forgiven for wondering whether you'd hopped on a plane and landed in Sardinia's Costa Paradiso.

Bamaluz Beach

St Ives, Cornwall

Best for: dogs (and their owners)

Often overlooked by visitors, this pocket-sized patch of sand is a local treasure - gazing up at its high brick walls, this place could be straight out of Game of Thrones. It can easily be missed, however, especially during spring high tide when the shore sometimes disappears altogether. You'll find it between St Ives Harbour and Porthgwidden Beach, right below St Ives Museum, where steep steps lead down to the water's edge. The main reason the beach is so loved is the fact that it's dog friendly all year round, so your four-legged friends can enjoy the sand between their paws, just like you.

Marazion Beach

Marazion, Cornwall

Best for: stargazing

Marazion isn't the classic soft-sand beach typical of Cornwall - but then that's not the reason why you would come here. Instead, it gazes out upon St Michael's Mount, a tidal island and civil parish that's the UK's answer to Normandy's Mont Saint-Michel. It looks beautiful on a hot summer's day, but we recommend heading here when the night has fallen; it looks breathtaking under the stars thanks to low light pollution.

Praa Sands

Praa Sands, Cornwall

Best for: white sands and big swells

Situated on the south coast in the parish of Breage, between Penzance and Helston, this vast, white-sand beach is a popular surf spot with locals when the wind and swell align just right. If this doesn't occur on your visit, it's still a beautiful spot to relax and sunbathe or have a wander.

Porthzennor Cove

Zennor, Cornwall

Best for: sunbathing au naturel

If tan lines aren't your thing, make a beeline for Porthzennor Cove, a 10-minute drive south along the coast from St Ives. It's an ideal spot for getting away from the bustle and crowds of the neighbouring towns - and from their inhibitions too; this sandy spot is an unofficial naturist beach too. If things get a little too nippy, there are plenty of rocks for sheltering.

Prussia Cove

Penzance, Cornwall

Best for: seclusion

Hidden away in the rugged cliffs to the west of Praa Sands, this blink-and-you'll-miss-it inlet is one of those places you don't quite believe is in the UK - its azure waters and cascading rocks could easily be transplanted from Croatia. Be warned: because it's so small, it quickly fills up in summer.

Trencrom Hill

Ludgvan, Cornwall

Best for: sunset

Among Cornwall's best-kept secrets, Trencrom Hill even remains under the radar of some locals. Yet there aren't many better places to witness the sunset over the south-west peninsula. From here, you'll be able to see the ocean on both the north and south coasts - bring along a flask of something hot (or even a little stronger) for viewing.

Godrevy Lighthouse

Godrevy Island, Cornwall

Best for: creative inspiration

This isolated island lookout was the inspiration behind Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse - the author spent many childhood summers overlooking St Ives Bay from her window on Porthminster Beach. Nevertheless, we recommend Godrevy Point for the best view. While you're here, peer down to the small cove to the right - you can't get down there by foot, but you'll likely see a bob of seals relaxing in the sun. Oddly satisfying.

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