Five Lesser-Known Towns In Cornwall

Skip St Ives and leave Penzance to the pirates. We’ve toured the Cornish coastline – scoffing jam-first cream teas and platters of piled-high seafood along the way – to find five lesser-known towns for a summer escape in the South West.

Ah, the Great British seaside; the chance to wiggle into a wetsuit, wipe our vinegar-soaked hands on greasy newspaper and feel the sea breeze tickling our cheeks. With wild beaches seemingly stretching all the way to Spain, day boats delivering caught-that-morning seafood and more pasties than we can stuff our faces with, Cornwall has us in a love affair that shows no sign of slowing. Want to dive deeper into the characterful county? Here are the five under-the-radar Cornish towns we're escaping to this summer.

Five alternative Cornish towns for a staycation

Waterfront of Fowey, Cornwall


Cornwall, United Kingdom

Forget setting sail for Balearic waters; we're happy to sip rosé while floating around the Fowey Estuary this summer. Sure, your friends might be living a hot girl summer in Formentera but, trust us, any Instagram carousel that features photos of Fowey can contend. Candid paddleboarding pics backed by cute, pastel-coloured houses? Check. An artsy action shot of you cycling into the distance along the South West Coast Path? That, too. And there are plenty of portside pubs (with patios, hallelujah) for when you tire of posing. Then, take a wander to the sandy pocket of Readymoney Cove, a headland sheltered by forested cliffs, for some serious beach hours minus the headache of boombox-vibrating bars or sambuca-splashed sand.

Where we're staying: The Old Quay House Hotel

Before you go: Pack a few Daphne du Maurier novels. Fowey heavily inspired the author, who lived here. Her most famous, Rebecca, is based on the coastline just south of the town.

St Agnes

Cornwall, United Kingdom

Move over Perranporth and Porthtowan - we've found a new North Cornwall favourite. Home to boutique bakeries, delicatessens and zero-waste shops, the high street of this quaint old mining town is the place to pick up picnic supplies before you lace up your hiking boots and stomp out across its many wild, rugged coastal paths. A walk in either direction from the town reveals old mine entrances, Second World War bunkers and Elizabethan beacons, plus former miners' cottages perched precariously on vertigo-inducing white cliffs. Return at dusk to St Agnes for a paddle at Trevaunance Cove - the town's dramatically beautiful main beach.

Where we're staying: The Driftwood Spars

Before you go: Pick up some Finisterre gear to blend in with the locals. The ethical outdoor clothing brand has its headquarters here.

The Cornish town of Polperro from the sea


Cornwall, United Kingdom

This fishing village delivers Cornish charm in buckets and spadefuls. White cottages dot the craggy hills around the harbour, while higgledy-piggledy alleyways conceal bakeries, independent galleries and jewellery stores - thanks to the perseverance of locals, they're all car-free, too. We're itching to see morris dancers skipping alongside the quayside and want front-row tickets to a performance by the Polperro Fishermen's Choir when we land. Sea shanties at the ready.

Where we're staying: Talland Bay Hotel

Before you go: Dig out a copy of Alfred Hitchcock's penultimate silent film The Manxman, which is set on the Isle of Man but largely filmed in Polperro.

Hill walks surrounding Zennor, Cornwall


Cornwall, United Kingdom

Calling the coven: this might just be Cornwall's most myth-imbued town. With strange tombs pockmarking the surrounding hills, a shoreline said to be patrolled by a seductive, slayer mermaid, and old smuggling routes lassoing its entirety, Zennor's invigorating sea breezes are instilled with the uncanny. Despite being only a 10-minute drive from St Ives, where half of London seems to decamp each summer, this grey granite town escapes the rumbles of Land Rovers and shrill squeals of Crew Clothing-clad kid gangs. Protected by brooding hills and rocky cliffs, its dry-stone walls, windswept trees and mossy houses are distinctly Poldark-esque - you half expect to meet a tricorn-hatted customs officer galloping around a corner. Head here to enjoy easy access to the cultural capital of St Ives without having to battle the Boden-wearing crowds.

Where we're staying: The Gurnard's Head

Before you go: Map out some walks on which to investigate the ghostly ancient settlements in the surrounding hills.

The harbour of Newlyn, Cornwall


Cornwall, United Kingdom

Forgot Padstein (aka Padstow) - eager eaters are all heading to Newlyn this summer, a plucky harbour town that's home to one of the UK's largest fishing fleets. Positioned right next to Penzance on the Land's End Peninsula, this close-knit community is striking out to make a name for itself distinct from its more-famous neighbour. We're booking a lunchtime table at The Tolcarne Inn for plates of monk's beard-dressed hake and lemon sole cloaked in smoked almond beurre noisette, then hitting Argoe in the evening to scoff grilled John Dory, butter-soft, lemony octopus and a glass or two of natural wine. No tables? Try Mackerel Sky Seafood Bar for tapas plates or The Old Coastguard Hotel to enjoy brill on the bone and butterflied sardines, plus one of the best sticky toffee puddings we've ever tried.

Where we're staying: Artist Residence Penzance

Before you go: If you're feeling too stuffed to sightsee, roll into a seat at the Newlyn Filmhouse to catch a flick. Perfect for rainy days on the Cornish coast, this indie cinema is housed in an old fish cellar and smokery, and screens arthouse and blockbuster films year-round.

This article was updated 29 March 2023.

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