As historic as it is beautiful, princes, poets and pirates have long been drawn to the western extremity of England.
The windswept moors, bucolic rural landscapes, and spectacular coastline of Devon and Cornwall have a special magic, and it would take weeks to explore their every corner. But if you’re visiting for a good time not a long time, let’s not waste another second!
Here are ten top things to do in Devon and Cornwall.
Perch yourself on the rugged cliffs of Land’s End at the most southwesterly point of Britain and whisper secrets to the salty wind as it carries them out to the Isles of Scilly. Awash with myths, legends, and torrid tales of King Arthur’s realm, there are at least 130 wrecks of ships lying at the bottom of the ocean around this storied granite peninsular.
While most visitors make a beeline for the quintessential Cornish coastal village of Port Isaac (of Doc Martin fame), Mousehole (‘Mouzel’ to the locals) is even more enchanting — but without the tourist crowds. Situated just a few kilometres from Penzance, you can best soak up the ambience of this pint-size fishing village over a pint and some local mussels at the cosy Ship Inn. Sinking your chops into a genuine homemade Cornish pasty at the Hole Foods Deli is also not to be missed.
Stretch your creative muscles and discover the famous ‘light’ of St Ives. The muse of countless artists and writers over centuries, St Ives continues its incarnation as a creative colony, through its charming cobbled streets and eclectic jumble of tea rooms, tiny shops and galleries, including the Tate St Ives and the wonderful sub-tropical Barbara Hepworth sculpture garden.
Get your toes on the nose in the crashing North Atlantic rollers at Newquay, one of the UK’s most popular beaches and a mecca for surfers from all over the world. The expansive blonde sand beaches, dramatic cliff caves, and pastel blue waters of Newquay capture the spirit of Cornwall in one delightful snapshot. Not a surfer? Try it anyhow!
Walk on water (well, almost) across the ancient causeway linking St Michael’s Mount to the mainland at Marazion. You can walk the short distance across to the Mount at low tide, spend a few hours exploring the former medieval monastery and lovely seaward gardens, then time your return just right to join the race back to the mainland as the path disappears beneath the ocean.
While visiting Devon’s historic regional capital Exeter, you must attend a choral recital at the magnificent Exeter Cathedral. If you think, ‘seen one church seen ’em all’, step inside one of the world’s most impressive examples of Gothic architecture and you’ll definitely think again. The intricate woodwork, stone vaulting, and lavish, jaw-dropping interiors are astounding enough, but experiencing the delicate acoustic power of the Cathedral Choir in full voice is absolutely spine-tingling.
Art and nature collide throughout the 10-acre Broomhill Estate Sculpture Gardens north of the town of Barnstaple. Quirky, cultural and thought-provoking, this magical woodland is home to the largest collection of contemporary sculpture in the UK.
Hike along the South West Coast Path and explore the diversity of Exmoor National Park. A unique blend of wild and windy moors, lush farmlands, and ragged coastal cliffs, the inspirational scenery, cosy villages, and wonderful flora and fauna of Exmoor make for a moveable feast of sights, sounds and experiences.
While every second tearoom in the county lays claim to being ‘the best in Devon’, you’ll experience the true decadent pleasure of an authentic Devonshire tea at Orestone Manor in Maidencombe. Savouring the light as air scones with generous dollops of farm fresh clotted cream and homemade jam (cream first if you please!) overlooking panoramic views of Lyme Bay is as sublime a gastronomic experience as you’ll ever find.
Stroll the promenades of Torquay at sunset and soak up the cultured Victorian ambience of the ‘English Riviera’. Famous as the seaside resort setting of the iconic Fawlty Towers, Torquay is like a little slice of the Mediterranean picked up and placed delicately on the UK coast.
Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of ten top things to do in Devon and Cornwall? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
Julietta Henderson is a Melbourne-based travel writer and author. Originally planning to visit London for six months, she ended up staying for ten years and now divides her time between her home in Australia and several months of the year in the UK, Italy and France. Julietta has travelled extensively through Europe, North America, Indonesia, New Zealand, Australia and Russia, and believes the keys to a great travel experience are an open heart, an open mind and an open-ended ticket. Her first novel — The Funny Thing About Norman Foreman — is now available in bookstores.