Choose between the golden sands of St Ives Bay, the storm washed cliffs of Land's End, the sub-tropical gardens of Penzance or the ancient lands of West Penwith.
A land of contrasts
The contrast between land and see is never greater than in West Cornwall. In fact it is a land of contrasts. It's the last stop where the green and pleasant land meets the ravages of the Atlantic Ocean. Both forces, pastoral and wild, tranquil and turbulent, have shaped this region into the uniquely stunning landscape it is today, a true halfway house between sheer wilderness and carefully cultivated beauty.
West Cornwall is home to a unique and delicate balance of opposition: popular family destinations and tucked away communities, a thriving arts and culture scene, but also untouched prehistoric landscapes. Stretches of manicured, white sandy beaches, but also craggy coves that house seals, and if legends are to be believed, mermaids.
So, don’t get to thinking this is a reluctant end of the road destination. West Cornwall takes its role as the last impression of the county, and the UK, very seriously indeed.
A sublime coastline
You’re never far from stretches of gorgeous sand and coastal bliss and some claim this area boasts some of the best beachside scenery of the entire county. You’re bound to have the azure waters of Porthcurno and Porthminster Beach on your itinerary already, and with good reason. However, ensure you leave enough time to explore the hidden inlets and mermaid pools around Penwith like Nanjizal, which makes for a great trek from the tiny harbour at Porthgwarra along a stunning stretch of the South West Coast Path, from which you can spot seals, basking sharks and even the distant humps of the subtropical Isles of Scilly on a clear day.
West Cornwall is also home to Gwithian and Godrevy sands, part of a three mile stretch of golden sands, backed by high dunes (or towans as they are called in Cornwall. Looking out across St Ives Bay, these beaches are well worth dedicating a whole day to. Be it to surf, swim or just laze about.
The aptly named Whitesands Bay sits just north of Land’s End. From here the full force of the Atlantic can be felt, producing waves loved by surfers. But it can also be a serene place, with a large expense of sands stretching away from Sennen Cove, loved by the families who flock here during the summer and walkers in the shoulder seasons.
And don't forget Mount's Bay, named after the iconic island that rises up out of the clear blue waters for half the day and becomes virtually part of the mainland for the other half. A walk along the South West Coast Path here leads you from Marazion onto Penzance and around to the impossibly pretty Mousehole, with hardly a hill to climb.
But it’s not all beaches, the contrasting landscape means there are long stretches of coastline where the cliffs drop hundreds of feet into the sea, majestic if at time terrifying! The most striking location to see this must be at The Minack Theatre, carved out of the cliffs with the sea pounding below, whilst across the bay the epic outline of a granite headland rises out of the waves.
And that’s why people love West Cornwall
An inspiring landscape
The varied landscape of West Cornwall has attracted artists for centuries and forged the creative communities that now draw many to the area like St. Ives, home of the Tate, the Barbara Hepworth Museum and the Penwith Studios. The town is famed for its quality of light, boasting a cerulean harbour and many a culinary and Cornish cultural delight fringing its sandy shores. The view out over St Ives Bay to Godrevy Lighthouse inspired the writer Virginia Wolfe, DH Lawrence lived just down the coast for a while and Rosamunde Pilcher was born in Lelant and drew on her memories of Cornwall for many of her novels.
On the south side of the narrow isthmus between Hayle and Marazion, artists flocked to Newlyn in the late 1800s. It’s now a lively fishing port intermingled with a relaxed arts and crafts scene, but to see the works produced in its artistic heyday, head for the Penlee Gallery in Penzance. While you’re there head down to the promenade to take a dip in the Jubilee Pool, the UK’s largest and best-preserved art deco lido. Penzance is a fine place to base yourself for exploring the West Penwith area, the town itself has plenty of shops to investigate and there’s also a good choice of places to eat, especially on Chapel Street.
Of course, and as many locals would assert, the magnetism of West Cornwall lies in its strange and savage places, not just its urbane charm or pretty beaches. The Penwith Peninsula is one such magical spot. Littered with prehistoric burial sites, settlements and hillforts, this hinterland is wilderness personified and it’s well worth a short diversion on your way to Land’s End to make the time to properly explore the inland tors and moors.
Take a trip along the winding B3306 west from St Ives, possibly the most scenic route in the UK? and be prepared to stop several times to take in the views. Take a left turn at any point and you will start climbing into an ancient landscape of fields and open moorland little changed for 4000 years. Be sure to search out Lanyon Quoit, the Mên-an-Tol, Chysauster village and the Merry Maidens, just four sites that will take you back in time to when this part of Britain was far removed from the centres of population, or was it?
It’s almost as if everything in West Cornwall knows it’s the last in the UK before the ravages of the Atlantic: last beach, last village, last cove…the raw beauty of this region is superlative and convinces you to look no further.
Coast to Coast
Driving down the A30, it’s very tempting to head straight for St Ives, or all the way to Land’s End, but it would be a shame to miss out on those beaches and villages away from the main roads. From St Agnes down, the North Cliffs make for good walking, long flat stretches broken by steep descents to popular beaches such as Porthtowan and Portreath. On the south coast, Porthleven is becoming a foodie favourite whilst Praa Sands and Perranuthnoe offer quiet beaches away from the main tourist destinations.
In between the two coasts is a landscape of rich farming land, famed for its daffodils in the early spring. Here and there you will come across relics of Cornwall’s mining heritage, a chimney here and engine house there. The area around St Agnes was the inspiration for the Poldark novels, and the engine house at Wheal Coates is perhaps one of the most well known in the county. Tehidy Woods, between Camborne and the coast offer some of the finest woodland walks in the area and there’s more great walking on the National Trust’s Godolphin Estate near Leedstown.
Away from mining, one of Cornwall’s main ‘industrys’ in the late 1700s, was that of smuggling. All along the coast, goods were brought in illegally to avoid paying high taxes. Hidden away between Porthleven and Mount’s Bay is the tiny Prussia Cove where the Carter family operated for many years, away from the prying eyes of the customs officers. It still not the easiest place to get to, but well worth the journey down narrow lanes, as are many of the places in West Cornwall.
Where to stay
Why not stay a little longer and explore everything this captivating region has to offer? Discover quaint guest houses and cosy inns & pubs, family holiday parks and luxurious hotels.
Things to do
Plan your next adventure and find things to do in this captivating region. With art and culture in abundance, coupled with golden beaches and quirky heritage sites, there's never a dull day on the West Coast.
Everything from the golden sands of St Ives Bay to the storm washed cliffs of Land's End, the prehistoric remains high on the Penwith Moors to the sub-tropical gardens of Mount's Bay, West Cornwall has plenty to offer.
There's also a huge range of places to stay, from clifftop campsites to posh hotels. You can have dinner overlooking a epic sunset or grab a crab sandwich on a historic quayside.
We don't think you will be disappointed!
Spoilt for choice!
St Ives alone has five wonderful beaches, with both Porthminster and Porthmeor being awarded Blue Flags in 2022. Across the bay you will find three miles of golden sand stretching north from the Hayle Estuary. Then there's Porthtowan and Portreath just up the coast...
Sennen Cove right down near Land's End is another popular stretch both with surfers and families, whilst Mount's Bay provides endless walking and is often home to kite surfers.
There's also countless small secret coves, ideal for hiding away in, we would tell you where they are, but they wouldn't be secret then!
For marketing purposes Visit Cornwall class everything down the north coast from St Agnes westward as being in West Cornwall, and on the south coast from Porthleven. The main destinations are St Ives and Penzance but it also includes areas like Mount's Bay, Sennen Cove and Land's End.
If Cornwall has a west coast then it's probably from Cape Cornwall down to Porthgwarra and includes Land's End. This iconic stretch of coastline is made up of rocky outcrops and a long sandy beach at Whitesands Bay, which includes Sennen Cove.
It's an amazing stretch of coastline and should be on every walkers list as a destination to explore.
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