carbis bay beach with driftwood and dog in the background in winter

Visiting Cornwall in Winter, The Ultimate Guide

Off Season in Cornwall is probably my favourite time to visit. Yes it’s cold but bear with me, it’s absolutely worth visiting Cornwall in winter.

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Why I love visiting Cornwall in the Winter

In recent years Cornwall has continued to grow in popularity. For the last few summers we’ve visited it’s been almost impossible to get a last minute table in a nice restaurant or a quiet spot on a popular beach. Apart from a few weeks over the Christmas period, Cornwall feels almost empty in Winter. You’ll always be able to find a cosy table by the fire in a pub or a prime table in a fancy restaurant with a great sea view. The beaches are almost empty, just layered up dog walkers and the bravest of surfers.

carbis bay beach in winter

The cost of visiting Cornwall in winter is way cheaper than in the astronomical Summer months. Accommodation is much more reasonable in winter with many hotels offering amazing deals. We also found that most car parks were free to use after Christmas with the added bonus that you can always find a space!

a family wrapped up warm walking on st ives beach
wrapped up warm for a walk on the beach

The Cornish scenery almost feels moody during the winter months. The colours are deeper and darker, the cliffs can look almost black and woodlands full of leafless trees are straight out of a fairy tale. Unforgiving wind seems to scream a warning and when it rains it sure can feel like you’re under attack. It’s atmospheric to say the least.

mawgan porth beach when its quiet at sunset

Another huge bonus for our family is that dogs are allowed on pretty much every beach in Cornwall in Winter. Even the fancy ones that are closed for our furry friends during the summer months.

Being so far South, the weather in Cornwall in winter is likely to be nicer than most other parts of the UK. We’ve had awful, rainy, freezing cold days but also days that feel more Spring like. When the sun breaks through, as it often does, it can almost feel warming. You may even need to take your padded parka off!

piper quinn posing on a sunny beach in cornwall in winter

Getting to and from Cornwall is also a lot easier over the winter months. It’s can take us over seven hours to get from Staffordshire to Cornwall in August. This January we did the journey in less than four hours. Traveling around Cornwall is also way easier, the lack of tourist traffic means that the towns stay blissfully congestion free and the narrow coastal roads rarely require the constant reversing to let someone past that is ever present over Summer.

crashing waves in cornwall

Things to do in Cornwall in the Winter

Watch the storms and crashing waves

The weather in Cornwall in Winter is a lot more unforgiving than in the summer. Although many days will see some sun, the colder months bring epic storms. You’ll see sheets of rain, sand blown by the winds and some of the most breathtaking waves in the World. I love throwing on the layers and waterproofs and heading to the beach to experience them for a short, brisk walk. But they’re best enjoyed from indoors next to a roaring fire, somewhere with a great sea view.

roaring fire at a pub in cornwall

Brave the sea

Winter is an excellent time for confident surfers, the waves are impressive and you’re likely to have the whole beach to yourself. However this should be saved for the confident surfer, you’ll not see lifeguards on Cornish beaches over the winter months. Instead, don a wetsuit (long sleeves and legs are best for this time of year) and pick a calm section of sea or estuary for a swim. You don’t need long to feel the benefit.

piper paddling in a cold sea
Or you could just try a paddle

Take a hike

There are amazing hiking trails all over Cornwall, from punishing cliff hikes to meandering river walks, there’s something to suit all weathers and fitness levels. Sometimes it can feel a little scary fighting the wind on the top of a cliff but it definitely gets the blood pumping and helps you warm up.

young girl in warm clothes hiking a coast path in cornwall

Spot the Seals

The late winter months are best for seal spotting in Cornwall. The breeding season for grey seals lasts from September to December so this is a great time for wildlife fans. The best spots are Grodrevy Point just North of Gwithian or Falmouth on the South Coast.

porthmear beach in winter

Visit a pretty Cornish Village

Quaint little fishing villages are almost as Cornish as pasties! They’re pretty, small and often lead down to the sea. Over Summer the most popular villages get easily overrun. Take full advantage of the lack of tourists by packing your Cornish winter itinerary with trips to Port Isaac, Mousehole, Polperro, Mevagissey and Charlestown.

port isaac harbour, a great destination for holidays with kids uk based
Port Isaac fishing village

Cosy up with a take out (or drink in) hot chocolate

Nothing beats a hot treat on a cold day right?! We love a brisk walk along a cold beach then popping into a local cafe for something warm and sugary. Some of our favourites include the beach hut at Watergate Bay or the Beach Box Cafe at Mawgan Porth which also does amazing toasted sarnies if you’re peckish. Winter opening hours will differ to summer so there’s no guarantee they’ll be serving when you visit but I think that uncertainty is part of the fun. It’s very Cornish!

entrance to the beach hut at watergate bay

Brave an outdoor Spa experience

If you’re after a bit of pampering and can find a sitter for the kids for a few hours then the outdoor sensory experience at the Bedruthan Hotel and Spa is an absolute delight. The experience takes you through hot tubs and steams to cold showers to cosy fire pits. It’s an absolute delight! The experience costs £70 per person and can be booked online.

Foot Bath Around Fire Pit At Outdoor Sensory Spa

Discover a tropical Garden

During most of the year the weather in Cornwall is a few degrees warmer than the rest of the UK meaning you’ll see unusual and stunning plants and flowers everywhere. Cornwall is also home to several professionally maintained gardens which are a great option for a day out. We love The Eden Project with its infamous biodomes making it the largest indoor rainforest in the World. Another stunning garden to visit is Trebah which is located on the South Coast. Four miles of footpaths will take you past a plethora of exotic plants. Trebah is open to prebooked ticked holders Saturday till Wednesday during the winter. The 200 acre Lost Gardens of Heligan is another great option during winter. It’s home to some gorgeous natural sculptures and has a great play ground for the kids.

tropical flowers in cornwall
These were taken in summer

Get lost in the Legend of St Arthur

The whole of Cornwall is steeped in lore and legend with the most famous being that of King Arthur and his knights of the round table. Tintagel is the place to visit to fully immerse yourselves in this fascinating story. Make sure you visit Tintagel Castle, home to Arthurs stunning statue and walk across the new bridge which is even more dramatic during the winter months. Make sure you check online and book tickets before you visit, the bridge does close if the weather is too bad.

Knight Statue At Tintagel Castle

Experience perhaps the most beautiful theatre in the world

The Minack Theatre near the southernmost tip of Cornwall is one of the most stunning places to visit in the whole of the UK. Perched on the edge of the cliff over looking the Atlantic and stunning Porthcurno beach this outdoor theatre is worth the drive south wether you’re seeing a performance or not. It is open for visits from Fridays to Tuesdays over winter. Although they often have special Christmas shows, performances tend to start back up around mid February.

minack theatre in cornwall

seagull on a bin in cornwall
One of the friendly Cornish locals

Indoor activities in Cornwall

National Trust

Along with many miles of coastline and beaches, The National Trust owns several properties in Cornwall. They’re perfect for ducking into if you want to stay dry on a rainy day. One of our favourites is Lanhydrock House, a late Victorian Country Estate just make sure you check before you visit, the house closes over much of winter although the cafe is open year round. Tintagel Post Office is another fun one to pop into when it’s open. It’s a delightful medieval building just up the road from the Castle. We also love Trerice, an Elizabethan Manor House with stunning interiors and sweet grounds to play in.

Lanhydrock House in Cornwall
Lanhydrock House

Porthcurno Telegraph Museum

Whilst it might not sound like too much fun, the Porthcurno Telegraph Museum is a fascinating place to spend a few hours. Located on the South Coast next to stunning Portcurno Beach it covers the history of Porthcurnos Telegraph cable, electricity, morse code and more. The museum is open on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays during the winter months.

porthcurno telegraph museum

Newquay Aquarium

If you can’t face spotting the fish in the freezing cold sea then the Blue Reef Aquarium in Newquay is the next best thing. The aquarium covers everything from the Cornish coast to more exotic waters. They have sharks, an octupus and a lovely underwater tunnel. It’s a real child pleaser if you’re visiting with family.

Blue Reef Aquarium In Newquay

The Tate St Ives

Small but powerful, the Tate Gallery in St Ives is a glorious celebration of contemporary art. Definitely more accessible and less pretentious than it’s sister galleries in London, this is one that the kids will absolutely love. You’ll only need an hour to wander the exhibits which are thought provoking, colourful and super fun. Then make sure you spend some time in the third floor cafe and take in its amazing views of Porthmeor Beach.

inside the tate gallery in st ives
Exploring the exhibitions at the Tate

Visit a theatre

Cornwall is home to many brilliant theatres many of which will be showing family friendly pantos over the Christmas season and other shows during the later winter months. There’s the Regal Theatre in Redruth or the Theatre Royal in Plymouth.

Where to visit in Cornwall in Winter

Winter is a great time to visit all those popular places that are just too busy over the summer months. Cafes will be quiet, there will always be parking spots and natural and man made features are just as stunning in the cold.

crantock beach in winter

Newquay in Winter

I’ll admit it, Newquay is not my favourite place to visit in Cornwall, it’s pretty commercial and even the roads are manic and packed over the summer months. Let alone the car parks! But over the winter months the real beauty of the town comes alive with miles of empty beaches, coastlines and cosy cafes and restaurants. There are plenty of indoor activities to while away rainy days and famous Fistral beach is full of local surfers and dog walkers. Bliss.

The Pretty Streets Of Newquay In Cornwall

Padstow in Winter

Padstow or Padstein as it has become known by some, is almost unbearable over the Summer holidays when the narrow streets are packed with holiday makers and restaurants have month long waiting lists. When the weather gets colder the streets empty out and the town regains that sleepy fishing town feel again. The high end restaurants remain meaning you can enjoy a delightful stroll followed by a glorious feast.

padstow fishing harbour in winter
Pretty Padstow in winter

Padstow is resplendent over Christmas with the Padstow Christmas festival, pretty festive lights and a beautiful Christmas tree. Read more about what to do in Padstow.

outdoor christmas tree in Padstow, Cornwall

St Ives in Winter

St Ives has always been a popular place to visit in Cornwall but even more so after the G7 summit at Carbis Bay and those stunning press pictures. Whilst it is still popular during winter the town seems to breathe a little easier and it’s a lovely place to watch the fishing boats come in and out or for a walk along the sheltered stretch of sand.

turquiose based boat in st ives, cornwall

The town celebrates Christmas in  a big way with Christmas markets, a visit from Santa himself and a beautiful lantern parade.

view of St Ives from a brick archway

Port Isaac in Winter

Port Isaac is a really special part of Cornwall. Full of pirate legend and smugglers coves. The popularity of the TV show Doc Martin has made it an even more fashionable place to visit. You’ll still be able to visit all the famous locations over winter but they’ll be way less busy (plus you’ll get a better picture!). The harbour during the colder months is no less pretty, watching the crashing waves hit the sea walls is in fact even more stunning. Over Christmas the town is hung with pretty lights and the pubs have roaring fires and cosy corners, perfect for snuggling up in.

Boats Anchored At Port Isaac

Best places to stay in Cornwall in Winter

Cosy needs to be your buzz word when finding somewhere to stay in Cornwall in the winter time. A freezing sea dip or bracing cliff walk is all the better when you have a roaring fire and cosy blankets waiting for you at the end of the day. I also like somewhere with an outside area so I can gaze at the stars after dark, the sky is just so clear in the South West.

The luxurious Bedruthan Hotel and Spa near Mawgan Porth beach is probably my favourite place to stay, especially with kids. The hotel is always fully decked up for christmas and has roaring fires, cosy blankets and a lovely outdoor terrace looking out to sea. For more, read my full review of the Bedruthan Hotel and Spa.

Relaxed Dining Area At Bedruthan Hotel
Relaxed Dining Area At Bedruthan Hotel

And possibly the even more luxurious Carbis Bay Hotel on the South Coast of Cornwall near St Ives. You’ll probably remember this as the hotel our world leaders stayed at during the 2021 G7 summit. It’s all exposed wood, luxury bedrooms and an amazing Spa. You could even opt for a beach cottage with it’s very own hot tub!

outdoor seating area at Carbis Bay hotel

Another great choice full of luxury additions and super family friendly is the Watergate Bay Hotel. This is where I spent many of my childhood summers and is located on one of Cornwalls best surfing beaches, close to Newquay. Even during winter a lot of the pop up eateries and cafes are still open around Watergate Bay so it’s a great choice for the season.

Entrance To Watergate Bay Hotel

You’ll also have your choice of holiday rentals with much reduced prices than the rest of the year. Many have log fires, expansive views, perfect for curling up with a good book and some even have hot tubs!

Where to eat in Cornwall in Winter

This is THE time to fill your boots and visit all the amazing restaurants you couldn’t get a table in over summer. This winter it felt wonderful to just walk in and find a table whenever and wherever we felt like. But it still is a good idea to book, just to be sure they can accommodate you (and are open!).

oozing baked camembert with chinks of bread and a bowl of onion relish
Always opt for something warming and comforting in winter

I’d been desperate to try Emily Scott Food at Watergate Bay all summer so was super pleased to visit this winter. The food is absolutely amazing and you can’t beat the view of Watergate Bay Beach. Or another favourite of ours near Newquay is the Lewinninck Arms. Again, the views are fabulous and the food is lush. It’s super welcoming, the staff are friendly and the place just feels cosy.

indoor tables at Lewinnick lodge near Newquay

If you’re further South and braving St Michaels Mount during winter, the Godolphin has a couple of absolutely gorgeous restaurants overlooking the causeway and they serve some of the freshest seafood around.

terrace at the Godolphin overlooking St Michaels Mount

If you’re willing to sacrifice a view for cosiness then you can’t beat the Cornish Arms, just outside of Padstow. It has several open fires and somehow manages to combine modern design with real Cornish Pub. It’s another of Rick Steins eateries and the curry I opted for this January was the best I’ve had all year.

fire place in the cornish arms pub

If you’re looking to hit up several great restaurants in one stay then Padstow is always a good option, not only is it packed with Rick Stein enterprises, there are plenty of other high end eateries and bars to try. We love the Padstow Brewing Company for its furry blankets and warming cocktails and Prawn on the Lawn for it’s amazing seafood.

Cosy bar in Padstow with modern interiors and a chair covered in a fluffy blanket

For more ideas on where to book for winter in Cornwall check out the best restaurants on the North Cornish coast and work your way through!

What are Cornish beaches like in Winter

In my opinion they’re blustery, brilliant and beautiful. There’s a very different vibe to summertime on the beach, gone are the crowds, the barbecues and the colourful windbreakers. They’re replaced by brisk dog walkers, brave surfers and treasure hunters. I absolutely love them.

st ives beach with lighthouse in winter
St Ives beach in winter

The sand rarely dries out over winter so you’ll probably want to keep your wellies on. But there’s something so restorative about a wind swept stomp across a beach. The waves really are spectacular which is why so few surfers dare to enter. It’s enough for us just to watch the waves crash against the rocks and marvel at the wonder of nature. You rarely get white horses like that over summer.

crashing waves on a cornish beach

I can’t lie though, sometimes the weather is just too bad to venture out. This year we visited Crantock beach during a storm. By the end of it we were all soaked, not because we went in the sea but due to the sheeting rain and wind pelting us with painful grains of sand. On days like that its best to enjoy the sea from a great pub with a view!

crantock beach in winter
Crantock beach in winter

Make sure you read my post on the best beaches on the North Coast of Cornwall for inspiration for where to head.

Cornish winter weather

Honest truth? I don’t really know and very few people could generalise what Cornish winter  weather is. It’s just so very changeable, as it is year round. You may get glorious days of sunshine when you can whip off the parka and the sky feels warm on your cheeks. Or days when you cant see a few inches in front of your face and you get blown out the door in a storm. Snow is pretty much unheard of and the temperature rarely drops so low that you’ll get a prolonged frost.

piper quinn on a very rainy windy beach in cornwall

What I do know is that outside it will feel cold. The sea is cold and you’re likely to get wet. Take many, many layers, waterproofs, the right shoes and plenty of towels and you’ll be fine. If you do want to go in the sea make sure to wear a long, good quality wetsuit, the water is brutal. Do not expect to be sunbathing so save your new bikini for a heated pool.

dad and daughter walking up a sand dune in wind and rain
One of our coldest winter hikes in Cornwall. We were soaked!

Cornwall in December

Cornwall is great fun at Christmas, towns and villages cover their streets with Christmas lights and locals really embrace the spirit of the season. Most hotels will have Christmas offers with exquisite food and fizz thrown in. You’ll find them all beautifully decorated.

Christmas tree at Watergate Bay
Christmas tree at Watergate Bay

Christmas Markets in Cornwall are plentiful and full of joy. My favourites can be found in Truro, Bude and Fowey. Just give them a quick google to confirm the dates. You’ll find gorgeous illuminated trails at the Eden project or Lost Gardens of Heligan. And the Mousehole Christmas lights are some of the prettiest in the Country. The Padstow Christmas Festival is another must visit with celebrity chefs, oodles of mulled wine, a sweet market and delightfully decorated town.

Cornwall in January

Once the New Year excitement has died down, January in Cornwall is one of the quietest times of year to visit. You’ll pretty much have the beaches and coast paths to yourselves. You’ll get to witness some epic storms and are likely to enjoy a few days of clear, bright days. Many hotel and rental accommodations will be offering fantastic deals so you can bag yourself a great value holiday. Head to the Seal Sanctuary in Gweek as it’s pup season, you may get to see some cute babies. Or visit the farmers market on a Thursday morning in St Ives for some delicious local produce. Many restaurants, cafes and shops close in January so make sure you check before you visit if there is somewhere specific you want to try.

winter sunset at watergate bay

Cornwall in February

The weather in Cornwall in February may start to improve, although to be honest it may not. The St Ives Feast takes place at the start of February where you can watch a game of Hurling next to the beach.

By the end of the month the county will start to busy up again with the arrival of the kids half term holidays. But it will be nowhere as crazy as the summer months.

stree in st ives with colourful bunting

What to wear in Cornwall in Winter

The first thing you need to pack are wellies. These are essential for getting your across puddle riddled beaches and up mud coated coast paths. Sturdy walking boots are also a good idea to support your ankles and keep your feet warm on coastal hikes. Next up it’s layers. And plenty of them! I’ve even been known to pop Pipers dry robe over the top of her coat to keep her extra toasty.

piper quinn wrapped in a dry robe on a cold winter beach
Piper cosy and warm

And don’t forget hats, gloves, scarfs, hand warmers, extra socks and even a coat for the dog. Sunglasses are also a good idea to keep out not only the winter suns glare but also the blowing grains of sand on a windy day.

piper quinn wrapped up on a cold beach
Trying to keep warm and dry

Folk rarely dress up in Cornwall so no need to pack anything too fancy, the vibe is Country hippy. I always take long dresses and lots of jewellery if we are going somewhere nice. I have yet to find anywhere with a strict dress code over winter.

Visiting Cornwall with dogs in winter

Our dog loves our trips to Cornwall in winter. There’s always so much space for her to run on the beach and no one bats an eyelid if she wants to tear around with another dog on the sand. The trails are clear for walks and you don’t have to worry about hitting someone on the head with a ball as you’re having fun.

large brown dog picking up a tennis ball on a beach
Holly living her best life!

As with us humans, dogs get cold in Cornwall in winter. We try to only allow Holly a short time in the sea. And make sure we have plenty of towels to dry her off after a dip. We also take a warm dog coat for her which she wears most days.

hungarian vizsla on a beach in cornwall

As mentioned, dogs are allowed on most beaches in Cornwall over winter. No matter what time of year it is, make sure you clean up after your dogs. There are always plenty of waste bins near the beaches.

pretty dog poo fairy wooden sign

What I don’t love about Cornwall in the Winter

As with the whole of the UK, winter brings much shorter days meaning beach time is limited and day long hikes are a bit trickier. I miss the lazy summer evenings sat outside watching the sunset. Whilst I love the storms, another downside of winter in Cornwall is the Mizzle. Fine rain (or drizzle and mist) that never seems to end which seems to get you drenched as soon as you step out of the door. It takes a lot to warm back up after a walk in this particular type of rain.

mizzle on a cornish beach
Crantock covered in mizzle

Many shops and restaurants close in January with some not reopening until March. Although I do actually think this is a good thing. Everyone needs a break, especially somewhere that gets as busy as Cornwall. Plus it encourages you to go with the flow. Can’t get your daily coffee fix? Just deal with it!

Let me know in the comments if you’ve been to Cornwall in winter, what are your favourite things to do?

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cornwall in winter pin image

 

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