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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List of Contents
- 1 Why I love visiting Cornwall in the Winter
- 2 Things to do in Cornwall in the Winter
- 2.1 Watch the storms and crashing waves
- 2.2 Brave the sea
- 2.3 Take a hike
- 2.4 Spot the Seals
- 2.5 Visit a pretty Cornish Village
- 2.6 Cosy up with a take out (or drink in) hot chocolate
- 2.7 Brave an outdoor Spa experience
- 2.8 Discover a tropical Garden
- 2.9 Get lost in the Legend of St Arthur
- 2.10 Experience perhaps the most beautiful theatre in the world
- 3 Indoor activities in Cornwall
- 4 Where to visit in Cornwall in Winter
- 5 Best places to stay in Cornwall in Winter
- 6 Where to eat in Cornwall in Winter
- 7 What are Cornish beaches like in Winter
- 8 Cornish winter weather
- 9 Cornwall in December
- 10 Cornwall in January
- 11 Cornwall in February
- 12 What to wear in Cornwall in Winter
- 13 Visiting Cornwall with dogs in winter
- 14 What I don’t love about Cornwall in the Winter
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Indoor activities in Cornwall
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.
The Bodmin Jail Experience
A trip to Bodmin to visit the world famous jail is well worth it for history lovers or horror fans. Home to the rather spooky Dark Walk which is an immersive experience taking you through Cornwalls past and a brilliant museum. You can even pop in the cells to experience what life was like for the inmates. You can read about our visit to the Bodmin Jail Experience to learn more.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For more ideas on things to do in Cornwall make sure you read my post on Cornwall with kids.
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.
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.
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 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.
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. You can read more about St Ives with kids in my previous guide.
The town celebrates Christmas in a big way with Christmas markets, a visit from Santa himself and a beautiful lantern parade.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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