It’s easy to feel a bit starstruck by Cornwall’s beaches.
While the rest of the UK’s sun, sea and sandy spots make a fine supporting-cast, the far west’s shores are the glittering A-list.
Think turquoise waters. Soft, golden sands. Magical views of castles and lighthouses. It’s like being on a movie set too beautiful to be true. And there are, literally, dozens of show-stopping beaches to visit in our county.
Here’s 10 of the best beaches in Cornwall. Most are within a 40-minute drive of Penzance – the picturesque port town that makes a great base for your excursions – with one or two farther-afield gems added for good measure.
Best beaches in Cornwall #1: Marazion – the one with a castle
There’s a problem with Marazion beach. It spoils you. Once you’ve seen it, your take on many other beaches will be, ‘Well, yes it was nice but… it didn’t have a MASSIVE CASTLE IN THE SEA.’ The beach itself is lovely, especially when the tide is low and you can paddle out at knee or thigh depth for ages. It’s also a top spot for watersports, including paddleboarding, and wind and kite surfing. And then there’s that enchanting view of the castle, which conjures up a fairytale-by-the-seaside vibe. There’s excellent access to the sand via a ramp, plenty of parking and lots of snacking options. Beach heaven!
Best beaches in Cornwall #2: Hayle – the family friendly one
Yes, it’s wildly popular with some, but still Hayle beach has something of an overlooked quality about it. In fact, you’ll rarely see it on any best beaches in Cornwall list, which we think is a massive oversight. It’s vast – ‘Three Miles of Golden Sands’ as the tourist signs said back in the day. It’s beautiful too, with a stunning dunes backdrop. We want to tell you about just one gorgeous little stretch. Black Cliff Beach is a cute cove at the west end near the Hayle River, looking over that overworldy gem St Ives. Often, when the tide is out, you’ll find lots of warm pools for the kids to splash in. Meanwhile, there are plenty of snack spots and a pub nearby. Add the big car park and excellent ramp access and you have a dream family beach destination.
Best beaches in Cornwall #3: Carbis Bay – the iconic beach
Another lovely family beach, Carbis Bay has that ethereal, otherworldly quality you’ll only find in Cornwall. Sheltered by tree-covered cliffs on either side, this curvaceous stretch offers fine white sand and crystal blue waters. The sea generally laps lazily along the shore here – there’s rarely any surf – making it an ideal spot for toddlers to take their first tentative steps in the ocean with Mum or Dad. Snacks are available nearby, access is good and parking is available.
Best beaches in Cornwall #4: Porthminster – the St Ives beach
Are you going to St Ives? Of course you are… the iconic town has four stunning sun, sea and sandy spots and any one could feature on a best beaches in Cornwall list. If you pick just one go for Porthminster, which is all soft sand, waving palms, gorgeous views towards Godrevy Lighthouse and options for snacking and fine dining. But you can’t really reduce Porthminster to a checklist – it’s the overall vibe here that’s going to bliss you out. And it’s only minutes from the centre of town. Access is good, although parking is always an issue in St Ives. Why not take the park and ride train from St Erth? It terminates in St Ives right above the beach.
Best beaches in Cornwall #5: Mousehole – the harbour beach
There’s something magical about a good harbour beach and Mousehole is the best of the lot. Walk down the steps from the street above and you’ll find yourself on a little stretch of sand nestled in the cosy embrace of the harbour walls. Find yourself a spot amid the boats and ropes and set the kids free to play. This is a top destination for families and never fear about the quality of the sand – it’s shipped in seasonally. Access is fairly good (there’s a ramp as well as steps) but parking can be tricky in peak season. Take your pick from plenty of deli and café options above the beach.
Best beaches in Cornwall #6: Rinsey – the rugged Cornish beach
What could be more iconically Cornish than an engine house, gazing like a moody romantic lead, over a wide expanse of sand? Welcome to the dramatic vistas of Rinsey. There’s more that just views to take in, too, with plenty of rock-pooling options and some super piratey-looking caves. Having said that, the sea can be a bit wild here and there’s no lifeguard cover. Also, parking is limited and it’s a 10-15 minute trek down to the beach. Yes, one for the intrepid beachgoers, but, oh, that engine house / beach combo!
Best beaches in Cornwall #7: Sennen – the surfing beach
Once fabled for its mermaids playing in the waves (sceptics think it was probably just dolphins, but what do they know?) Sennen is now legendary for its surfing. What makes this beach so special from a board-riding point of view is that it’s graduated – the waves start smaller at the south side and get bigger wave towards the north. In other words, it has something for everyone. But it’s not just about the surfing. The reason why Sennen makes our best beaches in Cornwall list is also down to its sheer beauty. The little village snakes along the water’s edge and enjoys glorious views onto the bay. Sennen Beach has excellent ramp access, a fair amount of parking and lots of food and drink options.
Best beaches in Cornwall #8: Godrevy – the rock-pooling beach
Meet the beach with plenty of non-beachy bits. Godrevy will more than cater to your sandy desires, but also offers a fascinating terrain of craggy rocks, mini canyons and… rock pools. Yes, this is the perfect place for kids (and big kids) to lean over limpid waters painted with purple, lime green and yellow seaweed and search for anemones, crabs, sea snails and small fish. Meanwhile, when you finally look up to stretch your neck, famous Godrevy lighthouse looms right over you. Awesome. Bear in mind, rock pooling is only going to happen at mid-to-low tide. There’s plenty of parking and the access (down some rickety steps) is acceptable. Snacking options include an ice cream van and a café at the Godrevy National Trust Car Park.
Best beaches in Cornwall #9: Porthcurno, Porthgwarra and Pedn Vounder – the trio of beaches
It’s probably against some law of the internet to put three beaches under one listicle item, but we just couldn’t resist. Because in a relatively short stretch of the north coast near Land’s End, you will find everything that’s magical about the Cornish coast in a trio of legendary destinations. World-famous Porthcurno is the family hotspot flanked by magnificent towering cliffs. Porthgwarra is a gorgeous little slither of a cove loved by families. Pedn Vounder, meanwhile, has to be seen to be believed: it’s like some lost Greek beach washed up on the coast of Cornwall. Porthcurno and Porthgawarra have decent-enough access and food and drink options; Pedn Vounder is a tricky climbdown with nothing but beautiful beach and sea on offer.
Best beaches in Cornwall #10 –Holywell Bay: the dog friendly beach
For all its appeal, Newquay can get crowded. So some people are genuinely surprised at the wild and romantic expanse of nearby Holywell Bay. There’s something for everyone here – and room for them too – from body boarders and beach walkers to kids paddling in the waves. The towering dunes are also a gorgeous spot to watch the sun go down. But what really makes Holywell Bay earn a spot on our best beaches in Cornwall list is that it’s both spectacular and welcomes dogs all year round.
Bear in mind, Cornish beaches can get very busy and the car parks often fill up. To guarantee a spot, arrive early; or even better take public transport. Please also park responsibly, for the benefit of locals and fellow visitors.
Are you planning a trip to Cornwall’s legendary beaches? Why not make Penzance a base for your excursions. Almost every one of our beaches is 40 minutes or less from the famous town that offers chic and comfy places to stay, world-class dining, atmospheric pubs, antique and curio shopping, and plenty to keep the kids entertained. Find out more at lovepenzance.co.uk