Cornwall Bucket List 2021: 21 must-have experiences to tick off this spring and summer

One of the upsides of the Covid-19 pandemic is rediscovering the treasures that are on your doorstep, like staying in a holiday cottage in Cornwall. Yes, we all miss the excitement of zipping off to the airport and flying somewhere new, but Cornwall has to be one of the most stunningly beautiful and culturally rich places in the world – and it really is just down the road. Here, we have rounded up the best things to do, places to go and food to savour – welcome to Cornish Traditional Cottages’ Cornwall Bucket List 2021 – our pick of 21 must-have experiences. Let us know how many you tick off while staying in one of our beautiful holiday cottages!

(Covid-19 measures may mean some venues may not be open – please call ahead before planning your day out.)

1. Get wet and wild while learning to surf 

There’s no experience quite like surfing: whether you’re splashing about in the white water on a bodyboard with the kids or perfecting your pop-up technique out in the bigger rollers, being borne along by waves is sublime. Factor in the pleasure of stunning scenery, clear waters and the thrill of seeing a range of sea life, and you are not only learning a new sport and getting a great workout but also practising the art of being present. If you’re worried about being cold, trust us: the latest wetsuits will keep you toasty. You won’t be far from a surf school and board hire if you’re staying in one of our holidays cottages on the Cornish coast: book in for private or group lessons.

2. Soak up myth and mystery at Tintagel

The legends of the knights, round tables and wizards start here. Perched on Cornwall’s rugged north coast, Tintagel has for centuries been associated with the legend of King Arthur – and you can come face to face with a dramatic life-size sculpture of the fabled monarch before heading down to the beach to find Merlin’s Cave. Soak up the natural beauty of this dramatic headland – it is easy to see why this wild and weather-battered spot has inspired poets, artists and dreamers. Imagine life here centuries ago when you’re exploring the remains of the 13th-century castle, then head to the cafe for a very modern cream tea.

3. Find yourself at the Lost Gardens of Heligan

Spring usually arrives at Heligan in February, when the garden’s stunning candy-floss pink magnolias burst into life after a long winter’s slumber. But this is no ordinary garden – Heligan is the original ‘secret’ garden, with an intriguing past that offers a heady mix of mystery with its history. Thirty years ago, Heligan’s gardens lay dormant. It was only the chance discovery of a door in the ruins that led to the restoration of this once great estate. Now, Europe’s largest garden restoration is spread over 200 acres and is a paradise for little explorers and wildlife, plant and garden lovers.

4. While away a rainy day at Bodmin Jail

We’re not going to lie – Cornwall isn't always sunny, but there are some great rainy-day offerings. Bodmin Jail provides a seriously chilling walkthrough of one of the darker sides of Cornish history – literally. You can take a ‘Dark Walk’ through the historic building, which comes complete with state-of-the-art special effects and lighting, bringing to grim life the trials and tribulations of its unfortunate inmates.

5. Have a heavenly day out at Eden

The Eden Project really is like something from another world. Gigantic biomes mushroom from a huge former claypit, home to a mind-boggling variety of tropical and mediterranean plants. There are gardens and woodlands to explore and plenty of activities for all ages. As living sustainably and being at one with nature grows in importance, this is a wonderful and important learning experience for children and adults alike.

6. Drink in the view at Kynance Cove

Cornwall’s coastal views are guaranteed to blow your socks off even on a wet, windy winter’s day, and the jewel in its crown is the scene that greets you at Kynance Cove on the Lizard. The vantage point from the top of the cliffs is idyllic – the sea is deep azure, turning turquoise in the shallows, with perfect, light golden sand. Scramble down the cliff path and land on the beach, where there is space to set up for the day – but beware of the tides. Marvel at the rock stacks and have a dip in the crystalline waters – you could be in the Caribbean. There are great walks around the cliffs, too.

7. Look for fairies at St Nectan’s Glen

Waterfalls, fairy stacks, ethereal light and green woodlands make St Nectan’s Glen near Tintagel a delightful day out. Myth and legend swirl around this beauty spot and it is said that the flowing waters have healing properties and are watched over by fairies. Whatever your spiritual leanings, it is a tranquil, calm and peaceful place, with beautiful walks – the perfect place to rejuvenate your soul after life in lockdown.

8. Slurp down Cornish oysters in Padstow 

Shellfish is a Cornish speciality and no trip to Cornwall is complete without treating yourself to some oysters and a glass of something cold. Porthilly, a little village just down from Rock, is renowned for its sweet, fresh oysters, mussels and clams, grown and purified by Porthilly Shellfish, who supply most of the local eateries. Padstow is literally your oyster when it comes to fish restaurants – Rick Stein reigns supreme, but there are other establishments available. Try Barnaby’s on Duke Street for sharing platters, bold flavours and an intimate, relaxed feel.

9. Forget doughnut rides – take the family on a Super SUP

Stand-up paddle boarding has taken the UK by storm and now you can paddle, surf and chill with your whole family or a group of friends on a super-sized inflatable SUP. These monster paddle boards are a hybrid of board and raft and the perfect way to spend an exhilarating couple of hours in the water, taking in views of Cornwall’s beautiful coastline. Head to Newquay Activity Centre for more information on lessons and tours and read our paddleboarding blog for more locations.

10. Walk across the causeway to St Michael’s Mount

For epic scenery that appears to come straight out of a fairytale, don’t miss St Michael’s Mount. When the tide is out, you can walk across the sand to the tiny island and climb up the winding path to explore the medieval castle and church. Roam around the gardens that precariously cling to the island’s cliff edges and marvel at the magical view. Stop off for a cream tea at the little cafe in the harbour before taking the short ferry ride across the causeway back to the mainland.

11. Tuck into a hedgehog ice cream at Chapel Porth

There are many, many places to eat a delicious ice cream in Cornwall, but the one served up at Chapel Porth Beach Cafe near St Agnes is probably the most fun. Known as ‘the Hog’, generous scoops of vanilla ice cream and clotted cream are rolled in caramelised nuts until it resembles a hedgehog, delighting kids and adults alike. The cafe also serves other yummy lunch fare such as bacon-and-mushroom baguettes. Take your hedgehog off to the beach or for a turn around the cliffs and enjoy. If you come in summer, you can even join in the World Bellyboard Championships, where traditional wooden boards are ridden in the surf.

12. Cycle the Camel trail…

Cornwall’s go-to destination for cyclists is the Camel Trail – and for good reason. Flat and with plenty of places to stop en route to hire bikes, rest and refuel, it’s a popular option for families and serious cyclists alike. It provides 18 miles of access to the beautiful Cornish countryside along a disused railway line between Wenfordbridge, Bodmin, Wadebridge and Padstow.

13. …then taste some local sparkling wines at Camel Valley

The Lindo family have been making wine at Camel Valley since 1989 and their sparkling wines are the jewel in their crown, winning awards and accolades to rival that of France’s Champagne region. You can tour the vineyards or just sit and simply sip a glass of wine on the terrace and enjoy the wonderful view. Don’t forget to buy a bottle or two to enjoy back at your holiday cottage. If gin is more your thing, check out our blog on tastings here.

14. Catch a show at the Minack Theatre

The Minack is a sight to behold, whether you are there to see a show or just take in the dramatic location and fabulous views. This open-air theatre edges right onto a cliff, with the Atlantic as its ever-changing backdrop. With its breathtaking scenery, it pulls off its magical role with aplomb.

15. Soak up Cornish history at Men-An-Tol

If you like your Cornwall with a side of ancient history, head to Men-an-Tol on Penwith Moor, near Madron. As soon as you arrive, it’s clear you’re in an ancient landscape – there’s a neolithic enclosure on the hillside, bronze-age barrow burials and the Boskednan Nine Maidens stone circle nearby. The name means ‘stone with a hole’ in Cornish and the site is probably about 4,000 years old. Just think about what these stones have seen: the bronze age, the arrival and departure of the Romans, the rise and fall of local leaders. But it’s the stones’ connection to ordinary people’s lives that make it fascinating. The myths that have hung around say that if you pass your baby through the stone, you’ll protect them from illness.

16. Take a relaxing ferry to Cawsand

OK, this is not strictly Cornwall because your journey starts in Plymouth, but this is a lovely little ferry trip that’s long enough to take in the sights but short enough to ensure the children don’t get bored. It also gives access to Cornwall’s forgotten corner: the magnificent Rame peninsula. Catch the ferry from the Barbican over to Cawsand, watching out for sea life, big cruisers and even the odd submarine in Plymouth Sound. Cawsand and its neighbour, Kingsand, are delightful little fishing villages, full of winding lanes, pastel cottages and decent pubs. Picnic on the beach if it’s sunny or head up to the Devonport Inn for delicious food and drinks.

17. Discover Poldark country

You can’t mention Cornwall now without bringing up the ‘Poldark effect’. Since the BBC reincarnated its popular 1970s drama series, Cornwall has seen a huge increase in visitors and Penzance, along with the ever popular St Ives, has become a base to explore Poldark country at its best. Your first port of call is Porthgwarra, the cove where actor Aidan Turner took a semi-naked dip in the sea in the first series. There’s a tiny cafe nearby where you can take a break if you find yourself a bit breathless with such goings on. Next, visit Levant Mine, the Unesco world heritage site that poses as Poldark’s fictional Tresiders Rolling Mill. Learn all about how Cornish miners extracted copper by candlelight before treating yourself to a stroll to take in all those views at sunset.

18. Go wild swimming in a sea pool

Cold water swimming has taken the UK by storm and Cornwall has an abundance of beautiful coastal swimming pools in which to swim safely when the waves are too rough. From little-known rock pools to beautiful art deco lidos, there’s a pool to suit you. Children will love the Mousehole tidal pool – it only comes up to a grown-up’s knees and is a lovely, safe spot for paddling and splashing around. Serious swimmers will love Bude Sea Pool and Penzance’s Jubilee Lido (which is now geothermically heated). See if you can find the tidal pool, hidden in the rocks on the far side of Chapel Rock on Perranporth beach – an idyllic summer spot. Read our blog about wild swimming in Cornwall here.

19. Drink rum cocktails like a Cornish pirate

Polzeath’s best-kept secret is the al fresco Rum Bar, carved out of the rocks behind beach restaurant Surfside. Head there for a huge selection of that most diverse, irreverent and rambunctious of spirits and number one pirate tipple: rum! Perfect for a post-dinner cocktail after a long day in the surf.

20. Roam the South West Coast Path

There is no better way to see Cornwall’s stunning coastline than by tramping the UK’s longest and best-loved national trail. Drink in nature, get up close and personal with the elements, relax and switch off from day-to-day life. Whether you’re looking for an easy circular walk with a pub at the end, a long stretch to hike or a place for a simple run, the South West Coast Path has it all.

21. Indulge in a feast night at the Hidden Hut

Find your foodie kindred spirits at the Hidden Hut, a snack stand that is one of the hottest places to eat in Cornwall. Endorsed by Rick Stein and his chef son, Jack, this eatery can be found tucked away along the South West Coast Path near Portscatho on the remote Roseland Peninsula. It serves fresh seasonal lunches and snacks from its outdoor beach kitchen and opens on selected summer evenings to host open-air feast nights. Previous feasts have included lobster and chips, slow-roasted spring lamb, wood-fired seafood paella, mackerel grill and sticky ribs. ‘Yum, yum in my tum’ as happy customer Dawn French says. If it’s good enough for Dawn French, it’s good enough for us.