The Lizard Peninsula is one of the several large chunks of Cornwall that stick out like knuckles and resemble islands in their own right. Only they’re attached to the mainland. That’s what a peninsula is…
The Lizard juts out aggressively from the mainland on its eastern side, reaching straight down into the Atlantic from the Helford estuary. It then curves more gently out to the west to join the broad sweep of Mount’s Bay (Marazion and St Michael’s Mount) at about the same latitude as the cleft of the river. In between there are inlets, beaches and cliffs, sand and surf. And many things of interest to visit.
This area is, in a sense, the least developed part of South Cornwall. It is also the most southerly point in England, which can be seen from the semi-tropical flora that grows here in abundance. The charm of the area, so typically rural Cornwall, is to be found in its superb coastline with its contrasts between the peace of the Helford River, the imposingly rugged east coast, and the magic of the beaches all around. At Lizard Point, right on the very tip, it can feel like being on the prow of a ship that is cutting through the Atlantic rollers, white horses smashing at the rocks below.
Helston is the closest town to The Lizard and lies on the A394 which connects Falmouth to Penzance. We are right down near the tip of Cornwall here, so road links are via the A30 or A39. From Helston, the villages of the peninsula are well served by smaller roads. The nearest railway station is Redruth, which is a mainline station. Regular bus services run all the way to the tip of the Lizard from Redruth, Camborne or Truro. The nearest airport is, of course, Newquay International.
There is quite a bit of evidence of early habitation, with several burial mounds and megaliths like Crousa Common Round Barrow, and the Lizard Cornish Cross on the way to Church Cove. The north-eastern bit of the peninsula is known as the Meneage, from the Cornish Menaghek (land of the monks). This can be observed in the many churches and chapels of Celtic saints – St Mawgan (Mauganus), St Martin, St Manacca and most strikingly St Keverne (Akeveranus).
The Lizard enjoys the sub-tropical climate of west Cornwall but is high and exposed, so the bigger exotic flora is supplanted by a plethora of rare wild flowers and plants. The beaches all face south-ish, so they enjoy a very un-British warmth and all day sun. For all the climate data for Cornwall, why not check out our weather page, here.
The many villages of The Lizard Peninsula offer an almost incomprehensible variety of eating experiences but of course the seafood is exceptional as is the atmosphere of the pubs and restaurants with their piratical smuggling paraphernalia. Eateries of note include the Halzephron Inn, Polpeor Café, Smuggler’s Fish and Chips, The Witchball and Coast Coffee Bar and Bistro.
Pubs, mainly. For a more nightclub kind of nightlife, you’d have to venture off The Lizard and head to Redruth, Camborne, or Truro. Mind you, with the Cornish pub-goers’ propensity for revelry, you probably won’t be bored in the local! Try the three hundred year old Cadgwith Cove Inn.
Special Things to Do and Visit
Lizard village is the most southerly on the British mainland. That makes it worth a visit if for no other reason, but it’s an exceptionally lovely and picturesque place, to boot.
The lighthouse on Lizard Point is the only lighthouse in Cornwall the public can ascend, right up into the glasshouse-like top section. It also has a Heritage Centre in the old engine room. This provides hands-on exhibits, and you can even blow the foghorn! The lighthouse tour is fascinating for all ages, too.
Yes, plural! The treacherous nature of the area has made for an unusual amount of lifeboat activity, the remains of which can be visited if that’s your thing.
The first lifeboat station built 1859 was at Polpeor. Another was later installed at Church Cove to the east but closed again in 1899. A Cadgwith station was equipped in 1867, and both of them continued to operate until the early 1960’s when the Kilcobben Cove station was commissioned, and that one was updated to a modern design in 1987.
A number of boats have served these stations over the years, from the original £135 six-oared, 30ft (9m) Anna Maria in 1859 to the current £2.7m twin-engined 53ft (16m) Tamar class lifeboat, Rose.
It’s just a hut on a hill, but the Marconi Centre at Poldhu Cove exhibits the fascinating historical advances made in trans-Atlantic radio communication. Even if you’re not a technology geek, it’s well worth a visit. Kids love to do Morse Code, even now!
St Winwaloe Church
St Winwaloe Church is located right next to the beach at Church Cove, Gunwalloe. It became known as the Church of Storms because erosion, over the centuries, has many times necessitated a shoring up of the building with granite to stop it from being undercut by waves from Dollar Cove on the other side. An ancient and mysterious church, it has a 16th-century screen made of timber from a wrecked Portuguese ship.
Trebah Gardens tumble down to a private beach with a small café, on paths surrounded by giant lilies, tree ferns and bamboo. Giant rhubarb and native wildflowers complete the tropical feel.
For a less organised horticultural adventure, the very hedgerows and meadows of the coast path are festooned with wildflowers. Foxgloves, campion and sea thrift are everywhere, with some rare and unusual species making an appearance, too. Buy a copy of “Wild Flowers Of The Lizard” before you go out!
The Eden Project is not far from The Lizard and you simply must go at least once to see its indoor rainforest and other marvellous micro-climates.
Deceptively challenging Praa Sands Golf and Country Club, superb approach course Helston Golf and Leisure, and the clifftop Mullion Golf Club reputed to be the best in Cornwall – The Lizard is a golfer’s paradise!
If you want to catch your supper, the Lizard has an exceptional number of good fishing spots, but the rocky coast and rough seas can make it somewhat challenging. The flat beaches are much safer, but even there strong currents are a danger. Luckily, there are boat fishing trips to make life a bit easier, from Helford, Cadgwith or Mullion. Do visit The Last Stop tackle shop for all your fishing needs – it’s the most southerly fishing shop in the UK.
The harbours of The Lizard offer sea safaris and other boat trips around this most spectacular Cornish coastline. Mullion would be a good place to start.
The south coast of Cornwall doesn’t often catch the epic Atlantic swells, but when it does the mighty Porthleven is the place the pro’s all head for. Further east from its intimidating barrels are Porthleven Beach and Loe Bar, which can both make for a beach break on their day. Church Cove can make some playful surf too, as can Poldhu. Polurian Bay is the last of the spots on this stretch, as we disappear round the corner from Mullion and it’s all cliffs until the sheltered Kynance. There is a Surf School at Kennack Sands – if you are swell hunting on the other side of the headland, they may be able to help.
The South West Coast Path runs around The Lizard and a network of inland paths makes it easy to connect up the two ends of this route. For the long haul, The Lizard to lovely Coverack is a challenging ten miler (16km), or in the other direction Mullion is just under seven miles (11km). Stroll along the thick harbour walls at Mullion Cove, surrounded by tall, dramatic stacks of black volcanic rock.
From west to east, the notable beaches of The Lizard Peninsula are as follows:
Unspoilt and quiet, though mostly rocky.
A picture paints a thousand words…
A superb and popular beach that’s part of the Prussia Cove complex
Wide and sandy
A huge beach, popular with surfers, but with strong currents.
The go-to for the hardcore surfer (not on this day).
The sand and shingle beach at Loe Bar forms Cornwall’s largest lake (Loe Pool) by blocking the opening to the sea. The surrounding land is owned by the National Trust. You can take the 6 mile (10km) walk around the lake or just relax on the beach. It’s not safe to go in the water here because of dangerous undercurrents and the steeply shelving shoreline, but the kids will love hunting through the pebbles for varying colours and sizes.
Gunwalloe (Fishing/Dollar Cove and Church Cove)
A quieter family and watersports beach.
Caerthillian Cove is a rocky inlet, mainly popular with surfers.
A pebble beach below cliffs, although sand is exposed at low water. Usually a quiet beach as there is no immediate car parking.
This is the most glorious place, beautiful in every way, with a good café and a car park, but so busy in summer that perhaps it is best seen at odd hours or out of season. Or you can walk right by it on the SWCP and admire from afar! Look out for the Devils Letterbox. It’s on the north (shoreward) side of Asparagus Island – a cave crack like a blowhole, sucking at the air as the waves roll in below.
There’s a disused Victorian lifeboat station.
Housel Bay Beach
One of many tiny, rocky coves but made somewhat more accessible by the presence of the current Lizard lifeboat station.
Not to be mistaken for the larger Church Cove at Gunwalloe, Church Cove The Lizard is at the other end of stunning Church Cove Road from Lizard Village. It’s tiny but rather endearing, and great for swimming, fishing or kayaking.
Cadgwith Beach is in fact two beaches of shingle, the northern one home to the fishing boats of the village and the southern one more popular for sun and swimming.
Great for rock-pooling and snorkelling/diving.
Another beautiful harbour and beach.
Then we are at Helford Passage which is generally regarded to be the north-eastern end of the peninsula. Most of these beaches have parking nearby – the ones that don’t are Stackhouse, Polurian, Piskies, Loe Bar, Kenneggy, Housel Bay and Gillan Harbour.
Most of the beaches on The Lizard are dog-friendly, open to our canine friends all the year round, so it’s easier to concentrate on the ones that do have restrictions. Cadgwith north, Gunwalloe Church Cove, Housel Bay, Lizard Church Cove, Kennack Sands, Kynance Cove, Poldhu and Polurian, as well as the long beach of Porthleven/Loe Bar – these all have seasonal dog restrictions, with no furry frolicking from Easter to October. Gunwalloe Fishing Cove, just to be clear, has no restrictions, just like another fourteen or so beaches on The Lizard Peninsula. None of the beaches is closed to canines out of high season.
Many of the beaches on the west side of The Lizard, including Praa Sands, Porthleven/Loe Bar and Gunwalloe, can have strong currents and are not safe for ill-considered bathing. There are lots of beaches with lifeguard cover, however, and good facilities for families. Out of the twenty or so, there are only a few where children need to stay out of the water.
We have self-catering holiday cottages on The Lizard as well in as the surrounding area.
Self-catering in Cornwall has never been so accessible! Check out our Cornwall Guide to discover more about what’s on, where to eat, what to visit and things to do on The Lizard, all from your Cornish cottage.