cornwall, england guide

today’s city guide column is taking a hop across the pond to cornwall– a beautiful area in southwestern england with picturesque beaches, castles, and historical sites oozing character and charm. in addition to these great spots, writer, editor, and pasties and cream blogger ismay atkins will be taking us on a tour of great places to shop, eat, and visit when you’re in town. if you’re lucky enough to be in this lovely part of the country, i hope you’ll take ismay’s guide with you. thanks so much to ismay for sharing her local favorites! [illustration above by julia rothman]

CLICK HERE for the full guide after the jump!

An invigorating landscape of dramatic cliffs, primitive moorland and exotic beaches (on the right day!), Cornwall has been exerting an inexorable pull on creative types for some time – most famously, on the artists who came to the art colonies of Penzance and St Ives in the early 20th century to paint in the vivid light of the far west.

I’m not a painter or a sculptor, but the same forces of attraction seem to apply. I grew up in a village in Cornwall, moved away – to London, Mexico, Buenos Aires, Havana, Birmingham (not in that order) – and moved back a few years ago. A timely commission to write the newTime Out Guide to Cornwall, out April 2010, gave me the chance to explore all corners of the county with new eyes.

Hundreds of miles from the capital, and all but surrounded by sea, Cornwall has the feel of a country apart – and with that seems to come an independence of spirit and a deep well of creativity. This guide to shops, cafes, markets, artists and places to stay is a cherry-picked selection of my favourites – it is in no way intended to be exhaustive. Cornwall is a pretty large, long county and I just had to stop myself somewhere. So this is my A list if you like – but I look forward to reading your tips in the comments below.

I haven’t covered beaches as there are simply too many to even make a dent in here, but the following are all guaranteed to burn an image on your retina (in a good way): Kynance Cove, Gwithian, Bedruthan Steps, Sennen, Porthminster, Watergate Bay…


A bijou seaside town with some of the best beaches in Cornwall and a famously clear light, favoured by the likes of sculptor Barbara Hepworth, naïve painter Alfred Wallis and Ben Nicholson in the 20th century.

Beaten Green

The designer behind this vintage design boutique clearly has a keen eye for cool – she sifts through local household auctions for pieces and breaths new life into them. There are pastel-coloured plate cabinets, retro-fabric doctors’ beds and quirkily upholstered armchairs. (More info here)

Blas Burgerworks

Absolutely mini gourmet burger restaurant with recycled furniture and ever-charming service – oh, and great burgers made with local freerange beef. (More info here)

Cath Kidston

OK, I know it’s a chain – a really quite substantial chain – but no matter how often I see this designer’s nostalgic fabrics, bags and accessories, they still make me go very weak at the wallet.

Moomaid of Zennor

Artisanal ice-cream is big in Cornwall. This newcomer has a cute creamy-toned boutique parlour on the front in St Ives.

Porthminster Beach Cafe

Classy beachside dining and a terrace overlooking the St Ives Bay.

Scarlet Wines

About a 10-minute drive out of St Ives, this stylish speciality wine shop-cum-deli has recently grown a chic café-tapas bar alongside. Great coffee, deep-red walls, tapas and speciality beers. Bonus: Beaten Green (see above) vintage shop is next door.

Tate St Ives

The heavyweight of the Cornish art scene, and sister to the Tates in London and Liverpool, the Tate St Ives is housed in a striking curved building a few metres from the soft, white sands of Porthmeor Beach. Inspiring exhibits, absorbing art & design shop and sleek café with sea views.


Boutique Retreats

Beautifully designed self-contained properties in the impossibly charming harbour village of Mousehole – an ideal hotel-apart crossover.

The Exchange

Contemporary art gallery in Penzance, with a small but interesting art & design shop. Check out the blue-green light installation on the curved exterior wall at night.

Jelbert’s Ices

New Road, Newlyn, no phone

For pure nostalgia and a taste of Cornwall before it got so cool, try old-school Jelbert’s Ices in Newlyn, who have been handmaking vanilla ice-cream (no other flavours!) on these premises for over 50 years.

Jessica Cooper

My favourite West Cornwall artist. Cooper’s beautifully minimalist lines and colours are instantly evocative; she shows at Badcocks in Newlyn and Beyond the Sea in Padstow, among others. If you can’t stretch to a painting, settle for a mug designed by her, sold in the Tate in St Ives.

Jubilee Pool

1930s cubist lido in cool blues and whites, right on the front in Penzance and jutting elegantly into Mount’s Bay. Go on a hot day – the temperatures are very much au naturel. Budding photogs should clear their memory card before visiting.


Thanks to a longstanding art school – which grew into the University College Falmouth, specialising in art, design and media – Falmouth is one of Cornwall’s artiest enclaves. And it shows in the eclectic bars, cafés and vintage shops. And now seafood master Rick Stein just opened a posh fish & chip shop on the front…

Gylly Café

Hip modern bar-restaurant on Gyllyngvase Beach – gourmet pub food and all mains under £10. Wraparound terrace looking out to sea.

The Jam

Boho record and book shop on the Old High Street. Drop by for a coffee on a beaten-up chesterfield sofa and a browse through the tightly curated stock of design bibles, DVDs and music.

Falmouth Town House

Falmouth’s hottest hotel occupies a handsome townhouse, and features modernist design (Jacob Jenson phones, vintage-look column radiators), updated furniture pieces (check out the fantastic reupholstered canary-yellow armchair) and all-important Korres toiletries in the bathroom. Trendy bar downstairs.

Miss Peapods

Shabby chic café in Penryn (near Falmouth) sporting recycled furniture and vintage crockery, calming estuary views from the large terrace and a strong eco agenda.

Two Little Birds

Vintage threads and trinkets, including handmade doll-creature-aliens by Ruby Ruth Designs which are weird and irresistible in equal measures.


Lovelane Caravans

Ex lingerie designer Anna painstakingly restores and decorates original vintage caravans for this cute campsite on Roskilly’s dairy farm (of super-creamy Cornish ice-cream fame) deep in the countryside. Think dainty period crockery with gold rims, antique Teasmaid tea machines and antique lace tablecloths. (More here)


Dwelling House

Delectable little tea shop in Fowey serving come-hither cupcakes (some with lavender sprig detail and lilac icing – too much prettiness to cope with), slabs of moist cake and 25 types of fine leaf tea served with ceremony on flowery vintage tea plates.


The world’s biggest greenhouse is a wonderland of tropical greenery, jungle and exotic plants –  and it’s Cornwall’s biggest visitor attraction bar none. Slick eco-oriented shop – love these kiwi-coloured bamboo salad servers. []


Tiny retro emporium of mid-century furniture in Lostwithiel; those not shopping for big pieces can always sate retro urges with a coloured glass vase. Grab lunch from Bellamama deli just up the road.

Lanhydrock House

A grand English country mansion demonstrating the ridiculous excess of Victorian design: dream-like grounds, oversized fireplaces and ostentatious banqueting rooms.

The View

Minimalist seafood restaurant on a cliff with the mother of all sea views.


The attic room at this boutique B&B in the sweet village of Kingsand might be the most romantic room in Cornwall, with a French antique bed, a skylight looking up at the stars and the sound of the waves on the shore outside.


EKO Sense

Only available online but inspired by this corner of England, EKO has lovely earthy designs in natural tones inspired by the Land’s End Peninsula.

Fat Hen

Gourmet wild food weekends in the far west of the country, with a gorgeous farmhouse decorated with wild flowers as HQ. Think hedgerow martinis and mackerel ceviche wrapped in wild black mustard leaves – it all tastes amazing, and all the better for having foraged it yourself.

Gurnard’s Head

Country-chic gastropub with an atmospherically remote location between the gorse-covered moors of West Cornwall and the swirling Atlantic ocean. Superb, locally sourced food.

Poets Café

The cutest café tucked away behind a listed manor house – just a few tables with spotty blue tablecloths, wild flowers in vases and old-time French music on the speakers. Cream teas, cakes and lunches.



Playful retro diner décor and trad British cuisine with a twist in the heart of Padstow. Good to see golden oldies like Welsh rarebit, Sunday roast lunch and ploughmans looking so hip.

Boscastle House

Boutique B&B in Boscastle, near Tintagel, run by a charming young couple who have overhauled this old hotel to create a stylish retreat.


Jamie Oliver is a big brand now but still there’s everything to love about this restaurant on the beach at Watergate Bay, near Newquay – his local food and drink sourcing is impeccable, the pink-splattered décor upbeat and his staffing policies (taking on 15 young people as apprentices every year) ever admirable.

The Scarlet

One of the most talked about eco hotels to open in the past few years in the UK (and further afield), the Scarlet genuinely trades in luxury with a conscience. The design is tirelessly creative and the clifftop location gob-smacking. Log-fired hot tubs the colour of red nail polish stand on the cliff, and there’s a reed-cleaned chemical-free outdoor pool and a dreamy Ayurvedic spa.

Hooper & Shaw

Small Cornish design shop in Port Isaac – best buys are the silk-screen printed posters with slogans apt for these economic times: ‘One day we will look back and laugh’, ‘Keep Calm & Carry On’, ‘Grow your own’.

Rick Stein

Super-chef Rick Stein is all over Padstow. My choice Stein spots are: the Cornish Arms traditional pub in the pretty nearby village of St Merryn; the ritzy Seafood Restaurant (in the upper echelons of Cornish restaurants); and his fish & chip shop (eat in & takeaway). Don’t miss a tasting of his Chalky’s beers (made with the local brewery, Sharp’s) – a genuinely characterful brew.

Treann House

Impeccably decorated boutique B&B in Padstow. My favourite room is the Estuary Room, which has watery views and white deco armchairs. Gloss-black digi radios and ipod docks in all rooms.


Fay Page

Covetable silver jewellery hand made on the Isles of Scilly, cast in silver and gold from shells found on the islands’ beaches. The little silver cowrie shell is my favourite. Available in boutiques around Cornwall and online.

  1. Tanya says:

    Sounds majestic

  2. chika says:

    oh i was visiting cornwall almost *exactly* a year ago now… a quaint English countryside with some amazing scenic roads overseeing the sea. would love to go back sometime, and now i know where (more) to look for. thanks so much for sharing!

  3. Cornwall is a lovely and charming place. I absolutely love it!

  4. Seeing pieces like this makes me wish I was an illustrator!

  5. This post could not have come at a better time… I am planning my first trip to Cornwall as we speak…
    I will be sure to consult this informative guide on my trip!

  6. sal says:

    I adore Cornwall for its picturesque scenery and clotted cream! Mmmm…my favourite~ my bf’s parents live in Cornwall so we go there quite often.

  7. Karen says:

    I went to Cornwall last summer. I am happy to report that we made it to a few of these places. I loved how every type of food was deemed Cornish— Cornish ice cream, Cornish breakfast, Cornish pasties etc. As far as touristy locations… my favorites include St. Michael’s Mount (cool castle on a tiny island in the middle of a large bay) and the many many many cliffside beaches. JUST GORGEOUS! Also, two Americans driving down the wrong side of the narrow hedge-lined country roads was like something out of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.

  8. Louise Owens says:

    Cornwall is the most magical relaxed place I know. I go every year with my fiance and we love it more and more each time we go. We especially love Sam’s in Fowey, amazing seafood.

  9. Katherine says:

    Spent our honeymoon in Cornwall last May/June, it was fabulous. We spent two nights in a little village near Penzance called Perranuthnoe which has an amazing restaurant called the Victoria Inn, and a gallery and a craft shop. I’d second the Dwelling House in Fowey, also try Pinky Murphys. There’s a lovely little pottery called White Doll Arts in Fowey too.

    Going to save this for a return trip!

  10. MamaShift says:

    When we finish our house in Brittany and have a bit of cash around again, I would love to take the ferry over; this guide is the perfect companion!

  11. Kyleigh says:

    The first link doesn’t work! (think it’s and not com)

    Thanks for a lovely Cornish guide, I’m off to Penzance in a few weeks, so very handy!

  12. Kalyn says:

    Thank you for this! I just moved to England with my husband a few months ago and I’ve been busy planning fun trips around the country. This is so helpful, and I can’t wait to visit this magical place!

  13. Jessy says:

    How nice to see a write up about my homeland!! I live in beautiful Falmouth, ’tis anscom’ at the moment. A few other places worth noting around here is Potager Gardens at nearby Constantine, a gem of a garden with greenhouse cafe & Willie Dynamites diner in Falmouth, best breakfasts!

  14. Lucy says:

    Thank you for this post! I spent all of my childhood holiday on Gyllynvase beach in Falmouth – my grandma had a beautiful old house which overlooked the beach and had a little pathway that went directly down to it – whats weird is that yesterday I was daydreaming about my childhood memories of rock-pooling and playing on that beach and then I saw this post! Wonderful, it made my day – thanks again xx

  15. Lara says:

    Hurray! I grew up in Cornwall and it really is stunning. I go back there very often – even honeymooned there. Trewithen Restaurant in antiques hot-spot, Lostwithiel, is worth visiting too. Agree with Katherine – White Doll Arts in Fowey is amazing.

  16. Mary says:

    What a glorious treat to be transplanted to Cornwall. Great writing and wonderful choices. You brightened my day!

  17. Ismay says:

    Thanks for the extra tips. I keep hearing about Potager Gardens nr Constantine – and am planning a trip super soon!

  18. Danz says:

    I live in penryn in the new build by miss peapods and I love it! Great music and CAKE! I love A-dept on ‘high street’ (not THE high street) it’s sooo cute and high street has thrift shops, cute independent boutiques and cafes!

  19. Lauren says:

    I grew up in Falmouth (now living in Praa Sands) and its an amazing place to meet artistic, creative and open minded people. The fantastic cocktail bar ‘Eight’ on Webber Street is known to be one of the best in Cornwall thanks to an amazing cocktail list and highly trained staff. Give it a try.


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