There’s a reason why families return year in, year out to Cornwall. With a dramatic, rugged coastline generously sprinkled with sandy beaches and turquoise waters, on a warm summer’s day Cornwall could easily be mistaken for a stretch of the Mediterranean.
Pictured: St Ives. Photograph by Benjamin Elliott
Visitors to Cornwall are spoilt for choice with accommodation options and we’ve seen a boom in family-focused hotels and self-catering cottages in recent years. Throw in a flourishing arts scene and plenty of visitor attractions – not to mention the cream teas and Cornish pasties – and you have the perfect family destination.
If you’re considering dipping your toes into Cornish waters this summer, here are some of our highlights.
1. Eden Project
Dubbed the Eighth Wonder of the World, its iconic biomes stretch across the site of a former clay mine and nurture all sorts of exotic plants. The Eden Project is a stunning sight and kids of all ages will be happily absorbed for a day exploring the environments inside, while learning about eco-systems and conservation.
The Rainforest biome houses the world’s largest indoor rainforest and can be viewed by exploring the tree top walk, a fun adventure across wobbly bridges. In the slightly smaller Mediterranean dome, you can explore plants from South Africa and Australia as well as the Mediterranean – and see if you can find the wooden tractor! Settle down in the citrus grove and let little legs rest during a free storytelling session.
On a practical note, toilets across the site have unisex changing facilities – and the cafés serve award-winning, diverse, delicious food options for adults and kids. Remember to bring a refillable water bottle and wear layers, as temperatures in the domes can reach up to 35 degrees Celsius.
You’d be hard pushed to find one forgotten family-friendly detail at this luxury hotel. The Bedruthan’s contemporary yet cosy interiors have a Scandi note, dotted with fun colour details, creating a real haven.
Enjoy a relaxed family breakfast in the Wild Café, then borrow an all-terrain buggy and spend the day exploring the beach below. Or stay within the hotel’s grounds and take a splash in the indoor and outdoor pools, then while away an hour in the games room. Ravenous little ones can enjoy a high tea back at the cafe and when they’re safely tucked up in bed there’s an adult-only restaurant and bar to savour. The Bedruthan offers both a babysitting service and an OFSTED registered creche to give parents as much of a break as the kids. Make use of a creche session to experience the spa’s signature sensory garden experience. The peace and quiet, coupled with some breathtaking ocean views, will provide precious moments to reflect and reset.
3. Fish and chips in Padstow
With an abundance of fresh seafood, fish and chips is a must-do in Cornwall. It’s also a quick, easy and reasonably priced lunch or dinner option when you have a hungry family to refuel. Padstow is a great place in which to enjoy this very British meal along with a stunning view. There are decent chippies galore, including Rick Stein’s Fish and Chips, which is rated by both tourists and locals. You may need to queue to dine in, or take your food to go and amble around the harbour, finding a bench to gobble up your hot chips al fresco while watching the world go by.
Farm owners Melanie and Mike have created a haven for families at Trevorrick. You can enjoy the best of both worlds here, nestled in the idyllic North Cornwall countryside, yet close to the pretty port of Padstow. The beautifully restored Cornish stone barns give families the freedom and flexibility of a holiday cottage, coupled with plenty of cosy home comforts and farm entertainment. Look out for the Aylesbury ducks wandering past your cottage windows in the morning, then after a quick breakfast, help to groom the pigs or collect eggs from the hens.
You can relax knowing that each cottage’s garden area is private and enclosed. And if you’ve forgotten to pack any essential kit, it’ll be covered: from wellies to baby baths. Also, if you don’t fancy preparing every meal, there are two great pub restaurants less than a mile away.
5. Minack Theatre
If there’s a more breathtaking location for a theatre, we haven’t seen it. Minack Theatre is cut into the cliff side at Porthcurno. Take a seat and enjoy the theatre’s permanent backdrop – the Atlantic Ocean. As an entirely open-air theatre, it’s open only during summer months. In addition to evening theatre performances, the Minack hosts some matinees and morning storytelling sessions specifically aimed at children. Guaranteed to enthral kids of all ages and their parents. Don't forget to take an Instagram-worthy snap!
Tucked into the lush, green Looe valley in South Cornwall, these five-star cottages offer a gorgeous base for a family break. Spanning 150 acres, Treworgey’s grounds are a safe haven for kids to truly roam free, discovering fields and streams and getting to know the pet farm animals. There’s a heated outdoor pool, playroom, a playground, and even a licensed riding school on-site. If the summer weather turns iffy, retreat to the ‘indoor beach’ housed in a barn – a huge sand pit equipped with toys.
Treworgey is an ideal location for exploring the Eden Project, which is a 30-minute drive away. You’re spoiled for choice with National Trust properties here too – and of course, there are local beaches to discover a short drive away. The Laura Ashley furnished cottage interiors certainly live up to their 5* credentials: at the end of a long day spent on the beach or exploring the valley, sink into crisp linen on a super comfy bed.
With Fistral Beach on its doorstep, the Esplanade is an ultimate seaside hotel for families who want to soak up the sea air and spend long days rock pooling, kite flying and sandcastle building or trying out surfing (check out the surf school attached to the hotel). Rooms are airy and many have impressive sea views.
There are flexible family accommodation options with bunk beds for kids and cots for babies and tots if needed. When you’ve had your fill of the beach for the day, take a splash in the heated indoor pool. There are no particular swim sessions here – you can enjoy a dip anytime you like. During school holidays a packed schedule of free activities is on offer, such as arts and crafts, pizza-making and family-friendly entertainment. Laid-back family dining is available at the hotel’s beachfront restaurant, where you can enjoy local produce and a well-earned glass of something cold, and unwind over dinner.
8. Surfing lessons on Fistral Beach
As a change from a standard day out on the beach, why not get stuck into a family surf lesson at Fistral? Known as the home of British surfing, Fistral’s sweeping, sandy beach and consistent surf makes it a hit with both experienced and novice surfers. There’s an extensive RNLI lifeguard presence during the summer months for your peace of mind, too. Fistral Beach Surf School sits on the beach and hosts private lessons for families (children from five years old are welcome). If you’re happier spectating from the beach with an ice cream, kids-only lessons are available for children over eight years old. All equipment and changing facilities are provided, and there are a selection of cafes and shops around the beach if you’d like to make a day of it.
9. St Ives
Iconic St Ives blends easy-going beach life with a world-renowned art scene and makes a great spot for a day out if you’re in the area. Tate St Ives and the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden are two standout art spots. Both are walkable from the town centre - and have family-friendly facilities, as well as free entry for under-18s. After soaking up some culture, stroll back along the harbourfront and enjoy a coffee or ice cream, then dip into the winding, cobbled lanes tucked away behind the seafront and explore the smaller galleries and gift shops. If the crowds get too much, simply break out to the nearest sandy beach and let the kids run (or splash) off some steam. Parking can be overcrowded in summer months, so it’s advisable to park slightly out of town - Lelant station offers a park and ride service.
Sands Resort was the first family-focused hotel to be built in Cornwall and remains one of the best. The resort is family run, and you’ll be made to feel like you’ve arrived at a home from home by the friendly, approachable staff.
No need to fear the “what are we doing today?” debate here, as there is an impressive list of on-site facilities to keep everyone occupied. Start with dip in one of the indoor or outdoor pools, then burn off any remaining energy with a game of croquet, tennis, some soft play - or perhaps even by finding your way through the maze? The on-site kids club runs sessions throughout the day, allowing adults a couple of hours of down time. You could even check out the resort’s luxurious Moroccan themed spa.
Early evening service times and family-friendly dining areas in the Beachcomber restaurant make stress-free dining super easy. And once the kids are asleep, if you bag one of the cleverly planned two-bedroom suites, you can enjoy a glass of wine and a movie in your room without worrying about waking anyone.
The sprawling panoramic view of the Atlantic Ocean from Watergate’s infinity pool is something special - and sets the tone for this cool and contemporary yet comfortable family destination. Kids and adults can kick back and enjoy everything being taken care of here, with a range of family dining options across the hotel grounds and a choice of stylish interconnected rooms, apartments or suites.
You may struggle to make use of the entire eye-popping list of family activities during your stay, but it’s worth a good go! They include a playroom, art room, outdoor play area, indoor games room equipped with table tennis, Xboxes and PlayStations – not to mention the 25m pool. Little ones aged 3-7 can enjoy a supervised play session in the Kids Zone from 6.30 – 9.30pm every evening, while parents seize the opportunity of a peaceful dinner and a few drinks. Older kids (over eight years) can join the Extreme Academy and try their hands at surfing, kitesurfing or wave-skiing in the safe hands of CRB checked, fully qualified lifeguard instructors.
12. Boscastle Harbour
The River Valency gently winds its way through Boscastle Harbour’s steep valley of pretty stone houses, shops and cream tea cafes, before dramatically meeting the Celtic Sea, just past the harbour walls. Boscastle is the ideal spot for a relaxed North Cornwall family day out, with space to roam and explore the harbour views – as well as plenty of cafes and pubs for a pit stop. Start at the National Trust visitor centre to explore the harbour’s long history with some interactive displays, then wander around the harbour area. Pick up a pasty for a quick lunch – or on a cooler day, dip into the atmospheric Cobwebs pub for a cosy pint and a sit-down lunch. The eccentric Museum of Witchcraft and Magic will intrigue older kids.
13. Tintagel Castle
Built in the 12th Century, Tintagel Castle tells an intriguing tale of legends, wrapped in the story of King Arthur. An indoor exhibition and outdoor displays dotted around the site bring to life Tintagel’s rich history. There is plenty of space for kids to stretch their legs and run free while exploring the castle ruins. Owned and maintained by English Heritage, Tintagel is due to re-open this summer on completion of an impressive new footbridge, which will link the mainland and island.
You will discover a sanctuary at Tregongeeves, a group of stone cottages tucked away in the pretty green valleys of mid-Cornwall. The rural location makes a blissfully peaceful family holiday base – but you are still only a short drive to the coast and South Cornwall’s popular beaches.
Each cottage at Tregongeeves has been carefully furnished to create a stylish yet cosy feel. Visitors receive an extra welcome with a complimentary basket of local Cornish essentials on arrival, saving you a quick dash to the shop after a long journey. Owner Judith has gone to great efforts to provide pretty much anything families could need, from the all-important stairgate, right down to plastic bowls and feeding spoons.
There’s no need to venture far to keep the kids entertained. Let older ones explore the grounds and they’ll discover a games room with pool, table tennis and board games, not forgetting the full-sized tennis court. Younger ones can enjoy meeting the farm animals, a fabulous soft play barn and playground area. And all ages will enjoy the large, indoor heated pool. If you fancy a trip further afield, you are only three miles from the Lost Gardens of Heligan – and no more than a 20-minute drive to the unmissable Eden Project.
15. Porthcurno Beach
Beneath the cliffs of the Minack Theatre at the far West of Cornwall lie the soft sands and turquoise waters of Porthcurno beach. If you’re a Poldark fan, you might recognise this idyllic stretch of coastline as Nampara Cove. Porthcurno’s super soft sands and lifeguard cover (between mid-May to end-September) make this a popular family beach. The stream at the top of the beach is ideal for little kids to paddle safely. There are several cafes close to the beach if you are in need of an ice cream or a lunch spot.
Happy Cornish holiday planning!