When it comes to beaches, Cornwall has something for everyone. It is the longest stretch of continuous coastline in Britain, home to over 300 coves, bays and inlets. Many of them fall within a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, or form part of a coastal walk with jaw-dropping views. The south coast, otherwise known as the Cornish Riviera, is characterised by picturesque fishing villages and harbour towns, with sheltered beaches popular for wild swimming. On the north coast, exposure to the Atlantic Ocean makes it a famous surfing destination, also known for its fiery sunsets.
Whether you’re looking to try your hand at surfing, go on a coastal adventure, dip your toes in the ocean, or to learn more about this iconic county’s history, landscape and culture, the beach is never far away. In this blog, we share the best sandy beaches in Cornwall with you, so that you can make the most of being at the water’s edge in Britain’s stunning most southerly county.
Readymoney Cove, Fowey
Found at the mouth of the river Fowey and overlooked by St Catherine’s crumbling castle, Readymoney Cove is a southeast facing sandy beach to the south of the harbour town. The surrounding cliffs provide the inlet with shelter, meaning it is a good spot for swimming and amongst the most popular spots for sailing boats in the southwest. Because it is protected from the elements, you can swim at Readymoney Cove most days of the year. However, look out for fortnightly spring tides, which cover up the whole of the beach.
There is little in terms of amenities here, other than some public toilets and Readymoney Cove long stay car park a short walk away. The beach is not lifeguarded and a dog ban is in place between July and August.
Pentewan Sands, St Austell
A wide beach, made of firm sand, Pentewan Sands is owned by Pentewan Sands Holiday Park but open to the public. Less busy than many of Cornwall’s other beaches it is a great place to explore with the family and to collect shells to make into beach murals. Backed by tall, grass-covered cliffs and with a river running from the rear of the beach to the ocean, it is both a pretty and sheltered spot. Swimming is possible here most of the year and views out to St Austell Bay provide a panoramic seascape.
There are no lifeguards at Pentewan Sands, but the safest place to swim is marked out by buoys. The holiday park sells food, rents out watersports equipment and has toilets. There is a car park behind the beach and access is relatively easy.
Gyllyngvase Beach, Falmouth
Gyllyngvase is the largest beach in Falmouth and is known as an important social and community space for both locals and visitors. Expect swimmers, paddleboarders, kayakers and dog-walkers to occupy the smooth sand year-round and at any tide. Backed by the subtropical Queen Mary Gardens, it is also a popular place to read books and to enjoy looking at interesting plants and flowers. A largely sheltered spot, it doesn’t tend to experience surf and the gently shelving sand makes it easy to enter and exit the water.
During the summer months, Gyllyngvase is lifeguarded and dogs are allowed year-round, though hours are restricted from May to September. There are multiple water sports hire shops on the beach, public toilets and two cafés. Access to the beach is easy via multiple paths and there is a carpark just behind the gardens.
Helford Passage Beach, Helford
A small sand and shingle beach, Helford Passage overlooks the tranquil and beautiful Helford River. Here, waders and other small animals can be seen frequenting the waters edge, particularly in the early hours of the morning. Protected from all but easterly winds, it is an excellent swimming spot almost every day of the year. Err on the side of caution in the summer months, when sailing boats and the Helford River passenger ferry make their way across the water.
Helford Passage isn’t lifeguarded, but it is dog-friendly all year round. Parking is available but limited, so get there early to secure a space or walk via the South West Coast Path. The Ferryboat Inn serves food and drinks just above the beach and is the most famous of the Helford River pubs.
Kynance Cove, The Lizard Peninsula
Famous for its white sand, turquoise waters and rugged sea stacks, Kynance Cove is amongst Cornwall’s most famous sandy beaches. At low tide, there are caves and crevices to explore within the cliff faces and it’s possible to dip your toes in the ocean. In the summer months, the water is reasonably calm. However, the rest of the year it’s often wild and unpredictable. Nonetheless, Kynance is becoming amongst the most visited beaches in Cornwall, because of its natural beauty and recent screen time in the TV series Poldark.
At the back of the beach, Kynance Cove Beach Café has been standing for almost 100 years. There are toilets and a car park a ten-minute walk away, though note that the car park becomes exceptionally busy. There are no lifeguards at Kynance Cove and a seasonal dog ban is in place.
Sennen Beach, Penwith
A stunning expanse of bright white sand, complimented by a triumphantly blue sea, Sennen is amongst the best of Cornwall’s sandy beaches. It is the last stretch of sand before the land tapers off and meets the Atlantic Ocean. As a result, Sennen is exposed, making it a popular spot with surfers. In the summer months, when seas are calmer, plenty of people swim there too – however, be sure to only swim between the red and yellow flags and when lifeguards are on duty because of potential rip currents.
The family-friendly beach is backed by the Surf Beach Bar, which also has toilets and rents out surf equipment. The beach is lifeguarded in the summer and can be accessed from multiple car parks. There are restrictions on dogs visiting the beach during the summer months.
Carbis Bay, St Ives
A short way along the coastal path from the picture-perfect fishing town and art mecca of St Ives, Carbis Bay is a sweeping section of white sand backed by verdant green cliffs. On the east side of the cove a small waterfall cascades, perfect for washing the salt off after a swim. It is a well-protected and popular spot for swimming in the inviting turquoise water. Unlike the rest of St Ives’ beaches, it rarely receives swell and the smooth gradient of sand makes it easy to enter the water.
Carbis Bay is backed by the Carbis Bay Hotel and other food and drink vendors. Toilets and a car park sit above the beach. It’s worth noting that the car park is costly, so it may be better to access the beach by catching the train from St Erth – a fun experience in itself because of the beautiful views it offers. A partial dog ban is in place throughout the summer when the beach is lifeguarded.
Perranporth Beach, Perranporth
At low tide, Perranporth has one of the longest stretches of sand in Cornwall, spanning 3 miles from Droskyn in the south to Penhale corner in the north. The sand is soft and fine, making it amongst the most popular beaches in the county. Perranporth is fully exposed to Atlantic swell, and as a result it’s a favoured surf spot. Swimming is possible here too, though mostly during the summer due to the size of the waves.
Surf equipment and boards can be hired at the back of the beach, which is also home to the UK’s only pub on the beach – The Watering Hole. Perranporth is lifeguarded during the summer, when there is also a partial dog ban. There are two car parks: one behind the beach and one on a cliff overlooking the beach. Public toilets are available and access is relatively easy, as a path leads from the rear car park over a bridge and onto the sand.
To discover the best places to stay in Cornwall, take a look at our selection of Cornish hideaways which you can use as a base to explore from.