The best places to swim in Cornwall

Penned on the 6th March 2023

The best places to swim in Cornwall
Image by Rebecca Rees

Lydia Paleschi is a freelance writer, cold water swimmer and co-author of A Guide to Wild Swimming in Cornwall. With a passion for spending time in, on or near the ocean, she hopes to encourage others to access the wonders that come with cold water immersion. Alongside the book, Lydia and her friends run Wild Swimming Cornwall, where they share tips on cold water swimming, how to stay safe in the ocean and information on the health benefits of cold water immersion. In this blog, Lydia shares her insight on the best places to swim in Cornwall and where to go for different types of swimming experiences. 

Why swim in Cornwall? 

Jumping off rocks into crystal blue water at The Lizard, Cornwall

Cornwall is a fantastic place to swim. Its clear waters and dazzling landscapes are the perfect backdrop for spending time soaking up the goodness of nature. Just a few minutes in the water here can transform your mood completely, and always for the better. The combination of immersing yourself in the natural world, pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and the rush of feel-good endorphins coursing through your veins afterwards make it one of my favourite activities to enjoy all year round. Wild swimming also helps us to become more connected to the local ecosystems and feel part of something much bigger than ourselves.


Safety tips 

Friends wild swimming at sunset in Cornwall

Before heading for a dip, there are a few things to consider which will protect you and the local area. This is important as it means you will get the most out of your swim, and it means that locations and local wildlife are conserved long into the future. 


How to keep local wildlife safe

  • Don’t take plastic to the beach. 
  • Leave the place you swim at the same, if not better, than how you found it. 
  • Don’t take things from the beach, unless it’s litter or something harming the environment. 

How to keep yourself safe 

  • Check the Safer Seas Service app for water pollution alerts. 
  • Consider the current, tides and surf conditions, as well as entry and exit points, before entering the water. 
  • If you’re not a regular water user, swim at lifeguarded beaches only and always with others. 

Other useful things to know 

  • Dress appropriately for the weather – you’d be amazed by how quickly you get cold in the winter. 
  • Bring a hot drink and a snack for afterwards. Being in cold water uses up lots of heat and energy. 


 Best for sunrise swims – Coverack, Lizard Peninsula 

Looking out to a sunrise over the water.

For me, there are few things more magical than a swim at sunrise. Starting your day outdoors surrounded by nature and all its waking creatures, whilst most people are in bed, never gets old. It’s also one of the best times to spot local wildlife, which is more likely to make an appearance when it’s quiet. Coverack, on the Lizard Peninsula, has to be one of the loveliest locations for an early morning swim in Cornwall. The sun rises to the east of the horseshoe bay, over the faintly visible Manacles, casting its light over the water. As the first rays rise from the ocean, you can swim directly into them – something possible at very few other beaches.

It’s best to visit at mid to low tide when the sand bank is exposed. Access is easiest from Coverack Bay car park, from which you cross over the road and head down some steps. 

Where to stay: The Dairy | A tucked-away cabin with dreamy interiors, a warming wood-burner and a bubbling hot tub.


Best for beginner swimmers – Gyllyngvase Beach, Falmouth 

Calm sea and white sand at Gyllyngvase Beach, Cornwall

If you are new to sea swimming, it’s best to start with beaches that are lifeguarded, and refrain from venturing far out of your depth. This makes Gyllyngvase – my local – a favourite swim spot for beginners. Here, the sand shelves gently into the water making for easy entry and exit to the ocean. It’s also a relatively wide beach meaning you can build up strength, fitness and confidence by doing laps within your depth. In the summer months, there are buoys positioned 400 metres from the shore marking a popular route for open water swimmers. 

Gyllyngvase is sheltered most of the year, other than when there are strong swells coming from the south or the east. There are a couple of cafés on the beach front, perfect for warming up after your dip. It’s also an excellent location for paddle boarding and at low tide neighbouring Castle Beach is a delight for rockpooling

Where to stay: Pippin | A lovely shepherd’s hut with sea views, in a majestic setting, next to one of Cornwall’s most vibrant coastal towns. 


Best for tranquil swims – The Helford River

Looking through the trees at the tranquil Helford River

If it’s tranquillity you seek – and to truly soak up the benefits of spending time in nature – swimming beneath the canopies of the Helford’s ancient oak trees can’t be beaten. Helford Passage Beach overlooks the beautiful Helford River and is a small area of sand and shingle, protected from all but easterly winds. As you swim, you can watch the comings and goings of sailing boats, fishing boats and ferries as they make their way lazily up and down the river. When the tide is low, you can watch the local wading birds instead, as they forage for scraps of food. 

Helford Passage isn’t lifeguarded, but it is dog-friendly all year round. There’s very limited parking here, so it’s best to combine your swim with a walk and access the beach via the South West Coast Path

Where to stay: Tresahor Lodge | An enchanting cabin, hidden beside an old quarry, this unique hideaway is like something out of a fairytale.  


Best for sandy beach swims – Perranporth Beach, Perranporth

Overlooking the sandy Perranporth Beach, on a cloudy day.

Perranporth is one of the best sandy beaches in Cornwall. At low tide the sand stretches for almost three miles, making it one of the longest beaches in the county. Like much of Cornwall’s north coast, it is fully exposed to the Atlantic, making it a favoured surf spot. However, it is also a hit with cold water swimmers because of the tidal pool which is revealed at low water. Located on the seaward side of Chapel Rock, the tidal pool makes it possible to swim year-round, because it is protected from the elements. It’s also an excellent vantage point for a sunset over the water – something the north coast is renowned for. 

Perranporth is relatively easy to access, as a car park sits in front of the beach. It is lifeguarded in the summer and is a popular location for coastal adventures, including skydiving, hiking the coastal path, surfing and coasteering.


Best for swimming with your dog – Polridmouth Cove, Fowey

Wild swimming with a dog on the rocks looking out to sea

If you’ve been to any of Cornwall’s beaches, you’ve probably already realised it’s not just people that love getting in the water. The ocean is enjoyed by many dogs, including my spaniel Boobin. Cornwall is an exceptionally dog-friendly location and although there are seasonal dog bans on many beaches, some are open to pets year-round. Amongst them, Polridmouth Cove jumps out for me as a great swim spot, because it’s protected from almost all swell. A remote location, it’s perfect for pairing up with a walk and rewarding yourself with a dip midway. It’s also a very pretty beach, with an untouched feel to it.

Polridmouth can only be accessed by foot, with the nearest car park a fifteen-minute walk away. This also makes it quieter than some of the other Cornish beaches. It isn’t lifeguarded, but due to its sheltered nature it's safe to swim there most of the time. 

Where to stay: Shepherd's Rest | A beautifully crafted, dog friendly hideaway in the Cornish countryside, with a lakeside barbecue hut for sunset feasts.


Best for sheltered swims – tidal pools 

Two friends wild swimming in a crystal clear tidal pool in Cornwall

Amongst all of the magical things to experience in Cornwall, its tidal pools are not to be missed. Not only do they provide a safe way to swim when the weather is less than favourable, but they’re also something quintessentially Cornish. Accessible at low tide, you can find a smattering of them all around the coastline. Often, these have been carved from the rock by nature and are very small. There are also some excellent partly-natural, partly man-made tidal pools, which can be found at many of the beaches on the north coast, including Perranporth or Porthtowan. If you’re looking for something larger, there is the famous Bude Sea Pool in north Cornwall – though this gets very busy in the summer months. For a different, but equally as delightful experience, the Jubilee Pool in Penzance is worth a visit. It is the UK’s largest outdoor seawater lido, complete with a separate geothermal naturally heated pool. 


For more ideas on the best places to swim in Cornwall, you can read A Guide to Wild Swimming in Cornwall. Complete with 54 locations from around the county, a key to help you find the right beach for you, and plenty of other useful information including how to get there and what’s in the local area, you’re sure to unlock a treasure trove of fantastic swimming memories. Or if you seeking a swim spot in a different area check out our UK guide here.


Looking over the trees down to the sea from hideaway in Cornwall

After a day of adventures in the water, return from your sunset swim for scrumptious barbecue with glistening sea views or light the wood-burner and get cosy after a winter dip at one of our heavenly hideaways in Cornwall.


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