Whether you’re looking for a UK destination for a short break or a longer outdoorsy holiday with plenty of stunning scenery and the warmest and sunniest climate in the British Isles, there’s really only one serious contender. “From north Cornwall to Lands End, including the Roseland and Lizard peninsulas, Cornwall is Britain’s foremost holiday destination. With around 24 million tourists visiting the West Country every year, self-catering accommodation is always in demand,” says a local property expert.
But Cornwall is a big place, covering 1,375 square miles and surrounded by magnificent coastline to the north, south and east. So, where to go, and when? You might be drawn to Padstow’s foodie heaven or would love to explore the artists of St Ives. How about the rugged beauty of Bodmin Moor or the pristine white sandy beaches at Kynance Cove, officially Britain’s most beautiful beach?
If the choice of holiday destination wasn’t difficult enough, travel guides and websites can’t seem to agree on the best time of year to visit Cornwall either. Cornish springs are breathtakingly beautiful, July and August are the best time for beach holidays, while June and September can be just as good weatherwise and arguably better for walking holidays, and less busy than peak season.
Given the potential for endless procrastination, we’ve got a better way to approach your next Cornish holiday. Here’s a list of fantastic outdoor events taking place in Cornwall throughout the year, allowing you to experience everything that is so special and unique about this glorious English county.
1. St Piran’s Day
St Piran is the patron saint of Cornwall and the Feast of St Piran is celebrated annually on 5th March. Lively events take part all across the region, in particular in Falmouth, Newquay and on Perranporth Beach where hundreds of people dressed in Cornish colours (black, white and gold) march upon St Piran’s Cross and St Piran’s Oratory, remnants of a 6th century chapel said to have been built by the saint.
2. National Garden Scheme
Not so much a single event but a series of Charity Open Days of some of Cornwall’s most beautiful private gardens, there are six gardens in Bodmin, Padstow and Truro taking place this year. Find details of exact locations and opening times on the NGS website here, and prepare to discover some of the most magical gardens in Cornwall this Spring. Tea, cake and plant sales are often also available.
3. Helston Flora Day
This ancient festival takes place all over Helston on 5th May this year (usually 8th May) as a fun celebration to drive out the darkness of winter and bring in the light of spring. It’s a bright and colourful event with the town’s houses decorated with flowers and greenery and dancing in the streets from 7am onwards and the traditional Hal an Tow pageant telling the history of Helston since its Celtic origins.
4. Royal Cornwall Show
The UK’s biggest agricultural show takes place at Wadebridge in North Cornwall on 8th-10th June 2023, showcasing the best of what Cornwall has to offer. It’s a grand occasion celebrating rural life, packed with family friendly entertainment including livestock shows, traditional country dancing, a Victorian fun fair, artisan food stalls, fabulous vegetable and flower displays, live music and 1000+ trade stands on the 95-acre site.
5. International Sea Shanty Festival
Falmouth has a proud and long history as a first safe port of call for deepwater sailing ships, along with the tradition of sea shanty singing – rhythmical folk songs originally sung by sailors during their work on commercial ships. The Falmouth International Sea Shanty Festival is the largest free nautical music and song festival in Europe, held on 16th-18th June this year. It brings together some 70 sea shanty groups from all over the world, with music tents and stages all over the town.
6. Golowan Festival
Head to Penzance on 16th-25th June to experience this 10-day traditional midsummer festival of arts, live performances, culture and parades. Amazingly, Golowan is the UK’s second largest street festival after London’s Notting Hill Carnival. Expect costumes and fireworks, traditional ‘serpent dances’, kids’ activities, mock mayor elections and much more, bringing back to life many local customs, traditions and practices going back centuries. Huge fun!
7. Mousehole Sea, Salts and Sail Festival (SS&S)
Over 3 days in July, SS&S celebrates Cornish maritime history with a spectacular display of historic and classic vessels filling Mousehole harbour, transporting this beautiful 500-year-old fishing village on the southern Cornish coast back to its heyday as a major fishing port. The biannual community event, last celebrated in 2022, gives the opportunity to join in with live music, food & drinks tents, seashore foraging, cooking demos, poetry and storytelling, local craft marquees, boat trips and much more besides.
8. Leopallooza Festival
This multi-award-winning grassroots music festival takes place on 21st-23rd July, celebrating the best in emerging and established bands, artists and DJs as ‘the greatest house party… in a field’. The venue is a beautiful, bespoke festival site near Bude, nestled in a tree-filled Cornish valley, a few miles from the North Cornwall coast. Book tickets for Leopallooza here and look forward to 3 days and nights of music entertainment with over 100 acts on multiple stages, with family-friendly free camping thrown in.
9. Rock Oyster Festival
‘A voyage of culinary discovery and musical mischief’ is how Rock Oyster Festival describes itself, bringing together food, music, wellbeing and family entertainment for four days at the end of July. It’s a beautiful location on the banks of the Camel estuary near Port Isaac, and the festival is hosted by a different chef each year, celebrating the best food in Cornwall. Expect cooking demos and masterclasses, pop-up restaurants and banquets, and plenty of freshly shucked oysters alongside a strong musical line-up.
10. Falmouth Week
Visit Falmouth between 4th-12th August for Falmouth Week and enjoy everything this world’s third largest natural harbour has to offer. With its origins as a local sailing regatta dating back to the early 1800s, Falmouth is putting on a show for sailors and landlubbers to enjoy music and sporting activities including paddleboarding and sailing events, live music and carnivals and a spectacular Red Arrows display.
Cornwall’s most famous festival and North Cornwall’s biggest annual event, Boardmasters (9th-13th August) is a mecca for music fans and surfers. It takes place across two separate sites in Newquay. Head to Fistral and watch pro surfers battle it out on the waves, or visit Watergate Bay where 11 stages including the main arena, bars and food outlets are located. Lorde, Liam Gallagher and Florence + The Machine are headlining this year.
12. Fowey Regatta and Carnival Week
Fun for sailors and landlubbers alike, Fowey Week (13th-19th August) is one of the UK’s best loved sailing events attracting thousands of visitors. There’s a bumper programme of races for all kinds of vessels alongside a family friendly festival with carnivals and fireworks, crab catching and swimming competitions, and a giant pastry ceremony involving an 8-foot long pastry arriving by boat and being distributed among the children.
13. Lands End 100
The Lands End 100 is one of Cornwall’s grandest and most gruelling cycle race across the Cornish countryside taking part on 16th September. Riders must be 11 years or older to take part and there’s a choice of short (46 miles), medium (71 miles) or long (105 miles) route. You can register to take part on the official website. You will also find information on where best to see and cheer on the 1,000 or so cyclists racing around the winding roads and chugging hills in western Cornwall.
14. Falmouth Oyster Festival
Falmouth Oyster Festival takes place from 12th-15th October marking the beginning of the traditional oyster-dredging season. Being ‘devoted to the mighty mollusc’, it is one of Cornwall’s best loved foodie festivals and a riotous celebration of the diversity of Cornish seafood. Revel in four days of feasting and festivities for all the family, including cooking demos from Cornwall’s top chefs, oyster shucking competitions, oyster bars and food stalls, live music and local craft stalls.
15. Eden Marathon and Half Marathon
A firm fixture in the running calendar, the Eden Marathon and Half Marathon on 15th October is Cornwall’s biggest running event through spectacular countryside, with hilly multi-terrain courses around the famous site. Runners of all abilities and aged 17+ years (half marathon) or 18+ years (full marathon) can take part. All runners get a pasty and a beer each at the end, plus free entry to the Eden Project with accompanying family members and supporters. Take part or go along and cheer on the runners.
16. Lobster Lollop
If marathon running is a step too far, consider the Lobster Lollop on 18th November. Rather than a competitive race, this is a no-pressure trail run along the famous Camel Trail, with a choice of 2.5k, 5k, 10k and 10 mile distances. You can also bring your dog and go ‘canicross’. The family event has something for just about everyone and is suitable for all runners ‘lollopping’ along to raise much needed funds for the National Lobster Hatchery in Padstow.
17. Heligan Night Garden
Last year’s Christmas lights at the fabulous Lost Gardens of Heligan were a huge hit and a real treat for children and adults alike, and probably the most beautiful Christmas lights display at a Cornwall attraction. Journey through a magical nature trail and explore the woodlands and gardens beautifully lit with light installations and intricate works of art in the natural wilderness, and stop en route to toast marshmallows, roast chestnuts and wrap your cold hands around a steaming mug of hot chocolate!