18 Things Cornwall is Known And Famous For

Cornwall is famous for being a seaside paradise with stunning beaches and lush countryside. Cornwall is also known for being home to Cornish Cream Tea and Cornish Pasties and surfing! It also has its own language, Kernowek.

Looe, Cornwall

But that’s just the beginning. Cornwall also has a rich history of pirates, tin mining and cultural heritage. We’ve gathered 20 things that Cornwall is known and famous for – let’s get into it!

1. Beaches

Gylly Beach in Cornwall

The number one reason most people visit Cornwall is to see some of England’s most beautiful beaches.

Visiting the seaside for English people has been a tradition since the 18th century. People visited to get away from polluted towns, believing that sea air and saltwater could cure any number of diseases. Later, when trains came along, the working classes flocked to the seaside for their first-ever vacation. The tradition remains! 

Many Cornish beaches have hotels dotted along the seafront, as well as amusement arcades and even donkey rides for kids during the summer months. Come rain or shine, locals and tourists fill up Cornwall’s most famous beaches such as Fistral, Gyllingvase or Perranporth.

Psst: Popular beaches get extremely busy during the summer months in Cornwall. Luckily, there are loads of ‘hidden’ beaches that get eclipsed by their larger counterparts, most of them easily accessed on foot. If you’re up for a hike, check out this list!

2. Pirates

Jamaica Inn, Cornwall

Cornwall is famous for its past links to pirates and smuggling, and this fascinating history is still being uncovered by historians. However, the story of pirates in Cornwall goes well beyond smuggling rum and prohibited goods. In fact, people were the real treasure. 

Between the 1600 and the mid-1800s, hundreds of Cornish men, women and children were abducted by North African pirates. They were then sold as slaves.

This had dire consequences for the Cornish fishing industry as fishermen were too afraid to work for fear of being abducted. There are examples of townspeople scrambling to pay ransom for their abducted family members or friends.

There are plenty of great museums where you can learn more about Cornwall’s pirate past, including the National Maritime Museum of Cornwall, in Falmouth, and the Shipwreck Treasure Museum in Charlestown.

3. Cornish Pasties

Cornish pastry

Cornwall is famous for one of its most delicious, eponymously named foods, Cornish pasties. A traditional Cornish pasty contains diced beef, rutabaga (swede), onion and potato.

If that sounds simple, don’t be fooled: the Cornish pasty is much more than a pie. It’s also a symbol of Cornish culture and history. And if that sounds like an exaggeration, hear me out.

The Cornish pasty is easily recognized because of its American football shape. The thick crust is actually a nod to its past, when tin miners would hold the crust so as not to contaminate their meal. 

There are even accounts of the main meal and dessert being concealed at either end of the pie. Two meals, one pasty!

Fun fact: Have you heard Brits shout “Oggie, Oggie, Oggie” and then reply “Oi, Oi, Oi!”? Well, “Oggie” comes from the Cornish word “Hoggan” meaning “pasty”. Women would shout “Oggie, Oggie, Oggie” to indicate that the pasties were ready and the miners would reply “Oi, Oi, Oi” in answer! 

4. Bodmin Moor

Granite rock formations on Stowes Hill near Minions on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall

Cornwall is famous for one of its largest Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Bodmin Moor.

An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in England is an area that has been designated for conservation. Bodmin Moor is one of the finest examples because it is a remote moorland that was heavily populated by people from the Bronze Age.

There are two peaks of Bodmin Moor, Rough Tor and the amusingly named Brown Willy (yes, it really is called that). People mostly use Bodmin Moor for hiking, although archaeologists have long been fascinated by the Neolithic Tor Enclosure and the foundations of a Medieval chapel found on the slopes of Rough Tor.

5. Cornish Cream Tea

Cornish Cream Tea - Scones with jam/jelly and clotted cream on top

England is famous for afternoon tea, but the Cornish insist that theirs is the best. What’s the difference? And does it matter?

Don’t make the mistake of asking a Cornish person that, as this is a very serious debate between Devonians and Cornish people. It’s even bigger than the “scone” vs “sc-one” debate. It even makes headlines in the U.K. 

So what’s the issue? Basically, the most disputed point is: what order the cream and jelly (jam) gets applied to the scone first. It really is that banal, but the argument has raged since the 11th century. 

The Cornish way to have cream tea is to use Cornish clotted cream (a thick cream that has the consistency of yogurt) abut to apply jelly first. Neighboring county, Devon, does it the other way around and uses Devonshire cream.

Incidentally, both counties insist that the recipe for cream tea comes from their particular county, though nobody is exactly sure.

6. Sea Shanties

Sea Shanties on Spotify

In 2020, Tiktok ensured that the world became obsessed with sea shanties. If that’s your kind of jam (and, as we now know, jam THEN cream) then you’re in luck! Cornwall celebrates its history and culture with sea shanty festivals and performances during the summer months. 

One of the most famous sea shanty groups, The Fisherman’s Friends, had a movie made about them in 2019. They hailed from Cornwall’s north coast and were signed by Universal Records; they achieved top 10 hit success.

If you’re looking to hear some live sea shanty performances in Cornwall, I can highly recommend the Falmouth Sea Shanty Festival.

7. Literature

Lighthouse in Godrevy

Maybe it’s the glorious blend of countryside and seascapes, or maybe it’s the remnants of Celtic myths and legends, but one thing is certain: Cornwall is famous for being the muse of many well-known novels. 

If you’re literary-minded, you’ll be sure to appreciate some of these fantastic locations from some of the best-loved novels of all time.

For instance, Virginia Woolf lovers will want to go to St Ives where they can get a glimpse of Godrevy Island, the setting for To The Lighthouse. Fans of Jamaica Inn by Daphne Du Maurier can visit the actual inn (and sleep there) that the story of smugglers takes place in. 

And for younger readers, or the nostalgics among you, be sure to head to the River Fowey, where Wind In The Willows by Kenneth Grahame was allegedly set.

8. Place Names

The Mousehole, Cornwall

The history of Cornwall is a long tale that includes bitter feuds which precede even before the Roman conquest. Cornish people are a recognized national minority in England and many have genetic links to Ancient Britons, who share some Celtic ancestry with Scottish people.

We’ll talk about the Cornish language in a while, but it’s important to note that even “English” names in Cornwall can get you in a bit of trouble.

Cornish place names are distinctive and often difficult to pronounce. “Fowey”, for instance, is pronounced more as “Foy” than “Fow-ee”. “Launceston” is pronounced “Lawn-ston” and “Mousehole” needs a lot of imagination to utter correctly: “Mowz-el”. 

Why is this a big deal? Well, Cornish people are fiercely protective of their place names and don’t take kindly to Anglicized mispronunciation. Take it from me, don’t ask for directions to “mouse-hole”!

9. Cornish Language

Cornish Language

With that said, Cornwall is also famous for its language, known locally as Kernowek. Unfortunately, common use of Kernowek almost died out in the 18th century, but it has since experienced a revival.

In 2010, UNESCO announced that Cornish was no longer classed as an extinct language and it’s estimated to be spoken by around 10,000 people.

Cornish belongs to the Southwestern Brittonic branch of the Celtic languages family. It shares linguistic similarities with that of Breton and, to a lesser extent, Welsh.

An interesting aspect of Cornish is that it is very noun-heavy and lacks vital verbs such as “have”, “prefer” or even “must”. An adorable fact is that there is no word for “hate” in Cornish (but you can add a prefix or suffix to indicate that something is not to your liking). 

In fact, while we’re on the subject of prefixes, they’re actually vital to understanding Cornish. “Treth” means “beach” and “Pen” means “hill”. A Cornish word that is in popular use is “dreckly”, which means “soon” or “in the future” (“I’ll be with you dreckly”).

10. Surfing

Surfing at Watergate Bay, Newquay, UK

Cornwall is famous for being the U.K’s surfing capital, mostly due to climate. Amazingly, people have surfed Cornwall’s rugged coastline since the 1920s, but the real surfing boom took place around the 1960s.

The Cornish north coast is the most popular spot for surfing, with beaches such as Fistral, Perranporth and Padstow featuring most prominently. If you’re a pro and looking for tall waves, just around the corner from Fistral Beach is where you’ll find The Cribbar, where waves reach as high as 40ft (12m).

Novices can learn to surf at the Cornwall Surf School in Newquay, but many beaches offer lessons or hire out surf, boogie, and paddleboards. Just don’t forget your wetsuit – Cornish water temperatures range between 7°C and 18°C (44°F – 64°F), depending on the time of year.

11. The Eden Project

The Eden Project

Cornwall is famous for one of its coolest attractions, The Eden Project. Located near St. Austell, The Eden Project opened in 2001. The attraction consists of large domes that act as some of the world’s largest greenhouses.

Essentially, The Eden Project is a global garden. The domes all contain species of plants from all over the world and the appropriate climate for each plant is replicated within the domes.

Visitors get to wander taking in the natural beauty while at the same time learning about various species of plants, as well as how sugar, tea and rubber are grown.

While The Eden Project is an excellent place to spend the day, during the summer months it is transformed into an awesome concert venue. Musicians play on a stage in front of the sprawling lawns and gardens – and acts over the years have included everyone from Elton John, Oasis and Amy Winehouse.

12. St Piran’s Day

St Piran's flag

Cornwall is famous for its patriotism and national pride and that is never clearer than on 5 March – Saint Piran’s Day. Saint Piran (sometimes spelled ‘Pyran’) is one of the patron saints of Cornwall and also of tin miners. 

Piran was born in Ireland around the 5th century. After studying in Rome and returning to Ireland, it’s said that a millstone was tied around his neck and he was thrown into the sea. Then, legend has it, he washed up on Perran Beach, Perranporth.

Presumably after he managed to get the millstone off, Piran built a chapel and inadvertently “re-discovered” tin smelting in the process. That’s why he is the Saint of both Cornwall and tin mining. 

St Piran’s Day is celebrated by flying Saint Piran’s Flag (you see a lot of these all year round), parades, and some schools even offer students the option of a day off to celebrate!

13. Traditional Festivals

Cornwall is famous for many traditions. Here's "Obby Oss" the hobby horse of Padstow!
Editorial credit: Scorsby / Shutterstock.com

But Saint Piran’s Day isn’t the only day for celebrating in Cornwall. Cornwall is known for having unique festivals which set them apart. In fact, the Cornish calendar is packed full of fun activities and celebrations and most weekends hold some kind of event.

Why not check out the Montol Festival, for example? This Penzance-based festival celebrates the winter solstice; workshops are held to make traditional costumes and lanterns. There’s also a customary bonfire.

Also unique to Cornwall is the St. Agnes Bolster Festival, where locals celebrate Cornish music and art by showing life-size puppets and re-enacting the legend of the Giant named Bolster.

14. Climate

Darwins Gardens in Cornwall

Cornwall is famous for its unusual climate. Due to its location as the most south-westerly region in the U.K, Cornwall experiences the mildest weather and gets the most hours of sunshine. However, temperatures are rarely extreme in this part of England; winters are cool but rarely freezing, summers are warm rather than hot.

Because of this temperature regulation, plants that would never survive further north in England such as palm trees can flourish. Cornwall also gets an abundance of rainfall, which helps maintain plant life. 

Fun Fact: Charles Darwin actually came ashore to Falmouth after his legendary trip to the Galapagos islands and there is a garden dedicated to him there. It’s thanks to Cornwall’s microclimate that some tropical plants thrive there!

15. Castles & Forts

Aged stone fortress the Pendennis castle with clouds, Falmouth, Cornwall, England

Cornwall is famous for its legendary role in the stories of King Arthur, and what’s a king without a castle?

Well, it so happens that the oldest castle in Cornwall is also the one with links to King Arthur. It’s called Tintagel Castle, was built in the 13th century and its ruins remain in north Cornwall, near the village of Tintagel. Learn more about King Arthur and Cornwall by walking the King Arthur Trail

In total, there are 13 castles you can visit in Cornwall. They range in age, size and condition but each has a unique story to tell. Some of the most visited castles in Cornwall, other than Tintagel castle, include Pendennis Castle; St Michaels Mount and St Mawes Castle.

16. Tin Mining

Tin mine in saint Agnes

As you’ve probably gathered, tin mining plays a huge role in Cornwall’s past. In fact, mining is so important to Cornish history that tin is sometimes used in combination with fish and copper as a symbol of Cornwall. 

Cornwall and neighboring county Devon have been mined since the Bronze Age, where tin and copper were the most mined minerals of the region. In addition to tin and copper, arsenic, lead and zinc were also valuable materials readily available in Cornwall.

Mass-mining in Cornwall only ceased at the end of the 20th century. The Cornwall and West Devon mining landscape are listed as Cornwall’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site.

17. Famous Cornish Men & Women

Thandie Newton attends the photo-call of 'Solo: A Star Wars Story'
Thandie Newton. Editorial credit: Andrea Raffin / Shutterstock.com

Over the years, Cornwall has become famous for being the home of many rich and famous people. Celebrities such as Gordon Ramsay, Dawn French and Rick Stein all have homes there.

But there are also some famous faces who were born and raised in Cornwall, and you’d better believe the Cornish are very proud of their heroes and heroines.

Take Mick Fleetwood, for instance. He gave his name to the legendary band, Fleetwood Mac, and he grew up in Redruth. Also from Redruth is the esteemed actress Dame Kristen Scott-Thomas. Also, the actress Thandie Newton was born and raised in Penzance and Midsomer Murders star John Nettles grew up in St. Austell.

18. Falmouth Docks

Falmouth docks

Cornwall is famous for its harbors, in particular Falmouth Docks. The Docks have been in use for centuries, but the one that remains there today was opened in the 1960s. It’s significant because Falmouth Docks is the third deepest natural harbor in the world – only eclipsed by Sydney Harbor and The Port of Mahon. 

Falmouth Docks is the deepest harbor in Western Europe, however, and it’s the first and last major Port of mainland U.K. The Docks have played their part in history, too.

In 1805, news spread from Falmouth Docks of Britain’s victory and the death of Admiral Nelson at Trafalgar. More recently, Robin Knox-Johnston and Dame Ellen Macarthur both landed in Falmouth Docks after breaking records sailing around the world single-handedly.

The cornwall coast

And that’s that – 18 things that Cornwall is known and famous for. Did we forget something? Let us know in the comments below!

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