Visiting Cornwall in winter is an amazing way to see the county’s beautiful landscapes and seaside villages without the holiday crowds. In this guide we’ll cover the best things to do in Cornwall in winter, what’s different at this time of year, special events in December, January and February, and our personal tips on how to make the most of this special season here.

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Why visit Cornwall in winter?

Winter has become our favourite time to visit Cornwall. We come back at least once a year in December or January so we can enjoy the natural beauty and local charm without the crowds of tourists that flock here in spring and summer.

Cornwall’s Coastal scenery is more desolate and dramatic than ever in winter. The crisp air is perfect for hikes along the South West Coastal Path, the hearty country-pub cuisine is even more soul-warming when it’s cold outside, and you can experience special seasonal events like the Mousehole Harbour Lights. 

Even better… the Cornwall winter season ends with Cornish Pasty Week! What’s not to love? 

Winter is also the cheapest time to visit Cornwall (with the exception of Christmas and New Year, when prices are similar to summer season). The difference in price for hotels or holiday cottages can be huge between summer and the off-season. 

Want to know more? In this guide we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about visiting Cornwall in winter. Let’s get started.

Coast of Cornwall in winter
The Cornish coast can look even more colourful and dramatic in winter

Weather in Cornwall in winter

Winter weather in the UK is typically cold and wet, but Cornwall is one of the places you can experience the mildest climate at this time of year.

Average temperatures in Cornwall from December to February are around 2–3°C higher than the north of England. It might sound like a small amount, but it makes quite a difference! You won’t see snow too often during the winter in Cornwall.

Rainfall is also a little lower in Cornwall than the UK average, including over winter. Here’s a quick look at the Cornish weather outlook during the winter months, according to

Cornwall weather in winter
MonthAverage high temperatureAverage low temperatureRainfall daysAverage rainfall

You should treat Cornish weather with a caveat, especially in winter. It is highly unpredictable, with various local micro-climates around the county. You will often find that the weather is completely different if you travel a couple of miles down the road. 

Forecasts are useful, but are not always completely accurate. We’re surprised by the weather in Cornwall more often than not! Bear this in mind when packing or planning activities.

Morning hike in Cornwall in winter
Sunny winter mornings are wonderfully crisp on the Cornish coastal path!

Quick tips for visiting Cornwall in winter

In a hurry? These are some of our quick insider tips for visiting Cornwall in winter:

  • Bring clothes for all weather. We go into a bit more detail at the end of the article on what to pack for Cornwall in winter.
  • Be extra careful when driving. Cornwall’s roads are challenging at the best of times, but add some wintry weather into the mix and those steep, narrow lanes can become a real hazard. See our guide to driving in Cornwall for tips.
  • Check restaurants are open. Most do stay open throughout the year, but there are a few that close outside of the holiday season. Restaurants are typically quieter in winter, but it’s still worth making advance bookings if you can.
  • Check opening times for attractions. Most museums, galleries and shops stay open through winter, but some have reduced opening hours. For example, Penlee House in Penzance has reduced hours from November to March
  • Almost all beaches are dog-friendly in winter. The beaches that do have restrictions on dogs are usually just in the summer months.
  • Consider the shorter daylight hours when planning activities. Evenings on the beach are a joy of summer in Cornwall, but the shorter winter days may affect your plans. On the other hand, it does bring opportunities to see gorgeous Cornish sunrises and sunsets at more sociable hours!
St Michaels Mount sunrise winter
Winter sunrises are beautiful at St Michael’s Mount!

Things to do in Cornwall in winter

Cornwall may be quieter in winter, but there is still plenty to see and do. It’s a great time for a Cornwall road trip. Now, we’ll share some of our favourite activities in Cornwall during the off-season.

Dramatic walks on the Cornish coast

The South West Coastal Path is one of the UK’s greatest natural treasures, and the sections in Cornwall are the most beautiful of all. There are more than 500 kilometres of coastline around the county, and every inch of it is covered by a well marked trail.

The winter climate often makes the coastal scenery more dramatic and impressive than other times of year. Storms out at sea or rainbows on the horizon are a common sight!

You will often get plenty of sunshine as well in the Cornish winter, which brings a refreshing crispness to the air. It’s our favourite time of year to get on the trail.

Take a look at our guide to walks on the Cornish coast for some or our favourite routes to try.

Lisa on a Polperro Heritage Coast winter hike
Out on a January hike on the Polperro Heritage Coast

Peaceful morning walks on the beach

Cornwall’s beaches are some of the best in Europe. The coastline is punctuated by hundreds of sandy coves all the way around. You never need to travel far along the coast to find the next one. 

The winter weather might not be suited to long days of sunbathing and dips in the sea, but the beaches are still great for walks or games. Most beaches are dog-friendly, and we so we like to take the dog out for long adventures in the morning when it’s nice and quiet.

See our guide to the best beaches in Cornwall for some of the top spots.

Spot seals and other wildlife

Another benefit of fewer tourists being around is that more wildlife comes out to play. Grey seals can be seen around the coast all year round, but they’re much less shy in winter and you can see hordes of them in some coastal spots.

In the countryside also keep an eye out for wild red deer, otters and foxes. You will usually find there’s more wildlife to see if you go out for walks in the early morning, when the animals are most active.

Seal at Trevaunance Cove
Spotting seals at Trevaunance Cove on a winter coastal walk

Try surfing in Newquay

Most beaches in Cornwall have no lifeguard service in winter. Fistral Beach in Newquay is an exception, with lifeguards on patrol all year round. This is also one of the Europe’s most famous surfing beaches.

Cornish Wave runs a beginner surfing lesson all year round in Newquay. You’ll be kitted up with a warm winter wetsuit to protect against the cold sea!

See our guides to beaches in Newquay and things to do in Newquay for more activities in and around the town.

Have a hearty pub lunch in a local pub

Traditional local pubs are a hallmark of Cornish town and village life. In winter the old inns become almost like caricature storybook settings, with roaring open fires beneath beamed wooden ceilings. 

Many Cornish village pubs have been staples of the community for decades, even centuries. The Logan Rock Inn in Treen is one of our favourites, and has been open since the 16th century. Some pubs around Cornwall are even older.

No feeling is cosier than stepping in from the cold into the atmosphere of a charming Cornish pub and tucking into some hearty local food. 

Logan Rock Inn Treen
The Logan Rock Inn in Treen is one of Cornwall’s oldest pubs

Eat the famous stargazy pie

Traditional Cornish food is great to enjoy at any time of year, but there is one dish that you can only find in winter. Stargazy pie is linked to a old story in the fishing village of Mousehole, and it is served in local pubs every year on 23 December, known as Tom Bawcock’s Eve.

Hundreds of years ago, Tom Bawcock is said to have braved the stormy seas in a humble fishing boat and brought enough haul back home to bake a huge pie and feed the starving village.

Stargazy pie is served on the anniversary each year to celebrate the legend. It is filled with pilchards, eggs, potatoes and white sauce, and topped with a crusty pastry, with the pilchards’ heads poking out of the top as though they are “gazing at the stars”.

The Ship Inn, overlooking Mousehole Harbour, bakes a mammoth stargazy pie to mark the occasion each year. 

Visit museums on bad weather days

Cornwall’s reliably good weather is a big part of its appeal. But even when you’re hit with rain (which is a bit more likely in winter), there are still plenty of ways to make use of your time.

We like to explore Cornwall’s museums on rainy days. There are dozens across the county exploring different aspects of Cornish life, history and maritime traditions. Here are some of our favourites:

  • PK Porthcurno is the Museum of Global Communications, right next to one of Cornwall’s most beautiful beaches. The world’s largest submarine telegraph station once stood a few paces away from the museum.
  • The Marconi Centre on the Lizard Peninsula also has a communications theme. The centre was the setting for the first ever transatlantic radio signal in 1901, and is now dedicated to the history of radio communications in Cornwall.
  • The Royal Cornwall Museum is one of our favourite things to do in Truro, Cornwall’s county town. It tells a complete history of Cornwall from ancient dwellings through to the modern era.
  • The National Maritime Museum is a great way to learn about Cornwall’s seafaring traditions and is one of the best things to do in Falmouth.
  • The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Boscastle is something quite different to anything else you’ll find in Cornwall! It’s lots of fun to explore if you’re staying in the north of the county.
  • MAD Museum, featured in our guide to things to do in Fowey, is a great option for families with kids. It is a maze of quirky machines and inventions, many of which you can have a go at operating.
PK Porthcurno Museum of Global Communications
PK Porthcurno was the site of the world’s largest submarine telegraph station

Go ice skating at the Eden Project

Once every few years we pay a visit to the Eden Project. First opened in Cornwall in 2000, this diverse tropical ecosystem has been created on the site of an old clay mine, with thousands of species living under three huge biomes.

It is probably the closest you can get in Europe to experiencing a tropical rainforest. Between the biomes and the outdoor gardens there are about 30 acres of habitat, which makes for hours of exploration.

Throughout the winter months, a dome-covered ice-skating rink is opened to the public at the Eden Project, animated with sparkling festive decorations. The opening dates for the 2023/24 season are 14 October through to February.

Explore local art galleries

Cornwall has a vibrant local art scene that you can discover all over the county. Independent galleries are a common feature of Cornish towns and villages.

St Ives is the heartbeat of the scene, with many different galleries and art museums to explore around its harbour and Fore Street. The town is usually heaving in summer, but you can explore the galleries a bit more peacefully if you’re visiting Cornwall in winter.

See our guide to things to do in St Ives for a rundown of the best galleries to visit around the town.

Penwith Gallery St Ives
St Ives is a treasure trove of independent art galleries in Cornwall

New Year’s Eve in Cornwall

Cornwall is a fantastic place to see in the new year. There’s lots going on around the county to mark the moment.

Some of the bigger towns put on firework displays. Newquay Harbour hosts one of the biggest, and the town is the place to be if you’re looking for a NYE party into the small hours.

St Ives also puts on a spectacular display from its harbour, which forms part of a massive New Year street party. People flood the cobbled streets wearing fancy dress. In the early evening there’s also a lantern parade, bringing a magical effect to the streets (quite a few other towns do this as well).

On New Year’s Day, if you’re feeling up to it, quite a few restaurants and hotels serve a special brunch.

Festive sea swims

Many Cornish towns and villages hold traditional sea swims on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day. These are often fundraising events for charity.

Some events draw hundreds of swimmers and even more spectators! It’s a fun way to blow away the cobwebs if you’re willing to brave the chilly waters.

Events and festivals in Cornwall in winter

Winter in Cornwall might mean less tourists, but it’s a busy time for local festivals and events. The Cornish like to make the most of the festive season! You might want to plan the timing of your trip around some of these seasonal occasions.

Witness the magical Mousehole Harbour Lights

People come to the small harbour village of Mousehole from all over the world during the festive period to witness the magical Mousehole Harbour Lights.

Throughout December and into early January, the harbour is illuminated with shapes and decorations that reflect and shimmer across the water. The display involves around 10,000 bulbs and takes months for local volunteers to set up.

Mousehole gets almost as busy as summer for the lights. But this really is one of the most incredible things to see if you’re visiting Cornwall in winter. Even if you’re not staying in the area, it’s well worth driving down after dark one evening to see the spectacle.

Mousehole harbour lights
People travel from all over the world to see the Mousehole Harbour Lights at Christmas

Visit Christmas markets in Cornwall

Dozens of Cornish towns and villages host Christmas markets and local fairs during November and December. 

Some Christmas markets in Cornwall are a part of even bigger festive activities. Padstow Christmas Festival is usually the biggest celebration, running over a long weekend. In 2023 it’s taking place on 7–10 December. Padstow is Cornwall’s foodie capital and that’s reflected at the festival, which features cookery demonstrations by celebrity chefs.

Falmouth Festive Weekend is another extravaganza in early December that takes over the town’s main streets and squares. The event features market stalls, live music, an ice rink, a curling lane and kids’ entertainment.

St Ives, Truro, Fowey and Porthleven are among the other Cornish towns that hold annual Christmas markets. Check out this guide to Christmas markets in Cornwall for more details.

See the Tunnel of Lights at the Shipwreck Treasure Museum

The award-winning Shipwreck Treasure Museum overlooks Charlestown Harbour, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site near St Austell. It is packed to the rafters with thousands of artefacts from shipwrecks throughout Cornish history. 

In December and early January, the museum puts on the UK’s longest indoor tunnel of festive lights, illuminated by hundreds of thousands of sparkling lights.

The Tunnel of Lights is also accompanied with a mini German-style Christmas market and craft fair. Tickets go quickly, so make sure you book well in advance.

Santa specials on Cornwall’s heritage railways

England has a dwindling number of heritage railway lines. Bodmin & Wenford Railway is one of a couple in Cornwall, running on a line that first opened in the 1880s. The six-mile line is centred at Bodmin General Station and connects to national lines at Bodmin Parkway, making it easy to reach.

Every December the railway takes a festive theme for Santa by Steam. Stations are decorated for the occasion, and Santa and a team of elves join you on board for the ride, with festive music, food and gifts.

Helston Railway is another line that was once part of the Great Western Railway. Operating now as a heritage line, it is England’s southernmost railway. Events at Helston Railway include Santa specials in December and the annual Winter Steam-Up in January.

St Ives Feast Day

Many local parishes in Cornwall have annual feast days that are tied to ancient traditions. A disproportionate amount of these feasts fall in February, including St Ives Feast Day, which is one of the quirkiest and most drawn-out celebrations, dating back to the 15th century.

St Ives Feast Day takes place on the first Monday after 3 February. The celebrations include a symbolic game of Cornish hurling, a sport that has all but died out. The game at Feast Day is played with a silver ball, which is first paraded through town by local dignitaries amid a procession of music and dancing.

Cornish Pasty Week

Winter concludes in Cornwall every year at the end of February with a big celebration of the county’s most famous export. It’s Cornish Pasty Week!

The week-long celebration organised by the Cornish Pasties Association is marked all across Cornwall, with proceeds going towards food poverty charities.

Visit Cornwall while it’s on and you can enjoy pasty tastings, workshops, competitions and talks. Restaurants and pubs put on special pasty-themed menus, and there are even pasty-themed tours of local bakeries.

Rowes Cornish pasty Alex
Winter in Cornwall climaxes with Cornish Pasty Week!

Where to stay in Cornwall in winter

When we visit Cornwall in winter, our criteria for accommodation isn’t much different to other times of year. But there are a few things to bear in mind.

Here are a few quick tips when planning where to stay in Cornwall in winter:

  • Lots of hotels and guest houses offer cheaper rates out of season, and these vary quite a bit. We use the regional section of to search and compare accommodation for Cornwall trips. Read the reviews carefully to see what previous guests have thought. Tip: if you click through to a hotel, scroll down to “Availability” and click on the dates, and you will be able to see the prices for different trip timings.
  • It’s good to be flexible with your dates if possible. That’s why we love being able to work remotely! You might get better deals at short notice, or be better able to plan dates around the weather outlook.
  • Look for places to stay that have fireplaces. This is something we always look for in winter stays. Whether it’s a self-stay cottage with a log burner or a cosy inn with an open fire, it’s so lovely to have for cold winter evenings. For example, the Yacht Inn in Penzance is a seafront pub that has a welcoming open fire.
  • Think carefully about location. This may depend on the activities you want to do, but for example, you may want to stay close to a town that has indoor activities, or right by the coast for quick access to walking trails.

Check out some of our Cornwall accommodation guides for ideas:

The Yacht Inn Penzance
The Yacht Inn in Penzance has a roaring fire in winter

Working remotely in Cornwall in winter

If you have flexible remote working arrangements, taking a workation in Cornwall is a brilliant way to visit Cornwall out of season without using up your annual leave.

Our annual trip to Cornwall in winter is now often a remote working one. We found a great little Vrbo in Paul near Mousehole that has space for us to set up our working desks with a sea view, and then we can go exploring on weekends.

Cornwall has adapted quickly to the remote working boom. There are many different options for creating your perfect remote working office. Many hotels now include desks in bedrooms or have workspaces, and there is a growing number of coworking spaces in Cornwall.

Paul Vrbo winter sunrise
January sunrise view from the Vrbo we stayed at in Paul, new Mousehole

What to pack for visiting Cornwall in winter

We’ve already mentioned the unpredictability of the Cornish weather in winter. You might get all four seasons in one day, even in January or February. This is something to consider when packing for your trip.

On a recent January trip, it hit 12°C one Saturday, which felt even warmer with sunshine all day, and the beach at Perranporth was packed. But the next day we had relentless downpours and nothing but cold. You need to get a bit lucky.

Here are some thoughts on what you should pack for Cornwall in winter:

  • If you want to go swimming in the sea, consider bringing a wet suit. Preferably a thick one! You can hire them in some towns and at popular beaches, so it’s a good idea to check that before you set off.
  • Don’t leave the sunscreen at home. You still might need it for a beach day or coastal walk when the sun is out.
  • Come prepared for bad weather. Pack waterproofs (including a good coat or jacket), an umbrella, and plenty of warm clothes such as jumpers, thermals, hats, gloves and scarves.
  • Bring a good pair of hiking boots if you’re planning to do any walks. The winter terrain can be most treacherous, as I found out when I forgot to bring my boots for a walk on the Polperro Heritage Coast. See our guide to hiking boots for travel for ideas.
  • Download an app like that allows you to navigate when out of signal. This can be useful on hiking trails or when driving on those rural Cornish country roads.
  • Bring some indoor activities for any rainy days, such as books, board games, puzzle books. Comfy casual clothes may also come in handy for any museum or gallery visits, or lazy days in your accommodation.
Perranporth Beach January
A sunny Saturday can still bring some crowds to Perranporth Beach in January

Have you visited Cornwall in winter? We’d love to hear about your experiences or any recommendations you have. Let us know in the comments below.

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Cornwall in winter is a magical experience. Our guide explains all you need to know about visiting Cornwall in December, January & February. #Cornwall #Cornwallwinter

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