Living in Cornwall has allowed me to explore the county at length. I’m totally enchanted by its beauty – but not so much its prices. Things can be pretty pricey down in the South West in summer, but I’ve got some great tips for how to visit Cornwall on a budget – without missing out on the best stuff.
I’ll be looking at different ways you can save money while enjoying an amazing trip to Cornwall. Luckily, the outdoors is mostly free – and Cornwall is kind of all about the outdoors (and the pubs, and the smuggling.)
So, let’s take a look at how to visit Cornwall on a budget!
Why should you visit Cornwall on a budget?
I absolutely love Cornwall – which is lucky, considering I found myself living in the county for the better part of a year. Why? Well, hot tip, folks: look at a map before choosing an overseas education institution!
Anyway, as far as serendipitous moments go – ending up living in Cornwall was pretty brilliant.
Cornwall is one of the UK’s most famous holiday hotspots. This is largely thanks to the absolutely gorgeous beaches. Seriously – I’m Australian, aka a bit of a beach snob, and I love the Cornish beaches.
The beaches aren’t usually enormous, but they are fringed with beautifully blue water. Many locals boast that Cornwall is like the Caribbean; I have to agree!
While the beaches are probably Cornwall’s #1 selling point, there’s much more to love. Cornwall has a unique history and language compared to the rest of England, making it a fascinating place to visit.
My favourite thing about Cornwall is that it’s that little bit brooding. It’s got a history of smuggling, and there’s quirky sights all over. Don’t be fooled – there’s more to Cornwall than beaches, and that’s why it’s such a great spot to visit.
Can you visit Cornwall on a budget?
Cornwall. Beautiful and interesting? Hell, yes! Cheap? Ah, not so much.
The bad news – Cornwall is a very popular tourist destination in the UK, and there is huge demand in the summer months. This demand means that prices, especially for accommodation, can rise hugely.
Many of the accommodation providers cater to the luxury/high end market. In particular, activities like watersports can be very pricey, while eating out will also put a big dent in your wallet.
It’s not all bad, though. Cornwall is much, much cheaper than London and many other major UK towns. Things like takeaway food and drink are still pretty cheap – in fact, when I posted on Reddit about moving to Cornwall, I was assured, “the beer is cheap and the company is good.”
This turned out to be very true.
So, in short – yes, you can absolutely visit Cornwall on a budget. You’ll need to be a bit smart about it, but you can easily enjoy the best Cornwall has to offer (think scrummy fish n chips and coastal walks) without spending a ton.
How to visit Cornwall on a budget
If you visit Cornwall, there’s going to be a few expenses. The main ones are: transport, accommodation, activities and food. I’ll look at each one and how you can stick to a budget.
Most people drive into Cornwall, but if you’re car-less you don’t need to despair. The cheapest way to get to a major town like Truro or Falmouth is to catch the bus.
Now, be warned: it toddles along pretty slowly, but if you book in advance it can be super cheap. Take a look at both the Megabus and National Express, both of whom connect Cornwall with other cities including Exeter, Plymouth, Bristol and London.
If you’re planning to take a budget trip to Cornwall, then you’ll want to think about how you’ll get around the county.
Uber doesn’t work in Cornwall, and while there are some local taxi companies they are EXPENSIVE. Like “yeah-nah-I’d-rather-walk-thanks” expensive. Given Cornwall is quite large, you’re not likely to get much change from 50 pounds going from one town to another.
The easiest way to get around Cornwall is if you have your own vehicle. This will give you access to all the most beautiful sights in the county, as many are not easily accessible by public transport.
That said, you can get around by public transport. This is especially the case if you are planning to stick to hotspots like St Ives, Newquay and Falmouth.
From these towns, you’ll be able to reach many (if not all) of the most beautiful spots in Cornwall.
Public transport can be a little confusing in Cornwall as most of the towns seem to run on their own system. You can find everything you need to know on the council’s website here. Note that if you’re staying for an extended period you can get an unlimited transport pass for £28, which is really great value!
Accommodation is likely to be your biggest cost in Cornwall. Particularly in high season, accommodation in Cornwall can be kind of eye-watering. Nonetheless, you can definitely do it on a budget.
My biggest tip for exploring Cornwall on a budget is to consider travelling in off-season. There’s certainly plenty of appeal in visiting during the warm peak – but you can still enjoy Cornwall the rest of the year.
In winter, you can expect accommodation prices to plummet – you can easily save 50% or more, especially if you are planning to stay for a longer period.
Whenever you plan to visit, there are three main budget options – depending on just how budget you want to get.
Cornwall is brimming with charming cottages and other self-catering options. They cover a range of budgets, so you’ve got a great chance of finding something that won’t totally exhaust your budget.
The great thing about self-catering cottages is that they come with kitchens. Eating out is a huge expense in Cornwall, so if you can prepare your own meals you will save a lot of money.
While staying in Cornwall, we had the pleasure of staying at Glebe Hall, self-catering cottages in Mawgan near Helston. I can’t recommend this place more highly; it has everything you would need and the hosts are absolutely gorgeous people. I have no hesitation in recommending this place, as I’m sure you’ll love it.
I have a love-hate relationship with hostels, in that I love to hate them. Despite the questionable behaviour I’ve observed in them, I’m still all about the hostel life.
There’s actually quite a few hostels in Cornwall, and they’re always a great way to stick to a budget. This is especially the case if you are travelling on your own and happy to stay in a dorm room.
Most of the hostels are located in the bigger towns in Cornwall. This is helpful as it means that it’s easy to get public transport if you’re car-less, or trying to preserve petrol.
Here are some of my picks for hostels near bigger towns in Cornwall:
- One great place to stay in a hostel is in St Ives. It’s one of the most famous places in Cornwall, with a gorgeous beach and plenty to do. The main hostel in St Ives is Cohort Hostel, or there is a nearby farmstay called Lower Penderleath St Ives Farm Hostel.
- I love bustling and bohemian Falmouth. It’s popular with local students and has an amazing selection of multicultural restaurants. It’s a bit further from the famous beaches, but I just love its vibe. There’s a new hostel there called Falmouth Lodge Backpackers.
- Newquay is another hotspot which is particularly popular with surfers. Here you’ll find plenty to do, and many beautiful beaches. Newquay also has great transport links to other places in Cornwall. Newquay International Backpackers Hostel is a great choice there.
If you’re willing to go a bit further out, there are some totally charming YHA hostels. Keep in mind that for these, you’ll really need a car, or you’ll be a bit stuck.
- YHA Boscastle is in close proximity to some of my favourite sites like the Museum of Witchcraft & Magic and Tintagel Castle. It’s located right on the harbour and oh my word, it is STUNNING.
- Another hostel enjoying one of the most picturesque locations in all of Cornwall is YHA Lizard Point. This gorgeous property looks out over the coast, and is so beautiful you might not believe it’s so cheap.
- Charming Coverack is one of my favourite places in Cornwall, and also home to a gorgeous hostel: YHA Coverack! I adore this little town, and I’m sure you’ll love staying there. Be sure to visit the harbour!
If you’re really on a budget – or just enjoy staying in a tent (I don’t know, some people like it I hear) – then camping is the go. In the warm, dry summer months, it’s a great way to save some cash in Cornwall.
In winter – I’d personally give it a miss. Full disclosure: I’m a total baby when it comes to camping, and have a coffee machine in our camper. HOWEVER, it rains a lot in Cornwall, and even snows!
You can find lots of campsites around Cornwall. I find that the major campsites are actually pretty expensive – around £50 a night for a campsite. A CAMPSITE! Anyway, if that does interest you then you can find a lot of campsites listed on Pitchup.
Some of my favourite campsites are:
- Gear Farm near Helston, which is a great budget option. Just £9 per adult or you can hire a “ready made” tent for about £60.
- YHA Coverack also has campsites! The price here is £14 per adult.
You could easily spend a small fortune on activities in Cornwall. However, the great news is that there are so many great free things to do in Cornwall.
Nature is a huge part of Cornwall’s charm, and most of it costs nothing to enjoy! There’s also a few other free or low cost activities to enjoy. No doubt, if you’re on a budget in Cornwall, you’ll still be able to find plenty to do.
Of course, you can’t visit Cornwall and not visit the beaches. What’s the best thing about beaches? Well, that they’re totally free!
(The sand and surf and sunshine are good too, I guess).
There are plenty of beaches you can visit for free in Cornwall. You may need to pay for parking at some of them if you drive, but apart from that it won’t cost a thing to enjoy a beautiful day at the seaside.
Some of my favourite beaches in Cornwall are: St Ives, Poldhu Cove, Kynance Cove, Church Cove and Newquay.
Hint: if you’re a National Trust member, you can get free parking at lots of Cornwall’s beaches.
Hiking and walking
Another great free thing to do in Cornwall is to go for hikes and walks. There are so many all around Cornwall, and they’re generally free to visit.
Of all of the hikes, my personal favourite are the coastal walks. Cornwall’s coasts are so incredibly beautiful and dramatic, and you can walk for hours and hours along them. For a list of some of the most beautiful coastal works in Cornwall, check out this list.
The coastal walks are certainly not the only ones available, however. There’s lot of beautiful Cornish countryside to explore – either on your own or with your dog in tow! Best of all, most of the walks are totally free. You can even bring a packed lunch for a budget-friendly day.
Free museums and activities
While some of Cornwall’s museums are painfully expensive (I’m looking at you, Maritime Museum!), there are still others that are perfect if you’re on a budget.
It doesn’t get much better than totally free. There are a number of free museums in Cornwall, including the Museum of Cornish Life in Helston. Others, like the Museum of Smuggling in Polperro, will cost you only a few pounds.
It’s not just museums that are free, either. Another freebie fave of mine is the ever so charming Donkey Sanctuary!
Explore beautiful towns
To borrow a phrase from some of the sellers in Thailand, “it’s free to look!”
Now, that’s definitely the case if you’re dropping in at some of Cornwall’s most charming towns, like Charlestown and Mousehole. It won’t cost you anything just to go for an explore around the higgledy piggledy streets.
For harbour towns, you can even look out and think back to the days of smuggling and piracy. Other market towns are totally charming, while places like Penryn are often looked over but filled with hidden gems.
Down the laneways you’ll usually find pubs, cafes, shops and more, but it doesn’t cost you a single pence just to look around and snap some photos!
Okay, so it’s not free – but for just a few pounds you can soak up the atmosphere and charm of Cornwall’s gorgeous pubs. The old pubs in Cornwall are definitely my favourite, but you’ll find all sorts – from modern seaside inns to hidden-away country gems.
For just the cost of a pint, you can sit and watch the world go by. Some of them even put on special events at night, like Cornish singing. Now that is an event that should not be missed!
One of the biggest ways you can save money in your Cornwall budget is on food. Eating out in Cornwall can be extremely expensive – especially if you pick the more top-end places.
Now, of course the food is totally delicious at Rick Stein’s and the like, but if you’re on a budget, sacrifices need to be made!
You can easily cook up your own delicious seafood and other meals from ingredients purchased at the supermarket.
While we were “back to the student lifestyle”, we shopped almost exclusively in Lidl (there’s one in Helston and one in Penryn, amongst other places). We ate very well on a shoestring!
You’ll easily save a huge amount by cooking your own delicious dinners, and bringing picnic lunches wherever you can.
If you’re totally over cooking for yourself, then there are two classic Cornish meals that won’t break the bank. First of all, the humble Cornish pasty – delicious, and usually just a couple of quid. Then there’s fish n chips, which is an amazing tasting dinner that won’t break the bank.
The best tips for visiting Cornwall on a budget
- If you are planning on visiting paid attractions in Cornwall, pick up some brochures from the Services. They’ll usually have coupons that will entitle you to a small discount on entry.
- Off-peak is definitely your friend! I can’t stress how much money you can save by booking outside July/August.
- A National Trust card is incredibly helpful for free parking in Cornwall – so don’t forget to bring your card if you have one! If you are visiting from overseas and are planning on visiting National Trust places in Cornwall, it might be worth investing in an overseas visitor’s pass.