There is lots to see and do in the Southwest of England, with great places to explore in Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and Dorset for the perfect staycation.
UK holidays are more popular than ever with many people now opting for a ‘staycation’. And let’s face it, it’s much easier to bundle the kids and your luggage into the car, rather than having to mess around at airport security – because someone always leaves something they shouldn’t in their hand luggage. It’s even easy to take your pets on a UK holiday with you, so you won’t have to pay more than your holiday costs to have them boarded too.
A popular staycation location is the Southwest of England, also known as the West Country. It has the largest area of all regions, and reaches from Gloucestershire and Wiltshire, all the way to Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.
There are lots of things to see and do in the Southwest of England, and we’ve rounded up some of the great places to explore in the historic counties of Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and Dorset.
Known for its stunning scenery and world class beaches which make it a great place to surf, it’s easy to see why Cornwall is one of the leading holiday destinations in the UK. You can see castle ruins and old tin mines dotted around the county, which are all part of the fabulous history you can discover and explore. Plus, with picturesque chocolate box cottages and delicious local produce, there’s something for everyone in old Kernow.
Location & Climate
Cornwall is the most westerly part in all of the UK. It’s bordered to the north and west by the Celtic Sea, to the south by the English Channel, and to the east by Devon, with the River Tamar forming the border between them. It also has both the most southerly and westerly points on mainland Britain at Land’s End and Lizard Point. The Cornish coast stretches 422 miles, meaning there are plenty of beaches, cliffs and coves to enjoy while on holiday in Cornwall. The highest point of the county is Brown Willy (yes we heard you giggling) which is found on the Bodmin Moor standing at 420m above sea level.
The effects of the Gulf Stream means that Cornwall has the mildest and sunniest climate in the UK. Warm ocean currents ensure that snow and frost are rare, even during the winter months. It has 1541 hours of sunlight a year and has the only subtropical climate in the UK, so you’ll even find palm trees.
Truro, the only city in Cornwall, is a foodie destination and vibrant retail hub. It’s surrounded by beautiful gardens and rivers, and is home to festivals and major events throughout the year.
A visit to Truro city centre has to start with the impressive faux gothic cathedral which is visible from all over the city. The friendly staff provide tours, and there’s a café and shop to visit too. In its shadow, a warren of little streets are home to an impressive array of independent traders. From boutiques to bookshops and designer interiors to delicatessens. The café culture is pretty great too, with hip coffee houses, artisan ice creameries and cocktail bars dotted across the centre.
Mighty coastal fortresses, beautiful hilltop castles and the legend of King Arthur, visiting castles in Cornwall is an adventure for all the family. And one where you can watch history come alive.
Set on the rugged North Cornwall coast, Tintagel Castle is one of the most spectacular historic sites in Britain. This English Heritage site is supposedly the place of King Arthur’s conception, and sees visitors from all over the world. But the path to the castle has long been challenging, with over a hundred steps winding towards the cliff-top ruins. So enter the new footbridge! Newly opened, the 70m bridge is recreating the historic crossing from the mainland to the headland. The original bridge was lost some time between the 15th and 16th century, so this new bridge is making it much easier for the 250,000 visitors a year to reach the 13th century castle.
Immerse yourself in history and visit the iconic St Michael’s Mount. This rocky island is home to a medieval church and castle, with the oldest buildings dating from the 12th century. If the weather is favourable, take a short boat trip to the island, or at low tide, enjoy the walk across the causeway.
Fishing has always been central to Cornwall’s economy, which has led to the development of many coastal towns and villages. Some of which have appeared in popular TV shows Poldark and Doc Martin. Visit the beautiful and picturesque Charlestown, home to its collection of tall ships and traditional appearance. Or the seaside town of Looe, which welcomes visitors all year round whilst still retaining a working fishing port. Stand on the quayside in the evening and watch the boats return before dining on fresh fish in a local restaurant.
Devon is a county of great beauty, history and culture, with lots of interesting places to explore. It boasts two coastlines with a whopping 450 miles of glorious beaches, two National Parks, five areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Surf, walk, shop, eat, relax…Devon has it all covered.
North or South?
The northern shoreline has greater expanses of sand and taller cliffs, with impressive views along the straighter coastline. It has Unesco’s first UK World Biosphere Reserve, covering 55 square miles and centred on Braunton Burrows, the largest sand dune system in England. The southern coast is more indented, with coves and estuaries. It consists of rolling hills dotted with small towns, with the larger towns of Torquay and Paignton being the principal seaside reports.
Many of Devon’s beaches have won awards for being family-friendly. With long stretches of sand, sheltered clean waters, good facilities and rock pools a-plenty, they’re a great place to spend a day. Many are also dog-friendly, so your little furry friends can enjoy a holiday too.
Croyde Bay is a beautifully sandy beach, situated between Woolacombe and Saunton Sands. It’s highly regarded by surfers, and features rock pools and a lovely characterful pub (The Thatch) close by, with outdoor seating for that refreshing drink.
Sunny Cove is directly across the estuary from Salcombe’s popular North Sands and South Sands beaches. It has gently sloping fine golden sand and the great views make it very popular with families. Plus dogs are allowed all year round too.
Lannacombe beach is one of South Devon’s true hidden gems. Nestled away between Prawle Point and Start Point, it has gorgeous sand, with rocky areas to either side and plenty of rockpools with a small stream running down the beach – perfect for the kids!
Hope Cove consists of two sandy bays, Inner and Outer Hope. As the name suggests, Inner Hope is more sheltered and is actually home to a small harbour tucked away behind the rocks at the northern end. The twin beaches back onto the charming village which has plenty of facilities making this a popular family beach.
The 630-mile South West Coast Path between Minehead in Somerset and Poole in Dorset stretches the length of both Devon shores, offering some of the finest coastal walks in Britain. It was originally created by coastguards, patrolling the south west peninsula looking out for smugglers. They literally had to check in every inlet so their cliff top walk was well used and gives us the amazing path we use today. As well as the views, you can also see old coastguard cottages along the route, and there’s a walk to suit everyone. From family walks and easy access walks, to demanding routes for the more adventurous. Whichever path you decide to take, there’s so much to discover on a walk along the South West Coast Path.
One of the larger English counties, Somerset has so many surprises waiting to be unwrapped. It has lots of wonderful things to see; wildflower meadows, beach waterfalls, ancient wells, unique carvings and underground reservoirs. With stunning views across open countryside, pretty villages and sandy beaches, and not forgetting the world-famous Glastonbury Festival, it’s not surprising visitors are flocking to explore this exciting county.
If you’re looking for family fun, activities and things to do, then Somerset is the place. With its large choice of attractions, events, festivals and top class local food and drink, this is the place to relax, have fun and indulge.
There is a wide choice of Somerset attractions for all the family, whether it be flying owls at Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm, riding the slides at Brean Splash Water Park or trying adventure caving at Wookey Hole. Or for those wanting a little less action, explore the stunning coastlines, and the wildlife on the Somerset Levels.
Cheddar Gorge & Caves
Explore one of Britain’s most spectacular natural landmarks. At almost 400 feet deep and three miles long, this is England’s largest gorge. The gorge began forming around one million years ago during the last Ice Age when water from melting glaciers formed a river, which over time started to carve into the limestone rock creating the steep cliffs you see today. The Cheddar Yeo River gradually made its way underground, creating the famous Cheddar Caves. It holds many fascinating secrets about our prehistoric ancestors, and is an international centre for caving and rock climbing.
Somerset has some beautiful gardens, many with the added attraction of a historic house to explore and tea rooms serving local food. Make sure you visit Barrington Court, a Tudor manor house, beautifully restored in the 1920s, with farm buildings, abundant flowers and orchards. Also head for Hestercombe House & Gardens near Taunton, a unique combination of three centuries of garden design. Lose yourself in 50 acres of lakes, temples and tranquil woodland walks.
These towns bustle with events, independent shops, street markets and quirky characters. From chocolate box country villages complete with thatched cottages and ancient bridges, to Victorian seaside resorts such as Weston-Super-Mare, and medieval villages with market squares and towns alive with links to legends. Check out the town of Frome for its historic buildings and independent shops. Or Axbridge, with its colourful shop fronts, half timbered buildings and the stunning 13th century Church of St John. Or the pretty coastal town of Watchet, which is a popular spot for holiday makers, with its sleepy streets filled with quaint shops and charming pubs and eateries, an active marina, a gorgeous pebbled coastline and plenty of history.
Looking for a beautiful and welcoming place to enjoy the perfect break? Want somewhere that’s bursting with things to do, with fantastic beaches and miles of unspoilt countryside to explore? Then welcome to Dorset.
Covering an area of more than 1000 square miles, Dorset borders Devon to the west, Somerset to the north-west, Wiltshire to the north-east, and Hampshire to the east. It offers sweeping cliff walks, breathtaking views and cute little towns and villages, with plenty of places to eat, shop and explore.
The Jurassic Coast
This World Heritage Site stretches from Exmouth in East Devon to Old Harry Rocks in Dorset, a distance of 96 miles. The Jurassic Coast spans 185 million years of geological history, with coastal erosion having exposed an almost continuous sequence of rock formation covering the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. At different times, this area has been desert, shallow tropical sea and marsh, and the fossilised remains of the various creatures that lived here have been preserved in the rocks. The area around Lulworth Cove contains a fossil forest, and 71 different rock strata have been identified at Lyme Regis, each with its own species of ammonite.
With the second largest natural harbour in the world, Poole is a port town and tourist resort with beaches, shops, cafés and some great old pubs. It’s a playground for summer watersports and boats offering tours of the coast and stunning Brownsea Island.
You can’t go to Poole without visiting the beautiful Sandbanks, listed as one of the best beaches in the country. Home to some of the most expensive properties in the UK, the fine golden sand gradually slopes away into the water ensuring it is safe for even young children. There are also Lifeguards on duty during the main season, so it’s great for a family day out.
Voted the UK’s best beach (TripAdvisor’s Travellers’ Choice), the seven-mile stretch of unspoilt coastline provides the perfect backdrop for a family staycation. Known as the ‘coast with the most’, there are acres of space to enjoy outdoor pursuits or mess about on the water, which makes it the perfect place for a seaside getaway. And not to mention the Bournemouth Air Festival, which takes place in August every year. If the weather’s not on your side, there is still plenty to enjoy inside, with museums, shops and amusements. Plus there are hundreds of bustling restaurants, cafés and bars in the heart of the town.
The coastal villages of Boscombe, Southbourne and Westbourne are dotted along the clifftops, home to independent boutiques and brasseries. Boscombe, known for its market selling a wide range of fresh local produce, is open on Thursdays and Saturdays. The Royal Arcade is definitely worth a look too. A beautiful throwback to the Victorian era with a fascinating and varied range of independent shops and galleries.
With its award winning beaches, coastal nature reserves, stunning heritage sites and charming Quay, Christchurch is the perfect choice for a family break. It’s also right next to the New Forest National Park, known for its wild horses, ancient woodland and picturesque cliff top walks.
The historic Priory Church and Castle ruins are the perfect contrast to the independent shops and busy high street stores, but combined, form the attractive, bustling Christchurch town centre. Also, visit the nearby villages of Highcliffe with its Castle, and Mudeford with its Quay, which is great for boat trips.