Centred on its three-spired 19th-century cathedral, Truro is Cornwall's capital city. Once a busy river port and one of Cornwall's five Stannary towns (where tin was assayed and stamped for export), these days it's a busy commercial city, with a lively centre dominated by the usual coffee shops and chain stores.
Overlooking the majestic sweep of Mount's Bay, the old harbour of Penzance has a salty, sea-blown charm that feels altogether more authentic than many of Cornwall's polished-up ports. Its streets and shopping arcades still feel real and a touch ramshackle, and there's nowhere better for a windy-day walk than the town's seafront Victorian promenade.
If Padstow is Cornwall's Cannes, then Newquay is its Costa del Sol. Perched on the cliffs above a cluster of white-sand beaches, and packed with enough pubs, bars and dodgy clubs to give Ibiza a run for its money, it's become the summer venue of choice for beer boys, beach bums and surf addicts alike, all of whom descend on the town in their droves in summer.
Isles of Scilly
While only 28 miles west of the mainland, in many ways the Isles of Scilly feel like a different world. Life on this archipelago of around 140 tiny islands seems hardly to have changed in decades: there are no traffic jams, no supermarkets, no multinational hotels, and the only noise pollution comes from breaking waves and cawing gulls.
Padstow & Rock
If anywhere symbolises Cornwall's changing character, it's Padstow. This once-sleepy fishing port has been transformed into one of the county's most cosmopolitan corners thanks to celebrity chef Rick Stein, whose property portfolio encompasses several restaurants, shops and hotels, as well as a seafood school and fish-and-chip bar.
Once notorious as a smugglers' haven and an ill-famed graveyard for ships, the rugged Lizard Peninsula offers Cornwall's wildest coastal panoramas. Wind-lashed in winter, in summer its heaths and cliffs blaze with wild flowers, and its beaches and coves are perfect for a bracing swim. The main town is Helston, famous for its annual street party, Flora Day, held on 8 May.
Tucked into the long curve of coast between the Fowey River and Plymouth Sound, Looe is half historic fishing port, half bucket-and-spade resort. Split into East and West Looe and linked by a historic arched bridge, it's a pleasant base for exploring Cornwall's southeastern reaches, and has some lovely beaches nearby.
Southeast Cornwall & the Rame Peninsula
Often called 'Cornwall's forgotten corner', the Rame Peninsula remains one of the county's most unspoilt pockets, and it's a fine place to head when you want to give the crowds the slip. This area was once parcelled up between some of Cornwall's old aristocratic families, and several grand country estates are open to the public.
The northernmost of the main islands, little St Martin's is rightly renowned for its beaches. Worth hunting out are Lawrence's Bay on the south coast, which becomes a broad sweep of sand at low tide; the secluded cove of Perpitch in the southeast; and Great Bay on the north, arguably Scilly's finest beach.