Planning a Cornwall road trip? From beaches and great restaurants, to interesting attractions, this route takes in the best of the county.
If you haven’t been on a road trip around Cornwall yet, then what are you waiting for? When it comes to beautiful English counties, this one has it all. The beaches are some of the most spectacular in the country, with places like Kynance Cove and Fistral Beach attracting tourists from around the world.
There are cute towns and picturesque villages dotted all over Cornwall, with destinations such as St Ives and Port Isaac being a few of our top picks. Then there’s the food scene. Cornwall has access to some of the freshest fish and seafood in the country, so it’s hardly surprising so many top chefs have set up restaurants down here.
Plus, there are some great attractions in the county too, including The Eden Project and the Lost Gardens of Heligan to name a few. Whether you want to walk some of the South West Coast Path, enjoy plates of delicious seafood or fancy an adventure on the water, this Cornwall road trip itinerary has lots of great tips and recommendations.
Ready? It’s time to hop in the car and start exploring!
The Perfect Cornwall Road Trip Itinerary
This trip can be as long or short as you’d like it to be. I’ve plotted out a route that groups places together based on location, but you could choose one section of this itinerary or plan more of a zigzag style trip from the north coast to the south coast if there are specific places you’re keen to see.
This stunning little Cornish village on the north coast of the county is a special place to begin our road trip! With dramatic sea views, ancient buildings and plenty of access to nature, walkers will enjoy exploring on foot.
If you’re interested in history, you’ve just got to visit Tintagel Old Post Office. One of the top National Trust houses in Cornwall, this stone farmhouse was constructed over 600 years ago. It’s wonderfully wonky, and feels like a hotch-potch of design from various periods of history.
I’d also recommend a trip to Saint Nectan’s Glen, a peaceful area of woodland close by. The highlight is St Nectan’s Kieve, a 60ft waterfall which gushes water through the rocks. Pack your wellies and you can even paddle through it for some awesome (and slightly damp) views!
If you’re looking for a walking route in Tintagel, you could go on a 5-mile circular route which starts at the Old Post Office and passes the church and Tintagel Castle (connected with the legend of King Arthur) before heading to the cliffs and then on to Trebarwith Strand Beach. Obviously the only way to finish a coastal jaunt like that is with fish and chips at the village pub!
Next on our Cornwall road trip we’re heading to a traditional fishing village that’s filled with wiggly cobbled streets, fisherman’s cottages and a charming harbour. As you’ll be travelling by car it’s worth noting that there’s no parking in the centre of Port Isaac. You’ll need to leave your car in the main car park at the top, then walk down the steep roads to the harbour area.
The main draws here are the harbour and the skinny streets littered with seaside gift shops, pasty stores and fish restaurants. If you’re looking for a really special restaurant to dine at, I’d recommend checking out Outlaw’s Fish Kitchen or Outlaw’s New Road – top chef Nathan Outlaw’s two restaurants in the village.
Next up, we’re heading to Padstow – a town regarded as Cornwall’s foodie mecca! With its pretty harbour, candy-coloured houses and great views on the headland, it’s a gorgeous place to add into your Cornwall road trip itinerary. In fact, it’s one of our favourite places to visit in Cornwall.
There’s a plethora of great restaurants, cafes, seafood bars, fish and chip shops and delis in Padstow, plus a cookery school run by Rick Stein. Before your visit I’d recommend you check out our guide to the best places to eat in Padstow , which includes Michelin-starred Paul Ainsworth At No.6 (one of our favourite restaurants in Cornwall!)
Drive along the coast from Padstow towards Newquay and you can plan a stop at the incredible Bedruthan Steps. I think this is one of the best views in Cornwall. It’s just incredible!
I would have said you time your visit for when the tide is out so you can climb down the 120 steps to the beach and take in the immense scale of the rocks. However, there was a rock fall recently so the beach access has now been closed. Even from the cliff path there are really amazing views of the enormous jagged rocks .
There’s parking at the top, run by the National Trust, and from the car park it’s just a short walk down to the cliffs.
Newquay is one of the hubs for family holidays in Cornwall. You can spend a day on the beach, learn to surf, enjoy some great food or simply explore the cute shops and cafes dotted around the town.
I’d definitely recommend spending some time on Fistral Beach. Often regarded as one of the best beaches in Great Britain, it’s got a large area of sand and is known for its huge waves. It’s a surfer’s paradise, and over the summer you’ll see plenty of surf competitions taking place, including the World Surf League qualifying series at Boardmasters. If you’re looking for places to stay on your road trip, there are some great options in Newquay in our guide to the best luxury hotels in Cornwall.
You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to great beaches in Cornwall, but Perranporth is another of my favourites. There are three miles of golden sand, some decent waves and lots of interesting rock formations (including a rock archway) which kids will adore exploring. At low tide it’s fun climbing up the rocks and exploring the natural pools too.
There’s so much more to this fishing town than meets the eye. As well as being a gorgeous spot for a beach break, this quintessential Cornish town also has an arty, cultural side. Head to the Tate St Ives to peruse some great works of contemporary art.
Alternatively pay a visit to the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden and wander around the gardens enjoying the stunning bronze artworks in amongst the plants and trees.
In amongst the arty attractions you’ll also find plenty of nautical-themed fashion stores, gift shops, ice cream stores and restaurants serving up the freshest seafood.
If you’re looking for a great walking route, I’d recommend the three-mile route that runs from the spectacular beach at Sennen Cove all the way to geographical landmark Land’s End. This is a great trail for bird lovers, with cormorants, guillemots and kittywakes all spotted regularly, as well as larger birds of prey.
The beach at Sennen Cove is another that is popular with surfers – watch out for some big waves rolling in! After visiting Sennen you could continue on along the coast towards the Minack Theatre. If you want to see a show at this open-air theatre carved into the edge of the rock, be sure to book in advance.
Marazion and St Michael’s Mount
You might not be familiar with the name Marazion, but I bet you’ve heard of St Michael’s Mount! Marazion is the town in southwest Cornwall which lies opposite the famous island. While Marazion itself is lovely with cute seaside pubs and two lovely beaches, the big reason to stop by is to visit the island.
In order to visit St Michael’s Mount you’ll need to book a timeslot (so the island doesn’t become too busy – after all only 25 people live there usually!) As it’s a tidal island, you can walk across the causeway at low tide. Once on land you can explore the 12th century castle and gardens along with the harbour village, where you’ll find shops and cafes.
So, you’ve seen some great beaches on your Cornwall road trip, but prepare for something super special! Kynance Cove is often regarded as one of the prettiest spots in the entire country. This tidal beach is famous for its white sand, turquoise sea and rock stacks which you can explore at low tide. There are some interesting caves too, with intriguing names such as The Parlour and The Drawing Room!
There’s a car park at the top and then it’s around 15 minutes to walk down to the beach. As this is such a beautiful spot, it gets extremely busy in peak summer. I’d recommend visiting out of peak season or arriving early in the morning.
If you want to add in a walk in this region you can set off on a two-mile scenic walk to the southernmost point on the mainland, known as Lizard Point. In fine weather it looks almost tropical with bright turquoise waters and blue skies. Meanwhile, stormy weather creates dramatic scenes – so much so you’ll understand why they chose to build a prominent lighthouse on Lizard Point!
Lost Gardens of Heligan
After so much time by the coast, it’s time to take in a few of Cornwall’s key attractions. Located close to St Austell, the Lost Gardens of Heligan cover 200 acres. After World War I they were abandoned and gradually became overgrown. They were restored in the 1990s and are well worth seeing for yourself.
The garden is particularly famous for its impressive collection of 70 veteran camellias and 350 ancient rhododendrons, some of which were planted back in the 1850s. If you’re green fingered you might want to grab a map so you can find out about the various plant species within the gardens.
The Eden Project
Continuing on inland on our Cornwall road trip, our final stop is at the world-famous Eden Project. The tropical domes have become iconic. Inside you’ll find the world’s largest rainforest in captivity with steamy jungles, waterfalls and even a canopy walkway that takes you above the treetops.
It’s a great place for all the family, and does an important job of educating those of all ages about the unique relationship mankind has with plants and trees. The Eden Project is also home to vast sculptures, beautiful outdoor gardens and England’s longest zipwire.
Things to think about before your Cornwall road trip
Before you work out the best route for your road trip through Cornwall, there are a few things you might want to bear in mind.
- If you’re visiting in peak summer, think carefully about timings and where you’d like to visit. Lots of Cornish villages and beaches get very busy (especially when the sun is shining) so it’s a good idea to get up early and secure your parking space.
- Similarly, pubs, restaurants and cafes can get very busy during the summer holidays. If there’s somewhere in particular you’re keen to visit, I’d recommend booking well in advance.
- Some places require tickets. For example, if you’re thinking of visiting St Michael’s Mount, it’s worth booking your spot in advance.
- Keep an eye on the weather forecast. It’s good to stay a little flexible as you might want to rejig your plans if there are some rainy days during your trip. If you’re looking for indoor activities, I’d recommend The Eden Project, the Tate St Ives or heading to one of Cornwall’s buzzy cities.
- Prepare for narrow roads! Some of the roads leading to Cornwall’s beaches and fishing villages are narrow and windy.
- Respect the locals and protect the landscapes. The locals are used to hordes of tourists invading every summer, but remember to be respectful during your trip. Always take your litter with you and be courteous to others.
I hope this post has given you lots of ideas to help you plan an amazing road trip through Cornwall. If you’re looking for more inspiration, check out our guides to the most amazing places to visit in Cornwall, best restaurants in Padstow, the top National Trust houses to visit in Cornwall and don’t miss our 21 fun facts about Cornwall – they’ll seriously surprise you!
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