The ultimate road trip in Cornwall, England
Many consider Cornwall one of the most scenic stretches of coastline in England. You’ll find over 400 miles of amazing coast, sandy beaches, hidden coves and oodles of English heritage. Because it’s one of the few counties in England without a motorway, Cornwall is perfect for a driving holiday. With a fair-weather forecast and our hopes high that the Great British summer would hold out for us, we set off to discover the ultimate road trip in Cornwall.
Our route in Cornwall, England
This is the route we took during our 7 day road trip in Cornwall. In hindsight, this was a little too fast. Slow travel is always the better option and we should know better!
Distance driven: 233 miles / 374 km Driving time: 10 hours
Cornwall is full of quaint villages, hidden coves and most notably, amazing coastal views. Its rugged coastline is raw beauty and we found it hard to drag ourselves away from some areas, in particular Tintagel. For the outdoor enthusiast, there are miles of coastal paths and Cornwall is renowned for having the best surfing spots in England. There are umpteen scenic drives in the county and of course, there’s Land’s End. Cornwall has so much to offer it’s little wonder we were so worn out after all this. The Cornish ice cream helped to replete our dwindling energy supplies though!
Part 1 of our trip covered 36 miles / 58 km over 2 hours of driving through Cornwall’s Roseland Peninsula. We included much of this route as one of our top scenic drives in Cornwall, and for good reason.
This area is best explored by taking detours off the main roads that your sat nav will suggest. There are loads of narrow lanes through pretty hamlets to navigate.
Emerging from the twisting, hedged lined lanes, the ocean views open up in front of you and bring the broadest of smiles to your face!
Explore more: The most scenic drives in Cornwall
Lost Garden of Heligan
Beginning near Tregony, visit the Lost Garden of Heligan. You’ll want to plan at least half a day to explore this wonderful place, where you can walk across England’s Burma rope bridge in the jungle and play in the giant’s adventure playground. You know the inner child in you wants to!
Discover more: Lost Garden of Heligan in pictures
Next take a rewarding drive towards the Cornwall’s rugged coast. Explore hidden coves and take time to stroll and a bit of a clamber along the wonderful coastal path out of Portloe.
From Portloe, there are picturesque villages, uncrowded beach and lovely country pubs to discover. Taking unplanned detours is the best bit about this route. You never know what hidden gem is around the next bend in the lane.
King Harry Ferry
To leave the Roseland Peninsula, cross the River Fal by the iconic King Harry Ferry. It’s a must, if only to say you’ve travelled on one of the top ten ferry crossings in the world.
The ferry crossing marks the departure from the Roseland Peninsula and you arrive in Falmouth. This Cornish town is the 3rd largest natural harbour in the world. Take time for a terrific coastal path walk too because there are some stunning views of the cliffs below. There are many trails to choose from along the coastline, quiet country lanes and bridleways. We can vouch for the Swanpool to Maenporth coastal path for its ocean views and Great British wildlife.
Top tip: You’ll need your wits about you for driving some of the narrow lanes as you have fun exploring the Roseland Peninsula. Please don’t let that put you off. Most vehicles will pass down the lanes and the pay back is huge as you get off the beaten path.
End of the World
Part 2 of our trip covered 73 miles / 117 km over 3 hours of driving along Cornwall’s southern coast. This was perhaps the most busy stretch of coastline on our road trip in Cornwall due to the sheer number of attractions on offer.
As you leave Falmouth, take a detour to one of our favourite hidden coves at Cadgwith. With it’s thatched cottages and local fishmongers, the quaint fishing village is a real Cornish gem. Take time to explore the cove, chat to the fishermen and have a morning cup of tea at one of the cafés in the village.
Next stop is Lizard’s Point. The most southerly tip of UK mainland, the area has dramatic cliffs and ocean views. From the Lizard’s Lighthouse at the top of the cliffs, take the steep path down to Lizard’s Point. Take time to explore the old lifeboat house and enjoy a Cornish cream tea while watching the rare seabirds that breed out on the rocks. If you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of a seal too.
From Lizard’s Point, follow the coastal path to Kynance Cove. This cove is stunning, with a small beach and fascinating rock pools to explore. If you have the energy to climb above the cove, the wonderful views are more than rewarding.
Next stop is St Michael’s Mount. At low tide, you can walk across the ancient cobbled causeway to explore the history of the castle and visit its charming gardens.
I know you’re eager to get to Land’s End but take another detour and visit the Minack Theatre. If you plan ahead, book tickets to watch a production in a most unique open air theatre, set in a natural ampitheatre. It’s just wonderful!
Top tip: there are often afternoon performances. If you do not have a ticket for one of these, you will not be able to enter the Minack Theatre proper. You’ll have access to a viewing platform though. You can check performance times at their website.
And so on to the end of the world. Well the end of the UK anyway. The views are superb as you might expect. The visitors centre feels a little more like a theme park than anything else. Get away from it, and enjoy the outstanding beauty of the granite cliffs, soaring sea birds and the famous Longship’s Lighthouse. If you’re feeling a little thirsty, take a pitstop at the First & Last Inn, a 19th century English pub just a short drive from Land’s End.
Top tip: if you want to visit Kynance Cove and Lizard’s Point, it’s only a short drive of a mile or two between the two. That said, the National trust will ask you to pay for parking at both locations. We’d recommend that you park at Lizard’s Point for £4. Then take the coastal path to Kynance Cove. This will save you a £5 parking charge at the cove and the walk is well worth it!
Beaches, seaside towns and surf
Part 3 of our trip covered 65 miles / 104 km over 3 hours of driving north up Cornwall’s southwest coast.
If you’re into surfing, want to learn or just a beach lover, this is the stretch of coast for you. Now let us first admit, we’re not surfers and so not experts on the subject. Cornwall is renowned for being a magnet for surfer dudes. It’s obvious not just because you’ll see them strutting their stuff in the waves but also because of the sheer number of stores selling wet suits, surf boards and beginner lessons.
Leaving Land’s End behind, head for Sennen Cove to begin the wonderful scenic drive to Zennor. Of all of Cornwall’s most scenic road trip routes, this was our favourite because of the incredible, sweeping views across the cliffs. The road hugs the coastline along the entire route. Take time to visit the underground Geevor Tin Mine. It dates back to the 18th century and the interactive displays will teach you about the Cornish tin and copper mining history.
Next stop on this scenic drive is Pendeen Lighthouse, positioned on rugged, sheer cliffs. From here, the drive towards Zennor is nothing short of spectacular. The winding road leads you through rural farmland and wonderful Cornish villages. Stop by at one of the many private homes offering Cornish cream teas to break up the journey and admire the views over the ocean.
Not to miss: Charles de Gaulle in the bath
Zennor is a pretty little village. There’s a network of walking routes here to soak up the wonderful views. St Senara’s church in Zennor is the base for a popular Cornish folk tale of a mermaid who enticed one of the parishioners to elope with her.
From Zennor, the beaches become wider with loads of popular surfing spots. Start at St Ives, a working harbour filled with art galleries, narrow pedestrian lanes and fish and chip shops. Watch out for the thieving seagulls here! They’re not shy!
This ultimate road trip in Cornwall now heads north towards Padstow. You’re spoilt for choice of beaches to enjoy. If you’re looking for the typical British seaside towns, then maybe Newquay or Perranporth will suit you. We’d suggest you seek out a few quieter spots too such as St Agnes and Porth.
The legend of King Arthur
Part 4 of our trip covered 59 miles /95 km over 2 hours of driving. The final part of this ultimate road trip in Cornwall is a wonderful end to any Cornish tour.
Start in Padstow. It’s a charming town, surrounded with sandy beaches. If you have the patience to queue, try Rick Stein’s fish and chip shop. If you’re feeling energetic, you can hire a bike and cycle the 18 mile Camel Trail through wonderful Cornish countryside.
Port Isaac is the next stop. Made famous by the British TV drama, Doc Martin, you can take a guided tour of the filming locations. If you’re not a fan of the TV drama, the town is well worth a visit anyway. It’s a traditional fishing village, set in a natural cove. The narrow streets lined with whitewashed cottages are steep, so remember you’ll have to climb back up them at the end of you visit.
King Arthur’s Tintagel
Next on to the highlight of our road trip in Cornwall, Tintagel. Legend has it that King Arthur was conceived here and you can discover more about the story on your visit. More than the history or legend, the whole site is magical. Once you’ve climbed to the top of Tintagel, you can easily find a quiet spot to savour the most awesome and dramatic views.
If you can tear yourself away from Tintagel, the next stop is Boscastle. Here’s another wonderful Cornish village set in a natural inlet. Spend your time here strolling around the village toward the harbour. Just beyond the harbour, you can clamber over a few rocks for a lovely view of the inlet. And don’t leave without trying a flavour (or two) of the award winning Cornish ice-cream!
Have you found these hidden coves on the Cornish coast?
From Boscastle, you’ll now take the rest of the Atlantic Highway, roughly following the A39. For the best part of this journey, detour off the A39 and head for the coast. Following the coastal road, the views are fantastic! Stop off at Crackington Haven, a small Cornish village and an ideal base for relaxing or doing a few outdoor pursuits.
This is our ultimate road trip in Cornwall. For your own adventure, take plenty of detours and find hidden gems. This is what will make your driving holiday in Cornwall unique. Let us know what hidden gems you find!
Practical matters before you go
What’s the best time to visit Cornwall?
The summer months offer the best chance of sunny, warm days. It’s high season too so accommodation costs will increase and crowds at attractions along the route is a factor. Spring is off-season, particularly if you avoid Easter and the school’s half-term holidays. It’s a great time to see Cornwall starting to burst with new life with spring flowers and newborn lambs. Autumn is a wonderful time of year to visit because it’s less crowded and the gorgeous autumn foliage is on display. If you’re lucky, you can witness the dramatic, stormy seas crashing off the rugged rocks along the coastline.
Accommodation in Cornwall
There are a few fancy hotels in Cornwall but if we’re not camping, we prefer to stay in a good old fashioned guesthouse or B&B. There’s thousands of them in Cornwall and we suggest you check out their reviews on TripAdvisor before you book.
When it comes to booking accommodation during the high season, you need to book in advance. Even the campsites are busy. One of the reasons for going on a road trip is having the flexibility to do as you like, when you like. You lose some freedom with a pre-booked reservation but if you must travel during a busy period, you have fewer options in Cornwall. It’s likely you’ll always find somewhere to stay but your choices fall dramatically.
Car hire for a Cornish road trip
Hiring a car in the UK is easy so long as you have the correct documents. If you hold a UK licence, you must get a code from the DVLA upto 21 days before your hire period starts. You can get the code here.
Licences issued overseas must be clearly identifiable as a driving licence and be written in English, otherwise an International Driving Licence is needed. A Passport, ID showing home address and proof of entry into the UK are also needed.
Whilst we drive our own vehicle and indeed live here, we appreciate that many people will fly into the UK and hire a car. We’re not loyal to one rental firm, and will simply go with the one that offers the best value – and that means using a comparison website. For us, AutoEurope is by far the best, and our first choice, every time. They even do camper van rentals!
There’s a useful FREE app for iPhone and Android users dedicated to Cornwall. It’s so convenient because you can look up local restaurants, attractions and what’s on while you’re visiting. There’s even discounts available for some attractions and that’s never a bad thing! You can download it free here.
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