With the focus moving away from international travel and much more interest in staycations, we recently had the chance to explore one of the most stunning parts of England, heading to the West Country on our London to Cornwall road trip. And with some of the most stunning natural landscapes, some of the best beaches in the country and key England landmarks thrown in for good measure, we have put together a tried and tested perfect Cornwall itinerary.
The perfect Cornwall itinerary
Here’s our ideal Cornwall road trip itinerary at a glance:
- Day 1 – London to Cornwall incl. Stonehenge & Glastonbury Tor
- Day 2 – St Michael’s Mount, the Minack Theatre & Land’s End
- Day 3 – St Ives, Port Isaac, Tintagel Castle and Boscastle
- Day 4 – Eden Project & Drive back to London via Durdle Door
Why head to Cornwall?
We’re pretty sure that if you’ve landed on this article, then you’re already set on exploring Cornwall, but just in case you need that little extra incentive, here are a few reasons why you should make Cornwall your next holiday destination:
- One of the great things about heading down to Cornwall is that there are brilliant options for all budgets. If you don’t mind camping then that’s a super cheap vacation, through to some excellent glamping options if you want that little bit more luxury, all the way through to high-end amazing Airbnb style places to rent.
- Let’s be honest, England is pretty famous for its rainy weather, but Cornwall gets its fair share of very decent sunshine and warm weather, especially in May and June… although we were last there in late September and it was a blinder.
- Cornwall has some of the most breath-taking beaches in the country, so it’s no surprise that when the weather is good people want to head that way, but the wonderful news is that as long as you don’t just head for the most famous, you’re likely to have a pretty deserted beach – whatever time of year you visit.
- If you’re keen to try out surfing, then the Cornish coast is the place to go – but the water can be chilly so best to have a wetsuit.
- The West Country has a very relaxed, slower pace of life, so if you’re hoping to escape the humdrum of the Big Smoke, then heading out west is one of the best options.
- It’s super accessible from London, in only a few hours you’ll reach Cornwall, and what’s more there are plenty of great places to stop on your way to break up the London to Cornwall road trip.
Related: Looking for the ultimate London itinerary? Here is our perfect guide to London’s capital city.
How long do you need for your London to Cornwall Road Trip?
Realistically, for this London to Cornwall route, you’ll need at least a couple of days in Cornwall to make it worthwhile, so taking off a Friday or Monday if you’re heading over a weekend is a must.
We have recommended a minimum 4 day Cornwall itinerary, as with so much to see and do in Cornwall, and taking into account the drive from London, this would be our minimum jaunt.
It’s also worthwhile considering the traffic heading out West and back into London over weekends so, if you can, it’s definitely a better idea to try and head during the week. You’ll have fewer people, better accommodation options, and much less chance of sitting in traffic. Who wants that on their holiday, right?
If you are wanting to spend longer than 4 days in Cornwall, then fear not as we also have some epic additional activities to add into your Cornwall itinerary, right at the end of this piece.
Getting to Cornwall from London
We don’t ever say this one lightly, but to fully appreciate your time in Cornwall, you really are going to want to have your own car for this suggested Cornwall itinerary.
Part of the fun is stopping along the way on the London to Cornwall Road Trip at some amazing English landmarks… and then also getting around while in Cornwall on public transport is much more difficult.
So, if you don’t have your own car, then it is well worth considering hiring a car for your trip. For the best deals on car hire, why not check out RentalCars.
However, we know that you may well not be able to drive, have access to a car, or want to keep your costs super low. So, in that case, then maybe it’s worth looking at taking the train down to Cornwall.
The London to Penzance train departs several times a day and takes around 5 hours to make the journey. Or you can change in Par to head to Newquay, St Erth for St Ives, or several other stops to reach many of the other famous Cornwall towns.
On the first day of your London to Cornwall road trip, get going relatively early to miss the traffic – if you’re anything like us you’ll love to get some of the distance out of the way nice and early.
The most likely route out of London will be to get onto the M3 driving across the Surrey and Hampshire countryside, before you join the A303 at Junction 8.
London to Stonehenge distance: 140 km (87 miles)
Drive time from London to Stonehenge: between 2 and 2.5 hours
And the great thing about taking this route out towards Devon and Cornwall is that the A303 goes straight past one of England’s most famous landmarks, the world-famous UNESCO World Heritage Site of Stonehenge.
Having driven past the beautiful spot, numerous times, James had never ventured in to actually wander around Stonehenge as it’s very visible from the drive. But it is definitely worth taking some time to get up close to these behemoth stones and find out more about the history of this iconic monument.
And just in case you’re not sure what Stonehenge is – this prehistoric monument, built near to Amesbury in Wiltshire was constructed between 3000 BC and 2000 BC, so is at least 4,000 years old!
One of the world’s most recognisable landmarks, Stonehenge was built by the Neolithic people for a purpose which is, unfortunately, unknown. With no known records there are many theories around Stonehenge but what’s known is that it’s a ring of standing stones that most modern scholars agree was a burial ground, and was a destination for religious pilgrims.
What’s so astonishing is that some of the stones are 4m high and 2m wide, weighing up to 25 tons and were transported over 18 miles from where they were cut; and the bluestones might have originated more than 200 miles away. As there are no written records, it’s still up in the air as to how they managed to achieve this feat all that time ago.
Make sure that you look to book a timeslot at Stonehenge, rather than just turning up. We booked the first timeslot at 9.30am and were very pleasantly surprised to find out that it was empty. We were actually the first to walk to the stones (it’s about 1.5km walk from the visitor’s carpark) – and it was really special to have the whole place to ourselves – defintely up there with one of the best things to do in the UK.
Tickets for Stonehenge are (in our opinion) a little steep at £21.10 (27.00 USD) per person, but if you’re members of English Heritage you get in for free! And at GBP 109 (140 USD) for an annual family membership, it almost pays for itself on that one visit!
Stonehenge Location: Stonehenge Visitors Centre
Stonehenge to Glastonbury Tor distance: 67.5 km (42 miles)
Driving time from Stonehenge to Glastonbury Tor: between 1 and 1.5 hours
Next on your road trip is a little bit of a cross-country detour (not back on the A303 but across Wiltshire and into Somerset) to a land famous for its ciders, and the hedonistic Glastonbury Festival. But instead of heading into the town of Glastonbury, instead we’d recommend that you head to its outskirts to find another really unique landmark – Glastonbury Tor.
We won’t lie to you, this isn’t somewhere we’d even heard about until relatively recently! But on one of our last road trips, we found the lone tower on this hill, and we think it should be on everyone’s route from London to Cornwall – after all it’s not a major detour – and visiting it is totally free!
The National Trust Glastonbury Tor is actually a conical hill, and not (often mistakenly) the tower that sits on its summit. But it is a combination of the hill and St Michael’s Tower that draws many visitors to walk up the relatively steep hill to reach its top.
Linked in old English mythology to the great King Arthur, the Tor makes for a great place to break up your London to Cornwall road trip, take yourself a small picnic and once you’ve reached the summit, sit back and enjoy one of the very best places to have your lunch and enjoy the sweeping views.
Location: Glastonbury Tor
Top tip: Make sure that when you’re travelling to Glastonbury that you haven’t chosen to travel this route over the legendary Glastonbury Festival dates… otherwise you could be in for a very long road trip!
Cornwall (heading towards Penzance)
Distance from Glastonbury Tor to Penzance: 275 km (170 miles)
Drive time: around 3.5 hours
And to continue the road trip into Cornwall, from Glastonbury Tor hit the M5 south towards Exeter, then when you reach Exeter, merge onto the A30 towards Penzance. This will take you towards most places in Cornwall – pretty much splitting the county in two – so head off wherever suits you best for your overnight accommodation.
If you’re planning on travelling as far into Cornwall as possible, our itinerary takes you all the way to Land’s End. And with that on the plans for day 2, we prefer to get the majority of the long driving out of the way in one stint. So, we’d recommend that you carry on down as close to Penzance as you can.
Where to stay in Cornwall
There’s an abundance of amazing campsites in Cornwall – you really are spoilt for choice if this is your preferred accommodation option – but realistically, you only want to be camping from April through to end September… unless you are much more hardy than us!
We always look for campsites that are located near to the next days’ activities and so for your first night’s accommodation, have a look in and around the Penzance and Marazion areas.
We stayed at the Tremorvu Campsite, which was only a 15 minute drive from St Michael’s Mount, and highly recommend looking at it!
Taken the ideal shot of your camping spot, and want to share it on IG? Then check out these awesome camping quotes to accompany your pic.
And alongside heaps of cracking campsite options, there are also a number of brilliant backpackers, B&B and hotels in and around Penzance. Here are a couple of options that get amazing reviews:
Budget: Right in the heart of Penzance (and only 3 miles from St Michael’s Mount) if you want a budget option with amazing reviews, a social atmosphere and even a garden to BBQ in, then check out EasyPZ Backpackers.
High-end: Or at the other end of the spectrum, the Artist Residence Hotel offers beautiful rooms and what’s more has an award-winning breakfast…
St Michael’s Mount
Not the earliest of starts for day 2 of your Cornwall itinerary if you managed to find accommodation not far from Penzance, as the first stop for today is visiting St Michael’s Mount, the island and castle just off the southern Cornwall coast.
St Michael’s Mount can be reached in two ways: via the causeway which links it to the mainland, or via a more pricey private boat rides (which don’t always run, so are a slightly dubious option). We’ve definitely punt for the walk, which means the Mount can only be reached at low tide when the causeway is exposed. Keep that in mind, since the opening times of the island do vary depending on what time it becomes accessible.
Not as large (or probably as famous) as its twin, the French Landmark of Mont Saint Michel, this little Cornish gem has a rich history, with it being the site of a monastery from the 8th century until at least the 11th century, when it was then given to the Benedictine order by Edward the Confessor. And in the mid-1600s it was sold to Colonel St Aubyn, and it remains in the same family to this day.
Before you head, make sure you book online, especially as in the current climate you won’t get in without a pre-booked ticket. We even booked a little late and had to purchase a ‘family’ ticket as individual tickets had sold out – and we went on a non-holiday midweek day in September!
You can purchase tickets for the castle tour or just to visit the spectacular terraced gardens – in our opinion both options are very worthwhile considering.
Location: St Michael’s Mount
Top tip: Head out early if you are a keen photographer to try and get some epic sunrise shots of the island.
Distance from St Michael’s Mount to the Minack Theatre: 21 km (13 miles)
Drive time: 30 minutes
On your way between St Michael’s Mount and Land’s End is a great short little detour – and another one of those places that we had no idea about until we did our own Cornwall itinerary planning!
The Minack Theatre is an open air theatre, but with its coastal setting it has been voted as one of the most spectacular theatres on the planet.
It is an active theatre with performances running from May to September each year, but we think that unless you’re an avid theatregoer, it’s just worth heading to the spot to see the site. Although you must book in advance – check out here for the latest on tickets.
Initially built in 1932, it was continually improved each year by the owner Rowena Cade to something resembling what you’ll see today.
Location: Minack Theatre
Top tip: If you are keen on hiking then there is a great little spot to venture off along the South West Coast Path – either head east towards Penberth Cove (around 30 – 40 minutes) or west to Porthchapel Beach and Porthgwarra Beach (also around 30 mins).
Distance from the Minack Theatre to Land’s End: 6.5 km (4 miles)
Drive time: 15 minutes
And for your final stop of the day, meander to one end of the country, Land’s End – the most south-westerly point on mainland UK (the most Southern accolade actually goes to Lizard Point – more on that later).
So, why is Land’s End on our Cornwall itinerary? It has a few buildings, but otherwise is a nondescript piece of coastline which doesn’t seem to have much to offer?
We’d punt for it since, with tourists pretty much continuously visiting Land’s End for over 300 years, it has a bit of a special place in many peoples’ hearts. Plus, you could always get that cheesy photo in front of the Land’s End signpost to put on your Facebook feed.
It’s also the starting point (or finishing) for the Land’s End to John O’Groats trail (from the far south west of Britain to the far north east of mainland Britain). A route that we one day would love to do!
Location: Land’s End
Top tip: If you want a great hike from Land’s End, head north from Land’s End on the South West Coast Path until you reach Sennen Cove. It’ll only take you around 30 minutes by foot or, if you’re not feeling too athletic, then you can always drive over in a few minutes.
Continue on to St Ives
Distance to St Ives from Land’s End: approx. 32 km (20 miles)
Drive time: about 1.5 hrs on the B3306 (or 40 mins on the faster route)
After finishing in Land’s End, head up the coast towards St Ives. Make sure that you take the slower B3306 road, which although takes at least double the time and is on bendy country lanes, you can stop in numerous places and hike various parts of the South West Coast Path.
There are a surprising number of castle and building remains, lighthouses, coves and beaches to explore. The perfect way to spend the rest of your afternoon!
Where to stay near St Ives
There is also a plethora of campsites in and around St Ives for you to pitch, but again make sure you book well in advance, especially if you’re planning on going over the busy summer months.
If we had to pick one out of the many outstanding campsites for you to try and get a spot at, it would have to be Sandy Acres – which also has some wonderful cabins, glamping options and even a surf school!
Maybe not quite as many options as in Penzance, but still a healthy selection of accommodation options to suit all budget levels if camping ain’t your thing.
Budget: Our budget pick has to go to the Cohort Hostel – great location and clean rooms all at an affordable price.
High-end: If they have availability, and you’ve got a healthy budget, then you’ll definitely want to check out 27 The Terrace – beautifully appointed rooms in a fantastic location.
Kick off day 3 of your Cornwall itinerary and road trip by exploring St Ives. This awesome little seaside town has bags of charm and a wonderful chilled vibe.
We’d suggest that you spend at least half your day checking out the town, either taking in a little culture at the Tate or Barbara Hepworth Sculpture Garden, chilling at a beach café or enjoying the beaches. Or if you haven’t given it a go before, why not try your hand at surfing?
Distance from Saint Ives to Port Isaac: 88 km (55 miles)
Travel time: around 90 minutes
So, after your relaxing morning, hit the tarmac again for your longest stint of the day, heading over to the charming seaside town of Port Isaac.
The walled cove with its hill-perched town really offers that picture-perfect opportunity… wander around the town and soak in that tiny seaside village atmosphere.
Added extra: If you’d like to add another location to your Cornwall itinerary, and like to travel relatively quickly, you could easily add in a stop in Newquay on your way between St Ives and Port Isaac!
Distance from Port Isaac to Tintagel Castle: 16 km (10 miles)
Drive time: 30 minutes
And after Port Isaac, it’s on to the star of today: the legendary Tintagel Castle. And what’s even better is that this is another English Heritage location, so if you’ve got your annual membership it’s free to enter!
The castle, which now lies in ruins, was built by the 1st Earl of Cornwall in the 13th century, but its history long pre-dates that and is one of the locations thought to be the home of King Arthur. While the castle itself doesn’t offer much in the way of facades, there’s a looming statue of the King plus an entirely magnificent footbridge out to the castle remains. And don’t forget to take in Tintagel Beach and Merlin’s Cave while you’re there!
Location: Tintagel Castle
Tip: Make sure that you book in advance. Tickets to the castle often sell out and at the moment if you have to book online in advance!
Distance to Boscastle from Tintagel: 7km (4.5 miles)
Drive time: 15 minutes
And onto your final stop for the day, on to the beautiful Cornish village of Boscastle.
Nestled in a coastal inlet, this harbour village boasts a natural port. Perched on the water’s edge, it’s a lovely little town, filled with quaint white-washed houses and humble thatched roofs. The village almost feels like time has stood still and, while it might not offer much in the way of ‘attractions’ (beyond the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic) it’s a gorgeous village to stop in and soak up that Cornish charm.
Once you’re done at Boscastle, it’s time to make your way back towards St Austell as you’ll definitely have more accommodation options around there, and it will get you closer to your activities on day 4!
Distance from Boscastle to St Austell: 45 km (28 miles)
Drive time: 60 minutes
Where to stay near St Austell
Once again you are spoilt for choice when it comes to campsites to choose from, whether you decide to stay up near Port Isaac, across the county or around St Austell. But, for us, we’d have to plump for Doubletrees Farm as one of the best in the area.
There are also heaps of great accommodation options up near to Port Isaac and across towards Newquay, but we’d suggest that you head towards St Austell where there are a few terrific options. Here are a couple of suggestions:
Budget: Excellent reviews from everyone who has stayed, Gunnado offers a little luxury apartment at a wallet-friendly price.
High-end: You won’t get a better location than at the Carlyon Bay Hotel – overlooking the rugged coastline, then to top it all off you have a spa, swimming pool, golf course and tennis courts… total luxury.
Distance from Bodmin to the Eden Project: 16 km (10 miles)
Drive time: 30 minutes
When it was first suggested that we head over to the Eden Project, our first thoughts were – really is it worth it, especially given it’s a little bit spenny? And boy are we so glad that we decided to bite the bullet and pay to visit this slice of botanist heaven, as it definitely didn’t disappoint
A cross between Kew Gardens and the Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay in Singapore, the Eden Project is a major educational project which aims to showcase flora from diverse environments. Punctuated by two massive biomes dedicated to mimicking a rainforest, as well as more Mediterranean climes, it’s not just a lesson in plant history but an almost overwhelming experience – it’s even got a global claim to fame, as the largest indoor rainforest in the world.
We can understand why, at 28.50 GBP per person (36.50 USD), it maybe doesn’t make everyone’s list, but if you plan to head out west more than once in a year, it becomes even more worthwhile, given that your tickets are valid for a year!
Make sure that you book your time slot at the Eden Project online, and to make the most of your final day in Cornwall, try and be some of the first in the park (at time of writing, the earliest slots were at 9.30am). And allow yourself at least a couple of hours to get around the various biomes and walkways.
Location: Eden Project
And with Eden Project, that ends our activities in Cornwall. But, fear not, as with the London to Cornwall Road Trip, there is always the return leg!
We’d suggest that you make the journey a little more interesting, heading back along the coastal route so that you can ‘tick off’ another huge UK landmark on the route back to London – Durdle Door.
Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door
Distance from Eden Project to Lulworth Cove: 225 km (140 miles)
Drive time: around 3 hours
Although you can park just above Durdle Door, you’d actually missing a bit of a trick (and a lovely coastal hike) if you don’t instead look to park at Lulworth Cove.
Lulworth Cove is a very scenic seaside village on its own, and has a couple of short interesting walks to also take in a bit more of the famous Jurassic Coast. Top of the list in this former fishing village is a short walk to see the Stair Hole and another must-do is the slightly more taxing trip to the Fossil Forest – so make sure you don’t miss those.
But once you’ve parked up in Lulworth Cove, head out the car park westwards onto the South West coastal path, up and over the hill (it’s relatively steep and long, hence calling it a hike rather than a walk – so no flip flops) and down the other side towards the beautiful Man O’War beach. This beach is an easy walk down, and well worth visiting – often deserted in comparison to Durdle Door.
Then back up those steps and just the other side of Man O’War beach is the stunning Durdle Door. This natural limestone arch is one of the most famous features of the Jurassic Coast so you’ll definitely want to get your camera ready, as it’s an exquisite, scenic spot.
After you’ve had your fill of relaxing on the beach or hills above, head on back over to Lulworth Cove.
Location: Lulworth Cove parking
And, just like that, your road trip between London and Cornwall has come to end. Once you’re safely seated in your car after visiting Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove, it’s back to London swinging past Southampton and onto the M3.
Distance from Lulworth Cove back to London: 205 km (128 miles)
Drive time: around 3 hours
Recommended reading: Back in London? Want to find some perfect hidden gems in the capital – here is our guide to unique and quirky must-visit places.
Interactive Map for your London to Cornwall road trip
Save this handy Cornwall road trip map to your Google Maps!
Bonus activities to add to your Cornwall Itinerary
Lizard Point and Kynance Cove
It’s the most southerly point of the UK, Lizard Point – part of the Lizard National Park and Lizard peninsula – is the perfect place to watch the waves, and take in some of the country’s most rugged coastline. Think looming granite cliffs, sandy shores but also some spectacular flowers and plant life.
If you’re in that area, you could also add a stop at Kynance Cove to your itinerary. The cove is one of the most photographed places in Cornwall, for its juxtaposition between white sandy shores and the aquamarine sea.
National Maritime Museum, Falmouth
Got more than a passing interest in ships? Definitely make your way to Falmouth and check out the harbourside haven of the National Maritime Museum. There you’ll find a rich history of the sea, it’s boats and the maritime industry in Cornwall on offer, including some very notable boats like Waterlily (A Thames steamboat from 1886), Curlew (the famous vessel which saw Tim and Pauline Carr sail the Atlantic) and a bevy of smaller boats and dinghies.
Also in Falmouth is the awesome artillery fort of Pendennis Castle. This photogenic location was built by Henry VIII sometime in the mid 1500’s, as part of the defence systems against the Romans and the French. It has a colourful war history, later expanded to protect against the Spanish, modernised to allay the French again in the 1730’s and a key location for both World Wars.
The Lost Gardens of Heligan
If you didn’t get your garden fix at the Eden Project, definitely swing past the Lost Gardens of Heligan, a stone’s throw from the town of Mevagissey. Some of the most popular gardens in the country, you’ll be transported into a forgotten world of oversized camellias, gardens from across the European continent and even a series of woodland walkways and bridges, great for kids and adults alike.
It’s an almost otherworldly area; the ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’ of Bodmin Moor. Think almost barren yet heather-coloured hills punctuated by charcoal granite structures and you’ve got the feel for this unusual area.
Bodmin Moor also boasts two of the highest peaks in Cornwall – Rough Tor and Brown Willy – along with other Stonehenge-type monuments and circles, to name just a few attractions.
When is the best time of year to visit Cornwall?
If you’re looking for the best weather in Cornwall, then May and June actually have the most sunshine hours of all the months.
The warmest months are July and August but that’s also peak summer holiday season, and everything gets super booked up. So make sure that you look to book well in advance if you plan to try out a Cornwall itinerary over those months.
We personally love September! It’s quieter, but you can often still get cracking weather and if you are keen on swimming in the ocean, has slightly warmer seas than May & June thanks to the warming over the summer months.
So, what do you think about our 4 day Cornwall road trip itinerary? If you think we’ve missed off any must-visit spots off this Cornwall travel guide, then we’d love to hear from you in the comments below, or if you’d like any advice, drop us an email.
What to pack for your Cornwall trip
Just in case you are considering camping, but you haven’t been that often (or maybe it’s your first time), here are a few things that you’ll definitely need!
- Get yourself a decent tent, and make sure you know how to put it up – we saw a number of people struggling and taking hours to set up their tents. If you’re a couple, have a 3-man tent so you have a bit more room. We love our Coleman Coastline tent as it’s super easy to put up but will stand up to pretty strong winds (we had 35 mph gusts on our last outing and still managed some good sleep).
- It’s essential to have comfy sleeping bags, and a good inflatable mat will do wonders for your sleep, but a top tip is to take your own pillows – so much more comfy.
- A couple of decent foldable chairs so you can sit comfortably around a campfire or your BBQ – we take a small BBQ and a gas cooker for that mandatory morning cuppa.
- A torch is essential, but a head torch even more so…
- Pots & pans, pen knife, cutlery, black bags, kitchen towels, washing up stuff, toilet roll etc…
- And lastly, have a great cool box and ice packs. A lot of campsites boast facilities to re-freeze these, so you can keep your food fresh for a number of days.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which sights should a first time visitor to Cornwall see?
A first-timer to Cornwall should definitely make time to see St Michael’s Mount, the Minack Theatre, the Eden Project, Land’s End and Tintagel Castle.
How far is Cornwall from London?
The distance from London to Cornwall is approximately 261 miles or 421 kilometres.
How long is the drive from Cornwall to London?
Driving from London to Cornwall along A303 and A30 is approximately 5 hours without stops.
What are the best places to stop on the way to Cornwall?
This depends on your route, but you could add Stonehenge and the Glastonbury Tor. If you decide to take the coastal road, check out Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door in Dorset.
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