Last updated: 17th May 2022
Cornwall in South West England offers one of the best holidays you’ll have in the UK. We decided on a summer road trip to Cornwall to see castles, gardens and pretty coastal villages. In this post we’ll share our Cornwall itinerary for 16 unmissable stops and best attractions. Just follow the route we took on our 10 day Cornwall road trip and you’ll discover all the best places to go in Cornwall.
Table of Contents
Cornwall has long been Britain’s favourite county for a summer staycation. Famous for its historic fishing villages, unspoilt rugged coastline, 300+ fabulous beaches, rolling moorland, cream teas and Cornish pasties! The county has the longest stretch of coastline in Britain surrounded by water on 3 sides, so it feels more like you’re on an island. Cornwall attracts lots of families and couples because it offers some of the best weather you’ll find in England on the most south westerly part of the UK.
Cornwall Road Trip – 10 Day Itinerary Summary
- Day 1 – Drive to Cornwall & Charlestown – Stay St Austell 1/2
- Day 2 – Eden Project & Charlestown – Stay St Austell 2/2
- Day 3 – Lost Gardens of Heligan & Padstow – Stay Padstow 1/3
- Day 4 – Padstow – Stay Padstow 2/3
- Day 5 – Port Issac & Tintagel Castle – Stay Padstow 3/3
- Day 6 – Wheal Coates & St Ives – Stay St Ives 1/4
- Day 7 – Sennen Cove, Lands End & Minack Theatre – Stay St Ives 2/4
- Day 8 – Mousehole & St Micheals Mount – Stay St Ives 3/4
- Day 9 – Kynance Cove, Lizard Point & Cadgwith Cove. – Stay St Ives 4/4
- Day 10 – Drive home
16 Beautiful Places & Landmarks in Cornwall
Here’s our list of the 16 best places to visit in Cornwall and how to see them day by day on a leisurely basis and not some crazily packed itinerary. We will visit lots of beautiful beaches, traditional fishing villages and famous landmarks on our 10 day road trip around Cornwall. So lets’ get going!
If you’re like us and live 350 miles from Cornwall then you’ll spend day 1 just getting to Cornwall. It always takes ages especially when you get stuck behind caravans for miles. But as soon as we arrive and see those gorgeous beaches and villages we know it’s always worth the effort.
Our Cornwall itinerary starts with a couple of nights in St Austell which is right next to the traditional and pretty fishing village of Charlestown. It’s like stepping back in time as not much has changed in this historic harbour and port. Charlestown shot to fame in recent years being the filming location for movies and the hit BBC tv series Poldark.
We spent our first evening out in Cornwall at Charlestown with a chippy dinner on the harbour with some beers soaking up the lovely evening atmosphere.
2. The Eden Project
After a fabulous hotel breakfast, we set off on our Cornwall road trip by driving north from St Austell to visit Cornwall’s top attraction – The Eden Project. Home to the world’s largest indoor rainforest where you can immerse yourself in the heat of a tropical environment without the rain in giant greenhouses called biomes. When you’re done in the rainforest biome, next door is the Mediterranean biome. With cooler temperatures, it has a lovely scent from all the beautiful flower displays.
Outside there are themed gardens to explore plus various art installations. We think the Eden Project is one of the best things to do in Cornwall in the rain because most of it is undercover.
You can read our detailed guide to The Eden Project here. Spend all day here and in the late afternoon drive back for another evening in Charlestown / St Austell.
3. The Lost Gardens Of Heligan
Day 3 and now it’s time to drive to see the mysterious and romantic sounding Lost Gardens of Heligan. It’s completely different to The Eden Project, Heligan is another series of gardens but it’s more about walks in nature and enjoying the great outdoors. Attractions include the UK’s only outdoor sub tropical jungle where you can stand underneath giant rhubarb plants or cross a Burmese wobbly rope bridge. The Woodland Walk features the Mud Maid and Giant’s Head – contemporary sculptures made from mud and plants.
We spent 4 hours at Heligan’s Gardens, see what we got up to in this separate post of things to do at the Lost Gardens of Heligan, where you can also watch our taster video of Heligan in 60 seconds.
In the late afternoon drive north to Padstow which takes 55 minutes. Padstow is the second stopover on our Cornwall road trip for 3 nights.
Padstow is one of Cornwall’s most picturesque fishing towns. It’s very popular with visitors because of a certain celebrity chef, Rick Stein. He put Padstow on the culinary map and has somewhat overtaken the town with his eating establishments, shops and cookery school. No wonder the locals call it ‘Padstien’. We bought a couple of tasty Cornish pasties from Stein’s Deli and in the evening ate the most delicious lobster at Stein’s Seafood Restaurant – a great place for a romantic evening.
We loved wandering around the harbour, soaking up the seaside atmosphere to the sound of the loud seagulls. Families love to go ‘crabbing’ here with their kids just like they do in Whitby. Surrounding the harbour are quaint cobbled streets lined with quirky shops including an all-year Christmas shop. We recommend Chough Bakery for delicious scones and locally made ice cream from Roskilly’s from their herd of organic Jersey cows. Padstow is all very pretty and well worth staying here as we did right on the harbour at the Old Custom House.
5. Port Issac
It’s day 5 of our Cornish road trip, one of the best things to do near Padstow is visit one of Cornwall’s most delightful little towns – Port Isaac. It’s a 40-minute drive from Padstow. Port Issac is another traditional fishing village in a sheltered cove with picturesque white washed cottages, winding narrow streets and a stunning little harbour. It featured as the fictional village, Portwenn in ITV’s tv series Doc Martin. It’s also home to Cornwall’s famous sea shanty singing group, Fisherman’s Friends.
You need to park in one of the 2 car parks at the top of the hill and make your way down to the harbour on foot because the roads are too tiny for cars. Port Issac is so small we walked around the whole place in 30 minutes, Garth loved photographing all the pretty cottages. We also enjoyed a coastal walk from Port Isaac to Port Gaverne (2 miles) which is stunning.
Top of our Port Isaac things to do is to book a restaurant for lunch because Port Isaac is a foodie destination for the freshest seafood dishes. We booked a special lunch treat at the Michelin starred Outlaw’s Fish Kitchen.
6. Tintagel Castle
After lunch drive for 25 minutes from Port Isaac to Tintagel Castle on Cornwall’s rugged north coast. Tintagel Castle is a place to be inspired by the legends of King Arthur and Merlin. It’s supposedly the birthplace of King Arthur.
Tintagel Castle is a stunning and wild place where you can walk around the 13th century castle ruins that hug the dramatic cliffs. Then walk down to the beach to discover the magic inside Merlin’s Cave. The big ocean views here are fantastic. Don’t miss the stunning bronze sculpture of King Arthur called ‘Gallos’.
But be prepared for a steep walk down from the village to Tintagel Castle, and back up again, it’s quite a workout! However, you can pay for a ride in their Land Rover if you get too tired.
7. Wheal Coates Tin Mine
Day 6 and were driving to St Ives for 4 nights stopping off at the Wheal Coates Tin Mine along the way. Cornwall was once the tin mining capital of the world, in the 1900s half of the world’s tin came from Cornwall. Wheal Coates is one of Cornwall’s most iconic mines because of its dramatic setting perched on the edge of a cliff overlooking the striking turquoise sea. Wheal Coates opened in 1802 and was a hive of activity where hundreds of men, women and even children worked, it was a dangerous job. The mine closed in 1889 and what’s left today are the ruins to explore. We took a circular walk from the National Trust car park and along the coast. It’s so picturesque especially when the mine is surrounded by a carpet of yellow gorse and purple heather.
The iconic chimney of the Towanroath Shaft engine house is photographed loads and you’ll see it on postcards, tea towels and posters in gift shops. You might also recognise Wheal Coates as a filming location from the BBC TV series Poldark.
Over 200 tin and copper mines across Cornwall and West Devon were awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 2006. Right up there with the Taj Mahal and Great Wall of China, these mines provided a vital contribution to the industrial revolution of Great Britain. Another iconic and much-photographed tin mine is Botallack Mine, which is also perched on a cliff edge.
Fun Fact: Did you know the traditional Cornish pasty used to be a packed lunch for tin miners? Packed with meat and vegetables the thick layer of pastry kept it warm. The crimped crust served an important purpose and was never designed to be eaten. Miners would use this edge to hold and eat the pasty. It prevented transferring deadly arsenic found in the mines and on the miner’s fingers. Once eaten the crust was thrown away. Genius.
8. St Ives
Our base for the next 4 nights is St Ives – Cornwall’s most popular seaside town and for good reason. Even though picturesque St Ives gets busy with day-trippers it’s still a delightful place to enjoy. Famous for surfing, big golden sandy beaches, small cobbled streets lined with old fishermen’s cottages and lots of independent shops and restaurants.
St Ives is an arty place too, many artists over the years have made it home since the 1920s. Garth loved the Barbara Hepworth Sculpture Garden and Phil enjoyed the modern art of British artists at Tate St Ives.
Be warned St Ives is an expensive place to stay and you will need to book accommodation months ahead as we did.
9. Sennen Beach
Day 7 starts at one of Cornwall’s most stunning beaches – Sennen Beach, just check out that turquoise water! It’s a popular beach with surfers for hitting the waves of the Atlantic Ocean. There’s a large car park, but it fills up quickly in the summer months. We parked up early and walked the 1.5 mile coastal path from Sennen to Lands End.
It’s an easy walk and brilliant for spectacular coastal views, wildflowers and even an old shipwreck.
10. Land’s End
Land’s End is the most westerly point of mainland Great Britain. When you first arrive look past the tacky tourist attractions unless you want fast food or even a cinema. We headed straight to the Lands End Signpost – one of Britain’s most iconic landmarks. Land’s End is either the start or finishing point of the famous ‘end to end’ route to John O’Groats at the opposite end of Britain in Scotland. Outrageously you have to pay to have your photo taken next to the Land’s End sign unlike the signpost at John O’Groats.
For over 300 years tourists have been flocking to England’s bucket list destination. We’ve actually been twice! despite it being a bit of a tourist trap. The coastal path is fab, we spotted many seals next to the cliffs here. Also check out the 17th century First & Last House which was used to welcome visitors with food and drink. Apparently smugglers and ship-wreckers would come ashore to sell exotic goods like tea, silk and brandy. Today it’s a souvenir and ice cream shop where we bought some Cornish cream tea flavoured ice creams before walking back to Sennen Beach.
11. The Minack Theatre
In the afternoon finish day 7 at the Minack Theatre, a 15-minute drive from Sennen Beach. The Minack Theatre is perhaps the most spectacular theatre location in the world. The Minack is a beautiful open-air playhouse built on a cliff edge looking out over the Atlantic Ocean. It stages around 20 professional and amateur productions from Spring to September.
This fascinating place was the creation of local eccentric artist Rowena Cade. Built in 1929 with the help of volunteers Rowena built the theatre completely by hand, no heavy machinery was used. The indoor exhibition tells the story of her determination and struggles to build the theatre. When she died in 1983 she left plans of how the theatre might be protected from the rain, so maybe her plans might be followed through one day? Phil thought it looks great as it is.
We watched the stage hands moving props and preparing for rehearsals. Garth wandered around the terrace looking at all the tropical plants whilst Phil explored the lower levels (which aren’t always accessible). An actor was playing the part of Rowena Cade’s gardener Billy Rawlings telling tales of building the Minack.
The Minack has an amazing view of Porthcurno beach, which is well worth a stop if you have time. When you’re done here drive back to St Ives for an evening dinner next to the beach.
Day 8 starts with a drive from St Ives to Mousehole – another picturesque traditional fishing village. The main things to do in Mousehole are based around the idyllic and still working fishing harbour. There are small cafes, shops and galleries to explore in the surrounding streets. The Rock Pool Cafe is the most Insta famous cafe in Mousehole, we couldn’t get a table so opted for the equally nice ‘Hole Foods Deli & Cafe opposite the harbour. We reckon we ate one of the best Cornish pasties in Cornwall at this place, delicious! There’s also a pub The Ship Inn.
If you visit Mousehole in December the harbour is taken over by the Mousehole Harbour Lights. This is when the whole town is lit up for Christmas with various illuminations and lighting displays.
13. St Michaels Mount
After you’ve had lunch in Mousehole drive to St Michaels Mount which takes 20 minutes. St Michaels Mount is a dramatic and fairytale looking place and bares a striking resemblance to Mont Saint Michel in Normandy, France. St Michaels Mount is a rocky island only accessible on foot at low tide via the cobbled causeway from Marazion Beach. Check the tide times if you want to do this. We chose to spend our time with a walk on the beach watching the metal detectorists seeing what treasure they could find buried in the sand.
St Michaels Mount is home to one of Britain’s most iconic medieval castles that has been in the same family for over 650 years. You can book tickets to tour the castle. From a distance, it reminded us a bit of Eilean Donan Castle that we visited in Scotland. There are also subtropical gardens and a small village to explore with its 12th-century buildings home to around 30 people.
When you’re finished at St Micheals Mount or the beach head back to St Ives in the late afternoon.
14. Kynance Cove
So it’s the last day of our Cornwall road trip before we drive back home. There are 3 amazing stops today all on the dramatic Lizard peninsula, we think this is one of the best days out in Cornwall. Start with Kynance Cove for a nice walk down to this stunning beach and reward yourself as we did with a cream tea. In Cornwall, it’s always jam spread first followed by cream on top. Apparently, the Royals follow the Cornish method.
Kynance is possibly our favourite place in Cornwall because it’s just gorgeous – wild and remote.
15. Lizard Point
From Kynance Cove it’s a 15-minute drive to Lizard Point – the most southerly point of mainland Great Britain. Get out of the car and have a walk on the coastal scenic path as there’s not much here apart from the dramatic coastline to enjoy.
16. Cadgwith Cove
Finish the afternoon off at Cadgwith Cove, perhaps the prettiest little fishing village in Cornwall. We loved it here as it’s just gorgeous with thatched white washed cottages and colourful fishing boats that get winched up the pebble beach. Just park in the decent sized car park at the top of the hill and walk down the narrow path past homes which takes 10 minutes to reach the village.
We had the most impressive burger and fish n’ chips at the Cadgwith Cove Inn. Be warned the portion sizes are ridiculously huge! There are also lots of options for freshly caught fish. Apparently, the freshest lobster and best crab soup in Cornwall can be found here at The Old Cellars cafe.
Other Attractions of Cornwall
- Bodmin Moor – Hike and ramble across wild open spaces.
- Newquay – The UK’s surfing capital.
- Penzance – Discover legendary tales of real-life pirates.
- Truro – Cornwall’s only city.
- Dingles Fairground – Heritage centre for fairground rides.
- The Isles of Scilly – A short flight or ferry ride away is Britain’s idyllic and unspoilt archipelago.
Map of Cornwall Attractions
Cornwall Practical Information & Useful Advice
Phil and Garth’s Top 5 Cornwall Tips
- Tip #1: You need to book months ahead to secure accommodation and restaurant reservations.
- Tip #2: Avoid summer bank holiday weekends as Cornwall will be super busy.
- Tip #3: When swimming in the sea be careful of underwater rocks and strong rip currents.
- Tip #4: Many roads are narrow single tracks, so always give way to other drivers when you can.
- Tip #5: Seagulls are aggressive, so never attract their attention by feeding them your chips.
- What currency does Cornwall use? Pound Sterling (symbol: £)
- What language is spoken in Cornwall? English and the ancient Cornish language, Kernewek.
- What is the population of Cornwall? 565,968.
- What number should I call in an emergency? – Call 999.
- What electric plug type is used in England? Plug type G. Voltage is 230V / 50Hz.
- When is the best time to visit Cornwall? June or September because everywhere won’t be packed.
- When is the worst time to visit Cornwall? July and August will be very busy during the school holidays.
- What is Cornwall famous for? Beaches, surfing, fishing villages and cream teas.
- What’s the history of Cornwall? The county was once the tin mining capital of the world.
- What are Cornwall’s 5 must-see sights? St Ives, Land’s End, Padstow, Port Issac and the Eden Project.
- What food is Cornwall famous for? Cornish pasties – filled with beef, potato, swede and onion.
- What is the best way to get around Cornwall? A car! and follow our 10-day itinerary.
- What’s a fun fact about Cornwall? Cornwall has the largest collection of plant species in the UK.
- TV and movies filmed in Cornwall? BBC tv drama, Poldark (2015-2019) and ITV drama, Doc Martin (2004-2022)
- Where is the best photo spot in Cornwall? Kynance Cove.
- Where is a hidden gem in Cornwall? The Lost Gardens of Heligan (see above).
- What is the best souvenir to buy in Cornwall? Art from St Ives.
- What is the official Cornwall tourism website? Visit Cornwall https://www.visitcornwall.com.
- What alternative things can I do in Cornwall? Learn how to make Cornish pasties at JH&M Choak in Falmouth.
How We Did It
- We visited Cornwall at the end of August going into the first week of September. The weather was generally good, just a few cloudy days. Temperatures averaged 25ºC during the day and 15ºC at night. It was very busy with it being the height of the season, however, we noticed it was much quieter in the first week of September when the kids went back to school from their summer holidays.
- We broke up our long journey home by staying with friends in Devon.