It’s fair to say that Cornwall is one of the most incredible corners of the UK – beautiful beaches, picturesque seaside towns, stunning green spaces and a real creative/sustainability vibe. Trying to see all of Cornwall’s attractions in just a couple of days is pretty impossible – especially if you’re not exploring by car – but you can still enjoy a cruisy couple of days by train, taking in the best bits of the county. I recently enjoyed an incredible couple of days exploring some of the best places to visit in Cornwall, and it was honestly one of the most magical trips I’ve had in the UK. So here’s my fabulous Cornwall itinerary with all my recommendations so you can enjoy it too.
Getting to Cornwall
If you’re travelling from London to Cornwall, I definitely recommend going by train. It took 5.5 hours to travel from Paddington station down to Penzance (with one short 20-minute change in Plymouth) but it was a really enjoyable trip. Great Western Rail’s trains are modern and clean, so it was a really lovely journey.
If you’re travelling from further north in the UK, you’ll probably want to fly to Cornwall. There are flights from most major cities (such as Liverpool, Edinburgh and Belfast) to Newquay, which has the main airport in Cornwall. My itinerary below doesn’t start in Newquay but you can easily adjust the order of destinations to suit your flights.
Either way, once you actually get to Cornwall, it is really easy to get around by train. The rail and bus network across Cornwall makes it so simple for travellers to do without a car, with many train stations in Cornwall being within walking distance of the beach. Yes, you can actually jump between some of the best beaches in Cornwall by train! Plus, most trips take next to no time, so you can jump on the train after breakfast and be on the beach in a new city by lunch – which makes Cornwall one of my favourite places to visit.
Day 1: Penzance
I decided it was best to start at the furthest point on my trip to Cornwall and work my way back up. Penzance is a sleepy seaside town that always sticks in my mind because of Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera about its resident pirates. I really liked the kind of ‘flat earther’ vibe that Penzance had, such as The Edge of the World Bookshop, as it made you think that one point in history, English people had no idea what existed beyond the shores of Cornwall.
Here are some things to do in Penzance that I loved.
St Michael’s Mount
About an hour’s walk along the coastal path from Penzance is the even smaller seaside town of Marazion, where you’ll find St Michael’s Mount. This small island, adorned by its very own castle, is only just off the coast but only reachable a low tide. It honestly looks like something out of a fairytale and legend has it that the island was once the home to an 18-foot giant named Cormoran, who was the first giant killed by Jack the Giant Killer.
My main reason for wanting to visit Cornwall was so I could finally tick this stunning open-air theatre off my bucket list. First built in the 1930s, it is an incredible place to watch a play, with a view out to sea as the sun sets. Located in the hard to reach town of Porthcurno, the Minack Theatre is not easy to get to but you can book a bus from Penzance or St Ives with your theatre ticket on certain weekday evenings. If you want to visit the theatre, then I recommend booking your performance and bus tickets before you book your train tickets, just in case there’s limited availability.
Top tip for Penzance
Pack loads of warm clothes if you’re heading to the Minack Theatre (and maybe borrow a cushion or a blanket from your hotel). It’s in a very exposed location, so it can become very chilly after dark. Plus, your bum can get quite numb after a while.
Where to eat
I loved The Honey Pot in Penzance – a cute café in a 1950s-era building, that is very vegan and gluten-free friendly. It’s a great place for breakfast or lunch.
I properly swooned as my train arrived in St Ives – I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was. Clear blue water and sandy beaches shape a cute and artsy seaside town. I love that it is at the very end of the train line – so you feel like you’ve reached your dream destination. I was a little hesitant about visiting St Ives because I’d always had the impression it was a bit bougie, quite like Chelsea by the sea. But actually, it is was quite lovely without being filled with any glitz or glamour.
Here are some things to do in St Ives that I loved.
Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden
Most travel guides for St Ives focus on the fact that there is a Tate museum here. However, as it doesn’t have a permanent collection, I can’t really what’s here as it is very dependent on the temporary exhibitions. Instead, I would recommend visiting the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden. Her beautiful 20th-century sculptures are displayed around her former garden and workshop. Hepworth lived here for 26 years and its incredible to see her work in the context of her former home. Here are some things to do in St Ives that I loved.
I stumbled upon this beautiful seafront cemetery by accident and was wowed by its dramatic beauty. Its the oldest burial ground in St Ives and looms over Porthmeor Beach on a very steep hill. If (like me) you enjoy a wander around a really old cemetery then you will love this one. Due to its location, there are many nautically-themed graves and apparently, there are some passengers and crew from the Titanic buried here as well.
Top tip for St Ives
Neighbouring Carbis Bay is an easy walk from St Ives apparently and this seaside town looked equally as cute. If you’re staying for more than one day, you may want to check it out as well.
Where to eat
There are plenty of great-looking places to eat along Wharf Rd, like The Rum & Crab Shack and Talay Thai Kitchen. I had gluten-free fish and chips at the Hub St Ives, which was lovely (except that they took over an hour to serve my food so maybe steer clear of here).
Newquay was the only part of Cornwall I’d visited before – and that was in the winter. So I was pretty keen to see it in the sunshine. Being the heart of surfing in the UK, Newquay has a very different vibe to St Ives – it’s a bit more hippy-ish and the centre of town is a little tacky. However, if you steer clear of here and head straight to Fistral Beach then you’ll see the best that this seaside town has to offer.
Here are some things to do in Newquay that I loved.
This busy yet beautiful beach may not attract many proper surfers now (its popularity makes it difficult to surf apparently) but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of novices and holiday grommets having a go. Considered one of the best beaches in Cornwall, Fistral has such a lovely set-up, with a long stretch of golden sand and a number of beach bars/restaurants, so you can stretch out on the sand or watch the action from the terrace with a beer – or, you know, have a go at surfing.
At sunset looms, you can always skip to the other side of Newquay and take a long walk around the headlands that lead onto several other beaches – start at Tolcarne Beach then follow the path around to Lusty Glaze Beach and Porth Beach. I took this snap of the incredible sunset at Whipsiderry Beach, which is about as far as you can go before the footpath runs out.
Like most of Cornwall, you may be surprised by how grey the mornings are in Newquay. The sea mist hangs over the town till midday most days, which is quite beautiful but can be a little discouraging if you want beach weather. Make sure you pack beach gear when you leave the house though as the sunshine will often burn the mist away by lunchtime, leaving some seriously balmy afternoons.
Where to eat
Newquay thankfully had some amazing places to eat. For good coffee and excellent brunch, head to Box & Barber Coffeehouse. It can get pretty busy on weekends though, so if you can’t get a seat then wander down to Pavillion. Come the afternoon, head to The Fistral Stable for incredible gluten-free pizza, cider and amazing beach views.
On my last day in Cornwall, I stopped at the Eden Project on my way back to London. Located about 3 miles (5km) from the town of St Austell, this valley was once a china clay pit before it was revived through an £80 million initiative that transformed it into an eco-park that promotes the sustainable use of plant resources. The iconic ‘biomes’ house both a functioning rainforest and Mediterranean garden. Plus you can even try the Eden Project zip wire – which is the longest in England and lets you fly from one side of the site to the other.
The Eden Project was the idea of Tim Smit, who also was also involved in the creation of the Lost Gardens of Heligan, which is also near St Austell. You can reach the Eden Project by bus from the train station here, but as they only run every hour you should make check the schedule before booking your tickets. The Eden Project is huge so you should allow at 4 hours to spend on-site, plus bus times either side.
Top tip for the Eden Project
There are lockers where you can leave your bags for the day but these are in the carpark and are cash only, so make sure you arrive with change so you don’t have to lug your bags around.
Where to eat
There are a couple of cafés and restaurants in the Eden Project, all which serve delicious and suitably ethical (responsibly sourced, fairly traded, single-source, seasonal and/or local etc) dishes, with plenty of gluten-free and vegan options.
Where to stay at the Eden Project
If you’d rather not jump on the train back but stay near the Eden Project, here are some great accommodation options: Backpacker – YHA Eden Project. Amazing shipping container hostel just up the road from the Eden Project. Luxe – The Carlyon Bay Hotel. A 1920s-era hotel that is around 3 miles from the Eden Project.
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