Buckle up, it’s time to experience a fun-filled Southern Cornwall road trip with a Cornwall itinerary to keep you occupied for 3 days in Cornwall…(map included!)
A few years ago, embarking on a five-hour road trip to Cornwall would have filled me with dread. I’m not always so good at long car journeys and I’ve been flying for so long that it is second nature for me to jet off somewhere and be in the sun within a couple of hours.
But, last summer in the UK was the best weather we’d had in such a long time and I kicked myself that I didn’t bite the bullet to road trip to Cornwall. Things were going to be different this year, I’d already vowed to see more of the UK in my New Year’s Resolutions and Cornwall was top of my British Bucket List.
I was invited to stay at The Cornwall Hotel in St Austell, which was the perfect excuse for Adam and I to take our first and long-awaited road trip to Cornwall.
We explored pretty Cornish towns, dined in local restaurants and saw the breathtaking sights Cornwall has to offer. I can’t wait to share the places we visited on our Southern Cornwall road trip in this post.
If there is somewhere, in particular, you want to read more about, feel free to click on any of the links on the table below to jump ahead to a particular section.
Things to know before planning a Southern Cornwall Road Trip
The best time to visit Cornwall is without a doubt in the late Spring/Summer as the weather in Cornwall can be very unpredictable! Though, I recently returned in September and picked a great week, the weather was gorgeous and the beaches were empty…hurrah!
The Cornish roads are very narrow and hilly, which can be troublesome to navigate in poor weather or if you’re anything like me…rubbish at hill starts!
That said, as Cornwall is one of the best places to visit in the UK, it does mean the roads do get very busy! Start your journey to Cornwall early or overnight to avoid any delays.
If you’re wondering how far Cornwall is from London…the answer is it’s quite a long journey! If you are driving to Cornwall from London, the A303 and A30 take you into Cornwall in 4 hours and 38 minutes (261.5 miles). Alternatively, if you are more comfortable travelling by motorway the M4 Motorway will get you from London to Cornwall in 4 hours and 50 minutes.
As with all road trips (I certainly picked up a few tips from driving in Iceland), always make sure you have plenty of petrol as rural areas equal fewer petrol stations, therefore it is always worthwhile filling your car with petrol in bigger Cornish towns such as Penzance. The signal can also be poor and for this reason, it is always worthwhile downloading a map before you start your road trip to Cornwall.
Here’s my Southern Cornwall Road Trip Map with itinerary, which you’re free to use and download. Open Google Maps, click the tab on the left-hand side and click on ‘My Places’ where you can add to this map or create your own map.
For information about traffic problems in Cornwall, check the Cornwall Traffic Watch Website.
Staying at St Austell Spa Hotel
Our first stop was St Austell where The Cornwall Hotel is located. We started our Cornwall road trip at around 5 am from Milton Keynes and The Cornwall Hotel lodges offered us the perfect retreat for when we arrived.
Our first day in Cornwall was all about relaxation and we enjoyed afternoon tea in the brand new Laura Ashley Tea Room, followed by a chilled spa day at The Cornwall’s Clearing Spa. Just what we needed!
The room service at The Cornwall was too good to miss and we were so relaxed that we didn’t venture out for dinner. Though if you’re looking for places to eat nearby head to the many eateries in Charlestown (I’ve shared my favourite further down the post 🙂
Whilst we did not get a chance to explore St Austell itself, St Austell is a great base to visit many of the must-do things in Cornwall. Located only 14 minutes drive to The Lost Gardens of Heligan and The Eden Project, St Austell is also a famous brewery town for those looking to enjoy a Cornish tipple!
The Lost Gardens of Heligan
These gardens date back to the late 18th century when they were owned by the Tremayne family and, before the First World War they were maintained by a team of 22 gardeners, sadly only 6 of which survived the war.
The gardens were restored to their former glory in 1992 after years of being forgotten under the undergrowth.
Follow the melody of bird song to discover the famous figures of the Giant’s Head, Mud Maid and Grey Lady.
The gardens are one of the most unique things to do in Cornwall, but they are open to the elements so be sure to pack a jacket and an umbrella just in case!
Lost Gardens of Heligan
B3273, Pentewan, Saint Austell PL26 6EN
GPS ref: 050°17′ 16.02″N 004°48′ 51.73″ W
The Eden Project
Inspired by his work to help restore the Lost Gardens of Heligan, Sir Tim Smit, originally from Scheveningen in The Hague where I recently visited, transformed a china clay pit into what is now known as The Eden Project.
Whilst The Eden Project can still be enjoyed during Cornwall’s Great British weather conditions, thanks to its giant biomes, over the years it has proven it is more than giant biomes filled with plants.
Eden is a charity leading the way on climate, ethical and ecological issues. Educating and inspiring others about topics such as the uses of palm oil and its impact on wildlife, the importance of bees and plankton on our lives as we know it and, insight into the atmosphere. The Eden Project helps visitors appreciate the natural world, whilst providing insight into how we can all work together to preserve it.
The charity has recently partnered with Emmaus, a homeless charity seeking to provide a place for homeless people to learn skills, work and live to help turn their lives around. This joint commitment will create work and accommodation on Eden land to help homeless people in Cornwall.
The site has plants varying from the exotic to the more common, but no less beautiful. I couldn’t count how many robins I saw walking around the grounds and marvelled at seeing so many in one place.
Housing the largest rainforest in captivity, complete with treetop walks; it’s the little touches such as cans rather than the use of plastic bottles and the significant work to help Eden’s array of buzzing bees that demonstrate the charity’s dedication to improving the environment for both people and wildlife.
Even the drinks at Eden help the bees and I can highly recommend tucking into an Eden Pasty! They’re so good and it wouldn’t be a visit to Cornwall without trying a Cornish pasty! Check out the size of this one!
The Eden Project
Bodelva, Par PL24 2SG
Parking is free!
*Disclosure – Tickets to The Eden Project were gifted.*
Charlestown is one of the prettiest Cornish coastal villages, with the last working Georgian 18th-century harbour and a proud UNESCO world heritage site.
Located around a mile outside of St Austell, Charlestown is one of Cornwall’s postcard places, completely unspoilt, in recent years it has featured in Poldark, The Three Musketeers and Saving Private Ryan.
Unfortunately, we only visited at night and therefore were unable to see Charlestown in its full picturesque glory. Though, it’s easy to see just how beautiful it must look in the day as the coastline did look rather striking, as did the resident grand ship The Kajsamoor.
I was looking for somewhere special to celebrate my birthday in Cornwall and my friend Claudia recommended dining at The Longstore in Charlestown (thank you Claudia!)
The Longstore is the perfect place for a special occasion and is truly beautiful restaurant. I couldn’t stop marvelling at the shell lights. The food was beautifully presented and very tasty!
I found myself hooked on the butterscotch daiquiris, they are so damn amazing! I joked with the waitress that I would like another served in a pint glass, which she did…
I just wish she’d filled it to the top!
The Longstore specialises in the finest locally sourced Cornish steaks and seafood. It’s a popular place to dine in Southern Cornwall, therefore booking is advised!
North Cornwall is most commonly thought of as the area with the best beaches in Cornwall, but beaches such as Porthcurno and Kynance Cove only demonstrates the beauty of the best beaches in South Cornwall.
You may have already heard of Kynance Cove, it is one of the top places to visit in Cornwall and the beach’s popularity can make it overwhelming busy during the summer months.
Kynance Cove is a dog-friendly beach in Cornwall, making it a hotspot for those looking to enjoy holidays with dogs in tow too. It should be noted a seasonal dog ban is in place between Easter Sunday and 30th September, though we did see dogs on the beach during our September trip.
Parking at Kynance Cove is at the National Trust car park and as an organisation they are unable to take card payments. However, if you do not carry cash (as we weren’t) you can sign up for National Trust monthly membership for £6, which enables you to park free and enter at any National Trust site all over the UK, not just Cornwall. This proved very handy for the rest of our time in Cornwall! If you don’t want to sign up for membership to save money parking at Lizards Point take the coastal path two mile walk to Lizards Point for some incredible views of Mounts Bay. Though, given the popularity of Kynance Cove you may better parking at Lizards point and walking to Kynance Cove.
Access down to Kynance Cove is via a coastal path, which takes 10 minutes and there are two routes available. We took the fastest route, though it did involve clambering over some rocks, which is something to bear in mind if you’re not great on your feet!
The beauty of Kynance Cove is as you walk around you find other little coves and areas to explore. We arrived around 3.30-4pm and found it to be a lot quieter than we expected. If you’re wondering when is the best time to visit Cornwall, in terms of enjoying the beaches with less crowds; September is the best time to visit Cornwall.
The rock pools are particularly scenic.
S W Coast Path, Lizard, Helston TR12 7NT
Lizard Point is located within easy reach and only two miles north of Kynance Cove, therefore combining these attractions is best for your Cornwall road trip itinerary.
Lizard Point is at the southern tip of the Lizard Peninsula and is the most southerly point in Great Britain. Expect to see epic rock formations and staggering views; we even spotted a seal and lots of rabbits!
Explore the lighthouse and soak up the views. We found that Lizard Point is particularly scenic at sunset.
Places to Stay in Lizard Point
If you are looking for cheap places to stay in Cornwall near Lizard Point, the YHA Lizard Point Hostel located next to the lighthouse looked lovely.
For those like me, who love a luxury stay without the price tag, check out The Polurrian on the Lizard Hotel, a luxury hotel in Cornwall by the sea. The hotel has a spa and I particularly love the boutique touches.
Marazion Boutique Apartment
Our next stop on our long weekend in Cornwall was Marazion and I couldn’t get enough of our loft apartment overlooking St Michael’s Mount!
I love boutique accommodation and I always take pride in the fact that I will only work with hotels and accommodation similar to the ones that I would pay for myself. So this next property wasn’t a gifted stay but I loved it so much I have to share it!
This Beachside Apartment in Marazion marked another first as it was our first time staying in an Airbnb. Not only that, but it’s also an Airbnb Plus property and is such a cool place to stay in Cornwall!
This one-bedroom loft apartment is not only beautifully designed giving us plenty of home interior inspiration, but it also has the most amazing views over St Michael’s Mount. Saved us some pennies on parking at St Michael’s Mount too, the AirBnB comes with free parking!
In all honesty, Adam and I didn’t really know what to expect, being our first AirBnB experience, but our host Vikki not only gave us plenty of recommendations of things to do in Marazion and places to eat nearby, she also provided tea, coffee, milk and sugar for our arrival. A lovely touch, I’m sure you’ll agree!
Similarly to our location in St Austell, we were perfectly located in Marazion to explore other South Cornwall attractions, such as St Michael’s Mount, The Minack Theatre, Porthcurno Beach, Sennen Cove and Lands End.
After our days exploring, we found ourselves on a sofa each enjoying the complimentary Netflix and NowTV in the apartment. It was such a blissful stay!
St Michael’s Mount
Located just across the sea and from our boutique apartment is Cornwall’s version of Normandy’s Mont Saint Michel.
St Michael’s Mount was constructed by the same order of Benedictine monks as it’s famous French counterpart.
The Pilgrims Steps to get to the house are quite steep but both the house and gardens are very beautiful.
You can visit St Michael’s Mount by walking the granite causeway path when the tide is out (twice a day) and times are available on the St Michael’s Mount website. Alternatively, you can take the boat across for £2 per adult (per way) and £1 per child.
Please note, St Michael’s Mount is closed on Saturdays, therefore be sure to consider this when planning your itinerary for 3 days in Cornwall. There is a pay and display car park (cash only) on the side of the beach and it’s very easy to spot as you drive towards St Michael’s Mount.
The long sandy beach facing St Michael’s Mount is particularly beautiful as the sun begins to set and is an idyllic place to walk or observe the rock pools. If you are looking for free things to do in Cornwall, nothing is better than exploring the vast coastline and best Cornish beaches.
The Godolphin Arms
One of the places to eat in Marazion recommended by our Airbnb host Vikki was to dine at The Godolphin Arms. After a long day exploring we logged onto the website and managed to book a table for 8.30pm.
The Godolphin Arms is located only five minutes walk from the Airbnb and upon arrival we were lucky enough to enjoy a glorious window table view over St Michael’s Mount.
The views are breathtaking and we were pleased with our choice to dine here, before even checking out the menu.
Adam ordered a beef burger with chips and after much deliberation, I ordered the catch of the day (gurnard).
The pan-fried gurnard was served with roast potatoes, beetroot cabbage and steamed vegetables. I don’t recall eating gurnard before dining at The Godolphin Arms, it has a meaty taste and being served with the crispy skin with sea salt really adds to the flavour. Very tasty!
We had a lovely dining experience at The Godolphin Arms and our waiter Tristan recommended another eatery for us to try in nearby Newlyn.
Love the view? Why not browse the hotel rooms at The Godolphin Arms
Mackerel Sky Fish Bar
When it comes to the best food in Cornwall, Mackerel Sky Fish Bar is indeed a Cornwall hidden gem! Located in the fishing port Newlyn, Mackerel Sky is a not-to-be-missed fish bar and restaurant. This intimate eatery is open for lunch between 12-3pm and dinner between 6-pm, though it is very popular and with no bookings taken, be prepared to queue!
The excitement of trying to get a table reminded me of when Adam and I managed to get a coveted table at Lady Pi Pi in Dubrovnik, a place Rick Stein himself has reviewed.
We arrived at Mackerel Sky a little after 6 pm and the place was already packed! Though, luckily, we did manage to get a table outside.
Mackerel Sky serves the freshest fish from Mount’s Bay and the local area. All dishes are taster size so order as much or as little as you like and pick a side or two to make up a meal. It’s recommended to order two dishes per person.
Adam chose the beer-battered pollock with chips and tartare sauce. I opted for the Catalan stew with hake, mussels, prawns, chorizo and tomato sauce. We both shared the crispy sole fillets with Katsu curry sauce.
For small bite-size portions, you sure do get a lot of fish, which is what you pay for as my Mum always says. You could taste the freshness of the fish and all the dishes were tasty, but it was the sole fillets in a katsu curry sauce that Adam and I found ourselves fighting over. In hindsight, we probably should have just ordered another portion…
Mackerel Sky is a must-visit if you’re near Newlyn and it’s a great place to stop after exploring other Cornish towns such as Penzance or Mousehole (pronounced Mou-zal.)
Mackerel Sky Seafood Bar
New Rd, Newlyn, Penzance TR18 5PZ
The Minack Theatre
The Minack Theatre is one of the most beautiful sites to see on the Cornish Coast. Built by the late Rowena Cade and her gardener Billy Rawlings after the First World War; the Theatre is beautifully carved into the granite cliffs of Porthcurno.
Coincidentally, I am writing this post on the 2nd of August, which would have been Rowena Cade’s birthday. A building at The Minack contains a series of pictures and dialogue to enlighten visitors about how the Theatre was created, giving insight into Rowena’s life at the time of the war.
The first play shown at the Minack Theatre was Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream on Friday August 23rd 1929, which spookily the 23rd falls on exactly the same day this year! This can only mean I have to return right?!
The Minack Theatre is a beautiful spot adorned with an array of colourful flowers.
If you do not get the opportunity to catch a play, take a pew and watch as the waves crash into the rocks below.
It’s free to park your car in The Minack Theatre car park and entry into the theatre is £5 per person.
The Minack Theatre
Porthcurno, Penzance TR19 6JU
If a coastal hill climb doesn’t leave you unsteady on your feet, take the coastal path down from The Minack Theatre to Porthcurno Beach.
I couldn’t quite believe my eyes when I first observed Porthcurno Beach. It’s easily one of the top 10 beaches in Cornwall! The rugged coastal terrain makes way for the bluest, turquoise water, which for a moment makes you question whether you are actually in the Med! It does not seem possible that it is actually a beach in Britain.
After carefully navigating the coastal path, we reached the soft sandy beach, which is white in colour. The fine, white soft sand reminded me of the white sands of Fuerteventura and more recently, the white sand I saw on my trip to Bimini in the Bahamas.
Porthcurno Beach is such an idyllic little spot and if more time was available to us I certainly would have liked to have spent a few hours here.
If you do not wish to take the coastal path down to Porthcurno beach from The Minack Theatre, there is Porthcurno beach parking available too, which is pay and display.
Porthcurno, Cornwall TR19 6JX
Sennen Cove Harbour and Coastal Path
Another gem of local information we picked up during our visit to Cornwall was to park at Sennen Cove Harbour car park rather than park at Lands End (the parking prices at the Lands End are very pricey.) Not only does it cost as little as £1 for two hours parking, but the coastal path from Sennen Cove to Lands End is also breathtakingly beautiful.
It takes around ten minutes to walk the Mayon Cliffs to Lands End from Sennen Cove and once you have tackled the initial climb, you are treated to the most glorious views over Sennen Beach, admiring wild Cornish coastal flowers and the rugged coastline.
If you’re very lucky you may even be able to spot local wildlife such as red-billed choughs, peregrines, kestrels, ravens, whales, basking sharks, grey seals and bottlenose dolphins.
If you have more time to spend in the area you can also walk the Mayon Cliffs coastal path to Maen Castle, view the lighthouses/shipwrecks lining the path, as well as, explore more beautiful Cornish coastal villages.
The first and last place in England, Lands End is definitely worth a visit; if not to just soak up the picturesque coastal views.
It’s wise to arrive early to avoid queuing (or paying later on) to capture a coveted picture of The Lands End Landmark sign.
We stopped off for mussels at The Lands End Restaurant and it wasn’t just us who enjoyed the food…
Lands End Landmark Cornwall
Land’s End, Sennen, Penzance TR19 7AA
Looe is a small coastal town and fishing port in South East Cornwall with a close proximity to Plymouth. A popular tourist spot, Looe is the perfect place to stop on the way to Cornwall’s other coastal towns if you are heading into Cornwall via Plymouth or as the last stop when you head home. Whilst popular, it’s still a pretty Cornish town to visit, with colourful blooms lining the streets.
Parking in Looe is very straightforward as the town has a huge pay and display car park. When it comes to parking, Adam and I are useless at carrying change. If you download the Just Park app you can easily pay via the app and add more parking without the need to run back to the car! Parking for two hours is £4.70 and after 6pm it’s free to park.
As you can see from the picture below, the Look car park is rather scenic too!
After an hour or so on the East Looe Beach admiring the rock pools and rugged landscape, Adam and I popped into a taverna serving roast dinners. We were so excited to find somewhere serving a roast dinner on a day other than Sunday I forgot to jot down the name of the establishment or take photos, which is very rare indeed!
It’s easy to find places to eat in Looe as the cobbled streets have an array of eateries including plenty of tea shops serving cream teas to eat in or takeaway.
South Cornwall Dog-Friendly Accommodation
Cornwall is a family-friendly destination and that includes doggies too! On our most recent trip to Cornwall, we stayed at The Hayloft, a Woodlays Holidays apartment (get £34 off your first stay with my AirBnB link); a dog-friendly place to stay in Cornwall. The 24-acre land setting makes it ideal to take canine companions out for a well-deserved walk, with an array of wildlife to admire en route.
We loved the quiet, spacious accommodation and the DVD player with DVDs provided to enjoy a quiet in after our days exploring. One night we picked up some takeaway fish n chips from the static caravan site en route to Looe and enjoyed a night watching Face-Off, a film we hadn’t seen it in years!
Places I’ve stayed in Cornwall
To recap, I enjoyed a wonderful stay at The Cornwall Hotel in St Austell for my first visit to Cornwall. On recent trips, I have enjoyed stays at the below Airbnb properties. I only recommend accommodation I have stayed in and enjoyed myself 🙂
South Cornwall Road Trip Itinerary for 3 days in Cornwall
Packed full of beautiful places to visit in Cornwall, you now know where to head to find the best beaches in South Cornwall and where to see the famous Cornish botanical gardens! We have reached the end of the road (literally) on my Cornwall road trip itinerary and I hope you have found this post useful to plan your own holiday in Cornwall.
This Southern Cornish itinerary is by no means exhaustive; my Cornwall travel blog does give you the top places to visit in Cornwall if this is also your first time visiting Southern Cornwall. As I return to Cornwall (I loved my time in Cornwall so much I want to return already), I will be updating this post, so please pin the image below to your Pinterest board to read new additions at a later date!
Pin this post to save for a later date!
All you need to do for your holiday to Cornwall now is get your road trip tunes playlist ready and find some places to stop on the way to Cornwall!
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