The charming and quaint villages in Cornwall are a must-see on a road trip around the most south-westerly part of England. Cobbled streets, flower-laden cottages, historic fishing harbours and local craft shops will fill you with joy.
Dramatic seascapes visible as you wander around these Cornish villages will have photographers, artists and nature lovers in complete awe at the picture-perfect vistas.
And the beautiful beaches near many of the Cornish villages and some of the UK’s best coastal walking trails will make you want to stay forever.
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The Most Beautiful Villages to visit on a Cornwall road trip (complete with driving times)
This road trip itinerary highlights 19 unmissable villages in Cornwall that you must visit on a road trip through Southern England.
I have plotted the Cornish villages in this post on Google maps to make your Cornwall road trip easy to follow. I think you will agree that there are some spectacular locations to explore for all travellers.
Top Driving Tips for a Road Trip to Cornwall
Driving is on the left-hand side of the road in the UK. Cornwall is a maze of tiny country lanes, so you must keep to the legal speed limits and be aware of large agricultural vehicles sharing these lanes with you! Always be ready to pull in and let another car past if you see you have room – the other driver might not have the option.
Car parking can be a problem if you travel in the peak summer season (June – September), so be prepared to wait for a spot. Most car parks are pay-and-display, although National Trust and English Heritage car parks are free if you are a member.
If you plan on flying in and out of Cornwall, you will find Newquay Airport to be your best regional choice. You can book an airport transfer into Newquay town centre if you want to spend a few days in the surfing capital of Cornwall before you set off on your road trip.
Other major airports are Bristol, Exeter, and Plymouth. Alternatively, Heathrow or Gatwick in London are an option, but remember, it takes around 5-6 hours to drive from London to Cornwall!
If you choose to drive to Cornwall from London, you could extend your road trip to visit the villages in Cornwall by stopping on route at some of England’s most incredible landmarks including Stonehenge, the New Forest National Park, Dartmoor National Park, and Bodmin Moor.
Book your rental car from Europcar and collect and drop it back off at the airport of your choice.
Time and distance from Newquay airport to Tintagel – 47 minutes / 26 miles
The bustling village of Tintagel is a taste of ancient Cornwall. Its high street has cafes, souvenir shops and ice-cream parlours and a couple of pubs, but it is something else that most visitors come here to see.
Tintagel Castle has been the site of Cornish myths and legends for centuries. It is one of Cornwall’s most popular tourist spots and is supposedly the birthplace of King Arthur. Whether that is true or not, it is a stunning place to visit and is reached across a footbridge – a fabulous entrance to the medieval castle ruins. Tintagel Beach and Merlin’s cave can be accessed when the tide is out.
Take the coastal path from Tintagel Castle back to the village and enjoy the stunning sea views before passing by the 11th-century church of St Materiana. Step inside, light a candle and see the ancient religious artefacts, including the Norman font.
Time and Distance from Tintagel to Port Isaac – 23 minutes / 10 miles
Port Isaac #2
Fans of Doc Martin and Poldark will love the charming village of Port Isaac, the iconic location of both TV programmes. Wander along its quaint cobbled streets on a Doc Martin Tour and keep a lookout for one of Britain’s narrowest thoroughfares, aptly named “Squeezy Belly Alley”.
Walkers can take a leisurely one-mile stroll along the coastal path from Port Isaac to Port Gaverne. Along the way, enjoy the epic seascapes spanning the coast and countryside. Afterwards, back in Port Isaac, enjoy a meal at Outlaws run by Michelin chef Nathan Outlaw.
Hop aboard a boat trip with Wavehunters and keep an eye out for hidden coves and wildlife, including dolphins, seals and puffins. Or go crabbing or rock-pooling in Port Isaac’s crystal-clear waters.
For some of the best adventure activities in Cornwall, Cornish Rock Tors offer two-hour courses in coasteering, sea kayaking, and stand-up paddle-boarding.
Time and Distance from Port Isaac to Padstow – 38 minutes / 16 miles
Want to stay for longer than a day? Check out these holiday properties in Port Isaac.
One of the best villages in Cornwall and one of Cornwall’s most popular destinations for food lovers is Padstow. The village is firmly on the map due to the numerous restaurants owned by the renowned chef Rick Stein.
The town sees holidaymakers travelling from near and far to sample the delicious fresh Cornish cuisine at Rick Stein’s Seafood Restaurant. I can vouch for his Stein’s Fish and Chips; they were delicious, although the £1.50 for a tiny pot of mayonnaise was a bit of a joke! Scattered around the village harbour is a selection of independent eateries and gift shops.
I can recommend the ginger ice cream from Harbour Ice-Cream. My only problem was that before I took my first bite, a seagull swooped in and stole the whole thing, so I had to go and buy another one – the gulls know which is the best ice cream in Padstow!
While seafood is at the top of the menu in Padstow, the National Lobster Hatchery highlights the plight of marine conservation in Cornwall and how the lobster species are protected.
Cyclists and walkers can take on Cornwall’s famous 17-mile Camel Trail that runs along the old North Cornwall Railway Line between Wenfordbridge, Bodmin, Wadebridge and Padstow. The route passes through the wooded countryside of the upper Camel Valley and is flat and suitable for families and wheelchair users. Visitors can hire bikes from Camel Trail Cycle Hire in Wadebridge.
If time permits, jump aboard the Black Tor ferry to sail the 20 minutes from Padstow to the affluent village of Rock, loved by the rich and famous. Are you feeling peckish? Head to The Blue Tomato Café or Rock Inn for lunch.
Time and Distance from Padstow to Lostwithiel – 45 minutes / 25 miles
Want to stay the night in Padstow? The 4-star Padstow Harbour Hotel is a perfect choice.
For those who love to browse antique shops, Lostwithiel is the antique capital of Cornwall. Wander around the numerous independent galleries and stop for refreshments in one of the many great eateries in this vibrant village.
Asquith’s is an upmarket restaurant offering delicious dishes prepared using local produce. Nearby, Annie’s Comfort Food cooks up great burgers and baps from a wooden shack by the side of the road – check out the great reviews on Tripadvisor.
The main historical focus of the town is a medieval bridge, parts of which date back to the late 13th century and, of course, the semi-ruins of Restormal Castle.
A short drive from Lostwithiel is the largest indoor rainforest in the world, aptly named the Eden Project. Two massive biomes contain plant species collected from around the world.
Time and Distance from Lostwithiel to Looe – 27 minutes / 17 miles
Looe is one of the many traditional fishing villages in Cornwall where life centres around the harbour. Its charming narrow streets lead to independent shops, restaurants and coffee bars.
For watersport enthusiasts, Looe’s coves have clear blue waters and sandy beaches, with kayak, canoe and paddleboard rentals at Black Rock Beach Hire and Talland Bay Beach Cafe.
Animal lovers may like to visit the Monkey Sanctuary Looe or try their hand at crabbing or rock pooling in the shallows along the coast.
For a great place to eat, The Sardine Factory in Looe harbour is the place to try the catch of the day and is highly recommended by the locals.
Time and Distance from Looe to Polperro – 13 minutes / 5 miles
Polperro is bursting with characteristic fishing cottages and has an infamous history of smuggling. Wander along its narrow passageways and imagine times gone by when this small harbour was a haven for pirates.
Polperro is pedestrianised, and the central car park is a distance from the village centre. However, if you can’t cope with the walk, a small shuttle bus will ferry visitors back and forth during the day.
There are plenty of things to do in Polperro, including a visit to Shell Cottage and the Polperro Model Village to find out about Cornwall’s myths and legends.
Walkers have several coastal trails to choose from, the easiest route being from Polperro to Hafen (3 miles). Once back in the village, there are plenty of places for refreshments, from traditional pubs like The Blue Peter Inn to The Plantation Tea Rooms serving vegan treats, including Cornish cream teas.
Time and Distance from Polperro to Fowey – 46 minutes / 7 miles (including a short ferry crossing)
Looking for a unique stay in Cornwall? Check out these Quirky and Unusual Hideaways For Couples in Cornwall
Fowey (pronounced Foy) is a picturesque working harbour town with hidden passageways and old pubs nestled between quirky coffee shops and independent galleries.
The small Fowey Aquarium highlights marine life in the Cornish waters and is housed in an 18th-century stone building. And for history lovers, the Fowey Museum gives an insight into one of the ancient villages in Cornwall.
Visitors can find Readymoney Cove in Fowey. It has a small sandy beach and overlooks Polruan at the mouth of the Fowey Estuary. The 16th-century St Catherine’s Castle ruins stand on the cliff above the beach and can be reached via the town.
Visitors can catch the Polruan ferry for a 20-minute boat ride across the estuary or walk the 4-mile circular trail starting at either Fowey, Polruan or Bodinnick, which includes two river ferry crossings.
Time and Distance from Fowey to Charlestown – 20 minutes / 7.5 miles
Out of all the villages in Cornwall, Charlestown may be one of the least known. However, the Georgian fishing port with its longships and Poldark filming locations is a delightful contrast to the other small fishing villages scattered around the coast. While it is only a mile away from the modern town of Saint Austell, it is the complete opposite in every sense.
Visit the Charlestown Shipwreck Treasure Museum, which houses thousands of items collected from shipwrecks found along the Cornish coast. It is the largest museum of its kind in the world and is interesting to see. Wander along the dockside and see the tremendous tall ships that sailed the Cornish waters.
When you feel hungry, head to the Longstore, serving delicious meals made with Cornish produce. Or grab a coffee, Cornish pasty or cake at The Galley in the harbour.
Spend time wandering along Quay Road, and you will see Charlestown’s beautiful Grade ll pastel-painted cottages. Also, check out the independent galleries and pottery shops in Charlestown. The Old Workshop is an excellent place to pick up local crafts to take home as a momento of your holiday to Cornwall.
Time and Distance from Charlestown to St Mawes – 43 minutes / 21 miles
Want to stay for longer in Charlestown? Book into the 5* Rashleigh Arms named after the man who transformed the harbour.
St Mawes #9
The picture-perfect St Mawes is one of my favourite villages in Cornwall. With its tiny harbour and white-washed cottages, this quaint village is accessible by road or water. Jump aboard the St Mawes ferry from Falmouth’s bustling harbour town, and you will be across the water in 20 minutes.
The castle is one of Cornwall’s most important Tudor defence forts and has stunning views across the Fal Estuary back to Falmouth. Take the steps down to the beach from the car park or relax in the castle’s beautiful garden.
Walkers can pick up the St Mawes to St Just circular trail from outside the castle, which takes in the sub-tropical church gardens of St Just-in-Roseland.
Time and Distance from St Mawes to Mawnan Smith – 1 hour / 18 miles (including a short ferry crossing)
Want to stay for longer than a day? Check out Hotel Tresanton, owned by the Polizzi family, of TV’s “Hotel Inspector” fame!
Mawnan Smith #10
Blink, and you will miss Mawnan Smith but stop, and you will find a classic example of one of the traditional villages in Cornwall.
Grab a coffee and homemade cake at AWNA, buy fresh produce from the village store (run by the same family since the 60s), or enjoy an evening meal at the Red Lion at the hub of village life. And don’t forget to pop into The Old Smithy to see the blacksmith at work.
Garden lovers will be spoilt for choice with two great Cornish gardens right by one another. Trebah Gardens and Glendurgan Gardens both have sweeping views of the Helford River, with private shingle beaches accessible only to visitors to the gardens.
Animal lovers will want to visit the Cornish Seal Sanctuary, which rescues and rehabilitates grey seal pups from around the Cornish coastline.
A short drive from the centre of the village will bring you to the beautiful Maenporth beach, perfect for swimming and water activities. The award-winning restaurant The Cove has fabulous elevated views over the beach, or for lighter bites, the Life’s a Beach cafe serves sandwiches, coffee and other goodies.
Time and Distance from Mawnan Smith to Cadgwith – 40 minutes / 16 miles
Looking for a hot tub holiday in Cornwall? I can recommend Boskensoe Barns – my family enjoyed a wonderful stay in The Pig House in Mawnan Smith, complete with a hot tub!
The tiny village of Cadgwith is a traditional Cornish fishing village with a 300-year-old pub packed with relics collected over the centuries.
Artists have long flocked to Cadgwith to capture its essence on canvas, and the Crow’s Nest Gallery highlights the work of local artists.
For walkers, a challenging 6.5-mile circular walk follows the coastal path from Cadgwith to Church Cove.
Near to Cadgwith is a second small harbour village called Coverack with a past connected to pirates! Nowadays, the small shingle beach and picturesque thatched-roof cottages are the main lures for tourists.
Time and Distance from Cadgwith to Lizard – 8 minutes / 4 miles
No trip to Cornwall would be complete without exploring the Lizard Peninsula, the most southerly point in Great Britain. Cornwall’s most iconic stretch of coastline is famed for its lighthouse, remote location and wildlife and is a haven for walkers and nature lovers.
The tiny village of Lizard has a handful of cafes, gift shops and pubs and has a National Trust parking spot for walks to Lizard Point. From this point, you may spot whales, seals and dolphins depending on what season you visit.
For scuba divers, the many shipwrecks lying beneath the waters of the Lizard Peninsula make diving in the area a real adventure.
For beach lovers, Kynance Cove is one of the best beaches in Cornwall and a short drive from Lizard. With stunningly beautiful crystal clear turquoise water and a fine sandy beach, this Cornish cove is loved by all who visit. A steep 15-minute walk will take you down to the beach, but check tide times before your visit as you might find the tide is in and there is no access to the golden sand.
Time and Distance from Lizard to Mullion – 9 minutes / 5 miles
Experience a once-in-a-lifetime experience when you stay in one of the stunning lighthouse properties on the edge of Lizard Point.
Mullion is the largest village on the peninsula and has plenty to offer, including pubs, galleries, gift shops and restaurants. For a traditional Cornish tea, head to Mullion Cove Hotel.
The 15th-century church of St Mellanus stands In the centre of the village and contains some oak bench-ends carved with biblical scenes depicting Jonah and the whale – a nod to the coastal location, and yes, whales do frequent the Cornish waters.
Of course, no trip to Cornwall would be complete without visiting Mullion Cove. Mullion is one of the places in Cornwall that artists have constantly immortalised over the decades.
Take to the waters and sail to Mullion Island – a bird sanctuary just off Mullion Cove. It is a breeding colony for Kittiwakes, Cormorants and Guillemots.
Time and Distance from Mullion to Porthleven – 21 minutes / 9 miles
The historic Porthleven is Britain’s most southerly fishing port and has a vivid past full of smugglers and shipwrecks. The waters outside the harbour are full of the skeletons of ships that never made it home!
Nowadays, Porthleven is better known for the growth of its food scene, rivalling Padstow and St Ives. Restaurants will suit all palates, such as Kota, giving an Asian twist to traditional Cornish dishes and Amelies highlighting freshly caught seafood. And coffee connoisseurs will love the coffee at Origin, roasted in nearby Helston.
Wander around one of the most picturesque villages in Cornwall and check out some local crafts at Porthleven Harbour Market before enjoying a pint with stunning coastal views at the 17th-century Ship Inn.
Just outside the harbour walls in Porthleven beach and nearby is Loe Bar Beach, a leisurely 30-minute walk from Porthleven harbour. Loe Bar comprises two parts; The Loe is the largest natural freshwater lake in Cornwall, and the Bar, is a shingle bank that separates the lake from the sea. Swimming at Loe Bar is prohibited due to dangerous currents.
Time and Distance from Porthleven to Marazion – 16 minutes / 8 miles
Cornwall’s most famous landmark, the awe-inspiring St Michael’s Mount, is in the sleepy village of Marazion. The village itself is tiny and has a few local shops, a pub and a town hall.
For visitors wishing to stay and dine in Marazion, The Godolphin is the number one spot with a spectacular beachfront location overlooking St Michael’s Mount.
Make sure you get your tide times correct, or you may get wet! When the tide is out, you can walk the cobbled footpath on the seabed from the shore to the Mount, but when it is in, the only way across is by boat to St Michael’s Mount.
Around the bay is Penzance boasting some of Cornwall’s best beaches. If swimming in the sea isn’t for you, then the UK’s largest seawater lido, Jubilee Pool, might be a better choice.
While in Penzance, head to The Turks Head, one of the oldest and most charming pubs in Cornwall dating back to the 13th-century, and discover stories of smugglers and pirates.
Time and Distance from Marazion to Mousehole – 22 minutes / 10 miles
Mousehole (pronounced Mowzel) is a chocolate-box Cornish village. Wander along its labyrinth of narrow, winding streets and discover art galleries, family-run cafes, and local craft shops.
Cormorant Cruising offers boat trips from Mousehole Harbour, or walk along the harbour walls and get some beautiful views of St Clement’s Island. The island is a haven for sea birds and sometimes grey seals that bask on its tiny beach.
Hikers will love the picturesque coastal walk (2 miles) from Mousehole to Lamorna Cove, with its huge boulders and swimming beach.
Time and Distance from Mousehole to Sennen – 22 minutes / 9 miles
Sennen Cove is a 15-minute walk from Sennen village, the UK’s most westerly village, and is one of Cornwall’s most beautiful stretches of sand.
It is a magnet for surfers and windsurfers, and the village surfing centre offers beginner lessons on how to surf in Cornwall.
Along the seafront, there are surf shops, cafes and souvenir shops. The historic Round House Gallery specialises in local art and crafts and is worth visiting.
Cornwall’s most famous pub, The First and Last, named for obvious reasons, attracts tourists from around the globe with its history of smuggling and its resident ghost called Annie!
Time and Distance from Sennen to St Ives – 35 minutes / 17 mile
Are you looking for holiday accommodation for larger groups in one of the villages in Cornwall? Check out these Cornish properties for families and friends.
St Ives #18
While St Ives is not technically a village, I felt it should be part of this Cornwall road trip itinerary because St Ives is one of the best places to stay in Cornwall and is one of the best beach towns in Cornwall.
From sunbathing on glorious beaches, shopping in quirky independent shops and wandering around numerous galleries to dining in traditional and modern pubs and restaurants – there’s something for everyone to enjoy.
When you are feeling peckish, head to the Rum and Crab Shack for freshly caught crab and lobster washed down with a shot of rum!
Visitors interested in wildlife should hop aboard a boat tour from St. Ives Harbour. The trip will allow you to observe the seals that live on Seal Island.
Want to learn how to surf in Cornwall? Have a lesson or two with St Ives Surf School on Porthmeor beach, one of Cornwall’s best surfing beaches.
Time and Distance from St Ives to St Agnes – 34 minutes / 24 miles
St Agnes #19
The last but no less beautiful Cornish village is St Agnes. This gorgeous village sits in a dedicated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The narrow lanes are typical of most of the villages in Cornwall and give them their unique character. St Agnes is no different – taking a car around the cobbled streets can be challenging.
Walkers will be spoilt for choice with the many footpaths and bridleways that lead from St Agnes directly to the South West Coast Path. Visitors can pick up maps from most of the local shops.
The St Agnes Beacon and Wheal Coates circular walk is popular with all visitors and covers a historic World Heritage mining site.
For cyclists, the Coast to Coast trail starts in the neighbouring parish of Portreath and runs for 11 miles to Devoran along purpose-built cycle paths or quiet lanes.
St Agnes and Porthtowan are a mecca for surfers. A big surfing community is based here, including Surfers Against Sewage, a fantastic environmental group with a mission to rid the UK coastline of sewage. Have a go at surfing yourself with a lesson from Breakers Surf School.
Time and distance from St Agnes to Newquay airport – 55 minutes / 40 miles
Why not finish your Cornwall road trip with a few nights in Newquay, the capital of surfing in Cornwall.
I hope you enjoyed this post and that it will inspire you to plan a road trip around Cornwall in the future.