Cornwall is a picturesque county in southwest England known for its stunning coastline, sandy beaches, and charming fishing villages. While many of the small villages do need need a car or bicycle to get around, it’s absolutely possible – and great fun – to visit some of the most popular towns by train, taking the stress of car hire and parking out of the equation, leaving you to relax and enjoy Cornwall.
Cornwall is best visited in the warmer months. It’s one of the warmest parts of the UK but, bear in mind that this region can get very cold and rainy too, so pack your waterproof gear!
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This itinerary visits Penzance, St Ives, Newquay, Falmouth and Truro.
London to Penzance: Start your journey bright and early at London Paddington (don’t forget to snap a selfie with the Paddington Bear statue!) for the 5-hour (plus-minus) journey to Britain’s southernmost town: Penzance. Alternatively, head off the evening before on the Cornish Riviera Express night train so you’ll have the whole day to explore Penzance.
TIP! It’s a long journey and train snack cars can be limited and pricey, so we recommend bringing a little picnic of all your favourites along to enjoy while you watch the scenery unfold.
Drop off your luggage at your hotel and head out to explore the lovely town of Penzance. Enjoy a stroll on the promenade, visit the famous art deco outdoor lido, and visit the Penlee House Gallery and Museum to admire local artwork and cultural exhibits.
RECOMMENDED: Visit the historic St. Michael’s Mount, a stunning castle-like island accessible by a causeway or boat. Note that the causeway is only accessible at low tide so check before you go when this will be. You’ll need 2 – 4 hours for this so you may need to spend an extra day in Penzance if you have lots of other things you’d like to do.
Enjoy dinner at one of Penzance’s many local seafood restaurants before turning in for the night.
Penzance to St Ives: After a relaxing breakfast, hop aboard the train along the coast to the picturesque harbour town of St Ives. This is a 40-minute journey with a change in St Erth and seat reservations are not possible so you can sit where you please.
Leave your bags at your hotel and explore the bustling streets of St Ives, filled with galleries, art studios, and unique shops. There are plenty of narrow, cobbled streets to enjoy. The town has a large art scene and is packed with galleries, from tiny boutiques to major galleries like the Tate St Ives, a renowned modern art gallery overlooking the beach. Pop in at the helpful Visitor Information Centre (Monday to Saturday) based in St Ives Library for great advice (they also have a left luggage facility).
If you’re lucky enough to be there on one of Cornwall’s many blue-sky days, relax on the stunning Porthmeor Beach, known for its golden sands and crystal-clear waters and take a leisurely evening stroll along the coastal path to watch the sunset.
St Ives to Newquay: It’s around 2.5 hours by train from St Ives to Newquay, with 2 easy changes at St Erth and Par Habour. These are also open seated trains so be sure to be there early to get the best seats.
Next, it’s time to head for the popular seaside resort and surfing haven of Newquay. Spend the morning on one of Newquay’s 12 sandy beaches or try your hand at surfing or sea kayak. A scenic stroll along the coastal cliffs provides panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean.
Visit Newquay’s picturesque harbour, explore the town’s lively centre, check out the Huers Hut and enjoy a seafood lunch at one of the beachfront restaurants. Or why not have a stroll at Trenence Gardens and Boating Lake, and a traditional Cornish cream tea at Trenence Cottages?
The town is packed with excellent restaurants so you’re sure to find something delightful for your evening meal too. Just beware of the seagulls: they’re notoriously pushy about snatching food from unsuspecting visitors!
Newquay to Falmouth: In 2 – 3 hours by train, you’ll be in the maritime town of Falmouth (with 2 changes en route in St Erth and Truro).
Falmouth is a vibrant town with a rich maritime history. We suggest a stroll along the picturesque waterfront, where you can admire the colourful boats bobbing in the harbour and watch as seagulls swoop and dive (be aware, though, the gulls in this town are also known to be rather insistent). Follow the winding streets lined with Georgian and Victorian buildings, and you’ll find a variety of independent shops, art galleries, and cosy cafes. Stop by the famous National Maritime Museum, where you can delve into Cornwall’s rich maritime history.
If you have time, take a boat trip to explore Falmouth’s beautiful estuary (note that these are generally seasonal and don’t usually run in winter). Don’t forget to pay a visit to Pendennis Castle, a well-preserved fortress with magnificent views over the bay.
Take a leisurely hike along the South West Coast Path for stunning views of the rugged coastline and secluded beaches. Or wander through the enchanting sub-tropical gardens of Trebah or Glendurgan, filled with exotic plants and beautiful flowers.
Falmouth to Truro: A quick half-hour train ride gets you to Truro, the capital of Cornwall.
With its beautiful architecture, charming streets, and compact size, the town of Truro is best explored on foot. One of the must-see attractions is Truro Cathedral, a stunning piece of Gothic revival architecture that dominates the city’s skyline. Wander along Lemon Street past elegant Georgian townhouses and into the heart of the city centre where you can browse the many independent boutiques and art galleries. Truro is also known for its green spaces and nature, such as The Victoria Gardens, Boscawen Park, the winding River Kenwyn or the bigger Truro River so, if you’re looking for some fresh air, have a relaxing stroll.
If you have more time, take a walk to the Truro Museum, where you can learn about the city’s history and heritage. The museum is housed in an impressive building and offers engaging exhibits that are sure to captivate visitors.
Overnight in Truro before hopping aboard the train for the 4.5-hour ride back to London Paddington station (don’t forget to stock up on Cornish pasties for the journey!).
Note: It is advisable to check train schedules and availability in advance to ensure a smooth journey throughout the itinerary.
(PS: don’t forget your BritRail Pass!)