Exploring rural landscapes can seem like an impossibility without a car, but in Cornwall, it isn’t nearly as difficult as you might think.
Most of those famous rolling hills, gorgeous beaches, and rugged cliffs can be reached by public transport. It just requires a fair bit of planning beforehand.
What you lose in mobility and freedom you gain in relaxation. You can visit almost everything in Cornwall without having to stress about getting stuck in traffic, or worrying about where you’re going to park.
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This is how you can see Cornwall without a car – and the places you can visit.
Can You Get Around Cornwall Without a Car?
Thanks to an extensive public transport system, you can easily get around Cornwall without a car. Your best bet is to catch the train or coach to one of the major hubs of Cornwall, like Truro, Newquay, or Penzance, and travel on from there.
From London Paddington you can catch a train right to the end of Cornwall with Great Western Railway – it stops at the likes of Truro, Penzance and St. Ives.
There are, inevitably, a few areas you will struggle to reach using public transport. Though the rail and bus network is far-reaching, the most remote coves, beaches, and countryside will be near impossible to visit.
If you’re willing to walk a few miles, you could visit a few additional places. Kynance Cove is a great example of this: it has no direct links with public transport, but you can stop at the Kynance Cove Turn bus stop and walk for 50 minutes to reach the beach.
Where to Stay in Cornwall Without A Car: Choose a Base.
You will want to stay in one of the main transport hubs, with plenty of connections to the rest of Cornwall. Ideally, your chosen town should be on a direct train line to a major city like London or Birmingham.
Luckily, there are quite a few of these.
These towns are the best options for staying in Cornwall without a car. They are all well-connected to the rest of the region with train and bus routes.
It really does depend on what you want from a holiday in Cornwall, but I think Truro is one of the best bases for a short break. There are no beaches, but the city is centrally located – making it an ideal place to stay if you want to visit places on opposing ends of the region.
This is the only city in Cornwall; it’s the best choice for people that like to have plenty of facilities at their fingertips. You will have a greater variety of restaurants, bars, and shops in Truro. There are more options for accommodation as well; one of the biggest benefits of staying in a city is this wider range of choice.
Truro is only an hour from St Ives to the south via public transport and an hour to the Eden Project in the north. It works perfectly as a bridge between the two areas; ideal for those who want to dabble in both.
If travelling from London Paddington, you can arrive in Truro – without changing lines – in less than 5 hours.
It might not be on the coast, but Truro is still a lovely city. The historic streets are winding and picturesque; it’s not just convenient, but a joy to visit in its own right.
St. Ives is a little out of the way if you want to see more than the very southwest end of Cornwall. But it is, I think, the loveliest town to stay in that can be reached without a car.
If you like a town filled with charming cobbled lanes, cute boutiques and golden beaches, you will love St Ives. It also has an excellent food scene – with seafood a common speciality. Many seafront restaurants have the option to dine al fresco by the ocean. You will likely find St. Ives irresistibly delightful; it has a reputation that precedes it as a beautiful, laid-back and bustling destination.
There are world-class art galleries in St Ives, with the Tate St. Ives an exceptional example, and a handful of museums. With half a dozen fantastic beaches on your doorstep and a wealth of culture to explore, you could spend your entire holiday in St Ives alone without issue.
For people that want to venture further out, St Ives isn’t ideal. The likes of the Eden Project, Polperro and northwestern Cornwall are a little too far away. But you can experience the southwestern corner instead, which, for many people, is Cornwall’s most beautiful area. You can head to Penzance by train to find connecting buses to huge attractions like the Minack Theatre and St. Michael’s Mount.
While not the prettiest town in Cornwall, Penzance is located in one of the prettiest areas.
It is situated in the corner of Mount’s Bay, which is home to some of the most gorgeous views on the Cornish coast. St. Michael’s Mount is only a few miles away from Penzance, just off the coast of the sweet village of Marazion. You can walk to the breathtaking castle and tidal island from Penzance in an hour, or catch a bus.
Mousehole is also close by; like Marazion, you could walk from Penzance down the coast to the village or catch a bus. Dylan Thomas once described Mousehole as the “loveliest village in England”. You will see why as soon as you reach it – the village is all narrow streets and ancient cottages; it’s a gorgeous little place, and the harbour is unbelievably quaint.
Penzance itself has its own charm. The jaunty atmosphere of this bustling harbour town is infectious – even if Penzance isn’t the most upmarket town on the Cornish coast, it still makes for a fun base for your holiday. You can catch the Night Riviera Sleeper train from London Paddington to Penzance, so you can sleep the eight-hour journey away.
Falmouth is arguably best-known for its castle; Henry VIII built the imposing Pendennis Castle between 1540 and 1542 to defend against potential invaders from the continent.
But the accompanying town is one of Cornwall’s more underrated locations. It has a lovely harbour, pretty Georgian shops and townhouses and a sizeable beach. Falmouth is also close to Penzance in the southwest, Trebah Gardens is nearby, and the likes of the Eden Project are reachable for a day trip. You can stay in Falmouth and explore a great deal of the rest of Cornwall without a car.
It’s a larger town, with plenty of restaurants and accommodation options, and has a handful of things to do. Besides the beach, castle and surrounding countryside, you can try out other activities like visiting the National Maritime Museum Cornwall or going on a boat trip. The town has a rich history to explore; Pendennis Castle is connected to the fascinating Tudor period, when it was built as an artillery fort to defend against the French, but is worth visiting for the views over the harbour alone. Falmouth’s harbour is the third deepest natural harbour in the world.
Newquay is a vibrant town, with a bustling, raucous atmosphere. It feels a bit like a holiday resort – there are beaches and bars everywhere you look, and everyone’s there just to have a good time.
It has been a popular destination for tourists for some time. Newquay has all the sandy beaches Cornwall is so famous for and is a fantastic holiday base for surfers. The Atlantic waves are whipped up into perfect surf on sandy Fistral and Watergate Bay beaches in particular. You can reach the gorgeous Perranporth beach by bus from Newquay; it really is an amazing base for beach-goers.
Newquay has more than lovely beaches to boast about though, as it has great variety in places to eat, museums and things to do. It has a zoo and an aquarium; both are particularly good options on days when the weather isn’t up to par.
While not the most worldly of towns, Bodmin is well-placed for visitors who want to explore northwestern Cornwall.
The likes of Port Issac, Boscastle and Tintagel can only be reached by bus. These beautiful places are worth taking the extra time to explore – and most of these bus routes begin in Bodmin. Generally, it should take somewhere around an hour to reach Port Issac from Bodmin, and a little longer for the others.
Bodmin is in an excellent position for people who want to focus on the northern coast of Cornwall. As for Bodmin itself, there isn’t a lot to say. The town is pretty and pleasant, but there’s nothing distinctly Cornish about it; it could be a nice, quiet rural town from anywhere in the English countryside.
There are a few attractions, including Bodmin Jail and the National Trust’s Lanhydrock House and Garden, but its main purpose on this list is as a springboard to explore Cornwall’s wild northern coast.
A Car-free Itinerary for a Long Weekend in Cornwall
After settling in at your chosen base, you will want to spread your wings and explore the rest of the region. These are a few of the best attractions in Cornwall that can easily be visited without a car.
All of the towns mentioned as potential places to stay – but particularly St Ives and Falmouth – could be added to a car-free itinerary if you’re not using them as a base.
The Eden Project
Catch the train to St Austell station, which is on the main line from London Paddington, so runs fairly regularly. From there, you can catch a bus that takes you directly to the Eden Project.
The Eden Project is one of the most famous eco projects in the world. Ever since it first opened its doors in 2001, the site has welcomed millions of visitors every year. The huge biomes have become an iconic sight in Cornwall – but what’s inside is even more impressive.
There are two main biomes, with two artificial microclimates inside; the Mediterranean and the Rainforest. The Mediterranean biome is filled with the flora and fruits of Italy, Greece, and Spain; it stays a balmy 9–25°C, allowing the olive trees and more exotic species to flourish. You will journey outside of Europe in the South African and West Australian gardens, which add even more colour to the experience.
The Rainforest biome is an experience like no other in Cornwall: temperatures of 35°C are often reached in the summer. You can walk through a jungle less than an hour from Truro, wander along a rainforest canopy walkway, see crashing waterfalls and tropical creatures all within this biome. A visit to Cornwall’s microcosm of the humid tropics is unforgettable; one of the region’s true unmissable attractions.
Porthcurno & the Minack Theatre
The easiest way to reach Porthcurno is if you’re already staying in Penzance – it’s the nearest train station. From Penzance you can catch a bus with the First KERNOW A1 service, which stops at Porthcurno on its way to Land’s End.
Porthcurno is often alluded to as the most beautiful beach in Cornwall. It is situated in a spectacular narrow ravine, with turquoise blue waves crashing gently against the light golden sand. The cliffs on either side are topped with greenery, while rugged rock formations curve out into the sea. It looks like a stunning secret cove, but Porthcurno is far from hidden; it can get quite busy at times, as it is one of the most famous beaches in Cornwall.
The Minack Theatre, only a 5 minute walk away, is one of those incredible locations that seems both world-famous and a hidden secret all at once. The theatre, which is built to look like Roman ruins, is carved into the cliffside; it’s a spectacular venue that hosts performances overlooking the sea.
Without a car, Trebah Gardens is most easily reached from Falmouth by bus.
Trebah Gardens is one of the handful of world-famous gardens dotted around Cornwall. It is located in a valley that provides a warmer microclimate for the plants, allowing more exotic varieties to grow.
Trebah has been ranked as one of the best 80 gardens in the world – it has taken 180 years of careful design and nurturing to reach that level of excellence. The garden follows a natural spring, which trickles through a series of pools until it reaches a Koi pond. You eventually reach a secluded private beach at the base of the cliffs.
You can enjoy a new experience in the gardens with every season. Spring brings the bloom of a 100-year-old rhododendron, magnolias and camellias, but my favourite season in Trebah is early autumn, when the hydrangeas bring a burst of endless colour to the gardens.
Looe & Polperro
If, when you think of Cornwall, quaint fishing villages of whitewashed cottages and bobbing boats come to mind, Looe and its neighbour Polperro will meet all your expectations.
Looe is the larger of the two, being a town, but is still a peaceful coastal retreat. It’s a place where characterful buildings cling to hills on either side of its namesake river, and colourful boats linger in the harbour after a long day at sea.
Looe is an escape from stress and turmoil; a chance to experience a simple life in a pretty town by the sea, if only for a little while. You can spend your days exploring its winding cobbled streets, browsing its handful of boutique shops, lounging on its beach and wandering across its Victorian stone bridge to explore the other side of town. When you’re done with all of that, you can take the scenic route down to Looe’s pretty neighbour, Polperro.
Polperro is only a few miles down the coast from Looe – the walk is a pilgrimage countless tourists and locals alike have undertaken over the centuries. The village is even more picturesque than Looe, where the crooked and ramshackle streets are replaced by uniformly pretty stone white cottages overlooking a harbour. Every corner of this tiny fishing village is worthy of a postcard: enjoy it by sampling an afternoon tea surrounded by views of tumbling hillside cottages and turquoise blue water.
Hiking and Bike Trails
The best thing to do in Cornwall when travelling without a car? Explore the scenery at a slower pace.
Cars are for getting from one scenic location to another. Once you’re there, they are nothing but a hindrance. Getting out and enjoying the countryside – whether on foot or by bike – is the best way to experience the Cornish landscape. If you’re staying in a great, public transport friendly location, you will be able to access hundreds of fantastic routes without even needing to drive.
Some of the best hikes and trails you can reach without a car will be on your doorstep; there are dozens of routes to take from Penzance alone.
St. Michael’s Mount
Catch a bus from Penzance to Marazion – or walk – to enjoy one of the most incredible views in England: the lonely silhouette of St. Michael’s Mount in Mount’s Bay.
This unbelievably romantic location has a long and fascinating history but is mostly appealing for purely aesthetic reasons. A beautiful castle sitting above an island in a glistening bay: St. Michael’s Mount is the stuff of fairy tales. To add even more charm to the location, the island is tidal. When the tide is out, a cobbled walkway is revealed, winding its way from Marazion up to the castle.
Northwestern Cornwall (Easily reached from Bodmin):
This part of Cornwall’s rugged coastline can be tricky to reach without a car. If you’re staying in St Ives or Penzance, it would be a fairly unrealistic expectation to visit.
But staying in Bodmin – or even Truro and Newquay, at a push – makes it more accessible. All of these places can be reached by bus.
- Boscastle. The quirky village of Boscastle is a mixture of picturesque scenery and unusual charm.
- Padstow. Padstow is an upmarket coastal town – both the town and surrounding countryside are lovely and worth exploring.
- Port Issac. This pretty fishing village is one of Cornwall’s most visited. The pretty harbour, sloping beach, and lovely scenery shouldn’t be missed!
- Tintagel Castle. An ancient ruin surrounded by mystery and magic: Tintagel Castle is supposedly the birthplace of the legendary British king, King Arthur of Camelot. The setting is beautiful; the coastline is typically dramatic and craggy. But the ruins and stories add a mystical quality to your visit. It is never more atmospheric than at the entrance of Merlin’s Cave, the supposed home of the famous wizard.
Can you travel around Cornwall by train?
Yes! The rail network in Cornwall is surprisingly comprehensive. Many of the villages and coastal locations will be off-limits to you if you stick to the railway, but the major towns are all accessible.
Of course, you could quite happily travel all the way down to St. Ives by train and spend your entire trip there. It all depends on what you want to do and see.
Is it easy to travel around Cornwall?
Easy is all relative! If you plan your route well, travelling around Cornwall will feel incredibly simple.
Leave it to the last minute and it might feel stressful – but hopefully this itinerary will take some of that burden. Public transport is easy to use and generally takes a lot of the stress out of travelling. As long as you are realistic about your expectations and check leaving times beforehand, you should easily be able to travel around Cornwall without a car.
Visiting Cornwall Without a Car
A visit to Cornwall using only public transport is surprisingly varied – there are few options and attractions off-limits to you.
Choosing your base is the most important step (unless you plan on hopping from one to another), as what you will be able to see depends hugely on what is close by. You can explore so much of Cornwall without a car that not having one is no longer an excuse: book your holiday for this year, but be sure to avoid the most awkward months.
Hi, I'm Kat, an Australian that moved to London in 2013 to start a new adventure. What a roller-coaster that was! I love helping others move to the UK and people explore the world! I’d be honoured if you’d say, “Thanks!” with a £3 coffee on Ko-fi.