Car-free holidays in CornwallCornwall

One of Britain's most scenic journeys with outstanding coastal views, Great Western Railways run regular trains from London Paddington to Cornwall. Explore by bus, train, foot, bike or ferry and you'll help to protect Cornwall's beaches and beautiful countryside. Forget the miserable traffic jams and stride out on a long distance path, relax on a boat, or see over the high hedges from the top of a double decker. Here are some tips for making the most of Cornwall without a car.

  • County: Cornwall
  • Great for: beaches | bird watching | boat trips | castles | cycling | family | food and drink | walking |
  • Refreshments: lots of fabulous pubs, cafes and restaurants
  • Please note: researched/updated in November 2023. If anything’s changed or you have more tips to share, do get in touch:
  1. 1. St Austell

    Wander the world at the Eden Project with massive domed greenhouses that enclose the world’s largest indoor rainforest or a Mediterranean landscape of scented herbs, vines and olives. This is just one of the adventures in store if you base yourself in St Austell.

    • Buses from outside St Austell railway station head to the area’s main tourist sights, including the Eden Project, where bus 28 and bus 31 arrive a few times per day (except Sunday). Just follow Good Journey’s directions.
    • Or see all the strange and marvellous things (like barnacle-crusted porcelain, jet buttons and barrels of coins) salvaged from shipwrecks over the years at the Shipwreck Treasure Museum by the historic harbour in Charlestown. Regular bus 25 from St Austell stops nearby.
    • In the Lost Gardens of Heligan, a buried giant with montbretia hair greets visitors and a spring rainbow of rhododendrons gives way to summer-scented sweet peas and nodding agapanthus. To get there, on regular bus 24 and bus 23, just follow Good Journey’s directions.
    • You can buy an unlimited day ticket on the bus for the whole family or add PlusBus to your train ticket for even less (covers St Austell and Charlestown).
    • The Eden Project and St Austell are close to a network of flowery cycle paths called the Clay Trails, which are well worth exploring in their own right. The South West Coast Path runs past along the cliffs and the coast-to-coast Saints Way ends in nearby Fowey (bus 24 and 25).
    • From Fowey, a small coastal town pronounced to rhyme with joy, there are some lovely ferry trips over the wide River Fowey to explore places like Polruan with its narrow lanes and winding steps.
    • Stay at YHA Eden Project is in a gleaming airstream caravan. There’s a self-catering kitchen, café and bar in the reception marquee and fire pits outside each caravan or more basic land pod.
  1. 2. Bodmin

    Cornwall’s former county town, built at the point where two ancient trade routes cross, is a great hub for visiting the Cornish countryside without a car. Bodmin has plenty for car-free visitors, whether by train, steam train, bus, bike or foot. Arriving by rail (from Exeter, London or beyond), bus 11 runs from Bodmin Parkway station into town frequently. For more detailed information, see our car-free guide to Bodmin.

    • Or you can catch the steam train into Bodmin and out into the Cornish countryside. Hop on the Bodmin & Wenford steam railway for a thirteen-mile ride through woods and fields.
    • For a train-based day trip along the main line railway, catch the train ten minutes to Liskeard and change onto the scenic branch line for Looe, with its sandy beach, picturesque alleys and crabbing off the harbour.
    • To reach the National Trust’s Lanhydrock House from Bodmin Parkway railway station, the simplest way is to walk or cycle. It’s a beautiful 1¾ miles via a mossy tunnel and riverside path to the house and colourful gardens.
    • Don’t overlook the town itself. With a 15th-century church and several engaging museums, including Bodmin Jail, an ivy-covered 18th-century edifice built with 20,000 tonnes of local granite. The jail had a huge extension project recently, converting the previously derelict wings into a hotel.
    • Bodmin is also a great starting point for the Camel Trail, a popular cycle route along a former railway line to Padstow.
    • If you’re making local bus journeys on the same day that you arrive or leave by train, get a bargain PlusBus ticket for unlimited bus rides around the Bodmin area. For bus journeys further afield, there’s the day rider ticket. You can hire bikes from Explore by Bike in Bodmin or at Lanhydrock
    • There are lots of places to stay in Bodmin. Bus 11 stops at Asda near the Premier Inn on its way from the station.
  1. 3. Falmouth

    GWR’s branch line from Truro runs to Falmouth Town. A seafaring town that makes an excellent base for staycations, Falmouth has plenty to see and do: you can have tea by the harbour or sail over the river, ride out into the woodland, or walk the South West Coast Path. For more detail, see our car-free guide to Falmouth

    • For Pendennis Castle without a car, follow Good Journey’s directions.
    • Further out of town, you can take a trip to gardens like Glendurgan and Trebah with valleys full of flowers and palm trees that slope gently down to the water’s edge. Dayrider tickets for Cornish buses for unlimited travel across the whole county and are valid on any bus. There are Town dayrider tickets too for particular towns, including Falmouth.
    • If you’re taking several bus rides around Falmouth or Penryn on the day you arrive or leave, ask for PlusBus when you buy your train ticket and get unlimited bus rides around the whole urban area.
    • You can also take a ferry over the River Fal to the white-washed fishing village of St Mawes and other places. A Fal Mussel Card will give you unlimited boat rides in the area and are particularly good value if you’re staying all week. You can hire electric bikes from Co Bikes or have them delivered to your door.
  1. 4. Newquay

    Twelve sandy beaches, world-class walking, several scenic bus rides and a tropical zoo all make Newquay a great car-free destination. You can reach Newquay by train from Par or by bus along the coast from Padstow. Summer is really busy in this popular town, but head off the beaten track and you’ll still find quieter coves and cliff paths to explore… For more detail, see our car-free guide to Newquay.

    • Newquay’s dozen beaches are surprisingly different, from sunbathing in sheltered Porth on the north side of town to surfing on famous Fistral with its towering breakers.
    • The South West coast path, which links all the beaches, runs through the town along a disused railway and then round the coast. A half hour ride on bus 85, past Newquay Zoo, takes you to Holywell Bay.
    • The Luxulyan Valley is a former mining area that has now become a magical nature reserve and UNESCO-listed site. You can get there easily from Luxulyan station, on the scenic branch line that runs between south-coast Par and Newquay. Branded the Atlantic Coast Line, this pretty twenty-mile railway runs under the huge, granite Treffry Viaduct, which towers thirty metres over the wooded path and railway.
    • If your bus journeys are relatively local and on the same day that you arrive or leave by train, you can get a bargain PlusBus ticket for unlimited bus rides around the Newquay area. You can hire bikes from Coastal Trail Cycle Hire.
    • There are lots of places to stay in Newquay itself. The central Great Western Hotel is right by the train station and bus stop with reasonably-priced rooms.
    • Along the scenic Atlantic Coaster bus route towards Padstow, there are some fancier choices like the Scarlet Hotel (with a discount for car-free visitors) or the Watergate Bay Hotel, with its new beach loft bedrooms and full-size pool with a view of the ocean. The Watergate Bay Hotel is about a fifteen-minute bus ride from Newquay on the open-topper or bus 56 and just a minute’s walk from the Phoenix bus stop.
  1. 5. Penzance

    At the end of the Great Western Railway, Penzance is the ultimate Cornish destination. With a saltwater lido, subtropical gardens, art galleries and piratical pubs, the town has a bohemian quality.

    • One of the UK’s greatest open-topped bus adventures starts from Penzance. The Land’s End Coaster passes the arty town of St Ives, the Minack theatre, St Michael’s Mount and other iconic sights. To head straight for the Tate Gallery in St Ives, follow Good Journey’s directions.
    • Back in Penzance, Wave’s Café Bar serves up vegan loaded nachos or roasted squash salad while Fraser’s is a licensed fish and chip shop on the promenade with sea views – they have won awards for sustainability and do ice cream in compostable pots.
    • For piratical décor, don’t miss the Admiral Benbow and, for a down-to-earth Cornish pub with friendly locals and good prices, head to the Dock Inn.
    • There are dozens of places to stay, including a Premier Inn near the railway station. Boutique guest house Venton Vean is a stylishly revamped Victorian villa.
    • And the holiday doesn’t end when you get on the train: you’ve still got one of the UK’s most beautiful railway journeys to enjoy. Settle back with a picnic or a game for the kids and watch the scenery roll by…