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Where to Stop on the Western Cornwall Coastal Drive

Where To Stop On The Western Cornwall Coastal Drive

If I could offer just one bit of advice to anyone traveling to Cornwall, it would be this – rent a car and just drive. The scenery here is spectacular – rocky cliffs jutting out into the rolling surf, beaches where the water laps gently at your feet, colorful seaside harbor towns, and old fishing villages – and the best way to see it is at your own pace. Granted, if you are accustomed to driving on the left and are familiar with a manual transmission, this will be a bit simpler for you than your right-side-driving/automatic-using counterparts, but still worth it regardless of your driving habits.

Cory and I managed to secure the only automatic on the Enterprise lot in Penzance, and even though it came at a premium, it saved us from having to replace our rental’s transmission by the end of the trip. (New addition to bucket list – learn to drive a manual transmission!) First thing on our “road trip” agenda – the western Cornwall coastal drive. That’s a term I made up, by the way. If you Google it, you won’t find anything, except maybe this post, because there is no explicit “western Cornwall coastal drive” with a particular starting and ending point. Instead, there’s just a coast with a whole lot of scenic lookout points, hiking trails, and other sights worth seeing along the way, and you can start and end it anywhere you please.

As we were staying in Penzance, that was our logical starting point and we hoped to make it all the way up the coast to St Ives by the end of the day. Armed with a map and snacks (because we didn’t have a clue where we’d be around mealtimes), we set off as early as we could to make the most of our time. I’ve added our estimated time spent in each of these places, in case anyone would like to repeat the same drive we did, but it’s only meant as a guide. Your own pace and preferences will determine how long you’ll want to spend in these places. Also, keep in mind, we were making this drive in mid-September when the days were still long. In winter, completing this by sundown will be a lot less likely! So without further ado, here was our route for the western Cornwall coastal drive.

Where To Stop On The Western Cornwall Coastal Drive

Penzance

I’ve already written a good deal on the town of Penzance, so I’ll keep this short and sweet. A walk along the promenade and the coast (with beautiful views of St. Michael’s Mount), a stroll around the harbor, and shopping in the secondhand thrift shops and bookstores are the main things not to miss here. If you have a little more time, check out Morrab Gardens, a 3-acre park with loads of subtropical plants, and St. Mary’s in the older part of town.

Time To Spend Here: 1.5 Hours

Where To Stop On The Western Cornwall Coastal Drive

Where To Stop On The Western Cornwall Coastal Drive

Where To Stop On The Western Cornwall Coastal Drive

Mousehole

Driving west along the coast from Penzance, you’ll quickly hit Mousehole, a small fishing village and port. If you park outside of the town and walk in, it’s free. Admittedly, my favorite part about this place was not the town itself, but instead the walk along the coast just above the water. The waves here are much, much stronger than those in Penzance – in many places even crashing high enough to reach the path where we were walking. The fun part was trying to time our mad dash through the wet parts with the rhythm of the waves. We were successful all but one time, which was, I’m sure, in part due to Cory wanting to watch me squeal and run as soon as the cold water covered our heads. If you visit, don’t miss the quirky, seaside gardens along the road leading into Mousehole from Penzance. They’re definitely worth a look!

Time To Spend Here: 1 Hour

Where To Stop On The Western Cornwall Coastal Drive

Where To Stop On The Western Cornwall Coastal Drive

Where To Stop On The Western Cornwall Coastal Drive

Porthcurno

The biggest draw here is the famous Minack Theatre, but after you’ve wandered through that for awhile, I recommend taking the path from the theater down to Porthcurno Beach. There is an easier, less steep pathway down to the beach from the main road, but the path from the theater is much, much prettier, so if you’re up to it, take that one instead! The beach is small and the waves here are relatively gentle, but as it’s got a lovely view of the Logan Rock headland stretching out into the water, it’s an absolutely gorgeous place for a picnic lunch (if you’re the thinking-ahead type). Parking is free at the theater.

Time To Spend Here: 1.5 Hours

Where To Stop On The Western Cornwall Coastal Drive

Land’s End

Wednesday’s post was all about Land’s End, the most western point in mainland Britain, so all I’ll say is don’t let the bad reputation surrounding the commercial side of Land’s End keep you away. There are miles of lovely hikes here. We hiked from Land’s End to Sennen Cove (about 1.3 miles) and back, and then the same distance in the opposite direction along the coast. Both were easy, very scenic hikes over mostly flat land. Also, if you’re an animal lover, be sure to check out Greeb Farm. There are lots of warm, fuzzy creatures there to love on. As far as parking, good luck finding it cheap. We settled for the £6 parking at Land’s End, but if you know of anything better, leave your tip in the comments!

Time To Spend Here: 2 Hours

Where To Stop On The Western Cornwall Coastal Drive

Where To Stop On The Western Cornwall Coastal Drive Where To Stop On The Western Cornwall Coastal Drive

Where To Stop On The Western Cornwall Coastal Drive

St Ives

Our next stop along the coast was Cape Cornwall, but as we only stopped to scope out locations to come back to later for sunset, I’m skipping it for the moment and moving on to St Ives, one of the most popular seaside towns in the UK. St Ives is such a colorful, energetic place with loads of restaurants, cafes, and things to do. For those visiting western Cornwall, St Ives is the most logical place to stay if you’ve got a family that needs entertaining or you’re looking for a more happening nightlife than the smaller towns can offer. I’m sure we could have spent days here, but as we were on a schedule that was rapidly getting away from us, we simply spent our time walking along the beach and through the shops in town. For those with more time, the Barbara Hepworth Museum is incredibly popular, as are the numerous nature trails and walks in the area. The roads in St Ives are almost too small for cars, so you’ll have to pay a fee to park outside the town and walk in.

Time To Spend Here: 1 Hour +

Where To Stop On The Western Cornwall Coastal Drive

Where To Stop On The Western Cornwall Coastal Drive

Where To Stop On The Western Cornwall Coastal Drive

Cape Cornwall

Backtracking down the coast from St Ives, we made our way, once again, to Cape Cornwall. While scoping out possible sunset locations earlier in the day, we drove through some pretty off-the-beaten path areas around Cape Cornwall, but we ultimately settled on the most obvious – the one with the direct view of the chimney monument, all that’s left of the old mine on the Cape Cornwall headland. It’s a gorgeous view, and had the clouds not made a reappearance, I’d have seen that elusive lovely sunset I was after. Unfortunately, the above photos are the best I got, which just goes to show that no matter how much planning you do for that one perfect shot, you’re still at the mercy of Mother Nature every time.

Cape Cornwall is small and there’s not a lot to do here, but its location almost as far west as you can go does, weather permitting, provide the perfect setting to watch the sun go down. On the road into Cape Cornwall, there is a free parking lot a short distance away from the cape, otherwise parking at the National Trust facility is fairly cheap.

Time To Spend Here: Under 1 Hour

Often when I write things like this up, I like to add what I’d do differently if I could, and this time is no different. Because we lost track of time on a couple different occasions and stopped at Cape Cornwall twice, I missed getting to see two places I’d originally marked on our map – Botallack and Pendeen Watch. Both are scenic lookout points between Cape Cornwall and St Ives. Given that it was such a cloudy day and I knew our chances of seeing the sunset would be small, I wish we had left Land’s End and just made quick stops along the way at Cape Cornwall, Botallack, and Pendeen Watch before ending our day at St Ives. It might have given us a bit more time to explore that town, as well. Just something to keep in mind if you decide to make the same trek we did! If you know of any other cool spots along the western Cornwall coast, let me know in the comments!

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Where To Stop On The Western Cornwall Coastal Drive

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27 Comments

  • Reply
    Susan Youmans
    January 24, 2019 at 5:52 PM

    I loved reading your posts. I am actually trying to decide where I want to spened my summer and this has given me a lot to think about!! Beautiful pictures!!

    • Reply
      Sarah Shumate
      January 25, 2019 at 10:10 AM

      Oh, lovely! I’m so glad to hear they’ve been helpful. You’ve probably got a lot of great options, but I definitely don’t think you can go wrong with a summer by the sea in Cornwall. :) Enjoy your summer holiday, wherever you choose to go.

  • Reply
    Anna Parker
    January 8, 2015 at 7:55 PM

    Botallack and kendijack are great but for something more off the beaten track head to rinsey cliff which is nearer the lizard. Less rugged and more beautiful stacks. There’s an engine house near the national trust car park but head east/left and there are some more ruinous ones along the cliffs, so worth a visit

    • Reply
      Sarah Shumate
      January 9, 2015 at 8:47 AM

      This is such a great tip, Anna! Thank you for leaving it in a comment. That is definitely something I wish we’d seen, especially since we spent a day of our holiday hiking at the Lizard – we were so close!

      • Reply
        Anna Parker
        January 10, 2015 at 4:32 PM

        A pleasure – I’ve just done a massive cornwall board on pinterest if you want any more tips!

  • Reply
    rorybore
    December 12, 2014 at 5:10 AM

    gorgeous views — I like the idea of the small fishing village, reminds me of our East Coast a little. that shot of the side of the boat is spectacular!!! Oh my – love it.

  • Reply
    Emmymom
    December 10, 2014 at 8:30 PM

    Love seeing the pictures of you taking pictures. Eric’s car when we were dating was stick, so he taught me how to drive it- it was not a pretty thing.. but then the first nice car we bought was a stick, so I had to really learn as it was my car to drive, ending up being so fun driving it!

  • Reply
    melaniekay
    December 8, 2014 at 7:14 AM

    Looks like a wonderful drive! I love this post!

  • Reply
    Emma @ AdventuresofaLondonKiwi
    December 8, 2014 at 7:01 AM

    Beautiful! (And kudos on finding an auto – I’m with you on the not driving manual car in unfamiliar places…!)

  • Reply
    Tina @ Girl-Meets-Globe
    December 7, 2014 at 7:12 PM

    I love a good coastal drive, stopping along the way to take in all the coast has to offer! Makes me want to go to Cornwall even more!!

  • Reply
    Sara Louise
    December 6, 2014 at 1:36 PM

    My vocabulary always lets me down when I really want to express myself. Every time I pop by your blog now, I am increasingly impressed by your photos and I’m tired of saying, ‘beautiful’ and ‘gorgeous’, because I feel like they deserve more, so just know that I’m continually in awe of your pics :) x

    • Reply
      Sarah Shumate
      December 7, 2014 at 10:31 AM

      What a sweet thing to say, Sara. Thank you! I’ve been practicing a lot more in manual ever since I got my new camera and I still don’t consider my pictures ‘good’ yet, but they’re getting better! :)

  • Reply
    Jess {JessOnThames}
    December 5, 2014 at 11:59 PM

    Oh man, I’ve been driving manuals for 10 yrs now and I still couldn’t handle the size of the streets in St Ives! (There may have been a mini breakdown… not of the car, from me…) We spent most of our time in St Ives and loved it – especially if you stay in one of the cute B&Bs up the coast and take the little tiny train in every day. We only had two days in Cornwall so I’ll definitely be keeping your notes on hand for when I eventually make it back!

    • Reply
      Jess {JessOnThames}
      December 6, 2014 at 12:00 AM

      PS – I agree – love the photos of you taking photos!

    • Reply
      Sarah Shumate
      December 7, 2014 at 10:34 AM

      I don’t know how anyone drives on the streets in St Ives in anything bigger than a SmartCar! They are so narrow! I would like to spend more time in St Ives if we make it back to this part of Cornwall – it looked like there was a lot to do there. I’d want to go in the summer, though, so I could make use of the beaches! :)

  • Reply
    Melanie Fontaine
    December 5, 2014 at 1:57 PM

    I’ve just read through all your Cornwall posts and they have taken me straight back to my own visit a year ago! Cornwall is truly one of my favorite places on earth! We did many of the things that you guys did and seeing them through your eyes again is wonderful! I also love all the pictures Cory managed to get of you in action – did he ‘steal’ your old DSLR? ;)

    • Reply
      Sarah Shumate
      December 7, 2014 at 10:20 AM

      You know, when I got my new camera, I thought about selling my old one, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. It was my first camera, after all. But I’d have felt bad keeping something I wasn’t going to use, so I asked Cory if he’d be interested in learning how to use it. So he’s been carrying it around since this summer and he’s actually gotten really good at it! I’m glad we were able to keep it in the family! ;)

      • Reply
        Melanie Fontaine
        December 8, 2014 at 2:30 PM

        That’s so great, Sarah! I’m trying to get my boyfriend into photography, but most of time he prefers to just observe and enjoy the moment – maybe I should try to give him my old camera to play with! ;)

  • Reply
    Jenn
    December 5, 2014 at 6:28 PM

    I just love coastal towns :) so pretty

  • Reply
    Ashley | Domestic Fashionista
    December 5, 2014 at 4:06 PM

    I LOVE the photos of you taking photos. <3

  • Reply
    Mar
    December 5, 2014 at 3:12 PM

    I would love to visit every single one of these places. We definitely do not have hidden gems like this in Ontario.

  • Reply
    Katrin
    December 5, 2014 at 2:16 PM

    I do not like driving an automatic car. :) I drove one for the first time in the US and I just don’t like it. It feels so weird. I am sure it would take a while to get used to driving on the left side though! Your pictures are breathtaking! What a fantastic place! I love that quirky garden! So cool!

    • Reply
      Sarah Shumate
      December 7, 2014 at 10:22 AM

      I think it’s interesting how automatics are so prevalent in the US, but so hard to find here in the UK! I wonder why each place prefers a different transmission? I do want to learn to drive a manual soon, just in case we ever find ourselves in a situation where there are NO automatics at all!

      • Reply
        Katrin
        December 7, 2014 at 11:31 AM

        I always wonder about that too. David did not know how to drive my car in Germany. :) I had to give him some lessons.

  • Reply
    Amanda @ Rhyme & Ribbons
    December 5, 2014 at 9:57 AM

    I’m only able to drive an automatic so that’s what I’d need! I clearly need to spend more time in Cornwall though! It just looks lovely! xx

  • Reply
    Jamie | The Healthy Passport
    December 5, 2014 at 8:22 AM

    I am super amazed you found an automatic! We have had to rent a car 3-4 times now and they had none. Although, now I am skilled at a manual (or so I think haha), on the wrong side of the road no less. Driving in England is one of the most fantastic things to do…honestly. The charm of the small villages, the coastlines, the countryside…..it’s so amazing! Thanks for sharing this part of the country, I hope we make it before we leave!!!

    • Reply
      Sarah Shumate
      December 7, 2014 at 10:16 AM

      We’ve rented a car twice – once in Ireland, and here. If they hadn’t had an automatic, we would have been in trouble. Neither of us know how to drive a manual! We just got lucky, I guess! I remember reading your posts about learning to drive in the UK – you are much braver than me! I’ll stick with my public transport!

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