What’s the best way to get to Cornwall? Our guide reveals all

Cornwall, one of the UK’s top holiday destinations, welcomed a record 5 million visitors in 2022. Numbers fell by 10-15 per cent in 2023 due to the cost of living crisis and rising fuel prices. This year the picture is mixed, with bad weather an added factor.

Nevertheless, summer is the peak period. When schools close, hundreds of thousands of holidaymakers from all corners of the country take to the roads to visit or re-visit one of the UK’s most reliable regions for summer warmth.

Cornwall is far from almost anywhere else – one of the reasons for its appeal. But there are no shortcuts and transport needs to be planned if it is not to be your primary concern.

Here’s some advice on how to spend your holiday in Cornwall without too much Poldark drama.

On the road

What is the best day and time to leave?

Around 12.6 million trips are made by car during the weekend when schools are out, according to data from the RAC. Even postponing it until Monday or Tuesday could be a shrewd move.


A savvy traveler might consider postponing his trip until the day after schools let out for the weekend – Getty

The RAC quotes transport consultants INRIX, which advises drivers to avoid using main roads between late morning and early evening on Thursday and Sunday. The best times to travel on these days are generally before 8am or after 7pm. Leave very early, or arrive very late, and you have a reasonable chance of avoiding traffic.

What is the best route?

The A303, past Stonehenge, remains a popular choice for those coming from the south-east. It is no slower than the M4/M5 and has some basic facilities.


The route via Stonehenge is a good alternative to the M4/M5 – Getty

Where the M5 dies at Exminster is the Great Divide. The A38 continues south-southwest towards Plymouth and Liskeard. The A30 turns sharply west for Okehampton and Bodmin Moor.

If you are going beyond Bodmin, both routes are feasible. The A30 is usually around 10 minutes quicker. Check traffic information before you travel to avoid temporary engineering works. Cornwall Council has a dedicated live update page.

Where are the best pit stops?

For snacks and toilets it depends on the route you take. On the M5 Gloucester Services presents itself as a “Farm Shop”.

It’s not really, but it does have some nice outdoor areas and it looks less plastic than Moto, Welcome Break and other franchises.

To break up your journey, we recommend: Wells and Bath – which came second and first in our survey of Britain’s best and worst cities – for their architecture and overall friendliness; Mendips and Quantocks for picnics and short walks; Totnes for green spaces (including the Dartington Estate) and independent shops; Camborne and Redruth for history and your first pasty.


If you’re heading to Cornwall, you might want to stop off in Bath on the way – Alamy

What are the stress points?

Watch out for cameras on Cornwall’s main roads. There are many and they are often on slopes where cars can easily accelerate.

The new dual carriageway between the Chiverton Cross and Carland Cross roundabouts on the A30 in Cornwall has recently reopened after a four-year upgrade. National Highways says work is still ongoing on some local roads.

The M5 is busy but has fewer bottlenecks than other motorways; it passes no major cities beyond Bristol and bypasses a few densely populated conurbations. No stretch is as awful as the M6 ​​at Birmingham. See our guide to Britain’s motorways for more tips.

Are there any nice alternatives?

If you fancy a slow, scenic drive into Cornwall, the A39 via Minehead and Barnstaple is an option. The SW660 coastal route, due to open in 2022, isn’t yet as popular as Scotland’s NC500, but is worth considering if you’re not in a hurry.

Crossing Dartmoor is not quick but it is easy, with good access on the eastern side at Ashburton and Moretonhampstead. There is a tor to climb to stretch your legs.


To help banish that suffocating feeling after a long drive, climbing a tor on your way to the Cornish coast can help you let off some steam – Getty

Per track

How good are the train connections between Cornwall and the rest of the country?

Penzance and Truro have direct trains from London, Bristol, Manchester, Edinburgh and even Aberdeen – the longest train service in the UK. Penzance is the second busiest station in Cornwall. Truro is the busiest, with around twice as many passengers as Penzance.

Cross Country operates services to the North and the Midlands. GWR operates the Great Western lines via Bristol and Castle Cary to London Paddington. South Western’s Waterloo-Exeter line is an alternative way to reach the region for those travelling from the capital.

Four wholly or mainly single-track branches connect to the main line. The 4.25-mile St Ives Line connects St Erth to St Ives every 30 minutes. The Newquay Line, also known as the Atlantic Coast Line, is a 21-mile link between Par and Newquay; it is a scenic ride, but trains only run every 2-3 hours (6-7 services per day). The nine-mile Looe Valley Line runs hourly between Liskeard and Looe. The 12-mile Maritime Line runs every 30 minutes from Truro to Falmouth Docks.

Buses connect resorts to stations. Download a full summer bus timetable here. If you prefer digital live data, visit gocornwallbus.co.uk/services.

What is the best time and day to travel by train?

Avoid the morning rush hour to keep costs down. Early intercity trains can also be busy with commuters to Bristol, Exeter and Plymouth.

The noon-to-2pm slot is popular for holiday departures. The 3.03pm Paddington-Penzance is a sensible move if you want some space.

Generally, trains are quieter on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Many people try to leave on Friday afternoons and return on Sundays, so if you can travel outside of those times, consider doing so.

Two busy periods are the August long weekend (24-26 August) and the Boardmasters Festival week (7-11 August).


A little careful planning can ensure a peaceful train journey through Cornwall – Rob Thomas/GWR

What about the night shift?

The Night Riviera departs London Paddington at 23:45 Monday to Friday. The first stop is Reading (pick up only) before continuing to Taunton, Exeter, Newton Abbot and all stations to Penzance (arrival 07:50). Stops are fixed only. On Sundays the train departs at 23:50, without stopping at Taunton.

Boarding starts at 22:30. Seat travel is included in the basic ticket price. There are single cabins (from £45, but see below for a real-world example) and twin cabins (from £34pp). Each train has one accessible cabin (bookable by calling 0800 197 1329).

The return service departs Penzance at 21:45 Monday to Friday and 21:15 on Sundays, arriving in London just after 05:00 (cabin guests can remain on board until 06:45).

Is it ever cheaper than driving? How can you get the cheapest rates?

No. Two adults and two children travelling from London Paddington to Newquay on 15th August and returning on 28th August would cost £315.90 (a combination of Super Off-Peak Singles and Family Advance Std, whatever that is). Clearly even a car with a thirsty six-litre engine would be cheaper. First class for the same journey would cost £607.50.

The return sleeper service for those dates is £570 for the family group plus £826 for two twin cabins on each direct flight. Total: £1,396.

The train is of course more attractive for single travellers.

Book in advance to get the best deals. GWR allows bookings up to 24 weeks before departure for weekday trips and 12 weeks for weekends.

Are there extra services in the summer?

In response to high demand for GWR services to Devon and Cornwall, particularly in the afternoons, two services operate at close to the same time. The 12.03 runs direct to Exeter St Davids and on to Plymouth, before calling at stations in Cornwall. The 12.05 Paddington operates from intermediate stations (Reading, Taunton, Exeter, Newton Abbot).

Do you have any insider tips?

No reservation? Don’t panic. Monitors at the station show which carriages are occupied and which still have space. Ask the guard to show you to the part of the platform where you should stand. The unbooked carriages are often quieter for the entire journey.

Always check the price for first class when booking. Sometimes it costs just £25 extra to travel one way in the more expensive seats.

Bring food. The catering on board is variable at best.

By plane

How many UK airports offer flights to Newquay?

There are regular flights to/from Aberdeen/Dyce, Belfast, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Guernsey, Humberside, London Gatwick, Manchester and the Isles of Scilly to Newquay.

There are some European services available, including to Dublin.

airplane cornwallairplane cornwall

A flight to Newquay offers an alternative to a long road or train journey – Alamy

Which airlines?

Eastern Airways operates flights between Newquay and Gatwick (1h20, 2-3 times daily) and Humberside (1h30, once daily, Mon & Fri).

EasyJet flies between Newquay and Glasgow (1h 20m, once a day, Tue and Sat).

Ryanair flies from Stansted to Newquay (1h 10m, once a day, Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday).

Loganair flies from Newquay to Manchester (1h 25m, once daily, Tue-Sun) with one-way flights to Aberdeen/Dyce (3h 15m, once daily, Sat, Sun, Mon, Wed). There is also a non-stop flight to Edinburgh (1h 55m, once daily, Sun, Mon, Thu, Fri) and to Newcastle (1h 25m, once daily, Wed, Sat).

Emerald Airlines flies from Newquay to Belfast City (1h25, once daily, Sat, Sun, Wed).

Aurigny flies from Newquay to Guernsey (once daily, 45 mins, Tuesdays).

What is the best time and day to travel by plane in terms of price?

The so-called dynamic pricing means that it can feel like a free game and these routes are essentially monopolies with irregular departures. A return flight with Loganair for Newcastle-Newquay in mid-August costs around £250. Ryanair was less than £45 for the same dates. But want to take the train to Scotland to get to Cornwall? Skyscanner, Opodo and Momondo etc are worth surfing around for options – although they do sometimes offer random routes.

If you’re flexible, check different dates to get the best price. Cheap tickets sold out for a few days on the Loganair Newquay-Aberdeen/Dyce route, making “with-30kg-luggage” tickets (an extra £60-£90pp) mandatory.

Is it ever cheaper than driving?

Ryanair/Easyjet flights can be cheaper than driving. Other flights compare favourably with the train (and can shave hours off the train journey from Newcastle for example) but are more expensive than driving.

Book well in advance to get the best deals. More info at: cornwallairportnewquay.com

Leave a Comment