Going on a London to Cornwall drive is one of the best road trips you could take in the beautiful southwest of England. Home to some of the world’s most famous historic sites, incredible coastline, beautiful national parks, and some of the best weather in Britain, there is no denying that heading southwest on your next England road trip is a great idea.
While the distance on the drive from London to Cornwall is approximately 283 miles (455 kilometres) and should only take about 5-6 hours along the M3, there are countless incredible places to stop along the way that can make the journey to Cornwall almost better than the destination in and of itself.
So next time you’re planning a trip to the seaside and have your heart set on exploring some charming Cornish villages, consider making more of a trip of it and enjoy some of these amazing stops when driving from London to Cornwall by car.
Planning a London to Cornwall Drive
Before we get into all of the amazing stops on the London to Cornwall drive, we need to discuss a few logistics when it comes to planning this lovely English road trip.
First and foremost, if you don’t have your own vehicle and want to go on a London to Cornwall road trip, you’re going to need to hire a car. While there are countless car hire companies out there, if you want to save time while finding the best price, we recommend using RentalCars.com. This platform aggregates all of the best prices across all major platforms, making booking a car hire quick and easy.
We would also suggest taking out an excess insurance policy through iCarHireInsurance in order to ensure that you’re completely covered should any damage happen to your rental vehicle and also to avoid the high fees imposed by purchasing insurance directly through the rental company.
Though you will be driving through some beautiful rural countryside and breathtaking national parks, this is a fairly populated part of England and you won’t be far from service stations, pubs, or restaurants along the way so there is really no reason to worry about when you might be able to fill up on petrol or find a toilet or bite to eat.
How Far is London to Cornwall?
Along with hiring a car, you’re also going to need to figure out which route to take from London to Cornwall. There are quite a few ways that you could go, however, for the purposes of these great stops, most everything is located along the M3 motorway and places only require slight detours to get there.
As mentioned earlier, without stops, it should take about 5 hours total driving to get from London to most major towns in Cornwall. Obviously, if you’re going to be making any of these stops, you’re going to want to plan for more time.
While you don’t necessarily need to find a place to spend the night en route if you plan to make a few of these stops if you want to see everything listed here, it’s probably best to plan to do it in two days — leaving London in the morning on the first day, spending a night at a halfway point (Bournemouth can be a great option!) and then continuing onto the rest of the stops on the second day before you reach your Cornish destination in the evening.
London to Cornwall Drive Stops
Without further ado, these are the best stops to take when on the London to Cornwall drive!
The first stop on this list of London to Cornwall stops is actually a slight bit of a detour from the typical route, however, it is very much worth including and making your way here to start out your road trip.
Portsmouth is a historic port city situated on its own island in Hampshire. As home to the Royal Navy, there is a lot of British maritime history here to explore and learn about, particular the HMS Victory (used by Admiral Lord Nelson in the Battle of Trafalgar) and the Mary Rose, which dates back to the Tudor Era.
Portsmouth isn’t all naval history, however. It is also home to ultra-modern Spinnaker tower — a 557 foot (170 metres) skyscraper that provides incredible views of Portsmouth and its harbour.
If you decide to forgo Portsmouth and stay on a very typical London to Cornwall route, then Southampton makes a logical first stop. However, it does well to be the second stop on this drive, as well!
Southampton is located just a bit east of Portsmouth and is another historic port city worth visiting. Known for being the port where the Titanic began its fateful journey across the Atlantic, Southampton has a lot to offer beyond that. A lot of maritime history, heaps of seaside charm and lots of interesting museums, pubs, theatres, parks and even more.
Though it isn’t a destination many people spend much time in, Southampton is quite lovely and really worth exploring for a bit while en route to Cornwall from London.
The biggest detour from the M3 route is to Salisbury, a historic town in Wiltshire in the west of England. Salisbury is known for its incredible cathedral which boasts the tallest spire in England at 404 feet or 123 metres.
Salisbury has more to offer than just its cathedral, however. Boasting a history that dates back to 3000 BCE, there is so much to learn about and explore in this charming little city
If you want to learn more about this town and region, make sure to visit the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum. Take the time to people-watch in the Market Square and have a meal and a pint (if you’re not driving!) in one of the many pubs in Salisbury — perhaps even the Haunch of Venison, which is the oldest public house in the city.
All in all, Salisbury is one of the best places to stop en route to Cornwall.
No London to Cornwall road trip would really be complete without a stopover at one of England’s most famous neolithic landmarks — Stonehenge. Located just a bit west of the village of Amesbury and a slight detour from the M3, a visit to this iconic archaeological site is something everyone must do in their lifetimes.
Though the days are gone when one could just admire this standing stone site from the road without paying the entrance fee, you can take the time to head to the visitors centre, learn about the historic significance, admire how incredible it is and ponder about what it could have been used for.
Stonehenge is arguable the most famous collection of standing stones in the world and visiting this incredible prehistoric monument is one of the best things to do in all of England. Dating back as far as 3000 BCE, scientists still don’t know the exact purpose for this iconic structure, but that certainly doesn’t take away from the magic and mystery of the place.
Getting back to the coastal road, we have our net stop on our road trip, the beautiful coastal city of Bournemouth! Bournemouth is one of the favourite seaside destinations in all of the UK and locals will boast that is has the best beach in England. As you’re en route to Cornwall, it’s certain that you will see plenty of beaches that will rival this declaration, however, there is no denying that Bournemouth makes for an excellent stop.
Thomas Hardy once described Bournemouth as a “Mediterranean resting place on the English channel” and, boasting some of the best weather in England, it isn’t hard to see why. Bournemouth has been a popular resort for Brits looking for a seaside escape for centuries and it became particularly popular as a spa town during the Victorian era.
Bournemouth is best known for its expansive sandy beach, however, there are a number of other elements that make it a good destination to visit. The town itself is absolutely lovely and worth exploring, there are beautiful gardens to wander in and countless pubs to have in which to have a meal or a pint.
All in all, Bournemouth makes for an absolutely unmissable stop to make when driving from London to Cornwall. It’s also a great place to spend the night with a number of accommodation choices such as this charming seaside cottage.
Another beautiful Dorset coastal town, Weymouth is the perfect stop if you’re looking for something smaller and a bit more quaint than Bournemouth. Oozing with charm and also boasting some of the most beautiful beaches, Weymouth is an excellent place to get some classic British seaside charm.
Weymouth both has incredible sandy beaches that are safe and sheltered to swim in and a busy port town to explore, boasting the best of both worlds if you want to explore the seaside outside of Cornwall.
It is also considered to be the gateway to the Jurassic Coast — an area of England known for its pebbly beaches that are littered with fossils.
Another charming town along the Jurassic Coast, Bridport is small but bustling and makes for the perfect place to stop off and stretch your legs while driving Cornwall to London or vice versa.
Though it isn’t a typical “tourist town,” Bridport is a quintessential West Country seaside town and has everything that those entail — a lively market square, a handful of inviting pubs, and enough fish and chips shops to ensure that you will never go hungry,
So if you’re looking for an offbeat and quick stop on the Cornwall to London drive, Bridport makes a good bet.
As the county town of Devon and the administrative capital of the entire region, no London to Cornwall road trip would be complete without a stop in lovely Exeter. This bustling town is the largest city in Devon and has many sights and interesting places worth exploring.
The Exeter Cathedral is the most well-known landmark and this beautiful Gothic church is well worth visiting. There are also countless other small medieval-era churches to visit, beautiful town squares and an undeniable English charm that is sure to delight.
Dartmoor National Park, Devon
If you’re sick of exploring historic towns and would rather stretch your legs and get walking in some nature, then you’re sure to love Dartmoor National Park. One of the best natural stops on the drive from London to Cornwall, Dartmoor is one of England’s most spectacular national parks.
Known for its ambling moors and packed with prehistoric stone circles, Dartmoor is filled with both history and beauty. Fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle are sure to be happy to visit Dartmoor as it serves as the partial setting for the famous Sherlock Holmes novel The Hound of the Baskervilles.
There are countless walks that you can do in Dartmoor, ranging from easy walks that only last for an hour or two or multi-day treks that can see you venturing from pub to pub, small village to small village. Dartmoor is known for its countless prehistoric remains, but also make sure to keep an eye out for wild ponies!
If you want to get out of the car and ramble through the Devonshire countryside, there really is no better place to do that than in Dartmoor National Park.
Finally, our last stop on the London to Cornwall drive is Plymouth, the last town you’ll reach before entering Cornwall! This port city is packed with fascinating maritime history and it’s really worth getting out of the car and spending some time here to learn about it.
Plymouth is the town where, in 1588, Sir Francis Drake led the British Navy off to defeat the Spanish Armada. It is also where the first English pilgrims took off from in 1620 on the Mayflower to escape religious persecution before arriving in the New World — Plymouth, Massachusetts, that is!
These days, Plymouth has a number of interesting museums and historic sites to explore along with a charming seaside and lovely town to wander through. So if you’re looking for one of the best places to stop en route to Cornwall, make sure to include Plymouth on your itinerary!
Where to Stay on the London to Cornwall Drive
If you want to make this London to Cornwall road trip longer than one day, you’re going to need to find a great place to rest your head. We personally think that Bournemouth makes that perfect halfway stop on this road trip as it has a lot of accommodation option and is an interesting destination in its own right.
If you’re looking for accommodation in London, we have a great guide on the best areas and places to stay in the British capital!
Where to Stay in Bournemouth
Private Rental – This charming seaside cottage is a great option but there are also a number of other private rooms and apartments available to rent. Click here to browse private rentals in Bournemouth.
The Newark — This small bed and breakfast is the perfect place to rest your head while on the London to Cornwall drive. Located a stone’s throw away from the Bournemouth beach and within easy walking distance of all other top attractions, there are a range of comfortable and clean rooms available and a full English breakfast made fresh each morning. Click here to see their availability
Royal Exeter Hotel — This swanky hotel is a great place to stay if you’re looking for a bit more luxury on your road trip to Cornwall. Located within easy walking distance to the beach and promenade, they have countless plush rooms available and a bar and fitness centre on site. Click here to see their availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other hotels in Bournemouth!
Where to Stay in Cornwall
The Dolphin Tavern – This traditional inn in Penzance is the perfect place to rest your head on your Cornish holiday. Situated right on the coast, they have a handful of cosy rooms and a great breakfast included each morning. Click here to check their availability
Palma Guest House – This guest house located in St Ives it situated directly on the back and boasts incredible views from their comfortable and clean rooms. Great for couples, this makes for a perfect base in Cornwall. Click here to check their availability
55 Yards Bar and Townhouse – This luxury hotel in Newquay is perfect for couples looking for a romantic getaway. Situated within a few minutes walking distance from the beach, there are a range of great rooms available and a bar on site. Click here to check their availability
Private Rentals – If you’re looking for something a bit different for a great place to stay in Cornwall, consider using finding a private house or apartment rental. There are countless properties available for all budgets — like this modern sea view apartment in Newquay to this beachfront apartment in St Ives. Click here to browse more Cornwall private rentals!
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other hotels in Cornwall!
Planning a London to Cornwall drive doesn’t have to consist of a solely figuring out which motorway to take. There are countless interesting places to stop and visit when driving out west and it’s very much worth taking the time to see them!
When travelling on a London to Cornwall road trip, it’s always a good idea to make sure you have a travel insurance policy so you’re covered for any unfortunate events! We like WorldNomads and always use them for our trips – click here to get a quote from WorldNomads
Are you planning a London to Cornwall road trip? Have you been? Let us know your favourite stops in the comments!