Newquay or St Ives or Penzance: Choosing a Base in Cornwall

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by Maggie Turansky

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Are you planning a holiday in beautiful Cornwall but can’t decide whether to base yourself in Newquay or St Ives or Penzance? Well, you’re not alone. It can be quite difficult to choose where to stay in Cornwall in order to get the most out of your trip to this beautiful corner of England, especially as all three of these towns have something different to offer visitors.

Though Cornwall is small, each of these major towns and cities has its own distinct feel and atmosphere that will appeal to some travellers over others.

In general, Newquay is best for a classic beach holiday and for people who want to get active. St Ives is ideal if you are an art lover who wants to stay in a lively little village. Penzance is perfect for history lovers who want to visit the great sites of the area.

However, there is a lot more to unpack when deciding where to stay in Cornwall. Read on to find out the benefits of basing yourself in the towns of Newquay, Penzance or St Ives.


Located on the northern coast of Cornwall, Newquay is known for its two gorgeous beaches, excellent surfing conditions and great restaurants. It is an incredibly popular place for people to base themselves in Cornwall and has a lot to offer visitors.


Like most everywhere in Cornwall, Newquay is most easily accessed by your own personal vehicle and this is very much the best way to get around the entire region, not just Newquay. However, you can opt to take the train or bus to arrive in Newquay.

There are trains from London Paddington to Newquay that run multiple times daily (you can check schedules here), however, it is likely that you will need to change at least once during the trip. The journey time takes about five hours in total.

Fistral Beach in Newquay
Fistral Beach in Newquay

If you’re looking for a more affordable transportation option, then opt to take the bus. There are numerous coaches that also leave from major UK cities to Newquay daily and, though they can take a bit longer than the train, they can be a lot more cost-effective. Click here to check schedules here.

Once in the town, you’ll find that it is quite walkable solely because of its small size. However, just like in St Ives or Penzance, you will find it a bit difficult to get around if you want to explore more of Cornwall without your own car. There are lots of paid car parks around the town and many accommodations also provide parking.

If you want to rent a car for your trip to Cornwall, you can browse where you will find deals across many major companies. You can opt to rent a car at your beginning destination or when you arrive in Newquay.

It’s worth it to also take out an excess insurance policy with iCarHireInsurance if you want to save money by not buying it directly through the car hire company.

Things to do in Newquay

There are lots of things to do in and around Newquay that are sure to keep you occupied even if you don’t want to explore a lot of the rest of Cornwall while on your trip.

Newquay, first and foremost, is most famous for its incredible beaches that are vast and perfect for catching some waves in the Atlantic. If you want to try your hand at surfing, you cannot go wrong with Newquay. There are also lots of other watersports you can try around here if surfing isn’t exactly your cup of tea.

The town is also a great jumping-off point to explore some amazing historical sites nearby. For instance, Newquay isn’t located too far from the famed Tintagel Castle where, as legend would have it, King Arthur was born. The castle has a striking position and it is perfect to visit on a trip to Cornwall.

Newquay is also closer than St Ives and Penzance to the incredible Eden Project, an eco-botanic garden with lots of great places to explore. It boasts the largest rainforest in captivity along with many other gardens and education facilities.

It’s worth planning to spend a day here on any trip to Cornwall, but it is particularly convenient if you’re basing yourself in Newquay.

In the town again, there are many great restaurants to enjoy in Newquay including The Fish House where you can sample fantastic fresh seafood in a wonderful location.

If you are keen to get more active, there are many walks to do along the coastline in Newquay that will take you along different parts of the South West Coast Path. These can range in length and difficulty if depending on what you’re looking for.

Ruins of Tintagel castle is a great place to explore on day 1 of your Cornwall itinerary
Ruins of Tintagel castle

Where to Stay in Newquay

Cliff House – Located in the centre of town and close to the beach, this is a great place to stay in Newquay. It’s a good option for both families or couples and a great breakfast is included in the room rate.

Selkies NQY – Located a few minutes walk from the beach, this is a great luxurious option for those looking for a romantic place to splash the cash in beautiful Newquay. The staff are friendly and there is a bar on site.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other options in Newquay!

St Ives

St Ives is a town on Cornwall’s Northwestern coast known for its beautiful beaches and artsy vibes. It is absolutely charming and the perfect getaway for those who are interested in local art and a charming village atmosphere.


St Ives is one of the most popular places to stay in Cornwall (along with Newquay or Penzance) and therefore, it is relatively easy to reach the town from most major UK cities.

For instance, there are trains that run from London Paddington daily, however, they are likely going to involve one or two changes to get to the final destination. Expect the total journey time by train to take a bit over five hours. Coaches are also an option.

It’s also well worth driving to St Ives as having a car in the area is beneficial to getting around. If you choose to drive to St Ives from the capital city, you will also find that there are plenty of great places on the London to Cornwall drive.

And along with all the things to see on the way, having a car will definitely make getting anyway outside the town itself far easier – even if you decide to visit Penzance or Newquay!

There are lots of paid car parks in St Ives and, like in Newquay, some accommodation options may also provide parking as well.

Porthminster beach in St Ives
Porthminster beach in St Ives

Things to do in St Ives

St Ives is absolutely picture-perfect and it lends itself to some great exploration when it comes to simply getting lost in the village’s streets. There are countless cool shops, boutiques, cafes and galleries where you can pick up a souvenir or support some local small businesses.

St Ives is also well-known for being an artist’s haven, with its own branch of the iconic Tate Modern in the town. Modern art lovers will relish in the collection at the Tate St Ives and it is well worth the visit here. You can also find some smaller local artists’ galleries and enjoy art done on a smaller scale that is more Cornish.

Of course, no seaside town in Cornwall is complete without mentioning the beach and St Ives has some spectacular sandy stretches that, if the weather is fine, you can enjoy and soak up the sun. There is even the opportunity to go surfing here but the waves are not as iconic as those you will find in Newquay.

Like Newquay, however, you will find that there are plenty of great coastal walks that you can do directly from the town. These are mostly all portions of the South West Coast Path and can range in length and difficulty so you will truly find something that will work for everyone.

St Ives also has tons of great cafes and tearooms where you can enjoy a classic Cornish cream tea, complete with clotted cream and delicious scones!

The charming village of St Ives is a great place to stay in Cornwall
The charming village of St Ives

Where to Stay in St Ives

Palma Guest House – A lovely guest house situated on the bay in St Ives with incredible views from each room. This place is ideal if travelling as a couple with the rooms available all modern, clean and comfortable.

Lifeboat Inn – Also located on the bay in St Ives, this is the perfect place to base yourself in St Ives. Rooms are spacious and there is an option to have breakfast onsite.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other places to stay in St Ives!


Located on the southwestern coast, Penzance is Cornwall’s westernmost major town. Known as a historic port and fishing town, there is a lot to like about Penzance.


Penzance is just about as accessible as both Newquay and St Ives with the same options for getting there and around as both of the other towns outlined in this article.

Numerous trains leave from London Paddington to Penzance, for instance, but you are likely going to have to make a change somewhere along the way. Again, the journey time will take about five to five and a half hours simply depending on your route. There are also lots of coach options available.

Like in both St Ives and Newquay, the best and easiest way to get around is going to be by car. Again, you can either choose to drive from your home or your initial destination to Penzance or to rent a car once you get to Cornwall.

Penzance is car-friendly, however, it is best to get around the town itself on foot. There are plenty of car parks within the town of Penzance that are paid and, like the other two towns discussed here, you can also find accommodation that has parking.

Minack Theatre near Penzance
Minack Theatre near Penzance

Things to do in Penzance

As the largest town in this western area of Cornwall, there is a lot to do in and around Penzance and it makes for an excellent base.

Penzance is perhaps most well known for being an excellent jumping-off point to visit the iconic St Michael’s Mount – a castle located on a small island that is accessible on foot by a causeway at low tide. This is located only about 4 miles from the centre of Penzance, or about a 10-minute drive.

Also located nearby is the breathtaking Minack Theatre. This open-air theatre was carved into the cliffside and puts on seasonal performances in the warmer months. Even if you don’t have the opportunity to take in a show here, the theatre is very much worth visiting and exploring just for the scenery.

Penzance is also located incredibly close to Cape Cornwall and Land’s End – England’s most southwesterly point.

The cliffside scenery here is something spectacular and, on a clear day, you may be able to see to the Isles of Scilly. There are lots of walking opportunities around here, as well, that will be perfect for those looking to get a bit more active.

All of this really only scratches the surface of all of the great things to do in Penzance and you really cannot go wrong if you choose this destination over Newquay or St Ives.

St Michaels Mount in Cornwall
St Michaels Mount

Where to Stay in Penzance

Chiverton House B&B – A cosy bed and breakfast is located only two minutes away from the beautiful seaside promenade in Penzance. They offer a range of rooms suitable with all modern amenities and also include a great breakfast each morning.

The Dolphin Tavern – A traditional inn located right on the coast making it the perfect choice if you want to enjoy lovely sea views every morning. Breakfast is included in the room rate.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Penzance hotels!

Newquay vs St Ives vs Penzance: The Verdict

Newquay can be a great option if you’re after a classic beach holiday or are looking to be a bit more active. The town boasts some of the best beaches in England and is perfect for those looking to hit the waves or catch some rays. It’s also well-located to explore several great sites nearby.

St Ives is great for those who want a lively little village to base themselves in. It’s also perfect for art lovers. With a branch of the Tate and plenty of other galleries and shops around, you cannot go wrong with basing yourself in this picture-perfect little seaside town.

Penzance is great for those who want to fill their Cornwall holiday with a lot of great sites and historic activities. Being so close to such an amazing castle (St Michael’s Mount) and within spitting distance of Land’s End, you are sure not to regret planning to base yourself in this historic resort town.

All in all, regardless of where you choose to stay, you cannot really make a bad decision!

Land's End is a must stop on any 3 days in Cornwall itinerary
Land’s End near Penzance

Choosing whether to stay in Newquay or St Ives or Penzance when you’re planning a trip to Cornwall can be a difficult task. Though each place has different things to offer, there is no bad choice here!

Are you wondering where to stay in Cornwall? Have any questions? Let us know in the comments!

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Maggie is a co-founder and writer for The World Was Here First. Originally from the US, she has lived in five different countries and has travelled to dozens more, both solo and with her partner, Michael. She particularly loves exploring Spain and spending time in the Caucasus and the Baltics. Read more about Maggie


  1. I’ve traveled to St. Just-in-Penwith near Penzance for 43 years and have a friend there. As I live in the Dallas/Fort Worth area and fly American Airlines, it’s two full days of travel if I go through London Heathrow and try to complete the trip via train or car. A two week vacation thus becomes only ten actual days. I know Newquay has a commercial airport and I’m wondering if it is better for me to try to book there through Heathrow, Glasgow, or Dublin. Also, can I hire (rent) a car there as I am now age 74. If it helps I have a perfect driving record, no tickets in my life. Either in the U.S. or UK.
    Thank you,
    Bud Gillett

  2. My husband and I are wanting a Bed&Breakfast in Newquay, St.
    Ives or Penzance. We are arriving July 11 at 1pm at Cornwall Airport and we will be leaving on July 14 at 1pm, but we need a daily tour guide for Cornwall area and someone available to pick us up and back to the airport. Do you know of someone that could help us out with this Cornwall trip and how much it would cost. Thanks, Debra Allen


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