Why should cyclists visit Cornwall?
While Cornwall is one of the most popular regions of the UK for holidaying Brits, cycling holidays in Cornwall are less well known. But for those that love to climb, it’s a fantastic choice with plenty of steep hills, including some of the toughest climbs in the UK, and jaw-dropping scenery.
In Cornwall, you’re never far from the sea and stunning views over Cornwall’s beautiful beaches are plentiful. Other scenic highlights include historic towns, fishing villages, moors and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Thanks to its sandy beaches and myriad of tourist attractions, Cornwall is great summer holiday destination. As well as some fantastic road bike routes, you’ll also find lots of pancake-flat family-friendly cycle trails which can offer parents the perfect mix of rollercoaster rides in the mornings and leisurely family rides in the afternoons.
Where is Cornwall?
Cornwall is located in the far south west corner of England. It sits on a peninsula with the neighbouring county of Devon to the east, surrounded by ocean to the north, south and west.
Cornwall is a rural county with lots of picturesque seaside and estuary towns including the bigger places such as St Ives, Fowey, Penzance, Newquay and Falmouth and smaller villages like Polperro, Looe and Padstow.
Note: this is an "essentials" guide. It shares key information that should be helpful in planning your cycling holiday in Cornwall, but the guide is less detailed than our trademark "ultimate" cycling guides to the regions we visit. We hope to have the opportunity to write a full, in-depth guide to cycling Cornwall soon!
(On which note, if you're a cycling club or business in Cornwall reading this and wishing we were as detailed as the other guides on our website, do get in touch! We'd love to collaborate and bring more information on cycling Cornwall to the Epic Road Rides community.)
Cornwall cycle routes
Cornwall has a huge number of different cycle routes to suit all abilities from keen road cyclists who aren’t afraid of sharp hills, to families with children who want flat, traffic-free cycle trails.
The first thing to know about when considering cycle routes in Cornwall, is the excellent Cornish Way cycle route. This initiative has linked up National Cycle Networks, Regional Cycle Networks and traffic-free cycle paths to create a network of 200+ miles of inter-linking lanes and trails that connect Bude, in the far east of Cornwall with Land’s End in the west. This is a useful map of the Cornish Way. If you’ve got a gravel bike, this network allows you to ride from east to west and coast to coast.
The Cornish Way is less good for loop rides, but there are some possibilities and our suggested routes from Bodmin and Penzance include sections of the Cornish Way.
Note: As this is an "essentials" guide, we don't go into much detail on the routes. In future we hope to have the opportunity to build on this and provide the kind of detail you see in our other destination guides. More info above!
1. Bodmin cycling loop
49 kilometres / 900 metres elevation gain
We’ve got a very soft spot for this stunning area of Cornwall, having spent many summer holidays here as children.
As soon as you’ve escaped the straight, fast B3268 out of Bodmin you’re onto a network of ancient, high-banked lanes (Part of the NCR3 and the Cornish Way). These take you down through the timeless village of Luxulyan, past a turn that takes you to the world-famous Eden Project and then on to the charming, chocolate box seaside villages of Fowey and Polruan.
The car ferry, over the picturesque estuary dotted on either side with colourful houses to Bodinnick, is an experience in itself. Expect a stiff climb away from the estuary and on to Penpoll, Lerryn (and the lost-in-time Lerryn Stores) before finishing up at one of the National Trust’s most famous stately homes, Lanhydrock House.
While this is a pretty short ride, take note of the elevation gain and be warned that the climbs in this part of the world are very much of the short and very sharp variety.
2. Falmouth cycling loop
50 kilometres / 580 metres elevation gain
This is the route of Falmouth Cycling Club’s 50 kilometres Audax event.
It starts out with a scenic loop around Pendennis Point and Pendennis Castle, to the east of Falmouth.
You then head inland through farmland and to the small village of Porkellis. It used to be a boom town due to the mining around here - now there’s just one pub.
The route than laps round the Stithians reservoir. Make sure your visit doesn’t coincide with the annual agricultural show here in the summer. It’s been running since 1834 and attracts thousands of people.
From here it’s back into pretty Falmouth, with its impressive buildings and bustling high street.
3. Penzance cycling loop
70 kilometres / 870m elevation gain
This is a terrific route that takes in some of the UK’s most iconic scenery.
The route starts in Penzance and heads along the coastline past the Art Deco lido at the fishing port of Newlyn. It’s then on to Mousehole, a classic Cornish fishing port with narrow streets and a perfect harbour.
Turning inland, be prepared for the Raginnis hill climb and the false summit, which is in fact just a short respite before the road bends to the right and throws more gradient at you. Watch out for the headwind too!
You follow the NCR 3 from here all the way to Land’s End, where you’ll undoubtedly meet traffic on the A30 and perhaps recoil from the blatant commercialisation of this beauty spot (you can always skip that part if you want!).
Heading north, there’s endless hills to contend with and lots of windswept morrland. From St Just you head towards the coast and wind around the coastland past mines around Botallack and Boscaswell.
The coast road between Pendeed and St Ives is famously beautiful, framed by moor, craggy cliffs and sea. This route doesn’t quite make it into St Ives, which is likely to be full of people whatever time of year you reach it, but you could always add a diversion in if you’re keen to visit.
You then head back across the peninsula and follow the Red River valley all the way back to the south coast, where the vista of St Michael’s Mount meets you and tourists cross the waters at Marazion. It’s then a short hop back to Penzance.
Family cycle routes in Cornwall
There are lots of great family cycling routes in Cornwall. After your main ride, an afternoon spent exploring one of these child-friendly trails might be the ideal way to spend time with your family.
The Camel Cycle Trail
For families with children, the Camel Trail cycle route is not to be missed. This 18-mile route follows a disused railway line, so it’s completely flat and ideal for the youngest of cyclists. The most popular part of this trail is from Wadebridge to Padstow which has lovely costal views.
Lanhydrock Cycling Trails
Lanhydrock Woods is a National Trust trail centre with paved and off-road cycle trails which are graded according to difficulty. The easiest trail is a one-and-a-half-mile gentle surfaced ride through the woodland. The moderate trails have some easy to moderate gradients and the difficult trail is more off-road and ideal for older kids with mountain bikes.
Mineral Tramways Trail
Cornwall is dotted with abandoned mines and there are six trails which follow the abandoned tramways. They all link together so you can enjoy a family bike ride from one to fourteen miles. The routes have only gentle inclines and kids will love spotting the abandoned ivy-covered mining buildings that are a little eerie yet also very beautiful.
Cornwall cycling events
There are lots of cycling events in Cornwall to choose from. Some of the most popular include:
The Rattler Pro Ride
A sportive with a difference, the Rattler Pro Ride offers rides guided by professional cyclists and the choice of three routes over 25, 50 or 100 miles.
Coast and Clay Sportive
This event has four routes to choose from, offering something from the complete beginner with an easy 17-mile route to experienced cyclists looking for a challenging 104-mile ride.
Land’s End 100 Sportive
This event has been popular for over ten years and offers a choice of three routes over 46, 71 or 105 miles beginning in Marazion, near Penzance.
Starting and ending at The Eden Project, you can enjoy a mass cycle ride with a choice of 36-mile, 60-mile or 100-mile routes.
Deloitte Ride Across Britain
For the ultimate UK cycling challenge, join over 800 riders on a 960-mile nine-day tour from Cornwall’s Land’s End all the way to John O’Groats in the Scottish Highlands. Check out our list of ultimate cycle challenges for more details on this!
Where to stay
There are so many lovely towns and villages offering tourist accommodation in Cornwall, it can be difficult to choose the best for your needs. We hope these pointers help.
We particularly like Bodmin. It isn’t the swankiest of Cornwall’s towns, but it’s one of the most accessible bases for those driving from elsewhere in the country and its central location means that you’ve got a great range of routes (not to mention both the north and south coasts) within striking distance.
There are several bike shops in Bodmin and plans have been submitted to create a holiday complex for cyclists as well as new cycling trails in the area (more info on that here).
Bodmin is popular with cycling families, as it’s close to The Camel Trail and the Lanhydrock House cycle trails.
Another good option would be Penzance, which will host the Grand Depart of the Tour of Britain in September 2021. This beautiful holiday town is close to Land’s End and St Ives.
And finally, between Bodmin and Penzance is lovely Falmouth, a traditional seaside town on Cornwall’s Heritage Coast.
Road bike hire in Cornwall
Cornwall has a huge number of bike shops, but most of them focus on mountain bikes, hybrids and kids’ bikes rather than road bikes. However, we did come across a few places where you can hire road bikes in Cornwall. These are:
Tips for road cycling in Cornwall
We recommend bringing a car with you when cycling in Cornwall. The area is very rural so a car will enable you to travel to various points to start your ride. If you prefer to fly, consider hiring a car at the airport.
Cornwall is recognised as the warmest place in Great Britain and it can get very hot and crowded in June, July and August. We think May and September would probably be the best months for cycling holidays in Cornwall.
Consider your gearing before you arrive. It really is hilly! It would also be worth reading these tips for cycling in the Yorkshire Dales. While the two regions are very different to look at, they are both hilly and rural so many of the suggestions will be relevant.
How to get to Cornwall
You can fly to Cornwall from airports across the UK and Ireland.
High-speed train services run frequently from London Paddington to Penzance. There are also direct trains to Cornwall daily from Bristol and Bath.
Due to its location on the westernmost tip of England, Cornwall is the furthest point in the UK from many British cities.
Distance from major UK cities:
Interested in other UK cycling destinations? Head to our UK cycling page here which has links to loads of articles on other UK destinations.
Want to sponsor this guide (or feature in it)?
(+ the best cycling routes to ride when you’re there)
(from Winchester): routes, maps + more!