South West counties, Cornwall and Devon, might be rivals at heart, but look more closely and you’ll see there’s much commonality between these two picturesque regions, with their sprawling coasts and love for jam and cream-topped scones.
For starters, these spectacular holiday destinations are right on your doorstep! Taking the train will save you a lot of hassle, avoiding traffic jams en route, and help you glide to your destination with relative ease and relaxation.
We’ve brought together some of our favourite stops on the GWR network, perfect for setting up base and exploring the surrounding countryside. And because we’re spoiled for choice when it comes to stunning beaches, we’ve recommended one for each destination.
Trains to Devon
can be accessed throughout the network, including direct services from London Paddington. This is the same when taking trains to Cornwall
, with journeys from London Paddington to St Ives taking just five hours and 30 minutes.
We ask all passengers to wear a face-covering in stations and on trains. Make sure you plan your journey in advance, reserving a space and downloading tickets to a mobile device if you can, and avoiding travel when it’s busy. For more safety guidelines, visit gwr.com/safety
Right at the far southwestern tip of the country is one of Britain’s sunniest destinations, home to more than 300 beaches, and one of the best locations for art exhibitions outside of London.
The specially built Tate St Ives
showcases the greatest works of art to come out of the region, reflecting Cornwall’s popularity as an artistic hub in the 20th century. Discover work by many of the big names who called St Ives their home, including Barbara Hepworth (whose studio you can visit just along the road) and Ben Nicholson.
For those of you more interested in smaller exhibitions by today’s local creatives, then take a tour
of the town’s many art galleries, being sure to select a little something to adorn your wall or mantlepiece en route.
With a variety of beaches, St Ives has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to seaside tourist spots. Just outside the town is the award-winning Carbis Bay Beach
, a favourite among locals and visitors alike, known for its calm, turquoise waters, perfect for a spot of paddling.
Alternatively, head to Porthminster Beach
and grab a seat at Porthminster Café
, with stunning views out to sea and a menu full of delicious seafood and more.
A one-hour walk along the coast (or a shorter bus trip) and you reach the beautiful St Michael’s Mount
, perched on a tidal island off the mainland. Home to the St Aubyn family since the 17th century, St Michael’s Mount can be reached via a walkway when the tide is low, or by boat, and is a must-see Cornish attraction.
Take a GWR train to St Ives.
The seaside town of Looe, on Cornwall’s south coast, is a picturesque destination built into the banks of a river, with houses sprouting from the hills overlooking a beautiful harbour.
A vibrant fishing port, Looe is a great place to watch boats coming and going. Head to the quayside and take in the views while you try your hand at crabbing
, but make sure you return what you reel in, as shore crabs are not edible.
Directly in front of the old town, and near the harbour, is the family-friendly Looe Beach
. Sheltered from the west by the Banjo Pier, it’s a great spot for taking the kids, making it a great addition to the family bucket list.
If you’re looking to let off some steam with a little high-octane fun, head to Adrenalin Quarry
in Menheniot, inland from Looe. There you’ll find all sorts of adventure activities to keep you and the family amused, including an aquapark, karting, a zipwire and more!
Alternatively, try Looe’s very own Adventure Fit Southwest
, a family-run business that organises canoeing, kayaking and paddle boarding trips, as well as running a fun climbing wall.
Take a GWR train to Looe. Discover the secrets of the branch line to Looe. Through historical photos and tales from the past, let the Looe Valley Line Heritage app
be your onboard companion on this scenic route.
The English Riviera has been a most loved destination since holidays began, with Torquay as its crowning glory. Famed for being the birthplace of the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie, the Devonshire town still retains more than just a flavour of its white-stuccoed heyday.
Start by making your way to the town’s main beach, Torre Abbey Sands
. You’ll find great views out to sea, within reach of all the amenities you might need for a trip to the seaside.
Nearby is the Torre Abbey
itself, now a museum of history and art, with award-winning gardens. Housed in a Grade I listed building, with a gatehouse dating back to around 1380, it’s a must-see attraction that is regarded as one of the best-preserved medieval monasteries in the area.
Don’t forget to visit Babbacombe Model Village
. Spanning four acres and including hundreds of model scenes, with some 425 buildings, the village has an estimated 13,160 population of miniature people. This fun and eccentric day out is a must.
South along the coast from Torquay (just a short train journey) is Paignton, home to Paignton Zoo
. First developed by an eccentric millionaire, it’s a place for learning, conservation and fun. Meet some of Paignton’s furriest residents, including lions, cheetahs, red pandas and the not-so-furry alligator turtle.
Take a GWR train to Torquay.
In north Cornwall, on the banks of the River Camel estuary, sits the mighty Padstow - perfect for couple’s staycation or a family holiday.
Padstow’s popularity is in part thanks to the celebrity chef Rick Stein, who opened his restaurant here back in 1975, drawing attention to the area and its excellent natural resources. The Seafood Restaurant
is therefore a must for anyone visiting the old fishing town, serving good solid classics, such as lobster thermidor, Singapore chilli crab and turbot hollandaise.
Although it’s fishing heyday is long past, Padstow still has a buzzing harbour, full of life in the summer months, lined with pubs, shops, restaurants and ice-cream parlours selling the famous Cornish ice-cream. Swing by in the evening and take in the atmosphere.
Next, hop on a ferry and cross the Camel estuary to Rock
. There you’ll find a beautifully sandy beach, with water sports centres in Cornwall offering loads of activities, including sailing and canoeing.
If you’re looking to stretch your legs, travel the Camel Trail
, an old railway route now converted into a long and pleasant walking and cycling route. An 18-mile greenway between Padstow and Wenfordbridge, it’s the perfect way to get a little exercise while enjoying the surrounding countryside.
North-east along the coast is one of Cornwall’s must-sees. Built into the rugged rocks of Tintagel Island, Tintagel Castle
is closely associated with the legend of King Arthur and was likely the residence to the rulers of Cornwall. Accessed via a bridge, the castle is full of mystery and romance and a great place to visit for people of all ages.
Getting there: take a train to Bodmin Parkway and then local transport routes
The Devonshire city of Exeter has attracted travellers for as long as history itself. Once an important Roman outpost, it later became a thriving medieval centre and has an impressive cathedral to show for it.
One of the oldest of its kind in the country, Exeter Cathedral
is a great place to visit, known for having the longest stretch of unbroken Gothic vaulting in the world, and celebrated for its intricately carved west front.
Well and truly steeped in culture, Exeter was named UNESCO City of Literature
in 2019. Among its many literary accolades, the city was home to the first female librarian in the country. Check out some of the great book shops Exeter has to offer, including the charitable Book-Cycle
, where you pay what you want for books.
Housed in a striking Victorian building, RAMM
is one of the country’s finest regional museums, telling the story of Exeter and Devon through a whole host of artefacts, from the prehistoric to the present day, as well as a wider narrative about world cultures and the natural sciences.
If you’re looking for seaside fun, then Exmouth Beach
is just down the river (only 30 minutes by GWR train). Two miles of golden sands on the edge of the UNESCO Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site, Exmouth Beach has everything you might need for a day at the seaside, including rock pools and a promenade with crazy golf.
On the way back to Exeter, stop by the quaint, historic town of Topsham
. Once an important fishing and shipbuilding port, this distinctly nautical town is a great place for a bite to eat or a pint at one of the historic pubs. Check out The Strand, where you’ll see the elegant 17-century Dutch-style merchant houses, as well as Topsham Museum
, with its Vivian Leigh memorabilia – the Gone with the Wind star has links to the area through marriage.
Take a GWR train to Exeter St Davids or Exeter Central.