Top road-trip stops from Bristol to Penzance
Take a Bristol to Penzance road trip. Here’s why
Hit the road by rental car for an epic South-West England road trip
A Bristol to Penzance road trip takes in a minimum of 190 miles, depending on your route. The itinerary that we’ve suggested below covers some (but not all) of the key spots that you’ll definitely want to hit in this area.
It’s important to note that this stunning part of the world must be navigated via car. Whilst there are railways, they’re unlikely to take you everywhere you want to go. The scenery is such that you’ll want to stop off in various villages and scenic spots along the way too, so we recommend booking a hire car ASAP.
Bristol to the Mendip Hills
Leave the city behind and let your rent-a-car take you 40 mins or so south towards the lovely Mendip Hills. The Mendips include the famous Cheddar Gorge, an imposing limestone canyon, as well as impressive views across south-west England. Want something with less of a climb? Hire a boat on the peaceful Cheddar Reservoir and drift to your heart’s content.
Driving distance from Bristol: approx. 40 mins / 19 miles
Mendip Hills to Glastonbury
Jump back in the car hire for a short drive to the famous festival town of Glastonbury, which is well worth a visit even when the music fans are long gone. On the way, make sure to check out the impressive Wells Cathedral in the town of (you guessed it) Wells, as well as the caves at Wookey Hole. In Glastonbury, spend some time wandering around the streets, and grab lunch at a local cafe.
Driving distance from Mendip Hills: approx. 35 mins / 16 miles
Glastonbury to Exmoor National Park
Next, we’re heading west, through the town of Taunton to the wilds of Exmoor National Park. Exmoor is famous for its wild ponies and is true hiking territory, so we hope you’ve got your walking boots and picnic snacks at the ready. Leave the car at the edge of the park and stretch your legs. You can find popular walking trails here.
Driving distance from Glastonbury: approx. 1 hour 10 mins / 37 miles
Exmoor to Ilfracombe
The next leg of our Bristol to Penzance road trip includes a choice: you can either take the village route from the town of Dulverton (which is where you likely parked your hire car) through South Molton and Barnstaple or you can take the rural north westerly route through Exmoor National Park itself. There isn’t much difference in terms of time, and both will see you reach the pretty harbour at Ilfracombe in just over an hour. This might be a good spot to bed down for the night. Find out more about staying in Ilfracombe overnight here.
Driving distance from Exmoor: approx. 1 hour 10 mins / 38 miles
Ilfracombe to Dartmoor National Park
After an evening of well-deserved rest in Ilfracombe, it’s time to point your hire car directly south and head towards the second national park on our trip: Dartmoor. It offers another chance for a uniquely English countryside amble. We’d recommend heading straight to the visitor centre at the western edge of the park unless you know the area well already. There you can pick up all the information you need. Exploring Dartmoor might take a full day, especially considering your relatively long two-hour drive from Ilfracombe, so consider staying here for the night.
Driving distance from Ilfracombe: approx. 2 hours / 60 miles
Dartmoor to Tintagel Castle
Depending on where you stayed on the Dartmoor last night, you’ve again got the choice of whether to take your rent-a-car through the middle of the national park or skirt around it. The southern edge of the park, which takes in the Tamar Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) would be our choice, and it only adds 15 minutes to your journey time. Before you hit the Tamar Valley the Devon Expressway takes you past the city of Plymouth, so try to avoid rush hour (approximately 7: 30 am to 9: 30 am - yes, we know it’s not actually an hour) lest you find yourself stuck in commuter traffic. Your destination is Tintagel Castle, rumoured home of King Arthur.
Driving distance from Dartmoor: approx. 1 hour 45 mins / 61-73 miles
Tintagel to Newquay
After your slice of ancient history, leave the imposing site of Tintagel behind and make the short drive in your rent-a-car south-west to Cornwall’s most famous surf spot: Newquay. Famed for its surf culture and laid-back atmosphere, Newquay is a popular spot for kids in board shorts and flip flops who want to try their luck in the waves. If you’ve got active teenagers they’ll be in heaven. If it’s summer you could spend at least a day here, lapping up the beach life.
Driving distance from Tintagel: approx. 1 hour / 30 miles
Newquay to St. Ives
Once you’re done with the beach, pack up the surfboard and carry on down the south-westerly road towards the art and heritage filled town of St. Ives. It’s here that you can soak up some real Cornish culture: the town is steeped in art history and is home to the Tate St. Ives (yes, sister of the galleries in London and Liverpool). St. Ives is the perfect spot to stop off for a lazy breakfast or long lunch, especially when the sun is out and you want to have a rest after all the driving /castle exploring / hiking that you’ve been doing over the past few days.
Driving distance from Newquay: approx. 1 hour 5 mins/ 33 miles
St. Ives to Penzance
The last stop on our Bristol to Penzance road trip (although we could name at least five more stops that you could make along the way if you have time) is the mere seven-mile drive between St. Ives and Penzance. Here’s a tip to finish your trip in style: keep going for an extra two miles after Penzance and you’ll come upon the pretty seaside town of Mousehole. Truly a dreamy end to your road trip adventure.
Driving distance from St. Ives: approx. 20 mins/ 7 miles