Image: Royal Crescent, Bath
Best of England's South West
The South West has spectacular beaches, historic cities and breath-taking countryside. With a BritRail South West Pass, discover the wonders of the South West with unlimited train journeys and unbeatable value.
Pristine beaches, picturesque fishing villages and more hours of sunshine than anywhere else on the British mainland; it's easy to see why the sunny South West is one of England's most popular holiday destinations.
We take you on a 6-7 day tour of the region’s highlights, from the beautiful UNESCO World Heritage city of Bath to the unmissable Minack Theatre in Cornwall.
Easily accessible by train and public transport, you can explore the region's many delights at your own pace with a BritRail South West Pass. For shorter trips, you can book your individual rail tickets in advance through the Trainline, ACP Rail, International Rail and Rail Europe.
Start your journey
Catch the train here from London Paddington, it’s a 1 hour 25 – 1 hour 40 minute journey. You can also get here from Bristol airport: just catch the bus to Bristol Temple Meads then the train to Bath, it takes 1 hour. The BritRail South West Pass is the most cost-effective way to explore this part of Britain, you can pick one up here on the VisitBritain shop.
Day 1: Bath
For centuries Bath has been the place people came to relax. The ancient Romans came here for the hot thermal waters, and the Roman Baths are still a centrepiece of the city. The Victorians came here to take the healing waters and to shop: as a result, Bath today is a mix of ancient culture and refined boutiques, beautiful historic Georgian architecture and elegant eateries.
Things to do in Bath
Relax like the Romans in the natural thermal waters of Thermae Bath Spa, the modern equivalent of the ancient Roman Baths. Here you can bathe in naturally warm, mineral-rich waters in their rooftop pool overlooking Bath’s city skyline. Thermae is a 5 minute walk from the train station.
One of the most famous images of Bath are those golden stone Georgian terraced houses. There’s the magnificent sweep of them at the Royal Crescent, and also a complete circle at the nearby Circus. Be sure to explore the stylish shopping streets and arcades too!
DAY 2: Bristol
Bristol is a very quick journey from Bath, just 12-20 minutes by train.
It’s small enough to get around on foot, but large enough to keep you entertained. Its distinctive character mixes together some of the best parts of Britain’s South West — cider, gorgeous green countryside, a thriving music scene — not to mention Blackbeard the pirate (said to have been born here) and a fascinating maritime history from its days as an important harbour.
Things to do around Bristol
The largest ship in the world when launched in 1843, this impressive feat of engineering by Isambard Kingdom Brunel is a forerunner of all modern shipping. Exploring the ship is a real step back in time: the cabins have been painstakingly restored to recreate life on the world’s first great luxury liner. Don’t miss the ‘Go Aloft’ experience, where you can climb the rigging to the top of the ships masts! The SS Great Britain is a 20 minute walk from Bristol Temple Meads station.
Hop on a Bristol Ferry for a tour of the city’s waterways. There’s so much to see, including the majestic Avon Gorge (spanned by Clifton Suspension Bridge) and the city’s historic harbour. The ferry port is just 14 minutes walk from Bristol Temple Meads station.
Bristol has developed a vibrant street art scene – it is, after all, the city where the world-renowned street artist Banksy hails from. WhereTheWall offer Bristol Street Art Tours every Saturday and Sunday at 11am. Lasting two hours, this informative guided walk tells the story of Bristol’s incredible creative culture and art scene from the 1980s to the present day. The tours start at College Green, in the centre of Bristol – but more exact details are provided on booking.
DAY 3 & 4: St Austell
Start your journey to St. Austell in the morning, and catch the train from Bristol. It’s a 3 to 3 and a half hour journey, via Exeter.
The historic market town of St Austell is one of Cornwall’s biggest towns. It’s best known for the nearby tropical biomes of the Eden Project, and is well located between some of Cornwall’s loveliest beaches. You’ll also spot some beautiful historic ships in St. Austell’s harbour, Charlestown. We recommend spending 1 to 2 nights here.
Things to do around St. Austell
The Eden Project is like no other garden on Earth, let alone in England! Built 15 years ago in a disused clay pit, Eden’s iconic Biome greenhouses contain the largest indoor rainforest in the world and are also surrounded by vast outdoor gardens.
Explore one of Cornwall’s most magical gardens. Heligan was rediscovered after 25 years under a tangle of weeds, through a hidden door in the ruins of a country estate. Full of wildlife, from kingfishers to badgers, alongside an exotic array of designed gardens, exotic plants and even a giant sleeping lady, they’re a rewarding place to explore!
St. Austell Brewery was founded in 1851, and it’s the biggest brewery in Cornwall. Come and take a tour, see how beers and ales are made then sample some for yourself! It’s a 9 minute walk from the train station.
DAY 5 & 6: St Ives
Catch the train from St. Austell to St. Ives, via St. Erth. It’s a 1 hour 25 minute train journey with the St Erth – St Ives part a beautiful 15 minute ride with fantastic broad vistas across some of Cornwall’s most beautiful bays. If you’re tight for time, catch the train to St. Ives on the evening of day 4, but if you can, make sure there’s enough light to take in the views.
Voted among Europe’s top 10 beaches in Tripadvisor, St. Ives is a beautifully picturesque seaside town on the Cornish coast. Its latitude means it’s actually subtropical, and you’ll find palm trees growing here beside the water. It’s also a centre for arts, with Tate St. Ives and the wonderfully atmospheric Barbara Hepworth Sculpture garden offering great ways to steep yourself in culture.
Things to do around St. Ives
If you’re looking for a great walk along the coast to take in all that stunning scenery, walk along the South West Coast Path to Zennor. Start at Porthmeor Beach in St. Ives and follow the signs to Zennor – the walk is rocky and rugged, so be careful. Look out for Man Rock, the ruins of the old leper hospital and Seal Island – then stop for a well-earned drink at the Tinners Arms when you reach Zennor! The walk is about 5 miles / 8 km long.
St. Ives is famous for its beautiful golden beaches, with Harbour Beach, Porthminster Beach, Porthmeor Beach and the central Lambeth Walk beach among the most popular. Stroll along the sand and take in the sea air: you’re right beside the town with all its traditional pubs, cafes and restaurants if you need refreshment, and close to some great coastal walks too. If you want to try your hand at surfing, head to Porthminster Beach surf school.
Combine the laid back seaside atmosphere with a trip to the Tate gallery in St. Ives, which will re-open after a major refurbishment this spring with an exhibition by Jessica Warboys. Every Tuesday the gallery hold guided walks around St. Ives to tell the story of the artists who’ve lived here.
Step into the home and workshop of one of St. Ives’ most famous artists. After settling here at the outbreak of World War 2, Barbara Hepworth lived and worked in what is today her museum, a beautiful space full of her bronze, stone and wood sculptures. It’s a lovely way to experience art, and to learn a bit about the artist’s life. The museum is in central St. Ives, easy walking distance from the station.
Land’s End, the most westerly point of England, is a majestic landscape of rocky shorelines and coastal paths. Here you’ll find some great walks, fantastic views and even what’s said to be the remains of the lost mythical land of Lyonesse. To reach Land’s End catch the No. 300 bus, or book a taxi from the nearest railway station. For more local bus options go to the Traveline website.
DAY 7: Return to London Paddington, or on to the Isles of Scilly
Catch the train from St. Ives back to London Paddington, which takes around 5 hours and 52 minutes. Alternatively, extend your South West adventure with a trip to the beautiful archipelago of islands off the coast of Cornwall: the Isles of Scilly.
There are 5 inhabited islands: St Mary’s, Tresco, St. Martin's, Bryher and St Agnes, and some 150 islands and rocks. The islands lie 28 miles off Land's End, the most South-Westerly point of the UK, and have a total population of just over two thousand. The climate is exceptionally mild and there are countless golden beaches.
To reach the Isles from St Ives, you can either go via Penzance and catch the ferry, or catch a plane from Land’s End. Get a taxi from St. Ives to your chosen departure point. The ferry ride takes 2 hours and 45 minutes, and the flight takes 20 minutes.
Things to do in the Isles of Scilly
The beaches on the Scilly Isles are as close to a tropical experience as you’ll find in Britain. Turquoise water, fine white sand, and best of all – there are 35 of them! Highlights include Pentle Bay on Tresco, Porth Loo on St. Mary’s for rockpooling, and Great Bay on St. Martin’s for swimming. Each of the Scilly Isle’s islands has its own unique feel, so make sure you explore!
With all these beautiful beaches, bays and harbours everywhere you turn, make sure you try your hand at some water activities! Whether its diving among the more than 900 shipwrecks that surround the islands, snorkelling, fishing, sailing or enjoying a relaxing boat trip, this is a fantastic way to make the most of your surroundings.
Thanks to the Scilly Isles’ subtropical climate, you’ll find remarkable exotic plants here that you wouldn’t find in the rest of Britain. One of the best places to see them is Abbey Tropical gardens in Tresco. Here you’ll encounter towering palm trees, flame trees, Echium, Furcraea and plants native to such diverse locales as Brazil, New Zealand, Burma and South Africa – in total, more than 20,000 species of plants from 80 countries. Don’t miss the collection of shipwrecked figureheads either in the Valhalla Museum.