If you’re looking for the best summer holiday destination in the UK, there’s a good chance you’ve thought about visiting one of the two jewels of the South West: Cornwall or Devon. These two boast miles of stunning coastline and farm-filled interiors. Both have a lot to offer when it comes to outdoor activities, beaches, and nightlife. But which is better? Is it Cornwall or Devon?
Located in the southwest of England, both Cornwall and Devon have access to the Irish Sea and the English Channel. Thanks to its geographic location, the area enjoys better weather conditions than the rest of the country – including some interesting microclimates – and some of the best beaches in the UK.
In this guide to Cornwall or Devon we’ll take a look at seven different things to know about each destination, from how easy it is to get there from other parts of the country to what sort of accommodation options are on offer. The goal is to help you decide which suits you better this year.
Cornwall or Devon for getting there?
Cornwall and Devon, two neighboring counties, lie in some of the most isolated parts of the United Kingdom. Together with South Wales, they are Britain’s most popular summer holiday destinations. But which region is easier to get to, Cornwall or Devon? The answer is actually pretty clear to see: Devon.
Cornwall is situated in the most southwesterly corner of Britain. For that reason, it’s not the easiest place to reach in England. Devon, however, is the northern neighbor of Cornwall, putting it closer to major towns and cities like Manchester, London, and Cardiff.
The only motorway into the West Country is the M5. That ends in the city of Exeter, which is actually located inside the county of Devon itself. That means, to make it further south, you’ll need to use slower A roads or winding country roads. Overall, it takes around two hours to drive from Bristol to Exeter or Plymouth in Devon, but over three hours to get to Newquay or Penzance in Cornwall.
Both regions are serviced by trains and buses. However, travel times will always be longer for Cornwall. That’s because you still need to pass through one (Devon) to get to the other (Cornwall), while train services tend to get sparser the further southwest you go.
Cornwall vs Devon for beaches?
Both of these regions are famous for their stunning coastline, and it’s often said that the West Country has the best beaches in all of England. But where’s the more beautiful?
Finding another place in the UK that can rival Cornwall’s incredible coastline is not an easy task. At least not in England. The entire Cornish coast is packed with high-rising cliffs, crystal-clear turquoise seas, and beautiful sandy beaches that could be confused with the Caribbean. The long stretches of sand in the north, such as Godrevy and Perranporth, offer great surfing conditions throughout the year. Meanwhile, the southern part of Cornwall has lots of beautiful sandy coves that offer protection from the wind. Some of the very best beaches in the county include:
- Carbis Bay – A beautiful sandy beach located in a charming village to the east of St Ives. The calm, crystal-clear waters of Caris Bay make it an ideal destination for swimming and sunbathing. The South West Coast Path passes just above.
- Sennen Cove – A breathtaking sandy cove close to the most westerly point of England – Land’s End. The beach is surrounded by high-rising clifftops that shelter it from the winds.
- Kynance Cove – A pristine beach enclosed by the rugged coastline of the Lizard Peninsula, Kynance Cove is a true Cornish gem. You might need to walk about 30 minutes to get there from the nearest parking spot, but it’s well worth the effort.
- Porthcurnick Beach – A small, secluded sandy beach in the Roseland Heritage Coast reserve. Located around 30 minutes away from Truro, Porthcurnick Beach is an ideal spot for family holidays.
Of course, there are also loads of incredible beaches throughout the county of Devon. Woolacombe Beach, Bantham Beach, and Blackpool Sands are the standouts, but they’re just a few of Devon’s amazing spots. And let’s not forget that a part of the famous Jurassic Coast, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is also in East Devon.
Cornwall vs Devon for nature?
Although most people head to the West Country to enjoy sun on some of Britain’s best beaches, it isn’t just about the sea. Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) cover nearly a third of Cornwall’s land area. That makes it an amazing destination for nature lovers.
Most nature reserves in Cornwall are located by the sea, so if you’re the outdoorsy type, you will most likely head to the coastal paths. In fact, we’d say the Penwith, Lizard, and Roseland coasts are home to the most scenic parts of the South West Coast Path overlook. That long hiking trail takes you through dramatic clifftops overlooking the turquoise Cornish waters, remote beaches, fishing villages, and quaint towns. Inland, there is Bodmin Moor, a remote granite moorland that has plenty of walking paths, including the highest peak of Cornwall – the Brown Willy.
Devon is also a top place to enjoy nature on foot. From the 205 miles of coastal paths to the unspoiled beauty of the national parks, there are loads of fantastic walking destinations in the region. Although the Cornish coast is probably the more dramatic, Dartmoor National Park has the edge over Cornwall when it comes to going inland. It’s a unique area of open moorland packed with rivers, valleys, and rich wildlife. There are lots of amazing hiking trails in the park, especially around the High Willhays – the highest peak of Southern England.
Other amazing reserves include the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, with parts of the famous Jurassic Coast and long, shingle beaches with clifftop lookouts.
Winner: Cornwall, but only just
Cornwall vs Devon for things to do?
Cornwall is home to some of the most amazing coastline in Britain. From walking the endless coastal paths to surfing, cliff jumping, and swimming, there are plenty of fun activities that revolve around the sea. For surfing, head to Newquay’s Fistral Beach or Gwithian Beach, near Hayle. For swimming, you could try the turquoise waters of Trevaunance Cove in St Agnes, Perranporth Beach, or Summerleaze in Bude.
Foodies should drop into one of the bakeries to try out the famous Cornish pasties or cream teas – Padstow is the culinary capital of the county. To soak up the Cornish culture, St Ives can’t be beaten, with an outlet of the Tate gallery. Then there’s Land’s End, where you’ll stand on England’s most westerly point.
And what is there to do in Devon? Some of the best things include:
- Visiting Exeter – The second largest city in Devon (after Plymouth), with the famous gothic Exeter Cathedral and the Royal Albert Memorial Museum.
- Visiting Torquay – Enjoy lots of cafes, restaurants, and bars in this seaside resort on the English Channel.
- Walking on the Jurassic Coast – The western part of the famous UNESCO site lies within Devon. Come here to do fossil hunting.
- Visiting Dartmoor National Park – A beautiful national park with loads of walking paths.
- Surfing – There are plenty of surfing beaches in Devon, like Woolacombe Beach, Saunton Sands, or Putsborough Beach.
Winner: Cornwall for the outdoor activities
Cornwall vs Devon for accommodation?
Holidays in the UK are not the cheapest, especially when it comes to the most popular summer destinations. Even though the South West can be pricey, there are some incredible and unique places to stay in both regions. But which is better for accommodation?
Offering cozy cabins, stunning cottages with log burners, and outdoorsy glamping pods, Cornwall has a real variety of accommodations that will suit all kinds of travelers. Of course, the more unique places with fantastic sea views will cost you the most. If money is an object, there are lots of campsites and caravan parks all around the region.
Some of the most highly rated seafront accommodation in Cornwall includes:
- Antonia’s Pearls ($$$) in Charlestown Harbour
- Tolcarne Beach Cabins ($$) in Newquay
- Driftwood ($$$) in Rosevine
- Gyllyngvase House ($$) in Falmouth
There is no lack of places to stay in Devon, either. Being a little cheaper than its southern neighbor, Devon has more affordable accommodation options. You can expect to pay as little as £35 for the most basic double room in Plymouth, and less than £10 for the best value campsite pitches on the coast. But if you’re looking for a more luxurious option, you should be prepared to spend around £80-100 a night. Some of our favorite stays in Devon are:
Winner: Cornwall, but Devon should be cheaper.
Cornwall vs Devon for nightlife?
If you’re looking for some fun places to drink, then you won’t be disappointed whether visiting Cornwall or Devon. Both places have established nightlife scenes and have plenty of late-night bars and clubs.
By far the most popular place for partying in Cornwall is Newquay. There are loads of clubs and bars that for years have been favored by young people in the Boardmasters festival, along with stag and hen parties. But if you’re looking for more casual drinking places, there are plenty of other options around Newquay. From cocktail bars like Tom Thumb to breweries like Lost Brewing Co, you can also enjoy more chilled evenings.
Nightlife in Cornwall doesn’t end in Newquay, either. Other places to enjoy some drinks in Cornwall include:
- BED Nightclub Bude (Bude)
- The Castle Inn (St Ives)
- Bambooze Nightclub (Truro)
- Vanilla (Truro)
- The Front (Falmouth)
But Devon, with its larger cities and towns, like Plymouth, Exeter, or Torquay, will surely come on top of Cornwall when it comes to nightlife. There are more clubs, bars, and all other sorts of places to enjoy late-night drinks. From Plymouth, renowned for its gin, to the student city of Exeter, there is no shortage of nightlife in this county.
Some of the places to enjoy Devon’s nightlife include:
- Pryzm (Plymouth)
- Barbican Botanics Gin Room (Plymouth)
- The Loft (Plymouth)
- Zinc Exeter (Exeter)
- The Monkey Suit (Exeter)
- Soho Cocktail Bar (Torquay)
Cornwall vs Devon for prices?
The fact that Cornwall is one of the UK’s most popular holidaying destinations means that you’re inevitably going to pay extra for your trip here. Yep, the county can be pricy. Very pricy. You’ll need to budget more for everything from food to hotels, especially if you want to stay on the coast. Summer accommodation prices average £135 a night and can go a lot higher in the most popular areas. You can reduce that by going inland and save even more by opting for somewhere with self-catering facilities. Generally, though, Cornwall comes at a premium.
Devon isn’t the most affordable holiday destination, either. The cost of your trip will depend on where you want to stay and what you want to do. You can expect to pay at least £50 a night for the most basic accommodation. That can really go up if you head to popular coastal towns like Ilfracombe and Croyde. Rates can more than double during school holiday times, too, when Devon’s beaches fill with families. Generally speaking, the southern coast of Devon is more expensive, while the inland parts of the county are cheaper.
Winner: Devon, but there isn’t much in it.
Cornwall or Devon – the conclusion
There are tons of things going for both Cornwall and Devon. Both places are undoubtedly beautiful, so the choice between the two isn’t easy. All comparisons were pretty close calls, so there is no clear winner here.
To summarize, Cornwall is on top for beaches and nature. With the most dramatic sections of the South West Coast Path, lots of stunning sandy coves, and rugged clifftops, it is the shore that makes the county many people’s favorite UK destination.
Devon is slightly cheaper than its southern neighbor and not far behind when it comes to natural beauty. It is much more accessible from every corner of the country and has a more established nightlife scene thanks to its major cities.