largest towns and 'conurbations' are small, so wherever
you choose to stay will definitely not be a 'big city'.
Although there are some lovely
places to stay in tiny villages, most people prefer to
stay in medium or larger sized towns.
Not only does this give more accommodation choices, but
you will then have more services in the local area - more
places to eat and drink at, maybe local attractions and
entertainment, and even such simple things as a
supermarket or other food store and gas station.
In terms of population size, there are several
'conurbations' that comprise multiple towns all next to
each other, and they offer, in their combinations, the
largest population centers, even if the individual towns
in the conurbation may be small and even places you've
never heard of.
The largest of these is centered around Camborne to
Redruth, parallel to and south of the A30. It had a
combined population of 55,400 in the 2011 census.
The next is around the area between St Austell and Par,
with a combined population of 34,700.
A third conurbation is around Falmouth, growing
Falmouth's own population of 22,000 to a total of 33,000.
Other stand-alone places include Penzance, Newquay,
Although Truro is the smallest of these three centers
(pop 18,800) it is the only officially designated city in
Cornwall (because of its cathedral). It is also one
of the most central parts of Cornwall.
St Ives is another popular place to stay, but has a
smaller population of 11,400. Nearby Carbis Bay and
Lelant add another 3,500 to this count.
It is worth noting that the major city of Plymouth (pop
257,000) is right on the border with Devon and some people
choose to stay there. Plymouth is only 78 miles from Penzance, so while strictly speaking not in Cornwall, it
can still serve as a base from which to explore Cornwall.
We have tended to stay in either Penzance or
when visiting, and typically we drive down to Cornwall,
enabling us to visit places on the way to Penzance/St Ives
(for some reason we usually take one of the southern roads
in) and then also visiting a different set of places when
driving back out of Cornwall (and yes, we tend to take a
northern route back out).
Although these two places (and there is only 7.5 miles
between them, although they have very different character
and personality and weather) are more on the western side
of the region, this isn't too important a consideration
because just about anywhere in Cornwall is less
than a one hour drive away, and wherever you travel to
always involves wonderful scenery on the journey.
So, our recommendation is to choose either Penzance, if
you'd prefer a slightly larger town with more of a
'Victorian' feel to it, or St Ives, if you'd prefer a
smaller town that feels more like a seaside village and
more arty, as your primary place to stay.