Seaside resort Bude is so far along the north Cornish coast, it's practically in Devon. But that doesn't stop visitors flocking here for Bude's beautiful beaches, superb surfing opportunities and laid back beach town vibe.
Facing head on into the Atlantic, this stretch of coast is wild and windswept. Its tall cliffs attract rock climbers, while the coast path is used and loved by serious hikers, birdwatchers, and those in search of a more remote beach.
Bude itself is home to a number of fine beaches. The town's main beach is Summerleaze, a good-sized expanse of golden sand with a small harbour where the River Neet meets the sea. The smaller, neighbouring Crooklets beach joins it at high tide.
A Brief History of Bude
Bude's Cornish name is Porthbud, which means Bede's Haven. “Bede” is an old name for a holy man, who in this case (bravely) lived in a small chapel on the breakwater. Bude's early life was as a rather informal tidal port, used by smaller vessels.
In the 18th century, the canal was built and the harbour improved, and Bude began to grow. It also developed a reputation for harbouring wreckers - over 80 wrecked vessels were plundered here between the 1820s and 1870s.
The next significant change came with the railways in the late 19th century. Visitors flocked to Bude's beaches, attracted to the town because of its excellent bathing (ladies swam at Crooklets, gentlemen at Summerleaze). The days of the direct line from Paddington to Bude are long gone. It became a branchline station, then Beeching's cuts closed that in the 1960s. But by now, visitors came by car, and Bude remained a popular tourist spot.
Bude Castle & Sir Goldsworthy Gurney
Bude Castle, a castellated mansion overlooking Summerleaze Beach, was built by the inventor Sir Goldsworthy Gurney in 1830. He was the first man to make a lengthy journey in a mechanical vehicle, when he drove a steam carriage from London to Bath and back.
At the time, Gurney was ridiculed for planning to build the mansion on foundations of sand, but the building still stands and is testimony to his engineering prowess. The building now houses the Town Council, and the attractive grounds are used for concerts and fetes throughout the summer.
If you fancy a sea swim but would prefer to avoid the Atlantic rollers, Bude Sea Pool is the perfect place for a dip. Sheltered by the cliffs of Summerleaze Downs, this tidal lido is part natural, part man-made, and a much calmer spot to swim.
The Sea Pool has been a much-loved bathing spot since the 1930s. These days, it's patrolled by lifeguards in the summer making it an excellent place to take the kids. As a big plus, the water tends to warm up pretty quickly.
The Bude Canal was built in 1823 when it ran for 35 miles on different levels. It was designed to carry beach sand, used as fertiliser, to Launceston, 20 miles away, along with local produce.
The tub boats used on it had wheels so that they could be pushed up and down the inclines separating the levels. Only the first few miles of the canal have survived, and are now used for pleasure boats and fishing. Look out for classic canal features such as the breakwater, sea lock and lower basin.
If you're looking for a wide choice of beaches, Bude is an excellent base. Bude has some good surfing beaches, and was the site of the first Surf Life Saving Club in 1953.
Sandy Summerleaze is close to the town centre, so is a popular beach with easy access to facilities. It also has good surf, although this makes it less suitable as a family bathing spot. If you're with young kids, play in the sand then head for the Sea Pool for a swim. Dogs are allowed all year.
Widemouth Bay is a long, sandy beach, looking out towards Lundy Island. The full force of the Atlantic hits Widemouth Bay - it's the best beach for a walk if you need to blow away the cobwebs. It's another great surfing beach, although not the best for inexperienced swimmers. There are plenty of facilities and lifeguard cover in the summer, and it holds a Blue Flag award.
Cute little Crooklets beach is just next door to Summerleaze, and the sands become joined at low water. It received its Blue Flag award in 2021, which is one of the reasons it's so popular among families. Out of season, it's a beautiful little haven and a top spot for surfing.
Surfers tend to prefer the less popular beach of Crackington Haven. The 400-foot cliffs provide dramatic protection from the wind, and there are also two cafes close to this former natural harbour if you need indoor shelter. Look out for the old church of St Gennys, which has wonderful coastal views from its churchyard.
The Strangles (named after the jagged rocks) is a long shingley beach, sheltered by imposing cliffs. At 700 feet high, nearby High Cliff is the tallest cliff in Cornwall. This isn't the best place for a jolly family trip, as the walk down is pretty steep and the sea isn't suitable for swimming. However, if you want a more challenging walk to a dramatic location, it's perfect.
Sandymouth is a National Trust beach, so as you'd expect, has lots of useful facilities like a car park, toilets and a cafe (not NT). There's also a lifeguard service in the summer. Leashed dogs are welcome on its vast sweep of sands at any time of year.
Most people come to Bude either for the beaches, the surf or the coastal walking. All three are excellent here! There's also a lively programme of annual events in and around Bude. To find out what's on during your stay, start your trip to Bude with a visit to the Tourist Information Centre in The Crescent.
The North Coast resort is one of the best places in the country for surfing. Whether you're a rookie or a real pro, head to Bude and the Atlantic coast. There are incredible surfing beaches to either side of the town, as well as surf school and hire shops. Try Summerleaze Beach for beginners' classes.
This stretch of Cornwall's coast has some of the most rugged and dramatic scenery in the county. Take a walk along the South West Coast Path from Bude, which passes through Bude towards some excellent beaches and picnic spots on its way.
Bude to Crackington Haven is a stunning (and strenuous) hike, or for a gentler walk, try the path alongside Bude Canal. A must-walk stretch of path takes you up to Compass Point, a Bude landmark and former coastguard station, which was moved back from the cliff edge, brick by brick.
Maer Lake is a wetland nature reserve close to Bude. The lake is an important overwintering or passage spot for waders and other wild fowl. There's no access to the wetlands, but you can look out across the reserve from the road. Visitors include golden plovers, teal and widgeon.
Bude's annual festivals
Bude has theatre, concerts, dances, discos, fetes and other events throughout the season. Bude's music festivals have become famous: book ahead for tickets to one of these…
Bude Jazz Festival
Every summer, Bude hosts a world-renowned, four-day jazz festival. It's a wide interpretation of jazz, from blues to New Orleans style music, in venues across the town. There are also buskers in Bude's streets and a must-see parade.
Bude & Stratton Folk Festival
Prefer folk to jazz? Bude & Stratton Folk Festival is held every May. Like the jazz festival, it takes place in venues around town, and its broad brief is part of the charm. Music ranges from sea shanties to ballads and short stories, and there are all sorts of workshops to choose from.
Over three days, all sorts of acts head to Bude for a celebration of all things musical. Leopallooza takes place in a festival field inland from Bude, and although it's basically a massive party, it's still really family friendly.
Places Close to Bude
Bude is (lowers voice) very close to Devon; so if you're looking for a holiday destination that's a base for both counties, Bude is perfect. Bude feels remote, but there are actually a lot of places to visit along the Atlantic coast, and it's a relatively easy day trip to plenty of seaside towns, sandy beaches and pretty rural villages.
Hartland Quay & Point
If your preferred coastal landscape is described as “dramatic” and “evocative”, leave the pretty coves of Cornwall and head north into Devon. This awe-inspiring coast is famous for having the roughest stretch of sea, and the bar in Hartland Quay is called The Wreckers' Retreat. Come here for fantastic walking and spectacular AONB scenery.
Drive just four miles from Bude to escape it all at Millook Haven. The shingley beach sits under Penalt Cliff. Pick the right moment, and it might just be you, your dog (they can come here all year) and a couple of pro-level surfers enjoying the quiet beach.
It's about 15 miles to Boscastle from Bude, along a route named one of the best drives in Britain. The small harbour village is set in a narrow ravine, filled with postcard-perfect, whitewashed cottages. Boscastle survived extensive flood damage in 2004, after flash floods surged through the village and nearby Crackington Haven. The buildings have now been restored Including its famous Museum of Witchcraft & Magic.
Drive a little further towards Devon again, and the little parish of Morwenstow, the most northerly in Cornwall. Head for the spectacular Henna Cliff for wonderful views across to South Wales.
One of North Cornwall's most famous destinations is just half an hour's drive from Bude. Tintagel, known as the birthplace of the legendary King Arthur and home to one of English Heritage's most vertiginous castles, is definitely worth a trip. Visit the remains of the ancient castle, and climb down to the beach to see Merlin's Cave.
Again, it takes about half an hour to drive from Bude to Launceston. The old market town is the ancient capital of Cornwall, and you can see traces of its medieval heritage as you walk through its streets. Located inland in the Tamar Valley, between Bodmin Moor and Dartmoor, Launceston is a good base for a day's walking.
Bude: Good to Know
Planning a trip to Bude? Here's what you need to know.
Getting to Bude
What's now known as the Atlantic Highway (or the A39 to give it its less glamorous name!) links Bude to the other resorts along the north Cornish coast, ending in Newquay
Bude by Road
You have two main choices: leave the M5 and head past Barnstaple and Bideford on the Atlantic Highway, or stay on the M5 a bit longer and leave at the Exeter junction, taking the A30 to Okehampton.
The postcode for The Crescent long-stay car park is EX23 8LE.
Bude by Rail
The railways may have helped create Bude, but today, it's not an easy place to reach by rail. One of the most straightforward ways is to get a mainline train to Exeter St David's, then catch a bus. You could also aim for the station at Okehampton, which is closer but not necessarily easier.
Bude by Bus
You can get buses to Bude from Exeter and Plymouth, and the popular 95 service covers a lot of the towns in the north Cornish coast. Find out more about Cornwall's bus service here.
Bude by air
Bude is an hour from Cornwall Airport Newquay, and once you've arrived, you can choose from bus services, an airport taxi, and hiring a car to get to Bude. Find out more about flights into Cornwall from Newquay Airport's website.
Parking in Bude
Bude has a good choice of long-stay car parks, including The Crescent, Summerleaze and Wharf. There are also car parks at Crooklets and Widemouth Bay.
There's a good (and ever improving) choice of places to eat and drink in Bude, and like most Cornish seaside towns, the seafood can be excellent. Rosie's Kitchen is a friendly beachside cafe, or enjoy the bistro-style atmosphere of the popular Olive Tree.
The cafe at Little Pig Farm is definitely worth visiting, and The Weir is a welcoming cafe at the Whaesborough Wildlife Centre. In the evening, try Potters or Elements at The Beach. And of course, you'll find plenty of good chippies, takeaways and cosy pubs.
Where to stay in Bude
Bude has a good blend of self-catering accommodation, small hotels and boutique accommodation. There are also plenty of holiday cottages and campsites nearby. Read our Cornwall accommodation listings to find out more about accommodation in Bude.