The North coast town of Newquay is best known for being Cornwall's surf city, as well as its party capital. Visitors come here for the excellent surfing, lively nightlife and family-friendly attractions. Newquay actually caters for this diverse blend of visitors pretty well, and there's a lot on offer here.
Newquay's success as a holiday destination is largely due to its natural assets, primarily some of Cornwall's finest beaches. To really appreciate this you only need to walk down to the harbour on a sunny evening from where you can take in the vast sweep of golden sand backed by a series of rocky bluffs. Add to this a near constant supply of Atlantic rollers and you can see why Newquay remains Cornwall's most popular resort town.
The town has been a popular bucket-and-spade resort for generations now, and spiritually, Newquay feels more akin to places like Blackpool and Benidorm than many of its more “Cornish” neighbours. But if you are coming here for a traditional seaside holiday you won't be disappointed. The resort may be a little tatty around the edges but Newquay comes up trumps were it matters and there's no lack of fun to be had.
The beautiful landscape here has led to a recent effort to reposition the area as a more upmarket destination, with a number of high-end hotels and restaurants springing up. This stretch of North Coast is certainly better than it used to be for fine dining and luxe accommodation, but be under no illusions, the town itself is still stag night central on a Saturday night.
Surfing in Newquay
Newquay is famous as the UK's surfing capital. This reputation began back in the 1960s and continued to grow with Fistral beach becoming a regular stop on the professional surfing circuit in the 80s and 90s. Back then the Boardmasters was a surfing championships which attracted the top competitors from all over the world.
Whilst the Boardmasters might have morphed into Europe's biggest beach festival, surfing in Newquay is still the real deal. There are numerous good breaks suitable for all levels along the coast here, and no shortage of surf schools for those looking to learn.
For the most adventurous surfers Newquay even has its own big wave spot – the notorious Cribbar Reef. Located just off the northern end of Fistral beach the waves here can hit over 30 ft.
Newquay Bay boasts a string of sandy beaches which are among the most beautiful to be found anywhere in Cornwall. Although it is often claimed that Newquay is home to no less than 11 sandy beaches this largely depends on where you decide the town starts and ends!
Whatever the case you're biggest problem is likely being spoiled for choice. Try one of the town beaches for a family day out, or head out of town for a more chilled-out experience. There's no shortage of surf schools and quite a few good beachside food options.
Welcome to the heart of the UK's surfing scene. Facing west, straight into the Atlantic Fistral picks up more swell than any other beach in the area. The long, sandy beach is also a good family beach, with lifeguards and lots of facilities, as well as a nearby carpark.
If you can make it down the 200+ steps you're rewarded with a pleasant sandy cove and great views of the harbour. It's a popular family beach with good facilities and safe swimming. At low tide, it joins up with Lusty Glaze and Great Western Beaches.
Despite its central location, Great Western (named after the railway) still has a peaceful air about it, and you'll often find kids playing in its exciting rockpools. It loses the sun in the afternoon because of its high cliffs; however, this also makes it a good sheltered spot on a breezier day.
Probably the busiest beach in town, this sheltered sandy beach sits right next to the harbour and is perfect for families. It's famous for “the Island”, which is a rocky outcrop reached by suspension bridge, and probably the most dramatically located holiday home in Cornwall.
This is a small, sheltered beach beneath the cliffs. You can either brave the many steps, or walk across from Tolcarne Beach at low water. The family-friendly beach is home to the Lusty Glaze Adventure Centre, where you can experience all sorts of aquatic activities.
Head two miles out of town to the sandy expanse of Watergate Bay. Book a surf lesson with the Extreme Academy, or treat yourself to some food from Watergate's upscale restaurants and takeaways. Because the bech is so big, you can always find a quiet corner, even on a busy day.
Again, this beach is a couple of miles out of town, and really does feel like another world. Crantock has sand dunes, sea birds and caves, as well as less otherworldly things like a car park and lifeguard cover. Dogs are allowed here all year, which is a big bonus for many visitors.
We've saved the most framatic until last... Bedruthan isn't easy to access, but it's worth the scramble. The mile-long beach has outstanding views back towards Newquay Bay, which is about seven miles south. Explore the famous steps (massive, slate sea stacks on the beach) then head back up towards the National Trust cafe.
Old Newquay and a Brief History
Newquay was originally the fishing port of Towan Blystra (sandy hill) before the “Newe Keye” was built by the Elizabethans back in the fifteenth century. But even before this, Newquay was the site of an Iron Age fort at Trevelgue Head.
Among other things, the quay was used for the import of coal and the export of mined ore during the heyday of the tin and copper mining industries. In the mid 1800s the harbour was busy enough to warrant the construction of the Treffry Tunnel, a 100ft long tunnel leading from the harbourside to the town above. Trams full of ore were run along tracks but have long since gone. The tunnel now provides a home to Newquay Rowing Club's pilot gigs.
For many years, Newquay's main industry was pilchard fishing and salting. At its peak in the 18th century the salted fish were exported as far as the Mediterranean. Although the pilchards disappeared long ago, there are still a few boats fishing from Newquay among the many pleasure craft.
What changed Newquay from a thriving fishing town to the tourist hotspot it is today is twofold. Along with the decline of the pilchard stocks came the railway. Initially the trains were mainly used to carry china clay from St Austell, but over the years the freight declined as passenger numbers took up the slack.
Another interesting throwback to the days when pilchard fishing was the town's lifeblood is the Huer's Hut located high above the harbour. It's a peculiar little round white hut with steps leading up to the roof. This is where the “huer” (lookout) would stand and cry, 'Hevva, Hevva!', when pilchards were sighted. The boats would then head to the shoal, and work together to catch and land the fish.
The 19th-century hut has recently been restored, and with its white paint, looks very like a small Greek church. It's thought there's been some sort of huer's shelter on this spot since the 14th century, and when you see the views from here, you can understand why it's such a good lookout point.
Fancy a change from the beach, or maybe it's raining!? Try these popular Newquay attractions.
Newquay Zoo has been a favourite family destination for years, starting out as a small pets' zoo in the sixties. It's now a 13-acre site and home to about 130 different species. Highlights include lemur island, the African savannah, and of course, the penguin feeding.
This is Newquay's other major family attraction, in a great Towan Beach location. Blue Reef Aquarium features sea creatures from Cornwall and across the world. The huge coral reef tank is the must-see habitat.
Still mostly known by its old name of Waterworld, Newquay Leisure World has a tropical-themed fun pool (there's a sensible 25m pool for serious swimmers) as well as gyms and play areas. It's a useful place to know about on a rainy day, and shares a car park with the Zoo, just out of town.
If you're here with young children, Dairyland Farm Park is a truly charming place to bring them, and it's just about five miles from Newquay. There are farm animals and pets to meet, as well as pony and tractor rides.
Trains, boats and pasties: when you're on a day out with the kids, Lappa Valley really does have everything you need. It takes about 15 minutes to get here - just remember to pre-book your train journey time before you set off.
The railway itself runs along one of Cornwall's oldest stretches of rail, built in 1849 to carry ore from the mine at East Wheal Rose to Newquay Harbour. Much later, it was part of the Great Western Railway. Spring is the best time to travel on the railway, as the wild flowers at the sides of the track are at their best.
Any British seaside holiday needs a wet weather contingency. Lighthouse Cinema opened in 2011, and its four screens have welcomed many a sheltering tourist since. It's much more than this of course, with a varied programme of new releases and classics - and according to its reviews, very comfy seats.
Check out the programme at Newquay's only live theatre, the Lane Theatre. There's a mix of drama, comedy, live music and tribute acts. It's a lovely venue, originally created from the ruins of an old village hall, with a history that reads like something from a novel.
To find out more, take a look at our article about the best things to do in Newquay.
Close to Lappa Valley and Dairyland but oh-so-different, Trerice is a lovely Elizabethan manor house and gardens, managed by the National Trust. Leave time to explore the grounds as well as the house, and don't leave without a cream tea in the old barn.
When the sun goes down and the families retire to their hotels and tents, Newquay does its nightly costume change into Cornwall's party town. Newquay is famous (or infamous, depending on your perspective) for its nightlife, with bars, pubs and clubs, and plenty of people willing to fill them.
Newquay has become a popular destination for stag and hen nights. With its beaches and clubs, it's like an easier-to-reach version of the Balearics, and you can see how this trade has flourished here.
A few years ago, there was a sense that Newquay's nightlife was running out of control particularly when the school-leavers were in town. Today, while it's still the place to come in Cornwall for a big night out, it's more carefully regulated, and the seedier edge has gone. There's also been a rise in more upscale clubs and bars that cater for a slightly older audience. Find out more about a night out in Newquay.
It's not just about drink - Newquay's great for food, too. The most popular tables in town are at Rick Stein's place on Fistral; but don't worry, it does takeaway, too. Like all seaside towns, you'll have your choice of chippies in Newquay, but this being Cornwall, you can catch a fantastic pasty, too.
Newquay's pub scene isn't just about hen nights, and during the day at least you'll find a lot of family friendly pubs in town, as well as Indian, Chinese, Italian and Mexican restaurants. There are also plenty of cosy, country pubs in the villages around Newquay.
For a more sophisticated meal, head for Watergate Bay, where you'll find delicious food-with-a-view. Again on Fistral, The Fish House is a popular spot, or try the delicate pan-Asian cuisine at Kahuna in town.
The Boardmasters has grown from a surf competition in the 80s into Europe's self-proclaimed biggest surf, skate and music festival. Still rooted in surfing tradition the five day event is held in mid-August at Fistral Beach and Watergate Bay. Shuttle buses connect the two sites with big name bands strutting the stage at Watergate and extreme sports taking place at Fistral.
Something of a rite of passage for Cornish teens the festival the Boardmasters attracts festival-goers from across the country. Tickets are available as a package for the five days and camping, or you can just buy a day ticket to see the bands you want.
Places Close to Newquay
When you leave the town, you're soon in lush, gentle countryside. You could easily spend a day or two idly exploring pretty villages like St Newlyn East, Mawgan Porth and St Mawgan, as well as other seaside spots like Perranporth, Padstow and Holywell Bay. Our county's not that big, and you'll soon be on the A30, where the world (well, Cornwall) is your oyster.
Newquay: Good to Know
Now for the practical information. What do you need to know before striking out to Newquay?
Where to park in Newquay
Newquay has a lot of car parks, which is good news, especially in the summer. There are around 15 council car parks, and they're free after 4 pm.
Getting to Newquay
Like most journeys to Cornwall, you'll find yourself heading south west on the A30. Leave at the Indian Queens exit (the A392).
If you don't want to drive, Newquay is on a branch line. Connect for Newquay at mainline Par station. And of course, there's the airport…
Flying to Newquay Airport
Don't get too excited: Newquay Airport is not very close to Newquay (it's a former RAF base), and there isn't a rail connection. However, you can hire a car at the airport, or pick up a Coastline Travel Cornwall taxi.
With flights from London taking just one hour fifteen, flying to Newquay Airport is definitely worth considering. Several airports fly into Newquay (although the service does vary throughout the year). Direct flights include London Gatwick, Manchester and Dublin.
Where to Stay in Newquay
Whether you're after the nostalgia of a holiday under canvas, or fancy something a bit more luxe, Newquay has a great range of places to stay. There are plenty of traditional seaside guest houses as well as more boutiquey places. The area around the town is perfect holiday cottage territory, and (provided you book early), you'll have a wide choice. For a real old-school family holiday, there are several holiday parks close to Newquay. Quick weekend away? Go for the Bedruthan or the Headland for a touch of luxury, or one of the area's three Premier Inns for a more budget-friendly stay.
Take a look at our Newquay accommodation guide to find out more.