With surf and pasty shops lining its streets, Newquay is the perfect example of a laid back holiday resort with a Cornish flair. Wondering what to do in Newquay for an unforgettable stress-free holiday in Cornwall? Follow this guide! The town, dubbed the ‘surf capital of England’, holds promises of bellies well fed and exhilarating outdoor activities.
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Start Your Day with a Tasty Breakfast at the Harbour Rest Café
Located off the main street at the top of the Old Harbour, the tiny Harbour Rest Café could easily be overlooked if it wasn’t for the big sign above its door. On my visit, I noticed the deep blue walls. Blackboard and wooden furniture matched the town’s laid-back, beachy vibe. We sat at one of the tables by a wood framed window, the view from the street hidden behind light, white curtains for some privacy.
On the menu, sea-food fresh from the boat, locally sourced products and homemade dishes and treats. Still early in the day, I ordered a tasty breakfast with free range eggs, sausages, hash brown and beans cooked fresh to order. It was soon landing in front of me, brought by a friendly waitress. My day was off to a good start.
Learn to Surf on Towan Beach
As the tide came out, a vast expanse of golden sand revealed itself at the bottom of towering cliffs. This was Towan beach, a beach break at the heart of Newquay. Soon the tide would be on its way up and surfboards would start marching from the streets down to the beach like colourful ants.
Several surf schools had based themselves in the area providing surf lessons to freshly landed holiday makers up for some thrill. Escape Surf School was one of those schools. Located on the hill overlooking the bay at the far end of Towan beach, the school offered affordable group and private lessons led by experienced instructors.
Catching my first few waves wasn’t easy as I paddled my heart out, hopped on the board and lost my balance…over and over. But nothing could clear your mind and lift your spirit better than two hours in the cool water of Towan beach. So I put my wetsuit back on again the next morning and headed back to the water for some more fun!
Enjoy a Traditional Cornish Pasty
Back to the food! More comforting than a hot shower after surfing in the cool water of Cornwall was gorging on a warm, filling Cornish pasty. The local dish had been part of Cornwall’s culinary heritage for centuries. However, it was only in the 19th century that the D-shaped pie had become popular as Cornish miners adopted it as a handy, one-in-all bite to eat down the mines.
The Cornish pasty is made of meat and vegetables wrapped, then baked, into a thick, golden pastry which shouldn’t break when handled. It is still very much in demand today and, like a pint of Guinness in Ireland, Cornish pasties never taste better than in Cornwall. Pasty shops were very easy to find in Newquay city centre. You might just want to ask a local which one is the best.
Take an Exhilarating Walk Along Towan Headland’s Jagged Coastline
Exposed to all winds and chiseled by the raw sea, Towan Headland was a treeless peninsula closing the bay of Newquay on its western end. Cute rabbits which suddenly emerged from the grass, only to vanish again at the sight of visitors seemed to be its sole inhabitants.
Inhospitable as it seemed, Towan Headland offered a dramatic viewpoint over the bay just a short walk from Newquay harbour. A walkable coastal path led the way to the headland. As I progressed towards it, I soon encountered the Huer’s hut. Built in the 14th century, the sturdy, white-washed building had been used as a strategic lookout.
From the coastguard’s lookout built on the headland’s outcrop at its farthest end, the view was breathtaking. The dark sea crashed into the rocks below while the waves hammered the white cliffs in the distance. As I turned my gaze in the opposite direction, the conspicuous Victorian Headland Hotel, dressed in red bricks, towered high over the golden Fistral beach.
Explore the Breathtaking Gannel Estuary
If you haven’t had enough of the views yet, there is more to come. The Gannel estuary located just a 20 minutes walk south of Newquay had me speechless for a moment. As the tide was coming out, the landscape changed dramatically to reveal the river Gannel gently meandering at the bottom of the estuary’s sandy river bed.
At low tide a wooden footbridge also emerged from the water upstream, allowing hikers to keep their feet dry as they crossed the estuary. Now on the other side of the river, a gentle coastal path hidden behind trees and wild edges led to Crantock beach, a stunning sandy beach voted one of the most beautiful in the UK by the BBC in 2013. While it is owned and managed by the National Trust, access is free.
As the tide started to come in and the river widened, I was wondering how to get back to Newquay from there. Then I saw it. The Fern Pit Ferry had just begun its shift, taking visitors back to its boathouse on the Newquay side of the Gannel estuary for a small fee.
Once safely disembarked, I climbed a steep path to the Fern Pit Cafe situated at the top of the river hill. The heat and stiff climb had me sweating profusely. The reward though: admiring the most breathtaking view over the sun-bathed estuary while indulging in an ice-cream at the Fern Pit Cafe.
Take a Tour of Newquay’s Quirky Aquarium
What could be more relaxing than the sight of fish peacefully whirling around in an aquarium! The quiet underwater world had a certain mind soothing quality that couldn’t be ignored. And Newquay’s Blue Reef Aquarium was offering just that.
Located on Towan beach, the little aquarium had a lot going on under its pointed roof. From species found along the Cornish coast to more exotic creatures from far-away oceans, Blue Reef Aquarium did put on a show. Big or small, colourful or elusive, jelly-like or tooth-sharp, the aquarium’s occupants certainly caught my eye.
A massive 250.000 liter ocean tank, home to tropical species, sharks and fish of all sizes and shapes was certainly the show stopper. A glass tunnel let visitors observe this fascinating world from beneath. Several viewing portholes on the tank’s sides allowed for more peeking under the water until I reached the surface of the tank. Circling in the tank and breaking the surface with its nose, a rescued but sadly blind loggerhead turtle was attracting all the attention.
Don’t Miss out on the Sublime Cornish Clotted Cream
Difficult or near impossible to find outside the UK, Cornish clotted cream is my treat of choice whenever I visit Cornwall. White as whipped cream but thicker, creamier and not as sweet, Cornish clotted cream melts like butter in the mouth.
Traditional tea rooms and modern cafes in Newquay all served the local delicacy. On the menu it was often called “Cornish or traditional cream tea”. The clotted cream was then served in a small round dish along with some delicious scones, jam and a pot of tea. It was the perfect afternoon snack to relax and replenish your energy after a walk along the coast.
Watch Surfers Ride the Waves of Fistral Beach
With headlands at both of its ends funneling powerful waves towards it, Fistral beach has become a world-renowned hotspot for surfers. It has even become home of the Boardmasters Surf Festival which takes over the beach every year for a week of international competition.
Roughly 750 meters long, the vast sandy beach was a great place to observe the best surfers in the area as they pulled their best moves in the distance. I found myself a quiet spot to unwind on the beach. Others sat at the terrace of the Fistral Beach Complex for some food and drinks while they watched the sun going down.
Treat Yourself with a Dinner with a View
No matter the cuisine you prefer, there is a restaurant with a view waiting for you in Newquay. From traditional restaurants to modern cafes, from pubs to sea-food restaurants, you can have the food you like while enjoying the most breathtaking view.
I booked a table at the Great Western Hotel for some comforting burgers and chips. Rump steak, chicken curry, fish ‘n chips and a selection of sandwiches were also on the menu. The hotel’s dining area opened to a stunning view over the Great Western beach and even had outdoor tables to fully enjoy the landscape. Similar food was served at its sister restaurant the Fort Inn on Fore Street with no less breathtaking view over the coastline.
Restaurants situated around the picturesque old harbour served seafood fresh from the boat. From the terrasses, the customers enjoyed the view over the bay to the clickety sound of fishing boats gently pulling on their chains.
Browse the Shops in Newquay’s Bustling Town Centre
From Bank Street to Fore Street, I wandered the touristy streets of Newquay town centre, browsing the local shops before packing up my bags. Having a sweet tooth, I couldn’t help but to visit Roly’s Fudge shop on Bank Street for some fresh fudge to take home (or for the road).
On the same street, I paid a visit to Whistlefish, an art and gift shop that sold beautiful prints of Cornwall made by handpicked artists. An ideal way to forever remember your trip to Newquay.
On busy Fore Street I made the most of the little time I had left in Newquay, visiting one quirky surf shop and bright clothing store after another, attracted by their cool, surf inspired brands. I was instantly seduced by Weird Fish, a fun and ethical brand inspired by Cornwall. If only they had this lovely hoody in the right size! It would have been the perfect souvenir to take home back in Ireland.
I believe Newquay is one of the coolest holiday resorts in the country. The laid back, summer vibe atmosphere is ideal to relieve the stress and forget about the outside world even for just a weekend. Newquay, you did well and hopefully I’ll be back!
ESSENTIAL TIPS FOR VISITING NEWQUAY
- Getting There | If you’re already in the UK, why not drive to Cornwall? It can be a long drive but you’ll get to enjoy picturesque scenery along the way. With a train station conveniently located in the centre of town, the train can be a good option to get to Newquay. From London though, be prepared to face a fairly long journey (and expensive train tickets if you book last minute). From further afield like Ireland, fly to Newquay airport and catch the local bus into town, you’ll be in Newquay in no time.
- Where to Stay | A popular summer destination from May to September, Newquay has a broad range of holiday accommodations available to suit any budget. Don’t book too late in the season though if you want to get that room with an amazing sea view. I stayed at the comfy a Great Western Hotel ideally located near the city centre with immediate access to the beach! Check the latest prices.
- Planning | To help you plan further, why not buy Lonely Planet’s Devon & Cornwall Travel Guide. I like to bring a hard copy on my travels for last minute research and inspiration.
- Travel Insurance | Newquay is a fantastic outdoor destination so make sure to buy travel insurance before heading to Cornwall. Better be safe than sorry.
Things to Do in Newquay, Cornwall
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Meet the Author
Hi! My name is Chris and I am a Dublin-based travel blogger, originally from France. Travelling from the Shetland Islands to Brittany, from Cornwall to Donegal, I hope to inspire people to make the Celtic frontier their next adventure.Learn more