Newquay: The Complete Visitor Guide

Written by: Ben Pike

The UK’s surf capital, a party paradise, a fun family-friendly full package destination. Only a few of the multitude of names acquired over the years by this lively slither of seaside spunkiness.

Newquay is the beating heart of Cornwall. It may not be the county’s official capital, but it is by far the centre of life and energy. With its wide array of beaches stretching around the cliff-fringed headland, there is really something for everyone here!

Although mostly famous for those spectacular waves that bring international surf competitions and festivals, Newquay also has sheltered coves perfect for that day at the beach with the kids.

And when the tide subsides, the beaches merge, and the sand stretches for miles. Welcoming you to one of the most spectacular romantic sunset strolls of your life.

Around Newquay

newquay around

Newquay’s population over quadruples in the summer season. 

So, depending on when you come the vibe can completely change. 

In the summer it is filled with fun-loving families and party posses alike. The beaches sprawl with liveliness. Surfers, sunbathers, kayakers and kids. People dive from the cliffs and fishermen cruise past seals on their way out of the harbour. Tour boats take people out to swim with basking sharks (one of the world’s largest shark species).

People shop for souvenirs whilst they wander casually down the town’s central walking street, whilst others have a fresh drink in a seaside bar or a delicious plate of locally fished fish and chips.

Throughout the winter things wind down, the locals emerge from hibernation and a beautiful fresh aura of folk music and genuine deep befriended connection sweeps over the town. The beaches are unofficially reserved for the passing smiles of dog walkers, and the enthused fist bumped of only the bravest surfers.

The bars brimming with chatter and the undertone of local live music.

Newquay isn’t just one feeling. It’s oh-so-many!

How to Get to Newquay

easyjet plane in newquay


Part of what makes Cornwall so special is just how rural it is. There are no major cities, no huge malls, and mostly, no highways.

This means that the simplest way to get down here is by taking the M5 southwest from London until you reach Exeter and then the A30 straight into Cornwall.

From here Newquay is a well signposted 15-minute drive down the A3076 or the A3058.

Depending on traffic it will take around:

  • 5/6 hours from London/Manchester
  • 4/5 hours from Birmingham/Nottingham
  • 3 hours from Bristol
  • 2 hours from Exeter
  • 1/1.5 hours from Plymouth

The A30 stretches the full width of Cornwall all the way to Lands’ End. Making it the backbone of the county from which you can reach almost anywhere.

Although, if you truly want to experience some of Cornwall’s quaint beauty take one of the many scenic routes through its windy country lanes, passing tractors, thatched roof cottages and serene scenery.


Don’t have a car or just want to sit back and relax whilst someone else does the driving? Newquay has its own train station with services to and from London Paddington, stopping at Reading, Taunton, Bristol, Exeter and Plymouth.

And if you are looking for the cheaper option and have a little more time on your side there are very economical coaches from London for as little as £20. But the trip will take 9/10 hours.


For those of you who want the utmost convenience, Newquay has its own international airport. With a 1 hour 15-minute flight from London coming in as cheap as £50.

From there it’s a 15/20-minute taxi/bus ride to town.

What to See and Do in Newquay

animal at newquay zoo

Of course, Newquay is famous for its bountiful beaches, but that’s by far not all it has to offer. For a day away from the sand or a break from the beach chairs check out some of these:

Coasteering Experience:

Want the taste of sweet adrenaline and adventure coursing your veins? Take a guided tour to one of Newquay’s off-the-beaten-track hidden gems with a professional and highly animated coasteering guide. Combine wild adventurous climbing, swimming and jumping your way through rocky caves and cliffs with actual real-life knowledge and survival skills to help you in any situation where you’re cut off by the rising tides and need to self-rescue. You’ll be wild swimming, clambering (like a delicate lemur) over rocks and into caves, traversing rapids and leaping into secret plunge pools.

Swimming with Basking Sharks:

Something almost no one will associate with Newquay is the possibility to swim with some of the biggest wild sharks in the world!

I know, I know! Normally when we go to a beach, we are looking at the low end of the ‘likelihood of a shark encounter’ chart. But bare with me.

Basking sharks in Cornwall can reach up to 30 ft in length making them the second largest shark in the world. But, wait for it…. They DON’T eat people! 

They only eat plankton. Tiny little microorganisms that gather in their millions throughout certain seasons of the year in the waters off of Cornwall’s coast.

All of this means that companies like Newquay Safari and Fishing can offer you the experience of a lifetime! To snorkel with these enormous gentle giants.

Newquay Zoo and Blue Reef Aquarium:

Something for kids and animal lovers. 

Newquay Zoo has a wide variety of creatures and critters from around the world. Complete with feeding shows and hands-on opportunities to get up close and personal with a variety of weird and wonderful animals. Newquay zoo is a great day out for all the family.

Situated right there on the edge of Towan Beach, Blue Reef Aquarium can quite literally be visited whilst your mother-in-law gets hard at work on her tan. It has loads of different marine species such as turtles, sharks, seahorses, and of course, Nemo.

There are feeding times and talks throughout the day as well as a cafe to eat some delicious food whilst watching the waves lap the shore.

More Ideas:

surf lessons in newquay

This is just the absolute tippy tip of what Newquay has got going on. There are beautiful hikes around the cliffside coastal trails, passing the Huer’s Hut, the Gannel Estuary and the Harbour. The nightlife, bars and clubs barely sleep and there are adventure sports galore. Kayaking, paddle-boarding and of course, surfing.

Which brings me here:

Newquay Beaches

Great Western Beach

Newquay’s crown jewels are most definitely its beaches!

Encircled by more than 7 miles of glimmering golden sand, divided up into 11 beaches, there’s a smooth yet crunchy flavour here everyone.

What are you looking for in a beach?

Right in front of town is the main drag of Newquay’s beaches.

If you’re facing the water from left to right, think about it like this:

The further you go left towards the harbour to calmer the water and the waves get.

Towan Beach

So right there, next to the Harbour, is Towan beach. A favourite with families because the water is generally calm and the kids can play in the rock pools beside the harbour wall. There is also a small concrete pool built on the front side of Towan Island for when the waves pick up (so there’s always a safe place to swim).

Also right there facing the water, literally 20 steps from the sand is Blue Reef Aquarium. The perfect solution to a child bored of building sandcastles.

Tides in Newquay are long. Meaning whilst many beaches may be fully covered by water at high tide (twice a day), at low tide the wet stuff may be a 15-minute stroll away.

The main strip of beaches in Newquay all join at low tide and become one long magical stretch of sandy goodness (Right up behind the harbour is the best place to see the full extent of this and of course, take pictures).

Tolcarne Beach and Watergate Bay

watergate bay beach

As you move further away from the Harbour, the bay opens up to the ocean and the waves begin. Once you reach Tolcarne Beach, depending on the day, there will be a good size wave to surf, and even further down to Watergate Bay they can become bigger again. Anyone who knows anything about surfing will know this really depends on swell size and direction on any given day, but that is the general rule of thumb for this side of Newquay’s beaches. 

(Having said that all of Newquay’s beaches do have lifeguards working daylight hours throughout the summer season. There will be areas marked by flags to show you where to swim and surf accordingly, and all beaches will have swimming areas)

Now, there are a few exceptions to this rule:

Porth Beach

Porth beach wide angle

For example, Porth Beach is a sheltered bay protected from most swell directions and has a long distance of shallow calm water most days. Perfect for families with small children or not such strong swimmers. Also, unlike most of the town beaches with their large cliffs, Porth has a road down to the beach so no need to walk up or down a few hundred steps for this one.

Fistral Beach

fistral beach
Credit: Simon Morris

If it’s surf you’re looking for, the absolute classic is Fistral Beach. The home of the Boardmasters surf festival and nearly every surf competition in Newquay.

This particular beach is basically the UK’s surf capital. Most of the biggest waves on any given day will be here.

Personally, I prefer Little Fistral. It’s a small section of Fistral beach to the far right, partially cut off by a series of rocks. It’s usually a little more local and because of the rocks, fewer people like to surf/swim here. Perfect! More waves for me!

Shopping in Newquay

newquay shops

The main street running parallel to the beach is mostly blocked off for cars, so it’s perfect for a wander while you nibble on a pasty and pick up a few souvenirs from the many quirky shops. If it’s surf gear you’re looking for, there’s plenty.  Surf brands dot the streets and there are branded surf clothing and surfboards galore. 

Also, if you would like to rent a surfboard/wetsuit many of the larger surf shops offer a variety of different rental packages. Some even with surf lessons included.

The centre also has a variety of local stores, brands and coffee shops where you can find pretty much anything you would need on a day-to-day basis and many things I’m sure you wouldn’t.

Milk cafe Newquay

For all your grocery needs there is a Sainsburys, Tesco express, Asda and an Aldi within the town centre and a short 10-minute drive away there is a large Morrisons and a Lidl.

Eating and Drinking

Cornish bakery

With its very own fishing harbour, it’s no surprise that Newquay is full of fresh seafood. Fish and chips are of course a classic. But throwing his own fancy fling on the dish is Rick Stein’s restaurant overlooking Fistral beach. Here they serve nationwide famous world-class fish & chips and curries coupled with the ultimate view.

And if you’re looking for something a little cosier, a little more rustic, but with equally as delicious seafood and a couple drinks to go with it, then there’s The Fish House

One of Cornwall’s most iconic foods is the Cornish Pasty, and Newquay is no stranger to this scrumptious package of delicious yummy goodness.

There are many bakeries and pasty shops speckling the high street. The Cornish Bakery has such a wide variety of pasties they even started to make fillings as unusual as apple, rhubarb and custard, and spiced cauliflower and onion bhaji for Indian lovers.

There are a multitude of delicious restaurants serving all class and form of food and drink experiences throughout the town. 

One standout option is Wax Activity Bar. A late-night interactive bar with a twist.

Here you can play interactive darts, try your best to bust out of an escape room or even rent one of their axe-throwing lanes. What better skill to learn whilst having a few drinks with your mates?

And after all that, onwards, to Newquay’s livelier than lively nightlife! And if you’re lucky enough to be in town in late September then slurp down a fresh pint at the Newquay Beer Festival.

Once the sun goes down the town goes into night mode and bars and clubs pop up on every corner. There will be a night out here for everyone. From foam parties to live music. Hidden bars to literal underground nightclubs. Some of which stay open until 4:00 am.

Surrounding Area

Bedruthan Steps
Bedruthan Steps near Newquay

Within sneezing range of Newquay are a whole array of wondrous, much lesser visited villages and their absolutely stunning beaches to go alongside them.

To the south there’s Crantock with its fringe of sand dunes, Poly Joke with a small walk to an overlooking grey seal colony, Holywell with its, Holy well (A historic spring situated within a cave at the far end of the beach) and Perranporth, a cute town full of history, good food and its wide beach is great for getting out of Newquay’s surf crowds. 

To the North, there’s Watergate, famous for its kitesurfing. Bedruthan steps with its dramatic rocky scenery and turquoise waters comparable to the Mediterranean. And Porthcothan Bay – the perfect getaway from the masses for families.

Newquay is well connected to all the larger towns in Cornwall and although time down here does slow down and getting anywhere takes a little longer than you would expect, that’s part of the charm.

Newquay – Cornwall’s Favourite Beach and Surf Destination

So there it is! Why wouldn’t you?
For that family friendly holiday where you’ll never run out of things to do, or a group of young friends looking to let loose in the evening, and get their dose of adrenaline the next day. There is not just something for everyone. But many things!

FAQ about Newquay

Is Newquay worth visiting?

Do you want to surf, beaches, parties, fun or adventure? If so, Newquay is your place.

Is there a nice part of Newquay?

Newquay stretches along 7 miles of beach. The entire coastline has been developed to make the most out of this. There really isn’t a not nice part.

What is Newquay best known for?

Beaches, surf, and sun by day, wild parties by night.

Is Newquay in Devon or Cornwall?

Newquay is on the North coast of Cornwall

How far is Newquay from the beach?

Newquay is a coastal town encased by 11 beaches, so it is right on the beach, just metres from the water!

Can you swim in the sea in Newquay?

Definitely! Some areas of certain beaches are marked with flags for surfing but also have areas for swimmers and children.