North Cornwall: The Complete Travel Guide

Written by: Eliot Prince

North Cornwall is the area of the southwest of England that stretches from the border with Devon, near Bude, along to Hayle further west. It incorporates the stunning coastline and further inland in the county including towns such as Camelford, Wadebridge, Redruth, and Cambourne. Essentially, you can break Cornwall into north, south, and west.

Here’s a map of north Cornwall to give you a visual idea:

A map of north cornwall

Due to its landscape and climate it attracts holidaymakers from across the country and internationally. Surfers and beach goers flock to the enormous beaches each summer. Adding to this, hikers, families, and historians love the area too with the famous southwest coast path, fun-filled activities, and historical sights to enjoy.

How to Get to North Cornwall

Wondering how long it takes to get to north Cornwall? Well, it’s a fairly accessible destination for all types of travel. 

Most people choose to drive using motorways like the M5 which allows smooth access by car. You can then cruise along the A30 dual carriageway through the heart of the county before taking your chosen exit for your final destination. 

Adding to this, direct trains run from London Paddington calling at Liskeard, Bodmin, St Austell, and Truro where you can then change for onward travel to nearby local areas. In fact, you can arrive in the southwest in as little as 4 hours on a train from London. This train line enables direct access from Reading, Taunton, Plymouth and Exeter along the way.

Did you know north Cornwall has its own airport too? It is located in Newquay and runs flights from major UK cities including London, Manchester, Newcastle, and Glasgow, along with Ireland, Spain, and Portugal.

Coaches also run with companies like National Express for low cost tickets from around the country. Although, these can often be long journeys with coach travel from London taking over 9 hours!

Places to Visit in North Cornwall

st cuthberts cave in north cornwall

If you’re planning a trip, then take the time to pick your perfect place to stay, plus where you’re planning to visit while you’re here. There’s a never-ending list of choices when it comes to towns and villages to call home for your trip. (or live if you’re relocating!) Let’s take a look at the highlights:


With its lovely Georgian architecture and picturesque setting on the River Camel, Bodmin is well worth a visit. It is oozing with historic sites to explore including Bodmin Jail and Bodmin Keep Army Museum. There’s tons of adventure to be had too with it being home to Bodmin Moor which is super popular with nature lovers, hikers and cyclists. Its location on the train line and interconnecting on the A30 road means it’s one of Cornwall’s most accessible locations. The centre of town is a busy little place filled with shops to suit all tastes along with a decent choice of restaurants and bars.

So whether you’re looking for a relaxing break or an action-packed holiday, Bodmin is sure to have something to suit you.


Launceston Castle

Arriving in Launceston you’ll find a charming market town with a rich history. Nestled in the Tamar Valley, beautiful countryside surrounds the area making it the perfect base for exploring and outdoor activities like walking and kayaking. The town itself is intriguing with historic buildings and monuments to independent shops and galleries. There’s plenty of things to see and do too, including exploring the castle, visiting the museum, and taking a stroll around the pretty gardens. And of course, no visit to Launceston is complete without trying a Cornish pasty from a local bakery! Add Launceston to your itinerary – you won’t be disappointed!


padstow harbour with boats in the foreground

Padstow is a famous north-coast Cornish town which you’ve probably heard of. It’s set on the Camel River estuary with nearby beaches in walking distance from the centre. You’ll love the incredible mix of ambience here from fine dining and boutique shopping to scenic walks and watersports. The harbour is always busy with fishermen coming in and out (So I hope you like seafood!) Several delicious restaurants call Padstow home, including Rick Stein’s. The pictures don’t do this place justice at all, it’s no exaggeration to say you’ll fall in love strolling along the narrow streets and around the harbour in the sun. And you can quickly get to epic surf beaches like Harlyn Bay and Polzeath or jump on the passenger ferry over to the equally unique Rock and Daymer Bay.


Tintagel Castle

Tintagel is quite literally legendary. Writers, artists, and storytellers let their imaginations run wild here. The surrounding landscape, history, and mystical nature is truly inspiring. You’ll find yourself in true King Arthur fairy tales among Tintagel mediaeval castle, St. Nectar’s Glen secret waterfall, jagged cliff tops and mind blowing beaches, including the nearby Merlin’s Cave. After a day of exploring you can hideaway in any number of ye olde pubs for a hearty meal and refreshing drink. All before strolling back to your cosy cottage or BnB. 


bude seafront looking back over the town

This place is Budeiful (that’s a poor attempt at beautiful wordplay…) But you get the point. There’s nothing to love more than a beach town with swathes of golden sand, rolling dunes, cliff top walks, and tons of watersports for the energetic among us. On the beach is the unique tidal pool where you can take a relaxing dip away from the crashing waves where the surfers do their thing. This is a busy little summer town with the smell of fresh cornish pasties gently floating down the street, along with locally brewed beer. Plus just a few minutes away is the glorious Widemouth Bay, another one of north Cornwall’s top beaches.


Sunset at Firstal beach in Cornwall

A surfing paradise, miles of golden sand, party central, family fun activities. Just a few ways you could describe Newquay. To be honest, it’s impossible to convey this place in such few words. From watersports to shopping, from foodies to historians, this place is the beating heart of Cornwall! Beaches stretch the whole town from sprawling wide open spaces to hidden coves. There’s even a local airport so you can fly in from around the UK making it a top choice for all travellers and even a shorter weekend break. You’ll have action-packed days out before relaxing with a cold drink and fresh seafood to keep the spectacular views company.

Port Isaac

Port isaac town from the cliffside

You might well recognise Port Isaac. It’s the home of the Doc Martin TV series. This alone makes it a must-visit location in north Cornwall. The idyllic village is straight out of a postcard with tranquil blue waters resting behind the small harbour walls. Your eye is immediately attracted to the sea but make sure to take a look back at the backdrop of contrasting lush green countryside hills. The small village is the perfect day out for relaxation and soul replenishment as you stroll the streets, pick up souvenirs, and cool down with ice cream. What’s more, you have a choice of 2 Michelin-star restaurants to book yourself a table – that’s your cue to sample seafood straight off the Cornish fishing boats.

Beaches in North Cornwall

As you will notice, much of the area revolves around the coastline. All the top locations boast multiple beaches or waterways running to the sea. I’ve got to say, you’re spoiled for choice and it’s hard to pick your favourite. Let’s take a dip at a selection of the best. Or make your way to the 11 Mind Blowing Beaches in North Cornwall.

Fistral Beach

fistral beach
Credit: Simon Morris

Fistral is such a magical beach no matter what you like out of the seaside. It proudly sits a few minutes from the centre of Newquay without being overrun by the hubbub of town. First and foremost, surfers love the consistent waves that roll into the bay. From seasoned pros to first-timers, it’s a cracking spot. Of course, lessons and gear rental is available on the sand. A restaurant, bar, and shop complex sits overlooking the beach to keep you stocked through the day whether you need a new hat or a cold drink. And those of you who want to relax, set yourself up in the sun, dust the sand out of your toes, and take it easy. 

Polzeath Beach

camping polzeath beach

Polzeath might drop off a few lists of north Cornwall beaches. I’m not sure why, maybe it doesn’t have the nearby clamour for Newquay or St Ives. But it packs a punch! Sitting at the mouth of the River Camel, the long beach is incredibly tidal, it’s quite the spectacle to watch it roll in from beachside restaurants and bars. The waves here attract surfers in search of beach breaks away from the more famous spots. Plus hire and lessons are available. Plus you don’t have to walk far to feel the sand on your toes, you can literally park on the beach, fling the car doors open, and kick back. 

Perranporth Beach

perranporth sunset

Perranporth is one of Cornwall’s most popular beaches and makes a fabulous place to stay during your trip. The village itself is big enough for all the important amenities including bars, restaurants, takeaways, shopping, and watersports. You won’t believe this beach, it really is epic! When the tide is out it links with Perran Sands to become 3 miles long. Despite its popularity, its size means you can always find a quiet spot to sunbathe, explore, or walk the dog. As you’d expect with a big north Cornwall beach, it is a famous surf spot with tons of space to catch a wave all year long. 

Sandymouth Bay

sandymouth bay

Sandymouth Bay near Bude, is a real adventurers’ beach. Dora the Explorer would love it here. The landscape is breathtaking. Jagged cliffs tower above you like a fortress and smooth pebbles and rock pool like the upper part of the beach. Then as the tide recedes deep golden sand appears. Walk for hours on the endless shoreline or spot marine life in the rock pools. And once you’re at maximum peace, stop at the Sandymouth cafe for breakfast, lunch, cream tea, coffee, or ice cream. 

Summerleaze Beach

Bude beach

Summerleaze beach ticks virtually all the boxes. The town of Bude revolves around this beach with everything you need, we’re talking:

  • Sand dunes
  • Golden sand
  • Tidal swimming pool
  • Cornish pasties
  • Local beer
  • Ice cream
  • Surfing
  • Cliff top walks
  • Easy access

You could come to Cornwall and be happy without ever leaving Bude and Summerleaze beach. That says it all really.

Things to Do in North Cornwall

So you’ve picked where to stay and found an epic beach, now it’s time to plan your big days out!

Blue Reef Aquarium, Newquay

Chunky fish at blue reef aqaurium

Let’s discover the sealife around the Cornish coast and further afield, a true all-weather day out for all the family. Get lost under the deep blue sea at the Blue Reef Aquarium in Newquay. There’s an incredible number of exhibitions here which keep the scientists and explorers entertained for hours. Start close to home and meet the animals that call Cornwall home before running into jaw-dropping tropical river swimmers or deep blue inhabitants like crustaceans and octopuses. Of course, no aquarium would be complete without an ocean tunnel. Angelfish, pufferfish, big sharks, and rays surround you from all angles as you become immersed in this underwater world. 

Boat Trips

Large red boat in Padstow harbour

Sea safari boat trips run from most major towns like Padstow and Newquay. You’ll be whisked off out to sea on a round trip. Of course, there’s no guarantees on what you’ll see but be prepared with a camera as your guide tracks down dolphins, seals, porpoises, and basking sharks. Then track the cliffs and coastline to spot seabirds such as shags and cormorants going about your day. With luck you’ll even set your eyes on a puffin. It really is a breathtaking experience, especially when the sun is out and the sealife is feeling friendly. 

Bodmin Jail, Bodmin

bodmin jail entrance

Ready to unlock a darker side of Cornwall’s history? Bodmin Jail was built in 1779 and was used as a prison until 1927. This fearsome place is now a museum and visitor attraction. As you step inside the towering walls, you’ll learn about the history and explore the cells where prisoners were once held. You’ll certainly feel spine tingling shivers down your neck, in fact, it is said to be haunted! You can even take a tour of the paranormal activity that has been reported in the jail. For the full experience, plan your trip before you arrive with choices of guided tours, after-dark experiences, custom wanted posters, or a stay in the Bodmin Jail Hotel!

Bude Sea Pool, Bude

Bude sea pool

I’ve mentioned Bude a couple of times so far and the place still has more to offer! Check out the unique Bude Sea Pool which is a semi-man made tidal swimming pool on Summerleaze Beach. It dates way back to the 1930s, allowing you to swim in sea water with complete safety away from the strong ocean currents. It’s a pretty darn big sea pool at over 90 metres long and 45 metres wide which is regularly topped up at high tide by the sea. There is always tons of space for a swimmer workout, a gentle paddle in the sun. Plus you can happily frolic around with snorkel, inflatables, and other small watersports equipment. And did I mention it’s completely FREE to use!

Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, Boscastle

Boscastle can go a little under the radar as a tourist spot, but for young (or old) wizards and witches it’s a must not miss location. This is because it is home to the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic. ‘MWM’ chronicles the history of British magical practice from ancient days to more modern happenings. Leave your scepticism at the door and open your magical mind. Inside it is beautifully curated and becomes intoxicated with this fascinating world. Although it has to be said, the number of artefacts designed to place a curse on people does leave you feeling somewhat uneasy. (Even the creaking floorboards and squeaking stairs add a certain ambiance).

The Hurlers Stone Circle, Liskeard

hurlers stone circles

The deep ancient history of Cornwall is littered across the county including Neolithic and Bronze Age remains like The Hurlers Stone Circle near Liskeard. In fact, these stone circles are one of the best examples of ceremonial circles in the area. It is said that Cornish men playing hurling on a Sunday were magically petrified into these stones as punishment. The exact date of their creation is unknown, but the first account is 1586 as recorded by historian John Norden.

Lappa Valley Steam Railway, Newquay

lappa valley train

As family days out, this has to be one of the top choices. Head to Lappa Valley Stream Railway to uncover this secret world of trains. Summer or winter, it’s a mega amount of fun as you chug along in a diesel train from the car park into the complex. Step off your carriage and let the adventures truly begin. Enjoy laps of the Woodland railway. There’s multiple engines to choo choo you around including purpose-built Zebedee and Muffin , formerly used at Longleat Safari, to name a couple. In between train rides, put your way around the adventure golf and play inside the Engine Shed.

Newquay Zoo, Newquay

Lion at Newquay Zoo in Cornwall

Newquay Zoo is one of the UK’s top zoos, and it’s easy to see why. You’ll spend the day wandering the park and learning about 130 different species of animals that call this place home. There are animals roaring, tweeting, and prowling from across the animal kingdom. The whole family will love the unique attractions, such as the Lemur Walk and the Gorilla House. Kids can laugh, smile, and let off steam in the outdoor play area and Tarzan Trails. We’re talking swings, slides, and climbing frames for all ages. While the children explore, you can relax. Find snack bars and refreshments at the thematic Lemur Lion Grill and Meerkat Munchies. All of this before, finding yet more eye opening creatures like a 6 Banded Armadillo, Amazon Milk Frog, and African Lions. Adding to this, nature lovers can stroll through the Secret Garden and Oriental Garden to spot beautiful showcases of international plant life.

Surfing and Bodyboarding

Surfing at Porthmeor Beach

If there’s one thing that the area is known for its unrivalled British surf scene. Newquay is the country’s surfing capital but you’ll find barrelling waves all the way along the coastline. Most beaches deliver almost guaranteed swell from the Atlantic ocean. All the big beaches are lifeguarded in the summer for safe watersports. Surfers should paddle between the black and white flags to stay under the RNLIs watch and avoid clashes with swimmers and body boarders. You’ll find surfboard rentals and lessons everywhere you go. It might be wise to book in the summer months to make sure you don’t miss out. Beginners can practise their first pop ups in the shallow waters. Once you’ve got your technique working smoothly, it’s time to paddle and sit out back until the perfect wave arrives for you to take off! 

Tintagel Castle, Tintagel

Tintagel Castle takes you back in time to a mythical era which oozes King Arthur. It’s an inspiring place that has attracted storytellers, poets, and historians for decades. Climb your way up the steps to the courtyard and gateway. You’ll be keen to take a break and catch your breath to admire the dramatic cliff-top views. Gently make your way across the footbridge to the island to enter the castle. Spend the day discovering the 13th-century castle with the great hall ruins, and inner keep. Then make your way to a truly iconic Cornwall photo opportunity at the life-size bronze sculpture of King Arthur. Bring history to life at Tintagel Castle.

Where to Eat in North Cornwall

The food in North Cornwall really has come leaps and bounds in recent years. You can’t turn a corner without finding a cute local restaurant, secret snack cafe, or even Michelin star fine dining.

Fish House, Fistral

If you’re spending time at Fistral beach then don’t miss out on a stunning meal at the Fish House. It is a true seaside restaurant with locally sourced fish right off the boats in Newquay harbour. You can’t get fresher than that! Be sure to book no matter what time of year as it’s always a popular spot. You’ll be welcomed by smiling, friendly, staff into the cutely decorated setting. The stunning views over the ocean match the amazing food. It’s one of my favourite restaurants in Cornwall, hands down. The epitome of a seafood restaurant. You won’t be disappointed as the flavours of scallops, king prawns, and monkfish whizz around your palette, along with tasty cocktails while the sunset’s in the background. What better way to finish a day on the beach!

Emily Scott Food

I couldn’t leave Emily Scott Food in Watergate Bay off the list. The food is too good and the views are even better. This is the place to book yourself a table at sunset. Watergate Bay beach is an enormous expanse of golden sand with rolling waves from the Atlantic. The floor to ceiling glass front to this restaurant allows you to become mesmerised by the view. Sit back and relax with a glass of white wine as fish from the Cornish waters make their way to your table. That could mean roasted scallops with truffle butter or baked Cornish hake. This could quite possibly be the highlight of your holiday…

Outlaw’s Fish Kitchen, Port Isaac

The front of Outlaws Fish Michelin Star Restaurant

For a Michelin-star experience, then start with a trip to Port Isaac which boasts two restaurants from Nathan Outlaw. As you arrive at the Outlaw’s Fish Kitchen restaurant, you’ll fall in love as it’s nestled into a 15th-century fisherman’s cottage right in the heart of the picturesque village. Inside it blends the heritage with a modern feel making use of brickwork and wooden beams in a crisp white finish. But the real reason you’re here is the food, right? Relax at your table and let the flavours of the fixed-price seafood menu. It changes regularly based on the season but expect unique twists with dishes like Smoked Cod’s roe, Cuttlefish Curry, Spiced Monkfish, and Szechuan John Dory. Stunningly good food in an indescribably beautiful location. You’re literally sitting in a coast fisherman’s cottage as you welcome amazing food to your table.

Paul Ainsworth at No.6, Padstow

Exterior of Pail Ainsworth Restaurant Padstow

To continue your Michelin-star tour, it’s time to make your way to Padstow. Now there’s a wealth of stunning restaurants here, none more so than Paul Ainsworth at No.6. Located in a gorgeous white fronted Georgian townhouse, it serves modern British food using local Cornish produce. You love the really unique menu with every dish delicious and amazingly presented. The food here is creative and exciting to eat with a step away from the average with the flavour combinations. The menu is ever changing but expect plates that suit the season from both sea and land with standouts like brill, pigeon, and seasonal vegetables.

The Pig, Harlyn Bay

The restaurant in the Pig at Harlyn Bay Hotel has an ‘obsessive commitment to home-grown and local produce’. They keep things simple but do it really really well. For starters, your dishes revolve around the kitchen garden which grows and finds the food for the chefs to create the menu. Even the bread is homemade. That means you’re getting the freshest flavours every day. The dining room is situated in the heart of the historic 15th century house for a beautifully unique experience. With fresh ingredients, it means an always changing menu (even between lunch and dinner) which might have dishes like hotpot, steak, crab, sea bass, risotto, and yummy desserts too!

Rick Stein’s Café, Padstow

Rick Stein's Cafe Sign

For breakfast, lunch or dinner in Padstow then Rick Stein has you covered. He’s opened multiple establishments in the town with his Cafe being king of the flavours. You can tuck into amazing food including breakfast favourites like pancakes, eggs, and bacon. Or turn up later in the day for international twists on Cornish produce – crab linguine, Vietnamese chicken salad, and grilled bream with laksa noodles. All without the fuss of ‘fine dining’. The relaxed cafe feel is a nice atmosphere for all the family and lined with Cornish charm right in the middle of Padstow, just a short walk from the harbour.

Now you’ve taken the time to read up on North Cornwall, you’ll have to admit that this beautiful region of England is packed with things to do and places to see during your visit. From stunning beaches and rugged coastlines to charming towns and villages, it is a true gem. Explore the region’s rich history, or indulge in the local cuisine, North Cornwall is waiting. So why not plan a trip to this beautiful part of the world and discover all that it has to offer?

FAQ about North Cornwall

What should I not miss in North Cornwall?

There’s a number of ‘must do’ things in north Cornwall. For a start you should take plenty of time to discover the mindblowing beaches and cute seaside towns. Adding to this, there’s a number of unique attractions including Bodmin Jail and Tintagel Castle. Finally, you can taste local cuisine at a number of local fine dining fish restaurants to top your visit off.

Is North Cornwall nice?

North Cornwall is absolutely stunning! The landscape is like nowhere else with rolling green countryside contrasting against the turquoise blue ocean and jagged cliffs. Nice doesn’t do this place justice, it’s one of the UKs most popular holiday destinations for a reason.

Is north or south Cornwall better?

It is hard to say if north or south Cornwall is better. To be honest it ultimately comes down to what you enjoy. Both areas are unique  in their charm and attractions. For example, if you are looking for the quieter beaches with tranquil waters and untouched countryside, then south Cornwall may be the better option for you. On the other hand, if you are interested in surfing and family fun attractions then north Cornwall might be more your cup of tea. If you’re planning a trip then spend a little time doing more research to find your perfect destination.

Is St Ives in north Cornwall?

St Ives is in west Cornwall but it does sit on the north Cornwall coast. As the town sits less than 20 miles from Land’s End many consider it west rather than north of the county.

Is Newquay north or south Cornwall?

Newquay is considered north Cornwall as it is located on the northern Cornish coastline.

Is Padstow north or south Cornwall?

Padstow is considered north Cornwall as it is located on the northern Cornish coastline.