The 8 Best Things to Do in Newquay, Cornwall

Summer crowds on Fistral Beach, Newquay

John Harper / Getty Images

The popular seaside resort of Newquay offers a marked change of pace from the sleepy fishing villages and genteel market towns that the rest of North Cornwall is famous for. It is legendary among locals and visitors alike for its seasonally raucous nightlife, excellent restaurants, and unbeatable surf scene—the apex of which is the annual Boardmasters Surf Festival. Beyond its “Ibiza on the Atlantic” reputation, however, Newquay is also the ideal destination for nostalgic summer vacations. From June to August, its golden beaches are filled with families laden with all the paraphernalia needed for days spent rock-pooling and building sandcastles. Meanwhile, a short drive inland yields historic houses and quaint theme parks. 

01 of 08

Embrace Newquay’s Surf Culture at Fistral Beach

Surfers riding a wave off Newquay, Cornwall

Elizabeth Morrow / EyeEm / Getty Images

Fistral Beach, Newquay, UK

Above all things, Newquay is renowned as the Home of British Surfing, a moniker earned by the consistent, barreling waves of Fistral Beach. These dream breaks are the product of twin headlands and direct exposure to the Atlantic Ocean, together offering waves for all skill levels. Professionals in particular flock here in search of England’s only big wave spot: The Cribbar. Breaking just a few times annually off Towan Headland, this gnarly wave can reach over 25 feet. 

Fistral Beach has its own International Surfing Centre, where you can rent boards and wetsuits, sign up for surf lessons, or deck yourself out in the latest surf brands. Every August, the beach also welcomes surfing greats to compete in the Boardmasters Surf Festival, a five-day celebration that includes skateboarding competitions and live music by names like Ed Sheeran and George Ezra. From April to October, Fistral is protected by qualified RNLI lifeguards. 

02 of 08

Embark on a Tour of the Best Local Beaches

View of Watergate Bay, Newquay

Photo by Andrew Boxall / Getty Images

Fistral Beach may be Newquay’s most famous, but it’s also one of the most crowded. To escape the melee, explore along the coastline in either direction in search of the beach that suits you best. Three miles from the town center lies Watergate Bay, a wide expanse of sand fringed by steep cliffs. It boasts reliable surfing waves, but is also well-loved by swimmers for the fact that it has one of the best water quality ratings in the U.K. 

Holywell Bay is an equally beautiful option, with plenty of golden sand, dunes for shelter on windy days, and some thrilling Atlantic swells. For something a little more secluded, try Poly Joke Beach or Lusty Glaze. The former has no facilities and can only be accessed on foot, but is well worth the journey for its collection of caves and rock pools. Lusty Glaze is a private beach resort with water sports, fine dining, and free live music. 

03 of 08

Tour Trerice, Newquay’s Elizabethan Manor House

Trerice House, Newquay

Sandy Gerrard / Geograph / CC BY-SA 2.0

Trerice, Kestle Mill, Newquay TR8 4PG, UK
Phone +44 1637 875404

If you tire of the beach (unlikely), there’s plenty to do inland, too. For history buffs, Trerice House is a must-visit attraction; this National Trust-operated manor house has changed very little since it was built in the 16th century by the aristocratic Arundell family. Tours of the immaculately preserved interior give you the opportunity to admire more than 1,000 historical artifacts, including the original glass windows of the Great Hall. 

Step outside to take in the impressive façade, renowned among architecture aficionados for its gables, which showcase two completely separate designs. The beautiful grounds include a formal Elizabethan knot garden, and a meadow that has been left wild to attract local flora and fauna. Trerice also has a café, gift shop, and second-hand bookstore. It's open from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily; tickets cost 11 pounds for adults and 5 pounds for children. 

04 of 08

Enjoy a Family Day Out at Lappa Valley

Miniature train at Lappa Valley, Cornwall

Chris Allen / Geograph / CC BY-SA 2.0

St Newlyn East, Newquay TR8 5LX, UK
Phone +44 1872 510317

For those headed to Newquay with small children in tow, there’s nowhere better than Lappa Valley, a quaint theme park located 15 minutes inland from the town center. The main attraction is the fleet of 11 narrow gauge and miniature steam engines. Hop aboard and enjoy a blissful ride through the idyllic Cornish countryside. After that, there’s a crazy golf course as well as a boating lake, complete with pedalo swans big enough for a family of four. 

Want the kids to run off some steam of their own? Let them loose on the Lappa Valley playgrounds, which include trampolines, a play fort, and a pirate ship. Woodland trails get the whole family closer to nature, and when you need to refuel, Whistle Stop Café serves up traditional refreshments like Cornish pasties and local Kelly’s ice cream. Lappa Valley is open from April 12 to October 31; a family ticket costs 47.50 pounds. 

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05 of 08

Hop in a Fighter Jet at the Aviation Heritage Centre

Historic airplane on display at the Cornwall Aviation Centre, Newquay

Steve Lynes / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

A3059, next to R A F Saint Mawgan, Newquay TR8 4JN, UK
Phone +44 1637 861962

Airplane fanatics will love the Cornwall Aviation Heritage Centre, which is located on the edge of Cornwall Airport Newquay. Now operating as a commercial airport, the runway was previously part of Royal Air Force Base, St. Mawgan. The area’s military history is on full display at the center, where visitors are invited to walk through an ex-RAF aircraft hangar filled with historic fighters and bombers from the 1940s through to the 1980s. 

Pose for photos inside the cockpits, or listen as volunteer guides explain each aircraft’s history. You can even experience what a real flight would have been like in a Hawker Hunter simulator that takes you for a full-throttle adventure over the Cornish countryside. Other attractions include a VC10 in-flight refueling tanker, a V-bomber training aircraft, and a collection of more than 1,500 model aircraft. The center is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday through Thursday. 

06 of 08

Meet the Animals at Newquay Zoo

Meerkat at Newquay Zoo, Cornwall

Susan Ireland / EyeEm / Getty Images

Trenance Gardens, Newquay TR7 2NL, UK
Phone +44 1637 873342

Newquay Zoo is the highlight of Trenance Leisure Park—a complex that includes formal gardens, a tennis center, skate park, and a miniature railway among many other things. More than 1,000 different animals are housed at the zoo in spacious enclosures that mimic wild environments as closely as possible. Animals range from favorites like lions and otters to rare and unusual species such as the capybara and Carpathian lynx. Head to the African Savannah exhibit to see zebras and wildebeest roaming freely, or enjoy close encounters with lemurs in the Madagascan Walkthrough. 

Children can pet more familiar creatures at the Village Farm, "get lost" in a dragon maze, or enjoy one of two playgrounds. With advance booking, little ones can even sign up for a junior keeper experience. Tickets cost 16.35 pounds for adults and 12.30 pounds for children ages 3 to 15; the zoo opens daily at 10 a.m. 

07 of 08

Sample the Best Seafood Newquay Has to Offer

Close-up of lobster catch, Newquay

Jupiterimages / Getty Images

Before it became the epicenter of Cornish tourism, Newquay was primarily a fishing village. That heritage is still going strong today, with local fishermen departing from the harbor every morning and coming home laden with fresh fish, prawns, lobsters, and other shellfish. You can taste this marine bounty fresh off the boat at many different Newquay restaurants, with seafood being the mainstay of the town’s culturally diverse culinary scene. 

One of the most famous restaurants is Rick Stein, Fistral, a relaxed spot with spectacular Fistral Beach views and a menu created by the famous seafood chef. Come for fish and chips served with homemade tartare or Goan curry sauce, or opt for breaded langoustine tails and Thai fish cakes. Also on Fistral Beach is The Fish House, a hugely popular sit-down restaurant that pairs specialties such as grilled scallops and seafood risotto with incredible sunset views. 

08 of 08

Hit the Dance Floor on a Newquay Pub and Club Crawl

Backstage view of musicians on stage, Newquay

Cultura RM Exclusive / Frank and Helena / Getty Images

For the younger crowd, Newquay’s nightlife is the biggest reason to visit, especially in the busy summer season. The town has earned a reputation as a famous (or infamous) destination for stag and hen parties, and has a wealth of venues to cater to every taste and budget. If you’re looking for a nightclub vibe with DJs and/or live music, head to Sailors or Whiskers Newquay. The latter hosts a popular Open Mic night every Monday. 

For a more sophisticated setting, try Tom Thumb Cocktail Bar. With a curated collection of more than 120 spirits and expert mixologists behind the bar, it’s the watering hole of choice for discerning drinkers. If you like to imbibe while enjoying beautiful views, you’re in the right place: Many of Newquay’s bars and pubs overlook the beach. Our favorites include Merrymoor Inn, with its beachfront terrace tables, and the clifftop beer garden at Belushi’s

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The 8 Best Things to Do in Newquay, Cornwall