Newquay (pronounced New-Kee) is one of the best known destinations in Cornwall, but its beauty runs deeper than the image most people hold in their minds before visiting this classic coastal resort. Many expect some kind of Santa Monica boulevard experience, or for the streets to feel like Ibiza or Magaluf. What we find, however, is a classic old fishing port with a good sized town spreading out behind it – this conurbation contains a variety of businesses and emporia, including a long, meandering, shop-filled high street that is the envy of many larger towns, pubs and clubs, and the ever present hint of the seaside and surfing industry. Either side of the port is a coastline of grass, cliffs and ruins, with an astonishing eleven beaches that are all within striking distance of the main town, each with a very different character. While there are many such places to chill, Newquay has a modern, upbeat and happening feel, and a somewhat continental energy rarely found in a British town or city.
Newquay or in Cornish, Tewynplustri/Tewynblustr/Towan Blystra (who knows how that’s pronounced?) is a superb and very popular Cornish town. A seaside resort and a fishing port, it is best known for its selection of wonderful beaches.
Newquay sits on the bank of the River Gannel, and has been expanding inland and sideways from the original fishing port since it was founded – it’s now one of the larger coastal resorts in Cornwall, while still retaining a parochial and small-town feel. The town is as famous for its nightlife as it is for surfing and other watersports.
How To Get There
Newquay is on the north coast of Cornwall, facing the majestic Atlantic and with Bodmin Moor behind, about 20 miles (32km) west of Bodmin and 12 miles (19km) from Truro. That’s very central for the entire Duchy of Cornwall, despite it being on the coast, and it’s well served by trains, planes and automobiles – the Newquay branch line joins the London-Penzance at Par, the main A30 sweeps by just south of the town, and it is the only resort in Cornwall to have an International Airport within five miles.
Newquay is built on the site of an Iron Age settlement, and grew slowly, with boating and fishing being the main source of livelihood. In the 15th century, the village was called “Towan Blystra/Tewynplustri” (Blown Sand Dune in Cornish), but because of this wind to which the natural harbour was exposed, the locals sought funds to build a “New quay”. It is from this, of course, that the town gets its modern name.
Newquay was still a small village until the 1800’s, with a population of less than 1500, but it continued to expand. Until the early 20th century, the small fishing port was mostly kept busy with pilchard fishing. One relic of this is a “Huer’s Hut” perched atop the harbour, where a constant watch would be kept for the shoaling fish. These famous fish still form the town’s official emblem, and the local football club’s crest is four crossed pilchards, too. Actual pilchards are now in limited supply, but a small number of boats still bring in the local edible crabs and lobsters.
The climate of North Cornwall is exceptionally mild, and this means that spring can arrive weeks earlier than in other parts of the UK. Daffodils, in particular, often flower around Christmas in the area, and this is an indication of how much warmer winters are here, when compared to other locations in England. As a result of this favourable year-round weather, many people choose to visit the town out of season, when it’s considerably less busy. Autumn is an excellent time to come, and although the evenings are beginning to feel cooler, the weather is generally warm, making beaches and coastal walks enjoyable. Stunning sunsets are common at this time of the year in Cornwall.
Newquay’s summer sunshine is very well known, and many people visit the town between May and September, when temperatures are regularly above 20°C/68°F, reaching 25°C/77°F or even 30°C/86°F in recent years. In the summer, the consistent sunshine can last for several weeks, with hardly any rain at all. For more about the climate of Cornwall, why not read up on our weather page, here?
Down at the old port?
Newquay is to this day an important fishing port, so a trip to the old harbour should be on everyone’s “to do” list. For all things boating, the harbour is the place to be! A number of vessels are available to take you out to sea, every day that weather and tide permit, to give you a fascinating perspective of Newquay and its surroundings. Impressive cliffs, golden sand, clear water and secret coves make for an excellent few hours or even an entire day afloat. Today, as well as offering fishing trips and other excursions, Newquay’s brightly painted fishing fleet brings home fresh crab and lobster destined, perhaps, for the tables in local hotels and restaurants, rather than barrels of pilchards for the subsistence of the locals.
You can catch crabs from the harbour wall, or even a fish or two for your tea while you’re at it! You might well see the famous Newquay harbour seals, which often come in for a feed whenever there are free fish to be had. Or, for the adrenalin junkies among us, there are also offshore speedboat trips to be had.
Newquay is generally regarded as the surf capital of the UK. It’s the thriving centre of the British surf industry, so there are lots of surf shops, board manufacturers and hire shops in the town. At the heart of its celebrated status is Fistral Beach, which has a reputation of being one of the best beach breaks in the county. On a good day, Fistral can display big, hollow waves and hold a fair sized swell, so it’s been a venue for international surfing competitions for over 30 years. Notable is the Boardmasters event (see below), which has become something of a festival that overshadows the surfing competition itself. The tournament is held at Fistral beach, with the music festival over on the headland at Watergate Bay.
Newquay is also known for an offshore reef called the Cribbar. With waves breaking at up to 30 feet (9m), the Cribbar has occasionally made the news, with big wave surfers towed in by jet-skis, but it breaks rarely, and indeed is not for amateurs to consider. Great Western, Towan and Tolcarne beaches near the town, and also Crantock, Watergate Bay and Lustyglaze, provide different types of breaks for almost every kind of surfer.
Beautiful Crantock beach, with a large car park out of shot to the left, golden sands, surf, and the River Gannel flowing in on the right hand side.
Newquay has an extremely lively nightlife all year round. There are over thirty different drinking establishments to choose from. Chilled out bars and traditional inns, nightclubs and gentleman’s clubs. Many of these venues offer live music featuring local and international acts, with Newquay’s nightclubs often playing host to BBC Radio 1, and other well known DJs. Unlike some quieter Cornish destinations, the party never really stops in Newquay. Sailors and Berties are popular with the night crowd, The Koola and Tall Trees.
Eating and drinking out
In Newquay the food and drink menu varies from the laid back beach bars and fish and chips to quaint Cornish cafés, cosy traditional pubs, and fine dining restaurants too. Newquay provides whether you’re searching for a hip hang-out, a quick snack, fast food or seeking a cool and quirky restaurant. The Red Lion pub has a reputation for and exceptional steak, while the Towan Blystra is a Wetherspoons, so you can be assured of consistent food at rock-bottom prices. At the other end of the scale is Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen (above), right on the beach at Watergate Bay – a stunning venue with exceptional cuisine and service. Lusty Glaze Beach Bar & Restaurant is another breathtaking location, with head chef Nat Tallens who appeared on the Masterchef Professionals TV show. Food includes Hot Rock dining on a fabulous menu in an informal setting. The Bowgie Inn is pretty in pink, on the West Pentire headland, close to Crantock Beach. Popular with surfers and travellers of all kinds, it serves excellent pub grub and has a good wine selection. And the views are amazing. Also make sure to check out Kahuna‘s Asian Fusion and The Fish House. Oceans Café does the best full English breakfast in town. Gusto Deli Bar, with its take out salads and hot boxes, is one of the best reviewed venues in Newquay.
Staying by the sea
It’s almost everyone’s idea of a holiday, whether at home or abroad. Perhaps it’s the ozone, perhaps the smell of the sea. Maybe childhood memories of those summers when the sky was eternally blue, or perhaps it’s just be a very British custom. But very few people don’t like to wake up by the sea, and that’s why traditional seaside cottage holidays are so popular. You could of course stay at home and get a suntan in the back garden, and you can perfectly well go swimming at the local pool. But it’s not the same as the beach, or the atmosphere of a Cornish seaside town! And what better place than Newquay, with a full range of urban facilities in a compact (walking distance) area and a waterfront location?
They say that a change is as good as a rest, but we’re here to tell you that it actually never wears thin. It’s not just the fact that it represents a relaxing break from the norm. Being by the sea just feels different. The Victorians thought that it was good for the health, and their theory is confirmed by the number of visitors who still flock to Cornwall every year. A glance at someone who has just come back from the seaside is all it takes. They do appear to glow with vitality. Just don’t get sunburn. It happens rather more quickly, by the sea, than the inland dwelling person is ever quite prepared for!
Newquay Fish Festival
The Newquay Fish Festival is an opportunity for the town to welcome visitors to one of its best kept secrets, the harbour. Now in its umpteenth year, the Fish Festival is one of Cornwall’s best established food and crafts shows.
There’s quite a special atmosphere at the festival, with a mix of Newquay’s vibrant holiday scene and the traditional fishing community of the old Cornish harbour. Together they bring the town to life for this three day annual event and provide Newquay with a draw to be proud of.
Practical cookery demonstrations are put on by local chefs. These are possibly the highlight of the festival. Hotels and restaurants in Newquay promote local fresh fish and shellfish and other locally available Cornish produce. The festival will take place in September as a follow on to the main holiday period, a period traditionally blessed with marvellous weather every year.
One well kept secret of Newquay harbour is its lovely beach, which is enjoyed by local people during the busy Newquay holiday season. During Fish Festival week this beach is alive with activity – there will be sand castle competitions, a Punch & Judy show, rock pool shows and all sorts of other organised fun.
Cornwall’s main surf and music festival, Boardmasters brings festival-goers from all over the UK to see five days of surf competition at Fistral Beach, as well as a weekend of live music on the headland at Watergate Bay, with everything from rock to hip-hop and garage.
Run to the sun
Known colloquially as RTTS, this started as a car show for classic VW’s with their surf-culture image, leading to a trail of broken down Beetles and buses on the M5, but has grown into a major modern festival and tourist attraction, with bands, cabaret style stage shows and spin off events like the well-known ‘Riviera Run’ for Minis.
Things to do and visit
As well as the obvious watersports and seaside fun there’s plenty to do in Newquay for all ages.
Just a short walk from Newquay town centre, you can watch big cats tear into their lunch, visit the creepiest of crawlies in the tropical house, and learn all about conservation. Newquay Zoo is home to some very endangered species including beautiful Red Pandas, Owston’s Civets and Black Wildebeest. There are talks and animal feeding throughout the day and plenty to entertain young and old alike.
Blue Reef Aquarium, with ocean views, is situated on Towan Beach overlooking the famous island, directly below the town centre. Enjoy awesome hands-on encounters in “meet the creature” sessions. Fascinating feeding displays and entertaining talks take place throughout the day.
Newquay Riding Stables offer pony trekking and hacking, treks for beginners and nervous riders, and beautiful scenic beach and coastal rides. There is a long ride for the experienced rider (2 hours) and a pub ride. Riding for children as well as adults in this British Horse Society approved school at Trenance.
Newquay Lighthouse Cinema (a pun, we suspect, on projectors, ‘cos it’s not in a lighthouse) is on King St in the centre of the town, if you fancy a movie night. It’s a strikingly beautiful place, for a small town cinema, with four fully digital screens.
Of course Newquay has an 18 hole golf course – a really impressive one, right next to the town, overlooking the sea. It offers a wonderful introduction to links golf to everyone, from beginners to serious golfers and should see you returning to play time and time again.
To walk out on the West Pentire headland which juts out west of Crantock beach, looking back towards Newquay, is an adventure that shouldn’t be missed, especially at sunset. A visit to the Bowgie Inn is also highly recommended! Equally so the east Pentire headland on the other side of the Gannel, next to the golf course and the main part of the town.
Historic aircraft come to life in the unique aviation museum in Newquay. You can see and even travel in classic aeroplanes as they take to the air. This is no stuffy museum – feel and smell real living history, and even fly a full-motion simulator around Newquay for yourself.
If you want to get in the water, but aren’t feeling the sea, try Waterworld. It has two pools, the fun kind and the serious (with lanes) kind, and it’s also a fitness centre, with a 50 station gym and two fitness studios.
We are often asked about the suitability or otherwise of a Cornish destination for dog owners. We’re pleased to tell you that there many pet friendly cottages to rent near Newquay, and that Newquay beaches are, by and large, open to dogs. Chapel Porth and Lustyglaze don’t allow dogs in between Easter and October 1st, but welcome them in the winter months. Great Western, Watergate, Mawgan Porth, Fistral and Crantock are all open to our canine friends all the year round!
Child friendly holidays
Newquay’s beaches are all child friendly, but the best choices for a family day out include Fistral, a sandy beach backed by dunes, and the most popular with surfers. The surf hire and surf school not far from the waters edge are usually a winner. Crantock, too, is family friendly, and its vast expanse offers many things to do, like seal spotting and watersports. Also loads of variety for all the family, such as the impressive dune system, and the historical ruins. But look out for the fast current of the River Gannel on bigger tides – it’s fun, but not for the unsupervised child. Watergate offers a two mile expanse of golden sand at low tide, backed by high cliffs with lots of on-site facilities, including toilets, car parking and numerous restaurants and cafes. For those non-beach days, Newquay also offers a zoo, riding stables, cinema, sea safaris and shopping.
Holiday Cottages in Newquay
We have an excellent selection of rental accommodation to let in the Newquay area. Choose from the fresh, white, almost Mediterranean style that is popular in Cornwall, a barn conversion or the traditional stone, roses around the door fisherman’s cottage of yore. We are sure there’s something for everyone, in Newquay.