The best 12 things to do in Newquay
Heading to Newquay? You'll be needing our Muddy Insider Guide to the 12 best things that the UK's surf capital has to offer, including where to eat, drink, shop and get your culture fix.
Newquay is on the north coast of Cornwall and if you’ve thought of visiting but then changed your mind, you should think again for 2022! The town has been quietly undergoing a transition over the last few years and shaking off some of its previous reputations whilst retaining the crown of surf capital of the UK. It is also more accessible than ever – Cornwall Airport Newquay is the fastest growing airport in the UK, with regular all year-round flights from major UK cities as well as Alicante and Portugal.
But what should you do if you’re headed over for the day, or even weekend?
Eat (and drink)
Newquay is one of Cornwall’s rising stars in terms of foodie destinations, and we have it on good authority that Nathan Outlaw is often spotted here, plus Gordon Ramsey has regularly eaten in and highly lauded the Fish House restaurant just above Fistral Beach, where you’ll also find Rick Stein’s Newquay restaurant.
For fancier dining, head just out of town to Watergate Bay where you’ll find Emily Scott‘s eponymous beachside restaurant (below).
We also rate Sushea (antipodean style sushi), Gilmores (tacos and mini golf), and down at Great Western Beach you’ll find the Great Western Beach Cafe who host regular evening events – we hope their regular Ramen Nights return. Canteen at the Orchard is a local’s fave to head for lunch.
More café style options for flat whites and buddha bowl type foods include Pavilion (other branches are in London Fields), Box and Barber, Jam Jar, and Nalu, as well as Palm Bay (sister to Strong Adolfos near Wadebridge) and Sprout, which is also a health-food shop.
For drinking, the cocktails at Tom Thumb are a Muddy fave, and we also like Rob & Tonya’s wine bar, The Bottle in Wesley Yard. We also hear good things about Brew and Tattoo (get a tattoo with your flat white / local ale as it is a tattoo parlour, coffee shop and bar all in one).
Newquay of course is also the party capital of Cornwall with more than its share of nightlife, and those with teens or who’ve lived around these parts for a while will still find the old familiar faves Sailors, Berties and Tall Trees, among others, open for business, many bars now don’t allow groups in who are dressed in fancy dress – so, yes, things really have changed.
Go to the beach
With seven beaches within walking distance of the town centre, and more just up and down the coast, you’re spoilt for choice in Newquay if you fancy a beach day. They all offer different things including wide sandy beaches, rolling surf, calm waters for SUPing, diving and kayaking.
Above you can see the Harbour, and Towan. Great Western (below left) has it’s own little café, lifeguards and during the evenings watch the surfers, swimmers and boot camp fitness taking place. Next round heading north is Tolcarne, then the privately owned Lusty Glaze which hosts all sorts of awesome music events, Muddy’s fave Silent Disco Beach Yoga and where you can hire jet skis, and then Porth which is great for kids and rockpooling. Watergate Bay is the next beach north, with fantastic surf and is dog-friendly.
To the south of Newquay harbour is Fistral and Little Fistral (below right), with the beaches either side of the Gannel and Crantock, West Pentire and Polly Joke marking the furthest south that probably counts as Newquay.
Shop til you drop
You won’t find (m)any big names here, unless we’re talking surf brands – and there are plenty of those – but Newquay has some great independents including Muddy faves MMW at Revolver and The Good Lyfe, a plastic-free, ethical store, selling zero-waste dry foods (including rice, pasta, beans, lentils, herbs and spices), refillable laundry and cleaning liquids, and personal care and homeware products.
We also like Roo’s Beach, which is just round the corner in Porth, and, if you head just in-land to pastel-hued Duchy created Nansledan you’ll find Muddy Award winning interiors store Teylu Trading, as well as finalists Home Nansledan and Bliss Bridal Gowns. Other shops include Annanotherthing, &Kin and Love of Lemons vintage store.
Swim in the harbour
Newquay’s wild / cold water swimmers are multiple in number and groups as well as vocal in their support of encouraging newcomers to take their first freezing steps, with groups heading to the harbour / nearby Towan beach pretty much every day of the week. Just remember that the harbour only has water in either side of high tide, and that is it is a working harbour, so stay away from the boats and don’t swim in the entrance. Check out the BlueTits (everyone) and Swimmin Wimmin (women only) and Wild Swim Newquay (everyone) for more.
Go for a surf
Newquay is the UK’s surf capital, with Fistral is the UK’s premier surfing beach, and the annual Boardmasters surf festival the most high-profile surfing event in the UK (Surfing England run competitions as well as during the year). Just hauling on a wetsuit and dipping a toe in doesn’t count as having a go, and yet hiring a board and jumping straight in might seem a little daunting, and we don’t blame you; those waves can carry some serious power.
We recommend either heading for a gentler wave over at Towan (the other side of the headland, where it is more sheltered) or Great Western Beach (both of which are lifeguarded in the summer) and/or getting a lesson. If you want to make a proper weekend of it, women’s surf collective Women + Waves are a great place to start, or, for a lesson, head to Newquay Activity Centre on Fore Street and they’ll have you standing up within the hour. If surfing ain’t your bag, NAC also offer coasteering, stand up paddle boarding, bodyboarding, kayaking and more… (or, duck under the water and look at the bottom instead, with Dive Newquay who also run underwater beach clean style dives).
Go to a festival
Boardmasters is the standout festival choice here, it’s Cornwall’s big one and takes place in August. Headliners for 2022 include George Ezra, Disclosure and Kings of Leon. The live music and pro surfing on the stunning Cornish coast is hosted across two beautiful locations, and while it’s a must on the teenage bucket list, don’t let that put you off. The festival site sits on the cliff top at Watergate Bay, home to arguably the world’s best festival view. Expect twelve stages, with a collection of acts ranging from local acoustic talent, to mind-bending visual performers, to international headliners.
Also worth checking out is Cornwall Pride – the annual celebration of diversity in Cornwall. This traditional Pride event includes a colourful and vibrant parade from Towan Beach, Rainbow Fest with an afternoon of live music at Newquay’s Killacourt and a ticketed evening ‘Moonbow’ party.
And don’t forget the smaller events too, like the Newquay Fish Festival which Newquay Harbour hosts annually, well, except for the past two years with Covid postponements. Expect a fantastic fish themed festival, with stalls, cooking demonstrations and music, celebrating Cornwall’s huge fishing heritage and culture. Or the Watergate Bay Sprint, held in September.
This two-day closed road speed event provides competitors with a unique closed-road challenge and spectators superb viewing above the cliffs at Watergate Bay.
See some animals
And we don’t mean the stag parties, although at the right time of night you can find them too, despite Newquay shaking off that stag/hen capital reputation. No, we mean actual wildlife.
Newquay Zoo has dozens of different animals across 13 acres, including lions, penguins, sloths, red pandas, monkeys, tapirs and more, and you’ll find it just outside the town centre, handily next to the Waterworld Leisure Centre and Better Extreme Trampoline and Play Park if you are looking for things to do to entertain your kids.
If sea life is more to your style, head to the Blue Reef Aquarium just above Towan beach where you’ll find 40 naturally-themed habitats – taking you on a journey from the Cornish coasts to the exotic seas – plus an underwater tunnel.
Head to the spa
Open to both day guests and residents at the Fistral Hotel, Fistral Spa is an adults only retreat from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Overlooking Fistral beach, the spa has nine treatment rooms, a heated indoor pool, hot tub, steam room and fitness suite, allowing you to experience inner-calm and outer-beauty.
At the other end of Fistral beach, you’ll find the 5* The Headland Hotel & Spa, which not only has the Muddy-award winning Elemis spa housed in the iconic terracatta building, it also has the new Aqua Club, a swimming and wellbeing complex with six indoor and outdoor pools, sun deck looking over the beach and its own restaurant, open to day guests as well as residents. I swam by myself outside in the pouring rain and it was still gorgeous, even better in the hot Cornish sunshine.
You’ll probably want to drive but it’s only just up the road to the Swim Club, at Watergate Bay Hotel, in Watergate Bay. It’s their take on a spa, built to blur the boundary between beach and hotel. Swim in the infinity pool or have a treatment and watch the surfers in the water, relax in the Ocean Room lounge by the roaring fire or in the hot tub on the deck looking over the Atlantic. Treatments use their own Land + Water products, which smell divine, and we love the pedicure stations which have their own window so you can watch the surfers whilst you get your nails done.
If more local, less hotel is your thing – book into the Water & Stone Wild Spa – a popup Nordic Spa currently hosted at C-Space, or, go for full on embrace of Finnish sauna culture at Sauna Society at Watergate Bay where you can do private hire or just join in a communal session (that’s the view!) — from May 2022 onwards.
Indulge in some culture
It’s not the thing that Newquay is most known for, for sure, but if you know where to look, you’ll find all sorts of cultural goings-on. Bringing together the best of creativity, community and connection through spoken word, open-mic, music, workshops, performance, Sprout Spoken, and Spout & About host regular events (look out for Hollie McNish in April).
Clemo Books is an independent bookshop with a difference. With no permanent location they exist online and pop up at events across Newquay – like the monthly farmers market, as well as hosting visiting authors for book tours and other literary events. Meanwhile, theatre buffs can check out the Lane Theatre, run by Newquay Amateur Dramatic Society (whose Honorary Patrons include none other than Philip Schofield).
For the last two years, Cornwall’s surf mag has hosted a summer of cult films including Cornish surf classic, Blue Juice, as well as other surf and classic movies, all on a clifftop looking over Watergate Bay at the Wavelength Drive-In Cinema. Sadly we’ve just heard that Cornwall Council turned down their licence for this year, so they’re running a festival in Devon instead. Watch this space and we will update with more if the situation changes.
Art wise, North Coast Asylum and Alma Artspace are both worth checking out – North Coast Asylum is a gallery in a grade II listed Gothic Church Hall turned brand new Art Gallery & Event Space hosting regular exhibitions of local artists. Meanwhile Alma is a pop-up collaboration run by two photographers, hosting events and exhibitions in a variety of spaces, including Arbo / Slow Response Coffee shop in Mount Wise Car Park – the duo most recently collaborated with Wild Wine Club and other chefs on a fundraising supper club for Ukraine – keep an eye on their Insta for more.
Take afternoon tea
Always a winner especially for parties of all ages. You can have a good walk on Fistral Beach first, then swan up to The Headland Hotel’s Samphire Restaurant for afternoon tea with a sensational surf-side view. Their traditional afternoon tea comes with all the bells and whistles and is one of the more affordable of the fancy hotel options – the current Spring offering includes four different sandwiches including smoked salmon with black pepper cream cheese and chicken and pea shoot with tarragon mayonnaise, plus cakes, including orange and rosewater trifle, white chocolate and pistachio cake and The Headland Pavlova. If you order the kids afternoon tea, sandwich options include jam, much to the delight of my son!
If something more adults-only and boozy is your thing, then the Bottomless Afternoon Tea at Oceanside Hotel might hit the spot- from March 24th, you can indulge your fancy any day of the week, between 1pm – 5pm (booking only).
Get in touch with your spiritual side
One of my favourite things about Newquay are the spiritual-type events that pop up on the beaches. I absolutely love Jen and Stretch from Oceanside Yoga and their collaboration with the local Silent Disco provider to host Silent Disco Yoga pop-up events across Cornwall – and their meditations are super relaxing. My personal favourite event so far I’ve been to though was the Ibiza Classics Yoga on Lusty Glaze (the beach venue itself won best wedding venue at the recent Muddy awards, and you may also have seen it on Gordon’s Future Food Stars). You can also find Silent Disco Yoga on Fistral (like the one in March) as well as other iconic Cornish locations. Also worth seeking out are events like Women’s Circles and Sound Baths, which are also held on west facing Fistral as the sun goes down and the tide goes out — you’ll need to check out Facebook / keep an eye on our events guide as they often pop up last minute.
Seek out some flowers
Technically all of these are just outside Newquay but still a must – we love the wild flower meadows at West Pentire (just over the other side of the Gannel) and flowering around June each each year. Also worth checking out is one of Cornwall’s lesser known but still lovely National Trust properties Trerice (an Elizabethan manor house with fine interiors and a beautiful walled garden) and just up from Watergate Bay there’s also the Japanese Garden at St Mawgan.
Fancy making a weekend of it? Head for these Muddy approved hotels!
The Esplanade Hotel re-opened in May 2021 after a complete refresh and refurb. Overlooking the famous surf beach, Fistral, Newquay, the hotel is famed for its laid back beach vibe, free family activities during the school holidays and on-site surf school.
Exclusively for adults, Fistral Beach Hotel & Spa is a contemporary hotel overlooking the UK’s best surfing beach has 71 cool comfortable rooms and suites, a stylish spa, laidback lounge bar and buzzy beachside restaurant.
Self catering more your thing? Crantock Bay Apartments are 5-star luxury self-catering properties, all with glorious sea views, just over the Gannel at Crantock / West Pentire (below). Or, check out options in Newquay itself via Cornish Secrets, Stay in Cornwall, and Luxury Coastal.