The Ocean Coast: Hiking, Surfing, Swimming and Chilling in North Cornwall

It’s hard to pick favourites on the South West Coast Path. Choosing between the many glorious coves, cliffs, bays, beaches, pubs and pasty shops along this 1,000km-long trail is like choosing between children. But if you want an accessible mix of adventures on both land and waves, the North Cornwall coast might edge it.

The lively seaside town of Newquay, easily reached by train, is the place to dip your toe into the addictive surf culture that defines these shores. It has reams of golden beaches, Atlantic breakers crashing in and plenty of experts to teach you how to get up on that board. It also has an appealing array of cafes, bars and restaurants for après-surf cheer. But Newquay is only the beginning. South from here, the National Trail traces dramatic cliffs, dips to tiny inlets, expands to near-endless sands and wends amid Cornwall’s UNESCO-listed mining heritage, where abandoned engine houses loom eerily above the sea. And, of course, there are always opportunities to jump back into that enticing ocean for another surf, paddle or swim.

Tour Overview

The icons below highlight the distance, difficulty and theme of this itinerary.

Days

5

Distance

Walks from 3km to 20km

Difficulty

Moderate / Challenging

Landscape

Rolling Countryside / Connecting Villages & Towns / By Water

Theme

History / Food & Drink / Coastal

Activities & Experiences

Walking / Water Fun / Extreme / Heritage / Wellness

The Ocean Coast: Hiking, Surfing, Swimming and Chilling in North Cornwall

Here’s everything you need to help you plan your very own walking and exploring break on the North Cornwall coast. Click on the blue arrow tabs below for more information. To save this itinerary to view later, use the Save to My Rucksack button at the top of the page.

Itinerary

Spend five days getting to know a magnificent stretch of the Cornish coastline. Walk sections of the South West Coast Path, visit a cliff-top World Heritage Site, soak up the vibrant surf culture, take a surf lesson, go wild swimming and watch the sun set into the sea.

Day 1 Newquay: Surf Heaven

There’s only one thing to do when you arrive in Newquay, ‘surf capital of Cornwall’: get in the water. So dump your bags and head straight to the beach – Fistral, Towan or nearby Watergate Bay are all good options for a bodyboard, paddleboard or surfing lesson.

Alternatively, if you’re looking for a more relaxing start, visit the Headland Hotel Aqua Club for a swim at its cool Mediterranean-style outdoor pool.

Next, work up an appetite with a leisurely pre-dinner loop walk around Newquay Bay. This section of the Coast Path has spectacular views out over the rocky headlands, Atlantic swell and skies filled with storm petrels and terns.

Then find a bite to eat – in Newquay, you’re spoilt for choice. Perhaps opt for the local catch of the day at the Fish House, seafood tapas at the Fish Bar or cool cocktails at Cove24.

Overnight in Newquay. There are many options – see Accommodation, left.

Day 2 Newquay & Perranporth: Classic Coast Path

It’s time to pull on your boots and spend a day walking the National Trail. Buy supplies in Newquay (a pasty, perhaps?), catch a bus south to seaside Perranporth and walk back to Newquay from there.

This stretch is classic South West Coast Path: towering clifftops, huge expanses of sand, secretive coves, rippling dunes, wave-smashed headlands, wildflowers and birds. Challenging? Yes. Rewarding? Every step of the way.

From Perranporth, stride across 3km-long Perran Beach, look out for dolphins, check out the Iron Age defences still visible on Penhale Point, stop for a quick sea swim at tucked-away Porth Joke and walk amid the wildflowers on West Pentire.

Pause at the little thatched village of Crantock to pop into the Bowgie Inn: it has one of the best beer gardens you’ll find anywhere, looking out over the waves. Newquay lies just across the River Gannel, which you can cross by footbridge or ferry, depending on the time and tides.

Overnight in Newquay. There are many options – see Accommodation, left.

 

Day 3 Portreath: Heritage & High-jinks

Time for a change of scene. Send your luggage on to Portreath (bag transfers are easy to arrange), buy picnic goodies and put yourself in a bus or taxi, bound for Chapel Porth.

The area around Chapel Porth is part of the Cornish Mining World Heritage Site, where the natural drama of the coast merges with its human history. Take a short walk via Wheal Coates, one of Cornwall’s most striking mines, perched high on the sheer red cliffs; you can roam around the ruins of the engine house, now surrounded by heather and gorse. Then drop to Chapel Porth’s long sandy beach to investigate the caves and rockpools –  best explored on a falling tide.

Linger with your picnic, maybe reading a few pages of a Rosamunde Pilcher – adaptations of many of the Cornish author’s novels have been filmed hereabouts. Then, depending on your legs, continue along the Coast Path to Portreath, or make the trip by taxi instead.

You may want to save your energy, because an active evening awaits: a magical sunset stand-up paddleboard tour around the rocky coast. There’s nothing quite like seeing the shore from water level, especially as the sun starts to dip into the waves.

Toast an excellent day at the Portreath Arms, where the bar is well-stocked with local ales.

Overnight in Portreath. There are many options – see Accommodation, left.

Day 4 Portreath Downtime

Yesterday was full-on so treat yourself to a lie in and a laid-back brunch at the Tide Line Café. Then head out for another wild, windswept walk, full of fascinating mining heritage and big views.

Starting from Portreath, head inland, using sections of old industrial tramroads to enter the woods of Tehidy Country Park. The return is via the South West Coast Path, an unfurling of high cliffs, tiny isles and rocks pounded into fins and pinnacles by the relentless ocean waves. In summer, the heathland is a riot of wildflowers and gorse.

Take a well-earned rest this afternoon. Maybe finish off that Pilcher book, head to the pub or sit on the headland above Gooden Heath Cove and watch the sun go down.

Overnight in Portreath. There are many options – see Accommodation, left.

Day 5 Glorious Gwithian

Finish your coastal adventure with sand between your toes. Take a taxi south to nearby Gwithian (it should take less than ten minutes) and kick off with a gentle stroll through The Towans (Cornish for ‘dunes’). This is a world sculpted by shifting sand, and full of life – a fifth of all Cornwall’s plant species can be found here, as well as the moths and butterflies they attract.

Alternatively, for a more testing walk, head north from Gwithian to the Knavocks, a cliff-top heath speckled with wildflowers, gazing to Godrevy Lighthouse.

Whichever route you choose, make a beeline for the Jam Pot cafe when you’re done, for lunch tucked into the dunes.

Finally, it’s time for one last dip in the sea. Swim, surf, bodyboard, kayak, SUP – all are possible along Gwithian’s long, enticing beach. Then grab a goodbye drink at the Red River Inn before heading home.

Overnight in Newquay or Portreath. There are many options – see Accommodation, left. Or head home – the nearest train station is in nearby Hayle, which is on the line to Exeter.

 

Accommodation

There’s a good mix of campsites, B&Bs, hotels and self-catering options in Newquay and Portreath.

Newquay
  • Beach Retreats – Luxury coastal cottages with sea views
  • Trenance Holiday Park Camping – Large, well-located park with camping and caravan pitches, chalets and camping pods.
  • Smarties Surf Lodge – Bright, fresh B&B and hostel, a short walk from Fistral
  • Griffin Inn – Family-run pub, hotel and B&B; restaurant and bar offer a range of traditional dishes.
  • Headland Hotel – Luxe clifftop hotel overlooking Fistral Beach; has suites and stylish self-catering cottages.
Portreath
  • Cambrose Touring Park – Small camping and touring park in the Portreath Valley, near Portreath and Porthtowan beaches.
  • Cliff House B&B – Comfortable rooms in a 19th-century house near the harbour.
  • Portreath Arms Hotel – Family-owned bar, restaurant and seven-bedroom hotel in the centre of the village.
  • Haven Holiday Apartments – Two self-catering properties (one one-bed, one two-bed), with views of the sea.

Food & Drink

There’s so much choice – from laidback beach bars where you can squish your toes into the sand to fine-dining spots doing creative things with first-class Cornish produce.

Newquay
  • The Fish House – Award-winning restaurant serving locally caught fish by Fistral Beach.
  • The Fish Bar – Seafood tapas, made using fresh Cornish produce.
  • Kahuna – Pan-Asian fusion restaurant and takeaway.
  • Cove24 – Elegant dining space and cocktail bar; dishes heavy on fish straight from the harbour and Cornish meat and vegetables.
  • Bush Pepper – Contemporary Australian-influenced restaurant, using a mix of the finest Australian and Cornish ingredients.
Beyond
  • Watering Hole, Perranporth – Fantastic bar on the beach.
  • Bowgie Inn, Crantock – Much-loved pub with a panoramic beer garden.
  • The Portreath Arms – Wide range of meals, with veggie and vegan options, and a very well-stocked bar.
  • Tide Line Café, Portreath – Warm welcome and top-notch food.
  • The Jam Pot, Gwithian – Characterful café, based in a listed building overlooking the beach.
  • Red River Inn, Gwithian – Friendly pub serving delicious home-cooked food.

 

Activities

The South West Coast Path is great for linear walks, but it’s easy to make circuits too. And then there’s all that water – great for swimming, surfing, paddling and more.

Walks
  • Newquay circular, 8km – Via the coast path and beaches, with spectacular views over Newquay Bay.
  • Perranporth to Newquay, 20km – Challenging but rewarding walk along a jaw-dropping stretch of the South West Coast Path; views across Holywell Dunes and at Kelsey Head.
  • Chapel Porth & Wheal Cotes, 4.7km – Short walk via one of Cornwall’s most iconic mines; check tide times in order to explore the long sandy beach on a falling tide.
  • Chapel Porth to Portreath, 8km – Great stretch of the South West Coast Path.
  • Basset’s Cove & Tehidy, 7.4km – Through Cornwall’s fascinating mining area; the return is along high cliffs and secret coves.
  • Upton Towans & Gwithian, 3.1km – A gentle stroll through The Towans (Cornish for dunes).
  • Godrevy Island and The Knavocks, 5.3km – A slightly longer walk from Gwithian, with views of Godrevy Lighthouse.
Other
  • Surfing, Newquay – numerous outfitters provide lessons and board hire around Newquay, from Fistral Beach, Towan Beach and nearby Watergate Bay.
  • Headland Hotel Aqua Club, Newquay – Mediterranean-inspired outdoor pool with sun terrace.
  • SUP in a Bag, Newquay & Portreath – SUP tours, including sunset trips.
  • Global Borders, Gwithian – SUP and surf lessons, coasteering and e-bike hire.
  • Portreath Surfing School & Hire Centre – Surf lessons available as well as board and kayak rental.
  • Sunset Surf, Gwithian – Beachside café, bar and surf hire.

For further walking inspiration visit The Outdoor Guide.

Experiences

There are so many ways to experience the North Cornwall Coast.

  • Surfing, Newquay – numerous outfitters provide lessons and board hire around Newquay, from Fistral Beach, Towan Beach and nearby Watergate Bay.
  • Headland Hotel Aqua Club, Newquay – Mediterranean-inspired outdoor pool with sun terrace.
  • SUP in a Bag, Newquay & Portreath – SUP tours, including sunset trips.
  • Global Borders, Gwithian – SUP and surf lessons, coasteering and e-bike hire.
  • Portreath Surfing School & Hire Centre – Surf lessons available as well as board and kayak rental.
  • Sunset Surf, Gwithian – Beachside café, bar and surf hire.
  • Wheel Coates – Dramatic cliff-top mine ruins, part of the Cornish Mining World Heritage site

Coastal England

The South West Coast Path forms part of the England Coast Path.

For further coastal walks visit England’s Coast.

Travel

Great Western Railway runs a regular service from Paddington station to the south west region.

Newquay is accessible by train and bus. Luggage transfers can be arranged if you don’t want to carry bags while walking. To get around, try St Agnes Taxis.

Advice

Coast path walking can be strenuous – expect lots of ups and down, potentially steep paths and potentially vertiginous edges. Gentler options are possible though. The total walking distance of this itinerary is around 50km. Stand-up paddleboarding is relatively easy to pick up but lessons are recommended for novices.

We advise that you check opening times and booking restrictions before travelling.

Please check out these links for latest advice when in the countryside

Countryside Code

COVID-19 Guidance

Interactive Map

Click here to access the interactive map

Maps, Guidebooks & Merchandise

The official guidebook and map for the Trail are available from the National Trails Shop along with a wide range of gifts and other merchandise. The South West Coast Path Association also publish The Complete Guide to the South West Coast Path, available to buy at www.southwestcoastpath.org.uk/shop or FREE when you join the charity as a member.