Lizzie PopeSee other travel guides written by Lizzie Pope
Visit Newquay, promoted as the Surf Capital of the UK and you'll find plenty of surfboards. It's where surfers, from beginners to 'pro' boarders, congregate throughout the seasons eager to make the most of the Atlantic surf that rolls towards the town every second. Fistral Beach, on the west side of town, is the most famous – and deemed one of the best surf beaches in Europe owing to the tide conditions and large swells.
But despite Newquay's reputation as a surfing paradise, there is no denying that the town is in desperate need of regeneration and a spruce up. Newquay town centre is unremarkable, with many of the buildings, shops, entertainments, eateries and hotels looking tired, shabby and several decades outdated. This is not the place to come for an upmarket shopping experience or anything much more than a fatigued amusement arcade.
That said, there is plenty around Newquay to attract – caravan holidays in Cornwall have long been popular and Newquay is a great base for your next tour. 'Centrally' located on the North Cornish coast, Newquay is a great base from which to explore much of Cornwall, with nowhere in the county being more than a few miles away – you can get to the south Cornish coast in less than an hour, Land's End in just over an hour, Padstow in half an hour.
And within a matter of miles, there's plenty on offer too. While Newquay's town centre beaches may be the closest at hand, if you're looking for something a little more special, head to nearby Watergate Bay three miles north east or Holywell Bay, four miles south west (less than a mile along the coast by boat, but in order to get there by car or bike, it's a longer route).
Watergate Bay hosts many of the big surfing events and competitions throughout the year and has a different, more modern vibe about it to central Newquay. The beach is one of the longest in the area with smart cafés and Jamie Oliver's chic Fifteen restaurant based there.
Holywell Bay has an entirely different feel again. While there's nothing much to speak of about the village, the beach is great for young families, with superb shell collecting, sand dunes for playing on, and a clean and shallow stream that drifts across the beach, perfect for paddling in. The surrounding headlands, along which runs the South West Coast Path, provide attractive walking territory.
In between Newquay and Holywell Bay lie the popular Crantock Beach, the Gannel Estuary and Porth Joke. The tidal estuary is a nature reserve with an abundance of wildlife and fish, around which is a circular walk to enjoy the area's ecology.
Porth Joke, otherwise known as Polly Joke, is a tiny beach situated in a narrow cove that's largely ignored by the masses owing to the difficulty in reaching it. Between the headlands of Kelsey Head and Pentire Point, it's necessary to park in the village of West Pentire and walk the half-mile along a rough path. Once there, it's superb for rock-pooling and exploring caves, or enjoying the sand without lots of other people!
Inland, explore the peaceful Lappa Valley, a sun-soaked valley that was once, like so much of Cornwall, a mining community. An attractive way to view the valley is with a gentle ride along the one-mile Lappa Valley Steam Railway, between the old mine at East Wheal Rose and Benny Halt. You can see the workings of East Wheal Rose mine and learn something of the background to the building of the minerals railway.
Close by is Trerice, a beautiful National Trust-owned Elizabethan manor house with delightful gardens, perfect for enjoying some quiet time in this picturesque area of countryside so close to Newquay. There you can play Kayles in the garden, a Cornish equivalent to ten-pin bowling.
Back in town, aside from the Blue Reef Aquarium on the seafront, Newquay's biggest attraction is Newquay Zoo, where over 130 creatures from around the world are ready to meet and greet, from armadillos and antelope to lemurs, lorikeets and zebras.
Top five things to do in Newquay
Enjoy a day's fishing, fighting with a conger eel or searching for mackerel. Setting off from the harbour, Newquay Sea Safaris and Fishing provides the rods, reels, bait and tuition. What's more, you get to keep what you catch!
Take a pleasure flight on board a classic aircraft at Classic Air Force from the Aerohub at Newquay Cornwall Airport. Select from a relaxing tour in an iconic biplane, the Dragon Rapide, experience cruising in a vintage Percival Prentice or enjoy the thrill of aerobatics in a Chipmunk.
Try a falconry experience at the Cornish Birds of Prey Centre near St Columb Major, eight miles from Newquay. Choose between a one-hour handling experience getting up close to owls, hawks and falcons, or opt for the longer half-day falconry experience with hands-on interaction and the opportunity to fly a hawk.
Visit the Blue Reef Aquarium to witness creatures of the deep, not just from the Cornish coastline, but from the Mediterranean and tropical waters too. There are regular talks and feeding displays and you can come face-to-face with giant crabs, sharks and the largest octopus species in the world.
Visit the Trenance Gardens and Leisure Park to get away from the bustle of the beaches. There, you'll find a boating lake with rowing and pedal boats for hire, or enjoy a stroll through the gardens or a glass of wine at the lakeside café.
When to visit Newquay
Unsurprisingly, many of Newquay's events revolve around surfing and the water, with the town holding the National Surfing Championships and the British Stand Up Paddle Association National Championships, both at Watergate Bay in May and October respectively. In September the town hosts the hugely competitive Ladies' and Mens' County Gig Championships, heralding the end of the gig rowing season in Cornwall.
August sees the Boardmasters Festival taking place at both Fistral Beach and Watergate Bay, a combination of surfing, skateboarding, BMX and live music all rolled into one. Likewise, two months prior, the evolving Electric Beach Festival combines music and surf at Watergate Bay.
If you want to keep out of the water on your caravan holidays in Newquay, but like the taste of what's in it, the Newquay Fish Festival in September is the one for you. With lots of fish dishes cooked on the quay in Newquay's harbour by local chefs, you can try and buy all things fishy, while enjoying local entertainment.
And before all of that kicks off, there's Art8, Newquay's arts and culture festival, in May, a celebration of local cultural and artistic activity with four days of events, exhibits and workshops.
How to get to Newquay
For caravan holidays in Cornwall with Newquay as the destination, drive to junction 31 of the M5, then follow the A30 (dual carriageway) through Devon and Cornwall. Take the A39 off the A30 at Indian Queens, before soon turning onto the A392, then remain on the A392 for west of the town and Fistral Beach, or use the A3058 for east of the town, Watergate Bay and Porth Beach.
All the main roads into Newquay are fine for towing caravans. Most of the big caravan parks around Newquay are based on or close to wide, main roads so access is good. The B3276 between Newquay and Padstow is twisty and with hills, but nothing that a caravan with a decent tow car won't negotiate.