Cornwall surf holiday: top ten surfing beaches in Cornwall, England
Cornwall is the county at the far south-west of England (and the UK). As the land tapers towards the west, growing narrower until it reaches Land's End, Cornwall is the last mainland stop before North America.
The climate in Cornwall (and Devon, the next county to the east) is much milder than most of the UK's.
The North Atlantic Drift, which keeps the whole country much milder than it would otherwise be, has a particularly strong effect here.
The landscape is often rugged, wind-swept, stark, and beautiful. The softer parts of Cornwall are mostly in the south, and the west and north more uncompromisingly granite.
Cornwall has a long and serious art tradition, with groups of painters such as the St. Ives School and Newlyn School achieving international fame.
Surfing in Cornwall
As the prevailing wind direction is westerly to south-westerly, and there is an awful lot of water south and west of Cornwall, there is good surfing to be had.
The average sea temperature is between 8 to 10 degrees C (45 to 50 F) in the winter, and 14 to 16 (57 to 61) degrees in the summer.
Cornwall's surfing infrastructure is reasonably well-developed, with facilities to buy and hire boards, wetsuits, etc, surfing schools, and lifeguards.
There is also a range of accommodation for different budgets.
I dare say there is fierce disagreement about the best 10 surfing beaches in Cornwall.
These are my favourites, in no particular order.
- Falmouth beaches
Within Falmouth and the immediate vicinity there are a number of beaches. Starting in the north these are Castle Beach, Tunnel Beach, Gyllyngvase (Gylly) Beach, Swanpool Beach and Maenporth Beach.
Fistral Beach, Newquay
Fistral Beach in Newquay is where surfing in the UK got going. Fistral Beach is actually in Newquay, and is divided into South Fistral, NorthFistral and Little Fistral, also known as Fistral Bay.
The origin of the name Fistral is completely unknown. It has absolutely no known links with any European language.
As a result of its reputation, and being the place where most of the surfing competitions take place, Fistral can be pretty crowded. Nevertheless, it’s still a really good surfing beach with extremely consistent waves.
As it faces mostly north, it’s sheltered enough that even in a strong south-westerly wind surfing is still possible.
There are lots of surfing schools here, so it’s an easy place to learn if you haven’t surfed much before.
South Fistral Beach often has great waves and they usually break left. The Beach is best at mid to high tide, but you do have to watch rocks which are underwater at high tide on the right-hand side of the beach.
There are decent facilities at South Fistral, including a toilet block, a place to hire wet suits and boards, and a café kiosk selling drinks and snacks. This beach has a lifeguard.
North Fistral works at all tides if there is a good swell, but the best waves are at low tide. This is one of the most crowded places in the summer and is mostly to the right. You need to be a bit careful on the left of this beach at high tide as there can be a rip current.
There is a car park here, a huge café, places to buy and hire wet suits and surfing gear, surf shops, toilets, baby changing facilities, cold water showers and lifeguard facilities.
Little Fistral is a small bay which can only be surfed at low tide as it is buried at high tide.
There are sand bars which move slightly and the break therefore varies. This is quite a tricky surfing area, and you need to be very careful when the tide is coming in or you can get stuck there.
The facilities are the same as with North Fistral.
Widemouth Bay, Bude
Widemouth Bay is near Bude on the north coast. It’s a really long beach, divided into two parts, and has some fantastic and reliable surfing.
It tends to be best between mid tide and high tide, but it is also possible a lot of the time to surf at low tide.
It does get quite busy here, and from spring to autumn the lifeguards tend to divide the beaches up into areas for proper surfers and areas for swimmers and body boarders.
There is lifeguard cover here, and good facilities including car parking, hiring and buying surf gear, cafes, and cold water showers.
This is one of our favourite beaches in Cornwall, because although it’s busy it’s really quite large.
Perranporth Beach is not far from Newquay and has a really long expanse of sandy beach, slightly over 2 miles long.
At high tide it’s divided into two by the sea, but for the rest of tide it’s one long beach.
Perranporth can get quite busy in the summer but it is a large beach and there is a lot of room.
It’s fairly suitable for beginners unless there is a massive swell.
The northern end of the beach, known as Perran Sands, tends to be less crowded and we tend to go up there.
There are lifeguarding facilities but only on the southern half of the beach.
There are two large car parks, lifeguards in the summer season, and a beach bar, café, and surf shops where you can also hire stuff.
It’s a reliable beach and the surfing there is usually pretty good. The beach is fairly close to Newquay, not far to the south.
At low tide, the headland reflects the swell and generates a really good solid left.
Trebarwith Strand, Tintagel
Trebarwith Strand is in Tintagel.
It’s a place with good and consistent waves and surfers of lots of different abilities can have fun here at different stages of the tide. The waves are pretty consistent and there are some good rights.
There is a lot more space when the tide is lower; at high tide the beach can get a bit more crowded but at low tide it’s fantastic.
It’s pretty difficult to get to, the access by road is poor. But is really worth it, and the difficulties in getting there mean that it tends to be less crowded than other very good beaches in the area.
There are lifeguard facilities, a toilet block, a surf shop, and a pub nearby. Altogether this is a fantastic surfing beach, but good to go if you fancy a day out owing to the fact it’s a bit trickier to get there.
The scenery is absolutely amazing and it’s a really beautiful spot.
Crantock Beach, Newquay
Crantock Beach is a great one in the summer at the height of the surfing season, because although it’s close to Newquay it’s a lot less crowded than the Fistral beaches are.
It’s a consistent beach and suitable for surfers of all abilities.
It has a car park, but it’s fairly small compared with the size of the beach so it’s a good idea to get there early. If you don’t you may have to park quite a long way away and walk a fair distance.
This has the handy advantage of ensuring that the beach is a lot less busy than many of North Cornwall’s surfing beaches.
It has lifeguards in the high season, and a public toilet block. There are pubs in the village nearby, but otherwise there’s not a great deal in the way of facilities.
The beach itself has an absolutely gorgeous fine white sand and this really is a good one to choose.
Porthtowan Beach is absolutely beautiful. It’s surrounded by quite steep headlands with an impressive coastal walk. The sand is a dark gold colour, and fine and even.
This beach is better surfed at mid to high tide. At low tide the sea retreats quite a long way, and this does give a big expance of surf and means that it’s very un-crowded, it does mean it’s a serious trek to the sea.
This beach is better for slightly more advanced surfers and good swimmers only.
At high tide there can be some quite strong rip currents and you need to be careful. It does have some seriously high quality surf.
In terms of facilities, there is a large car park, public toilet block and lifeguard facilities. That’s more or less it on the actual beach, but about a third of a mile away is the village with cafes, surf shops and pubs.
Sandymouth Beach, Bude
Sandymouth Beach is a long expanse of dark golden sand. It has a fantastic break at low to mid tide, but you have to be a lot more careful at high tide as there are a lot of submerged rocks.
Sandymouth is probably better suited to more experienced surfers at mid to high tide and there is great swell.
It’s pretty exposed to westerly winds and there can be some really big swells there.
With a big swell there can be quite a strong riptide, and you need to be aware of this.
It’s a fairly remote beach, about two-thirds of the way from Camelford to Wadebridge, and tends to be less crowded than other North Cornish surfing beaches.
There is a car park, toilet block and a beach shop and café. There are lifeguarding facilities in the summer season.
Polzeath Beach is opposite Padstow. It’s a fantastic surfing beach which has large and reliable waves.
It’s a fantastically beautiful place as well, with views across to Padstow of the Estuary, and cliffs surrounding the beach. It’s a sand and shingle mixed beach with some fantastic rock pools that are great for children and child-minded adults to explore.
It should be noted that the beach is very small at high tide, and Polzeath is therefore probably best mid to low tide.
The beach is probably also better suited to more experienced surfers because the varying nature of the break means you can get both lefts and rights in the middle of the beach and there can be quite a strong riptide. It’s a very reliable surf and can generate some really big waves.
There are two car parks, a toilet and shower block, cafes, and lifeguards in the summer season.
The beach itself is golden fairly fine sand mixed with shingle. The village nearby is pretty good for cafes, pubs and restaurants. There are also quite a lot of children’s activities in the village, so if you want to surf for a bit and then do some other stuff with the kids, this is a particularly good beach.
The wildlife is fantastic here you’ve got a good chance of seeing dolphins, seals and puffins.
Watergate Bay is 3½ miles north of Newquay, and tends to be less crowded than the Newquay beaches.
It’s a beach that’s suitable for all levels of ability.
The water is generally very clean, and the golden sand is fine and smooth.
There are lifeguard facilities in the summer, a good car park, café, surf beaches and a couple of surfing schools.
There are some riptides, but it’s still suitable for beginners. As the beach is quite exposed the surf can be a bit choppy and messy if the wind is on-shore.
In our experience the Bay is best at mid to high tide, but at high tide the right-hand side of the Bay does get some quite strong riptides on occasions.
At low tide there is a huge expanse of beach and even a lot of people still leaves the visitor room. Watergate Bay is 3 miles long.
If the swell is over 6 feet, the surf deteriorates and it’s not really worth visiting.
- Sennen Beach Webcam
Check out the surf at Sennen from the Chapel Idne Surf Shop situated right on the beach. Click refresh for latest images.
Sennen Cove is near Penwith. The village itself is quite small, but the Bay is large and exciting for surfers.
It’s a fantastic surfing beach, good in most tides but not the hour or so either side of high tide. The beach has good waves in most conditions.
Sennen Beach, with fine white sand, is vast in length, particularly at mid to low tide.
There are also some good walks along the coastal path either side of the cove.
Parking can be tricky near the beach although there is ample parking further away it’s not far to the beach but quite a trek back up the hill, especially if you’ve had an active day.
The beach itself can be quite windy. There can be quite a strong riptide but the break to the right is fantastic for surfing.