There’s always plenty going on in North Cornwall, enough to keep the whole family occupied. Whether you’re looking for some action and adventure or something more stately and serene, you’ll be sure to find the perfect setting for a memorable family day out.
Here’s our picks from a long list of things to do in North Cornwall…
The rugged cliffs of North Cornwall play host to a ruin steeped in the romance of Arthurian legend. Tintagel Castle sits high on the headland between Padstow and Bude, an ancient site traversed by a discreet network of steps, paths and bridges providing majestic coastal views at every turn. Take a journey back in time to learn about this once royal stronghold and thriving seaport, then immerse yourself in the folklore of King Arthur by following the stone compass and reading the story stones where history becomes legend. Discover the Dark Age settlement where Cornwall’s first kings governed their realms and descend to the beach on the ebbing tide to explore Merlin’s Cave, the inspiration for writers and artists down the centuries.
With more than 1,000 of the world’s rarest and most endangered species to encounter and thirteen acres of lush, tropical gardens to explore, Newquay Zoo will keep you captivated for hours. From roaring lions to sleeping sloths, it’s a chance to learn all about amazing creatures from distant lands and their incredible habits and survival skills. Let the kids run wild along the Tarzan Trail and go ape in the play area, then try to solve the Dragon maze in time for a late lunch at Café Lemur. Make some furry, slithery, and feathery friends when you enjoy a colourful day out at Newquay Zoo.
A holiday in North Cornwall wouldn’t be complete without cycling at least part of the magnificent Camel Trail. Stretching 18 miles from Wenfordbridge, through Bodmin and Wadebridge to Padstow, this beloved cycle trail is perfect for a family day out as it is largely traffic free, surfaced and virtually level the whole way. Following a disused railway line, it meanders through the beautiful wooded countryside of the Camel Valley before hugging the edge of the stunning Camel Estuary. Bikes can be hired from Wenfordbridge, Bodmin, Wadebridge or Padstow, and there are plenty of places to stop for refreshments along the way. If 18 miles seems a little too far, our favourite section from Wadebridge to Padstow is only 5.5 miles, and offers spectacular views across the estuary to Rock.
Blue Reef Aquarium
It’s an opportunity to come face-to-face with ocean creatures in their natural habitat. From freshwater turtles and pufferfish to caiman crocs and octopuses, just some of the residents who occupy the incredible underwater worlds at Newquay’s Blue Reef Aquarium. At the heart of the aquarium is the underwater tunnel where you’ll literally be walking the reef alongside angelfish, pufferfish, wrasse and schools of iridescent and brightly-coloured sea-dwellers. Lurking further in the depths are sharks, rays, moray eels and lionfish, magnificent sea beasts that are as gentle as they are ferocious, such is the harmony of the seabed. Learn how the black tip reef shark (one of the aquarium’s largest tenants) hunts the coral reefs and how the highly-intelligent giant pacific octopus can change its colour and skin pattern to mimic its surroundings. Fill your heads with oceanic wonder when you visit this popular North Devon attraction.
Fistral Beach, Newquay
The North Cornwall surf scene has never been so vibrant, and nowhere more so than the golden half-mile stretch known as Fistral Beach. Wave-riders travel from far and wide to drop in on Fistral’s gleaming Atlantic rollers which also take centre stage on the UK Pro Surf Tour. The northern reef known as the Cribbar is where the big barrels roll with some waves reaching heights of forty feet or more. Fistral attracts watersports enthusiasts of all standards with *gremmies and grommets* signing up for surf school to learn the ropes before graduating into bona fide salty surf dudes. There’s no age barriers to surfing so the whole family can give it a go, but if it’s really not your bag then watching the wipeouts from the sand dunes with an ice cream is also an option.
*Gremmie; someone who can’t surf very well. Grommet; A young surfer
A Fish ‘n’ Chip Supper in Padstow
But not just any old fish ‘n’ chips, not when you buy them from celebrity chef Rick Stein and his award-winning seafood restaurant and takeaway on Padstow waterfront. Accompanied by delightful views of the Camel Estuary, you can dangle your feet off the old harbour wall and tuck into a sumptuous portion of one of Britain’s most classic takeaway dishes. Choose from a rage of fresh local fish all coated in a golden batter (made from a secret recipe) plus all the old favourite accoutrements, including mushy peas and curry sauce. All the restaurant’s fish options are available gluten free, and, in the spirit of fairness, other excellent Padstow chippies are also available. Discover one of Cornwall’s top seafood locations when you visit the delightful port town of Padstow.
It’s one of Cornwall’s most celebrated country houses. Set on a magnificent estate on the wooded fringes of Bodmin Moor, Lanhydrock is a late Victorian manor refurbished after the ravages of a fire in 1881. The house encapsulates the classic ‘upstairs downstairs’ bygone etiquette, a contrast of refinement and practicality that will keep you fascinated at every turn. Outside, you can lose an afternoon exploring the stunning lawn gardens, woodland glades and riverside trails, and not forgetting the impressive collections of camellias, magnolias and rhododendrons. Hire bikes and discover the leafy off-road cycle tracks which also embrace family-friendly routes and exciting paths for novice riders.
Bude Sea Pool
Bude Sea Pool has provided dippers with a swimming safe haven since the 1930s. Built into the cliffs at Summerleaze Beach, the sheltered pool is just shy of 100 metres in length and offers an abundance of calm water with both shallows and deeps. This gorgeous community lagoon is a lovely place to bring the family on a sparkling summer’s day before discovering the rest of this charming coastal town, and, despite the annual maintenance costs, the facility remains free of any admission charge.
Port Isaac is a picturesque fishing village with narrow winding streets lined with whitewashed fishermen’s cottages. This charming seaside village is perhaps best known as the location for the TV series Doc Martin starring Martin Clunes. After you’ve visited the Doc’s house, head down to the harbour to watch the local fishermen land their daily catch of fish, crab or lobster or potter along the little harbour beach. Based in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and on the Atlantic Heritage Coast, there are beautiful views whichever way you look. During the summer months, fishing and scenic trips can be taken from Port Isaac’s harbour, whilst the South West Coast Path offers stunning coastal views at any time of year.
Lappa Valley Steam Railway
Set in the heart of North Cornwall lies the Lappa Valley Steam Railway, a leisure park that runs to the chug of an exquisite, minimum gauge steam railway. Hop aboard the Duke of Cornwall from Carylon Bay near St Austell and follow the wends of the Lappa river bound for the East Wheal Rose. Set up in the 1970s, this family attraction also includes a canoeing and boating lake, a toddler’s path maze, crazy golf, play areas and nature trails, but the stars of the show remain the quarter-sized and miniature railways which chunter past the wooded glades, under bridges and through tunnels, traversing the flowery meadows for a charming countryside tour of this delightful corner of North Cornwall.
It’s a vast expanse of Cornish wilderness criss-crossed by ancient tracks and age-old hill passes running along the foothills of remote, granite tors. With endless circular walks to follow, Bodmin Moor is one of the West Country’s most cherished uplands and a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, a place where moorland ponies roam the heathered tussocks. It’s also the setting for some of the region’s most romantic tales, from the dashing heroics of writer Winston Graham’s most noble protagonist, Captain Ross Poldark, to Daphne du Maurier’s period masterpiece, Jamaica Inn. Yes, it can be brooding and bleak, but it’s also beautiful and inspiring with sweeping views from coast-to-coast.
Brown Willy is the highest summit in Cornwall and lies close to the hamlet of Bolventor, surrounded by the wilds of Bodmin Moor. The name Brown Willy comes from the Cornish Bronn Wennili, which means ‘hill of swallows’. Standing at its dual summit, some 420 metres above sea level, are two man-made cairns, adding to its sugarloaf appearance. Enjoy bird’s-eye views that stretch the breadth of Cornwall from Looe to Tintagel when you clamber this loftiest of mounts.
Not far from the port town of Padstow stands the magnificent sea stacks known as the Bedruthan Steps. Follow the spectacular stretch of clifftop coastal path from Carnewas past Porth Mear Cove to gaze upon these gigantic outcrops that tower above the crashing Atlantic swells, arguably one of the most impressive sights in all of Cornwall. When night-time falls, the sea stacks become giant, inky-black shadows under a blanket of twinkling stars and the far-distant glow of the Milky Way, one of the best stargazing spots in the country and a recipient of ‘Dark Sky’ status.
The legend attached to these iconic rocks tells of an enormous giant travelling by the name Bedruthan who would use the sea stacks as steps to traverse the Atlantic coast, no doubt helping himself to one or two hillside sheep along the way. The sea stacks have their own individual names; (from north to south) Queen Bess, Samaritan Island, Redcove Island, Pendarves Island and Carnewas Island, and remain one of North Cornwall’s most photographed settings.
Coasteering in Bude
If you’re looking for an adrenaline-fuelled coastal adventure full of rock jumps, sea caves and turbulent swims, then a day coasteering North Cornwall-style will surely satisfy your wanderlust. Under the expert eye of the instructors from Cornish Coasteering, you’ll discover the dramatic and stunning North Cornwall coast in a way like no other. Feel the energy rush as you ride waves, negotiate rocks and gullies and navigate smugglers’ coves and hidden beaches using a combination of teamwork and daring. There is no better way to experience the drama of this rugged stretch of the magnificent South West peninsula.