A guide to surfing holidays in Cornwall  

Coastal, Watersports, The Great British Outdoors

Posted by Ruth on 1st June 2021

Surfing in Cornwall

If you dream of surfing perfect waves in a turquoise sea that’s fringed by soft golden sand, you don’t need to book a long-haul flight to the Caribbean to make it a reality. There is a reason that Cornwall is known as the UK’s capital of surfing: yes, it is the first known location where a man took to the waves on a board in the British Isles, but it's also due to the quality of the swell from the wild Atlantic Ocean – coupled with the sheer beauty of the beaches – that draws surfers of all abilities, all year round, from all over the world. Put quite simply, why would you go anywhere else?

And whether you’re a complete novice or pretty much a pro, Cornwall has a beach to match board riders of any ability. While we want everyone to experience Cornwall’s epic beaches, safety has to come first, so make sure you check the conditions before you leave and pay attention to the lifeguards - you can read up on how to stay safe at the beach in our guide. If you’re a complete beginner, we’d recommend booking in for some surf lessons too, where you can learn under the careful eye of the pros.

Cornwall surfing destinations

If you’re planning your next surfing holiday to Cornwall, we’ve selected a few of our favourite beaches where you can ride the best Cornish waves – plus nearby surf schools or surf hire centres – as well as some of our finest coastal cottages that are just right for a post-surf siesta. So all that’s left for you to do is pack your bags, wax up your board and start practising your surf lingo!

Cornwall coastal cottages

Best surfing beaches in Cornwall for beginners



This huge sandy beach is one of the best places to learn to surf in Cornwall. While its proximity to up-market Rock and Padstow means it attracts a large number of holidaymakers (even David Cameron was pictured taking to the water here in 2018), there’s plenty of room for everyone. The beach is fairly wide and extends a quarter of a mile out to sea at low tide, so beginner board riders can learn without the fear of taking anyone out in the process.

When you’re surfed out, Polzeath village is packed with things to do – you can check out the cafes and shops that line the street or head further afield to explore John Betjeman’s resting place at St Enodoc Church. Nearby, you’ll find the charming town of Wadebridge, the family-friendly Camel Creek Adventure Park and, of course, the famous fish restaurants of Padstow and Rock where you can enjoy the catch of the day.

Surf school nearby: Surf’s Up Surf School

Stay nearby: Polzeath Bluebird | sleeps 4 + 1 dog

Polzeath cottages



Just down the coast from Polzeath is another family-friendly beach which is blessed with slow and gentle waves and a huge sandy beach. Not only is Harlyn one of the best surfing beaches in Cornwall for beginners, but it has plenty of rock pools to keep younger ones entertained too, as well as lots of room for beach games, spreading out deckchairs and windbreaks, or simply relaxing in the sheltered bay.

You’ll find a large car park and facilities like toilets and a small café, but the nearest village is a fair walk away, so make sure you pack a picnic. One of the best things about this beach – other than the great surf – is that dogs are welcome all year round so the whole family can enjoy an unforgettable day at the beach together!

Surf school nearby: Harlyn Surf School

Stay nearby: Tregavone Barn, Padstow | sleeps 6

St Merryn cottages

Widemouth Bay

Widemouth Bay

One of the nine impressive beaches found in and around Bude, this is one of the best places to learn to surf in North Cornwall and is a great option if you’re staying anywhere near the Devon/Cornwall border. Bude is only 2 miles north of this beach, but its peaceful feel makes it seem much further away. Due to its reputation as a great surfing beach, there are plenty of surf schools to choose from that will get you standing up and riding the waves in no time, as well as ample facilities like parking, a café and toilets.

Dogs are welcome on the Black Rock section of this huge sandy beach all year round too, plus you can explore the South West Coast Path for longer walks on two or four legs. There are plenty of restaurants, pubs and cafes to explore in Bude town centre for when you need some post-surf refreshment – alongside more great beaches if you’ve been caught by the surfing bug!

Surf school nearby: Freewave Surf Academy

Stay nearby: Gwelmore, Widemouth Bay | sleeps 6 + 3 dogs

Widemouth Bay cottages

Watergate Bay

Watergate Bay

We couldn’t mention learning to surf in Cornwall without mentioning Newquay – the home of surfing in the UK. This North Cornwall town has an incredible 15 beaches to choose from, and we think Watergate Bay is your best choice if you’ve not got that much experience with a surfboard.

Leave the tiny coves and fast, barrelling waves to the pros – Watergate Bay is 2 miles north of the town and is that much quieter for it outside of the summer peak. The long stretch of golden sand, sheltered by cliffs, means there’s plenty of space to learn and it’s easily accessed from Newquay airport too, making it a hassle-free location for a Cornwall surfing holiday. There are a few cafes in Watergate Bay for your caffeine fix, plus you’ve got the benefit of Newquay’s thriving nightlife on your doorstep if you want to dance the night away.

Surf school nearby: Extreme Academy

Stay nearby: Trevarrian Ocean View, Newquay | sleeps 6 + 2 dogs

Watergate Bay cottages



If you’ve got dreams of a Caribbean holiday but your budget doesn’t quite stretch that far, allow us to introduce you to Porthmeor. With soft white sands bordering a turquoise sea, you could easily be convinced you’ve left the UK for a surfing holiday – but you’ll actually find yourself in the centre of super-arty St Ives.

Porthmeor offers a consistent and gentle beach break, although it gets popular in peak season – and it’s easy to see why. As the beach is slap-bang in the middle of St Ives, you’ll have your pick of the town's cafes and restaurants to dine out in afterwards, not to mention the numerous galleries where you can get your culture fix. And if you can’t wait until your next surf, don’t worry – you can check the report on the webcam!

Surf school nearby: St Ives Surf School

Stay nearby: Sandy Cove Cornwall, St Ives | sleeps 4 + 2 dogs

St Ives cottages

Great British Coast

Best surfing beaches in Cornwall for experts



If you’re going to visit the UK’s surfing capital – Cornwall – it would be silly not to also head to Cornwall’s most famous surfing beach: Fistral. Not only is it one of the country’s top surfing destinations but the world’s, home to all the UK’s major surfing competitions including Boardmasters. Its two headlands make the surf generous and consistent – a great challenge for surfers of all abilities.

Fistral’s central location in Newquay means you’re close to plenty of board hire shops as well as cafes, pubs and restaurants for when you'd need to warm up after hours spent in the sea. Or, for the very experienced, you could check out The Cribbar, a reef off Newquay’s Towan headland that’s home to some of the country’s largest waves – which can reach up to 30ft high!

Surf hire nearby: Fistral Beach Surf School

Stay nearby: Cribber Point, Newquay | sleeps 6 + 1 dog

Newquay cottages



This popular South Cornwall surf spot is formed over reef – as opposed to sandy beaches that are great for learning – making it a destination for expert surfers. The powerful wave breaks onto a shallow ledge so scrapes and cuts are common if you can’t navigate the tricky surf. That said, it’s a favourite with Cornwall’s top surfers for its epic hollow barrels.

Whether you fancy getting in the water or just spectating, Porthleven is a charming little fishing town with plenty of pubs and cafes to dine out in, plus there’s a lovely walk along the South West Coast Path to the picturesque Loe Bar – great if you’ve got dogs in tow too!

Surf hire nearby: Dan Joel Surf School

Stay nearby: Sowanna Farm Cottage, Mullion | sleeps 4

Porthleven cottages

Praa Sands

Praa Sands

Just up the coast from Porthleven and only 8.5 miles from Penzance is this sandy beach break. Praa Sands matches Porthleven in size and produces a fast, barrelling wave at high tide. Its reputation as a quality surf spot means that it also gets crowded on a good day; some view it as the best surfing beach on the whole of Cornwall’s south coast.

The beach itself is extremely picturesque with a long stretch of golden sand flanked by cliffs. The small village has a few cafes and restaurants and is also home to a haunted castle! If you want to give the waves a miss, you can walk the South West Coast Path east to discover a tin mine, or west to the stunning Prussia Cove and the National Trust’s Cudden Point nature reserve.

Surf hire nearby: Global Boarders Surf Co.

Stay nearby: Praa View | sleeps 6

Praa Sands cottages



Heading back to Cornwall’s wild north coast, Porthtowan is a great surfing beach with hollow, peaky waves – but the shifting sandbars mean no surf is the same as the next! As the sandbars shift, they create rip currents, so you need to know your stuff if you’re surfing this break. However, it offers some of the best surfing in Cornwall when the winds are from the south-west as the cliffs shelter the beach.

Porthtowan is in between the St Agnes Heritage Coast and the Godrevy Heritage Coast so it’s a beautiful coastal destination whether you’re looking to take to the water or stay on dry land. Wild swimmers can take a dip in the tidal pool, or there’s a lovely walk north to Chapel Porth – itself a secret surfing beach – and onto the tin mines at Wheal Coates.

Surf hire nearby: Tris Surf

Stay nearby: The Cove Porthtowan | sleeps 4 + 2 dogs

Porthtowan cottages



At the opposite end of St Ives Bay from Porthmeor and at the southern end of the Godrevy Heritage Coast, you’ll find Gwithian. While Godrevy and Gwithian are essentially opposite ends of the same beach, Godrevy has much smaller waves while Gwithian is where the locals go for some of the finest waves in Cornwall. It’s very crowded in summer and can get quite rippy, but both of those things are worth navigating for the high-quality waves that are on offer; it’s quite simply one of the best places to surf in Cornwall.

This part of the West Cornwall coast makes a great destination, as you are spoilt for choice with both beaches and attractions within the bay – you can visit St Ives, Hayle, The Towans and, of course, Gwithian and Godrevy all within less than 10 miles of coastline. As well as arty St Ives, culture vultures can spy Godrevy Lighthouse, which was the inspiration behind Woolf’s To The Lighthouse.

Surf hire nearby: Gwithian Academy of Surfing

Stay nearby: Villa Surfside, Hayle | sleeps 6 + 4 dogs

Gwithian cottages

Cornwall's best surfing beaches on a map

Looking for more inspiration?

Cornwall's coastline is bursting with things to do and places to explore. Discover some fresh ideas for your next holiday with our guides.

Stay with us in Cornwall

Whether you’re a beginner hoping to ignite a life-long passion for the sea, or an expert wave rider who wants a new challenge, Cornwall has to be the best destination for a surfing holiday. And why waste a second of your break getting to the beach, when you could already be in the sea? Take a look at our Cornwall coastal cottages and be minutes away from the action.

You might also want to check out our guide to beautiful beaches you might not believe are in Cornwall, and our pick of more Cornish outdoor activities you can try when you visit.

Cornwall coastal cottages

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.