You might be forgiven for thinking that a guide to a random town in Cornwall, England is a bit of a strange thing to appear on our blog, but surprisingly, Padstow is one of the places I’ve visited most over the years!
Since I was tiny, my family has visited Cornwall every summer, and finally this year after a long absence, we made it back again!
For the past two weeks, Louise and I have been living our best lives in sunny (and often rainy) Cornwall in the UK, and stayed just minutes from this quaint little town on the North Cornish coast. So why not write a quick guide to the things to do here!
Fair warning, if you’re here looking for mountain adventures, you won’t find it in Cornwall. Cornwall is all about exploring the beautiful British coast and all of its stunning cliffs and beaches or eating cream teas and your body weight in fish and chips.
If finding a quaint part of rural England is on your bucket list, and you’re thinking of escaping a major city for a few days, I can honestly think of nowhere better than a quick trip to Cornwall and Padstow.
An introduction to Padstow
You may not have heard much about Padstow before, so before I get into the list, let me tell you a little about one of my favourite places in the UK.
Padstow is a tiny little seaside town on the North Cornwall coast. It’s located on the edge of the Camel Estuary, which is a beautiful tidal estuary that comes in and out with the tides each day.
Padstow sits on one side of the estuary, while Rock, sits on the other, with a short ferry ride connecting the two.
Padstow, although small, gets a huge amount of tourism each year, mostly because of one famous British chef; Rick Stein. Rick Stein has made this little village home and now boasts 4 restaurants, a coffee shop, a deli and more to his name in Padstow. As Rick Stein has become a British household name, so has Padstow.
But Padstow is so much more than Rick Stein. Cornwall has been the summer destination of choice for British families for generations (before international travel was a thing), so knowledge of this special little town has no doubt been passed down through families over the years, ever since the first Harbour Hotel was built in 1904.
I can certainly say that my family has been visiting for more than 30 years, if not much longer!
Padstow, and Cornwall in general, has everything you could ever want from a great British summer holiday; clotted cream ice cream, fish and chips, beautiful views, stunning beaches and a sea breeze. But the list doesn’t stop there…
Without further ado, here are 20 things to do in Padstow, Cornwall, as well as another 10 awesome things to do nearby!
The best things to do in Padstow, Cornwall
1. Grab fish and chips at Rick Stein’s fish and chips
We might as well get this out the way at the beginning! No trip to Padstow is complete without at least one trip to one of Rick Stein’s numerous restaurants. There is something for all budgets, but the place we seem to return to most is his fish and chips shop by the harbour.
There are a wide variety of fish and chips on offer, complete with mushy peas (if you can stand them), as well as various Indian culinary options as well.
Curry and Fish and chips seem to go hand in hand in the UK, but I would probably stick with the fish and chips here. Our curry was bland and watery, sadly. The fish and chips, on the other hand, were fantastic, and I absolutely crushed mine in seconds. Honestly, the seafood at the coast is exceptional, so that is what I would recommend ordering as much as possible!
You can eat your fish and chips in the restaurant, or take yours in a newspaper and sit by the water. On a sunny day, there’s nothing better, but watch out for seagulls! I saw them steal at least a couple of ice creams last week, and they will absolutely come for your chips if you’re not careful.
2. Visit the National lobster hatchery
The National Lobster hatchery has been around for decades now and is single handedly contributing to growing UK lobster populations. At the hatchery, baby lobsters are incubated and grown until they’re large enough to be released into the wild.
At this point, over 250,000 baby lobsters have been released, and by allowing them to grow in a safe environment, the hatchery has massively increased lobster survival rates.
I still have fond memories of my young cousin adopting a lobster here and naming it Lobby, for which he will forever be teased. It’s a great learning experience and your money is going towards a great cause!
You can find the National Lobster Hatchery just down the street from Rick Stein’s fish and chips, along the harbour wall.
3. Cycle the Camel Trail to Wadebridge
The Camel Trail follows the now extinct railway track that ran along the estuary from Padstow, through Wadebridge, all the way to Bodmin. What was once a railway line is now a perfectly flat and gentle cycling trail that’s perfect for all abilities.
While the trail runs all the way to Bodmin, the section I would recommend is the 5.5 mile stretch between Padstow and Wadebridge.
You can rent bikes at either end, so it doesn’t really matter where you start.
Our favourite way to do it though, is to rent bikes in Wadebridge, and cruise to Padstow for lunch. Here you can lock up your bikes and walk into the town for a bite, explore a little and perhaps even wander along the coast a bit. This time around, we grabbed a delicious lunch at Paul Ainsworth’s Rojano’s (can definitely recommend).
Then when you’ve had enough, pick up your bikes and cruise back along the estuary.
There’s also a little coffee shack at about halfway, where you can grab a delicious iced latte to break up the journey.
In total, the ride is 11 miles (around 17.7km), but there are plenty of spots to stop along the way, so it really won’t feel that bad at all.
If you’re wondering if this trail is family friendly, then yes I can confirm it absolutely is. It’s virtually flat, and it’s really quite easy for all abilities.
My sister brought her kids along, and was able to rent a buggy to tow behind her bike for her 2 year old. Her 4 year old was able to cycle the entire thing by herself, although she was pretty tired and grumpy by the end.
The only thing to watch out for is the hundreds of people that will also be cycling along the Camel Trail in both directions. The trail isn’t particularly wide, so if you’re bringing kids, make sure you keep them close!
4. Book a mackerel fishing trip/cook your catch
This might not be for everyone, but it’s something I’ve been doing every summer and it was still just as fun as I remembered it.
From Padstow harbour, you can hop on a fishing boat and head out into the sea for a short fishing trip. Trips range from 2-4 hours (or you can book a full day if you really want), and generally you’re out there looking for mackerel.
The captain will direct the boat to a good spot for catching fish and you’ll all drop your lines in the water. Whatever you catch, you can keep to cook for your dinner! Or if you’d rather not, you can leave them for the captain to keep and sell themselves.
This time around, the day we chose was a little choppy and stormy, so it was a little bouncy. Definitely pack a rain coat because rain rolls in very quickly from out to sea and there’s a decent chance you could get quite cold and wet.
All in all, it’s quite a rough and ready kind of adventure, where you’ll come face to face with dead fish, maybe some blood, and possibly a bit of sea sickness, so it’s definitely not for everyone. But, if fishing and getting out in the open sea is something that appeals to you, it’s a lot of fun.
We ended up coming away from our trip with 9 mackerel, which we took home and cooked later that night!
We booked through Emma Kate fishing and it was around 22 pounds per person to book. Booking in advance is recommended
A couple of things to know about mackerel fishing
As I mentioned, we picked a windy day to go out and the sea was quite choppy as a result. A few people on our boat were feeling a bit seasick, and one poor man spent the entire trip being sick over the side.
So, if possible, I highly recommend picking a day that’s less windy, and bringing some seasickness pills if you’re worried about that kind of thing.
Also, be aware that if you catch something and you want to cook/eat it later, you will have to prepare the fish yourself. The responsibility fell on me this time, and it’s not for the faint hearted!
5. Look for dolphins on a sea safari
In recent years, maritime safaris have taken off, and Cornwall is a great place to see some incredible sealife. The sea here is absolutely bursting with life, and among other things you can see dolphins, basking sharks, seals, puffins, Minke whales, porpoises, bluefin tuna, Ocean Sunfish and dozens of different sea birds.
Tours can take place on a high speed rib or on a boat with a cabin (where you can escape the elements). You’ll be dressed up in waterproof layers, so don’t expect to come back completely dry! Check out Padstow Sealife Safaris for more information
6. Play mini golf at the Greens of Padstow
If you’re looking for a fun way to spend a couple of hours, then head to the 18 hole mini golf course at the Greens of Padstow.
I have literally been coming here since I was about ten years old, so there may be some nostalgia playing into this, but we went last week and it was so much fun.
We 4 adults in our group, and it was as fun as it was infuriating. I almost lost my mind every time my ball ricocheted against a rock and away from the hole.
It’s a great way to spend the afternoon in Padstow, and the Greens restaurant is a great place to end up after you’ve finished your round.
7. Have a surf lesson in Polzeath or Harlyn Bay
Cornwall is perhaps most famous for its surfing. Many of Cornwall’s bays face out into the Atlantic Ocean, and as a result, we can get some absolutely fantastic waves. They’re perfect for body boarding or surfing and I have spent many summers here enjoying them.
For many years, while we were still learning to surf, we would enrol in surf school and take a 2 hour class each morning. This is an absolutely fantastic way to get familiar with the ocean and surfing. It’s perfect for all abilities and I would highly recommend it.
Near to Padstow, there are two main areas I can recommend. Polzeath, which can be a bit of a trek by car, has a huge beach with fantastic surfing waves (weather dependent, of course). We always used “Surf’s Up” surf school, and I can’t recommend them enough.
Harlyn Bay, which is a lot closer to Padstow, also has a great beach for surfing, although the waves tend to be a little smaller (in my experience). You can also find a surf school here if you’re looking for lessons.
If you’re looking for a great body boarding beach, Trevone has an excellent small beach that is probably better suited for body boards than surf boards.
8. Go for a coastal walk
Cornwall has hundreds of miles of stunning coastline, and from Padstow, you can follow the coastal path out of the estuary and make your way along the shoreline. There are plenty of great trails along the cliffs, and you can honestly walk as far as you like.
Padstow to Trevone is a great coastal walk if you have the energy.
Along the way, take a look out to sea to see if you can spot any sealife!
9. Walk for a cream tea or grab one in town
You can hardly walk 10 feet in Cornwall without running into a coffee shop that sells cream teas.
If you’re in Padstow, there are plenty of great options. Most hotels and cafes with offer some kind on their menu. Make sure you try the Cornish clotted cream on the scones. It will absolutely blow your mind. I’ve never come across clotted cream outside the UK and I honestly don’t know how the rest of the world lives without it.
If you’re looking to work up a bit of an appetite for your cream tea, then I’d highly recommend walking along the coast to a fantastic little tea room called “Rest a While”. It’s literally a tea room that runs out the back window of a house, and has absolutely epic views of the coast.
It’s a hidden gem that deserves far more attention than it gets. We had the classic cream team, as well as a savoury option that included cream cheese and onion chutney. Absolutely fantastic. They also do a variety of quiches and food/drinks/ice cream.
Driving here seems possible but not ideal, so it’s best suited to customers that arrive on foot.
Wherever you go, make sure you try one at least once. Cornish tradition is to put the jam on first, followed by the cream. If you head to Devon, they like to do it the other way around! A quintessentially English argument!
10. Eat the local seafood
We have sort of covered this by mentioning Rick Stein’s restaurants, but Rick is one of many amazing places to grab seafood in Cornwall. Padstow is the first stop for many fishermen, so it naturally gets the absolute freshest seafood.
As far as what we do best in Cornwall, I would say Mussels, prawns, cod, mackerel and lobster are all staples.
For restaurants, I would recommend trying the Prawn on the Lawn, St. Petroc’s Hotel, or Rick Stein’s seafood restaurant. But honestly you can’t go wrong here!
11. Go crab lining in the harbour
Crab lining is probably the easiest way to keep your kids occupied for a couple of hours, and all it requires is a bucket and a crab line (a cheap fishing line/hook that you can buy from virtually any gift shop that sells beach essentials). If you are an adult and haven’t tried this before, I would also recommend it!
Padstow Harbour is well known to be a great place to dredge up crabs with a crab line, and on any given day you’ll probably see at least one teenager standing there trying to bag a few.
The best kind of bait always seems to be bacon, so if you stick some of that on your hook, you’ll probably net yourself a few crabs! Generally when you bring one up, you drop it in your bucket of sea water. The goal is to catch as many as you can!
It’s worth noting that these crabs aren’t generally good to eat. It’s more of a bit of sport. The crabs aren’t harmed at all, and generally don’t even get ‘hooked’, they simply grab the bacon and refuse to let go. Once you’ve had enough, toss them all back in the sea!
12. Visit Rock on the ferry
For 3 pounds each way, you can hop on the ferry and travel to Rock on the other side of the estuary. There are a few good restaurants right on the other side, so it’s a good place to visit if you’re looking for variety.
There’s also a great beach on the other side with plenty of walking trails.
The ferry runs frequently, and picks you up at the harbour in Padstow and drops you on the beach in Rock.
Depending on the tide, the pick up and drop off point can vary considerably, so you may have to walk a bit further at lower tides. During absolute low tide, the ferry doesn’t run at all because the water gets too shallow, so make sure you check the ferry times before you cross!
13. Take a speedboat ride in the estuary
From the harbour in Padstow, it’s possible to go for a speedboat ride in the estuary. My mum absolutely loves doing this, and her favourite boat is the “Jaws” boat…named that way because it has “Jaws” written in huge red letters on the side.
It’s a great way to have some fun and get some relatively cheap thrills on the ocean!
14. Go wakeboarding or tubing in the estuary
Technically you would normally do this from the “Rock” side of the estuary, but as it takes 5 minutes and 3 pounds to cross over on the ferry, I feel like we can include this in ‘Padstow’ things to do.
This is where I first tried wakeboarding, and thanks to the estuary being very well sheltered from the open ocean, the waters here are completely calm. It’s the perfect place to rip around on waterskis, a banana boat, a tube or a wakeboard. You can also do this rain or shine, because you’ll be wearing a wetsuit and once you’re wet, you’re wet; the weather doesn’t really matter at that point!
We’ve gone with the Camel Ski School in the past and have found them to be fantastic! You can also learn to wake surf here, as well as get your boating licence!
15. Drink at Padstow Brewery or try some local gin
Nothing goes with the seaside like a bit of booze, and in recent years there have been increasing numbers of distilleries or brewers near Padstow.
In town, you’ll find Padstow Gin, as well as Tarquin’s Gin School and shop. There’s also Padstow tasting room on Duke Street.
For Breweries, your best bet is the Padstow Brewing Company, where you can sample a variety of locally brewed cornish beers and ales.
On the Rock side, you can check out Porthilly Spirit Distillery.
If you’re into wine and are up for a bit of exercise, you can actually cycle to a vineyard from Padstow if you’ve got the energy. The Camel Valley Vineyard is probably one of the best vineyards in Cornwall, that’s perfectly suited to our warm Cornish climate. Well worth a visit!
It’s quite a long bike ride, so it’s probably more of a day trip suited to experienced cyclists.
16. Eat a Pasty and sit by the harbour
Much like the seafood and cream teas, there is a pasty shop on virtually every street corner in Padstow, so make you pick one up as a snack! They’re perfect fuel if you’re doing the Camel trail or as a beach snack, but even better if you eat them fresh!
17. Visit Prideaux Place
If you’re looking for a bit of culture and want to visit a stately home near Padstow, then Prideaux Place is your best option. The Prideaux Family has lived here for 14 generations, since the 1500’s and now offer guided tours of the property.
If you’re interested in wildlife, you can check out the deer park, which is home to a herd of Fallow Deer. These deer have populated the area since Roman times and are thought to be one of the oldest herds in the country!
18. Check out the Obby Oss festival May Day celebrations
One of the weirdest parts of Cornwall is the Obby Oss festival which celebrates the annual return of summer on May Day (May 1 each year). This is an ancient pagan festival that continues today, and basically involves parading a couple of hobby horses (hence the name ‘Obby Oss’ through town, and a lot of singing and dancing.
It’s a quirky part of English culture that should absolutely be witnessed if you’re in the area around that time!
19. Walk the Camel Estuary and go birdwatching
The Camel Estuary is an area that’s absolutely filled with wildlife, and if you walk the Camel Trail, you’ll have a good chance of seeing quite a lot of bird varieties. While we were biking we passed a lot of birdwatchers with huge telescopes and binoculars, admiring the local birdlife.
If that kind of thing is up your alley, wait for low tide and you’ll be blown away by how many types of birds you’ll see!
20. Walk the Cornwall Coastal Path
This might sound like a no brainer, but walking out of Padstow, out of the estuary and around the peninsula is an absolutely fabulous thing to do in Cornwall.
If you’ve never seen the cornish coast before, it is absolutely striking and teeming with life. If you’re lucky, you might see some sea life bobbing in the waves below or the giant waves crashing against the rocks below. At the very least, the views are spectacular and, while there are definitely some ups and downs, the terrain is very gentle.
If you walk far enough, you’ll pass a beautiful old lighthouse, and you’ll hit Trevone Beach, Constantine Bay, and perhaps even Newquay if you really are feeling strong. Along the way, you’ll pass one or two coffee shops, tea rooms or cafes, so there’s no risk of getting hungry. Definitely stop at the “Rest a While tea room” if you happen to pass it along the way.
Things to do near Padstow
While Padstow has an abundance of great things to do, there’s a good chance you’ll want to explore a bit more of Cornwall while you’re here.
If you look at the map, everything seems relatively close by, but be warned that most of the country roads in Cornwall aren’t very direct or quick. You’ll want to budget more travel time than you’ll expect.
21. Tintagel Castle
Looking to find a bit of culture on our trip, and having stopped here in the past, I decided to show Louise Tintagel Castle this time.
Tintagel was built in the 13th and 14th Century, and served as a lookout/watch tower for possible marauders or invaders. If you’re looking for a rich narrative for your very expensive ticket (around 20 pounds per adult), you will be disappointed.
There are some ruins to look at, but the main fun here is walking coastal path and crossing the brdige to the island, before descending to the beach and trying to find Merlin’s Cave. Is it worth the money? Arguably not, but it was a nice experience nonetheless.
there’s also quite an interesting statue on the top of the island, but again, not worth 20 pounds (in my opinion).
Bear in mind, you can actually walk down to the beach for free; it’s only crossing to the island that costs an arm and a leg.
22. Visit St Nectan’s Glen waterfall
This is one of the few hidden waterfalls we could find in Cornwall, and it really is quite a stunning glen, buried in the forest. You can walk right up to the waterfall and stand under it if you’re happy getting wet!
Sadly, it is privately owned, so there is an entrance fee to visit. If I had to guess, I’d say you’ll have to walk about a mile (about 30 minutes) to get to the waterfall, through varied terrain. If you’re thinking you might sneak in without paying, there isn’t really a way to access it without passing through a gift shop that sells all sorts of healing crystals…so even though the walk to the falls feels remote, you’ll hit the gift shop/smoothie bar eventually.
St. Nectan’s is really more of a spa retreat, and I think if you’re going to just see the waterfall on its own, you may feel like it wasn’t worth the money. However, if you plan to visit the wellness centre as well (complete with various meditation rooms and healing practices), it would be well worth the effort.
23. Polzeath Beach
Growing up, Polzeath Beach is where I spent most of my summers. It has an enormous beach with a huge swimming area and equally large surfing area. This, in my opinion, is the perfect place to learn to surf (similar to the fantastic waves we found in Tofino). The waves roll in in nice sets onto golden sand. There’s no hard coral to avoid and always a lifeguard on duty (during normal daylight hours).
There are also a number of great boutiques, restaurants, cafes and surf rental shops to spend time at, particularly if you’ve sent the kids off to a surf lesson.
24. Trevone Beach – swim in the Trevone Tidepools
Trevone Beach is where my family has migrated in recent years. It’s a much smaller beach but with plenty of charm. It’s still a great spot for swimming and bodyboarding, but perhaps a bit tight for surfing properly. The beach has a great cafe with a wood fire pizza oven and bar that’s open late. There’s even a sauna on the beach if you’re feeling a bit chilly after your swim!
The beach is fantastic, but the real gem at Trevone is the tide pool. If you walk around the bay a little bit when the tide is out, you’ll find a stunning swimming pool appears. It’s a man made pool that’s built to keep the sea water in, but it miraculously cleans itself each day as fresh seawater washes in and out. The walls protect you from the waves, so what’s left is a gloriously clear pool that’s gradually warmed by the sunshine. We came back here several times during our trip as it’s probably one of the more unique things you’ll find on the Cornish coastline.
25. Harlyn Bay
Similar to Trevone Bay, Harlyn Bay is just one beach over with lovely white sand and perfect waves for surfing. The beach is a little wider here, so it’s a bit better for watersports.
Harlyn also has a great cafe that sells fantastic gelato and affogatos, and enormous sausage rolls. I can definitely recommend stopping here for a quick snack
26. Bedruthan Steps
Bedruthan steps ‘were’ a set of steps leading down to a wonderful beach, somewhere between Trevone and Newquay, however the cliff collapsed in recent years so it’s now a lovely coastal walk. The real treat here is the National Trust cafe that sells cream teas and ice cream. It’s a lovely spot to sit and enjoy the coast and a beautiful sea breeze.
27. Visit the Eden project
The Eden Project is a magnificent creation near St. Austell that brings all the floral natural wonders from around the world to Cornwall. Set in an old Quarry, the Eden project is an absolutely glorious garden housed inside an enormous dome. There are two biospheres; tropical and Mediterranean, and they’re an amazing opportunity to see some rare and unique plants.
We visited on the wettest day I’ve seen in a long time, and it’s such a relief to dive into the warm domes and escape the weather. It’s a great thing to do on a wet day.
28. Visit the Mermaid Pools at Whipsiderry Beach
This is another spot that you’ll find it impossible to reach at any other time than low tide. We scoped it out the first time about 2 hours from low tide and it was impossible to reach.
Head town to Whipsiderry Beach and stay left along the edge of the beach. Don’t stand too close to the cliffs as they have been known to crumble. Keep going until you see a gap in the rocks on your left and a gateway to a few beautiful pools hidden in the rocks. You’d never know the Mermaid Pools were here unless someone told you about them! Watch out for urchins and anemones!
Also, don’t hang around too long or you’ll get cut off by the tide. Always leave earlier than you think because the tide can move quickly.
29. Visit the Cornish Birds of Prey Centre
As I mentioned earlier, there’s huge diversity of wildlife in Cornwall, and many different kinds of birds of prey. So where better to visit than the Cornish Birds of Prey Centre! It’s a centre that rescues injured, mistreated and unwanted birds, so it’s a great initiative to support.
Aside from visiting the centre, there are various hands on experiences, including the falconry experience, the owl experience and various photography experiences (flying or static, depending on what you’re after). The Centre is open Sunday-Wednesday April 1 – October 31. Tickets start at 14 pounds for adults, and go up to 80 for photography sessions.
30. Visit the Minack theatre
The Minack Theatre is actually not super close to Padstow (around 1.5 hours drive), but it’s such a spectacular experience that I couldn’t resist throwing it in.
The Minack Theatre is an amphitheatre that is built into the cliffs, overlooking the sea. It is arguably the most beautiful theatre in the world, and well worth visiting.
There are various showings throughout the summer, ranging from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, to Antigone, to kids plays and more. It’s crucial to book in advance as shows sell out well in advance of the performances!
Final thoughts on Padstow
With such a huge list, you’ll never run out of things to do on your next visit to Padstow! This has been such an important place in my life for so many years, and I’m thrilled that I finally have a chance to share this with the world!