With 422 miles of spectacular coastline and over 400 beautiful beaches to choose from (many of which can easily pass for a tropical paradise), the Cornish coast is a rather memorable destination for a holiday, whether you’re an avid walker, beach dweller, or watersports enthusiast.
Oh yes, whether your idea of fun is riding the waves or diving beneath them, Cornwall is jam-packed with a variety of fun-filled water activities. These aquatic endeavours aren’t limited to the balmy summer months either, with winter surfing and wild swimming just some of the oceanside pursuits you can enjoy year round.
It’s not just watersports in Cornwall that are on the agenda either; with a variety of boat trips, swimming pools, and waterparks available, there’s a water-based activity for everyone in this sea-kissed county.
Ready to turn your toes towards the ocean? Here are some of our favourite water activities in Cornwall for you to enjoy during your next stay…
Cornwall and wild swimming go hand-in-hand, whether you love nothing more than a refreshing dip on a hot summer’s day or a bracing adrenaline boost in the winter. There are hundreds of superb swimming beaches in Cornwall, many of which boast lifeguards in the summer, and beckoning beach cafés for that post-dip ice cream or hot chocolate. Head to the south coast for hidden coves with azure waters, West Cornwall for beaches framed with dramatic cliffs, and the north coast for great sweeps of sand that welcome footprints and pawprints alike.
If you would prefer a freshwater dunk, Cornwall is also home to some beautiful lakes and rivers, perfect for a refreshing dip. Lakes such as Trevassack near Helston offer a sheltered and peaceful place to enter the water, while Cornwall’s many rivers promise miles upon miles of tranquil spots. The Helford River not only boasts many secluded coves but lots of cosy inns to sink into after your swim!
If you’re visiting Cornwall in the cooler months, you can still get your fill of wild swimming. Cold water swimming is very popular in the UK’s most coastal county, with people taking the plunge throughout the year. If you’re visiting at Christmas, you can even join great crowds of eager swimmers on Christmas Day, Boxing Day, and New Year’s Day for a delightfully festive swim! If you do plan on participating, just make sure to enter slowly and only stay in as long as you are comfortable – hot chocolates, piping hot pasties, and cosy pubs are a great way to warm up after your wintery dip.
Sea pools and lidos
Combining the salty freshness of the ocean with the sheltered aspect of a lake, Cornwall’s beloved sea pools and lidos are a wonderful way to enjoy a refreshing dip without entering the sea – making them ideal for families.
In North Cornwall, Bude sea pool is a popular destination for those craving a salty swim. The semi-natural tidal pool has been welcoming visitors since the 1930’s, promising a safe, sheltered, and totally free place for your water-based activities. It’s a pretty respectable size too (91m by 45m), ensuring there’s space for everybody. Some of Cornwall’s other tempting sea pools can be found in Mousehole, Perranporth, and Porthtowan, giving you plenty of choice.
Taking things a step further, the UK’s largest art deco seawater lido makes quite a splash, with its stunning coastal location on Penzance’s oh-so-strollable promenade and geothermal pool promising a giddy mix of waterside activities. They even do Dog Days, when dogs of all shapes and sizes are welcome to come and enjoy the salty waters of the main pool. It’s quite paw-ssibly one of the best - and cutest – dog-friendly days out in Cornwall!
Whether you’re a seasoned pro or dipping your toes in for the first time, Cornwall is a great holiday destination for surfers. Home to the UK’s premier surfing spot at Fistral beach in Newquay, and with other great surfing beaches like Sennen, Perranporth, and Porthmeor in St Ives, you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to hitting the waves.
For those who are just starting out, Cornwall boasts a wonderful selection of surf schools where you can hire boards, wetsuits and tuition. Headed up by two ex-professional surfers, Escape Surf School in Newquay is ready to take you from wave-watcher to rider throughout the year, with a range of group, private, and children’s school holiday surf sessions available. All equipment is provided – as are showers and changing rooms – so all you need to do is rock up and take to the waves.
Whether you’ve just emerged from the sea or you prefer to watch the sea spray acrobatics, we recommend hitting one of Cornwall’s many fabulous beachfront restaurants and pubs – there’s no greater accompaniment to your meal than watching the shredding of waves.
Bodyboarding and bodysurfing
A great way to make the most of Cornish waves without learning to pop up, bodyboarding is a terrific outdoor activity to try when visiting Cornwall. It’s easy to get the hang of and can be enjoyed by all ages, making it an excellent one for families.
Rather than buying your own just for your holiday, there are plenty of bodyboard rentals across the county where you can hire a board for a couple of hours or a whole day – and trust us, you can easily spend the whole day bodyboarding.
Of course, if you find yourself at the beach looking out across a tumbling sea perfect for catching some waves but without any equipment, you can forgo the bodyboard altogether, opting instead for the age-old delight of bodysurfing. You’ll ride the waves in a similar manner, with the notable exception of no board beneath you. Instead, use your arms in a diving position in front of you and glide in the wave rather on top of it. It’s great fun and an excellent way to learn about wave riding as you work up to surfing.
If gliding across glass-topped seas sounds like your kind of beach day, then hopping on a stand-up paddle board might be for you. As with many watersports in Cornwall, there is everything you need right here, so you needn’t worry about travelling with your own kit should you not want to.
South Cornwall in particular is a very popular SUP-ing destination, with the beaches around Falmouth and St Mawes amongst the favourites. Although you can of course pack up and head to any Cornish beach when the conditions are right – think low winds and peaceful seas.
Alongside SUP board hire, you can also partake in some lessons, giving you an excellent introduction to the sport. Ocean High in Marazion is great for beginners and families, while Encounters Cornwall leads incredible guided tours around Fowey.
And remember, it might be called stand-up paddle boarding, but you can sit, kneel or even lie down!
Kayaking is a long-standing (sorry, long-sitting) love of many watergoers, with the sit on vessels easy to learn and enjoy. They’re great for messing around on but also excellent for touring the Cornish coast, with the added space perfect for taking lunch with you.
Take one for the day with a local kayak hire or book yourself onto a guided tour and experience a whole new side to Cornwall. Explore the UK’s most southerly point with Lizard Adventures, discover the incredible coastlines that put Port Isaac on the map with Cornish Rock Tors, and travel up stream as you soak in the tranquil wiles surrounding Fowey with Fowey River Hire.
Ready to get hands on while exploring the Cornish coast? Coasteering is the art of touring the many coves and bays of Cornwall using every appendage and route available to you – think scrambling, ambling, and even shimmying! It also involves a hearty amount of jumping in the sea and swimming, making it great for groups looking for an adrenaline boost.
Dressed to the nines in wetsuits, hardhats, and buoyancy aids, joining a group experience like the ones with Global Boarders offers adventurers the chance to clamber around the many twists and turns afforded by Cornwall’s incredible coast, from the harbourside charms of Mousehole to the sandswept vistas of Praa Sands. Some tours even include snorkelling opportunities, so you can really immerse yourself in the experience!
Snorkelling and diving
Ready to head under the waves completely? Snorkelling is one of the best ways to explore Cornwall’s underwater world, with lots of great locations beckoning for an other-worldly experience. The waters around Cornwall’s coast are known for their clarity, creating the perfect conditions for an adventure beneath the waves.
Snorkelling can be as relaxed or as involved as you like, with giant rockpools and bays offering sheltered spots for exploring (but never alone), and local instructors offering guided tours. Experience wild snorkelling with Atlantic Adventures and seize the opportunity to see some of Cornwall’s oceanic wildlife up close.
Once you’ve mastered the art of snorkelling, you can kick it up a notch with scuba diving and open up a whole new avenue of exploring Cornwall’s coast. With the likes of Cornish Diving and Porthkerris Diving you can learn all about diving in Cornwall, with a variety of courses and trips to choose from.
Cornwall has some incredible snorkelling and dive sites to explore, from the crystal clear waters surrounding St Ives and Carbis Bay for snorkelling to the exciting mix of wrecks and reefs surrounding Falmouth that are perfect for diving.
Whether you fancy captaining your own vessel up the river for a day of tranquil exploring or you’re on a mission to see as many seals as you can on a wildlife cruise, boat trips and hires are a great way to enjoy Cornish waters while staying (mostly) dry.
Home to the third deepest natural harbour in the world, it will be of little surprise that Falmouth offers a range of boating opportunities, from pleasure cruises to floating restaurants! Heading to the north coast, Newquay is another excellent destination for boat trips, with the likes of Newquay Sea Safaris and Fishing promising fun-filled days out in the fresh, sea air. Or spend the day on The Black Pearl with Boat Trips St Ives as you head to seal island where the local seal colonies can often be seen lounging on the rocks and bobbing in the waters. Fun fact: a group of seals is also known as a bob!
One for the kids (and young at heart), Cornwall boasts a host of waterparks and water activities for those summer – and rainy! – days.
In the summer months, Cornwall turns into a veritable playground, with giant water slides, water pistol battle parks, and adrenaline-fuelled aquaparks popping up to fill your days with excited giggles and splashing good fun.
For some year-round water activities in Cornwall, head to Retallack Watersports near Newquay where you’ll find a wake park and FlowRider – who says you need to be in the ocean to surf waves throughout the year? We also recommend checking out Via Ferrata Cornwall, a hub of watersports and aquatic adventures, as well as towering zip wire safaris and archery!