We usually visit Bude in North Cornwall every single year – it’s our happy place. We were supposed to be staying at our favourite accommodation – The Beach Haven – during the Easter holidays back in April but then Covid-19 hit, lockdown happened and everything got cancelled. We’re still very much hoping to be able to reschedule our stay for later on in the year instead as lockdown gradually begins to ease. In the meantime I’ve been comforting myself by looking back through past trips and reminiscing about all the fun we’ve had there together as a family over the years – there really are so many things to do in Bude.
Like pretty much everyone on the planet, coronavirus has had an impact on us financially as a family and we’re having to watch the pennies a bit more carefully. Whilst I was looking back at what we got up to last year and figuring out tentative plans for potential adventures for when we eventually get to visit this year, it occurred to me that a lot of the fun stuff we do whilst we’re in Bude is actually completely free.
The cost of a holiday can quickly add up, no matter where you are in the world. It’s not just the travel, the accommodation and the food, it’s all the activities and ‘things to do’ that can stretch the budget. One of the things we love about this little town in North Cornwall is just how many fun and completely free things there are to do in Bude. You could easily go for a week and not have to spend a single penny on entertainment.
After so many annual visits we have become well practised at finding fun, family friendly and free things to do in Bude with our girls that cater for all tastes and ages – we’ve been going since they were toddlers and now they’re tweens and teens!
I thought it might be useful to put together a guide of free things to do in Bude. You’ll find the list of all of our favourite free things to do in Bude below, plus a more in-depth description of each item further down the page.
Free Things To Do In Bude
- Walk ‘over the top’
- Play on the beach
- Search for shipwrecks
- Adventure playgrounds
- Visit the smallest National Trust property
- Stroll along Bude Canal
- Watch the sunset
- Fly a kite
- Look for ‘kindness rocks’
- Climb up to the Pepperpot
- Visit the library
- Walk to Barrel Rock and the Crow’s Nest
- Go to a free festival
- Bude skate park
- Find the Half-Tide Cross
- Visit Bude Castle
- Window shopping
- Hunt for fossils
- Swim in Bude Seapool
- Find the penguins
- Try geocaching
- Browse the Farmer’s Market
- Explore the SW Coastal Path
This list is by no means exhaustive. I’m sure there are even more free things to do in Bude than this. I’ll keep adding to it and updating it as time goes on so feel free to come back and re-visit this post as many times as you like to see what’s new.
Walk ‘over the top’
I have family in Bude and have been visiting there since I was a tiny baby. I must have walked ‘over the top’ more times than I can count. I’m not sure if it’s only called ‘over the top’ in my family or if it’s what it’s collectively known as by everyone in Bude?! It’s something we do pretty much daily when we’re visiting our home-from-home and I will never, ever tire of it.
There is so much to love about this walk over the top of the cliffs from Crooklets Beach to Summerleaze Beach (and back again). Breathtaking views along the dramatic coastline; fresh sea air; the sound of the waves… I honestly don’t think much can beat it. I love that it’s different every single time you go on this walk depending on the time of day, whether the tide is in or out, the season of the year and what the weather is doing in the moment. We’ve done the walk in utterly torrential downpours of rain (and marvelled at the madness of the brave surfers diligently and determinedly trying to catch a wave) and we’ve done it in gloriously hot sunshine. Sometimes the beaches below are packed with families and sometimes there is only a solitary dog walker meandering across the sand.
The path is paved and there are fences set back from the edge of the cliffs for safety. There are some uphill and downhill parts too though it’s easily accessible with a pushchair/buggy or wheelchair.
Play on the beach
Bude has three main beaches to choose from that are walkable from the town centre: Crooklets Beach, Middle Beach and Summerleaze Beach. If you have a car, you could also try Widemouth Bay (three miles south), or Northcott Mouth, Sandymouth and Duckpool beaches to the north.
The possibilities of playing on the beach really are endless when it comes to free family fun, whatever the weather. Try rockpooling and see if you can spot elusive little crabs, tiny fishes and other secretive sea creatures – Crooklets Beach is our favourite place to go for the best rockpools. Build epic sandcastles with moats and towers on Summerleaze Beach. Play cricket, or catch, or frisbee, or timebomb, or bat-and-ball, or tag, or ‘What’s the time Mr. Wolf?’ – there is loads of space to run around and play. Hunt for pretty seashells and colourful seaglass. Paddle in the sea. Watch the surfers. Set up camp for the afternoon with windbreaks and sun umbrellas and sandwiches and books. Playing on the beach really is one of the best free things to do in Bude.
Search for shipwrecks
One of the most exciting free things to do in Bude is to go shipwreck hunting! In November 1917 the SS Belem ran ashore at Northcott Mouth Beach. At low tide the wreck is revealed, it’s scattered remains clearly visible, encrusted with sea-life and seaweed. You can see some incredible overhead shots taken by drone here.
We’ve only ever made it there once (back in 2016), somehow managing to miss-time the tides every single year since. Even then our wellies filled up with water as the waves rushed in and I had to take the girls back to the car whilst the husband dutifully continued onward to capture some photos for me. It definitely added to the adventure and we still tell stories about it now. I’m very much hoping that this year will be the year that I finally get to see it for myself!
There are plenty of adventure playgrounds and parks for little ones to play on in Bude. If you’re heading to the beach you can choose between the wooden pirate ship next to the beach cafe at Crooklets Beach and a small wooden climbing set hidden behind the sand dunes at Summerleaze Beach.
In the town itself is a play area with swings and slides and climbing frames near the junction of The Strand, Bencoolen Road and The Crescent (not far from the Tourist Information Centre).
If you walk for about half an hour along Bude Canal you’ll eventually reach The Weir Bistro, which has a fantastic wooden adventure playground that even our teens enjoy playing on!
Visit the National Trust’s smallest property
You’ll need a car to get to Hawker’s Hut because it’s a little way out of Bude at Morwenstow, about half an hour north. It’s worth it though – the Hawker’s Hut is the National Trust’s smallest property, wedged precariously in the side of the cliff looking out at the angry waves pounding the rocks below and the ocean stretching into the distance.
I love the story behind it – this tiny little structure completely hand-built out of driftwood found on the beach by the eccentric Reverand Richard Hawker back in the 1800s. Apparently he created it as somewhere to retreat to in order to write his poetry and (it’s rumoured) to smoke opium. I can see why he chose that spot in particular – the views are breathtaking and I’m sure will have inspired him immensely.
It’s completely free to access (you don’t need to be a member of the National Trust to visit the site), but not particularly buggy or wheelchair friendly as you have to cross a big bumpy field with no path and no fences protecting the edges of the cliffs – be sure to keep a tight hold of any tiny adventurers you have with you.
Stroll along Bude Canal
Bude Canal is a gorgeous place to walk: peaceful; tree-lined and full of nature. We’ve made an annual tradition of meeting up with my aunt and cousins (who live in the town) for a stroll along the canal every time we visit and it’s quickly become one of our favourite free things to do in Bude.
We like to begin this beautiful trail at the Sea Lock at Summerleaze Beach (where the canal joins the sea) and then head inland for a couple of miles, past Bude Marshes, until we eventually reach The Weir Bistro where we stop for a cuppa and/or a delicious ice cream. It’s possible to continue further, to Marmanchurch and beyond, though we haven’t ventured that far yet.
The path is wide, flat and paved – perfectly suited for buggies, wheelchairs and kids scooters. Keep an eye out for herons, butterflies and ducks as well as copious other flora and fauna. We even saw a water snake gliding through the water once, which was really cool!
Watch the sunset
Bude’s unique geographical position (on the north coast of Cornwall whilst actually facing west) means that it gets some truly spectacular sunsets over the ocean. With views like this, you really don’t need to spend any money at all to make magical memories as a family. Watching the sunset is definitely one of the most special free things to do in Bude that you need to add to your list.
If you have younger children, it’s worth breaking the bedtime routine for one night. We usually visit Bude at Easter-time when the sunset is at about 8pm – perfectly timed for an after dinner adventure. Of course the sunset is later during the summer months and earlier in the autumn/winter.
Our favourite place to watch the sunset is from the clifftops rather than down on the beach by the water because often the tide times don’t synchronise with the pretty skies. Sometimes we walk ‘over the top’ to see it and sometimes we drive out towards Widemouth Bay and park at one of the carparks at the top of the beach. If we do the latter it’s fun to bundle the kids in their pjs and blankets and sit snuggled in the boot of our car (it’s a people-carrier so has plenty of space!) . We’ve not taken a flask of hot chocolate with us yet but I might just add that into the experience this year as an extra special treat.
Fly a kite
Flying a kite and/or playing frisbee on Summerleaze Downs with the ocean as a backdrop can’t really be beaten when you’re looking for fun, free things to do in Bude. The Downs are a gorgeous expanse of open green space and despite the name they’re actually up on the clifftops, high enough (and windy enough!) to be perfect for kite flying and frisbee fun with the family. The beach is also a great place to do these things too of course.
(If you don’t already have a kite or frisbee you can easily get one at a very reasonable price from one of the fab little independent shops in town. Technically this would make it a not quite ‘free’ activity but you can always keep it for next year’s visit (because you’ll definitely want to come back – Bude has that special kind of magic).
Look for ‘kindness rocks’
We love kindness rocks! Lola in particular seems to be pretty adept at spotting them when we’re out and about on walks – she’s found several over the years. Looking for them is really fun and the girls always shriek with delight when we do spot one, it’s like they’ve found buried treasure!
You could also collect rocks from the beach to decorate yourselves and then hide around town. Crooklets Beach is the perfect place to gather some smooth, round stones. Painting and/or colouring unique designs and positive words on them is a fun way to get creative indoors if you happen to get a rainy afternoon, and then when the sun comes out again you can have fun deciding where to hide them for others to find. We’ve found that ‘Poska’ pens and or chalk/glass pens work really well for decorating them (and they’re less messy than paint!) so make sure you pack some in your suitcase to take with you.
Climb up to The Pepperpot
The storm tower, originally built as a refuge for the coastguard in 1835, is known locally as The Pepperpot because of it’s octagonal shape. It’s official name is Compass Point because each face represents a point of the compass (if you look closely at the photo below you can see the directions carved into the stone near the top of the tower). It has to be moved inland at the start of the 1900s because the cliffs were eroding but when it was rebuilt it was seven degrees out of alignment!
It’s a steep walk up but the views once you’re up there are absolutely magnificent – both looking out across the ocean and looking back towards Bude itself where you can see the whole town spread out underneath you. Well worth a visit.
Visit the library
I’ve known that Bude Library, nestled in between Bude Castle and the Visitor Centre, was there for years but didn’t think to join until a couple of years ago. It’s completely free to become a member and if you visit Bude every year (like we do) it makes sense to give yourself access to somewhere that’s perfect to pop into on a rainy afternoon or if the kids need some quiet downtime.
My girls are all voracious readers & irrepressible bookworms and it’s pretty hard to keep them supplied with enough books to last a whole week. (I know that a kindle would be an alternative option but they’re on screens so often at the moment because of lockdown and homeschooling/online learning that I really don’t want to give them yet another screen to stare at – real books are much better in my opinion!). This way they get to take some favourite books with them without filling up the whole suitcase and they can try out new ones whilst we’re there. Bude Library is relatively small but they have a decent enough range of books for all ages and it’s friendly and welcoming to all.
It’s open on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9.30am to 5pm, plus Saturdays 10am to 1pm under normal circumstances – obviously coronavirus means that it’s currently closed. If you need to return books on a day that it’s closed because of checking out of your holiday accommodation, there is a ‘drop-off box’ outside which is really handy.
Walk to Barrel Rock and the Crows Nest
At one end of Summerleaze Beach, near the sea lock (where Bude Canal meets the ocean) you’ll find the Breakwater. If you’re up for a bit of adventurous rock scrambling (wear appropriate shoes!) and the tide is in your favour, you can walk all the way along it to a rocky outcrop jutting out into the ocean that feels like the edge of the world.
Along the way you’ll come across the Crows Nest and Barrel Rock both standing proud and tall, as iconic a sight on the shoreline as the coves and beaches nestled amongst the cliffs.
The Crows Nest has a very steep, narrow, spiral staircase you can climb up to reach a little lookout at the top, and Barrel Rock (pictured below) serves as a beacon to guide boats around the dangerous rocks. The barrel is actually supported by the propeller shaft from the shipwreck of the SS Belem mentioned earlier in this post! It’s not for the faint-hearted but the views back to Summerleaze Beach are worth the challenge.
Go to a free festival
Bude is a wonderful hive of community activity throughout the year. It plays host to a growing number of festivals in an annual calendar of events, many of which are completely free to attend and take part in.
- March: St. Piran’s Day celebrations – St. Piran is the patron saint of Cornwall
- June: Bude Earth Festival – children’s workshops, art trail, ethical stalls, yoga & music
- August: Bude Carnival
- August: Lifeboat Day – held on the bank holiday weekend
- December: Christmas market
- December: Christmas Day Swim
Bude skate park
Make sure you pack the kids’ scooters and skateboards in the car when you visit Bude. The Skate Park near Crooklets Beach is a great fun and free thing to do in Bude. There are ramps of different sizes for kids to try out – small ones suitable for beginners and younger children, plus bigger ones for the more confident and older kids. It was our first visit to Bude skate park last year and we spent ages playing there.
Find the Half-Tide Cross
The ‘half-tide cross’ can be found on Middle Beach, in between Crooklets and Summerleaze. It’s pretty small and really quite unremarkable to look at, almost hiding in plain sight on some very ordinary rocks jutting out into the beach, but I remember being ridiculously excited when we first found it! When I was younger I always believed that it marked a grave but actually it’s purpose is to let people know when the tide is turning. When the water is level with the horizontal arms of the cross, the tide is either half in or half out, depending on the time of day.
Visit Bude Castle
The Castle is perched near the sand dune’s on the Wharf just a stone’s throw from the town centre and Summerleaze Beach. It’s completely free to enter and is home to Bude Heritage Centre where you can learn all about the past and modern day history of Bude. There are often also free art exhibitions you can mooch round in their gallery space. If you wander upstairs to their cafe – Cafe Limelight – you’ll be rewarded with excellent views out across the sea lock and Barrel Rock.
Be sure to stop by the Bude Light sculpture as part of your visit. It was erected in 2000 to mark the millennium and to commemorate Sir Goldsworthy Gurney who invented a way to create brilliant white light from an ordinary oil lamp. His invention was used to light the Houses of Parliament and there is still a replica of the ‘Bude Light’ in Trafalgar Square today!
In addition to a multitude of cafes, toy stores and Cornish Pasty hubs, Bude’s higgledy-piggledy town centre is home to a plethora of funky surf shops and a growing number of beautiful, independent, little boutiques. Bleujen Florist and Wildwood (which I call the ‘hippie shop’) are my personal favourites – I could easily spend hours in each gazing at all the pretty things. We love Spencer Thorn bookshop as well, which stocks cards, stationery and gifts as well as books. On a day where you don’t feel like doing very much, a wander around town window shopping is the perfect way to spend an afternoon.
Hunt for fossils
Rumour has it that there are fossils to be found in the rocks on and around the breakwater. Fossil hunting is always a hit with the kiddos – the thrill of the possibility of finding one is almost as exciting as actually making a discovery! Another fun and free thing to do in Bude that won’t cost you a single penny.
Swim in the sea pool
A swim in the sea pool is a brilliant free thing to do in Bude and a ‘must’ for everyone who visits, even if you only dip your toes in.
Bude Sea Pool was created in 1930 and is one of the few remaining tidal sea pools in the country – the water gets naturally topped up at high tide every single day. It’s part natural, part man-made, tucked in at the bottom of the cliffs in between Middle Beach and Summerleaze Beach, and it provides the opportunity for a wild swimming experience in a slightly more contained environment.
It’s patrolled by lifeguards in the summer months and is often a tiny bit warmer than the sea itself, so it’s perfect for children, though I would still recommend a wetsuit. It’s 91m long and 45m wide so there is plenty of space for everyone (the depth varies considerably) and it’s completely free to use although it costs over £40,000 a year to keep it open and safe for everyone to use!
If you don’t fancy a swim, the views of Bude Sea Pool from any direction from the surrounding nearby clifftops are just as special.
Find the penguins
Hidden somewhere in Bude town centre is a mural of a happy family of penguins painted on a wall. A really fun, free thing to do in Bude for young children is to set them the task of finding the penguins!
(Clue: they’re in an alleyway just off Belle Vue)
Geocaching in and around Bude is one thing that we as a family haven’t actually tried. In essence it’s like a digital treasure hunt. You need to download the Geocaching app to your phone and then you’re good to go (wherever you are in the world, not just in Bude!). There is some detective work involved and the object is to discover hidden caches of ‘treasure’ – some have little logbooks for you to sign, some have tiny keepsakes that you can swap for one of your own and some are even more varied. It sounds like a really interesting free thing to do in Bude and I’m sure it will help us discover new places that we’ve not been to yet. We’ve added it to our list of things to try out this year when we eventually (hopefully!) get to visit.
Browse the Farmer’s Market
I love a good Farmer’s Market and like to support small, local, independent businesses so we make a point of going to Bude Farmer’s and Craft Market when we can. It runs every Friday from Good Friday at Easter right the way through the summer and into autumn. You can find it at The Wharf near The Castle, Bude Library and the Sea Lock.
There are plenty of stalls full of delicious food as well as a huge array of other wares. We always like chatting to the stall owners and seeing how incredibly creative people are. There was artwork made out of driftwood and even plastic found on the beach; jewellery created out of seaglass; beautiful mosaics; gift items and more. It’s free to have a mooch around the market but it obviously won’t be free if you end up buying something!
There is also Bude Artisan Market every Saturday all year round, which is a weekly food hub where you can buy local produce direct from the growers and makers.
Explore the South West Coast Path
The South West Coast Path (SWCP) begins in Minehead in Somerset and then runs down the length of North Devon’s coast; before stretching all the way around the Cornish coastline; hugging the South Devon shore; and continuing on into Dorset, where it eventually ends in Poole. It’s 630 miles long in total and phenomenally beautiful.
Bude happens to sit right on the SWCP so you can choose to explore it in either direction. You could venture North towards Northcott Mouth Beach, Sandymouth Beach or Duckpool Beach. Or you could explore to the South towards Widemouth Bay. The cliffs and rugged coastlines are truly spectacular and walking even just a small section of the path will take your breath away. Just be sure to be extra careful with little ones near cliff edges in many places there are no barriers and steep, rocky drops!
So there you have it: a list of twenty three, completely free things to do in Bude that will keep even the most multi-generational family happy. I’ll keep on adding more fun, free things to do in Bude to the list as we discover them. I would love to know if you’ve already done any of these, or if you plan to on your next visit.
Please do comment below with any suggestions of your own for hidden treasures and ideas for free things to do in Bude.
Thank you for reading! 🙂