The first signs of settlement in Newquay consist of a late Iron age hill fort/industrial centre which exploited the nearby abundant resources (including deposits of iron) and the superior natural defences provided by Trevelgue Head. It is claimed that occupation of the site was continuous from the third century BC to the fifth or sixth century AD, although a Dark age house was later built on the head.
The curve of the headland around what is now Newquay harbour provided natural protection from bad weather and a small fishing village grew up in the area. When the village was first occupied is unknown but it is not mentioned in the Domesday Book although a local house (now a bar known as "Trenninick Tavern") is included. By the 15th century the village was called "Towan Blystra" — "Towan" means sand hill/dune in Cornish — but the anchorage was exposed to winds from the North East and in 1439 the local Burghers applied to Bishop Lacey of Exeter for leave and funds to build a "New quay" from which the town derives its current name. The first census data on Newquay records around 1300 inhabitants in 1801.
Up to the early 20th century, the small fishing village was famous for pilchards and there is a "Huer's Hut" above the harbour from which a lookout would cry "Heva!" to call out the fishing fleet when pilchard shoals were spotted. The town's present insignia is two pilchards. Newquay no longer has any involvement in pilchard fishing although a small number of boats still exploit the local edible crab and lobster populations.
Four hundred boys and thirty masters of Gresham's School were evacuated to the town from Holt, Norfolk, during the Second World War, between 1940 and 1945.
Newquay is now a major tourist destination, principally on account of the 10 long and accessible sandy beaches. The town has a resident population of around 22,000 but this can increase to 100,000 or more in the summer because Newquay has a large stock of holiday accommodation
The resort styles itself "The Surfing Capital of Britain" with many surf shops, board manufacturers and hire shops in the town. Fistral Beach hosts major international competitions, and Towan, Great Western and Tolcarne Beaches nearer the town and nearby Crantock Bay and Watergate Bay also provide high quality breaks. Towan Beach is also the location for the proposed Newquay Surfing Reef, a somewhat controversial project that has polarised local opinion.
Newquay is also known for the "Run to the Sun" event, which always takes place during the public holiday on the last weekend in May at Trevelgue Holiday Park. Multitudes of people descend on the town in Volkswagen Camper vans, Beetles and other custom cars.
The 630 mile-long South West Coast Path runs through the town.
Obviously the massive influx of people coming to Newquay in the summer does have negative effects on the town - drink and drug related problems are increasingly making the front page of local newspapers. Although Britain’s binge drinking culture affects most of the UK, tourist destinations and seaside resorts are most heavily affected, and Newquay is no exception.
Newquay is well known for its lively nightlife.
Nightclubs such as Berties, Tall Trees and Sailors attract well known DJs such as Trevor Nelson, Dave Pearce, Judge Jules and Pete Tong.
Newquay railway station is the terminus of the Atlantic Coast Line that runs from Par and is situated close to the beaches on the east side of the town centre. The passenger service dates from 20 June 1874, but a goods line known as the Newquay Railway was opened in 1846 from nearby mines to the harbour. It was worked by horses and linked various mines with the harbour.
Newquay Airport provides links to other parts of the British Isles.