What are the best harbour towns in Cornwall?
With Cornwall’s significant maritime history, it’s no surprise that some of the most beautiful harbourside towns in the country are found dotted along the Cornish coast. Each town is full of beauty, charm, and fun things to do, from walking the coastal paths surrounding Looe Harbour to browsing the harbour-inspired art in St Ives.
In this guide, we take you through the best harbour towns in Cornwall that you can visit during your stay at one of the most popular caravan holiday parks in Cornwall.
The best harbour towns in Cornwall
- St Ives
Along the south coast of Cornwall is the picturesque port of Polperro, which is the perfect spot to experience a quieter pace of life. The streets that wind around the traditional fishermen’s cottages are so narrow that few cars can drive through the town, allowing visitors to enjoy a relaxing break without disturbing traffic noise.
If you want to visit the best Cornwall harbour towns, this peaceful fishing cove should be on your list of places to visit, as it has it all. It was once notorious for smuggling during the 18th and early 19th centuries, so stop by the Harbour Museum and learn more about Polperro’s history during your visit. After strolling along the harbourside, change into a swimming costume and head to the Polperro bathing pool, which could pass as a giant rock pool and is a popular spot for adventurous swimmers.
Just along from Polperro is the small coastal town of Looe, which attracts and entertains holidaymakers and remains a fully functioning fishing port. Alongside the waterfront are many pubs, cafés and shops to keep you entertained during your trip, as well as the white sandy beach stretching along the harbour – a beautiful spot to relax and unwind.
Looe is one of the best harbour towns in Cornwall as it is home to some stunning coastal walks, with the Looe to Polperro path a particularly popular choice for families and avid walkers alike.
Elizabeth Dale, who is the writer behind the Cornish Bird Blog, recommends that during your visit, you should catch a boat from Looe Harbour to Looe Island: “Looe Island is roughly 22 acres and only about a mile around, but the diversity of the habitats – from grassland to sandy beaches, woodlands to coastal cliffs – makes it a unique haven for a wide range of wildlife.
“Around 20 species of butterfly have been spotted, as well as bats, numerous woodland birds and, according to Claire (who was their guide), a plague of slugs and snails of near biblical proportions. The island database also records more than 100 individually named grey seals, some of which return to the island year after year to breed. But it was the huge numbers of sea birds that really delighted me!”
ALSO READ: A guide to Looe
Perhaps one of the most well-known harbours in the UK is St Ives, a town that mixes maritime museums, independent shopping and a contemporary art scene.
A must-visit art gallery is Tate St Ives, which you can find in a magnificent building that overlooks Porthmeor Beach. The Tate is home to many modern art collections and unique exhibitions. You can also visit the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden, where the sculptures created by one of Britain’s most iconic 20th-century artists are displayed in between flowers and greenery.
One of the best ways to see the harbour view is from above, so wander up the cobbled alleyways from the harbour, and you’ll soon find a spot high enough to appreciate the harbour’s postcard-worthy beauty. It doesn’t take long to understand why St Ives has been a muse for artists for decades, as the shoebox cottages surrounding the harbour, the golden sand beach and the turquoise sea all add to its unique beauty.
We spoke to Mark from The Cornish Deli, a café serving local delights in the heart of the town, who told us what he loves about St Ives: “Firstly, the multiple beaches – including the world-famous surfing beach of Porthmeor, the ultra-family friendly Porthminster Beach and the quaint harbour beach. Also, there are many very decent cafes, restaurants and bars close by within a traditional fishing village feel. There are small boutiques and privately-owned shops along the beautiful cobbled back streets. The traditional fishing village feel and the old fishing cottages also make St Ives great.”
We also spoke to Caroline from the team at St Ives Farmers’ Market, a community venture to help make fresh local produce available, selling everything from fresh fruit and veg to cakes and jams. Caroline reveals why St Ives is one of the most beautiful harbourside towns: “The sea here is crystal clear, and the buzz of the local community seeps through the town. There is a lot to choose from food wise, walks and views, and the local artists always have a good mix on show.
“What has kept me in St Ives is the wild Atlantic Ocean; you cannot beat the air and water. Cornwall has a unique feeling, not only the dynamic sea and rock but the mix of people who enjoy the lifestyle we are lucky to lead. It is all about being outdoors. Relishing the local food and being part of a community.”
Boscastle is one of the best harbour towns in Cornwall, and it is a great place to visit as there is so much to see and do in this picturesque village.
Boscastle has a natural harbour which is set in a narrow ravine, and it was once a thriving port serving much of North Cornwall. It is still a working harbour used by fishermen, and visitors can take boat trips from the harbour as well.
The town is full of attractive thatched and white-washed cottages, and there are countless coastal walks you can go on from the village.
One of the most iconic attractions that you can visit in Boscastle is the Witchcraft Museum which is home to a ghoulish mixture of exhibits. There are also gift shops, pottery shops, cafes and restaurants that you can visit during your visit.
ALSO READ: Cornish myths, legends and folklore
What was once the centre of Cornwall’s pilchard fishery is now the place to relax in a traditional Cornish town. There aren’t many more famous Cornwall harbour towns than Mevagissey, and during a visit to this ancient harbour town, there are plenty of activities that you can enjoy.
Along the harbourside, there are plenty of shops to browse and restaurants that serve local freshly caught fish, one being the Salamander Restaurant, where you can enjoy a three-course meal made from local produce. If you’re looking for something more low-key, grab a classic seaside fish and chips from the Fishermen’s Chippy to enjoy on a bench overlooking the beautiful harbour.
David McClane, who is the writer behind the Man vs Globe blog, speaks about why he loves this harbour town in Cornwall: “Without a doubt, the majority of visitors that make their way to Mevagissey come here to spend the day exploring the attractive harbour which was once the centre of Cornwall’s pilchard fishery. Even to this day, it contains dozens of small fishing vessels that bob on the clear waters at high tide and then sinks down into the mud once it recedes. This is the oldest part of the town, with many of the winding, cobbled streets lined with centuries-old pubs and pastel-coloured cottages as well as the usual tourist-friendly cafes and gift shops.”
If you love history, the best harbour town in Cornwall that you can visit is Falmouth. The town is famous for having the third deepest natural harbour in the world, which has been a popular spot for ship repairs for over 150 years; many mariners have referred to it as the “First and Last Port” and the “Port of Refuge.”
After learning about Falmouth’s rich history, wander the town and explore the independent cafés and art galleries. The town is a hot spot for art lovers as it is home to Falmouth University, one of the UK’s leading places of education for the creative industries.
We spoke to Anna from the team at Huddle, a must-visit café in the heart of Falmouth, to find out more about why this harbourside town is so great: “With countless places to stop for food and drink, boutique shops to visit, family-friendly beaches ideal for relaxation or play, and a variety of events and activities throughout the year – from Sea Shanties and Falmouth Week to the Oyster Festival, there is always plenty to see and do in Falmouth.
“It’s got a bit of everything: open countryside, coastal walks, the picturesque Fal River, a bustling town centre, and fun beaches. Having the university here helps give the town a buzz throughout the year and keeps it feeling fresh, creative and vibrant. Falmouth’s community is particularly special; the people are always friendly and welcoming: it’s the perfect place for people of all ages to feel at home!”
Situated between Looe and Mevagissey is the quaint harbourside town of Fowey. The harbour is home to many commercial boats, including the Polruan Ferry, which allows visitors to explore Fowey’s neighbouring seaside town.
We spoke to Melissa Jane Lee, a personal lifestyle blogger, to find out her pick for the most beautiful harbourside town in Cornwall: “I always recommend that people who go to Cornwall visit the town of Fowey. It’s one of the most stunning seaside locations I’ve ever visited, and it’s nestled within the Fowey estuary. With the blue sea, little beaches tucked into coves, and narrow winding streets lined with some of the most beautiful houses I’ve ever seen, it is a must-see.
“Fowey has wonderful restaurants, shops and galleries. The views across the estuary to the village of Polruan are divine. Fowey has a village community feel, with friendly locals aplenty as well as tourists. It also has a touch of the luxurious about it, with its elegant buildings and hotels. It’s perfect for a relaxing weekend break, sampling local produce and breathing in the refreshing seaside air.”
Charlestown in Cornwall is one of the best harbour towns in the county, and its port is the jewel in its crown.
Charlestown Harbour is a historic harbour, and it is the last open 18th-century Georgian harbour in the UK and is a UNESCO world heritage site. The harbour has been used in filming popular television shows and movies, including Poldark, The Eagle Has Landed, and Alice in Wonderland (2010).
If you visit the harbour in Charlestown, you will be transported back in time as there are classic tall ships moored here. It is, however, still a vibrant working port, and you will see this during a visit.
Whilst Charlestown is a harbour town in Cornwall, there is much more to it than its port, as there are some beautiful beaches in the area and lots of great places to eat and drink.
Other harbour towns in Cornwall you can visit
The aforementioned harbours are considered some of the best and most popular ports in Cornwall, but there are plenty of others that you can visit. Take a look below at some of the other harbours that you can visit:
- Port Isaac
Why visit a Cornish harbour?
There are harbours up and down the whole of the UK, but there is something unique about the ones located on the Cornish coast. Melissa Jane Lee continues to tell us why visiting a harbourside town in Cornwall is worth visiting: “With palm trees and a generally warmer climate, it feels as if you’ve crossed the English Channel. It also has a fascinating history, some incredible natural and manufactured landmarks, and remnants of a different way of life.”
We hope you have enjoyed this look at the best harbour towns in Cornwall and have been inspired for a future visit.
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