Cornwall’s history and culture are intimately bound to the sea.
With miles of rough coastline, there are few places that are safe enough to anchor in.
These rare coastal havens have gathered thriving communities around them, creating many beautiful harbour towns and villages that stand strong today.
Let’s break down the most notable harbours to visit in Cornwall!
Famous among artists for its gorgeous natural light and views, St Ives boasts numerous art museums, studios, and galleries.
Most notable are the acclaimed Tate St Ives and Barbara Hepworth Museum; definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area.
If art isn’t your thing, the town also provides excellent surfing, sailing, shopping and food, all surrounding its beautiful harbour. This includes The Sloop Inn, circa 1312 – one of the oldest in Cornwall!
Each year, the annual, week-long St Ives Literature Festival is held in May. This features open-air performances, talks, workshops, and live music for an unforgettable experience.
With evidence of its existence dating back to Neolithic times, this historic town has been a successful fishing port for centuries.
Today, it still functions as a commercial fishing port, though its main trade has gradually transitioned toward tourism.
The bustling harbour presides over the mouth of the River Looe, which divides the town neatly in two.
It has a reputation for excellent fish, which can sometimes be bought fresh in the morning on the quayside. The harbour also features ferries, restaurants, cafes, beaches and numerous shops.
The unique twin town offers a huge range of sights to see and activities to do, so you certainly won’t get bored while visiting!
The Looe Music Festival is also held each year in late September, springing up in temporary venues throughout the town, harbour, and beach.
Porthleven is a cute harbour town AND the most southerly working port in the UK, with huge harbour walls protecting a small town clinging to the hillsides.
It’s best known for features like its clock tower, as well as being a favourite among storm watchers.
Porthleven faces the southwest, which means it gets regularly battered by Atlantic storms and strong gusts.
The waves formed by these weather patterns, often reaching over 6ft, regularly draw crowds of daring surfers! The spot is often described by surfers as Cornwall’s best reef break.
Kayaking is another popular sport in the area. The beach is watched by RNLI lifeguard patrols during the holiday months, meaning it’s a great area for casual beach time as well. At low tide, you can walk for miles along the sand.
Porthleven has also earned a reputation as a foodie town, boasting numerous restaurants and pubs. Some of its most notable food locations are Kota, Amelies, Sea Drift, and The Square.
It also hosts the Porthleven Food Festival each year, alongside weekly markets with the freshest local produce!
St Michael’s Mount
This island port was the focal point of local tin trading around 2000 years ago!
It’s known in legends as the place where the Archangel Michael appeared to guide sailors to safety in the storm. Now, it offers some great tourist spots for those interested in the history of the area.
Most notably, the huge castle sits atop a hill and is open for visitors via online bookings.
Built in the mid-1600s, the structure is filled with exhibits of old furniture, knick-knacks and other artefacts and features an online guided tour using QR codes placed throughout the castle!
It also has a large, terraced garden filled with a menagerie of colourful plants for visitors to wander through.
A little way from the castle sits the historic Church of St Michael & All Angels. This building stands on the foundations of the original 1135 church, having been rebuilt in the 14th century.
It contains several religious, Christian relics that will undoubtedly attract those interested in religious history.
Finally, the town also holds multiple festivals, art exhibits, and other events from time to time throughout the year.
This village started in relative obscurity before becoming one of the most well-known fishing hubs in Cornwall. This newfound fame is largely thanks to the TV show Doc Martin, where the town starred as the fictional village of Portwenn.
It wasn’t chosen at random for this role, however. One of the oldest ports in Cornwall, Port Isaac boasts stunning cliff sides spattered with white-washed cottages that peer out over the harbour.
The town may not be huge and bustling, but it’s the perfect example of a small, picturesque Cornish fishing village. If you want peace and beautiful views over the sea, a stay in Port Isaac may be a great fit!
This is the world’s third largest deep water harbour, able to welcome even huge cruise ships to its small town. Falmouth sits at the mouth of the River Fal.
A large swathe of the local region is regarded as an Area of Outstanding National Beauty (AONB) and is carefully preserved.
Its peaceful village is nestled amongst a rugged, natural landscape, creating a beautiful picture of a classic seaside town.
In olden times, Falmouth was a major cargo port in the UK, hosting all manner of vessels. It has a rich history of famous maritime exploits and stories, reaching far back into the past.
Now, Falmouth is known as an idealistic seaside town to visit for tourists seeking some quiet relaxation.
It’s a popular stopping point for cruise ships and has grown to meet this new demand! There are plentiful places for food, shopping, and fun dotted through the town.
If you’re interested in history, the town offers activities like the excellent National Maritime Museum Cornwall and Pendennis Castle.
For artists and art lovers, it also has an incredible theatre and art community. Notably, it offers the Falmouth Art Gallery, Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society, and a huge number of theatre groups and performances.
Whether watching the bustling harbour from the pub or exploring the history of the area, Falmouth is a great destination for a seaside holiday.
Sitting on the south coast of Cornwall, Fowey hangs along the side of the Fowey Estuary.
Its deep water harbour attracts a strong yachting community, while the historic Georgian and Medieval buildings attract sightseers from all over.
History drips from its narrow streets and busy harbour, and every part of the town feels picture-perfect with a constant backdrop of natural beauty.
The port has thrived for hundreds of years, being first established well before the Norman invasion. Now, it’s a very popular tourist destination in Cornwall.
Once at the heart of the Cornish pilchard fishing industry, this town is one of the oldest working harbours in Cornwall. The port is framed by a very traditional, Cornish fishing village, featuring picturesque, narrow streets and historic buildings.
The harbour itself is bustling with fishing and pleasure vessels. Along its edges, numerous restaurants, cafes, and shops welcome tourists from all over the globe!
If you’re looking for natural wonders, Mevagissey boasts a number of gorgeous caves, cliffs, and beaches to enjoy.
If you want to spend some time in town, there are plenty of activities to enjoy.
Notably, there is the lighthouse, the Eden Project, the Lost Gardens of Heligan, a museum, an aquarium, a model railway centre, and a World Heritage Site. You won’t be bored or hungry here!
Every year at the end of June, Mevagissey celebrates Feast Week. This is a week of family fun, music, and floral dances in the village streets, in addition to a carnival and fireworks display to finish things off at the end of the week.
Tucked neatly into a corner of the Lizard Peninsula, the remote village of Coverack is an excellent choice for a quiet village getaway.
The quaint town features an 18th-century stone pier framed by classic coastal homes and an abundance of shops and cafes. Its pier is still used by a number of small boats, though the town lives mostly off tourism nowadays.
Coverack is a popular tourist destination, especially for watersports like windsurfing, sailing, and diving.
In particular, a nearby set of rocks known as The Manacles are home to a number of old shipwrecks. This makes it a favourite diving destination for nautical visitors!
Near the town is Poldowrian Garden, where a prehistoric settlement dating back to 5500 BC was discovered. If you visit, intriguing archaeological finds from the site are available for you to view.
The charming fishing port sits at the head of the Camel River. A menagerie of fishing boats heads out for a daily catch, as well as a daily ferry to the other side of the estuary. Its deep waters also make it a favourite spot for yachts.
It features some famous natural wonders, including Tregudda Gorge where erosion along a fault line has resulted in beautiful, sheer cliffs.
Nearby, you can see the alternating black and white strata of the Marble Cliffs, and in the water is the Round Hole, a collapsed sea cave. The town itself features a large, 13th-century church: the Church of Saint Petroc.
It also has a number of excellent restaurants and cafes, most notably those founded by Rick Stein. These are paired with a wide selection of shops and tourist activities.
Whether you want quiet coves, child-friendly beaches, or gorgeous natural phenomena, Padstow has you covered.
If you want something really interesting, each May Eve the town holds its traditional ‘Obby ‘Oss festival. This features ancient Celtic traditions including dancing, singing, maypoles, and costumes. It’s truly an unforgettable experience!
Standing since at least 1283, this town is named after the narrow entrance between its twin granite piers. The harbour shelters a gorgeous white-sand beach and stunning blue waters.
Mousehole was the main port in Mounts Bay until the 16th century, before later becoming a major player in the pilchard fishing industry. Now, it’s a common tourist destination.
The village features narrow streets, yellow, lichened houses, as well as numerous shops, cafes, and restaurants. It’s also known for its excellent festivals and markets.
Probably the most well-known feature of Mousehole is its yearly Christmas illuminations that drench the entire town in gorgeous lights and decorations. If you’re able, visiting Cornwall at Christmas allows for a fantastical night exploring the lit-up houses!
Founded in the 1700s by a man named Charles Rashleigh, Charlestown was an export harbour for goods like copper, tin, and fine China clay.
Now, it thrives as a picturesque, seaside tourist destination. The village is most famous for feeling like a time capsule. It features perfectly preserved Georgian buildings, streets, and classic square rigger ships.
Walking along the harbour really can feel like you’ve stepped into a time machine!
This incredible scenery has led to many films and TV shows being shot in the area, including names like Doctor Who, Poldark, and Bait.
As a tourist, you’ll have plenty to do. There are numerous restaurants, cafes, and shops to peruse, as well as historic pubs, shipwrecks, and the fascinating Shipwreck museum. Finally, don’t miss the stunning beach and galleries!
This charming and dramatic little village is still served by a number of small fishing vessels. They peter in and out of its sturdy granite piers, flanked by sheer and jagged cliffs.
Just offshore, the volcanic Mullion Island sits on the horizon.
Once, Mullion was known for its pilchard fishing and as a favourite spot for smugglers’ hideouts.
At low tide, a number of caves become visible along the sheer cliffs of the Lizard Peninsula. It was in these caves that smugglers were said to hide their goods!
Now, it’s an incredible place to soak in views of the ocean. It has some lovely beaches, cafes, and natural vistas that lend themselves to a peaceful holiday by the sea.
This bustling, little fishing village attracts swathes of visitors in the summer months.
Most come seeking the quiet lanes and whitewashed houses of the picturesque fishing village, looking for a relaxing place to watch ships bob in the harbour.
In the 12th century, Polperro was a major smuggling centre. Now, its main industry is tourism.
It’s known for its incredible food, with a number of excellent restaurants and cafes framing its harbour. These are especially renowned for their seafood.
The harbour town features incredible natural views of the coastline, with guided walks through the nearby cliffs available in the village.
Boat trips can be taken to view the coast from a different angle – sometimes even featuring dolphins and seals if you’re lucky!
In town, spend your time in museums, art galleries, pubs, holiday parks, and hidden shops. Make a visit to the Smuggler’s Museum if you want to learn more about the area’s darker history.
The Polperro Festival is held each year in June. Here, you can enjoy arts and crafts, market stalls, live music, dance, theatre, and street entertainment for children and adults alike. It makes for a great family day trip that everyone will enjoy!
This natural harbour sits in a deep inlet between the rocky headlands of Penally and Willapark.
Featuring a picturesque fishing village, gorgeous natural vistas, and incredible history, the town is a popular spot for tourists.
If you want to enjoy nature’s beauty, you can enjoy the fantastic coastal views along the left side of the harbour. There is also incredible sightseeing, bird watching, and wreck fishing to enjoy.
Back in town, enjoy activities like the Museum of Witchcraft, Paul’s Emporium, and the Boscastle Pottery Shop. Be sure to visit the Wellington Inn, which dates all the way back to the 16th century!
In short: whether you’re interested in wandering through shops and museums or enjoying boat rides and bird watching, you’ll find something to love in Boscastle!
Introducing Eliot, the Editor here and Cornwall local with a wanderlust spirit and an insatiable appetite for adventure. With a passion for the great outdoors, he can often be found catching waves on his surfboard, scaling peaks on a hiking trail, or discovering hidden gems in his exploration of Cornwall.