For as many as five thousand years Padstow has been used as a natural harbour and fishing village. Barely unchanged for many of those. In recent times Padstow has hit the tourist map for 1 clear reason and has left the rest of Cornwall drooling to catch up:
Padstow is Cornwall’s culinary centrepiece. If the Westcountry was an oversized luxury manor, Padstow would be its glamorous dining hall where fish and chips put on a tartan tux and polished tin cufflinks.
But you want more than a bite to eat?
No worries. There’s beautiful riverside cycling, seaside hiking, beachside surfing, and boat-side boating. Really though! The boating is out of this world.
Take a wildlife spotting tour to grab a snap of the seals, dolphins, puffins and even sharks that frequent the area.
Take an adrenaline junkies powerboat ride and fly at speeds of up to 50 knots down the North Cornwall coastline.
Or take a ferry just across the water to Rock. Padstow’s upscale fancy village home to the rich and famous.
Padstow town lies lazily on the bank of the River Camel about 2 miles before the river mouth hits the ocean. For this reason, it has been used for thousands of years as the perfect natural harbour.
That same river guides the way for the famous camel trail cycle/hiking route.
Never has it ever I’m sure seen a camel, but it was actually once a popular railway line. Now long since abandoned it provided the perfect peaceful day out to get the blood flowing, whilst taking in that fresh river air on your way to/from Wadebridge, less than 6 miles away.
Head in the opposite direction and the whole headland is littered with beautiful beaches and is the perfect place to set off on that old Cornish Coastal Trail hike. Butterhole beach provides one perfect little getaway from the crowds, whilst Constantine Bay is one of the best Westerly-facing surf beaches.
Feeling a little lazier? Hop across the river on a 10-minute ferry to arrive at Rock. Home to big world names and even bigger world money. So, strap on your boat shoes and go mingle with the ‘IN’ crowd. Bring a few extra pennies though. Fine wine and fancy cheese comes with a lesser fine and not so fanciable toff-tax.
How to Get to Padstow
If you’re coming from the North take the M5 to Exeter, then hop on the A30 straight down into Cornwall. Take the A39 signposted Wadebridge, and then the B3276 with signs for Padstow. Depending on traffic it should take around 4 hours from Birmingham and 5 hours from London.
If you’re already in the South of Cornwall take the main A30 north follow the signs for Wadebridge and later the A3276 to Padstow. The trip should take around 1 hour 10mins from Penzance but allow for a bit longer in the summer.
There are direct trains from London Paddington to as far as Bodmin Parkway station. From there change to a bus for Padstow. The trip is around 5 hours all up. Trains run every day of the week and leave almost every hour.
The simplest way to arrive by coach would be via Plymouth. Also, there are a variety of National express services that arrive as far as Truro, Newquay, Bodmin and Penzance. From any of these places there are regular local buses to Falmouth.
The nearest airport to Padstow is only 12 miles away in Newquay. The GoCornwall bus line 56 makes the trip but will take you around an hour depending on traffic. Direct taxis will be much quicker getting you there in around 20/30 minutes but will charge around £30 – £40
What to See and Do in Padstow
At some stage, you’re gonna have to put down the knife and fork and step away from the dinner table. It may seem hard at first, but don’t worry. Soon enough the memories of Padstow’s culinary delights will but dancing on the back of your tongue as you whizz through the salty sea air on a high-speed powerboat.
If you want to take a calmer approach to letting the food slowly fizzle to the back of your mind, then the options to switch gears into slow motion and just take it eeeeasy are bountiful. For example:
You can’t miss it! Not just because with a population of barely 2500 people Padstow is on the small side, but mostly because it sits as an ever-present centerpiece on the spectacular dining table.
The harbour is where is it all happens. It’s like a good TV gameshow. You don’t even need to be involved to really get into it and have a great time.
Watch the intricacies of old, mixing with times of new as fishing boats pass tour boats and ferries slide up alongside speed boats. People watching at its finest.
You can’t come to Padstow without hopping on some kind of seacraft.
There’s something for all variety of sea legs.
Fishing trips, wildlife trips, high-speed adrenaline-pumping powerboat trips or just ferry trips. Padstow harbour has them all.
Personally, I think Padstow has one of the best Sealife Safaris in Cornwall. With the chance to see such a wide variety of animals. They offer a multitude of trips heading up the estuary or out to Puffin filled islands. You can see dolphins, seals, endless birds, and even basking sharks in the summer season.
The Camel Trail
This 18-mile-long traffic-free cycle path follows the river of the same name from Wentfordbridge to Padstow. Although you can actually ride a horse along this route don’t expect any camels. The name was actually derived from the old Cornish name Dowr Kammel or ‘Crooked River’.
Pick a beautiful sunny day and head out on a bicycle or by foot for an iconic and peaceful day by the riverside. For birdwatchers and nature-lovers alike.
There are many ways to embark on your own self-guided Camel trail journey but I would recommend taking a bus to Wadebridge (a 50 minute peddle away) or Bodmin (1 hour 50 minutes) where you can rent bicycles from one of the many rental companies. Most companies offer a one-way service so you don’t have to go back to drop off the bikes but make sure you ask.
What’s more… There’s no entry price.
Just up the hill outside of town is one of the Westcountry’s oldest houses. Still lived in to this day, Prideaux Place has been passed down through 14 generations.
If art, history, and fabulous views in a truly peaceful setting are your thing, then this is your kind of ‘Prideaux Place’.
Complete with its own deer park. One of the oldest in the country. Where they still keep a herd of very tame deer that will come right up and say hey.
Just be aware it’s closed on Fridays and Saturdays
The Lobster Hatchery
Ever fancied adopting a lobster? Probably not. But after a visit to this lobster conservation center, you may well want to.
Honestly, it’s amazing to learn more about something we take so for granted and I think you’ll be surprised to learn just how vulnerable lobster populations around the South West coastline are. You can also see baby lobsters being reared ready for release alongside the resident giant lobsters and a variety of crabs.
Where to Eat in Padstow? (and eat some more)
So, this is what we all came for! Right?
Well just in case Padstow’s name hasn’t proceeded it. I will inform you now. This is where you want to spend as much time devouring plates of culinary mastery as you will devouring its seaside scenery.
There is no shortage of big names to fill the list so I’m gonna start with the obvious.
Not one, not two, but four! Rick Stein has four restaurants in Padstow.
It would be hard to not end up eating at one of them. Even by accident.
Without waffling on about each one of them, let’s just take it back to where it all started.
The Seafood Restaurant
With its reputation for serving the freshest locally caught seafood and shellfish. Aimed to keep things simple. The absolute best seafood served in a relaxed atmosphere.
But if you’re looking for something more of a passing bite where you can just wander in with the pooch. Well, how about this?
Rick Stein’s Café
Offering up all the British classics alongside healthy granola bowls and homemade cakes as well as great value seafood like pepper prawns.
Paul Ainsworth at NO.6
At around 135 pounds for a four-course meal made from the freshest local produce, it doesn’t come cheap. But fancy a treat. Something of a silver-spooned tongue party. Well, throw your wallet down, just sit back and dissolve in the flavours of Michelin star quality.
Greens of Padstow
With some of the best views in town, a variety of dishes to suit all dietary needs and even a mini golf course. Greens has something for the whole family. Whether it be a prime cut of meat, monkfish tail, walnut pesto linguine, or a halloumi burger. The list goes on and of course, there’s a kid’s menu.
For a casual yet delicious lunchtime snack Berryfields Holiday Park has cream teas baked fresh every day. But be warned, you may end up having bigger eyes than you thought after seeing all the homemade pastries and sandwiches.
People don’t really think shopping when they think Padstow but actually, they’d be thinking all wrong. Padstow is a great destination to rummage through some delightfully quirky little boutiques. In a world overrun by cheaply made mass-produced shh-tuff, I’d say some of the best things money can buy come in the form of something unique, handmade, or locally inspired.
Something like Quba & Co where they originally turned old sails into waterproof jackets and now, has grown to produce a huge range of men’s and women’s clothing and accessories. But still, those jackets though! I could throw around a whole bunch of superlatives but instead, I’ll just say. Go take a peek.
Downtown Padstow doesn’t really have the space for big supermarkets so you’ll find Tesco’s (the only superstore) about a mile up the road. If that doesn’t satisfy you then a short drive/bus ride to Wadebridge will open up options like Lidl’s, Aldi, Co-op, and M&S.
Almost a literal stone’s throw from so many destinations (you can actually even walk to some of them). Rock on the other hand is within swimming distance. But for convenience, a quick regular ferry will take you over to one of the most affluent places in Cornwall. Mostly, people do the trip just because. A kind of ‘why not’. But amongst its beautiful beach and heaps of giant hidden mansions Rock also has cosy pubs and local breweries for you to while away the afternoon.
Fancy something a tad further afield? How about the birthplace of King Arthur himself?
Only 21 miles away Tintagel has spectacular cliffside views punctuated by legend-inspiring castle ruins.
If it’s a beach you’re looking for, then there are plenty to choose from. Something for every day of the week. And for an interesting stop if you have time. Check out The Round Hole. A giant sinkhole that opened up many years ago down by Trevone. But don’t get too close. There have been several misfortunes over the years where people’s curiosities got the better of them.
Final Word on Padstow
Come for a bite, stay for a seven-course meal, and wash it all down with a swig of history and a moment of deep reflection over a harbour bathed in stories of old.
Times may have changed but Padstows charmful sleepy ways will still captivate more than just your taste buds.
Meet Ben, a wanderlust-stricken wordsmith hailing from the surf paradise of Newquay. With a pen and a passion for storytelling in hand, from rugged coastal hikes to secret spots off the beaten tourist path, join Ben as he guides you through the very best of what Cornwall has to offer.