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Exploring Cornwall's iconic harbours

Posted by Perfect Stays on Updated on

Discover six of Cornwall's best harbours

Surrounded by ocean on three sides and rich in maritime heritage, Cornwall's coastline is dotted with some of the most picturesque harbours in the UK. Originally vital gateways for mining exports and home to vast fishing fleets, Cornwall’s harbours have now transitioned into quieter places, attracting visitors from across the world looking to explore these iconic landmarks and try nearby seafood restaurants, family-friendly museums and art galleries.

Join us as we share our favourite Cornish harbours for your next south west adventure…


St Ives Harbour

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St Ives has a rich artistic history and the captivating azure blue water and granite harbour wall have long been the muse for renowned artists such as Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth.

Surrounded by dozens of eateries, ice cream parlours and independent shops, St Ives Harbour is a great starting point for any trip to the town. Make a base on the white sands before wandering along the harbour wall to gaze out at fishermen hard at work on the water, then meander back along the cobbled pavements of Wharf Road for a fish supper at family-friendly Harbour Fish and Chips. For the more adventurous, enjoy a sea safari on the Little Mermaid boat which departs from St Ives Harbour - you might just spot a pod of dolphins while out at sea!

Planning a visit to the harbour?

Dining options: Hub St Ives, Harbour Fish and Chips and the Sloop Inn are all on the harbourside and perfect for eating out with the whole family. Get more inspiration in our guide to the best restaurants in St Ives

Things to do nearby: While in town, enjoy an arty excursion to The Tate St Ives, just a five to ten minute walk from the harbour and follow this up with a visit to the Barbara Hepworth Museum.

Parking: The Sloop car park (1 - 2 minute walk to the harbour).

Accommodation: Shun Lee

Padstow Harbour

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The harbour has long been the centre point of Padstow and it's first stone pier was built back in the 16th century. Although nowadays the town is known as a foodie hotspot with restaurants from famous chefs such as Rick Stein and Paul Ainsworth, it was once an important trading port for copper, tin and pilchards.

If you’re planning a visit, head straight to the waterfront and stop at locals-favourite Cherry Tree Coffee House for a slice of their cake while you watch the boats bob on the water. After you’ve refuelled, little ones will love sitting with parents on the harbour wall to try crabbing for the first time. Or wander slightly beyond the town centre to the National Lobster Hatchery to meet and adopt a baby lobster before its released into the ocean.

Planning a visit to the harbour?

Dining options: Try Caffe Rojano by Paul Ainsworth for a range of family-friendly options or book a table at Rick Stein’s Seafood Restaurant, just moments from the harbour. For more ideas, see our guide to where to eat in Padstow.

Things to do nearby: Enjoy a boat trip with Wavehunters Sea Safari or hire a bike and cycle along the Camel Trail.

Parking: Padstow Harbour Car Park (1 - 2 minute walk to the harbour).

Accommodation: Kilden Mor, Sea Haze or Harbour Walk

Charlestown Harbour

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Popularised in recent years as a key filming location for the BBC adaptation of Poldark, step back in time as you wander along the impressive Georgian Harbour and past heritage sailing barges.

From April through to Autumn, the inner harbour opens up to the public and hosts a range of pop-up eateries and independent shops, including mouthwatering barbeque feasts from HarbourQ and fish tacos from Charlestown Fish Co. Just beyond the harbour wall you’ll find a small shingle beach which is a lovely spot to explore hidden caves at low tide and imagine how smugglers may have used them in days gone by. For something a little different, head up the hill to the Shipwreck Museum to immerse yourself in local history and hear stories from beneath the waves.     

Planning a visit to the harbour?

Dining options: Springtide, The Longstore and Harbour Q are all great spots for lunch or dinner.

Things to do nearby: Discover antiques and find a new vintage favourite at the Sail Loft Emporium or take on the circular walk from Charlestown to Porthpean.

Parking: Charlestown Car Park (1 minute walk to the harbour).

Accommodation:Little Polkerris, Daymarker and Lantic Barn

Porthleven Harbour

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The UK’s most southernly port, Porthleven Harbour was created in the early 19th Century as a safe refuge for seafaring vessels during rough weather. The massive granite pier, breakwater and clocktower were impressive engineering feats in their day and are now an imposing backdrop as the waves crash on stormy winter days.

In recent years, Porthleven has become a foodie mecca, featuring Michelin-recommended Kota, The Mussel Shoal and storm watching favourite The Ship Inn. If you’re looking to purchase something to remember your trip, explore the recently opened Shipyard Indoor Market. Open from Tuesday to Sunday between April and October, purchase handmade gifts and artisan food and drink from the best local traders.

Planning a visit to the harbour?

Dining options: Kota, The Mussel Shoal, Ship Inn and Amelies are all moments from the harbour. For more ideas read our guide to the best restaurants in Porthleven. 

Things to do nearby: Wander the independent shops on the harbour front or venture just outside Porthleven to walk around Penrose, Cornwall’s largest natural lake.   

Parking: Kittos Field Car Park (1 minute walk to the harbour).

Accommodation: The Old School House and Seathrift

Polperro Harbour

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© Martina Jorden via Unsplash

A hidden gem on Cornwall’s south coast, Polperro Harbour is the beating heart of this enchanting fishing village. Transport yourself to a different time as you wander down the narrow streets past colourful cottages on almost every corner.

The town and harbour is famed for its smuggling history in the 18th and 19th centuries with many nooks, caves and tunnels still visible today. Budding historians in your group should head straight to Polperro’s Heritage Museum on the harbourside, with an extensive photographic collection, look back at the town’s history and impressive fishing heritage. After exploring the town, visit the dog-friendly Three Pilchards pub and enjoy one of their many lunch options – a popular choice is their famous fish pie with chive and mozzarella mash.

Planning a visit to the harbour?

Dining options: Excellent options include Clements & Hope, Three Pilchards and The Kitchen. For afternoon tea on a sunny day, look no further than The Plantation Tea Rooms.  

Things to do nearby: Explore Polperro Model Village or try one of the many craft and art classes at Coffee, Cake, Create.

Parking: Polperro Public Car Park – note this car park is at the entrance to the village as parking is not permitted in the town itself. It’s advisable to arrive early in summer months as spaces fill up quickly.

Accommodation: Eden and Sea Edge

Mousehole Harbour

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Situated in West Cornwall, just a short drive from Penzance, Mousehole is often ranked as one of Cornwall’s prettiest villages due to its beautiful harbour, sandy beaches and historic buildings. This idyllic spot has long been an important fishing port and is still home to a small fleet of day boats. On a sunny summer day, arrive early to explore before it gets too busy and then enjoy lunch al fresco perched on the harbour wall with a crab sandwich as you gaze out at the Atlantic waves.

If you’re visiting in December, make sure you venture into the village as the sun sets to marvel at the glistening Christmas lights along the harbour walls. For more details read our guide to the Mousehole Lights.

Planning a visit to the harbour?

Dining options: 2 Fore Street and Mousehole Deli & Kitchen are both lovely options for breakfast, lunch or dinner. For more ideas read our guide on the best places to eat in Mousehole. 

Things to do nearby: Visit Mousehole’s tidal pool for a cold water dip or take a trip to nearby St Michael’s Mount.

Parking: North Quay car park is directly on the harbour.  

Accommodation: The Mouse House and Porth Enys House

For more ideas to inspire your next trip to Cornwall, take a look at our guide to where to stay in Cornwall or visit our Cornwall property page to discover your perfect holiday home.

Image credits: Martina Jorden | All other images are our own.


Posted by Perfect Stays

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