10 Reasons to Visit Fowey

The first sight of Fowey, with its jumble of Georgian houses and pastel-coloured cottages running down to the busy river below, has captivated visitors for centuries. This medieval port lies at the mouth of the river Fowey – pronounced ‘foy’ like ‘soy’ – about half way between St Austell and Polperro in south-west Cornwall and still has an important maritime presence, trading in china clay. It is fascinating to see little fishing boats and ferries jostling with the big ships heading up river to the deep-water quays. And, like all ports, Fowey is bustling, lively and cosmopolitan, made up of pretty winding streets filled with quirky shops and restaurants, studded with architecture that nods at its ancient past. It’s the perfect playground for a family-friendly holiday or for those who need an interesting base to explore the nearby Cornish jewels on offer. Here are 10 reasons to visit. 

Please check opening times before visiting any attractions and venues during the Covid-19 pandemic.

1. It has the Fowey Festival of Arts and Literature

The literati have flocked to Fowey for hundreds of years, drawn by that sense of life on the river. Poet Robert Bridges said it is ‘the most poetic-looking place in England’ while Peter Pan author JM Barrie wrote that ‘it is but a toy town to look at, on a bay so small, hemmed in so picturesquely by cliffs and ruins, that of a moonlight night, it might pass for a scene in a theatre’. Fowey’s most famous fan was Daphne du Maurier, who wrote in her diary that ‘the place has taken hold of me’, when she first spent time there. It comes as no surprise that this fascinating little port has its own annual literary festival. The Covid-19 pandemic means that the Fowey Festival of Arts and Literature won’t be on until May 2022, but the presence of its most famous resident is everywhere – Ferryside, by the quay in Bodinnick, was where du Maurier wrote her first novel and the author later lived at nearby Menabilly, the model for Manderley in her best-selling novel Rebecca. Find out more about du Maurier’s Cornwall here.

2. You can see the sights on a boat trip

The best place to see Fowey and the surrounding villages is from the water. Boat tours leave from the harbour. Take a river trip, passing Readymoney Cottage, another former du Maurier home, Sawmills recording studio where Oasis and Guns N’ Roses have recorded, and a china clay factory. Back towards the sea you can see castle ruins on a hill. Fowey Cruise also run day trips to Polperro, Lostwithiel, Charlestown and Lerryn, where the writer Kenneth Grahame may have been inspired to write The Wind in the Willows.

3. It has its own aquarium

Small but perfectly formed, Fowey Aquarium is great for families with small children. Not only does it give a fascinating glimpse into the marine life found around the Cornish coast, it also has a touch pool where kids can enjoy picking up a shore crab or have their fingers tickled by prawns. You can also spot strange lurking species such as lobster – Leonard the lobster (who was once a resident but is no longer with us) apparently measured 1.26 metres and weighed 20lb.

4. There are plenty of independent shops …

Community spirit is strong in Fowey and you can get a real feel for it by wandering around its shops. There are plenty of gift and clothes boutiques to get lost in and a variety of food emporiums that are popular with visitors and locals alike. Try Kittows of Fowey, a family-run fifth-generation Cornish butcher that also sells groceries, deli items and cheeses, while Fowey Fudge has an abundant supply of Cornish fudge, chocolates and sweets. For artisan bread, go to Quay Bakery while amazing Cornish pasties can be found at Nile's Bakery.

5. … and a plethora of art galleries

For such a small town, Fowey has a substantial number of galleries and studios producing a large variety of pieces of art and craft, all inspired by the stunning coastline and ever-shifting river life. Head to Fowey River Gallery for a varied showcase of talented artists on the first floor of a pretty Georgian building, Toe in the Water for Max Harrower’s sea-inspired art and photography and Whistlefish for a wide range of artwork including prints, canvas and greeting cards featuring Fowey and the south coast of Cornwall.

6. It’s a great base for exploring

Fowey is a wonderful place to return to after visiting Cornwall’s famous attractions: the Eden Project, and the Lost Gardens of Heligan are a short drive away and there are many lovely beaches. St Austell Brewery also has an interactive brewing experience and tasting tour.

7. Fresh fish is served in lovely restaurants

Cornwall does informal al fresco dining to perfection, and Fowey has some great places to eat in the open. Captain Hanks Crab & Snack Stand can be found at the lifeboat pontoon, selling locally sourced, homemade fish dishes that you can eat on benches overlooking the beautiful River Fowey. Fine dining can be found at the Old Quay House with stunning estuary views. For a deep-rooted local and sustainable food philosophy, head to Fitzroy, an old bank building, where the small plates have a seafood slant. The kitchen is reopening on 17 May and bookings for its sister restaurant, North Street, are now live for the outdoor terrace from 13 April. You can find cocktails and more at Sam’s Fowey, a lively brightly decorated restaurant, cocktail bar and lounge in a 13th-century building in the heart of Fowey. Sam’s serves up hand-pressed award-winning burgers, locally landed fish from its day boat The Emperor, mussels from the bay and lobsters and scallops from local fishermen.

8. You can kayak to 'Wind in the Willows' Creek

Go on a guided kayak trip of the estuary with Encounter Cornwall, based in beautiful Golant. You'll paddle upriver to the picturesque creekside village of Lerryn. Keep an eye out for an abundance of wildlife along the way, including herons, egrets, kingfishers, and Toad, Mole and Ratty, of course!

9. You can walk in Daphne du Maurier’s footsteps

Fowey’s lovely Hall Walk includes two ferries: one from Fowey to Bodinnick and back over from Polruan. You could extend and go to beautiful Lantic Bay, too. Amble from Polruan up to Lanteglos to the small church where Daphne du Maurier married her handsome young major.

10. It has its own regatta

Fowey Royal Regatta takes place in August, but dates for this year’s event have not been published because of the pandemic. It’s one of the UK’s best-loved sailing events and attracts thousands of visitors every year, some of whom make an annual pilgrimage. The race programme includes Troys, Fowey Rivers, Cruisers, Falmouth Working Boats and a handicap dinghy fleet. Traditional land-based events include the Carnival procession, fireworks displays, the crab-catching competition and Fowey harbour swim, the Giant Pasty ceremony and pasty-eating competition, flora dance and the Fowey Town Band. There’s also live music every night on Town Quay.