7 of the prettiest historic Cornish fishing villages to visit
It’s hard to think of anything more quintessentially Cornish than one of its many historic fishing villages. Picture the scene: the summer sun glints off the water while people throng the quayside restaurants, enjoying the fresh catch of the day unloaded by the fishermen toiling in their boats. You can imagine what life would have been even just a few decades ago – a simpler, slower, more peaceful time. To get your fill of that wonderful nostalgia for times past, check out our top seven prettiest historic fishing villages to visit in Cornwall and browse our website to find your dream holiday cottage at one of these beautiful locations.
1. Port Isaac, near Wadebridge, north Cornwall
Port Isaac is utterly delightful: tile-hung cottages, dolphins and 1950s-style fishmongers. Despite being inundated by tourists from around the globe, where the hit sitcom Doc Martin is filmed, it remains authentically Cornish and un-twee. Steeped in history, it’s a working harbour and several trawlers still bring in a daily catch. The Golden Lion is the perfect cosy pub, with plank floors, crackling fires and sunset views over the port. Exceptional, fresher-than-fresh seafood is served up at uber-chef Nathan Outlaw’s New Road restaurant. Walk it all off by tramping the cliffs towards Port Quin for stunning views or hit the beach and try surfing at nearby Polzeath.
2. Charlestown, near St Austell, south Cornwall
Another set location for yet another wildly popular TV show – this time Poldark – is picture-postcard-perfect Charlestown. This Cornish gem will quench your thirst for traditional charm. Cobbled streets lead down the Georgian harbour, complete with tall ships. Learn more about the village’s seafaring past at the Shipwreck and Heritage Centre before stopping off for lunch in the town centre or taking a picnic to one of the two beaches. The Longstore is a stylish but family-friendly harbourside eatery – expect steaks and seafood.
3. Zennor, near St Ives, north Cornwall
The fact that even the tiniest Cornish fishing village had its own museum highlights the depth of Cornwall’s history. Sadly closed in 2015, the Wayside Folk Museum in Zennor showcased thousands of artefacts reflecting both the domestic and industrial history of the area. But no matter – this tiny coastal bolthole can still pack a punch when it comes to legends and ancient monuments. Children will be fascinated by the tale of the Mermaid of Zennor, in which a local lad once ploughed into the sea at Pendour Cove in pursuit of a beautiful girl with an angelic voice. They’ll also love sampling the village’s Moomaid of Zennor ice cream. Hike up the hill from the hamlet to discover the 5,000-year-old Zennor quoit – the largest prehistoric burial chamber of its kind in Europe. Reward yourself at the 13th-century Tinners Arms pub, where DH Lawrence wrote the end of Women in Love. Or take a break from walking one of the loveliest stretches of the South West Coast Path between St Ives and Land’s End for a fabulous lunch or dinner at the gorse-yellow gastro pub, the Gurnard’s Head.
4. Polperro, near Looe, south Cornwall
Charming, unique and with more than a whiff of smugglers about it, this Cornish seaside village takes no modern-day prisoners. Abandon the car at the top of town – the higgledy-piggledy lanes are too tiny for vehicles – turn off your mobile phone and surrender to the slower pace of a different era. Polperro is simply wonderful: enjoy wandering the plethora of little shops, which range from your usual Cornish ice-cream and fudge sellers to an eclectic mix of galleries and gift shops. Check out the Heritage Museum of Smuggling and Fishing down on the harbourside for a fascinating insight into Polperro's history, and let the children’s imaginations run wild at Polperro Model Village. Challenge yourself with the cliff-top walk towards Fowey – the path begins behind the excellent Blue Peter Inn and is marked “To The Cliffs”. It climbs past the last house in the village to a viewpoint where you can see how this protected inlet surrounded by cliffs was an ideal haven for the smugglers and privateers who once sailed this coast.
5. Cawsand, near Saltash, south-east Cornwall
Holidaymakers usually whip past Cawsand, tucked away on south Cornwall’s Rame Peninsula, on their way to the better-known towns and villages. But to miss this gorgeous little haven is to miss out. Fishing, boat building and farming form the foundations of this quaint, unspoilt village and it’s the perfect place to while away a day and evening. Wander around the winding streets, lined with ice-cream coloured cottages, or set up on the shingle beach with a picnic and spend the afternoon swimming, rockpooling and paddleboarding. If you fancy a jaunt over to Devon, catch the ferry over to Royal William Yard in Plymouth where you’ll find quayside restaurants and quirky boutiques. The gorgeous, wide, sandy surfing beaches at Whitsands can be found a short drive away over at Rame Head. Don’t miss the fantastic food at the Devonport pub, a proper old sailors’ pub in neighbouring village Kingsand.
6. Porthleven, near Helston, west Cornwall
Once famous for tin and clay, Porthleven, the most southerly port of mainland Britain, is a pretty fishing village that is climbing its way up Cornwall’s ever-growing foodie circuit. Pre-Covid-19, the Porthleven food festival was held annually in April, attracting 12,000 fish aficionados. Great places to eat include Kota, with its mix of Japanese and organic Cornish dishes, and the informal Amélie at The Smokehouse for crayfish and chorizo linguine and steak burgers. When you’re not eating, there are some nice galleries, cafes and walks around the harbour. The village is also famous for its storms in winter months – you can watch great waves being whipped up from the safety of the Ship Inn.
7. Cadgwith, near Lizard, south Cornwall
Cadgwith is an idyllic fishing hamlet with a shingle beach, brightly painted boats and thatched cottages. Its small fleet of trawlers still bring in the catch of the day, carrying on a centuries-old tradition. Enjoy fresh fish from the local fishermen as well as the rugged coastal scenery from the Cadgwith Cove Inn, an old smugglers’ haunt where in pre-Covid times, the Cadgwith Singers performed sea shanties every Friday night. Don’t miss the Devil's Frying Pan to the north of the village – an enormous hollow in the cliffs that was created by the roof of a sea cave collapsing. Its central boulder looks like an egg in a pan! Carry on along the South West Coast Path to the Lizard for a lovely ramble with stunning views.