Cornwall is well known for many things, but fishing makes up a particularly large part of its seafaring past. Traditional fishing villages can be found on every side of the Cornish coast, and the spirit of Cornwall is brought to life within them in the bobbing boats, quaint cottages, idyllic harbours and people that live there.
These varied and idyllic fishing villages across the county may be picture-perfect, but there’s more to them than that; they’re the embodiment of Cornwall’s history. Some are still used for fishing today, albeit often not in the same way as they once were, and all of them remain a core part of Cornwall’s heritage and economy, as they are now popular destinations for visitors.
Here are 14 of the best Cornish fishing villages to explore on your trip to this beautiful county.
In a sheltered inlet along the dramatic Cornish coastline 14 miles south of Bude lies Boscastle, a quaint and well known village and fishing port with unspoilt Cornish character. Just one or two registered fishing boats set out to fish from it nowadays, but it makes for a charming day out, with shops and tearooms as well as the Elizabethan quay and stone-built cottages that display its history.
Once you’ve finished taking in the character of the port, the myths and folklore attached to the village can be explored in the nearby Museum of Witchcraft – or, for a more active element to your day out, there are plenty of great walks close at hand. In fact, the South West Coast Path runs through Boscastle, so it’s a great starting point, finishing point, or pick-me-up stop along the way for a hike. The land in and around Boscastle is owned by the National Trust.
Car park: Yes, pay and display car park
Postcode district: PL35
You might spot something familiar about Port Isaac. This photogenic spot is well known for being the fictional village of Portwenn in ITV drama Doc Martin, but it’s far from just a film set. A fishing village since the 14th Century, Port Isaac was an important spot for pilchard fishing in the late middle ages, but more recently has become a popular holiday destination. This is no doubt thanks to its undeniable charm, with picturesque narrow lanes, granite and whitewashed cottages, and of course colourful boats that gather in the harbour.
More recently, the village found itself the background for several well-watched social media videos, as it is home to sea shanty singing group Fisherman’s Friends.
Car park: Yes, there are two car parks in Port Isaac – a main car park, and the New Road car park
Postcode district: PL29
Situated on the banks of the Camel Estuary opposite the town of Padstow is a fishing village now sometimes referred to as Chelsea-on-Sea, a nod to the well-heeled crowd of visitors it tends to attract. This reputation aside, Rock still has heaps of Cornish charm, with a wealth of independent shops and eateries, and fantastic sea views – and is also home to Porthilly Shellfish, a shellfish farm in the estuary. Starting out as a small oyster farm, this fantastic local business has grown to cover four different sites and supplies fresh oysters, mussels and clams to the public as well as to restaurants and fishmongers.
The village is a popular spot not just for day trips but also for short breaks, given the abundance of beautiful holiday properties in Rock to choose from, its place as a sailing hotspot and its wonderful (and very sandy, despite the name!) beach.
Car park: Yes, several pay and display car parks
Postcode district: PL27
While not strictly a village, the harbour town and working fishing port of Padstow is a must-visit for anyone seeking a slice of Cornish fishing history and tradition. It is home to a working fishing fleet, with the local fishermen supplying the many fish restaurants that make the town a must-visit for foodies (thanks at least in part to Rick Stein, who has his own popular restaurant on the quay and has been a vocal champion of the town).
While fishing is still an important industry here and has been for centuries, other trades have thrived over the course of its history – mining and quarrying, shipbuilding, and latterly, tourism, which has been key to Padstow’s economy for over 100 years now. It’s easy to see why; with a variety of brilliant beaches and walks close by, lots to do and a great selection of holiday properties in Padstow, it’s an all-rounder of a destination for all types of holidaymakers.
Car park: Yes, several car parks, including one on the main road through the town as well as a number closer to the waterfront.
Postcode district: PL28
The quintessentially Cornish village of Mousehole (pronounced ‘muzzle’ rather than ‘mouse-hole’!), a few miles from Penzance, was once a bustling port. It has quite a history, including being sacked by Spanish soldiers in 1595 – the entire village except for one house was burned to the ground.
You can still see that single Tudor house in Mousehole today, but now it’s surrounded by granite cottages lining notoriously narrow, often one-way, streets. In fact, this is probably the only downside to visiting Mousehole; navigating and parking can be tricky, so in many ways it’s more pleasant to park nearby and reach the village on foot than it is to drive in it. That aside, the charm of this wonderfully Cornish fishing village is not to be missed, and neither are the brilliant sea views.
Car park: Yes, several pay and display car parks as well as some on road parking. Additional parking can be found in the nearby village of Paul
Postcode district: TR19
This attractive coastal spot is popular as a beach and surfing destination and is less well known as a fishing village, yet commercial fishing boats still fish from Sennen Cove all year round depending on the weather. During the summer months, shellfishing is on the agenda, with lobster and brown crab the catch of the day.
As well as its undeniably great beach, Sennen Cove boasts authentic village charm in abundance, with independent Cornish shops, delightful thatched cottages and a striking nineteenth century roundhouse which now operates as a gallery, making it well worth a visit in its own right. The South West Coast Path passes through it.
Car park: Yes, Sennen Harbour car park can be used, but there is also some parking at either end of Whitesands Bay
Postcode district: TR19 7DB
This traditional and unspoiled example of a late Georgian working port was once known as West Polmear, a settlement with a population of 9 and a small fishing fleet. By the 19th century many businesses were setting up around the harbour, including pilchard curing and other related trades. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Charlestown retains its Georgian character today – so much so that it is sometimes used as a filming location – with fishermans cottages and Georgian houses standing side by side. Stroll down the cobbled streets to the harbour, where you can view tall ships that truly are a little (though towering!) piece of history.
Car park: Yes, there is a car park for the village and also some on road parking available.
Postcode district: PL25 3NZ
At the end of the Roseland Peninsula looking out towards Falmouth is the pretty fishing village of St Mawes. It’s a true seafaring community with a friendly feel, and boats and yachts are always visible at anchor in the harbour. This area is fairly remote and has a dramatic coastline, which accounts for the steepness of the village streets that rise up from the fishing port harbour. There are a number of local businesses to visit in St Mawes, from boutiques to galleries, and a couple of truly lovely beaches either side of the village.
Car park: Yes, there is a large car park in the village
Postcode district: TR2
Situated along an incredible part of Cornwall’s coastline, Mevagissey paints the archetypal Cornish village image with its colourful house fronts and boats. The village prospered due to pilchard fishing in the 1800s, becoming the centre of Cornwall’s pilchard fishery, but dates back to at least the early 14th century – something you can learn more about in the museum on the harbour.
As well as picture perfect narrow streets and a distinctive pier, there are a number of shops, pubs, cafés and galleries, and while it is a working harbour, lots of it is public access, making it an essential day out for those visiting the area. This is especially true for foodies, since Mevagissey is also renowned for its brilliant seafood restaurants (it is a fishing village, after all!) which range from the gourmet to the traditional.
Car park: Yes, several car parks including one just as you enter the village
Postcode district: PL26
Thatched cottages, shingle beach, brightly-coloured boats and traditional character; Cadgwith is the quintessential Cornish fishing village. It still operates as a real working fishing village too, with fishermen going out each day to catch lobster, crab, and fish in the form of mackerel and mullet (although of course, this was once also pilchards!). A lively village pub is still at the heart of the community, but while it certainly has an old time quality, this is not to say that new visitors aren’t welcomed – there’s a real friendliness to Cadgwith’s charm that brings people back again and again.
Car park: Yes, affordable village car park
Postcode district: TR12
Mullion is one of several fishing villages on the Lizard Peninsula, but it is also the largest. Set against a rugged coastline, the area boasts popular beaches, secret coves, and most importantly – a welcoming atmosphere from its residents, who in the 19th century were nicknamed “gulls”.
As well as the surrounding scenery, Mullion has a range of shops, galleries, restaurants and cafés. The pretty working harbour, where an oil pilchard cellar and net store can still be seen, is still used by local fishermen.
Car park: Yes, two car parks in the village
Postcode district: TR12
One of several coastal villages in a row on the Lizard Peninsula, historical Coverack is yet another picturesque fishing village where eye-catching boats can be seen bobbing around in the turquoise waters. This area of the coast is notorious for shipwrecks at nearby Manacles reed, but from land you wouldn’t imagine it; a stunning crescent shaped beach is situated within a glorious cove, and this lengthy seafront is scattered with pubs, cafés and restaurants.
Coverack is an old fishing village where a pilchard fleet used to operate, but it remains a fishing community even now, with a handful of fishermen and small boats still working from the beautiful harbour. Many of the old white cottages feature thatched roofs, and these, as well as the old lifeboat house, can be seen from the small church above the village that overlooks the bay.
Car park: Yes, two car parks on the approach to Coverack village
Postcode district: TR12
Just south of Looe is a village where both fishing and smuggling once thrived. Nowadays, you are more likely to see evidence of the former, although you can still explore both in the Polperro Heritage Museum of Smuggling and Fishing. Polperro remains a working fishing port, with a rocky shore and beautiful harbour, where at high tide you may spot a glimpse of fishing boats unloading their catch.
Polperro is a village ideal for exploring on foot, with narrow streets full of pretty cottages in coastal shades of white and blue, some of which are covered with blooms during the summer months. Nestled in the greenery of rocky cliffs, it’s easy to see why the surrounding area of the Polperro Heritage Coast takes its name from the settlement at its heart.
Car park: Yes, pay and display car park a short walk from the village
Postcode district: PL13
If you’re looking for a hidden gem in amongst the plentiful fishing villages Cornwall has to offer, Cawsand is the place. Underrated and often skipped in favour of more well known towns, this idyllic village, twinned with sister village Kingsand, is one of the prettiest in the county.
Nestled within Cawsand Bay, a natural harbour, and located within the Rame Peninsula (an area of outstanding natural beauty), the village is very close to Devon, with views across the water to Plymouth breakwater. It’s another Cornish coastal spot with smuggling in its past, but now provides a perfectly peaceful destination for those who love to meander its narrow streets and pastel houses, and enjoy an ice cream in the sun.
Car park: Yes, parking by the beach
Postcode district: PL10
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