What could possibly be more relaxing than spending a warm afternoon gently wandering along a colourful harbour lined with old fishermen’s cottages and sea merchants’ houses, watching children happily fish for crabs while deciding which Michelin star restaurant to dine in as the sun goes down? Fondly known as the foodie capital of Cornwall, Padstow has established itself as one of the region’s premiere holiday resorts.
It may be small, but this picture-postcard warren of narrow medieval lanes sloping down to a bustling quayside should be on everyone’s Cornish bucket list. But how would a local suggest you spend the perfect holiday in Padstow? Here’s our ultimate guide!
About the town:
Padstow is a fine example of a Cornish-fishing port surrounded by beautiful bays and glorious sandy beaches, at the head of the Camel River in North Cornwall. Thanks to the bevy of celebrity chefs who have set up shop here, including Rick Stein, this pretty little harbour town has become renowned as a foodie destination and the county’s most cosmopolitan corner. Fine dining restaurants and boutiques sit alongside its heavenly jumble of traditional pubs and pasty shops, and even in the depths of winter, this chic town is alive with events, festivals and things to do.
Set within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Padstow offers an abundance of scenic walks, particularly along the South West Coast Path. It is also the start and end point for the Camel Trail and a fantastic base for water sports with seven golden beaches within a five-minute drive.
One of the greatest attractions of Padstow is its attractive harbour, and visitors find themselves drawn to it like a magnet. An eclectic mix of quayside inns, cafes, gift emporiums, artists’ studios and fudge shops overlook the calm sea with plenty of seats scattered along the water’s edge where you can sit with an ice cream as you listen to the boat masts chinking in the Cornish sunshine.
From Padstow harbour you have a wonderful vantage point to admire the traditional fishing and pleasure craft rocking on their moorings, waiting to carry day trippers across the river to the affluent fishing village of Rock or on a wreck, reef or bottom fishing trip. Watching the gentle ebb and flow of harbour life is a perfect way to spend a day.
Some of the finest beaches in Cornwall are within walking distance or a short drive along the coast from Padstow. Trevone beach, St George's Cove and Hawkers Cove are fantastic family beaches, while Constantine Bay, Harlyn and Polzeath offer some of the best surfing spots in the area. If that’s not enough, you can also experience the golden sands and incredible views on the beaches of Rock, just a five-minute ferry ride across the river from Padstow harbour.
Visit the Lobster Hatchery in Padstow - a pioneering marine conservation research centre - and discover the fascinating world of lobsters and their environment. Colourful claws guide you through the visitor centre, where you’ll learn how their breeding programme is helping to conserve the fishing tradition in Cornwall and beyond. See the young lobsters being reared ready for release along with “Herman”, the resident giant lobster and a variety of crabs. For kids, there are plenty of interactive activities, as well as a gift shop and the chance to adopt a lobster of their own.
Proudly overlooking the town, Prideaux Place is a stunningly beautiful Elizabethan manor house. Built in 1592, this treasure trove of Cornish life and history is one of the West Country’s oldest houses remaining in habitable condition. Admire its exquisite collection of furniture, porcelain and paintings, drift around its 18th century garden and indulge in a cream tea on the Terrace overlooking its ancient deer park, with striking views as far as Bodmin Moor. You will soon see why the estate is a popular film and TV location.
A holiday in Padstow isn’t complete without a boat trip. As well as experiencing awe-inspiring views of the dramatic coastline, it’s the chance to glimpse a plethora of wildlife including grey seals, dolphins, porpoises, sun fish and even basking sharks. With craft of all shapes and sizes available from the harbour you can choose from relaxing cruises around hidden bays, angling trips on local fishermen’s boats or white-knuckle rides on exhilarating speedboats. The choice is yours!
For those who prefer to explore on dry land, The Camel Trail is a must for cyclists, walkers or horse riders and a unique way to explore North Cornwall’s spectacular countryside. The route begins in Padstow and follows the route of the former North Cornwall Railway for 17 miles, ending on Bodmin Moor. There are plenty of opportunities to see a variety of wildlife, flora and fauna on this flat trail, and bikes to suit all ages can be hired locally.
After a fun-filled day in Padstow, you’ll be longing to rest your sleepy head and dream about tomorrow’s adventures. If the idea of waking up to a sea view, with a room service tray full of breakfast goodies delivered to your door appeals, choose one of our hotels in Cornwall. From the luxury and grand to the small and cosy, our collection of Cornish hotels promises something for everyone. Alongside spectacular views, many offer luxury extras including fine restaurants, spa treatments and swimming pools, and we have plenty of dog-friendly hotels in Cornwall too!
For a memorable family holiday near Padstow, Parkdean Resorts St Minver Holiday Park offers a range of caravans and luxury lodges within an enchanting woodland setting in the grounds of an old manor house. Just 12.5 miles from Padstow, the park is ideally placed for those looking to enjoy the glamorous fishing port for the day before making the most of the on-site facilities including an indoor pool, outdoor play area, restaurant and evening entertainment at The Showbar. Pets are welcome in selected units so they can join in the holiday fun.
The food and drink:
Celebrated in Cornwall for its excellent array of eateries, dining out in Padstow is certainly no hardship. It is little wonder the town is often referred to as ‘Padstein’, with Rick Stein having opened no less than five eateries here - The Seafood Restaurant, the Bistro at St Petroc's, Rick Stein's Cafe, The Seafood Deli, and Stein's Patisserie, as well as several shops and a cookery school. Simple seaside pleasures such as eating paper-wrapped fish and chips are a classy affair in this captivating little town.
There are a myriad of restaurants, cafes and pubs whom also subscribe to Rick Stein’s philosophy of making the most out of perfectly prepared, fresh Cornish produce. Supplied by the local fishermen, there are some superb fish restaurants in Padstow run by top British chefs. Paul Ainsworth at Number 6 boasts a Michelin star for its stellar contemporary fare and is one of the best restaurants in the UK, let alone Padstow. Alternatively, Burgers and Fish not only serve mouth-watering seafood dishes, but also offer main courses cooked over a charcoal grill with a delectable smoky flavour, and the burgers are out of this world!
If you’re still searching for places to eat in Padstow, Cherry Trees Coffee House on the harbour front is perfect for a casual Cornish breakfast. The Basement is ideal for a lazy lunch of Padstow crab sandwiches with views over the Quay, as well as a wood burner and cosy blankets to keep you warm on chilly days.
Where else do Michelin-starred restaurants rub shoulders so comfortably with traditional pubs like they do in Padstow? Trade stories with the locals in one of the friendly old boozers such as The London Inn and The Golden Lion over a refreshing pint of Cornish ale or relax in one of the gastro pubs including The Shipwrights, The Old Custom House or The Old Ship Hotel while dining on top quality pub grub.
For those who appreciate a good view, the South West Coast Path should be on your ‘must do’ list while holidaying in Padstow. Some of the UK’s best beaches, an abundance of rare fauna and flora, fascinating wildlife and rich history are highlights of this unspoilt and inspiring trail.
Follow the path to Harlyn Bay (6.9 miles) which boasts far-reaching views over the mouth of the River Camel and the Doom Bar (where mermaids are said to be waiting to lure sailors to their doom) and takes in vistas of the dramatic coastline around Stepper Point, passing by an enormous collapsed sea cave at Roundhole Point, as well as several sandy beaches and smugglers’ caves.
On the opposite side of the Camel Estuary, the Sir John Betjeman Walk (4 miles), is a gentle stroll through rolling dunes where seals, kestrels, puffins and peregrines can often be spotted. The route takes in Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman's grave in the churchyard of the tiny St Enodoc Church.
May Day in Padstow is the most revered date in this Cornish town’s calendar. Known as the Obby ‘Oss festival, this ancient celebration which welcomes the spring, is a unique spectacle and has been practised in Padstow for centuries. The highlight of this special day is when a giant parade of the town’s inhabitants is led through the streets, which are adorned with flags and flowers, by two dancing Obby Osses (Hobby Horses). Accompanied by musicians with accordions and drums, the Osses are danced with and followed by a procession of revellers dressed in white with their costumes decorated in red and blue ribbons as the two horses try to catch ‘maidens’. The finale is at midnight when the townsfolk gather around the maypole to sing Padstow’s ‘May Song’. It’s not unusual to see around 30,000 people crammed into the town’s narrow streets, so be sure to get there early!
The Padstow Christmas Festival is another much-loved event and a great way to get into the spirit of Yuletide as the town comes alive with celebrity chefs, culinary delights and festive fun. Set around the harbour, Cornwall’s largest food festival is famous for its traditional Christmas market, packed with more than 100 artisan stalls, as well as its cookery demonstration theatres showcasing the talents of many of the country’s finest chefs. For the family, there is the chance to meet Father Christmas, a colourful lantern parade through the town, plenty of live music, a spectacular firework display, and Santa’s Fun Run for charity.
Have we inspired you to book a holiday to this beautiful North Cornwall resort? Browse our fantastic range of accommodation in Padstow to discover your perfect seaside getaway.