Captured like a snapshot in time, Port Isaac is a charming little fishing village, set amidst the rugged north coast of Cornwall. Visitors here are enchanted by the narrow winding streets that lead you on a historical journey, past white-washed cottages down to the atmospheric harbour front. Welcoming bars and restaurants sit within centuries-old buildings, where the echoes of traditional village life resonate with warmth and character. Fans of long running TV series, Doc Martin, will recognise Port Isaac as the setting for the fictional village of Portwenn.
Make the most of your time in this unique corner of Cornwall and discover some of the very best places to visit with our local’s guide
About the town:
The fishing village of Port Isaac huddles around a scenic harbour which features a pier built in the time of Henry VII. The buildings here exude character, steeped in history which extends back to the 14th century.
Within the village are numerous endearing features, from the charmingly named ‘squeezy belly alley’, one of the narrowest passageways in Britain, to Doc Martin’s house, Fern Cottage on Roscarrock Hill.
The village took shape before the dawn of the motor vehicle, which makes navigating the narrow lanes by car tricky at best. We advise you to leave your vehicle at the top in St Endellion car park, and take a leisurely meander down.
You could spend hours here simply winding your way through the narrow streets and absorbing the welcoming atmosphere which only a Cornish fishing village can offer. Pause a while on the harbourside to watch the activities of the fishermen landing their daily catch, and pop in and out of the galleries and charming shops which line the streets. Port Isaac Pottery is a creative haven within the old Roscarrock Methodist Chapel and features a range of handmade pottery, gifts and photography, as well as a charming café.
More gifts can be found in the Old Boathouse Stores, as well as groceries, newspapers, magazines and fishing tackle. At the top of the village is the Peapod, selling a range of ladies’ fashion and a selection of homeware. Several other shops are dotted throughout the village, the best way to see them is just to set off on foot and see where the streets take you!
Port Isaac itself is primarily a harbour, with a small shingle beach suitable for a stroll or a picnic in summer. For the best local beach in terms of surf, head 4 miles down the road to Polzeath where anexpanse of golden sand is revealed as the tide retreats. The waves here are slow and consistent, a playground for beginners through to more experienced surfers.
Martin Clunes who plays Doc Martin is quoted by the Independent to have named Tregardock as his favourite beach in the area. Reached via a long footpath and with a bit of a scramble down to the beach, it isn’t the easiest spot to access, but once there you’ll be rewarded by a secluded cove which grows as the tide goes out to become a sandy stretch. Backing the beach are dramatic cliffs, peppered with cafes and a waterfall at the end of the beach. Be wary of the tide though, so as not to get cut off.
If it’s sun, sea and sand you’re after, Daymer Bay serves up plentiful quantities of each (weather permitting!) The dog-friendly beach is large and beautiful, lying along the mouth of the Camel Estuary which makes it sheltered and relatively shallow. Perfect for families, it is also a lovely rest point whilst walking along the South West Coast Path.
The attractions and activities:
Port Isaac sits within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, meaning that the stretch of the South West Coast Path which extends in both directions offers some truly breathtakingwalks. Just around the corner from Port Isaac within half a mile walk is the gorgeous cove of Port Gaverne, which harbours a wonderfully sheltered sandy beach where rockpools provide hours of entertainment for little ones. Energise yourselves for the stroll back to Port Isaac with a tasty meal in the 17th century inn.
To the West of Port Isaac lies Port Quin which you can reach via a 3.5-mile meandering walk along the coast path, taking in beautiful views over the rugged coastline. Towards Port Quin, you’ll encounter Doyden Castle, which once featured in Poldark.
If you’d like to explore the coast from a different perspective, book onto a sightseeing or fishing trip to the harbour at Port Isaac. Wavehunters, which have a branch in Port Isaac, offers an array of experiences, from dolphin and seabird watching to powerboat trips. Other water sports experiences include sedate kayaking trips, coasteering and guided swims.
St. Endellion, 2 miles inland, is home to Long Cross Victorian Gardens, a beautiful spot which encompasses a maze, play area, dovecote and Impressive blooms throughout the year. The small village has also become well-known for its bi-annual music festival which has been hosted here since 1959.
View this post on Instagram
If you’re lucky enough to witness the ‘Fishermen’s Friends’ in action during your visit, you’re in for a treat. Established in 1995, the group of sea-shanty singers is made up of men of the sea and has even performed at Glastonbury Festival. Having achieved a UK top 10 album, they now tour the country with their hearty sound, and during the summer you may catch their mellow tones drifting up from the beach in their hometown of Port Isaac.
It may be small, but in Port Isaac, you’ll never find yourself hungry. Around every corner, there’s a homely café or local pub: a charming selection which you can work your way through during your stay.
For a sweet treat, head for Buttermilk Artisan Confectionery on Church Hill where your senses will be dazzled by the choice of delicious buttermilk-based fudge.
For lunch or a coffee stop, pop into Cornish Cove Café at the top of the high street. Homemade food prepared with locally sourced ingredients and served with a smile – the mouth-watering cakes are literally irresistible!
Hidden away in Port Isaac’s oldest building is Outlaw’s Fish Kitchen, where fresh seafood is served up in an array of delectable dishes to enjoy whilst appreciating the harbour views.
For a hearty pub meal, you’d be hard pushed to find a better option than The Golden Lion. With a roaring fire to warm the cockles on cold days, you can choose from a variety of dishes including seafood and steaks. A quirky feature of this unique pub is the old smuggling tunnel which leads down onto the beach.
Other top choices include: Restaurant Nathan Outlaw (Outlaw’s Fish Kitchen’s more upmarket sister restaurant), The Mote and The Angry Anchovy pizza restaurant.
Port Gaverne Restaurant is an AA 5 star, 2 Rosette rated establishment located just 10 minutes away from Port Isaac. Here, the team of incredibly talented chefs turn simple seasonal food into award-winning meals. Definitely worth a visit.
4 miles inland, St Kew Inn is a top choice for Sunday lunch. A lovely family pub, it has a large garden next to the church which is perfect for al fresco dining.
A fishing village since the early 14th century, Port Isaac has always been intrinsically linked to the sea, and fishing still plays a huge part in the lives of the locals. The name Port Isaac is derived from ‘Porthysek’ in Cornish, which means ‘corn port’, reflecting its historic industry. Most of the present-day village dates back to the 18th and 19th centuries and many of the buildings are now listed and protected.
The port would have once dealt with cargo ranging from coal and wood to stone, pottery and salt, as well as the vitally important seafood brought in by hard-working fisherman from the local waters.
Port Isaac is equidistant between the towns of Camelford and Wadebridge, both of which boast all the amenities you’ll need during your holiday. The market town of Wadebridge is bursting with independent shops and boutiques and is a convenient spot to join the famous Camel Trail. Leading all the way to Wenford Bridge in one direction and Padstow in the other, the multi-use path can be enjoyed by walkers, runners, horse riders and cyclists. If you haven’t got a bike with you, you can find various hire shops in Wadebridge.
Camelford is an ancient town which is often dubbed the gateway to Bodmin Moor, a wild expanse of romantic moorland which invites you to pull on your walking boots to discover scenic delights such as the endearingly named ‘Brown Willy’ (no sniggering please!) and a plethora of Bronze Age Hut circles, ancient churches and enchanting rock formations.
Siblyback Lake (26.5 miles from Port Isaac), on Bodmin Moor, is a veritable haven for water sports enthusiasts, boasting an array of activities, including fishing for Rainbow Trout. If you prefer to stick to dry land, the miles of paths surrounding the lake provide an alternative to the coast path, and a children’s play area and café provide the perfect spot to stop and recharge your batteries while keeping the younger members of your family happy! Nearby Dozmary Pool is sure to enchant those interested in myths and legends, as it is believed to be the place where King Arthur’s sword, Excalibur still lies.
Back on the coast again, Tintagel is well worth the 8.5-mile drive. Its awe-inspiring castle perched on the headland is reason enough, but it is also steeped in legend originating from the fact it’s thought to be the birthplace of St. Arthur. There is a selection of good eateries here: atmospheric places to ponder the myths surrounding the area. Take time to explore Tintagel Old Post Office, a 14th-century yeoman’s farmhouse with a collection of Victorian postal memorabilia.
A lovely day trip from Port Isaac takes in the up-market village of Rock (6.5 miles), next to which lies the magnificent Daymer Bay. You’ll be spoilt for choice by the eateries on offer, but if you can tear yourself away from the allure of the little shops and delis, yet more await a ferry ride across the water in Padstow. Stroll around the harbour, picking out your favourite artworks in the many galleries and treating yourself to mouth-watering delights which range from freshly cooked pasties to seafood landed the very same day. Spend an educational hour or so in the small yet informative Lobster Hatchery, close to which you’ll find Rick Stein’s fish and chip shop – foodie paradise!
Port Isaac is the perfect setting for a relaxing holiday on the North Cornwall coast and Stay In Cornwall have a wonderful collection of accommodation to suit all needs, from large family houses to delightful hotels. Take a look at our Port Isaac accommodation to find your perfect home-away-from-home.