Old weather-beaten mariners' pubs that can tell a tale or two, a picturesque high-walled harbour peppered with colourful fishing boats, and some excellent seafood restaurants with fabulous ocean views: the historic Cornish fishing port of Porthleven really should have made it onto your holiday hot-spot list by now. Situated in the Cornish Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, in the dramatic sweep of Mount’s Bay, this vibrant town centred around a charming square harbour and looked over by a watchful clock tower, is also surrounded by luscious landscape and fabulous coastal walks for those who want to see a bit of Cornish rural life.
A popular spot for water sports, especially pro surfing, it's another great weekend resort to head to if that’s your thing. Although don't worry if it isn't, as slightly more tranquil pursuits such as sea fishing and kite flying are also a Porthleven favourite. Having a reputation as one of the most storm-battered places in the UK, this little fishing town is a photographer’s dream for its dramatic photo opportunities and definitely one to head to if you like your holidays out-of-season and with an edge. Smaller than its big foodie sisters Padstow and St Ives, Porthleven still packs a punch in the food department with some excellent restaurants and other superb places to grab something to refuel - it even has its own food festival if you want to meet a few celeb chefs and learn how to cook up that excellent local crab.
Check out our guide to all things Porthleven before you head off.
About the town:
The most southerly port in the country, Porthleven was originally developed as a refuge harbour in the olden days of shipwrecks and smuggling. It was completed in 1825 with much of the work being carried out by French prisoners from the Napoleonic War. Like many Cornish harbour villages and towns, it also has a long history of fishing - mainly pilchards and mackerel; although numbers have greatly diminished over the years - you'll still see fishing boats toing and froing from the harbour but considerably fewer than in previous times.
Nowadays, the town turns its attentions to welcoming summer visitors who love its quintessentially Cornish vibe, and winter visitors who love nothing more than sheltering from Atlantic storms in a traditional fisherman's pub, pint in hand, waiting for the huge waves to subside.
The town is home to a large handful of art galleries and craft shops with works by local artists, pretty much all featuring the sea as would be expected in these parts. Pop in and buy a souvenir of your visit to Cornwall or have a mooch for some unique pressies to take home. There are lots of other shops as well as a wide selection of really good cafes, pubs and restaurants. Sporty types can also hunt out the tennis, cricket, football and bowling on offer.
If you want to tee off looking out at the Atlantic, book a round of golf at Praa Sands, just 5 miles along the coast. You're also only 3 miles from the medieval town of Helston where more shops, eateries and museums await. Go for the famous Floral Dance in May, and if you can't make those dates, console yourself with a pasty from one of the five, yes five, pasty shops which welcome hungry tummies all-year-round.
The food festival:
There’s the annual three-day Porthleven Food Festival too, held each April, which attracts huge numbers of visitors to the village for its cookery demos, live music and street food. Best to avoid if you are going to Porthleven for the peace and quiet, but definitely circle those dates if you want to get a piece of this pie. The rest of the year is pretty quiet food festival-wise, but you can still make the most of the local produce in your own holiday kitchen with a trip to Quayside Fish on Fore Street. Purchase some of the excellent local crab, grab a few bottles of Cornish wine and head home to get the barbie fired up.
Unless you really love a long coastal walk, you'll have to get in the car for this attraction as it's a good 10 miles west along the coast. Possibly the most romantic sight in the country, the castle-topped island of St Michael's Mount is reached across a tidal causeway from Marazion – you can walk over at low tide or catch a boat if you leave it too late. Take a tour of the village, tread medieval pathways, walk up to the castle and explore the sub-tropical gardens where you can discover the island's fascinating past. Admire the breathtaking views from the top, and of course, don’t leave without settling down for a cream tea in the café - a welcome treat after that hill climb!
Or head east to the Lizard Peninsula and visit Poldark country. Even if you’re not a fan of the TV series or its gorgeous leading man for that matter, this area is truly impressive. See if you recognise the sandy cove of Gunwalloe, used for the night-time shipwreck scenes, or the white sands, turquoise waters and serpentinite cliffs of Kynance Cove - filming location of cliff-top riding scenes and the opening sequence of scene two. It’s worth driving down to The National Trust's Lizard Point (14 miles), the most southerly point in Britain while you are there.
To meet some of Cornwall’s sweetest residents, take a trip over to the Gweek Seal Sanctuary (7 miles), a sanctuary for injured seal pups. They have over 60 years of experience of helping various types of sea mammals and birds along the Cornish coast - you can find out what they do at one of their displays and talks. Stay to watch the feeding demos which are a lovely way to spend some family time and top it off by 'adopting' a seal, helping these lovely creatures long after you've gone home.
If you’ve got thrill-seekers in your party, you'll want to add Flambards Theme Park (4 miles) to your itinerary. A great day out for all the family, you can hop onto sky-high rides, amble around the life-size Victorian Village and uncover fossils in the Dino Dig.
The food and drink:
Porthleven has really come into its own in the last few years as a great foodie destination. As well as some excellent pubs in the town including the popular Harbour Inn on the harbour, there's also a great range of seafood restaurants where you can sample some of the local cuisine. The obvious one is Rick Stein’s restaurant although there are many more, including the Cornish-Asian delight of Kota. Try the Spring Rockpool, packed with pan-fried hake, crab raviolo, Cornish mussels and tiger prawns or the renowned Porthilly oysters. You'll also want to try the much-recommended Blue Cheese Ice Cream (bear with us) - port and red wine poached pear, digestive biscuit, Colston Basset blue cheese ice cream, topped with candied walnuts.
If you like your desserts with a seasonal edge, The Square Deli and Ice Cream Emporium on the harbour will tempt you with ice creams galore. Made on the premises with local milk and natural flavourings, this is a sweet end to any day out.
In the summer months, kick back with friends on the terrace of The Atlantic Inn, a family-run pub, popular with the locals. Amelies, an old fish smokehouse on the quayside is also a popular choice with those from both near and far – choose from locally-caught lobster, Porthilly oysters and squid or order a wood-fired pizza if fish isn’t for you. If you are looking for a pasty - and you will be - take your pennies over to the Horse and Jockey Bakery where you can wait in line, your mouth watering as you wait for the next piping-hot batch to come out from the oven.
Coffee lovers or those simply needing a caffeine hit before a big family day out should order from Origin on Harbour Head. It uses locally roasted beans from Helston and more importantly, it's also open on Sundays.
The welcoming pub:
As well as the other typically Cornish pubs in and around the harbour, the 17th-century fisherman's haunt of the Ship Inn is also worth a visit for a pale ale and a bowl of mussels. It's especially enchanting on blustery winter days when the waves are crashing down on the rocks below and you are curled up next to the crackling fire without a care in the world.
If the waves are particularly bad, they will crash and bang against the pub, and you won’t be allowed out – not that you’d want to risk it. But there are worse places to be stranded – just sit back down with a pint and wait for the tall stories of how once, nobody was able to leave for days, while you ponder ordering something substantial from the menu. This is Cornish coastal village life at its best and if it doesn't put you off, you’ll be a welcome visitor time and time again.
You’re very much in luck if you're visiting Cornwall for the beaches. All along the southern coastline, great stretches of pebble and sand are dotted in between secluded rocky coves and rugged cliffs, making great days out for both sunbathers and surfers. Just 5 miles north of Porthleven are the blinding white sands and dunes of Praa Sands - the perfect family beach with its shallow waters for bathing and collecting water for sandcastles.
The romantics among you will want to head down to Carrag-Luz 'Love Rock' near Mullion (11 miles) - it may not be a strict translation but it's a pretty place and it does make a great Insta story. Or stay at home and have a beach day on Porthleven’s very own 3-mile stretch of beach. It’s a popular spot with surfers but it can be tricky, so don’t grab your board and head out unless you know your stuff. If that's not you, pop back over to Praa Sands instead which is much gentler on the novice.
When we think of beaches, we tend to think of summer, but the Cornish coastline makes for excellent winter entertainment too. Brisk walks with the dog, wind in your hair, finishing with a steaming hot chocolate in a local café - bliss. In Porthleven, people actually visit just to watch or photograph the huge waves crashing over the sea defences – the harbour faces south-west into the wind so the town really feels the full force of the ocean. A few years ago, waves measuring 40ft were recorded so this is serious stuff.
When the storm's over, head over to the west of the harbour entrance where you will see, at low tide, a plethora of rock pools, full of interesting sea creatures. Geology lovers will be interested in the Moonstone or Giant’s Quoit, a huge 50-ton rock, made out of a type of rock not found anywhere else in the UK. They say that it floated down on an iceberg from Northern Europe but you may want to check whether the locals are pulling your leg before sharing that story with other unsuspecting visitors.
You are bang in the middle of some fantastic walking country in Porthleven. Whether you head north or south, the South West Coast Path offers an amazing selection of cliff-top walks, with spectacular scenery all around. Walk up towards the delightful Praa Sands, past Prussia Cove up to Marazion, where you will find the iconic St. Michael’s Mount (8 miles along the coast path), or south towards Gunwalloe (3 miles) and Mullion (6 miles). The latter forms part of the west coast of the Lizard Heritage Coast, home to Lizard Point, the most southerly point in Britain.
You’ll find some fabulous walks along the Lizard Coast, though we would advise driving and taking a shorter circular route so that you can stop at one of the excellent seafood restaurants on the way back for a tasty fish supper. If you want to leave the car at home, however, you’ll be pleased to know that the coast path runs through Porthleven. Join it and walk out to the famous Loe Bar (1.5 miles) – the largest natural freshwater lake in Cornwall – and you will be rewarded with some of best views in the South West. The sea in this area can be unpredictable, so swimming is a no-no and children and dogs are best kept under control on the safety of the shore.
There are various options available for visitors to Porthleven. Most will want to head to the coast as the beaches are close by and the views stunning. All along this beautiful coastline are excellent places to stay, from Praa Sands up to Marazion in the west, down to Mullion and Lizard Point in the east.
If you are looking for fab views from a contemporary penthouse, book a stay at Praa View in Praa Sands which sleeps 6. Floor-to-ceiling high glass doors open out to a Juliet balcony where stunning sea vistas await; there are nautical touches all through the apartment which will give you a taste of the sea even when beach days have ended. Situated in Mullion Cove and within walking distance of the harbour, it is also conveniently located next to the South West Coast Path for great coastal walks. Sit out on the sun terrace with a morning coffee and take in the ocean vistas or watch the sun set with a barbie – this is holiday living at its best.
For more gorgeous cottages in and around Porthleven, have a look at our holiday cottages in Porthleven. Family-friendly properties, properties where you can take the dog, and properties with more than a touch of luxury are all in abundance in West Cornwall. You’ll always find somewhere wonderful to stay in this beautiful part of the country.