What do you think of when you imagine a holiday in Cornwall? Quite possibly charming little fishing villages, great surfing destinations and brooding moorland with mythical beasts to hunt down? Well, you wouldn’t be wrong – it has all of those on tap, but it also boasts some wonderful coastal towns which are just as welcoming and equally as Cornish in tradition.
Falmouth is one such town and though it’s one of the largest natural harbours in the world, it’s still possible to explore this maritime gem without even having to pick up the car keys. A pretty harbour with a contemporary museum, a castle built by Henry VIII to stop the approach of the Holy Roman Empire and sandy stretches of beach where water sports and lazing on the sands is par for the course, all make this waterside town a fabulous place for a holiday.
We have uncovered some of the best things to do in Falmouth while you’re here, so grab a coffee and take a few minutes to see why you should choose this great spot for your next getaway to the South West.
Built in the mid 16th century by Henry VIII in order to defend this important harbour from French invasion, Pendennis is one of the finest coastal fortresses ever built. It has acted as a continued coastal defence for many years since and has played a vital role in both the first and second world wars. Along with its compatriot across the river, St Mawes, it is managed by English Heritage and open to the public.
Try to visit in the summer months, when each day the Noonday Gun is fired, though don’t worry if you can’t – there’s still plenty to see if you are a winter visitor! Explore the underground tunnels, the WWII battery and the original Tudor keep with its recreated gun deck.
Most maritime ports have a museum to reflect their turbulent history and Falmouth is no exception. Situated in a fabulous contemporary building at the side of the dock, this multi-award-winning and family-friendly museum has five floors with 15 galleries and a huge library to immerse yourself in. Explore the influence of the sea on the exquisite boats in the Main Hall, climb to the top of the Lookout Tower for spectacular views over the harbour and celebrate the outstanding work of the brave rescue teams in the RNLI Rescue Zone.
Kids will love going underwater in the Tidal Zone where they can experience the sea up close through two huge windows, or for something more serene, take little sailors to the Boat Pool to gently steer the model boats across the waters.
We mentioned the castle of St Mawes earlier but there’s so much more to this area than just a fort. The pretty harbour village of the same name is just across the water from Falmouth, with cottage-lined steep streets down to the sea and crabbing boats which sail in and out of the harbour, hoping to catch the freshest seafood for local restaurants.
Hop on the ferry from the port which runs every half an hour throughout the day and join the various members of the Royal family who have also enjoyed this exclusive haven over the years. Just behind lies the beautiful Roseland Peninsula, its quintessential villages peppered amongst rolling countryside, beautiful coastline and wooded creeks – if you have the car, zoom along to Portloe, Portscatho and Portholland to join the yacht set and taste the delights of the sea at one of the superb restaurants.
The brilliant thing about this part of Cornwall is that wherever you go, you’ll be close to a waterway. With countless opportunities for jumping aboard a boat to see the sights from the sea or the winding River Fal, you’ll be treated to lots of different viewpoints that you wouldn’t be able to see on foot. Experience the beauty of the Helford River with Falmouth Pleasure Cruises or take the hour-long trip along the Fal Estuary to the county town of Truro with Enterprise Boats, admiring the beautiful historic houses and riverside scenery as you glide along.
Those who have come to get a glimpse of the coastal wildlife won’t be disappointed either with award-winning wildlife tours, or a spot of whale and dolphin watching put on by AK Wildlife Cruises. Or hire a small boat and see the sights yourself!
Want to do what the locals do? Have read through our local's guide to Falmouth with all the best places to eat, walk, visit and stay.
Okay, you might want to walk up slowly if you are over the age of five! Either way, the views from the top of these steep steps just a mile from the castle are sublime, looking down at the boats on the harbour and across the estuary. While it’s not one for those who like their history all wrapped up neatly with a bow, these stony moss-covered steps are an iconic part of Falmouth’s heritage and great for a selfie – we’ll leave you to work out which Jacob the ladder is named after.
As a reward when you get to the top, stop to catch your breath at the Jacob’s Ladder Inn which will set you up nicely with some hearty homemade fare for the slightly easier return journey down. You'll love this cosy and traditional Cornish pub, so make sure your tummy's empty and ready to try some of their local cuisine - the walk down can handle it!
You’ll find a few good beaches in Falmouth, offering a wide range of water sports and beach activities. The most popular is Gyllyngvase which is packed with facilities including a lovely beach café to pop up to for lunch and it’s also known as a great spot for stand-up paddleboarding. It has repeatedly been awarded Blue Flag status, so is an ideal choice for families who return year after year for a splash about in the waters of the Cornwall coast and to laze back on its golden sands.
Just behind the beach are the delightful Queen Mary Gardens which have a path leading along to Swanpool Beach, whose clear waters make it a top snorkelling spot. Under the watchful glare of Pendennis Castle lies Castle Beach, famous for its rock pooling, while a fourth more tranquil beach can be found at Maenporth which is reached via a 2-mile coastal path walk from Swanpool. This beautiful sandy cove boasts vistas across Falmouth Bay to the castle and is a great spot to settle down on the sands with a book, keeping a watchful eye on children searching the rock pools for new fishy friends.
There are also some wonderful beaches in the nearby area. Read our Cornwall Beach Guide to find out more.
Falmouth is well-known for its tip-top gardens, bursting with beautiful blooms that benefit from its mild coastal climate. Possibly the most famous is Trebah Garden with its subtropical specimens and secluded beach as well as the National Trust’s Glendurgan Garden - three valleys full of fun, sub-tropical plants leading down to the Helford River at the fishing village of Durgan.
If you want to remain in town, spend a few tranquil hours at Fox Rosehill Gardens which has a selection of exotic specimens on display from all corners of the globe including palm trees, lemon trees and banana trees. Not something you’d expect to find on the Cornwall coast but it’s always good to have a touch of the tropics on your UK hols!
Not an actual place to visit per se, but as one of the most famous attractions in the area, it definitely deserves to be on our top things to do list. Held each October and now in its 23rd year, the festival is a three-day showcase of Cornish seafood, celebrating this most unique of fishing traditions. Sample the tasty local delicacy and learn how to prepare it in one of the cooking demos by top chefs and food experts from Cornwall’s seafood restaurants, not forgetting to buy an excellent bottle of crisp white wine to accompany your new recipes!
Dance to the live music, mosey around the craft stalls to pick up some treats and get busy in the arts and crafts marquee, before watching the boat race, shucking competition and the Grand Oyster Parade to finish.
Come and stay with us in Falmouth!
Tempted by this lovely coastal town? And why not - there are so many things to do in Falmouth! When you come, you’ll need somewhere to stay - our collection of coastal cottages in and around Falmouth make a wonderful base to get out and about along the West Cornwall coast. Stay in the town itself or cosy up in a fisherman’s cottage at one of the nearby pretty fishing villages. If you are taking a four-legged friend with you why not stay in one of our dog-friendly cottages? Or if you are looking for something that bit special, one of our luxury Falmouth cottages will do the trick.
Being at the top of the Lizard Peninsula, there are so many possibilities for walking, visiting historical attractions and beach days – you can even drive down to the most southern spot on the UK mainland at Lizard Point. Check out our cottages in Falmouth to find your next escape to the Cornish coast.
Here are some of our favourites: