Few seaside towns boast as jaw-dropping a location as Falmouth. Located on the southwestern edge of Cornwall’s granite finger, overlooking the mouth of the Fal river as it pours into the English channel, and flanked by green rolling hills and blue sea, Falmouth is the intriguing centre of Cornwall’s maritime history and some of its most undeniably beautiful land and seascapes.
Falmouth’s historic town centre is a jumble of cobbled lanes, salty old pubs and rickety roofs which house a unique local culture that is quirky, fun and trendy. The town made its fortune during the 18th and 19th centuries thanks to a lucrative maritime trade – due largely to the third largest deep water harbour in the world. In days gone by the busy quayside would be teeming with activity from docking tea clippers, mail packets and trading ships, and today the waterside still dominates the town. The main street runs alongside the harbour which is framed by two Tudor mini-castles, Pendennis and St Mawes. The harbour remains a working body of water, with naval vessels, superyachts, family cruisers and small trawlers mulling about, and a lifeboat at anchor huddled under its storm protector like a soldier on rainy watch.
In Falmouth and its twin town Penryn you’ll find beaches, spectacular scenery, specialist shops from local art to antiques, and from local brands to thrift shops – and of course some of Cornwall’s best pasties and fish and chips. The National Maritime Museum Cornwall, Discovery Quay and the marina provide an insight into the geography and history of the town. These days the cafes, bars and micro-breweries that dot the waterfront are amongst the very best in the county, whilst the seaside promenade that stretches from Pendennis Point to Gylly beach overlooking Falmouth bay is world class.
The area is also well known for its year round events calendar including Falmouth Week, Falmouth Oyster Festival – and its legendary speed shucking contest, Penryn Arts Festival and the ever popular International Sea Shanty Festival.
So with all that to explore, let’s get stuck into the best in the west!
Top things to see in Falmouth
National Maritime Museum
If you want to understand Falmouth’s special connection with the sea this is the place to start. Track back through the Falmouth’s social and maritime history, see boats being restored in the workshop, and stand in awe at the boats of all shapes and sizes which are hung from the ceiling in the main hall. There’s a viewing platform at the museum’s peak with wonderful panoramas across the town and surrounding countryside, whilst you can also enter an underwater world in the tidal chamber at its foot that has a floor to ceiling underwater window.
Step back in time at Falmouth’s 16th Century Tudor bastion which overlooks the entrance to the harbour and was built to protect Falmouth from foreign forces. Since the first stones were laid, the castle has been altered and built on by generations of military use, including during the 20th Century’s two world wars. A visit to the castle is a great step back in time through Britain’s military past, as well as one that offers some of area’s best views across the town and bay.
They say the best things in life are free, and in Falmouth this is true for sure. A highlight of any visit to the town is to wonder around the meandering lanes and streets that straddle the harbour to catch different viewpoints of the boats, activities and buildings that bustle along the waterside. You’ll be pleased to know that there’s plenty of places to grab a coffee, bite to eat or pint to punctate your sightseeing!
Houses and Gardens
Sheltered from the brunt of the harshest Atlantic winds, the coastline around Falmouth benefits from a balmy subtropical climate that allows exotic plants a trees to flourish. It’s no wonder that some of the County’s finest gardens and country estates are found here. In the neighbouring Helford estuary you can visit Trebah Gardens or the National Trust’s Glendurgan gardens. Penryn is home to one of Cornwall’s oldest gardens, Enys gardens, whilst Falmouth houses Penjerrick gardens. Slightly further afield Trelissick is home to some of the area’s best parkland and gentle estuary walks. And for something a bit different, Potager garden is a community gardening project that worth a visit and is a great place to relax for a few hours.
Falmouth Art Gallery
Falmouth has long been associated with art and the town centre is dotted with independent galleries. But housed in Falmouth University. the town’s headline gallery is home to works by famous works from old masters, Victorian artists, photography exhibitions and classic children’s illustrations. There’s also a chance to get up close and personal with masterpieces by Thomas Gainsborough and Henry Scott Tuke.
Falmouth University Tremough Campus
Now housing the twinned Universities of Falmouth and Exeter, Tremough campus also houses some of the areas finest gardens and tree lined avenues that are open to the public. It’s well worth an afternoon to get lost amongst the greenery and towering trees.
Read more about visiting and walking around the campus here.
The Flicka Foundation Donkey Sanctuary
Home to more than 100 donkeys and a handful of ponies that have been rescued from across Europe, the Flicka Donkey sanctuary is a must see which is popular with visitors young and old who all get uplifted by interacting with an petting the lovable residents. There’s no entrance fee as the emphasis is on education, but donations are welcome and they also make a yummy cream tea in the onsite cafe!
Read more about Flicka Foundation here.
Kernow Adventure Park
Home to a variety of different watersports including wakeboarding, stand up paddle boarding and a brilliant floating assault course, this former quarry is a brilliant and adrenaline filled day out.
Read more here
Climb Cornwall’s only iron stairway and experience the county’s granite quarrying heritage up close as you ascend cliff faces, cross high wire bridges, tackle high challenges and zip back down to ground level, across this 60-acre former industrial site. Not for the timid for sure, but a day here will be one that lives long in the memory.
Learn more here
Church of King Charles the Martyr
Somewhat an oddball selection, but if history were places then nowhere quite outlines Falmouth’s edginess like this place. Falmouth, or its ruling squirearchy at the time, was staunchly loyal to the crown during the Civil War. Sir Peter Killigrew – very much a man on the make – donated land for a church in which, extraordinarily, Charles I is venerated as a martyr. Its dour granite exterior doesn’t prepare you for the luminous stucco ornament within. Charles is there in the stained glass over the main altar, just to the left of Christ the King, clutching a distinctly Christ-like orb and an executioner’s axe.
Things to do
Hit the beach:
Falmouth is blessed with masses of waterfront and some fab beaches to suit all tastes. Castle beach stretches across underneath Castle Road and offers great rock pooling swimming. The funky Gyllyngvase beach is a hotspot for students with barbeques and sweet beats filling the summer evenings. Swanpool beach is backed by a lake and is a popular spot with families, whilst Maenporth beach, just out of town is a great place for watersports and those that want to sunbathe in a bit more serenity.
If you’re looking for a bit of oceanside solitude you can head out to Pendennis point and find a perch on the rocks overlooking the water.
Get on the water:
You don’t need to be an experienced seadog to enjoy a trip around the harbour. There are boats for hire, but probably the most leisurely and economical way to try out your sea legs is to get on one of the ferries to St Mawes, Trelissick or Truro. Pick of the bunch for a quick jaunt across the harbour has to go to the MV Miranda, which goes from Falmouth to Flushing more or less all year round. See falriver.co.uk or flushingferry.co.uk.
For nature lovers there’s some highly recommended sea life safaris, such as Orca Tours, that embark from the harbour and offer a chance to encounter some of the area’s spectacular ocean residents which include seals, whales and dolphins.
Get in the water:
Walk anywhere in Falmouth’s town centre and you’ll see someone getting ready to get in the water. It’s almost as if Falmothians are born with gills. From wild swimming and snorkelling to stand up paddle boarding, Falmouth’s town beaches all offer safe and tranquil waters to take a dip. For those wanting to try their hand at activities such as stand up paddle boarding, kayaking, windsurfing or sailing we can recommend Elemental who are based at Gylly beach.
Go for a walk
For those that like to travel on two feet, Falmouth is a dream. From waterfront strolls along the harbour to longer treks that take in the Falmouth’s beaches. In the hills behind Falmouth you can take in views across Falmouth bay, and also walk around the lovely Argal lake. Further afield there’s brilliant estuary hiking along the Helford river and the Carrick Roads. And then of course there’s the nearby sections of South West Coast Path. Take your pick – every one’s a winner!
Go to the pub
Whatever the season there’s nothing quite like sitting by the water
Places to Eat
Long a town that looks beyond its harbour, he best of Falmouth’s eating scene has an emphasis on local produce fused with influences from elsewhere. With restaurants like the quirky floating La Peniche, harbour views to die for in places like Windjammer, and award winning plates from places like Daaku, Falmouth has something for every taste and budget. Plus of course we have some of the best pasties and freshest fish and chips in the county.
Learn more in our in depth guide to the best places to eat in Falmouth and Penryn
Falmouth is famed for its eclectic mix of great events. Here’s a run down of the big events in and around Falmouth for 2022. Add to these an array of different gigs, exhibitions, sporting and seaborne events throughout the year and you’re never far from something fun to attend!
St Piran’s Day, 5
Falmouth Spring Flower Show, 26-27
Porthleven Food Festival, 22-24
Roseland Festival, 23-7
Race for Life, Falmouth 5k, 15
Falmouth Week, 5-15. Read our preview here.
Falmouth Oyster Festival, 13-16
Trewena Cottages are the perfect base for exploring Falmouth. Just 10 by minutes from the town centre and well positioned to access local attractions including the Flicka Donkey Sanctuary right over the road, you can choose from ‘Little Avalon’ our 1850s labourers cottage, or ‘The Pigsty’ our converted barn. We also have some lovely hikes right from our doorstep!