Things to do in Porthleven

Coastal, Days out, Destinations

Posted by Clare Willcocks on 5th December 2023

View of Porthleven Harbour in the sunshine

You only need set foot onto the harbourside at Porthleven to know that it’s going to captivate you with its charms. Picturesque, unique and standing defiant against the power of the sea, this little coastal Cornish town endears itself to visitors with every stone of its historic buildings.

The main hub of the town is arranged around the double harbour, where the clinking boats, comings and goings of fishing vessels, and daredevil antics of local quay divers offer plenty of interest for a refreshing stroll. Then there’s Porthleven Beach – a spot for soaking up the sunshine and listening to the waves.

There are so many things to do in Porthleven; top-notch eateries, welcoming cafes, independent boutiques and fabulous amenities, not to mention a children’s play area, mean Porthleven ticks all the boxes for the perfect holiday in Cornwall. It’s also great for foodies, with Porthleven Food Festival being a highlight of the events calendar. So, whether you’re a couple looking to get the best out of a mini-break, or a family heading to spend half term in Porthleven, read on to find out what’s in store for you.

Cottages in Porthleven

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Porthleven Beach in the sun, and a surfer catching a green wave

Spend a day at the beach

One of the best things to do in Porthleven is to follow your nose down to the glorious sand and shingle beach where you can soak up the sunshine to the sound of the crashing waves. Steeply shelving, the water gets deep quite quickly, and the waves can be heavy, much to the delight of the seasoned surfers who head out to catch a break either here or beyond the pier. Because of this, swimming is generally not advisable.

If you want to go for a dip on Porthleven Beach, it’s safest to visit in the summer when the lifeguards are on patrol. Whether you’re paddling or getting stuck into a holiday read on the shoreline, it’s a lovely spot to enjoy a few hours of sea air. Families will enjoy pottering around the rockpools near the pier, or hunting for beach treasures along the tideline.

Good to know

Does Porthleven Beach have lifeguards? Yes, in summer – please see the RNLI website.

Are dogs allowed on Porthleven Beach? There’s a seasonal ban in place between 1 July – 31 August from the clock tower to Blue Buoy steps. The eastern part of the beach remains dog friendly year-round. Discover more dog-friendly beaches in Cornwall.

What facilities are there on Porthleven Beach? There are no facilities on Porthleven Beach itself, but plenty in the town. Public toilets can be found within 100 metres of the slope onto the beach.

Stay nearby: Blue Horizon | Sleeps 3 + 2 dogs

Elevated view of Porthleven Harbour

Stroll around the harbour

Don’t miss a wander around Porthleven harbour, it’s one of the prettiest in this part of Cornwall. The harbour itself is a striking feat of engineering, dating back to 1825 and taking 25 years to complete. The vast stones of the harbour wall stand stalwart against an ocean which can be ferocious along this stretch of coast. The inner harbour is sealed by huge wooden boards during storms to protect the boats from the ferocity of the waves.

The waves rolling in are a delight to watch at a distance in winter. In less tempestuous conditions, you can amble along the length of the granite pier and then back around the outer and inner harbour. It’s just over 0.5 miles to walk around to the Old Lifeboat House which now hosts regular art exhibitions by local artists.

Good to know

Is Porthleven still a working harbour? Yes, commercial fishing boats still operate from Porthleven Harbour.

Things to do: Try crabbing off the quay or fishing off the pier. Boat trips run out of the harbour for fishing or pleasure.

Fun fact: The iconic clock tower by the harbour was built in the 1880s on the site of an old pub. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not a church, but a council-owned building – the Bickford-Smith Institute.

A mystery: West of the harbour entrance lies a 50-ton rock, known as the Moonstone. The rock type is not found anywhere in the UK, and it’s thought that it floated to its resting place on an iceberg!

Stay nearby: Tremayno | Sleeps 6

Chef cooking with a flaming wok, and two ladies eating oysters

Treat your tastebuds at Porthleven Food Festival

One of Porthleven’s most eagerly anticipated events, of which there are a surprising number throughout the year, is the Porthleven Food Festival. Held over three days, it has seen the town transformed into a foodie paradise annually for over 20 years.

There are food stalls, chef talks, drinks and music, celebrating Cornish food and the incredible social aspect which surrounds its consumption. With so many delectable dishes and tasters on offer, there’s simply not enough time to indulge in it all. What better excuse is there for returning next year?

Good to know

When is the Porthleven Food Festival? The food festival takes place in April. In 2024, it will be held 26-28 April.

What other events are there in Porthleven? 

  • Lifeboat Day – August
  • Porthleven Torchlight Procession – August
  • Porthleven Raft Race – October
  • Porthleven Arts Festival – October
  • Porthleven Christmas Light Switch On – December
  • Porthleven Christmas Market – December

Stay near the action: Harbour View | Sleeps 5 + 2 dogs

Couple looking in a jewellery shop window

Browse the boutique shops and galleries

For a small town, Porthleven has an impressive offering of shops and galleries. Shopping in Porthleven can be an all-day affair if you factor in cafe stops en route!

All around the harbour are welcoming independent shops. Pick up gifts at Lindy Lou’s, the Jewellery Workshop, and Harbourside Shop; clothes at Salt Cellar Clothing and The Vault; and art at Waves Surf Art Gallery, Four Crows and Albatross.

Pengelly’s of Porthleven, the little supermarket, has everything you’ll need to self-cater during your stay, and Boots Pharmacy is on hand should you need it. Up the road that leads away from the harbour, you’ll find The Cellar Charity Shop, a hive of pre-loved treasures; and In Bloom, the florist.

A shopping bag full of food, and a big wave in Porthleven

Besides the shops in Porthleven, other places to head for retail therapy include Porthleven Harbour Market which runs regular events and markets throughout the year. You’ll find stalls selling everything from food to tie-dyed clothes. We recommend picking up a print from Tom Harper, of Walls of Water Photography if you’re looking to get a closer view of the waves without getting wet!

The Shipyard Market, which lies across the road from the inner end of the harbour, is an artisan food hall, craft market and art space which is not to be missed. It’s also where Shoals Brewery can be found, for a hipster tipple while you’re in town.

Good to know

Where else is good for shopping nearby? You can head to Helston (2.5 miles) for a broader range of shops, or the bustling town of Falmouth (15.5 miles).

Where’s the nearest big supermarket? Lidl, Tesco and Sainsbury’s are all found in Helston (2.5 miles), and there’s an ASDA superstore in Hayle (8.5 miles).

Stay near the shops: 4 St Elvans Courtyard | Sleeps 4

Fine dining in a beautiful setting

Enjoy a meal out

Looking for places to eat in Porthleven? You won’t have to look far. There are lots of eateries dotted around the harbour, including the prestigious Square at Porthleven which was awarded a Michelin Bib-Gourmand in 2023. Here, you’ll find a mouthwatering brasserie-style menu of locally sourced produce. Savour a memorable evening dinner, or head there during the day for a tasty lunch, or coffee and cake.

If you’re after an al fresco experience, hit up Dan Dan – The Lobster Man, who serves up delicious local seafood from a converted shipping container perched on the harbourside.

The Ship Inn, Atlantic Inn and Harbour Inn are all traditional, dog-friendly Cornish pubs that promise refreshment and hearty, wholesome meals, while Nauti But Ice caters for your sweet tooth!

Other tempting establishments for foodies include Kota and Kota Kai, Amélie, and The Mussel Shoal.

Good to know

Where can I find out more? For a more in-depth look at Porthleven’s cafes and restaurants, take a look at our blog post, ‘The best places to eat in Porthleven’.

Stay near Porthleven’s restaurants: Fisherman’s Cottage | Sleeps 6 + 2 dogs

Pouring milk into coffee, barista style

Go for coffee

You may be thinking that there are many places in Cornwall where you can go for coffee, and you’d be right, but few are more special than The Roastery at Origin Coffee, on the outskirts of the town.

Here, the purveyors of speciality coffee roast their exceptional sustainable product, and you can enjoy it at the source in their stylish cafe. Once you’ve tried Origin coffee, it’ll likely become your new favourite!

Origin coffee is also sold at Harbour Head on the harbourside in Porthleven, so even when you’re back in the heart of the village, you won’t be far from a revitalising cup of the good stuff.

Good to know

Where else is Origin coffee sold? Victoria Street in Bristol, Charlotte Road in Shoreditch, The British Library in Kings Cross, and Scoresby Street in Southwark are cafes that sell Origin coffee.

Stay within walking distance of Harbour Head: Seaspray | Sleeps 4

View of Loe Pool and a woodland walk with bluebells

Take a walk at Loe Pool

Stretch your legs and get some fresh air on the scenic circular walk around Loe Pool, Cornwall’s largest natural freshwater lake which lies just to the east of Porthleven. The circular walk begins on the Penrose Estate, an elegant, National Trust-owned park, and takes in beautiful woodland, skirting the edge of Loe Pool.

Close to the midpoint of the walk, you’ll traverse Loe Bar, a sandy stretch which separates the pool from the sea. As all good walks should, the route passes a cafe, The Stables Cafe, which promises a pick-me-up at the beginning or end of your stroll.

Loe Pool itself is, quite literally, the stuff of legend, reputedly being the lake into which Sir Bedivere flung King Arthur’s sword, Excalibur. The location has competition in this respect, however, with Bodmin Moor’s Dozmary Pool thought by some to have been the real final resting place of the famous sword.  

Good to know

How long is the walk around Loe Pool? It’s a 6-mile circular walk.

Is it pushchair/wheelchair friendly? No, although there is a walk that leads alongside the lake from the Penrose Estate to Porthleven, taking in sections of the same route.

Where can I find other walks? Discover more scenic rambling routes in our guide to Cornwall’s most wonderful walks.

Stay near the Penrose Estate: Merrilee | Sleeps 4 + 2 dogs

Boats in Porthleven Harbour on a clear day

Get out on the water

If gazing out to sea from Porthleven Harbour has got you dreaming of ocean adventures, a boat trip is a good way to put your sea legs to the test. Porthleven Boat Trips and Molly May Charters offer a range of water-based excursions, including fishing trips and sightseeing tours.

The coast along this stretch of Cornwall is breathtaking and dramatic, so the opportunity to view it from a different perspective is not to be missed. And with the bonus of returning (hopefully) with the catch of the day to cook up for supper, it’s a unique experience to add to your holiday itinerary.

Young boy fishing with his dad, and children coasteering

While you’re out in the open sea, you might also be lucky enough to spot the pods of dolphins that frolic off the Cornish coast. Nothing compares to powering along through the azure water, with these elegant animals leaping and diving alongside.

What’s more, it’s a dog-friendly activity, so it’s perfect for all ocean-faring canine pals.

For more exhilarating experiences on the water, try Vertical Blue Adventures which offers sea kayaking, paddleboarding and coasteering, alongside land-based activities, axe throwing and archery.

Good to know

Which fish can be caught from Porthleven? You may catch pollack, bass, whiting, dogfish, mackerel, flounder and dab among others.

Can you swim in Porthleven Harbour? Swimming is allowed in the harbour – at your own risk. Beware of boats and the tide, and know your own capabilities.

Stay close to the sea: Mott House | Sleeps 6

Stay in Porthleven

Porthleven is an enchanting corner of Cornwall which is sure to lodge itself firmly in your heart once you visit. Book a stay with us in Porthleven and prepare to be captivated by its magic.

We have family-friendly houses overlooking the harbour, quaint little boltholes for two, and large properties when celebrating is the order of the day. Take a look at our collection of Porthleven cottages by clicking the button below.

Cottages in Porthleven

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.