Spas with a view, coastal walks and all the seafood you can eat. The Cornish town of Falmouth might by tiny but you can pack a lot into a weekend away.
Thanks to its deep natural harbour on the Fal estuary, Falmouth has long been a busy and important seaside town. First established by Sir John Killigrew in 1613, it's been a military centre, a haven for pirates and, from 1688, a Royal Mail station delivering letters around the globe, making it the ‘information hub of the empire’.
Today, it’s a university town with a far less serious attitude to life. You’ll find plenty of fun on its high street, lots of excellent places to eat and drink the days away, and a few spectacular beaches with endless ocean views.
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If you’re planning a trip to south Cornwall, make a beeline for Falmouth. Here’s how to spend a couple of days in this charming Cornish seaside town.
Check-in to: St Michaels Resort. Famouth’s finest hotel, St Michaels has everything you could want: sea views from many rooms, balconies for al fresco morning coffees, a brilliant restaurant overlooking the ocean and a spa with the largest hydrotherapy pool in the southwest. Plus, it’s only a 10-minute stroll into town – if you can prize yourself away from that hot tub on the decking overlooking Gyllyngvase (Gylly) beach…
St Michaels Resort/Booking.com
Get into the groove: at St Michaels’ spectacular spa. Unless you’re already based in Cornwall, Devon or Somerset, it’s a long trip from most places in the UK down to Falmouth. Soak it off at the spa, where you can sit in the 45°C heat of the rainforest steam room, or breathe in the healing air of the Cornish sea salt sauna.
Have dinner at: Brasserie on the Bay, in St Michaels Resort. The last thing you need is to travel far for dinner, so take in the views of Gylly beach from the hotel’s fantastic restaurant. There’s Cornish wine on the menu and a glorious crab starter with prosecco sorbet.
Top tip: Come during the Sea Shanty Festival and you’ll see Falmouth take on a whole new personality. There’ll be shanty sing-a-longs in the streets, eccentric locals dressed as pirates and plenty of Betty Stoggs beer being swigged all across town. Usually in the middle of June, the festival turns Falmouth into one big swashbucking celebration.
Get active: on the coast. Hire a kayak or stand-up paddle board (SUP) at Gylly Adventures and explore from the water – they offer guided tours too if you’re not confident about going it alone. You might nip into caves or float past wrecks on the rocks, and if you’re really lucky you could even spot dolphins out at sea.
If you’re not much of a sea-faring explorer, take the walk along the coast (there are some fabulous lookouts and benches to rest on en route) to Pendennis Castle. This English Heritage-run castle was built by Henry VIII, along with St Mawes, to defend the mouth of the river.
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Have lunch at: Gylly Beach Cafe. This all-weather beach café is a fantastic option for a seaside snack. Whether you just want locally-made ice cream or a full blown feast, there’s plenty on offer. Sit out on the decking (there are blankets and heat lamps if it’s not perfect weather) and hear the ocean crash on the beach as you dine.
Get the lowdown: at the National Maritime Museum. You can’t understand Cornwall until you’ve understood its industries, and so head to the Maritime Museum to learn more about the ships that passed through and sailed from these shores. The huge museum is right on the waterfront and has a lovely lookout with great views over the mouth of the Fal River.
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Hit the shops: on the high street. Falmouth’s main drag has plenty of the usual high street shops you’d expect, with a few extra independent boutiques and local chains like Seasalt Cornwall. There are pubs aplenty, too, so if shopping isn’t your bag then duck into spots like Beerwolf Books and The Star & Garter for an afternoon tipple.
Dine at: Lemon Twist. This independent restaurant right on Discovery Quay serves up an excellent variety of small plates from its semi-open kitchen. There’s everything from Spanish seafood stew to focaccia with melted brie on top, plus moreish nachos and excellent fish tacos. There are local beers on the menu too – we loved the Dynamite Valley amber bitter Brian.
Have drinks at: Dolly’s Tea Rooms and Wine Bar. Make a night of it and head down the high street to join Falmouth’s night owls for drinks. This quirky place, with vintage decor and a pianist at weekends, sits above the high street shops and serves cocktails in bone china tea sets and an inordinate number of different gins. Go to the bar to see the full gin index (it’s an overwhelming menu), or simply ask the waiting staff to surprise you with something citrusy, sweet or savoury.
Sail to: St Mawes, just across the mouth of the river. Ferries leave from Custom House Quay and Prince of Wales Quay pretty much hourly to the cute little village of St Mawes.
It’s hard not to feel envious as you walk along the waterfront road past the many idyllic little cottages overlooking the ocean, and up to the castle – on a sunny day it feels like a perfect place to retire and watch the world go by in the harbour.
The castle itself is another of Henry VIII’s constructions and dates back to 1540. There are small exhibitions about its history inside and – of course – fantastic views out to the water.
Lunch at: The Pandora Inn. A little way out of Falmouth but well worth the trek (you can take a water taxi from St Mawes or Falmouth town), the Pandora Inn has prime position on the Carrick Roads (an estuary of the Fal). The food is fantastic – the wonderfully fresh fish pie in particular – and in summer you can dine on the pontoon that floats out on the river. Dating from the 13th century, there’s possibly no better place to toast a goodbye to the south Cornwall coast.
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