Check out the best things to do in Charlestown with my helpful guide!
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, a harbour with history at every step and a film set, this is one of the most popular tourist towns in Cornwall!
It’s certainly one of the most unique places to visit in Cornwall, and while it’s only small, it’s well worth spending a day here while exploring the region – or, if you want to stay on a movie set, you could of course base here!
This post features the best things to do in Charlestown, including the Shipwreck Treasure Museum, exploring the best Poldark filming locations and the village’s most historic sites.
Plus, you’ll find out where to stay, nearby attractions and other visiting tips.
Things to do in Charlestown
The best things to do in Charlestown include amazing attractions like the Shipwreck Treasure Museum, the UNESCO harbour, filming locations for Poldark and other movies and TV shows, boat trips, nearby beach towns and even South West Coast Path hikes!
Shipwreck Treasure Museum
A stand-out amongst Charlestown’s best attractions, the Shipwreck Treasure Museum is a great place to visit if you’re interested in maritime history.
Explore the history of shipwrecks and the treasures that have been found on boats in this immersive exhibition!
With displays on everything from the Titanic to local boats, there’s so much fascinating history to learn about here.
It’s also one of the best dog-friendly attractions in Cornwall – although it’s indoors, your four-legged friends are welcome and there are even doggie water bowls!
Cornish moonshine shop
If you’re after a Cornish souvenir to take home with you, why not try some Cornish moonshine?
Here, you’ll find a range of spirits from the Cornish moonshine brand, including 50% proof Devil’s water and other spirits of varying flavours.
All have Cornish moonshine branding!
This drink is available for purchase from the shop by the Shipwreck treasure museum.
A fascinating place to walk around, Charlestown Harbour is a tourist attraction in its own right.
It encompasses a plethora of historical sites, from tall ships to props used on film sets!
Charlestown started life as a fishing village called Porth Meur (which means excellent beach in Cornish!). It only consisted of a few cottages, and, like many other spots in Cornwall, it made money from the pilchard trade.
Back in 1791, Charles Rashleigh saw Charlestown’s potential and transformed it into a bustling trade port, exporting Cornish copper to the rest of the world.
It grew in the 19th century to become a bustling trade port used to export china clay, which was a rapidly expanding industry within Cornwall.
However, Charlestown’s days as a busy port were numbered.
As the number of ships grew, the port of Charlestown became too small, with boats favouring Par and Fowey.
Square Sail purchased Charlestown harbour in 1994 and used it for their sailing ships.
It’s now a popular filming location for Poldark and other TV shows and movies.
One of the main appeals of Charlestown is that it hasn’t really changed since its 18th-century beginnings. This makes it one of the most beautiful places to visit in Cornwall to this day!
Part of the harbour spills down to the sea, which is a lovely area to admire where you can take in the ocean views.
Look out for the tall ships
As you explore Charlestown Harbour, look out for its traditional tall ships!
These tall sailing ships were used initially for mined goods, but later on for transporting people.
Nowadays, they’re used for film sets!
I recommend walking all the way down to the lower part of the harbour and seeing the boats close up – try to guess which ones have been used in which movies!
If you want to explore Charlestown a little more, you can do a walking tour around the old village and harbour!
Run by local Lyndon Allen, this walking tour aims to show tourists a different side of the town while going through its whole history – from Polmear to Poldark!
We took this tour on our last trip to Charlestown, and it offered a fascinating look at the town’s unique history and significance to Cornwall and the rest of the UK.
Charlestown has a shingle beach stretching out from the harbour.
The stretch of sand isn’t amongst my favourite beaches in Cornwall, but it’s accessible from the harbour, spanning between cliffs, which makes it the perfect spot to relax!
Like other beaches in South Cornwall, Charlestown was a hotbed for smuggling in the 18th century. This was due to huge taxes being put on everyday goods, including simple salt – which ended up being the most smuggled item!
There’s a cave on Charlestown Beach and nowadays, people think that it was used for smuggling – similar to Willy Wilcox’s cave in Polperro.
There are also some tunnels that journey from the beach to the harbour, which could have been used as smuggling tunnels!
Look out for doves!
As you walk around Charlestown harbour, make sure that you look out for doves!
The doves were used in the film Mansfield Park and left on location.
They have now been adopted by the town, and you’ll notice them flying around as you explore.
There are a few places to shop in Charlestown, many of which are at home in these hip shipping containers.
I love Surfbox, which sells a range of seaside-inspired clothes and accessories.
Art and Cornwall go hand in hand, and Charlestown is no exception.
If you’re an art fan, there are a few galleries to check out in the town!
Charlestown Gallery is perhaps the most famous, with ample paintings and pottery – you can also buy art to take home!
You can also head to the Craft Kiln which nods to Charlestown’s historic China exporting heritage.
Browse the shelves, which are packed full of pottery and other wares, and even purchase one to take home with you!
Quay Road is an iconic Charlestown street with beautiful colourful houses, many of which are Grade II listed.
It’s a scenic pastel street to walk down, and possibly one of the most instagrammable places in Cornwall!
Hike to Mevagissey on the South West Coast Path
Ready for a coastal adventure? The Charlestown to Mevagissey walk is a seven-mile, moderate hike through stunning Cornish scenery.
This is a small part of part of the South West Coast Path; the longest national trail in the UK, this route stretches from Minehead in Somerset to Poole in Dorset and is of the most famous and beautiful walking trails in Europe.
Starting in Charlestown, you’ll traverse up the cliffs before dropping down in the charming village of Porthpean; stop here at Porthpean Beach if you fancy, or continue hiking on the rugged cliffs until you reach Pentewan.
There’s another beach at Pentewan; you can relax here or keep going until you reach the fishing village of Mevagissey!
On the way back the number 24 bus connects Mevagissey with Charlestown.
Hike to Par or Fowey
In the other direction, you can hike to Par or the beautiful Medieval town of Fowey.
The Charlestown to Par walk is fairly short (around four miles) and pretty flat. There’s some nice coastal scenery, along with some woodland, but some of it is also along the road.
It’s mainly dog-friendly (they’ll need to be on a lead for the road part) and should only take an hour and a half, so it’s an excellent hike if you don’t want to take too much time out of your day!
If you fancy a longer walk, the Charlestown to Fowey walk incorporates the Gribbin Head Headland and provides much more dramatic scenery (with a fair few more ups and downs!). It’s around 7 miles in total, which would make your whole day of walking 11 miles long.
The 25 bus connects Fowey back to Charlestown.
Relax on Porthpean Beach
Of course, you don’t need to hike to Porthpean to enjoy its beach!
Porthpean Beach is just a four-minute drive from Charlestown Harbour (or you could walk the inland route, which would take you around half an hour.
Porthpean boasts lovely white sand, with sheltered crystal-clear waters.
There’s no lifeguard service, but there is a toilet and small snack bar by the beach.
See the best Poldark filming locations
A town where you can sense history at every step would be the ideal place to film a Cornish period drama, right?
That’s what the producers of Poldark thought when they used it for many of its scenes.
Charlestown was used as the setting for Truro, Falmouth, and the Isles of Scilly at various points throughout the series.
Here’s a quick run-down of all the best sites:
- Charlestown Harbour Docks: this area was used for various scenes throughout the franchise, both when it was depicting ‘Truro’ and ‘Falmouth’. It was also used for the elopement scene of Verity Poldark and Captain Andrew Blamey.
- The Tall Ships: they were used for various seafaring scenes
- Charlestown Beach: used as St Mary’s on ‘the Isles of Scilly’; here, Ross met Mark Daniel who was in exile.
You’ll notice loads of different filming locations as you walk around!
Explore the village
Most visitors to Charlestown stick to the harbour, but it’s worth walking up to see the quaint village.
Take a walk up Charlestown Road and see the historic houses.
St Paul’s Church is a good place to aim for, with an abundance of historic gravestones!
Where to eat and drink in Charlestown
Thanks to its revival as a tourist holiday town, Charlestown’s now brimming with exciting places to eat and drink!
Harbour BBQ is situated right in the heart of the historic port of Charlestown; you can either sit by the water or on the building’s own boat.
Meals include burgers and dirty fries, with plenty of vegetarian and vegan options.
Rum Sailor is a popular bar serving lots of – you guessed it – rum!
Whether you fancy spiced rum or another flavour, they’ve likely got it at the Rum Sailor, which has beautiful views over the harbour.
The Rashleigh Arms is a lovely pub in the heart of Charlestown.
It’s a great place to enjoy some classic pub grub and traditional drinks, with an airy beer garden.
The Pier House
If you want to dine right by the harbour, The Pier House is the place to go!
Its waterfront location makes it the ideal pit stop while you’re exploring Charlestown, and they serve lots of delicious local produce.
Longstore is a lovely bar and restaurant in Charlestown, with cocktails and lots of options on their menu for both veggies and meat-eaters.
You can either cosy away inside the restaurant or enjoy the outdoor terrace with views over the tall ships!
Where is Charlestown?
Charlestown is located on the coast of South East Cornwall, about a mile (1.5 kilometres) away from St Austell.
You can easily access it from St Austell and Par and other nearby towns like Mevagissey and Fowey.
The postcode for Charlestown is PL25 3NJ.
How to get to Charlestown
Most tourists drive to Charlestown, and it’s a great addition to a Cornwall road trip.
It is also accessible by bus from Mevagissey, Par, St Austell and Fowey.
Par also has a rail connection to Newquay.
Where to park in Charlestown
There is a paid-for car park in Charlestown, which is by the roundabout close to the Shipwreck Museum.
Plug in “Charlestown Car Park” to your SatNav if you want to park there.
However, if you don’t mind a walk, you can also park on many of the residential streets that lead to the town.
We parked on Church Road, which doesn’t have any restrictions.
When is the best time to visit Charlestown?
To enjoy all of these amazing things to do in Charlestown, it’s best to visit on a sunny, clear day.
As it is a small yet popular place, it can be absolutely rammed during the summer months, particularly the last week of May and the last week of July and all of August, which are school holidays in the UK.
June and early July are usually the warmest months in Cornwall, but it can still be very busy. If you visit during this time, I recommend going at the start or the end of the day.
Cornwall in September often sees fewer crowds and pleasant weather, and this could be a good time to visit Charlestown!
However, you can enjoy all of these Charlestown attractions if you’re in Cornwall in winter – but I would recommend avoiding the town on particularly windy or rainy days, as there isn’t much shelter. It would be a lovely town to visit on a crisp, sunny winter’s day!
Places to visit near Charlestown
If you’re staying in Charlestown (see below for my hotel recommendations!), you might be wondering what there is to do in the local area.
You could easily do two or three day trips by seeing all of the following attractions; it would be the perfect weekend in Cornwall!
St Austell Brewery
If you’re into beer, this is the place to go!
St Austell is Charlestown’s nearest town, and the brewery is a great spot to learn all about its favourite tipple.
St Austell beer is famous all over the country. The brewery is one of the oldest in Cornwall, and it owns pubs across South West England.
A brewery tour includes a talk about the brewing process, details about the interesting history of St Austell beers, and of course, lots of samples!
The visitor’s centre is open every day apart from Sunday – more information here.
If you’re staying in Charlestown, the St Austell brewing experience is a must-do, as you can get the 24 bus or even walk (about half an hour) to the brewery, meaning that you can enjoy all of the samples!
Lost Gardens of Heligan
The Lost Gardens of Heligan are situated near Mevagissey and are also located on the 24 bus route from Charlestown.
These are one of the most popular places to visit in Cornwall because of their uniqueness and mystery!
The Lost Gardens of Heligan were part of the Tremayne estate of Heligan (fun fact: one of the Tremaynes who grew up on this estate married Charles Rashleigh, the architect of Charlestown!).
The gardens became overgrown and ‘lost’ at the outbreak of WW1, only to be ‘discovered in the 1990s.
Nowadays, they are beautiful gardens, a fine example of Cornish horticulture and a wonderful place to go for a stroll.
Mevagissey is another popular seaside town, accessible by bus from Charlestown.
Like many other Cornwall seaside towns, Mevagissey found its fortune from the fishing trade – in Mevagissey’s case, the pilchard trade. It’s still a working fishing port, and you’ll see lots of boats going out all over the town.
There’s also a free aquarium and a toy train exhibition in town, as well as lots of shops and restaurants.
Fowey is a beautiful ancient port town and one of my favourites in Cornwall.
There’s so much to do here, from walking the historic streets of the Medieval fishing village to walking up to St Catherine’s Castle, which Henry VIII built as one of Cornwall’s coastal fortresses.
It’s also worth taking a boat trip up the River Fowey and seeing Daphne Du Maurier’s old house. You can learn more about her and the history of Fowey in the Fowey Museum!
If the weather’s warm, Fowey’s an excellent place for water sports – it’s one of the top destinations for paddleboarding in Cornwall.
Fowey also has a fantastic dining scene, with lots of restaurants, including Pintxo, a Spanish tapas bar, Bufala pizza restaurant, and the seafood restaurant Havener’s.
The Eden Project
Situated in two giant china clay pits, The Eden Project consists of two huge biomes which each house a particular climate.
One has tropical plants and flowers from a rainforest (it’s the world’s largest captive rainforest) and one replicates a Mediterranean climate.
So here, you can quite literally walk through the jungle in Cornwall!
However, it’s also important to learn about these different climates and how our actions here can affect them.
It’s a great place to visit with kids, but also fun for adults!
You can either drive or take the D7 bus to The Eden Project.
Things to do in Charlestown in the rain
Most of Charlestown’s attractions are open and exposed. But, there are a few things to do in Charlestown in the rain, including:
- the Shipwreck Treasure Museum
- have a pint at the Rashleigh Arms
- the nearby Eden Project (probably my favourite rainy day activity in Cornwall)
- the nearby St Austell Town Museum which is inside the St Austell Market House
- St Austell Brewery
Check out my article about the best things to do in Cornwall in the rain for more ideas!
Places to stay in Charlestown
If you want to stay in the historic port of Charlestown, here are my suggestions!
Baytree B&B is a cosy bed and breakfast in the town centre.
The rooms are basic but very clean, and the hosts are friendly and helpful.
If you’re looking for a hotel in Charlestown, this is the place to stay!
Waterwheel Apartments are luxury flats in Charlestown.
They have bright, airy bedrooms with comfortable furniture and balconies.
Lowen Cottage is a two-bedroom holiday home.
It has all the features that you’ll need for a comfortable stay, making it your home away from home!
Carlyon Bay Hotel and Spa is a four-star property that is a lovely luxury place to stay.
With two pools, a spa, a bar and a restaurant, there are loads of facilities here, and the rooms are comfy, deluxe and modern.
Visiting Charlestown FAQs
What is Charlestown famous for?
Charlestown is famous for its UNESCO-rated harbour and collection of tall ships, which have turned into film locations!
Once a thriving port for exporting China Clay, Charlestown’s main appeal is the harbour itself and the many historic ships that are moored there (although there is a small fishing industry still!).
Is Charlestown Cornwall worth visiting?
Absolutely! Charlestown’s a charming and picturesque village with a lot to offer visitors.
Its UNESCO harbour is one of the most well-preserved in the UK and it’s a popular filming location for movies and TV shows.
The village boasts several excellent restaurants, cafes, and pubs, as well as a number of unique shops selling local arts and crafts.
What is in Charlestown for kids?
Charlestown is an excellent destination for families with kids.
The historic harbour is a popular attraction, and kids will love exploring the tall ships and learning about the village’s maritime history.
Just outside of Charlestown, you’ll find plenty of places for family days out like the Eden Project and Wheal Martyn.
Why is Charlestown called Charlestown?
Charlestown is named after Charles Rashleigh, a local landowner who was instrumental in the development of the village in the late 18th century.
Rashleigh built the harbour and many of the buildings in the village.
The village was originally called West Polmear, but it was renamed Charlestown in honour of Rashleigh’s contributions.
What Disney movie was filmed in Charlestown?
The Disney movie “Alice in Wonderland” (2010) was partially filmed in Charlestown.
The harbour was transformed into a 19th-century English port for the movie, and several scenes were shot there, including the arrival of the Red Queen’s ship.
The movie starred Mia Wasikowska as Alice, Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, and Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen.
What famous film was filmed in Charlestown?
Charlestown has been used as a filming location for many movies and TV shows over the years.
One of the most famous is the BBC’s adaptation of “Poldark,” which was filmed in and around Charlestown. The village was transformed into the fictional port of Truro, and many scenes featuring the character of Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner) were shot there.
Other movies and TV shows that have been filmed in Charlestown include “Dr. Who,” “Hornblower,” and “Taboo.”
Are you ready to visit Charlestown, Cornwall’s historic harbour?
Rich history, stunning architecture and a buzzing modern scene combine to make Charlestown the thriving tourist town it is!
Get a real sense of discovery as you explore the harbour and learn about its complex history, and laze on the golden sands of nearby beaches when you’re done.
It’s an all-round destination, ideal for any type of traveller to Cornwall.
Don’t forget to check out the rest of my Cornwall posts for more information about visiting this part of the UK, and drop me a message on Instagram if you have any questions!