Are you looking for the best things to do in Looe, Cornwall? Take a look at this full and extensive guide!
Few destinations merge a picturesque seaside setting with bucket loads of attractions and fascinating heritage like Looe in Cornwall.
This popular seaside and estuary town is the perfect destination for family holidays, hiking trips and history lovers.
The picture-perfect scene of fishing boats gently bobbing on the harbour makes it an idyllic place for a holiday, while walks along the rocky coastline offer an insight into the town’s infamous smuggling past.
You can also visit the breathtaking Looe Island, a wildlife reserve famous for its abundance of butterflies, birdlife and seal colony.
I live fairly close to Looe, and as my family are from Cornwall, I’ve spent many a happy summer’s (and winter’s) day trip in this Cornish town.
I adore the range of scenery and attractions, along with the many stories and legends that come as part of exploring this area of Cornwall.
So, here are the best things to do in Looe for all ages!
At the end of this post, I’ve also included my top tips for getting to the town, parking, where to stay, dining and attractions in the area.
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Best things to do in Looe
The best things to do in Looe include visiting Looe Island, hiking on the South West Coast Path to Polperro, relaxing on East Looe Beach and learning about the town’s smuggling history. Here’s the full, detailed list!
1. Head to Looe Island
Looe Island, otherwise called St George’s Island, is the main attraction in this South Cornwall town.
A marine nature reserve, the island is 22 acres in size and is home to grey seals, nesting birds like oystercatchers and Shetland sheep.
You can visit the island on a guided walk; these begin at Looe Harbour and include the boat transfer to the island.
With a mix of history and geology, on these tours, you’ll learn about how the land was left to the Cornwall Wildlife Trust and how the island runs without electricity and mains water, along with plenty of information about the flora and fauna found on the island itself.
The theme of the walk usually varies depending on who is taking the tour, but you can enjoy spring walks to watch seabirds or summer strolls which involve butterfly spotting!
It’s also possible to stay overnight on this remote island.
Looe Island has a bell tent, sleeping two adults and two children, for three-night breaks.
It’s an offbeat holiday, but offers an incredible chance to feel completely at one with the island’s nature.
2. East Looe Beach
While Looe doesn’t have quite the same beaches as Cornish destinations like Newquay and St Ives (although if you want a long, beautiful beach check out Lantic Bay which is between Polperro and Polruan!), East Looe Beach is close to the town and has calm waters, perfect for swimming.
The sandy beach is ideal for building castles, and the fact that it’s mere steps away from the Looe town centre makes it perfect for a family day out.
3. Take boat trips
A variety of boat trips leave from East Looe Beach.
Try the Looe Sea Safari, which will show you some of the Polperro Heritage Coast and offer chances to see some of the animals that live in the area.
Or, jump on the Damaris boat which spans around Looe Island and up the Looe River, offering chances to see the flora and fauna of the area.
4. Wander around Looe Harbour
If you fancy a stroll but don’t want to tackle the hilly coastal path (more on that in a moment!), you can take a gentle walk around Looe Harbour.
One of my favourite walks leads down from the bridge connecting East and West Looe and just walking down the river, past the Sardine Factory, taking in the riverside scenes.
We went to Looe on a day trip recently and arrived just as the town was waking up, a morning mist still hanging over the harbour. With a hot coffee in hand, it was the ideal way to start the day!
5. Hannafore Point
Hannafore Point sits at the end of Looe Harbour. There’s a beautiful view here of East Looe Beach, and you can also walk down to admire the English Channel.
Look out for bird life and seals here!
Then, you turn onto the coastal road which will give you views of Looe Island.
The beach along here is also one of the best rock pooling sites in Cornwall.
Ultimately, this road joins the coast path going over the cliffs, which leads to Polperro (but more on that walk later!).
6. Find the seal statue
This is only a quick Looe attraction, but it’s ideal if you’re in the town with kids (or if you’re a big kid!).
Try and spot the seal statue, which is at the bottom of the estuary, just past the Sardine Factory. The Google Maps location is here.
This statue was made in 2003 after its namesake, Nelson the Seal, passed away.
Nelson the (real) seal, who only had one eye, lived on Looe Island and would swim over to the harbour.
Tourists and locals loved looking out for him and the entire town was devastated when he died.
To commemorate him, a Cornish sculptor named Suzie Marsh put up this bronze statue of a seal looking out to the harbour.
Although Nelson is sadly no longer with us, Looe is one of the best places to see seals in Cornwall – so do keep an eye out as you explore the harbour and walk the coastal path!
7. Try a traditional Cream Tea
You’re in Cornwall, so you’ve got to sample a proper cream tea!
Cornish cream teas involve a scone, cut in half, spread with jam first and then cream.
It’s very important that you spread the jam and cream in the right order; but if you’re visiting Devon, it’s cream first and then jam.
It’s confusing, I know – I live in Devon, but have Cornish family and heritage and spend a lot of time in Cornwall, so I never know which way to eat my scones!
8. Walk to Polperro
Hiking on the South West Coast Path is one of the best things to do in Cornwall (and all of South West England!), and the Looe to Polperro section is no exception. I recently did this walk (in December, and it was still beautiful!) and loved the views out to Looe Island at first, followed by the descent into Talland Bay and finally, turning into Polperro in all its glory.
Spanning Looe Bay, this trail is moderate in difficulty – there are a few ups and downs, but it’s nothing like other sections of the South West Coast Path (I’ve done over half of it and in particular, the sections in Exmoor and around Bude are incredibly tough!).
It took us about two hours, although we were stopping and taking lots of photos and notes for my Looe to Polperro hiking guide, which you can check out here.
9. Explore Polperro
Whether you’re a hiker or not, exploring Polperro has to be on your Cornwall bucket list!
You can either reach the town by hiking on the South West Coast Path, driving (although parking in Polperro is extortionate!), taking the bus or there’s a ferry service in the summer months.
Polperro is an adorable fishing village; one of the most quintessentially Cornish villages in Cornwall.
However, it is a lot more expensive than Looe and can be very busy in the summer season.
Here are some of the fascinating things to do in Polperro:
- check out the village museum for tales of its smuggling past
- go inside a real-life smuggling cave on the beach
- get lost in the labyrinth of fishing cottages – don’t miss Shell House
- admire the harbour – Polperro is an adorable fishing village
- have a pub lunch at the charismatic Blue Peter Inn
10. Old Guildhall Museum and Gaol
A prime location to learn a little more about the town’s history, the Old Guildhall Museum and Gaol tells the story of Looe.
Here, you’ll learn about the smuggling and fishing heritage of the town, with countless artefacts and information boards.
It’s an absolute treasure trove of information, with plenty of curiosities from the time of the Domesday book until the present day.
Admission charge is £2 for adults and is free for children under 18.
11. Looe High Street
Lined on either side by heritage buildings and brimming with unusual shops, Looe High Street is the perfect place to engage in local culture or do a spot of shopping.
I love the bric-a-brac shop “Junk and Disorderly”, and there’s also a Harry Potter-themed store called “Henrietta Pyewacket”.
12. Talland Bay
If you walk from Looe to Polperro, you’ll pass Talland Bay.
A secluded bay that remains quiet even in the summer, Talland Bay has two of the best dog-friendly beaches in Cornwall.
There are rock pools to admire when the tide’s in, and while the beach isn’t huge, the fact that it’s not that touristy means there’s usually space to stretch out and enjoy the sun!
It’s a tiny place, encompassing the beaches, a cafe and a handful of houses (and public toilets!), but it’s perfect if East Looe Beach is too busy or if you’re just looking for somewhere out of town to enjoy.
You can get here by walking on the South West Coast Path (taking a dip here could be a worthwhile refreshment in the scorching summertime!) or it’s an eight-minute drive.
There’s a pay-and-display car park by the cafe or an unsurfaced free car park at the eastern beach.
13. Paddleboard Rental
Looe is the ideal place for watersports, and stand-up paddleboards, body boards and wet suits are all hireable from the Looe Water Sports office by East Looe Beach.
You can also book sea safari boat trips and self-drive boats here!
14. Looe Valley Line
Spanning through the beautiful surrounding countryside, the Looe Valley Line connects the town with Liskeard (which is on the main train line).
While this is a practical line, used by commuters, tourists and locals, it’s an incredibly scenic railway – you’ll be glued to your seat with all the stunning views it offers!
As well as the breathtaking Looe River and ancient woodlands, this railway line has some of the best spots for birdwatching in the area.
It takes less than half an hour to reach the market town of Liskeard; you can either stay a while in Liskeard or return the same way (it’s worth taking in the view twice!).
It costs £4.80 for a return ticket.
15. Walk to Portwrinkle
While the coast path spans to Polperro and Polruan one way, the other side leads to Portwrinkle.
This is a fairly challenging stretch of coast path, with quite a few ups and downs.
It’s also a bit more remote than the Looe to Polperro route, as the area east of Looe isn’t that touristy.
It’s nine miles in total and will take around 4.5 hours to complete.
16. Sardine Factory
The Sardine Factory is one of my favourite Looe Restaurants; but it offers so much more.
Beginning life as a sardine factory (hence the name!), this venue is now home to not only an excellent, Michelin-star rated seafood restaurant but also a heritage centre where you can learn about the town (and the building’s origins), a cafe and even an indoor rock climbing wall.
17. Adrenalin Quarry
Located just outside of the town centre, Adrenalin Quarry is home to zip wires, axe throwing, wild swimming and go-karting.
They don’t call it adrenalin quarry for nothing!
Perfect for families with older kids or anyone who’s seeking something fun and adventurous, Adrenalin Quarry is open all year round (weekends and school holidays only in winter).
18. Monkey Sanctuary
Now for the most adorable attraction in Looe!
Leonard Williams, the founder of the sanctuary, actually bought some as pets but he quickly understood that monkeys needed a lot more space than the confines of a human home.
The monkeys that he’d adopted were taken from their mother when they were a baby.
This means that they wouldn’t have a chance of surviving in the wild and needed a degree of human interaction; although Leonard soon understood that it was in their best interests to keep this interaction as limited as possible.
He built an outdoor monkey enclosure for them, which then connected to a monkey room in his house.
Leonard and his wife moved to Cornwall in 1964, largely because they had so many monkeys and they needed more space.
Ultimately, they campaigned for more monkeys from zoos and that were pets to join the sanctuary, and nowadays, it’s a wild, monkey-first space where animals who have been previously captured for whatever reason can live in as wild an environment as possible.
It’s a fantastic space to see an animal that you might not see otherwise!
19. Millendreath Beach
Sitting to the east of Looe, Millendreath Beach is a sandy south-facing shore.
With rock pools and soft sand, it’s a pleasant beach at low tide – but it does all but disappear when the tide is high, so make sure that you look up tide times before heading there.
There’s a large car park close to the beach.
20. Trenant Wood
Sitting where East Looe and West Looe Rivers meet, Trenant Wood is run by the Woodland Trust.
It’s a pleasant place for a stroll – it’s home to bluebells in May and orange and red crunchy leaves in October!
It’s perfect if you want to go on a walk somewhere that isn’t the coast path, plus it’s one of the few woodland areas in Cornwall (as the peninsula is frequently battered by winds, there aren’t that many woody areas in the Duchy!).
21. Lanhydrock House
Driving time from Looe: 31 minutes (16.5 miles)
I adore Lanhydrock House.
One of Cornwall’s National Trust properties, it’s a late Victorian country house (although parts date back to Jacobean times) that sits in extensive gardens and a large estate.
You can enter the castle and learn about its history, including the servant’s kitchens which are made to look as they did in the 19th century, and the extensive bedrooms and entertaining rooms.
It always reminds me a bit of Downton Abbey!
There are trails running through the estate (some of which are cyclable), along with a chapel.
22. Eden Project
Driving time from Looe: 37 minutes (21.6 miles)
The Eden Project is a must on many people’s Cornwall itineraries.
Consisting of two giant biomes, one which has plants from a rainforest and one that has Mediterranean flora, this project aims to start a valuable conversation about conservation.
While walking through these biomes, you’ll walk through a tropical rainforest (while not leaving Cornwall!), and even have the chance to see a waterfall.
It’s great for families – especially if you want to educate your kids about sustainability – but fascinating for adults too.
23. Polruan and Fowey
Driving time from Looe: 26 minutes (10 miles)
Polruan is a small fishing village on the banks of the River Fowey.
A charming place to stroll around, Polruan boasts excellent views over the river, and you can take a boat from here to the historical town of Fowey.
I’d recommend driving to Polruan, rather than Fowey, as it’s quicker (as you won’t need to drive around the estuary) and enables you to see two towns in one!
My grandad used to be the policeman of Fowey during the 1960s (the same time as when Daphne Du Maurier was in residence – he loved visiting the Du Maurier house as the cook would always make him a tasty sandwich!), and it’s somewhere that I’ve visited a lot over the years with my family.
There are plenty of things to do in Fowey, including:
- relaxing on Readymoney Cove
- walking around the historic town centre
- taking boat trips along the river
- learning about the town’s history at the museum (there might even be a little entry about my grandad!)
24. See the Rame Peninsula
Driving time from Looe: 36 minutes (16.7 miles)
Known as “Forgotten Cornwall” due to the lack of tourism in the area, the Rame Peninsula is an idyllic place to visit – and it’s not too far from Looe.
Famous for the dramatic Rame Head with views out to see, and the charming joined villages of Cawsand and Kingsand, this is the ideal place for a coastal stroll.
We once parked in the Rame Head car park, hiked on the coastal path to Cawsand for lunch, and then walked back!
Or, you could drive all the way to Cremyll and tour Mount Edgcumbe House, which sits on the banks of the River Tamar overlooking Plymouth.
25. Tamar Valley
Driving time from Looe: 45 minutes (23.2 miles)
The Tamar Valley runs from Plymouth up to Gunnislake, along the Devon/ Cornwall border.
There’s a hiking trail that runs along the side of the river, and you can also visit Cotehele House, one of Cornwall’s National Trust properties.
This is a lesser-visited area of Cornwall, but I think it’s a proper hidden gem!
26. Bodmin Jail
Driving time from Looe: 36 minutes (19.3 miles)
Visit Bodmin Jail, and learn about both the horrors of the penal system in the 19th century, and how the jail was actually a blueprint for the more humane treatment of prisoners across the UK.
You can either visit the gaol independently or be part of a guided tour.
Both visits include a trip to the interactive 4D exhibit which opened in the last two years and provides a fascinating insight into Victorian Cornwall.
The guided tour shows you some more areas and will fascinate you with stories from times long gone.
27. Restormel Castle
Driving time from Looe: 30 minutes (17 miles)
One of the best castles in Cornwall, Restormel Castle dates back at least to the 13th century, although it’s thought to have Norman origins.
It was built to defend the River Fowey but was also used for residential purposes.
Now owned by the English Heritage, it’s well-preserved; you can walk around the outside and admire its fortifications, and even see the remnants of the Great Hall!
28. Dine at one of the best restaurants in Cornwall
Eating hearty Cornish cuisine is definitely one of the best activities to enjoy when you’re in the area, and there are a few restaurants where you can enjoy it!
Here are my favourite:
- The Sardine Factory: As the name suggests, this is a converted sardine factory. The days of packing up and processing fish are long gone, however, and nowadays, the restaurant focuses on serving high-quality seafood dishes that look as good as they taste. In fact, this restaurant features in the Michelin Guide!
- Smuggler’s Cott: Probably the most interesting restaurant in Looe, the Smuggler’s Cott dates back to 1420 and has a tunnel leading to the quayside, proving that it was once used to store contraband! Nowadays, it’s a charismatic, nautical-themed pub that serves a range of seafood, steaks and a small vegetarian and vegan menu.
- The Old Sail Loft Restaurant: This restaurant is 450 years old, and like Smuggler’s Cott, it has connections to the illicit trade (although I’ll be honest, this is the south Cornish coast and most buildings that were around in the 18th century have connections to the trade!).
Are you ready to visit Looe?
An enigmatic island just out to shore, coastal walks with panoramic views, smuggling history and a picturesque harbour… Looe’s a wonderful town to visit.
While it’s not quite as famous as destinations like Newquay or St Ives, it’s incredibly charming, is great for families and it’s quite accessible – in fact, I recommend it on my weekend in Cornwall itinerary as it’s a lot closer than other Cornish towns and attractions!
Don’t forget to check out my Cornwall archives for more posts from the region. I’ve spent a lot of my life in Cornwall and regularly return for more travels around the Duchy (I’ve even traced my Cornish ancestry back to the 13th century!).
If you have any questions about visiting Looe, or anywhere in Cornwall or South West England, feel free to drop me a message on Instagram. I’m always happy to help!