22 best things to do in Polperro, Cornwall (2024 guide)

Are you looking for the best things to do in Polperro? Here’s a bumper guide to this glorious village’s attractions, hotels, restaurants and my best tips for visiting!

A whimsical Cornish fishing village turned tourist hotspot, Polperro was once a smuggling haven.

The rocky and rugged coastline of the Polperro Heritage Coast gives way to deep caves and boats gently bob on the harbour. 

As well as the beautiful beaches and breathtaking clifftop views from the coast path, Polperro is a charming village boasting independent shops and cosy pubs. 

With its winding, narrow streets, this picturesque fishing village is the perfect destination in Cornwall. 

It’s one of my favourite Cornish fishing villages; I love that, while it can be touristy, there are still plenty of echoes of its fascinating past.

I live just over the Tamar from Cornwall, and my family are from the area, so I’ve visited Polperro many times.

I’m lucky enough to be able to visit this part of Cornwall on day trips, and recently had a wonderful winter trip seeing some of the best seasonal highlights of Polperro.

So let’s look at all of the best things to do in Polperro! 

Table of Contents

Best things to do in Polperro

The best things to do in Polperro include exploring the stunning harbour, ambling around narrow village streets, uncovering the past in the Polperro Heritage Museum of Smuggling and Fishing and snuggling up in the cosy pub, The Blue Peter Inn, with a hearty meal! Here’s my full list of the best Polperro attractions and activities. 

Walk around the picturesque harbour

This Cornish village is renowned for its beautiful harbour, so walking around it, enjoying a pasty as you look out to sea, is a must-do!

Polperro Harbour is technically still a working harbour, although there are only 12 or so boats that go out fishing.

However, there’s no denying that she’s still an absolute beauty.

There are a few benches on the sea wall where you can take the views in, or walk on the coast path on either side for an elevated view of the entire place.

Explore the village streets

While a large part of Polperro’s beauty revolves around its stunning harbour, the village is also worth getting lost in too.

This labyrinth of roads and alleyways makes up the old part of the village.

This area is traffic-free, and although it is primarily lined with fishing cottages these days, it remains one of the most photogenic streets in this part of Cornwall.

Visit the Polperro Heritage Museum of Smuggling and Fishing

This village has an extraordinary history that you can learn about in the Smuggler’s Museum.

In fact, because it has such a strong focus on smuggling, it’s actually one of my favourite things to do in Cornwall when it’s raining.

You’ll learn about the village’s incredible past, how it became one of the most notorious smuggling hotspots in the UK and how it survived with the fishing industry after the decline of the illicit trade.

Visiting the museum will really help the history of the rocky coastline, with its many cliffs and caves, come to life for you!

It’s open from 10:00 am to 4:30 pm in high season (from April to October). Sadly it was closed during my recent winter visit, but I’ve been a couple of times before and highly recommend it!

Check out the independent shops

Thanks to Polperro’s rise as a tourist destination, it has plenty of boutique shops that are perfect for purchasing souvenirs.

In fact, when we were there recently, we went in a couple of shops to buy some Christmas presents!

Many of these boutique shops offer goods from local small businesses, and some of them are even handmade.

So shopping at them is a great way to support Cornwall’s economy while you’re visiting.

My favourites include:

  • Going Cuckoo: A store specialising in Black Forest cuckoo clocks – the gift that you never knew you needed!
  • Sweet Time of Polperro: A must-visit for all sugar fans, this has virtually every sweet you can imagine!
  • Polperro Piskey Headquarters: One of the best Cornish legends is piskies, and this magical shop is full of curiosities that’ll have you wondering if these fairies are indeed in the building!

Take your pooch to the “Bar for Dogs”!

This shop is so unique that it deserves its own entry on this attractions in Polperro list!

It’s a pet-orientated shop that has everything you’d ever need for your pooch.

However, take a step inside, and you’ll discover so much more.

It sells “dog beer” and has a ball pool with 6,000 balls – and a competition to see how quickly a dog can retrieve three tennis balls!

They even offer doggie photoshoots on the coast path!

It’s definitely one of the best things to do in Cornwall with dogs.

You can read more about it here.

Admire Shell House

Polperro is full of beautiful historic fishing cottages, but possibly the most famous is The Shell House.

This is actually now a holiday cottage (and is probably the most popular in the village!), but it used to be owned by a man called Mr Samuel Puckey in the 1930s.

He had been a sailor and had amassed a rather large collection of shells while exploring the world.

To jazz up his cottage a little, he thought he’d start sticking them on the outside of his cottage!

He created designs and patterns, and even the image of a lighthouse.

They have withstood the test of time and ensure that Shell House remains one of the top things to see in Polperro to this day!

See Polperro Beach

Polperro has a small sandy beach, which is worth checking out in the town, although it can be very tidal; when I was in Polperro recently the water came right up to the harbour wall. 

The beach is of the best things to do in Polperro with dogs (they’re allowed all year but must be on leads between 10:00 am to 6:00 pm). 

It’s a nice patch of sand to chill out on, but it’s not quite as impressive as the beaches on the north coast, like those around Newquay or St Ives.

I’d recommend either heading to these or the beaches around Falmouth if you want more expansive sweeping sands!

Admire Polperro Model Village

Polperro Model Village and land of legend is a must-visit while you’re in town!

While the actual village isn’t exactly large, you can see it all in miniature here, reduced to scale.

It dates back to the 1940s and is an excellent way to get your bearings of the village and imagine how smugglers in days long gone operated.

Once you’ve toured the model village, head to the Land of Legend. Boasting seven stories about famous Cornish legends, told using clever light and sound methods.

There’s also a model OO gauge railway, where you can see tiny trains touring the stunning Cornish countryside.

Located on the site of the Old Forge which dates back to the 18th century, the model village is completely FREE to visit.

Get creative at Coffee Cake Create

Feeling crafty? Coffee Cake Create is a Polperro business that’s perfect for drizzly Cornish days.

An atmospheric cafe serving up freshly brewed coffee and rich slices of cake, this is the ideal cosy spot to relax in.

However, if you’re feeling creative, attend one of their many workshops (for beginners and improvers!).

Offering a huge calendar of workshops, including tea-towel art, drawing Cornish coastal flowers and even life drawing, there’s plenty to get involved in here.

They’re most active on their Facebook page, where you can check to see what workshops are going on during your stay.

Or, drop in for a coffee and a chat with Lesa, who will gladly detail any upcoming events!

Check out the village’s Art Galleries

It’s no surprise that Cornwall, with its incredible coastal landscapes and wild moorland, has become something of an artist’s haven over the last few decades.

This is most prevalent in St Ives, where there’s a TATE gallery, but there are also numerous art galleries in Polperro too.

The most famous is probably Ebenezer Gallery, which boasts work by the East Cornwall Society of Artists Ltd.

They have an exhibition every year in the summer season, along with a shop where you can purchase some original Cornish artwork to display in your home – or it makes the perfect gift!

There’s also the Polperro Arts Foundation, which is open throughout the year and displays a selection of pieces from artists who live in Polperro and its surroundings.

Closer to the harbour, you’ll find Gina Farrell’s Gallery.

Gina is an artist who has been based in Polperro since the age of 14.

Although she travelled extensively, she was drawn back to Polperro, and nowadays creates her beautiful paintings with inspiration from the local area.

Explore the Willy Wilcox Cottage and Cave

If you’re interested in Polperro’s smuggling history, it’s well worth checking out Willy Wilcox’s Cottage and Cave!

Willy Wilcox was a notorious smuggler in the 18th century village, although he’s not quite as renowned as other locals like Zephaniah Job, who was the smuggler’s banker.

He lived in the white cottage with blue shutters on the harbour’s west side.

Just below it – and easily visible if you’re standing on the east side of the harbour, is a gaping cave.

Because of its prominent position on Polperro Harbour, and the fact that this village was rife with smugglers, it’s a certainty that contraband was stored there.

In fact, legend has it that Willy Wilcox not only stored his possessions in the cave but actually had a tunnel built that connected it to his cottage!

Locals also claim that the cave is haunted by none other than the ghost of Willy Wilcox.

While the name is fairly legendary in Polperro, nobody’s 100% sure who Willy Wilcox actually was or exactly when he lived.

The cottage is nowadays a holiday home – so you could stay here and really get to know the mystery of Willy Wilcox!

Go chilli tasting at the Cornish Chilli Co

Probably my favourite independent shop in Polperro (I love all things spicy!) is the Cornish Chilli Co.

This is one of my favourite things to do in Polperro because the friendly owner is happy to chat about all things related to chillies and his business.

He makes the chilli sauces right in the shop itself; so you couldn’t get more local!

Browse the shop and choose your favourite sauce – we visited recently and went for Lockdown Lava, which has an extremely spicy rating.

If you can’t choose between a few – or want to test your tastebuds to see if you can handle one of the spiciest varieties, you can ask to taste some.

It’s a great way to chat to a local, learn about this small business and end up with a fun, edible souvenir!

Feast on a cosy pub lunch at Blue Peter Inn

I would put The Blue Peter Inn in the restaurants in Polperro section (see below for my other recommendations!), but honestly, it’s my favourite place to eat in the village and it’s such a cool experience that eating here is an activity in its own right.

The Blue Peter Inn is right by the harbour, built into the rocks overlooking the water.

As soon as you walk in, you’ll enter a cavern full of fascinating memorabilia.

The ultimate cosy spot, you can take a seat in the heart of the pub or position yourself by the window and watch the world go by.

Just make sure that you take a walk around the pub to look at all of the artistic touches, along with the historical relics from smuggling days!

Another thing I loved about Blue Peter Inn was its impressive veggie menu. There were a good seven options – which is unheard of in many pubs!

I opted for the tofish and chips – which was battered tofu (fish and chip style), with chunky chips, mushy peas and vegan tartare sauce.

Enjoying a vegan fish and chips at the Blue Peter Pub

My boyfriend had the classic fish and chips choice – and both were absolutely delicious.

A long, warming pub lunch at Blue Peter Inn is definitely one of the best things that you can do in Polperro, especially if you’re in the village in the winter months!

Take in the Harbour and Headlands Walk

If you fancy a stroll around Polperro but don’t want to walk all the way to Looe, Polruan, Par or Portwrinkle, then check out this harbour and headlands walk.

It encompasses Polperro harbour, views of the village from either side of the coastal path and meanders up to Crumplehorn, which sits inland just above the village.

At 4.7 kilometres or 2.9 miles in length, it’ll take you one to one and a half hours to complete.

It’s a route from iWalk Cornwall – you can click here to see their instructions!

Take a boat trip

In the summer season, boat trips leave from Polperro Harbour, and they are an excellent way to explore the coastline from another level.

Choose from a 30 minute pleasure trip along the harbour, one-way transport to Looe or a half-day trip to Fowey with two hours in the town.

Two companies, The Smuggler and The William John, run these tours, and you can contact them via their Facebook pages (which are linked!).

Walk to Looe

The coastal path leads from Polperro for five miles to the seaside town of Looe. 

This section of the path offers stunning views of the craggy cliffs, small bays and out to Looe Island. 

It’s a bit up-and-down, but nowhere near as challenging as other parts of the coastal path (I’m looking at you, Hartland Quay to Bude…).

You can read my full guide to the Looe to Polperro walk (I did it the other way around, so follow my instructions backwards!) here.

Explore Looe

Girl standing on the South West Coast Path, looking out to Looe Island.

Whether you walk, take a boat, or drive to Looe, definitely spend some time visiting Polperro’s neighbour while you’re in the region!

Looe is a lovely town with a gorgeous river. As it’s a bit bigger than Polperro, there are a few more attractions here, making it the perfect day trip if you’re staying in Polperro village.

Some of the best things to do in Looe include: 

  • East Looe Beach: This isn’t my favourite beach in Cornwall, but it’s larger than Polperro’s and it
  • The Looe Estuary: This is the riverside with gorgeous fishing boats, and there are some wonderful walks that you can take along the river.
  • Old Guildhall Museum and Goal: Learn about the town’s past at Looe Museum, with exhibits on its many ghosts!
  • Watersports rental: You can rent out paddleboards and canoes from the harbour.
  • Heritage Trail: There’s an interesting trail that you can take that details all of the historic buildings of the town centre.
The pretty river of Looe

Walk to Polruan

Follow the coast path in the other direction to reach Polruan.

This is a tougher walk than the other directions, with lots of ups and downs.

It’s about 6 miles or 10 km in total; you can stop off at Lantic Bay on the way as well!

Check out a full guide to this walk here.

Discover Lantic Bay

The stunning Cornish beach and coast line of Lantic Bay near Polruan on a beautiful summer day, Cornwall, England, UK

If you like breathtaking beaches, head to Lantic Bay!

Generally, I think that North Cornwall has better beaches than the south coast, but Lantic Bay is definitely an exception. 

This beach is only accessible by foot, but if you can make it down, it’s well worth it. 

A forgotten paradise, the golden sands are often completely bereft of tourists, even in the peak summer season. 

This makes it one of my favourite hidden gems in Cornwall!

Head to Talland Bay

One of the most popular nearby beaches, Talland Bay is a short journey from Polperro. 

You can walk there on the coast path; it’s around 1.5 miles and takes 30-45 minutes.

It’s a beautiful bay with a stunning beach and cafe.

Take a longer walk to Par

While the walk from Polperro to Fowey is great for those who want a half-day trip, there’s also the possibility of a longer walk to Par.

This walk is 13.9 miles or 22.3 kilometres long, and it traverses Lantic Bay, Polruan (where you’ll need to take a ferry over to Fowey), Gribbin Head and then into Par town.

As the walk is quite challenging, it’s a day hike, but it’s worth it for anyone who wants to experience a good slice of the Cornish coast path.

To get back to Polperro, you’ll need to take bus 24 to Fowey and then change to the 481.

Be sure to check the bus times before heading out, as they can be infrequent.

Take a longer walk to Portwrinkle

Another longer walk, the hike from Polperro to Portwrinkle is 12.7 miles or 20.4 km and passes through Looe, Seaton and Downderry before finishing in Portwrinkle.

This is a gorgeous section of the coast path that isn’t that well-trodden, as the area of the coast between Looe and the River Tamar isn’t really touristy.

Again, it’s fairly challenging – so only attempt it if you have some hiking experience and are prepared to be out all day!

Unfortunately, there aren’t any public transport connections between Polperro and Portwrinkle – you’ll need to take a bus into Plymouth and then double back on yourself.

I’d recommend arranging a lift or taxi to transport you back to Polperro. You can book with Chariots of Hire by clicking here.

Things to do near Polperro 

There are so many places to visit near Polperro that are perfect for a day trip! Here are my favourites: 

The Eden Project

St Austell, Cornwall, United Kingdom: April 13, 2016: View of the biomes at the Eden Project. Inside the biomes, plants from many diverse climates and environments have been collected and are displayed to visitors. The Eden Project is located in a reclaimed Kaolinite pit, located about 5 kilometres from the town of St Austell, Cornwall in England.

The Eden Project is an unmissable attraction in South Cornwall.

Located close to Par, The Eden Project consists of two huge domes, one of which boasts Mediterranean flora and another with tropical plants.

There’s even a waterfall here, along with gardens outside to enjoy some Cornish plants.

Eden Project, Cornwall

It’s a useful place to visit to learn about other landscapes all over the world; it’s loved by families who want to educate their kids in sustainability, but also immensely popular with groups of adults – where else in the UK can you walk through a tropical rainforest?

Explore Fowey

Fowey in South Cornwall

Fowey is a wonderful Medieval town that sits about a 40 minute drive from the village (you can also walk there!).

There are quite a few things to do in Fowey, and it boasts beautiful architecture and epic viewpoints.

My granddad used to be the policeman for Fowey in the early 1960s, so it’s always been somewhere we’ve visited a lot as a family!

Attractions include:

  • Readymoney Cove: A beautiful beach with a trail leading up to St Catherine’s Castle.
  • Fowey Harbour: An ideal place for strolls, with stunning architecture spanning back through the centuries.
  • Boat Trips: You can take a guided boat tour along the Fowey River, where you’ll learn about historical places close to the town.
  • Esplanade: A gorgeous street lined with pastel-coloured houses, this is actually where my dad, gran and grandma used to live!
Statue of bird in Fowey

Can you get a boat from Polperro to Fowey?

Yes! Boats connect Polperro and Fowey in the summer months.

The Lost Gardens of Heligan

Lost Gardens of Heligan

While the Lost Gardens of Heligan aren’t super close to Polperro, you could add on seeing them to a day trip to the Eden Project.

These gardens used to be part of the Heligan Estate – which I’ve actually traced my family history back to!

After World War One, the gardens became overgrown and quite literally “lost”, to be refound in the 1990s, when the largest garden restoration project in Europe took place.

Nowadays, the gardens span over 200 acres, including a kitchen garden, a jungle-themed area and a woodland.

Bodmin Moor

Rough Tor is one of the highest peaks in Bodmin Moor

The foreboding Bodmin Moor is definitely a bucket-list place to visit in Cornwall.

It doesn’t get as much tourism as Cornwall’s coastal destinations, but it’s beautiful in its own way and, like Polperro, holds a lot of fascinating smuggling history.

You can learn all about this at Jamaica Inn, which used to be a smuggler’s hideaway.

Girl sitting outside Jamaica Inn

If you have good enough weather, it’s worth spending some time exploring Bodmin Moor itself. Check out Golitha Falls, climb the two highest peaks in Cornwall or find some ancient stone circles like Hurlers.

Weather not so kind? Check out Bodmin Town Centre, which boasts a range of museums including Bodmin Town Museum, Bodmin Keep, Discovering 42 and, my favourite, Bodmin Gaol.

You can do tours around the interactive exhibit of the jail and learn all about crime and punishment in the 19th century.

Check out my full guide to Bodmin here.

Restormel Castle

Restormel Castle
Photo credit English Heritage

Restormel Castle is en-route to Bodmin and dates back to the 13th century. While it was built initially to guard the River Fowey, it also used a residence for the family who owned it.

Its use waned throughout the years, and it ultimately became a tourist attraction as far back as Victorian times, although it was then left in a state of disrepair.

Nowadays, it’s owned by the English Heritage.

A remarkable amount of the castle ruins remain, and you can see remnants of the Great Hall.

The ruins boast excellent vistas over the River Fowey too!

You can either pay to visit or, if you’re an English Heritage member, you can get in for free.

I’d recommend joining the English Heritage if you want to visit other castles in Cornwall like Tintagel Castle in Tintagel Village and Pendennis Castle in Falmouth.

See my English Heritage membership review here.

Restormel Castle is about a half-hour drive from Polperro, so it’s not super close, but it’s worth stopping by if you’re spending a day exploring Bodmin and the surroundings.

Where to stay in Polperro 

If you’re spending the night – or your whole holiday – in Polperro, check out my list of recommended hotels.

The House on the Props

This highly-rated guesthouse provides cosy rooms right in the centre of Polperro, with breathtaking views of the harbour, and five-star customer service.

Enjoy a delicious Cornish breakfast every single morning and feel right at home when you stay here!

Click here for more information about The House on the Props.

The Claremont Hotel

This adult-only establishment encompasses boutique rooms, all decorated in their own individual style, facing the village or inland.

A delicious breakfast is included in the rate and dogs are permitted in some rooms.

Click here to read more about The Claremont Hotel.

Penlea Retreat Coastal Shepherds Hut

If you want something a little more isolated, this shepherd’s hut accommodates two and has its own hot tub!

It’s located near Crumplehorn, a short walk to Polperro, but you’ll feel in another world as you stay in this gorgeous farm location.

The space is small, but well-kitted out with a kitchen, dining area and comfortable bed and is decorated to perfection.

Click here to read more about Penlea Retreat Coastal Shepherds Hut.

Places to eat in Polperro

My top recommendation for where to eat in Polperro would always be the Blue Peter Inn, which I’ve described above.

A cavern of historical treasures, dining or drinking here has to be on your Polperro to-do list!

Here are a few other excellent restaurants in town; I’ve dined at all of these during my previous trips to the town, and I did notice on my recent December trip that most of them were open in the winter season!

Noughts and Crosses

Dating back to the 17th century when it was a bakery, this Grade II-listed pub is a popular institution in the village serving hearty pub grub.

The Three Pilchards

Taking its name from the pilchard trade, this pub offers up a range of warming British classics.

We had a quick look at the menu when we were there recently, and while I was tempted by the breaded halloumi burger, I really wanted to visit the Blue Peter Inn to take some photos of the interior!

But I have eaten at and very enjoyed The Three Pilchards before. In the summer months, there’s a beer garden with an epic harbour view to enjoy.

Michelle’s Restuarant

This family-run restaurant specialises in locally-caught seafood from their very own boat.

It’s an ideal place for a delicious local meal, but do book ahead in the summer months – they get busy!

How many days do you need in Polperro?

You can check off all of Polperro’s highlights in a few hours – although if you want to do a workshop at Coffee Cake Create, hike on the South West Coast Path and enjoy a boat trip, you’ll need a bit longer.

If you stay in Polperro, you’ll also get a chance to see the village before and after the daytrippers have visited, which is a godsend in the busy summer months!

Check out my Polperro itineraries below to give you an idea of how to put your trip together.

Polperro itinerary

If you’re wondering how all of these attractions tie together, see below for some Polperro itineraries!

One day in Polperro itinerary

Start your day by doing the harbour and headlands walk. Pop into the model village to get your bearings and pop into the musuem.

Then grab a pasty from Polperro Bakery. Spend some time on the beach in the afternoon, checking out Willy Wilcox’s cave, and perhaps do a boat trip. If it’s raining, check out the workshops at Coffee Cake Create or go art gallery browsing. In the evening, enjoy a hearty pub meal at Blue Peter Inn.

Two days in Polperro itinerary

Complete the first day as above, and then set out on a walk to Looe on the second day.

Spend some time checking out the town’s highlights, perhaps venturing to Looe Island if times allow, or just chilling on East Looe Beach or learning about the town’s history at the museum.

One week in Polperro itinerary

A misty sunrise in over the coastline of Cornwall

If you have one week in Polperro, you can thoroughly enjoy the village, the town of Looe and the surrounding area! After exploring Polperro and Looe’s highlights, do the following day trips:

  • Bodmin Moor: Explore Jamaica Inn and do some hikes on the moorland.
  • Bodmin Town: Visit Restormel Castle or Lanhydrock on the way, before visiting Bodmin Keep and Bodmin Gaol.
  • Fowey: Check out the beautiful buildings of this vibrant coastal town.
  • The Rame Peninsula: Go for a walk around Rame Head and Cawsand and Kingsand, beautiful villages and a coastline that is often forgotten by tourists.
  • The Eden Project and Lost Gardens of Heligan: See these two famous Cornish attractions, possibly finishing with a pub lunch in Mevagissey.

How to get to Polperro

Most tourists visit Polperro by driving.

Take the A38 over the River Tamar, to Trerulefoot, then take the A374 and A387.

Turn onto the B3253 (following signs to Looe), and drive through No Man’s Land and St Martin, before reaching the East Looe River and Looe town centre.

Take the A387 out of Looe. It’ll go past Portlooe and Barcelona (not the Spanish city, there’s a Barcelona in Cornwall too!), before reaching Crumplehorn.

Park the car at Polperro Public Car Park (there’s no parking in the village and cars aren’t permitted in much of it).


Bus routes connect Polperro with Fowey, Looe and Plymouth. We took the bus back to Looe and it cost me £2 for a one-way fare.

You can see bus times for the 481 (Looe to Polruan via Polperro) here and times for the 72 (Plymouth to Polperro via Saltash and Looe) here.

Where to park in Polperro

One of my best tips for visiting this Cornish village is not to try to drive down the cobbled streets into the village!

The streets are super narrow and windy, many are inaccessible for cars, and there isn’t anywhere suitable for parking.

However, there is a large car park at the top of the village, near the Crumplehorn Inn.

This is also where the buses to Polperro stop.

You can see a Google Maps location for the Polperro Public Car Park here, or check it out on Parkopedia.

This car park is very expensive at £5 for 3 hours or less and £7 for 3-6 hours. It’s also cash only!

But parking isn’t exactly cheap anywhere in Cornwall, and in a village like Polperro, there isn’t really an alternative.

When is the best time to visit Polperro? 

Polperro, a sleepy village in Cornwall

Polperro is beautiful throughout the seasons; I recently did a lovely wintery walk around the South West Coast Parth and adored walking through the ancient fishing village with no other tourists around. 

The downside of visiting Polperro – or anywhere in Cornwall in winter – is that the weather can be stormy (although sometimes that’s beautiful too!), the days are short and quite a few of the attractions, including the museums and a few tourist-focused restaurants, are closed. 

In the summer months, the weather’s better and the days are longer; so you have more time to enjoy these Polperro attractions.

However, the village is tiny and it can be absolutely teeming with people, especially in the school holidays in July and August. 

But visit during shoulder season for a compromise of decent weather, open amenities (tourist season usually runs from April to October) and fewer tourists than the peak summer season.

History of Polperro

A tiny village with a population of just 1,554, Polperro sits in a cove on the rocky heritage coastline between Fowey and Looe. 

Nowadays, it’s one of the most popular fishing villages in Cornwall, thanks to its historic houses and picturesque harbour. 

However, it has a fascinating history of smuggling; here are some of my favourite historical facts and information about the village!

Polperro’s origins

Polperro dates back to at least 1303 when a royal document recorded a fishing settlement in its location.

As Cornwall, at that time, was a very remote and unexplored place (especially rocky villages in coves like Polperro!), it could have been around earlier.

Smuggling history

In fact, the smuggling history in Polperro may have dated back to as early as the 12th century – but we aren’t too sure of the exact dates!

Polperro’s advantageous position, on the south coast so close to France (especially the area of Brittany which is also Celtic), and in a tiny cove that wasn’t very accessible, enabled it to become a hotbed of smuggling throughout the centuries.

Smuggling in Cornwall was at its height in the 18th century. This is when taxes were at their all-time high, thanks to various wars throughout the world.

Fishermen, who were on a low income, discovered that they could increase their income by smuggling tobacco and alcohol, at a time when these types of products were taxed heavily.

It was quite well-known that smuggling was rife in Polperro, but it wasn’t until the 19th century when the coastguard was strengthened, smuggling penalties were raised and people stopped accepting bribes.

This caused the smuggling trade to plummet in the village, leaving fishermen with only the seas for their source of income.

Fishing in Polperro

Polperro, like Mevagissey to the west, was famous for pilchard fishing.

It’s still technically a working fishing village (although its industry is much more tourist-focused nowadays), and for centuries pilchard was fished from its waters, and they were then preserved in the village, before being transported to other destinations around Cornwall.

Tourism in Polperro

With the rise of commercial fishing, pilchard fishing in Polperro declined in popularity, and the main focus shifted to tourism.

Polperro became a popular tourist destination in the 20th century – a little later than other destinations like Newquay and St Ives, because the railway never made it here.

Nowadays, the village is very tourist-focused; most of the cottages in the historic village centre are Airbnbs.

However, there are still plenty of opportunities to get a snippet of local life and encounter long-forgotten traditions.

Polperro FAQs

What is better Polperro or Looe? 

It depends on what you’re looking for! Polperro definitely has a more quaint fishing village vibe, whereas Looe is a little bigger – but it’s still very scenic along the river.

Looe has a few more attractions and accommodation options, whereas Polperro is smaller and can be very busy – especially during the summer months.

What is Polperro famous for? 

Polperro is famous for its charming winding streets and quaint harbour.

It’s also quite well-known for its smuggling history; you can learn all about this in the smuggling museum and visualise it as you admire the rugged cliffs!

Can you walk from Polperro to Looe? 

Yes, you can walk from Polperro to Looe.

It’s just a five-mile walk along the Cornish coast path; there are a few ups and downs, but it’s not too difficult when compared to other Cornish hikes.

What is there to do in Polperro in the rain?

If the weather’s not great when you’re in Polperro, I recommend the following:

  • a class at Coffee Cake Create
  • the smuggler’s museum
  • browsing the art galleries
  • shopping at its independent shops
  • day tripping to the Eden Project
  • a museum day at Bodmin

What has been filmed in Polperro? 

Thanks to its gorgeous harbour, Polperro has been the backdrop of plenty of films throughout the ages! Some include:

  • The Manxman, Alfred Hitchcock’s last silent film in 1920 (as the name suggests, the film was apparently set on the Isle of Man!)
  • Miranda, the story of a mermaid
  • Another Time, Another Place, starring Sean Connery (it was his first lead role)
  • Behemoth, the Sea Monster which is about radiation resurrecting a sea monster

What is the prettiest village in Cornwall? 

It’s hard to discern what the prettiest village in Cornwall is – there are so many! Polperro is definitely up there with the best, but others include Port Isaac, Mousehole and, one of my favourites of an offbeat destination that still has a fishing culture, Cadgwith on the Lizard Peninsula.

Is Polperro worth visiting?

There are few villages quite as charming as Polperro – even in Cornwall, which is famous for them! That makes this glorious fishing village absolutely worth seeing.

I’d recommend avoiding peak summer months, just because Polperro can get busy. Its beauty spans across seasons anyway!

Are you ready to visit Polperro?

Polperro, Cornwall, South West England

This post should have answered all of your questions about what to do in Polperro!

Don’t forget to save this post so you can refer to it when you visit Polperro and visit my Cornwall archives for lots more tips about what to do in this part of the country.

If you have any questions about visiting Polperro (or anywhere in Cornwall or the West Country!), drop me a message on Instagram – I’m happy to help!

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