Whatever time of year you visit the maritime Cornish town of Falmouth, you are likely to find yourself in the middle of a festival. Whether celebrating oyster season, singing sea shanties, turning the town yellow or watching a live nativity procession, it’s easy to see why more than 500,000 people visit the town each year. Here are 22 great things to do in Falmouth.
Falmouth has turned into a cool destination over the past decade — with its independent shops and restaurants in the town centre and the development of the marina. Plus the naturally beautiful beaches dotted with surf centres and cafes — and even a bakery.
So if you only have a day to spare, what should you do in Falmouth? Here’s our list of what to see and where to eat, play, shop and relax in this university town.
22 Things to Do in Falmouth for a Day Out
You may also be interested in the 12 prettiest villages and best towns in Cornwall…
10am: Breakfast or Brunch
First up, find time to visit Gyllyingvase Beach — known as Gylly to the locals — at some point during the day, so start with breakfast (warning: you may never want to leave).
Gylly Beach café can easily accommodate breakfast, lunch and dinner, but breakfast here is a popular affair with a menu featuring pastries right up to a full Cornish breakfast filled with locally-produced ingredients. Get to the beach early enough and you can enjoy a pre-breakfast spot of yoga on the beach.
The Greenbank Hotel on the harbour is Falmouth’s oldest hotel, dating back to 1640. You can moor your boat on their pontoons or take a boat trip. And there’s also a spa and a 2 AA Rosette restaurant, bar and the Working Boat pub.
But we recommend the Bottomless Brunch (11am) that combines a dish from their extensive brunch menu with unlimited servings of their home-made Greenbank infused gins. There are also mocktail equivalents served.
11am: Water sports in Falmouth
If you like something adventurous head next door to the café to Gylly Adventures and hire out double and single kayaks, stand-up paddleboards and bodyboards (as well as wetsuits).
For something a little more relaxing, head across the road to the St Michael’s Resort and lose yourself in their spa and health club. Alongside dozens of treatments in the spa, the highlight is the hydrotherapy pool which boasts 21 massage jets. Ahhhh…
You can’t visit Falmouth without stepping on to a boat, whether it’s a short 20-minute ferry ride to St Mawes where there are great views of Falmouth (and some amazing ice cream), or trips up the River Fal and the Helford River, to Frenchman’s Creek (made famous by the Daphne du Maurier novel of the same name), Trelissick and Malpas, as well as fishing trips.
For the more adventurous, there are fishing trips, or you can join Orca Sea Safaris for a two or three-hour sea safari to explore the coastline, and spot seals or sharks.
12noon: A tour of history
The Tudor circular fortress of Pendennis Castle and its twin brother St Mawes sit on either side of the harbour entrance. Both were built around 1540 to protect the Carrick Roads. Neither were attacked, but both played its part in the Civil War, and were used as an 18th-century military garrison and a command centre in both World Wars.
You can take a tour of the fort, see the cannons and wander around the grounds with views of Falmouth and the estuary. Go in the afternoon and you can enjoy an afternoon tea in their café.
If you have time, take the 20-minute water ferry to St Mawes to see its twin castle and track down their little brother, Little Dennis, a small fort which sits further outside of Falmouth on the coast path.
1pm: Time for lunch
For some casual dining head to the award-winning Harbour Lights restaurant on Custom House Quay. Their fish is sustainably sourced, with much of it and their potatoes coming from Cornwall. Don’t be put off by the queues, the fish and chips are well worth it!
2pm: Take in the view
Not just for kids, the National Maritime Museum feeds the imagination with stories of marauding pirates to mail ships.
The museum has 15 galleries spread across five floors which tell the story of the sea’s influence on the history and culture of Cornwall.
As well as changing temporary exhibitions there are galleries on Falmouth’s history, boat-building and Cornish fishermen’s stories. But best of all there’s a Tidal Zone with underwater windows into Falmouth Harbour and a Lookout Tower with a 360 panorama.
3pm: Falmouth shopping and culture
Falmouth’s town centre is a busy hive of activity, the streets are packed with boutiques selling surf brands, as well as art galleries and interiors shops. Some of our favourites are the Falmouth Bookseller, Cream Cornwall for homeware, Beside The Wave art gallery, and John Dyer’s vibrant artwork in his family gallery.
The Poly on Church Street is the town’s cultural centre. Its array of events includes exhibitions by local artists, workshops, live shows and cinema. Head next door to the St George’s Arcade — originally the second largest cinema in the country — and browse the specialist arts and crafts shops – great if you’re in Cornwall for Christmas.
If it’s a rainy day head to Falmouth Art Gallery which boasts an incredible array of work in its collection and is a stop off point for touring exhibitions.
Through the summer of 2023, The Legend of King Arthur: A Pre-Raphaelite Love Story explores the connection between the world-famous legend of King Arthur (thought to have been born at Tintagel Castle on Cornwall’s North Coast) and renowned Pre-Raphaelite artists through 60 works of art — including the Lady of Shalott series of paintings by John William Waterhouse exhibited together for the first time in the UK.
4pm: Back to the beach
The family-friendly Swanpool beach is known for its colourfully painted beach huts during the summer months. Sitting in a sheltered cove, it’s the perfect family beach at any time of year. It’s size makes it a great beach for a slow walk, or a couple of hours of play for the kids. There’s also Cornish ice cream served at the Swanpool Beach Café.
6pm: Dinner in Falmouth
The Cove — Michelin-starred chef Michael Caines opened his latest restaurant on Maenporth Beach just before the Covid lockdown. The Cove offers everything from lite bites and lunch to taster menus using local produce all enjoyed from the glass-front and open-air terrace giving unrivalled views across the Roseland Heritage Coast, Pendennis Castle, and St Anthony Lighthouse (the home of Fraggle Rock, for children’s TV fans).
The Verdant Seafood Bar — This dining destination doesn’t take reservations, but don’t let that put you off as its worth the wait. Enjoy beers from the microbrewery with mouth-watering seafood tapas featuring soft-shell crab, scallops, squid and shrimp croquettes. This place has developed so many fans, you can even buy a t-shirt.
The Royal Duchy Hotel — For a spot of luxury, head to the restaurant at Falmouth’s four-star hotel for locally-caught lobsters and mussels on its terrace and enjoy uninterrupted views across the bay at The Royal Duchy Hotel.
Indidog — Set on the water’s edge, Indidog restaurant and bar in Falmouth sits on the Grade II-listed harbour wall of Fish Strand Quay overlooking the River Fal and The Roseland. There’s breakfast, lunch and dinner on the menu, and they are famous for their cocktails!
The biggest attraction of Falmouth is its festivals. So here’s our pick of five of the best..
June: Falmouth’s International Sea Shanty Festival
It’s hard to believe this international festival which attracts 60,000 visitors over three days was once a simple event. In 2022, the event welcomed 65 groups from across Europe and saw more than 1,000 singers across 25 venues. The event is combined with the Falmouth Classics regatta of racing, which means 150 historic craft out on the water.
August: Falmouth Week
Falmouth Week is the big one for the town. The 10-day festival attracts 75,000 visitors to enjoy shoreside entertainment , which includes seven days of fleet racing for Falmouth Sailing Week. Other events include dragon boat racing, live music which in previous years has included DJ Craig Charles, Liberty X and Blue, the famous marching carnival, firework display and the Red Arrows.
October: Falmouth Oyster Festival
Each year 30,000 people descend on Falmouth to worship the molluscs at the start of oyster dredging season. Featuring cookery demonstrations, freshly shucked oysters, marquees packed with Cornish produce, and live music, there’s plenty on offer even if you don’t share a love of oysters.
October: Falmouth Book Festival
The festival takes place at venues across the town, including The Poly, the Library, Falmouth Art Gallery, the new Cornish Bank and the Princess Pavilion.
December: Falmouth’s Festive Weekend
Expect snowy street scenes, live performances, an ice rink, festive trains, a live nativity touring the streets and lots more for families to enjoy, as Falmouth’s final festival of the year comes to town. More on Christmas in Cornwall right here!
Find out more about what’s on at falmouth.co.uk.