Overlooking the mouth of the River Fal and home to Cornwall’s only university, Falmouth is a place where natural beauty and energetic creativity collide. The seaside town is beset with gorgeous beaches around its coastline where you can relax or get active. Inland, you can explore its museums, galleries, quirky shops and beguiling gardens. Not sure where to start exploring on your visit? To help you plan, we’ve put together some of the best things to do in Falmouth, Cornwall.
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Things to do in Falmouth: beaches
Falmouth’s coastline is one of its greatest assets. The town is home to some of Cornwall’s most pristine and interesting beaches. Whether you are looking for a quiet sandy spot to relax and sunbathe, somewhere to get active in the sea, or a place for beach festivals and parties, Falmouth has it.
1. Hang out and paddleboard at Gyllyngvase Beach
We begin with our favourite beach in Falmouth – Gyllyngvase Beach! Known locally as Gylly Beach, this is a great all-round beach and one of the most popular spots in town. With 300 metres of immaculate white sand stretched around its crescent, you can see why people head here to relax or take a dip in the sea.
Gyllyngvase Beach is just a short walk from the town centre. It’s a regular hangout place for students in Falmouth, or so I am told by my nephew, who lives and studies in the town. Sometimes you’ll find events on here, such as live music from Gylly Beach Cafe or summer festivals.
The sheltered position of Gylly Beach means the water is usually nice and calm, as well as beautifully clean. This makes it a great spot to try some paddleboarding, which you can hire from WeSUP by the beach.
If you happen to be visiting Cornwall in winter, come to Gylly Beach on New Year’s Day to see one of the biggest festive swims in Cornwall (or join in!).
2. Relax and try quirky ice creams at Swanpool Beach
If you’re looking for a slightly quieter coastal spot in Falmouth, then try Swanpool Beach. It’s a much smaller pocket of sand in a nicely secluded location, about a mile out from the town centre. You can walk to it around the coastal path from Gyllyngvase Beach in about ten minutes.
The water at Swanpool Beach is nice and calm, but take caution with swimming as there isn’t any lifeguard cover. We prefer this as a place to unwind for a while, maybe with a beach picnic in a late summery afternoon.
While you’re here, you absolutely must try one of the ‘quirky ice creams’ from Swanpool Beach Cafe! There is a creative range of ice creams to choose from, stacked with treats, such as ‘the Hedgehog’ with honey and hazelnuts, or ‘Over the Rainbow’ with candy sticks, rainbow puffed rice and strawberry sauce.
The beach shares its name with the adjoining Swanpool Nature Reserve, which is an inland brackish lagoon cut off from the sea during the last ice age. At this Site of Special Scientific Interest you can take a walk among nature and meet lots of interesting birdlife and flora around the lagoon.
3. Go rock-pooling at Castle Beach
Located next to Pendennis Point, Castle Beach is one of the closest to Falmouth Town Centre. As a mostly shingle beach it doesn’t have the sand quality of Gyllyngvase, but when the tide is low this is a really interesting spot to explore, backed up by some lovely coastal views.
At the lowest tide, you can see segments of a wartime wreck emerging from the water, and there is an array of rock pools to discover. If you’re experienced with diving or snorkelling, this is one of the prime places in town for it.
You definitely need to plan your visit here according to the tide, as the beach can be completely covered when it is particularly high. Check out Falmouth tide times before you visit.
4. Try a surfing lesson in Falmouth
Cornwall is without a doubt the best place in the UK to try surfing. World Championship events have been hosted in the past up in Newquay, and there are swell spots all around the coastline to hit the waves.
Falmouth is within the vicinity of some great surf, and you can dip your toes in by trying some lessions. Search Surf School in Falmouth has the benefit of being a mobile surf school, so the team can take you to the best spots in the area in accordance with the conditions on the day.
The head coach is a former pro, so you can be guaranteed some excellent tutelage! And if you’ve already got some surfing chops, there are classes and sessions for intermediate and advanced surfers too.
Things to do in Falmouth: exploring
Falmouth has a history that stretches back hundreds of years, closely tied to its maritime and port trading traditions. Today its character is a mixture of that historic charm blended with a modernistic creativity, driven by its emergence as a vibrant university town. Whether you are stopping by during a Cornwall road trip or spending a longer time here, there are many things to do in Falmouth to get to know the place.
5. Take a Falmouth walking tour
Taking a walking tour is a great way to become introduced to a new place. It’s something we do often on our travels, usually on the first day of our stay, as you can gather some ideas for how to use the rest of your time.
On a Falmouth walking tour you can learn about the town’s history as well as seeing some hidden gems and hearing some entertaining tales of famous local characters over the ages.
Typically starting at 2pm, the tour begins at Killigrew Monument, which sets the scene well. It was named after the notorious family of pirates who founded the town. From there, you weave through various locations around town that were once the stage for seismic historical events.
The tour is a fun and interesting way to be introduced to Falmouth. It finishes at the Prince of Wales Pier, which is a convenient place to continue exploring or drop into one of the seafront restaurants nearby for a bite to eat.
For something a little different, you can also try a Falmouth hidden gems self-guided tour, which is based on a mobile app. This brings a bit of gamification into exploring the town and has the added benefit that you can take it completely at your own pace.
6. Visit the historic Pendennis Castle
The most impressive and historically significant structure in Falmouth is Pendennis Castle, looming over the seafront from the headland that juts out from the town.
Pendennis Castle was an integral part of Falmouth’s beginnings. It was built by King Henry VIII as a protective fortress in the mid-16th century. The castle actually predates the town itself; Falmouth was built under its shadow in the following century by the Killigrew family.
Stunningly preserved, Pendennis today is one of the UK’s finest seaside castles, and a must-visit while you’re in Falmouth. From its walls you can enjoy a fabulous view over the town and surrounding coastline, and inside its grounds you can retrace the steps of many historic moments.
See the English Heritage website to find out more and book your tickets for the castle.
7. See the glorious coastal views from Pendennis Point
At the very tip of the headland, beneath the hill and the towering castle walls, Pendennis Point offers a breathtaking sea view. You can see across the mouth of the River Fal from here to the village of St Mawes on the opposite side of the banks. Look out for St Anthony’s Lighthouse, where Fraggle Rock was filmed in the 1980s! On a clear day, you can also see right across to the Lizard Peninsula in the opposite direction.
This is a lovely spot to just take a little breather for a while after exploring Pendennis Castle. There is a little car park right next to the viewing point, but we prefer to walk all the way around the headland for the constant views along the way.
When you get to Pendennis Point there is some seating that looks out to the sea, and you can occasionally see grey seals frolicking on the rocks.
Pendennis Point faces to the east, so if you’re in Falmouth overnight and don’t mind an early rise, then you can see a brilliant sunrise across the water from here.
8. Go shopping in the town centre
One of our favourite things to do in Falmouth is simply to explore the quirky and creative array of shops dotted around the town centre. Cornwall’s coastal towns and villages are always so good for local food and crafty shops, and Falmouth is no different.
The four roads of Falmouth High Street, Market Street, Church Street and Arwenack Street connect together to create one long artery of independent shops that carves through the heart of the town. If you’re a shopaholic you could spend hours pottering along here and checking out some of the jewellers, delicatessens, book stores, clothes-makers and all sorts of other outlets that line these charming roads.
9. Climb Jacob’s Ladder (and stay at the inn!)
As you walk inland from the sea in Falmouth, the town rises sharply up a sloping hill. As a result there are many steep roads and stairways that lead the way up. The most conspicuous and challenging of these is Jacob’s Ladder, a 111-step stairway that leads up from the Moor, the town’s central square.
Jacob’s Ladder is named after the local businessman who built it to create a shortcut route to his home. It’s a tough climb, but at the top you are greeted with some gorgeous views over the harbour and the Fal estuary.
You’ll probably be ready for a pint by the time you’ve climbed all the steps – I know we were! – and thankfully there is a great local pub at the top to indulge you. Jacob’s Ladder Inn serves some cracking local ales and delicious food, and you can also book to stay overnight at the inn (if you’re committed to climbing that staircase regularly!).
10. See the shell sculptures in Gyllyngdune Gardens
Throughout Falmouth you will come across many little parks and gardens that give the feeling that you’re always close to nature. Gyllyngdune Gardens is one of the town’s oldest cultivated green spaces, with origins dating back to the 19th century. The original Edwardian bandstand is still a feature of the grounds, and used for summer concerts.
The gardens are kept beautifully, and you almost get the sense you are walking among the tropics. There are some eccentric features sculpted seamlessly among the greenery, such as the ‘shell seats’, built by the wealthy Coope family who originally owned the property in the 1830s.
In 2011 the gardens were restored as part of a £2.3million project, bringing back much of their original splendour.
Things to do in Falmouth in the rain
You can usually count on good weather in Cornwall, but if you happen to be in town when the weather turns sour, there are still lots of things to do in Falmouth in the rain. The town has an array of interesting indoor activities, and these are some of our favourites.
11. Explore the National Maritime Museum
The National Maritime Museum is one of the coolest buildings in town, and also one of the most fun things to do in Falmouth whether it’s raining or not. Standing over the docks, the building has a striking slanted and panelled exterior, created by American architect M. J. Long after an architectural design competition.
We always think that the best museums are those that combine education with fun, and that’s definitely the case at the National Maritime Museum. An array of exhibitions and interactive features take you back to Falmouth’s seafaring roots and through the ages. Underwater windows give you a glimpse of marine life, and there is also a 100-feet-high lookout tower with views over the harbour.
The museum doubles up as a theatre as well, and there is a regularly refreshed programme of entertaining events. Check the National Maritime Museum website to see what’s coming up.
12. See the displays at Falmouth Art Gallery
Falmouth has an artistic soul that is clear to see in the many art galleries around the town. Falmouth Art Gallery is a place where you can gain an absorbing glimpse into these creative traditions along with impressive artworks from all over the world.
The gallery has won numerous awards for its collections, which are considered some of the best in south-west England. It’s a public gallery, so it’s free to enter and explore.
Note the gallery has limited opening hours. You can visit 10am to 5pm on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursday and Fridays, 10am to 1pm on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and it is closed on Sundays.
13. Catch a movie at the Phoenix Cinema in the old Drill Hall
We always love to see old crumbling buildings brought back to life for new purposes. Falmouth’s Phoenix Cinema is a neat example of this, set inside the old 19th century Drill Hall.
The cinema is part of the Merlin Cinemas chain, which often seem to be set in interesting buildings. We often go to the Savoy Cinema in Penzance, for example, which is the oldest cinema still in continuous use in the UK.
Falmouth’s Drill Hall, a Grade II listed building, was completed in the 1870s and used as training base during World War I. It’s quite hard to imagine there is now a luxury five-screen cinema inside as well as a restaurant and bar! You can see what’s screening on the Merlin Cinemas website.
Places to visit near Falmouth
Wherever you go in Cornwall, you are never very far away from beautiful nature and quaint seaside villages. Falmouth is a particular hotspot for this idyllic Cornish picture, set among one of the most scenic sections of the South West Coastal Path.
14. Hike the coastal path to Maenporth
Maenporth is a gorgeous little cove and beach just a couple of miles south along the coast from Falmouth. You can reach it via a fairly gentle hike beginning at Swanpool Beach, taking in some picture-perfect coastal scenery along the way.
There are a couple of points along the route where you can take a slight detour to come out to a viewing point on the sea. One of these is Stack Point, where you get a great view back across Falmouth.
The hike from Swanpool Beach to Maenporth is about 2.7 kilometres, and you can do it quite comfortably in about an hour. But as always with Cornwall walks, allow longer to stop for those views! When you arrive at Maenporth the beach is waiting for you to unwind, and you could treat yourself to a meal at the award-winning restaurant and bar, The Cove.
15. Take the ferry to St Mawes
Falmouth is perched between two Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty: the Fal Estuary and the Lizard Peninsula. The pretty fishing village of St Mawes faces onto Falmouth from just across the estuary on the Roseland Peninsula in the heart the Fal Estuary AONB.
Ferries run regularly throughout the day to take you across the estuary to St Mawes. The journey across is a scenic experience in itself, and when you arrive, it’s a lovely place to spend the day.
St Mawes Castle is almost like a miniature version of Pendennis Castle, also built by King Henry VIII. The village also has some great galleries and traditional Cornish pubs for a hearty meal.
Where to stay in Falmouth
Falmouth has a range of accommodation options for all budgets. Like many Cornish seaside destinations, guest houses are abundant and popular, but there are also budget hostels for backpackers all the way up to luxury resorts.
These are are recommended places to stay in Falmouth for different budgets:
- Budget: Falmouth Lodge Backpackers. A comfy, sociable hostel just three minutes’ walk from the beach.
- Mid-range: Chelsea House. Lovely bed and breakfast right between the town centre and Gylly Beach.
- Luxury: Greenbank Hotel. Beautiful seafront setting on the harbour, and an elegant, nautical-themed style.
See our rundown of the best hotels in Falmouth for a full range of options.
Map of things to do in Falmouth
You can see the locations of the various things to do in Falmouth featured in this article on the map below:
Want to come back to Falmouth for a remote working visit? See our guide to coworking spaces in Cornwall, which includes two great places to work remotely in Falmouth, both offering day rates. You can also read our guide to taking a workation in Cornwall for more remote working inspiration in the area.
See more of our destination ideas in Cornwall:
Have you spent time in this beautiful part of Cornwall? Let us know your own ideas about things to do in Falmouth in the comments below.