This sheltered deep-water harbour town is set in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Fowey (pronounced Foy, rhymes with joy) is a popular place and rightly so. It rests on the west side of the estuary, hilly, picturesque with winding lanes, ancient alleyways and beautiful historic buildings set on many levels, which makes exploring a real adventure. It is a fabulous place to spend some time wandering. Make sure you potter along the Esplanade from where you look out to Polruan across the river.
From the motorway (M5) take the A30 which skirts the top of Dartmoor and crosses Bodmin Moor, until you reach junction 31, where you follow signs to Bodmin/Okehampton. Alternatively, take the slower A38 route which takes you from Exeter through Plymouth (toll crossing) and Liskeard. The B3269 takes you into Fowey.
If you’re driving to South Cornwall in a plug-in electric vehicle, see our list of charging locations here.
Parking is very limited and time-restricted in the old part of the town which is the heart of Fowey. Best advice is to park out of the centre and walk in, which is all part of the pleasure of the town.
The Main Car Park is at Hanson Drive. It is on a hill above the town and a five- minute walk away although there is also a minibus service.
Readymoney Car Park has only 60 spaces. This is close to the beach on the coastal footpath. It is about 10 to 15 minutes walk into town but with great views of the estuary as you go.
Caffa Mill Car Park has 104 spaces and boat launching facilities. It is adjacent to the car ferry between Fowey and Bodinnick. It is a 5 to 10 minute walk along narrow streets into the town centre but it is pretty level and easy. You are in town before you know it.
There is some short stay car parking at Albert Quay where the maximum stay is for two hours. It is a very busy car park and access is through the narrowest part of town which is only 2 m (6ft 6in) wide. Town Quay offers short stay for cars for two hours in winter only. Again access is through the narrowest part of the town, so if your vehicle is large it is probably best avoided.
Station Yard Car Park means a fairly level 10 minute walk along narrow streets into the town centre. Cornwall Council tickets and the phone and pay system cannot be used here.
For disabled parking there are two centrally located spaces outside Barclays bank, one in Town Quay, close to the King of Prussia, which is winter only and one on Albert Quay. A weekly Rover ticket or use of the Just Park app may be useful.
The Ship Inn is the oldest pub in Fowey, built by John Rashleigh in 1570. Grade II listed, it is also known as ‘The Old Lady of Fowey’. It is one of those higgledy-piggledy buildings, full of intriguing curios, but on the practical side is also cosy and dog-friendly, a haven for visitors and locals alike. Atmospheric, it has incredible, intricate stained glass. The food, by the way, is unpretentious and local produce is celebrated.
If you go to Polkerris, try Sam’s on the Beach, which is based in a converted RNLI lifeboat station. The restaurant’s front is made entirely from glass offering sublime views. There is also Sam’s Fowey, restaurant and cocktail bar, for Cornish produce. Try their award-winning burgers.
On North Street towards the car ferry you will find Captain Hanks Crab and Snack Shack which is a cheery water’s edge food van. The sandwiches are stuffed with extremely fresh crab. It is not cheap but the quality is excellent. They also sell excellent halloumi fries and use environmentally – friendly compostable takeaway packaging.
For coffee, try Brown Sugar which is a rather hip hang out; it is opposite the church and is a good spot for breakfast and lunch, but the main draw is the coffee. It is made using single-origin sustainably sourced beans roasted in Falmouth so the beans are extremely fresh.
If tea is more your thing, try The Dwelling House, best for afternoon tea. This former Georgian merchant’s house is a haven for tea and cake with many varieties to try. All the treats are baked fresh each day in the Aga.
For something a little different, head towards the Esplanade where you will find Pinxto Tapas bar in between the townhouses. This is Spanish cuisine at its best, where you will find manchego with orange blossom honey, patatas bravas and Iberian ham. Try Spanish brandy or sherry. Across the road from Pinxto is the old grammar school garden overlooking the river, a great place to relax after your meal.
If you cross the river to Bodinnick, then try the Old Ferry Inn which catches the best of the sunshine and is just minutes from Daphne du Maurier‘s old holiday house Ferryside. The inn is more than 400 years old and has wonderful views towards Fowey.
For fine dining try Fitzroy Restaurant, which is decorated in style. The menu includes sophisticated sharing plates with an emphasis on seasonal seafood. It is an open kitchen so you can watch the chefs at work while enjoying a glass of home-made vermouth. Booking is essential.
Appleton‘s Bar and Restaurant has also arrived in Fowey. This is best for Italian food which focuses on rustic with a contemporary twist such as Prosecco battered polenta chips, rose harissa fish stew and strawberry and lemon panna cotta. It is also said to be the best place in Fowey for a Negroni and there are a dozen variations to choose from.
The Old Quay House is a swish hotel and restaurant over three floors and is as close to the waves as you can get. It was once a refuge for sailors and stands proud on the shoreline with wonderful views and a huge bifold glass door that is flung open during the summer months so you can watch the yachts go by as you eat.
You really are spoiled for choice, food wise.
Fish! Always a hit with youngsters, so check out Fowey Aquarium. Perfect for wet weather days, too. It is located at the historic Fowey town quay. Small, but perfectly formed.
But even historic buildings are interesting for the kids in Fowey if you tell them the right tales. For example, Fowey was a popular place with pirates during the 13th-15th centuries. The story goes that when French soldiers also later ransacked the town, the lady of the manor repelled them with molten lead. How gruesome is that? Her old gravestone is on the south side of the church porch. Fowey was also occupied by the Parliamentarians (Roundheads) during the Civil War, so it is a place that brings history to life. There is also an alabaster memorial to John Rashleigh (see below).
If they like running up hills to see curious things, try the corner of Rawlings Lane and Green Lane, where you will find ‘the house of the dragons’ (a garden decorated with dragon sculptures). Alternatively (or also) if they like climbing up things, then try Gribbin Daymark on the headland, which has 109 steps up to wear them out.
Children may also enjoy a trip out to see the Bird Lady of Fowey, to meet the owls and learn a little about some of our best-loved birds of prey.
Polkerris is the place for water sports. Here you can learn to sail, stand up paddleboard (SUP), windsurf or powerboat. Immerse yourself in the water for the time of your life. Try an escorted canoe trip with Fowey River Expeditions. At lovely Golant, a small waterside village on the river near Fowey, Encounter Cornwall also offers kayaking expeditions and hire.
If you don’t fancy being in the water, go on it. The Fowey River & Sea Cruises company offers excursions along the river or out to sea. Some of the excursions have commentary, so you will certainly learn something along the way.
Fowey River Gallery is a private gallery creating a platform for local artists, and putting on around six exhibitions a year of varying media. Its Georgian townhouse site is rather grand, too. Jo Downs is also in Fowey with her beautiful handmade glass.
Nearby Golant is the nearest village to the iconic Sawmills Studio, established in 1974. Bands who have recorded there include the Muse, Oasis and Razorlight among others. The studio is unique as it can only be accessed by boat or via a railway line that runs past it.
Try Readymoney Cove, a south-east facing, sandy beach, which is very relaxing. It does get busy in summer as it is the only beach which has sand at both high and low tides but, out of season, you may even find you have the beach almost to yourselves stop. Daphne du Maurier moved to Readymoney Cove in 1942 – her presence is to be found everywhere in fabulous Fowey.
Polridmouth Cove disappears at high tide, so keep an eye on the water level, but otherwise it is great for swimming and has spellbinding views to Gribbin Head.
Polkerris beach is the other side of Gribbin Head, sandy, with wonderful water quality. Sandcastles and rockpooling beckon. Or try a yoga class on the beach.
You are spoiled for choice if shopping in Fowey with lots of little boutique, independent shops. Check out Treasures of Fowey for ladies’ clothing and the Liga Eco Store which supports our oceans. The Webb Street Company offers stylish contemporary gifts and homeware. Brocante is similarly inspired. The Romantic Englishwoman is like stepping back in time. White Doll Arts is an interesting pottery of renown.
For food, try the Quay Bakery which is the best for bread and pastries from springy sourdoughs to Belgian butter croissant and rosemary focaccia.
Be ‘king of the castle’ by popping along from Readymoney car park to St Catherine’s Castle. The castle was built in 1540, commissioned by Henry VIII as protection against French invasion. It remained in use up to and including World War II. It is worth a trip along the woody trail from Readymoney Cove to see the incredible view from up high, although the Castle itself is only a single tower. While you are there, take in the Rashleigh Mausoleum, the burial place of the politician William Rashleigh and his wife and daughter. It is on the hill behind the castle.
The Parish Church (St Fimbarrus, who would have traversed Fowey to sail to France and travel on to Rome) dominates the skyline. Inside is an ornate 12th century Norman font, and a hexagonal pulpit, while the church tower is the second highest in Cornwall, after the one at Probus.
Pop on the ferry and check out Polruan, with more snug winding streets and a castle.
The Bird Lady of Fowey is on a farm just outside the town, where you can enjoy a bird of prey experience, meeting, handling and even flying them.
You can catch the ferry to Polruan and take a walk along the southwest coast path. As the path hugs the cliffs on this particular stretch you will have wonderful views but don’t go too close to the edge. You can walk to the National Trust’s Lantic Bay. You might decide to detour down to the beach but beware, as the climb back up is quite strenuous. The bay is remote, accessed by a long zig-zag path. There is a play train for mini-adventurers just by the car park at Lantic Bay.
Keen walkers might enjoy the Hall Walk Trail, along the Pont Pill creek, which is classified as moderate. It is about 4 miles (6.4 km) in total with some steep ascents and descents, but is dog-friendly. The circular route involves some ferry crossings so make sure you have some money to pay the Ferryman. The official route begins at Bodinnick (ferry).
Slightly farther afield try Restormel Castle at Lostwithiel. It is a long walk, so you need to be pretty keen not to just jump in the car and do it the easy way. If you want to go inland in the direction of Padstow, the trail is The Saint’s Way.
Even today, Fowey remains the main china clay port for Cornwall, while also being popular for yachting. During a typical season, more than 7000 yachts and pleasure crafts visit Fowey, the site of August’s Fowey Regatta Week. The Regatta is a racing feast, which also includes gig racing and a carnival.
Across the water is Menabilly, home to Daphne du Maurier, author of Jamaica Inn and Rebecca. She first saw Fowey aged 19, when on holiday with her mother and sisters. Du Maurier fell in love with Fowey at first sight, exclaiming: ‘like the gateway to another world. My spirits soared.’ She also wrote (in 1967):
‘…Here was the freedom I desired, long sought for, not yet known. Freedom to write, to walk, to wander, freedom to climb hills, to pull a boat, to be alone…’
The town plays tribute annually to her through the literary festival started in her name, the Daphne du Maurier Festival.
Summer is best in Fowey, where temperatures tend to be comfortably warm. Winter is prone to be wet and windy. Weather wise, the best time to visit is late June to early September. Coolest times are November to March.
Public toilets are available at Readymoney Cove beach. There is no charge but there is a donation box outside towards their upkeep. The Main Car Park and the town Quay also have toilets. The ones at Custom House Quay cost 20p. Some Cornwall Council car parks are in the process of being divested, so check with the tourist information office for an update.
This sheltered deep-water harbour town is set in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.