Lovely Looe was once a busy fishing and trading port in medieval times, like so much of the Cornish coast. Now it is well-known for its banjo-shaped pier, cleverly built as a circle (to avoid silting up) where the river meets the sea.
The popular town has two parts, east and west, but back in the 19th century, the two sides were not always harmonious. The old bridge which linked the two was constructed of wood in 1411, but it burned down and was replaced with a stone bridge. This was replaced in 1853 by the one you see now.
Like many Cornish coastal towns, Looe had many raids in the 1600s by Barbary pirates taking local people as slaves. By the 18th and 19th centuries, smuggling was a more profitable activity, with Looe Island used as a base. There were certainly some notorious characters in old Looe.
Looe has a railway station close to the centre of town. Driving, as most visitors do, the A38 is the fastest route from Exeter. You cross the Tamar Bridge which has tolls. Continue on the A38 until you reach the Trerulefoot roundabout; then, take the first exit onto the A374 and continue for a short distance (around 1 min) until you see the turning for Looe (A387) on your right.
If you’re driving to South Cornwall in a plug-in electric vehicle, see our list of charging locations here.
Parking in low season is relatively easy, with street parking and car parks readily available. Peak season , as in most places, is rather more difficult.
First, Looe has two sides, east and west. The Riverbank car park in the east is close to the town centre, but it fills quickly as it only has 65 spaces.
There is a car park outside Looe in Kilminorth Woods, and there is quayside parking at West Looe.
However, the answer really has to be The Millpool car park on the road to Polperro, which has a huge 954 places. It is also only a 5-minute walk into town, has public toilets near the entrance and has stress-free, reasonably-priced 24 hour parking.
You are positively spoiled in Looe for restaurants and cafes, but it can still be hard to find a table in high season. In east Looe, you will find Daisy’s Cafe, a small retro-style cafe offering traditional cafe food. With its lilac paintwork outside, it stands out in more ways than one.
Smugglers Cott is Looe’s favourite smuggling haunt, built using oak timbers from the Spanish Armada, and with its own tunnel to the Quayside. Fantastic local food includes seafood and hand-cut chargrilled steaks.
The Old Sail Loft also has a history as it is one of the oldest buildings in Looe. Well-preserved it, too, has links with smuggling , when it was known as ‘The Run’. another restaurant specialising in seafood and steaks. Overlooking the harbour, it is easy to find.
For something more contemporary, go west side and try The Sardine Factory, which serves innovative coastal cuisine, using fresh fish straight from the boat at Looe Market. Seasonal and locally-sourced, the aim is to keep it simple, focusing on flavours. The menu reflects Looe’s ethos. Tree Top Cafe by the Monkey Sanctuary is a vegetarian/vegan cafe, open also to non-visitors to the sanctuary. It’s a simple set up and is open during school holidays.
Why not burn off some of their amazing energy with the Looe to Polperro walk, where you can take a boat trip back? Discover what exciting marine life there is to see. Talland Bay and Giant’s Hedge Walk is another great wander.
Another boat trip is to Looe Island, a marine nature reserve, and the place to find nesting birds and grey seals. Slightly different is a glass-bottomed boat trip with Boatzer. For lovers of speed, then Superstar Speedboat Trips might be just right for you.
For lovers of wildlife, the Monkey Sanctuary is a place to meet monkeys and you can even play keeper for a day. The Old Sardine Factory has a heritage centre to find out about the history of the town.
For the best sweets (which children all love, don’t they?) try Seaside Sweets, a traditional sweet shop in east Looe, thought by some to be the best in Cornwall, stocking traditional, retro sweets to take you back in time: Sherbet Fountains, Dib Dabs, Fruit Salads, Black Jacks, Rhubarb & Custard, Candy Shrimps, Sweet Tobacco, Gray’s Teacakes and many more.
The Tiffany Gallery in east Looe has resident artists, and sells original, quality art. It does not have much of an online presence, so you need to swing by and see for yourself. We read a great review saying: I went in to buy a watercolour of Looe harbour and came out with an acrylic of Johnny Rotten! It gives you a taste of what to expect!
East Looe Beach is a beautiful beach, set by the coast path, sheltered by the famous Banjo Pier, and overlooked by Mount Ararat. Gently sloping, it is a great family beach, generally safe for swimming. The promenade has benches and flower beds maintained by Looe in Bloom; there is also a free water refill station.
Millendreath is a great little beach with a bistro cafe and boats to hire in the summer. Talland Bay is a little bay with a rocky beach but the sea is shallow and the rock pools are incredible. There is also a beach cafe.
Or, for a change, just try crabbing off the quay.
There are about 150 traders on Looe’s high street.
Clive’s Cats Cartoons is unique and well worth a visit – you should find a great gift. Sells prints, cards, tee-shirts, and so on. Pendragon Crafts sells a carefully curated collection of gift products.
Purely Cornish is a deli. Why not make up your own hamper for your stay or as a gift to take home? Their Cornish products come from 30 different companies and the hampers are eco-friendly. Home chefs should stop by Pengelly’s Fishmongers to pick up fresh seafood ready to cook at home, from monkfish and mussels to Cornish crab.
But there are shops to cater for all tastes, so don’t take our word for it. Have a wander through Looe and give us your recommendations. The more ‘distinctive’ shops will be found in west Looe.
Looe Live, a celebration of music and arts takes place in September, when visitor numbers are down – bear in mind it is not a camping type festival, so book your accommodation and come on down at this great time to visit the town. Looe is the only town in the UK to have two New Year’s Eve fireworks displays, one at 6pm for the tots and young children who can then go to bed – and an adult one at midnight.
Treasure Trails also offer a Murder Mystery Tour.
Looe is set in a steep-sided valley with many footpaths; the walk to or from Polperro is pretty scenic and takes around 1.5 hours (3.48 miles/5.60km).
For a walk in the shade, try Kilminorth Woods, where there is a walk best done in dry weather as it can be a little slippy underfoot, otherwise. It can also be steep in places. Known as the ‘Lungs of Looe’, the permissive paths are the UK equivalent of rainforest. It is an ancient woodland (oak) and rather special. This moderate walk from Looe Station takes it in. Spring is especially beautiful, but all year round, it is a haven for wildlife such as roe deer and woodpeckers. You may even spot a kingfisher.
Looe Island is 22 acres in size and 1.6 km in circumference, so nice and easy for children – but you need to arrive by boat, which gives you two hours there. It can be a blissful escape from Looe itself when it is busy. Search for sea glass among the pebbles on the beach.
Historically, Looe developed as two separate towns, each with their own mayor and MP. West Looe was traditionally poorer to the town across the river, where even the beach (Hannafore Beach) is pebbly rather than sandy. It is now also seen as the focus for the more discerning shops and eateries, often with al fresco dining as parking places have been removed. It also now has redevelopment in the shape of the Sardine Factory (museum with cafe and climbing wall) and, for concerts and craft fairs, the Quayside Centre. As a local councillor reportedly said: “Spain may have mañana but we have dreckly!”
On Pennyland Rock by the water in West Looe is the sculpture of a seal, a tribute to a one-eyed local seal, Nelson, who lived here for 25 years and by Looe Island. He enjoyed being fed by the fishermen. The sculpture is by Suzie Marsh.
Looe Island is a Wildlife trust reserve which has nesting seabirds, while Hannafore point is perfect for rockpooling.
The climate here is warm and temperate, with the warmest month being July, and the rainiest, November. February is the coldest and January the least sunny, on average, while May is thought to be the driest. The coastal water is hottest in July and coldest in March.
Here’s a list of loos in Looe for you!
Lovely Looe was once a busy fishing and trading port in medieval times and the popular town has two parts, east and west.