You have probably seen iconic images of the granite harbour and pier (a lovely walk when not stormy) with the famous watchful eye of the clock tower (not a church but a council building) being battered by high seas with 50ft waves. When it is safe to do so (it is chained off at high tide) take a walk on the pier, to look back at the town and maybe take in a glorious sunset. If you are a keen photographer, this place is a dream location. Aim for an edgy out-of-season break to have it very much to yourself with only the locals and a few intrepid visitors for company. If you are lucky enough to partake in a sunset here, you will be amazed by its beauty.
Porthleven still feels unspoilt, yet it is also becoming Cornwall’s new foodie capital and is renowned for its local arts and crafts.
Set in the dramatic sweep of Mount’s Bay on the Lizard, this town has history, inhabited for over a thousand years, but is also friendly, with a pleasant beach and a small array of lovely independent local shops and restaurants.
Porthleven is on the South West Coast Path, so for walkers, its location in fantastic hiking country is ideal, perfect to head off out for a stroll or a more strenuous cliff walk where you can see the abandoned engine houses of the tin mine at Rinsey. West of the harbour you will find Giant’s Quoit, a rock of a type found nowhere else in the UK. Be careful on the shoreline as the tide comes in fast here.
Experienced pro surfers love Porthleven’s challenges, but it is not for the novice. If you are a swimmer, head for nearby Praa Sands instead with its lovely golden beach, because Porthleven has strong currents with freak waves, wondrous to watch from on high, rather than to be in.
Porthleven is worth a visit in April (though busy) for its annual Food Festival. The Ship Inn is unmissable, a characterful 17th century smugglers’ haunt overlooking the harbour, built to withstand the most ferocious storms.
To enjoy roaring fires and local brews, plus very decent pub food, this is your place. In summer, don’t forget The Atlantic Inn with fabulous views to Mousehole from the terrace on a clear day.
Food is highly-prized here, so why not try Amélie which sits in an old smokehouse by the quay with window-seats overlooking the harbour? The menu is fish-focused, with a wood-fired oven used for most cooking. Rick Stein permanently closed his restaurant here in 2020, but he has been replaced by celebrity chef, Michael Caines, who opened The Harbourside Refuge on the quayside in August, 2020, for relaxed dining using local produce inspired by the sea. Kota Kai is the restaurant of Jude Kereama, for Cornish food with an Asian spin, popular with locals and visitors alike. There are charming cafes and bakeries to explore, too, with immense ice creams available at The Square.
For art lovers, Porthleven is home to painters, sculptors, jewellery designers and other creatives, giving it a St Ives feel without the crowds. It is also not far from other popular places to visit such as Helston, Mullion and Marazion.
The sometimes savage out of season weather merely adds to the allure of this exposed but dramatic lesser-known Cornish town.