Tall ships sway gently in the salty sea breeze. Cobbled lanes, rugged coastline, and quaint Cornish houses can be found in abundance here. Welcome to Charlestown, the historic Cornish port most recently made famous by the hit BBC TV Series, Poldark.
Just minutes from the fringes of the ever-so-modern town of St Austell, a place where supermarkets and modern conveniences can be found around almost every corner, the fishing community of Charlestown is a welcome break from reality.
A true step back in time, once there you’ll find an entirely different vibe from the rest of Cornwall… After all, it’s not every day that you stumble upon in a place which has been carefully selected and curated for its historical value on national television. Here’s a travel guide to the best this beautiful village has to offer!
A history of Charlestown
In times gone by, the fishing port of Charlestown counted just nine fishermen together with their families in total. But this was in the past- during the late 18th-century to be precise. At that time, Charlestown was known as West Polmear and the main trade of the hamlet was in the pilchard fishing industry.
Nearby, there was a small hamlet known as East Polmear. Today this village also still exists, though it’s known simply as Polmear. The development of Charlestown blossomed out of a development of the village’s harbour and dock in 1791.
Completion of the works was at the beginning of the 19th-century. It was also around that time that canons were installed in the event of an attack by the French and that the village was renamed ‘Charles’s Town’, which later simply became ‘Charlestown’.
Charlestown Port & the tall ships
For fans of the Poldark series, the tall ships of Charlestown will likely need no introduction. However, for those not in the know, these historic boats can be found in the very heart of the Grade II listed historic and unspoilt Charlestown Harbour.
Located in a spot of natural beauty in the very heart of St Austell’s Bay, walking down to the port was once free. In order to see the ships and walk along the dockside now, you’ll need to pay a small fee. With that being said, it’s still perfectly possible to spy the port from above for free (which is what we did on our recent adventure to the village).
So bring your camera along and soak up this rare slice of history. If you want to capture the port without the crowds, then visiting in the European shoulder season and mid-week, early morning is a must. For movie buffs, it’s worth noting that the BBC alien TV series Doctor Who and Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland films have also been shot in the small fishing village.
Best things to do in Charlestown
Charlestown Shipwreck & Heritage Centre: Situated by the tall ships and perfect for all the family, the shipwreck and heritage centre is home to thousands of items collected from over 150 wrecks found across the Cornish coastline.
Visit the Poldark Exhibition: Whether you want to experience a little bit of film magic, or you simply want to see some living history in action, you can visit one of the tall ships used in the Poldark series and wander around the historic port where much of the action is filmed.
Charlestown beach: Free to visit, for those who wish to enjoy some history side by side with a beach lover, there’s some golden sand to be found on the fringes of the town. In the place where the sea meets the land, and to the side of the port, a pretty beach is incredibly popular during the summer months with tourists and locals alike.
Walk the South West Coast Path: The longest national trail in the UK can be found in the form of the South West Coast Path, a winding path consisting of over 630 miles of breathtakingly beautiful coastline. So if it’s a sunny day (and even if it’s not!) be sure to lace up your hiking boots, bring some friends and set off on a hike.
Where to eat and drink in Charlestown
Thanks to the recent upsurge of tourism in the area, places where you can eat, drink, and caffeinate can be found all over town. However, if you’re looking for a true taste of Cornwall, then I highly recommend packing some picnic supplies and heading to the beach, or nearby rolling hills to enjoy your food with a side of salty sea breeze.
The Galley (45 Charlestown Rd): For the best coffee in town, you simply need to visit the Galley, a quaint coffee house set further back in the village, and a short walk away from the seafront. Serving coffees, cakes, and teas, this café also serves light lunches.
The Longstore (Charlestown Harbour): Pretty decor and a sea-inspired menu, if you want a true taste of Cornish cooking then you’ve come to the right place. Locall sourced food and friendly staff come together to make for the perfect spot to dine at lunch or dinner.
Wreckers (Charlestown Rd): While the food is okay but not exceptional, the true draw of this restaurant and bar is its terrace where you can enjoy views of the harbour. Serving cream teas and more filling dishes, the business is open ’til late on a daily basis.
Where to stay in Charlestown
A beautiful place with plenty of history and the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of modern day life, you can’t go wrong by dedicating a long weekend to exploring this picturesque seaside resort. Here are the best places to stay in Charlestown:
Pier House Hotel: Well-reviewed and overlooking the crashing waves and historic port, this 3-star hotel dates back to the Georgian era and offers simple, clean, and comfortable accommodation in the heart of the village.
Rashleigh Arms: Named for Rashleigh, the man who transformed the port and harbour into the place it is today, the Rashleigh Arms is a four-star hotel complete with its own beer garden and free WiFi. Set a little back in the village, the pub also serves food throughout the week.
Things to do near Charlestown
Sea-inspired menus, endless seas, and rugged coastal walks: there are a million and one reasons to visit Cornwall. And, if you’re looking to explore the Cornish coastline a little further, then Charlestown is a great place in which to base yourself in order to explore the surrounding area. Here are the best attractions around:
Knightor Winery (Knightor Manor Farm, Trthurgy): Though not a personal wine favourite of mine, the vineyard, restaurant, and winery of Knightor can be found just a ten-minute drive North of Charlestown.
Eden Project (Bodelva): For those familiar with the main attractions Cornwall has to offer, the Eden Project likely needs no introduction. However, if you’re unfamiliar as to what this learning environment and family day out has to offer, the project comprises of plenty of biosphere spaces, showcasing various environments from all over the world.
Lost Gardens of Heligan (Pentewan): If you’re more interested in the flora and range of species than the immersive and technological experience that the Eden Project offers, then you simply must visit the Lost Gardens of Heligan, a botanical gardens complete with pleasure gardens which were first set out some two hundred years ago.