Until the middle of the 16th century, the only building in Falmouth was Arwennack , the home of the Killigrew family. However, Henry VIII recognised the value of one of the world’s finest natural harbours and built Pendennis Castle on the headland. After this, the Killigrews developed the town. Facing Falmouth, across the estuary of the River Fal is St Mawes , which boasts another defensive castle.
Before the founding of Falmouth, Penryn was the main settlement in that area. Here a ghostly coach, drawn by headless horses, is said to appear just before Christmas each year. People must avert their eyes when it passes or they will be spirited away. Although there were objections from Penryn, Falmouth received a charter from Charles II in 1661 and there was soon a cluster of a few hundred homes around the new Church of King Charles the Martyr . The church is worth visiting as it has some interesting Cornish medieval windows.
Early in the life of the port the Falmouth Packets began to carry mail to distant parts of the world. This hastened the development of Falmouth until the 1820s when mail delivery was taken over by the Admiralty. However, the advent of the railways brought a new kind of trade to Falmouth and, by the end of the 19th century, tourism was doing well.
Today tourists can enjoy Falmouth's lovely beaches, at the opposite side of the town to the harbour. These sandy stretches are where many of the main hotels stand and they are ideal for swimming. Swanpool Beach is the furthest from the town centre and there is a boating lake close by. From the Prince of Wales Pier , pleasure boats cruise up the River Fal as far as Truro , and a ferry runs across to St Mawes. Some of the boats call at Trelissick House , where the National Trust gardens are worth seeing. In addition there are cruises to the Helford River and Frenchman’s Creek , immortalised by Daphne du Maurier .
Apart from the attractive old shops and many cafés and restaurants, Falmouth is the site of a thriving art school, which holds regular exhibitions. Falmouth Art Gallery may be visited free of charge and the National Maritime Museum is in the town centre. On the other side of The Moor on Killigrew Street is a flight of 111 stone steps known as Jacob's Ladder . This is not in reference to the biblical tale, but in fact named after local businessman Jacob Hamblen who commissioned the steps. There is a good view of the town for those who have the energy to climb up there.
There are many attractive old pubs in Falmouth, many of which serve food and some of which have occasional live music. The Falmouth Arts Centre is a venue for film and theatre and the Princess Pavilion hosts shows during the season. Falmouth is also a good centre for anyone wishing to explore this part of Cornwall.