The popular seaside resort of Looe is made up of East Looe and West Looe, located either side of the river. The two Looes are joined together by a bridge across the Looe River, and have subtly different characters. East Looe is home to the harbour and main shopping centre while West Looe is quieter but also has shops, restaurants and hotels.
Looe has been a holiday resort for over 200 years. In 1879, the arrival of the railway sealed the deal: Looe was officially a holiday destination, but even before this Looe was an early adopter of wheeled bathing machines next top the Banjo Pier.
On paper, Looe is similar to Fowey: a steep valley leading down to a river, along the same stretch of coast… However, that's where the similarity ends. Fowey is all about yachts, literature and boutique hotels, while Looe is unashamedly B&Bs, buckets & spades, and fish & chips. There's room for both, of course, and Looe still packs in plenty of seaside charm.
Looe's old town and harbour are particularly appealing, as is the distinctive pier, which was built in the late 19th century to ease river silting. The local seafood is superb, and there are plenty of family-friendly beaches in and around Looe.
A Brief History of Looe
In medieval times, East Looe and West Looe were considered separate towns. The current seven-arch bridge was built in 1853, and replaced a 15th-century structure. There are still a number of medieval buildings in Looe, including St Nicholas' Church, which managed to survive Looe's dramatic pirate attacks.
Most of the town was razed in 1625 when a band of Barbary Pirates, who had been terrorising the coast (including kidnapping fishermen) for years, attacked the port. Looe recovered, going on to become a hub for Cornwall's famous smugglers, a trade that carried on for much of the 18th and 19th centuries.
Looe continued to grow and became a (legitimate) harbour town, fishing and processing centre, as well as a commercial port for tin, arsenic and granite exports. In the 1820s the port was linked to Liskeard by a canal with the railway coming some years later. The unusual “Banjo Pier”, with its rounded end, was built to prevent the river mouth from silting up, allowing all the traffic to sail freely in and out of the busy harbour.
Today's Looe is both a working fishing harbour and one of Cornwall's most popular visitor destinations. It's increasingly relied on tourism for its income since its large pilchard canning factory closed in the sixties.
In 1965 Babs and Evelyn Atkins bought Looe Island (also known as St George's Island), which lies about a mile off the coast near Looe. The beautiful island covers an area of 22.5 acres and is just one mile in circumference. Its highest point is 150 feet above sea level. The partly wooded island has magnificent views as far as Prawle Point in Devon to the north and the Lizard Peninsula to the south.
Looe Island has such an exceptionally mild climate that daffodils bloom at Christmas, and it's a natural sanctuary for birds. A few stones remain of a Benedictine chapel built here in 1139. The island is accessible by boat and rarely, when there is an unusually low tide, by foot across the rocky sea bed. However, it is unwise to cross this way without a local guide as the tide rushes in very quickly.
Looe Island is open to pre-booked day visitors in the season. Landing fees and other income from tourism are used to conserve the island's natural beauty and to provide facilities for visitors. To maintain its status as a wildlife sanctuary, we're afraid that your four-pawed friend can't come to Looe Island with you, and fishing is also forbidden.
It's a tranquil place to visit. There are no roads, no shops and no cars. Bathing is safe when the weather is good and the island has two beaches, a natural rock swimming pool, coves and caves. Look out for the resident population of grey seals, who like to lie on the rocks off the island's shore. Inland, you can enjoy a (short) woodland walk.
This stretch of coast is blessed with some of Cornwall's best beaches, and Looe is a great place for a traditional seaside holiday. Try these fantastic beaches in and around Looe.
This busy family beach is right by the town, sheltered by the Banjo Pier and backing onto a walkway that runs the length of the beach. Top tip: this path takes you to Second Beach, which tends to be quieter. The beach is pretty safe for swimming (just stay close to the shore, and definitely at the beach side of the river mouth) and the sand makes it a popular place for littlies to play.
Walk over the hill from Looe to enjoy this quiet sand and shingle beach. It's good for swimming and snorkelling (just be aware that there's no lifeguard cover at Plaidy), and there are rock pools at low water.
This small sandy cove is owned by a holiday park, but is still open to the public (giving day visitors the advantage of access to loos and a cafe). Look across to Looe Island as you enjoy a swim.
Hannafore Beach has a pleasant seafront and great views across to the island. The sand and shingle beach has some of the best rock pools around, and it's also a good place to bring your dog.
These shingly beaches run into each other. There's a pub at the Downderry end (and it's also worth remembering that there's a naturist area to the east). Seaton Beach is popular with families, and allows dogs all year.
Way off the beaten track, Lantic Bay is a beautiful National Trust-managed beach. Relax with a picnic on the shingly shore, before heading off along the coast path to enjoy the stunning views.
Like many Cornish harbour towns, one of the joys of Looe is simply exploring. It's worth visiting the harbour quay to watch the fishing boats coming in to unload their catches. The arrival of the small fishing fleet is a busy and colourful scene.
The Banjo Pier is a popular spot for watching the returning fishing trawlers at high tide (however, it can be dangerous in bad weather). Then, it's onto one of Looe's many restaurants for a meal of locally caught fish.
The Old Guildhall Museum & Gaol is housed in one of Looe's oldest buildings. The former East Looe town hall dates back to the 15th century (the Victorian Guildhall in Fore Street is the present town hall), and still has its old cells and courtroom. The museum tells the story of Looe, covering everything from smugglers to the Second World War.
The volunteer-run museum is great value at only £2 (kids are free), and dogs are welcome, provided they're on leads.
Boating and Fishing Trips from Looe
As you'd imagine, there are plenty of boating and fishing trips setting out from the harbour during the season. This includes the more exotic shark fishing. Happily, this is for tagging rather than killing the big fish.
To pick up a boat trip, head for the harbour, where there are always vendors in the high season. Try to catch the glass-bottom boat tours around Looe Island for a glimpse into Cornwall's rich undersea world.
For a change from Looe's coastal wildlife, head for The Monkey Sanctuary just outside town. The Sanctuary looks after rescued monkeys from a range of different species, and you'll get a chance to meet some of the wonderful resident primates. It's also a fascinating insight into how a wildlife sanctuary operates.
What's On in Looe
From the Raft Race to the Looe Island swim, Looe hosts some great sea-based festivities. Here are a few of the must-visit annual events in Looe.
Looe Lugger Regatta (June, every two years)
Watch the traditional wooden boats unfurl their sails and leave Looe harbour, as the Cornish and French crews compete in several races over two days. Walk along the harbour in the evening to hear the sound of English, Cornish and French shanties coming from the boats.
Looe Live is a three-day celebration of music and art that takes place every September. This lively and welcoming festival takes over the entire town, with around 100 venues taking part, as well as plenty of street food and entertainment. The most spectacular venue has to be the Main Stage on the beach.
Looe has some of the best New Year celebrations in the UK. Revellers in fancy dress fill the streets, pubs and restaurants. At midnight, a spectacular firework display takes place on the Banjo Pier watched by people on the beach and promenade. There's a good view of this from Hannafore, across the river.
Places Close to Looe
If you're staying in Looe and fancy a trip out elsewhere, what's nearby? Try these other destinations close to Looe.
Come to Talland to enjoy its two unspoilt coves, Talland Sand and Rotterdam Beach. The former is a good family beach, with a shop and beachside cafe, and some excellent rock pooling opportunities.
Walk along the rocky shore to the second cove, Rotterdam, which is a bit quieter (although there's still a cafe). Look out for the boiler from the shipwrecked trawler Marguerite, which sank a century ago.
Pretty Polperro is just south of Looe, and is very different in character. The traffic-free streets are lined with attractive old cottages and independent shops, which all take pride in their glorious floral displays in the summer. Come here to meander through the narrow lanes down to the old harbour, or to swim in the lovely natural sea pool.
The spectacular beach is three miles long, sheltered by the dramatic cliffs of the Rame Peninsula. Save the swimming for the lifeguarded areas (main season only), otherwise, come here to enjoy the impressive sweep of sand and relative peace. Take the coast path up to Rame Head, with its evocative medieval chapel on the site of a much-older hillfort..
Duloe is a village five miles inland from Looe. It has a medieval church and a holy well but is best-known for the Duloe stone circle (probably Bronze Age). If you're here it's also worth popping into The Plough for a pint and some good pub grub.
It takes just over half an hour to get to Plymouth from Looe. Come here for shops, restaurants, bars, theatre, the arts… Walk along the famous Hoe, climb Smeaton's Tower or take a dip in the Art Deco lido. Enjoy the atmosphere in the old Barbican area in the evening, where there's a great choice of places to eat and drink. If you're a fan of the underwater world, the National Marine Aquarium is a must.
Looe: Good to Know
Planning a trip to Looe? Here's what you need to know.
Getting to Looe
For those driving to Looe, it is a good idea to park near to the entrance to the town thus avoiding the extremely narrow streets. Perhaps a nicer approach to the town is by rail from Liskeard. The branch line passes through some very pretty countryside as it follows the river towards the coast.
Looe by Road
Pick up the westbound A38 from the M5 and A303, heading towards Plymouth. You'll get the joy of crossing the Tamar Bridge that takes you into Cornwall. Stay on the A38 until Trerulefoot, where you take the A374 towards Looe.
After a short distance, turn right onto the A387 (signed Looe). At Hessenford, the road becomes the (bendy) B3253, which will lead you into Looe.
Looe by Rail
Take the train to mainline Liskeard, then pick up the beautiful Looe Valley Line to tiny Looe station. Even if you're not coming here by train, take the time to ride on the Scenic Looe Valley Line just for the joy of it. Find out more about trains to Looe on the GWR website.
Looe by Bus
You can catch the service from Liskeard to Looe, or pick up a bus to Looe from Plymouth via Saltash.
Parking in Looe
Looe has several smallish car parks, but finding a space isn't always easy in the summer. If you don't mind walking, park just out of town in the council-run Millpool car park. It offers 24-hour parking, so you're less likely to run out of time.
Where to Eat in Looe
Come to Looe if you love seafood! The Old Sail Loft is a popular place, or try one of Looe's many traditional inns. During the day, there are plenty of beachside cafes where the location is as lovely as the food. The Coddy Shack is just out of town, and consistently wins awards for its fish and chips.
The area in and around Looe has a mixture of hotels, holiday cottages and holiday parks - you'll easily find your favourite type of accommodation. There are also lots of tiny villages in the area, which widens your choice.
Search through our Cornwall accommodation listings to find out more about accommodation in Looe.