Port Isaac, with its winding streets and busy harbour, has been a fishing village since the 14th century where it provided one of few havens along the otherwise rugged North Cornwall coast. Its granite and whitewashed old cottages are extremely photogenic, and it's a real pleasure simply to stroll around the narrow lanes.
The coast around Port Isaac is absolutely stunning, so the village makes a good base if you want to spend a holiday exploring North Cornwall. Here's a closer look at the Cornish fishing village that's also known as Portwenn…
A Brief History of Port Isaac
From the Middle Ages until the middle of the 19th century, Port Isaac was a busy port. It handled various imports and exports, including coal, timber, pottery and Delabole slate. In fact, the name Port Isaac is derived from the Cornish Porth Izzick meaning the 'corn port'.
The coming of the railways wasn't kind to Port Isaac. It was easier to move goods and materials by land and Port Isaac's role as a port fell away. However, the village shifted its focus and became principally a fishing port. There had been pilchard fishing from Port Isaac since the late Middle Ages, and now, it became the town's main industry.
When the pilchard industry went into decline in the early 20th century, Port Isaac once again changed tack, and used its undeniable charms to become a popular visitor destination. A century later, the village remains a much-loved holiday spot, thanks to its beautiful location, pretty little streets, and a certain TV doctor…
Portwenn & Doc Martin
Port Isaac has become a popular location for both films and television series. The village is possibly best known as the fictional Portwenn from the ITV television series Doc Martin, starring Martin Clunes. Interestingly enough, Port Wen is the old name of nearby Port Quin. The 2000 comedy thriller Saving Grace was also filmed in the village as was Swept from the Sea in 1997.
Scenes from Cornish author Rosamunde Pilcher's The Shell Seekers (featuring Vanessa Redgrave) were filmed on Fore Street. The village's popularity as a filming location dates back further than this though, with much of the original BBC television series of Poldark being filmed here in the 1970s.
A few years ago, a group of friends started to meet on the Platt (the harbour) to sing old sea shanties. They did it for fun, and to raise money for charity. Then the Fisherman's Friends were discovered, and now, they're the world's most famous traditional shanty group (and this happened years before lockdown and the Wellerman trend!).
Several recordings later, their story was made into a film, and later became the stage musical that launched the revamped Hall For Cornwall. The friends continue to sing and record together; however, since they became so famous, their regular Platt gigs were becoming too crowded. Still, they sometimes appear in their local village, so you never know…
What to do in Port Isaac
What are the best things to do in Port Isaac? Explore the village and the nearby coast, of course!
Explore Port Isaac
The best thing to do in Port Isaac is explore its narrow little streets, lined with picturesque old cottages. In fact, Port Isaac is renowned for having one of the narrowest thoroughfares in Britain, the aptly named Squeezy Belly Alley!
Most visitors park in the car park at the top of the town. As well as saving you from Squeezy Car streets, the walk down is lovely. Once in the main town, there's the harbour and beach to explore, as well as looking out for key Doc Martin locations.
Port Isaac has always been a great place to come for fresh fish. The arrival of Nathan Outlaw and his New Road and Fish Kitchen restaurants has seen the village gain a reputation as a foodie destination. At the very least, pause for a pint in the Golden Lion, made famous as the Fisherman's Friends' local.
Take a boat trip from Port Isaac
Fishing and scenic trips can be taken from the harbour during the summer months. Local company Wavehunters runs tours of the North Coast from Port Isaac. Their North Coast Explorer tour takes in places like Tintagel and Boscastle from the sea, and there's a chance you might see dolphins and seals…
Fancy something a bit faster? Check out “Boaty” on Facebook, a Port Isaac-based speed boat. These are just two of the options: head down to the harbour and see what's on offer. It's a fantastic way to see the coast.
Walk the coast path
Both Port Isaac and nearby Port Gaverne are in both an AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) and a Heritage Coast Area. Consequently, there are lots of lovely walks both inland and along the coast. The walk from Port Isaac to Tintagel along the coast path is absolutely beautiful (just bear in mind that it's nine miles each way, so schedule a good mid-walk break in Tintagel village!).
Head in the other direction, and you'll soon reach Polzeath. This popular spot has a great surfing beach and plenty of good spots for lunch. If you're feeling energetic, carry on, and you'll eventually get to Padstow. The walk from Port Isaac to Padstow is over 11 miles, but worth the effort for the scenery.
Although Port Isaac has only a shingle beach, there's a great choice of other beaches within easy driving (or even walking) distance.
Daymer Bay is a dog-friendly, sandy beach, close to the mouth of the Camel Estuary. It's regarded as a good spot for swimming (although there's no lifeguard cover). Look out for St Enodoc Church near the beach, where poet John Betjman is buried.
This Blue Flag beach is a popular surf spot, although if you want a less strenuous day out, it's also a good spot for rockpooking and bird watching. Polzeath village has places to eat, drink and shop, and there's a good-sized car park (actually on the beach).
This is one of the North Coast's most secret beaches… It's only there at low tide, and it's quite a scramble to get to. Once you're there, enjoy the peace and tranquillity of Tregardock, sheltered by the cliffs. Just make sure you know the tide times, so you have plenty of time to climb back up before this hidden little beach vanishes again.
If you're looking for a family-friendly beach, come to this National Trust-owned beach. It's sandy and rockpooly, and has lifeguard cover in the summer (please swim only if they're on duty). As a big plus, Trebarwith Strand welcomes dogs all year round. Like Tregardock, a lot of the beach disappears at high water, so check the tides first.
Places Close to Port Isaac
As well as being a great destination in its own right, Port Isaac is close to some of North Cornwall's top spots. Here are a few places to visit during your stay in Port Isaac.
Port Quin is a former fishing hamlet a few miles to the west of Port Isaac, now largely owned by The National Trust. According to local lore, the village was deserted after a storm took all its menfolk, who were fishermen. This tale is immortalised in the painting “The Hopeless Dawn” by Frank Bramley, currently hanging in the Tate. However, it's more likely that Port Quin gradually declined due to a combination of agriculture being more lucrative and the tricky cove entrance.
Today, it's a peaceful spot (once the coasteering teams have left) with some excellent rockpooling. There's an interesting walk to Port Quin from Port Isaac. Climb Roscarrock Hill and take the route to Pine Haven. There are beautiful views along the route, and look out for Doyden Castle, a 19th-century folly that's now a hotel.
Wadebridge is just 8 miles from Port Isaac. Come to this old market town if you fancy a spot of shopping. It's home to the larger supermarkets and high street chains as well as independent shops. Try and catch the weekly produce market, and don't leave town without a slice of cake in one of its many cafes.
Warning: unless you're visiting the Royal Cornwall Show, avoid Wadebridge in early June. The county agricultural show attracts what feels like everyone in Cornwall, and the roads are seriously busy. If you enjoy the friendly bustle of a county show, the Royal Cornwall is definitely one to try and visit.
Port Gaverne is a pretty, unspoilt cove that's just around the corner from Port Isaac. Its sheltered, sandy beach is probably one of the safest in North Cornwall for young children, who'll love discovering its rock pools.
In the 19th century, the hamlet was a slate, coal, and limestone handling port, as well as home to shipbuilders. The port was once a busy centre, used to export slate from the nearby Delabole Slate Quarries. These days, the quayside buildings are almost all holiday lets. Treat yourself to a table or a room at the Port Gaverne Hotel.
The nicest way to get to Rock is by passenger ferry across the estuary from Padstow. The former quiet village is now famous for its wealthy “second homers”, giving it nicknames like “Chelsea On Sea”.
This aside, Rock has a nice beach and a few places to eat (not all of these are A-list haunts, and it's possible to get great food without spending a fortune!). Rock is also home to a brewery, Sharp's, famous for its Doom Bar ale.
Excellent seafood restaurants, great cycling, and even baby lobsters, Padstow has a lot to offer. The pleasant harbour town shot to fame when restaurateur Rick Stein became a celebrity TV chef. The result was that the whole country fell in love with Padstow, increasing its popularity as a holiday destination, while also helping to kickstart Cornwall's food revolution.
Come here for great seafood (or simply fish and chips), independent shops and sandy beaches. Visit the National Lobster Hatchery, take a boat trip, or cycle the (pleasantly flat) Camel Trail.
Boscastle is a tiny port with a natural harbour, set in a narrow ravine. Like Port Isaac, before the railways came, Boscastle was a thriving port, serving much of North Cornwall. It's a pretty place with thatched and whitewashed cottages, and a choice of places to shop, eat and drink.
The village made the news in the summer of 2004, when flash floods surged through Boscastle and Crackington Haven. The damage was extensive, including to the village's famous Museum of Witchcraft & Magic. Happily, the museum and most of the homes and businesses have since been restored.
Port Isaac: Good to Know
Planning a holiday or day trip to Port Isaac? Here's what you need to know.
Getting to Port Isaac
Like many of the North Coast villages, the easiest way to get to Port Isaac is to drive. However, there are a few other options.
Port Isaac by Road
As usual, take the A30, then exit onto the A395 signed Wadebridge. This will take you onto the A39, then look out for the B3314 signed Port Isaac. The postcode for the best car park is PL29 3TR.
Port Isaac by Rail
The closest mainline station to Port Isaac is Bodmin Parkway (just over 4 hours from London Paddington). A taxi takes about half an hour, while the bus (although cheaper) takes a much longer route.
Port Isaac by Bus
As well as the Bodmin Parkway bus, there's a regular service from Wadebridge. Take a look at First Bus Cornwall's website to plan your journey.
Port Isaac by Air
It's about 12 miles from Cornwall Airport Newquay to Port Isaac. There are bus services, taxis and a car rental company at the airport. Find out more about flights to Newquay.
Parking in Port Isaac
Make use of the large car park (“Main Car Park”) at the top of the hill and walk down to the village, as the narrow streets can be difficult to negotiate. There is a stunning view of the coast from this car park, as well as easy access to both Port Isaac and Port Gaverne.
The postcode for Port Isaac's Main Car Park is PL29 3TR.
If you want to treat yourself, book (well in advance) to dine in Nathan Outlaw's New Road or Fish Kitchen restaurants. The Angry Anchovy does a great pizza, or go for small plates at Pilchards at Port Gaverne. There's also a choice of pubs (try The Golden Lion), tea rooms and takeaways.
There are a lot of holiday lets in Port Isaac and its surrounding villages and hamlets. If you like the idea of staying in a quaint old fishing cottage, Port Isaac, Port Gaverne and Port Quin have a good selection.
There are also some very nice hotels in the area (if you're after luxe, you'll find it here) and a selection of smaller boutiques and B&Bs. Take a look at our Cornwall accommodation listings to find out more about places to stay in Port Isaac.