The town is divided into two parts, the main town of Fishguard and Lower Fishguard. Lower Fishguard is believed to be the site of the original hamlet from which modern Fishguard has grown. It is situated in a deep valley where the River Gwaun meets the sea, hence the Welsh name for Fishguard. It is a typical fishing village with a short tidal quay. The settlement stretches along the north slope of the valley.
The main town contains the parish church, the High Street and most of the modern development, and lies upon the hill to the south of Lower Fishguard, to which it is joined by a steep and winding hill. The western part of the town, facing Goodwick, grew up in the first decade of the 20th century with the development of Fishguard Harbour. Fishguard and Goodwick are now 'Twin Towns' with a joint Town Council.
Fishguard is within the historic Welsh cantref of Cemais, and part of the Welsh province of Dyfed, within the historic Principality of Deheubarth. The coasts of Wales were subject to Norse raids during the Viking Era, and in the latter part of the 10th century Norse trading posts and settlements emerged within Dyfed, with Fishguard established sometime between 950 and 1000 AD.
The town name Fishguard derives from old Norse fiskigarðr meaning "fish catching enclosure", indicating that there may have been a Scandinavian trading post, although no evidence has been found. Called "Fiscard" until the turn of the 19th century when the name was "Anglicised", Fishguard was a marcher borough and in 1603 was described as one of five Pembrokeshire boroughs overseen by a portreeve. The Norman settlement lay along what is now High Street between the church at its north end and the remains of a Norman motte at its south end.
Lower Fishguard developed as a herring fishery and port, trading with Ireland, Bristol and Liverpool. In the late 18th century it had 50 coasting vessels, and exported oats and salt herring. In 1779, the port was raided by the privateer Black Prince, which bombarded the town when the payment of a £1,000 ransom was refused. As a result, Fishguard Fort was completed in 1781, overlooking Lower Fishguard. The port declined in the latter half of the 19th century.
Fishguard's ancient Royal Oak public house was the site of the signing of surrender after the Battle of Fishguard in 1797, the last successful invasion of Britain, when a force of 1,400 French soldiers landed near Fishguard but surrendered two days later. The story is told in the Fishguard Tapestry created for the 200th anniversary to emulate the Bayeux Tapestry, and is displayed in the Town Hall Library.
A 19th-century vicar of Fishguard, the Rev. Samuel Fenton MA, wrote the book The History of Pembrokeshire.
The ancient Parliamentary Borough of Fishguard was contributory to the Borough of Haverfordwest. In 1907, it was created an urban district, which included Goodwick from 1934 until it was abolished in 1974. During the Second World War, the Fishguard Bay Hotel was Station IXc of Special Operations Executive where submersibles were tested in Fishguard Bay.
Fishguard & Goodwick Golf Club was founded in 1921 and closed in the 1960s.
Fishguard is twinned with:
The town is situated at the back of a north facing bay known as Fishguard Bay (Welsh: Bae Abergwaun) which offers protection from waves generated by prevailing westerly winds. It has a relatively mild climate due to its coastal position. The winds coming from the west or south-west have a determining influence on temperature and precipitation. There is an islet in Fishguard Bay, Needle Rock which reaches 131 feet (40 metres).
Wildlife around Fishguard is rich with a wide variety of colourful wild flowers and sea mammals including the grey seal, porpoises and dolphins. The local birdlife include Eurasian curlew, common redshank and sanderling regularly foraging in the lower Fishguard Harbour and European stonechat, great cormorant and northern fulmar can be seen from the coastal path.
According to the United Kingdom Census 2001, Fishguard had 3,193 inhabitants and 1,465 households. In 2001, 39.8% of the population could speak Welsh. This compares with 58.9% in 1951 and 90.3% in 1901
Outside Fishguard there is a stone monument commemorating the signing of the Peace Treaty after the last invasion of Britain in 1797. Women dressed in Welsh costume are said to have startled the invaders. The 19th century parish church of St Mary's contains a memorial stone to the heroine Jemima Nicholas. There is also a Bi-Centenary memorial stone monument in West Street, Fishguard to commemorate the invasion. A tapestry was created in 1997 to commemorate the invasion and is on display to the public in the Town Hall Library.
Fishguard has hotels and is the main shopping town of North Pembrokeshire with a market in the town hall on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
Fishguard has a Round Table doing community work including running the Fishguard & Goodwick Carnival and the Fishguard Autumn Festival.
The Gwaun Lodge of the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes, is a charitable organisation within the community who host sponsored events and other community works throughout the year.
Fishguard has a 180-seat cinema/theatre called Theatr Gwaun which provides a venue for film, music and live theatre and the hosted the National Eisteddfod in 1936 and 1986.
A regular ferry operated by Stena Line leaves for Rosslare in Ireland from the port of Fishguard Harbour (not actually in Fishguard, but a mile away at Goodwick). Fishguard is the terminus of the A40 London to Fishguard trunk road. It is on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path. Fishguard is served by Arriva Trains Wales from Fishguard Harbour and Fishguard and Goodwick stations. The stations serving Fishguard are on the West Wales Line, that continuing from Swansea as the South Wales Main Line and Great Western Main Line to London Paddington.
Fishguard has been fictionally publicised as a rival of Haverfordwest, especially within Wales, by the comic character "Hugh Pugh" in the Welsh TV series Barry Welsh is Coming.
Fishguard's Royal Oak pub appeared in the film I'll Sleep When I'm Dead starring Clive Owen.
Lower Fishguard was used as "Llareggub" in the film of Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood, starring Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor and Peter O'Toole. Many local people were involved in the production of this film as background characters.
The film Moby Dick (starring Gregory Peck) was filmed there in 1955.
In sci-fi comic 2000 AD, Fishguard was the landing point for the Allied liberation of the United Kingdom in Savage Book 5.
Fishguard and Goodwick Chamber of Trade and Tourism is a business support group.