Looking for the best things to do in Penzance, Cornwall? This article has got you covered.
Penzance is a quaint coastal town situated within the picturesque Mount’s Bay in West Cornwall. While not quite as charming as the nearby St Ives, it is a great gateway to the many attractions that this beautiful area has to offer.
There is also plenty to see and do within Penzance itself. Immerse yourself in the town’s rich history and architecture, walk its winding cobbled streets or take a stroll along the seaside promenade to enjoy the views of Mount’s Bay. There are also numerous art galleries to visit, historic pubs to explore, and excellent restaurants to try.
Here’s my list of the top things to do in Penzance, Cornwall.
The Best Things to Do in Penzance
Visit St Michael’s Mount
Penzance is an excellent base to explore St Michael’s Mount, one of Cornwall‘s most popular historic attractions. This picturesque tidal island is home to a striking medieval castle and a small community. It is located in Marazion, a charming coastal town east of Penzance.
The island can be accessed by boat or on foot across a causeway during low tide. There visitors can learn about the castle’s history, stroll through the picturesque terraced gardens and enjoy spectacular views of Mount’s Bay. Exploring the island can easily take half a day.
Getting from Penzance to Marazion is quite easy with regular buses connecting the two towns. The Go Cornwall Bus website provides the most up-to-date information on schedules and fares.
If you have time, and are keen on stretching your legs, you can also walk to Marazion along the South West Coast Path. This section of the path takes just over an hour to complete. Along the way you can enjoy stunning views, a sandy beach and even pubs if you’re after a pit stop.
You can book your St Michael’s Mount tickets in advance via their website. General combination admission, which includes both castle and gardens, costs £24.00 (US$31.59) per adult and £13.00 (US$17.11) per child aged 5-17.
Take a Stroll Along Chapel Street
Chapel Street is a historic must-see in Penzance. The street is lined with restaurants, antique shops and small art galleries. The most unusual spot along Chapel Street is the colourful Grade-I Egyptian House. Built in the 1930s Egyptian Revival style, this ornate building with its pillars, unusual windows, and sphinx-like busts is impossible to miss.
While exploring Chapel Street, be sure to check out some of its historic pubs. The Admiral Benbow, dating back to the 17th century, is the first on the list. This pub is home to a collection of maritime artifacts salvaged from shipwrecks, which are now incorporated into its unique interiors. This pub’s name was even included in Robert Louis Stevens’ ‘Treasure Island’.
Another spot that is also steeped in history and intrigue is the Turks Head. This pub dates back to the 13th century and has an underground tunnel leading to the harbour that was previously used by smugglers. Today, the Turks Head is a popular dinner destination that serves award-winning food and drink.
Check out Newlyn Art Gallery & The Exchange
Penzance has a lively art scene, with many small galleries waiting to be explored. If you’re into contemporary art, be sure to add Newlyn Art Gallery and The Exchange to your list of things to do in Penzance.
The gallery comprises two venues: the original building, which opened in 1895, has a great waterfront location in Newlyn, a small town just a short walk from Penzace. In 2007, the gallery launched its second site, The Exchange, which is located just off Chapel Street in the heart of Penzance.
The gallery showcases contemporary work in all media by local, national and international artists. Despite its small size, the gallery offers a varied programme of events and exhibitions. Both venues also have cafes serving hot drinks and a selection of delicious cakes.
Admissions is £4.00 (5 USD) for a seven-day pass to both venues.
Enjoy Sub-Tropical Gardens
Penzance’s subtropical microclimate has made it home to many excellent gardens with collections of rare plants that you won’t find anywhere else in the UK.
Right in the heart of Penzance, you can find the tranquil Morrab Gardens. While strolling along its quiet walkways, you can spot ponds, a Victorian bandstand and an ornate cast iron fountain, all surrounded by sub-tropical plants.
For more exotic trees and shrubs, check out Trengwainton Gardens in Madron, a village near Penzance. The garden spans 25 acres, so there is plenty to explore. Walk along its shaded woodland paths, admire its renowned collection of camellias and magnolias, and take in the sea views over Mount’s Bay.
At the Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens, you can combine modern landscaping and art. Located just outside Penzance, in a sheltered valley overlooking St Michael’s Mount, contemporary artists including James Turrell, David Nash, and Richard Long have created art installations that complement the wooded landscape and sub-tropical planting.
Visit Penlee House Gallery & Museum
Penlee House Gallery & Museum is another significant art destination in Penzance. It is housed in an elegant Victorian mansion set within a tranquil park.
The gallery is famous for its collection of local art from the late 19th and early 20th century. The highlights include works by members of the Newlyn School, including Norman Garstin, Walter Langley and Stanhope Forbes.
Penlee House also has displays on archaeology and social history of west Cornwall. It is a great introduction to the rich heritage of the area.
Admission is £4.50 (6.20 USD).
Mousehole is a quintessentially Cornish fishing village with quaint granite cottages, narrow streets and picturesque harbour. The settlement dates back to the 13th century and has experienced a turbulent history.
For instance, in 1595 it was attacked in a raid by Spaniards who burned pretty much every building to the ground. Only Keigwin Arms, a local pub, survived. Although the building is no longer a pub, it is still standing today.
While in Mousehole, you can spend the day exploring its streets, boutique shops and art galleries. If you’re after some sustenance, there is a good selection of cafes to choose from. Mousehole is also home to a small sheltered beach which is perfect for a picnic.
The streets of Mousehole are so narrow that you might better off parking your car on the outskirts of the village. The alternative option is to take a bus from Penzance to Mousehole.
Visit Land’s End
A visit to Land’s End is one of the most popular outdoor things to do near Penzance. The most westerly point of mainland England, it boasts spectacular coastal views with rugged granite cliffs.
The touristy part is represented by a leisure complex featuring eateries, souvenir shops, exhibitions, audio-visual experiences and a hotel. There is also a famous signpost which is a popular photo opportunity. However, you need to pay to have a picture taken with it.
My favourite part of the experience was the cliff top walking trails. You can quickly leave the resort behind and take in the dramatic landscapes. I have mixed feelings about the commercialised nature of Land’s End, but it’s still worth a visit for its natural wonders.
Entry to Land’s End is free, but if you arrive by car you will need to pay a parking charge. It is also recommended that you book your parking spot in advance. There are also buses that connect Penzance and Land’s End. That was the option that my partner and I took so we could just enjoy the scenery without the stress of navigating narrow country roads.
Go to Sennen Cove
A short walk along the coastal path from Land’s End will take you to a quaint coastal village called Sennen Cove. The highlight of the area is the stunning Whitesands Bay beach with fine golden sand and turquoise waters. It is also popular with surfers and is home to the UK’s oldest surf club. If you’d like to get away from the sun, you can find a selection of cafes, pubs and shops in the village.
Sennen Cove is the perfect place for a relaxing day out. Getting there from Penzance is easy either by car or bus. The bus timetable is available on the Go Cornwall Bus website.
Relax at Porthcurno Beach
Porthcurno beach is another famous stretch of sand easily accessible from Penzance. Sheltered by towering granite cliffs, it is a stunning spot with near white sand and crystal clear waters.
You can get to Porthcurno beach by car. There is a car park (charges apply) but it can get busy in the summer months. It’s best to head there early to get a spot. Alternatively, you can take a bus from Penzance. They are not super frequent, so it’s best to check the timetable in advance.
Marvel at Minack Theatre
Just up on the cliffs of the Porthcurno beach, you can find Minack Theatre, a famous open-air theatre perched on a granite cliff overlooking Porthcurno Bay. It might seem like it was built centuries ago, but it is actually less than 100 years old.
The best way to appreciate Minack and its unique surroundings is to see a show there. The theatre boasts a busy programme with over 200 performances a year including plays, musicals, opera and live music.
If attending a show is not an option, you can still visit the theatre and explore its picturesque surroundings. You might even be able to catch a rehearsal or workshop on your visit. You can book your tickets for a specific time slot (£7.50 or 10.40 USD) on the Minack Theatre’s website.
Savour the Dining Scene
Penzance has an excellent dining scene that is sure to please many a foodie. To savour the best of local produce in a relaxed setting, check out The Shore. The restaurant serves a small tasting menu created with the freshest ingredients available on the day. It is a small operation run solely by owner and chef Bruce Rennie, so book your meal in advance.
For an excellent pub experience, head to The Mexico Inn. Located in Longrock, just on the outskirts of Penzance, this spot offers a delicious menu of pub classics and a friendly atmosphere. Perfect for both lunch and dinner, The Mexico Inn attracts locals and visitors alike.
Right in the historic part of town you can find Blacks of Chapel Street. This dining room and bar offers delicious food and a well-stocked cellar. Whether you’re after a light lunch, refreshments or romantic dinners, Blacks of Chapel Street have you covered.
Take a Dip at Jubilee Pool
Located on Penzance’s promenade, Jubilee Pool is the UK’s largest sea water pool (lido). It opened in 1935 to celebrate King George V’s Silver Jubilee. Today, it is one the few remaining art deco lidos in the country, and a swim in the pool is one of the most fun things to do in Penzance.
Jubilee Pool has a distinctive triangular shape and streamlined appearance associated with 1930s design. The pool also has a heated section powered by geothermal energy for those who prefer warmer water.
Adult entry to the main pool is £6 (8.30 USD), while tickets for the geothermal pool are £11.75 (16.28 USD). You can book your tickets in advance on the pool’s website.
The Best Time to Visit Penzance
Summer is the best time to visit Penzance, with warm weather and lots of sunshine. July and August are typically the hottest months, but they are also high season, so expect crowds at popular attractions and high accommodation rates. If you plan to visit Penzance during this time, be sure to book your stay in advance to avoid disappointment.
Spring and autumn may not be as warm, but they still offer pleasant weather and mild temperatures. Although it may be too cold to swim in the sea, you can still enjoy nature walks and historic attractions in and around Penzance. However, it’s important to bring an umbrella and waterproofs as the weather can be unpredictable.
Winter in Penzance is typically grey, rainy and somewhat cold, with average temperatures ranging between range from 5° and 11° Celsius. Despite this, Cornwall has its own unique charm in winter, with dramatic and moody landscapes. One advantage of visiting Penzance in winter is lower prices and fewer visitors.
How to Get to Penzance
Direct trains to Penzance run from several UK cities, including London, Cardiff and Bristol. The train station is located right in the town centre, making it convenient for visitors to get to their Penzance accommodation upon arrival.
The most affordable, albeit slow, way to travel to Penzance is by coach. The Check My Bus website provides information on timetables, fares, and the latest deals.
Alternatively, you may choose to drive to Penzance, and make a road trip out of it. This way you will also have the flexibility of your own transport during your stay in Penzance.
How to Get Around Penzance
Penzance has a compact town centre, making it easy to explore all the main attractions on foot.
The nearby towns and villages are connected via a bus network, but local buses can be infrequent. However, there are convenient tourist route options that will help you get to popular destinations near Penzance, such as St Michael’s Mount, St Ives, and Land’s End. The Go Cornwall Bus provides the most up-to-date information on timetables and fares.
To fully experience the Penzance area, a car is the best option. It provides the most flexibility and allows you to reach the more remote parts of Cornwall.
Where to Stay in Penzance
As Penzance is a relatively small town, there are not many chain hotels in the area. Instead, visitors can choose from an extensive range of B&Bs, holiday homes and boutique hotels to suit every taste and budget. Check out this guide on where to stay in Penzance to find the best option for you.
In the meantime, here is a list of my favourite Penzance hotels:
Have you been to Penzance? What’s been the highlight of your visit?
FAQs: Best Things to Do in Penzance
Penzance is undoubtedly worth a visit. Steeped in history, this bustling town boasts an array of fun attractions as well as a raft of superb dining and drinking options. Beyond the town itself, Penzance serves as an excellent base for exploring West Cornwall. This region is home to magnificent beaches, breathtaking coastal walks, and iconic landmarks, including the renowned St Michael’s Mount.
Chapel Street is the most famous street in Penzance and with good reason. It is lined with beautiful period buildings, historic pubs, quirky galleries and boutique shops. It’s a must-see when you’re in Penzance.
The Penzance town centre is compact and walkable. Popular spots featured in this article including Chapel Street, Penlee House and the Exchange art gallery are located within walking distance of each other. However, to get to the attractions in the nearby areas such as Land’s End, Minack Theatre or St Michael’s Mount you may need to drive or use public transport.
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