Penzance is one of the most far-flung places you can visit in the UK. Located in the depths of Cornwall’s Penwith peninsula, it is positioned on a stunning section of coastline and surrounded by enchanting Cornish countryside. The town also has a history that stretches back centuries, and a character that will captivate anyone who sets foot here. Ready for your visit? Try these things to do in Penzance and nearby to make the most of your time in Cornwall.
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Things to do in Penzance: sightseeing and activities
1. Take a walk along Penzance Promenade
The seafront at Penzance is lined by a beautiful old Victorian promenade that has recently undergone an extensive regeneration and modernisation. It extends about a mile in total from Jubilee Pool near the town centre across to the neighbouring Newlyn.
Strolling along the front you will pass along a wide walkway dotted with sculpted features, a skate park and children’s play areas, flowery gardens, and a stretch of shingle beach – all with a glorious view of St Michael’s Mount and out onto the ocean.
Penzance Promenade is lovely for a walk at any time of day, but if you’re up for an early start, it’s particularly special at dawn. As the shoreline faces east here, you can see the sun rising over St Michael’s Mount.
In the evening, grab some fish and chips from Fraser’s along the front (recommended to me by a local) and take a seat on one of the benches facing out to sea. Perfect.
2. Have a dip in Jubilee Pool
One of the most notable quirks of Penzance’s seafront is Jubilee Pool, an art deco lido that is the largest of its kind in the UK. It was first opened in 1935 and is named after King George V’s silver jubilee of that year.
Jubilee Pool is located on battery rocks, at the tip of the headland between Penzance Harbour and the promenade. And, like the promenade, it has undergone a multi-million-pound restoration in recent years after suffering storm damage.
The pool is open throughout the summer. If you don’t fancy a dip, you can sit back in a deckchair or have coffee and cake at the café that overlooks the pool.
3. Explore the quirky independent shops in town
Penzance town centre is filled with an array of independent shops where you will find all manner of gifts, local food produce, textiles, art and craftwork.
Chapel Street is the centrepiece of the town’s trading history, with many of its characterful buildings dating back to the 18th century. Look out for the Admiral Benbow pub (more on that below) and a plaque dedicated to one-time residents Maria and Elizabeth Branwell, the mother and aunt of the Brontë sisters.
Continue up and you will emerge onto Causewayhead, a narrow brick-paved lane riddled with interesting little shops and pubs. This is our favourite place in town for shopping. You will find almost anything along here, whether it’s bookstores, mini art galleries, green grocers, antiques, jewellers or charity shops.
4. See the old Market House building
When approaching Penzance, it’s hard to miss the Tuscan-style dome-ceilinged building that stands out above the rooftops. This is the old Market House, which has been a focal point of the town centre for nearly two centuries.
Market House has served many purposes over the years. At different points in time it has been a market, a prison, a school, a corn exchange and a theatre! These days it is a bank, and so it’s not likely you’ll step inside unless you need to withdraw cash. It’s still worth swinging by to admire the old architecture and maybe have a rest on the bench outside for a while.
5. Discover art at the Exchange Gallery
Penzance is admired far and wide for its artistic scene. There are numerous galleries in and around the town, several of which we feature in this article. The first is the Exchange, which is the town’s biggest contemporary art space, opened in 2007.
The gallery’s building, set in a former telephone exchange, has a striking glass facade fitted with LED lights that curves around the entire front. Step inside and you can absorb the works of various local and international artists.
6. See a show at Acorn Theatre
Independent theatres are so often the cultural lifeblood of English towns. Penzance’s Acorn Theatre has been entertaining visitors for half a century, set in a 19th-century former methodist chapel building.
The Acorn has a particular focus on nurturing local talent, but its stage is graced by performers from far and wide. You can often see new local work on display or come along to community events.
The theatre hosts a varied programme of events, including plays, music, comedy and dance. Tickets are always reasonably priced, typically ranging from £8–£16 (there are sometimes free events too). See what’s coming up on the theatre’s website.
7. Catch a film at Savoy Cinema
In the first half of the 20th century, Penzance was once home to four cinemas. Only one of these still stands today: Savoy Cinema, which is Britain’s oldest cinema in continuous use.
The Savoy, standing loud and proud along Causewayhead, was opened in 1912 and originally called the Victoria Music Hall. It retains the look of a classic old-school cinema with its bright blue paint and large windows flanked by imperious column features.
Today the Savoy Cinema is part of the Merlin Cinemas chain and has a restaurant and bar attached to the complex. You can catch the latest cinematic blockbusters at cheaper ticket prices than you will find in bigger cities around the UK.
8. Stroll around Morrab Gardens
Mixed in among Penzance’s historical sites, shops and restaurants, the town also has an abundance of green spaces to enjoy. Morrab Gardens is one of the most picturesque of these, and has been a cherished feature since the 19th century.
In the gardens you can wander through a delightful arrangement of sub-tropical and Mediterranean plants that has been gradually cultivated over more than 150 years. There are also various Grade II listed buildings dotted among the greenery. Look out for the Victorian bandstand at the centre, the fountain and a memorial to the Boer War.
Morrab Gardens has undergone many changes over time as it has moved between different owners, which you can read about in detail in this timeline of its history. It remains a highlight of Penzance and is a lovely spot to visit if you want to find a little peace and quiet among green surroundings.
9. Visit Penlee House Gallery & Museum
Located a short walk up the road from Morrab Gardens, Penlee House is home to a museum and another of Penzance’s excellent art galleries. It is set among a stunning park and gardens featuring sub-tropical plants and benches.
The building itself dates back to 1865, when it was built as a luxurious residence of the Branwell family. In the mid-20th century it was intricately restored and repurposed as a museum and gallery. Today, the space is dedicated to telling the story of Penzance’s cultural heritage.
Some of the artefacts on display at the museum were taken from collections previously housed at Market House since 1839. You can also see frequent temporary exhibitions showcasing the work of local artists past and present. If you have little ones, there are regular free workshops held at weekends and school holidays where your kids can learn to make craftwork and take it home.
10. See the impressive works at Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens
Whenever we visit Penzance, we usually make a trip up to Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens, which has a spectacular setting on the hills above Penzance, with expansive views out onto Mount’s Bay.
An on-site restaurant, Tremenheere Kitchen, has outdoor seating where you can absorb the view over lunch or a coffee. The whole site is interwoven with a web of wonderful sculptures, artwork and exotic plant features.
For a £9 admission fee, you can enter the dedicated area where many of the most prized permanent works are on display, intermingled among the landscape. The gardens are open from February to October.
There’s also a nursery and shop where you can browse a collection of rare plants. The succulent varieties are particularly impressive – you won’t be able to resist taking one home!
11. Walk to Long Rock Beach
Penzance itself doesn’t have much sand on the seafront, but a short stroll around the coastline will bring you to Long Rock Beach. From Penzance’s train station car park you can follow a pathway along the front and reach the beach in about 15–20 minutes.
Long Rock is a brilliant beach to visit with dogs. We took our boy Regan, and this was actually where we let him off the lead for the first time after adopting him. There is so much space on the sand and dogs are welcome all year round.
Come along to Long Rock Beach early in the morning and you can enjoy that famous view of the sunrise over St Michael’s Mount. It’s wonderfully serene at this time of day, with few people around.
12. Browse Newlyn Art Gallery
The fishing town of Newlyn is adjoined with Penzance and is easy to reach by walking straight down the promenade. Like Penzance, Newlyn has a tradition for art and creativity, and the best place to explore this is at Newlyn Art Gallery.
The gallery is linked to the Exchange in Penzance, but actually has roots stretching back much further, opened originally in 1895. It is perched on the seafront and has been restored with modern features, including a glass curtain wall that looks out onto the sea and adjacent gardens.
The displays at Newlyn Art Gallery are dedicated to showcasing contemporary pieces from local, national and international artists. There is a varied programme of exhibitions and events all year round, and an on-site shop where you can buy books, jewellery and ceramics.
13. Try Newlyn’s independent cinema
Independent cinemas are not easy to come by these days. Newlyn Filmhouse is one of the newest in the country, with a fun and location-appropriate setting inside a converted fish merchant’s building.
The building has been renovated to preserve many of the original features from the old fish cellar and smokery. We’ve visited before just to have a bite to eat in the on-site restaurant and bar, which is excellent, serving locally sourced food.
The cinema has two screens, each seating just a few dozen people. You can see a mixture of arthouse, documentaries, foreign and limited-release films, as well as mainstream cinema. No food is allowed into the screens, as part of the cinema’s policy to promote a ‘rustle-free’ environment.
Things to do in Penzance: food and drink
14. Check out Newlyn Harbour Fish Market
Newlyn is most renowned for its fishing traditions. The town is situated near some of the world’s richest fishing waters and is home to one of the UK’s largest and busiest harbours.
At the pinnacle of this scene is the recently refurbished Newlyn Harbour Fish Market. Some £1.3 million in EU funding has helped to introduce new technology to the harbour, including cutting-edge refrigeration facilities and solar powering.
The harbour is alive around the clock, with hundreds of vessels coming and going on any given day. The market itself springs to life early in the morning as the day’s catch is sorted for auction. Come along any time from 5am or so onwards. Later in the morning you can also buy fresh produce at one of the fishmongers along the harbour front.
15. Eat at a seafood restaurant
As you would expect given Penzance’s seaside location and the proximity of Newlyn Harbour, fish restaurants are somewhat of a speciality in the area.
Mackerel Sky Seafood Bar in Newlyn is one of the most popular, and is a favourite of ours. Its open-plan kitchen area means you can see the chefs in action preparing your food. Combine this with the cosy space, intimate high tables and long benches, and you have a fun and encapsulating experience. And of course, the seafood is amazing!
Other highly rated seafood restaurants in Penzance include The Boatshed and The Shore.
To read about more restaurants in the area for a variety of cuisines, check out our guide to the best places to eat in Penzance. The town has an incredible diverse food scene, so don’t miss out!
16. Take a tour at Polgoon Vineyard
The UK doesn’t exactly have a worldly reputation for wine-making, but Penzance’s multi-award-winning Polgoon Vineyard & Orchard has been drawing international attention. Run by a local family that were previously fish merchants, the vineyard and orchard produces various artisan wines, ciders and juices.
We’ve visited many beautiful vineyards over the years – such as the wineries of Umbria in Italy – and Polgoon is well up there with the best for its gorgeous setting. From high up on the sloping vineyards you can see out onto the sea.
Tour and tasting experiences are run at the vineyard all year round, giving insights into the production processes and a chance to sample the wines. You can also stop for a glass and a bite to eat at the Vine House Kitchen on site, whether it’s a fresh charcuterie board or local strawberries and cream.
17. Try a traditional Cornish pasty
It would be a crime to visit Cornwall without trying a Cornish pasty at least once. I was spoiled growing up, as my late Cornish-born grandmother made the best Cornish pasties on the planet. The only way for me to replicate anything near that taste these days is to pay a visit to one of the local vendors around Penzance.
There are a few to choose from. Rowe’s is one of my personal favourites, a family bakery that’s been making delicious pasties for over 70 years since its first shop opened in Falmouth. You’ll find one of their shops on Causewayhead in Penzance, where you can eat in or take away.
Warrens Bakery is another popular local option, claiming to be the oldest maker of Cornish pasties in the world. We like to pay them a visit around four in the afternoon, when they usually reduce their leftover pasties to half price! Warrens has shops in both Penzance town centre and Newlyn.
18. Have a drink at the Admiral Benbow
Penzance is full of eccentric pubs and ale houses. Perhaps the most charming of all is the 17th-century Admiral Benbow, unmissable on Chapel Street with its whitewashed exterior, bright yellow windows and hanging pirate flags.
Inside the Benbow you can see a peculiar collection of nautical artefacts rescued from vessels shipwrecked nearby over the centuries. The Captain Cabin’s restaurant features woodwork from a floundered Portuguese Man O’ War, while in the adjacent lounge stands an old ship figurehead and cannon.
Believed to be the oldest pub in Penzance, the Benbow serves delicious dishes, including local seafood, and a variety of real ales and wines.
19. Hit the real ale pub scene
Cornwall has developed a reputation for its ales. Tipples such as Proper Job and Sharp’s Brewery’s Doom Bar have entered the UK mainstream, and are available in pubs all over the country. Around Cornwall you will also find burgeoning local real ale scenes, and Penzance has one of the best.
Friendly, welcoming real ale pubs are dotted all about the town. The Crown is a classic example, located on Victoria’s Square just a couple of blocks up from the train station. It has a relaxed vibe and a whole raft of permanent and seasonal local ales to choose from.
Other good pubs to try nearby for real ale include the Dolphin Tavern, the Lamp & Whistle and the Farmers Arms.
20. Try some Shane’s Cider at Seven Stars
The south-west of England is known for its cider production. The region is particularly known for ‘scrumpy’, a rather rough-around-the-edges style of cider that is typically produced locally at a small scale. You can find different examples of this all over Cornwall.
The Seven Stars in Penzance is a proper local pub, welcoming to regulars and tourists alike. It’s gained a bit of a name for its signature Shane’s Cider, brewed on site. Pop in and try some next time you’re in town!
Things to do near penzance
21. Visit St Michael’s Mount
Penzance is within touching distance of many enthralling experiences, from iconic landmarks to hidden wonders around the coast. St Michael’s Mount is probably the best known point of interest nearby, perched just around Mount’s Bay from the town. The mount can be seen in full glory from many vantage points in Penzance.
St Michael’s Mount sits just offshore from the town of Marazion, and can be accessed by foot via a causeway only at low tide. (At high tide you can take a boat.) An island community lives on the mount, where you will also find a historic castle, gardens, village and shops.
If you only have a few days in Penzance and want to experience the local highlights, then St Michael’s Mount is a must-visit. It’s just a few minutes’ drive along the coastal road and makes for a great day out.
22. Explore the old town of Marazion
Marazion is best known for being a gateway for exploring St Michael’s Mount. The town is well worth a visit in its own right, however. It is one of the oldest towns in Britain, with its first charter of incorporation dating back to the 13th century.
Most of the town’s cosy shops and eateries are clustered along the main road that passes through. You can stay here at the Godolphin Hotel, with a glorious setting looking directly out onto the mount.
Staying in town would give the opportunity to get up early in the morning or walk late in the evening on Marazion Beach. You will find this vast and clean stretch of sand often almost deserted at daybreak and sundown, with all of the scenery to enjoy for yourself.
23. Hang out at Perranuthnoe Beach
When my sister visits Penzance with her kids, she always takes them around the coast to Perranuthnoe. This somewhat secluded beach is located just a little further past Marazion from Penzance, with alternative views of St Michael’s Mount from the far side.
A narrow sloping road leads down onto the beach, which is rife with pebbles at the top, but opens up into a fabulous swath of golden sand when the tide is out. Parking is available right near the beach, and there’s also a lovely little café with a sea view and outdoor seating.
Perranuthnoe is also known to be a good beach for surfing, and has lifeguard cover in the peak summer months.
24. See a performance at the stunning Minack Theatre
Theatres rarely come in locations as jaw-dropping as Cornwall’s Minack, carved into a granite outcrop above the sea ten miles around the coast from Penzance.
The Minack is a one-of-a-kind open-air cliffside theatre created by a woman called Rowena Cade, whose life work was to build it. The terraces that provide the seating were built by hand using manual tools.
You can see a regular programme of entertainment at the theatre, from touring shows to showcases of local talent. When there’s nothing on stage, you can pay £7.50 to explore the site and take a guided audio tour.
Take a look at this amazing timelapse video to see a day in the life of the Minack Theatre.
25. Stop by at Porthcurno Beach
Positioned right next to the Minack Theatre, Porthcurno is one of the many jewels of Cornwall’s coastline. Featured in our guide to the best beaches in Cornwall, it is endowed with a broad gentle slope of soft sand, composed of finely crushed white sea shells.
At one time Porthcurno was a hidden gem, but the secret is well and truly out. These days it can get busy. If you’d prefer a quieter spot, you can pop over to Pedn Vounder, the next beach along, accessible via the coastal path. This remains a concealed beauty and has a wonderful backdrop of Logan Rock against the green ocean.
A steep, winding stairway and path leads up to the Minack Theatre from the beach. Porthcurno was also once the site of the world’s largest submarine telegraph station, which has now been replaced by the Museum of Global Communications, just a few dozen yards back from the beach.
26. Walk the South West Coast Path
The coastline of Cornwall is hugged by the South West Coast Path, one of the UK’s most celebrated long-distance hiking trails. In its entirety, the route stretches over a thousand kilometres from Minehead in Somerset around to Poole Harbour in Dorset, encasing Cornwall entirely.
The section of the trail that stretches between Land’s End and Penzance features some of its most dramatic and beautiful scenery. We walked from Land’s End to Mousehole when we were training to hike the Inca Trail in Peru, and were blown away by some of the views.
This route passes some notable beauty spots, including Enys Dodnan Arch, Carn Les Boel and Logan Rock. There are also many wonderful little hidden coves and beaches along the way, where you can stop for a picnic on the sand. Nanjizal Beach in particular is a gem.
Check out the South West Coast Path website to find out more.
27. Have a pint at the 16th-century Logan Rock Inn
There’s nothing like a refreshing pint after you’ve spent a day hiking. I did exactly that on a recent trip to Penzance after walking sections of the coastal path between Sennen Cove and Porthcurno. Where did I find my refreshing tipple? At the Logan Rock Inn, recommended to me by a couple I met along the trail.
The inn is located in the village of Treen, and named after the natural landmark of Logan Rock that juts out on the headland nearby. Dating back to the 16th century, it is one of Cornwall’s oldest active pubs.
You get the feel of the pub’s heritage when you step inside the quaint barroom with its low ceiling and wooden beams. There’s a good choice of ales, or if you’re hungry you can tuck into some of the tasty meals. Try one of the pub classics, seafood specialities or a Cornish cream tea.
28. Take a trip to some gardens
We’ve already mentioned the fabulous Morrab Gardens and Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens that are located within the immediate vicinity of Penzance. If you want to explore more green spaces, there are some wonderful cultivated gardens to discover by venturing a little further afield.
Trengwainton Garden is situated in Madron, just a couple of miles outside Penzance. It is resplendent with some 25 acres of exotic trees, flowers, shrubs and plants. The garden has roots in both Cornwall and Jamaica, having been owned in the 19th century by Rose Price, a local magistrate whose family descended from plantation owners in the Caribbean.
Another spot to visit nearby is Tanglewood Wild Garden, just a little further outside Penzance along the A3071. ‘Wild’ is very much the word; in order to promote nature and tranquility, there are no commercial catering facilities on site. A little smaller than Trengwainton, its gardens feature sprouting vegetation, woodland and ponds, and are home to an array of wildlife.
29. Discover the mining history of Penwith
Cornwall’s metal mines were crucial in facilitating Britain’s Industrial Revolution throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. Many of the prominent mines were located around the Penwith peninsula. As a result, the mining industry was at the heart of the region’s economic development.
The mining history of Cornwall has been brought to the public imagination through the TV series Poldark, much of which was filmed around Penwith. When driving around its scenic winding roads today, you can see many relics of a thriving tin and copper mining heritage.
Botallack Mine is probably the most visually striking of the old mining locations in the area. Used as a filming site for Poldark, its old engine houses stand beautifully preserved on the cliffside overlooking the sea. In its heyday, the mine had tunnels extending up to half a mile out under the seabed. It produced tin and copper in the tens of thousands of tonnes over its lifetime.
Another picturesque old mining site nearby is Carn Galver Mine, pictured above. This mine employed 100 local villagers before its closure in 1878. Its old engine house stands crumbling amid a scene of bleak heathlands and rocky outcrops. It stands next to the B3306 coastal road on the opposite side of the peninsula from Penzance, about 15 minutes’ drive away.
30. Find the nearby ancient ruins
The history of the Penwith peninsula stretches back well beyond the mining era of the Industrial Revolution. The landscape within close vicinity of Penzance is littered with archaeological ruins that tell the story of thousands of years of settlement.
I remember visiting the ancient village of Chysauster with my Dad as a kid. Just ten minutes’ drive from Penzance, it is one of the best-preserved examples of a Romano–British settlement in the UK. You can wander among the stone walls of homesteads that were lived in almost 2,000 years ago.
Some even older remains can be found nearby. The Merry Maidens is a Neolithic stone circle marking a ritual site that is up to 4,500 years old. The 19 stones still stand in a perfect circle, located between Lamorna and St Buryan near Penzance.
Mên-an-Tol, pictured above, is another formation of standing stones on the Penwith peninsula. To find it you have to park up on the Madron-to-Morvah road and walk out into the fields on a farmers’ track. This megalithic holed monument is believed to be around 3,500 years old, dating to the Bronze age.
There are over 700 ancient sites in total across the Penwith peninsula. Check out the Ancient Penwith website to find out more about them.
31. Visit the charming old fishing village of Mousehole
The old fishing village of Mousehole has an endearing charm that typifies so many of Cornwall’s coastal communities. It’s always been a special place for me personally, as my grandfather was born in the village, and I used to spend summers on holiday here throughout my childhood.
Mousehole is just a little further around the coast past Newlyn from Penzance. Arriving in the village you will see houses clustered tightly around the hillside rising up from the harbour. The steep and narrow lanes that weave around the village can be tricky to navigate in a car!
Gift shops, delis and ice-cream shacks line the harbour front, while you can find galleries and tea shops hidden away on the back streets. If you’re thirsty for a beer, then a stop-off at the Ship Inn is a must.
The festive season is an especially captivating time to visit Mousehole. This is when you can see the famous Mousehole Harbour Lights illuminating the entire village after dark. People come from far and wide to see this enchanting spectacle.
32. Journey to Lizard Point, the southernmost tip of the UK
Land’s End is probably the best-known geographical point in Cornwall, but it’s not actually the southernmost point in the UK, as many people believe. That title goes to Lizard Point, which is about a 45-minute drive down the coast to the east of Penzance.
The Lizard Peninsula features several beauty spots and sites of interest that you can combine into an enjoyable day trip from Penzance. Kynance Cove, one of Cornwall’s most photogenic locations, is just a few miles north of Lizard Point. The beach here is gorgeous at low tide, riddled with rock formations and caves.
Lizard village has some interesting shops and nice places to eat. You can have a drink in the Witchball, the UK’s most southerly pub! Lizard Point itself is about a 15-minute walk from the village, or you can drive down to the car park. It’s worth allowing some extra time to walk around this section of the coastal path, especially around to Housel Bay to the east.
33. Take a trip to Land’s End
Land’s End occupies the most westerly point of mainland England, and has become a household name and popular tourist attraction. It marks the south-west extremity of the legendary Land’s End to John o’ Groats route that spans 847 miles across the length of Great Britain.
The site has been built up to feature a complex of shops, entertainment, eateries and a hotel. Many visitors clamour to have a photo taken by the famous white signpost.
Enys Dodnan Arch, a stunning arched islet feature, is just a five-minute walk down the coastal path from Land’s End past Greeb Farm. The sea here is a mesmerising deep blue, especially on sunny days! A mile’s walk in the opposite direction will bring you to Sennen Cove, which is home to one of the best beaches in the area. So, there’s plenty to do around Land’s End to make a day of it.
The drive from Penzance to Land’s End takes about 20 minutes, or you can catch a bus that takes about an hour.
Map of things to do in Penzance
The map below shows the locations of the landmarks, attractions and places of interest highlighted in this article:
Where to stay in Penzance
Penzance has an abundance of welcoming guest houses, hotels and hostels to cater for the diversity of tourists that arrive in the town every year. You can check out a compilation of our recommended hotels in Penzance to find one perfect for you.
For some quick inspiration, here are some of our favourites for different styles and budgets:
- Backpackers: EasyPZ Backpackers, a relaxed, friendly hostel close to the train station.
- Guest house: Rosalie Guest House, a welcoming bed & breakfast just outside the town centre with a garden and tennis court.
- Mid-price hotel: Yacht Inn, a pretty art deco hotel in a great location close to Penzance Promenade and the town centre.
- Luxury hotel: Hotel Penzance, an elegant Edwardian hotel with amazing sea views. We ate in their restaurant and the food was delicious!
Have you spent time in Penzance before? Let us know about your experience in the comments below.
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