A place steeped in the history of secret myths and legend, from smugglers to adventurers, a staycation at Penzance offers all the facilities you would expect from this lovely lido town stretching from the authentic, bustling working fishing harbour at Newlyn in the west out towards magical Marazion to the east.
You are never far from the inviting view of St Michael’s Mount here. On a fine day, take a family outing to Marazion via a level seawall walk, cross the causeway on foot or by boat trip (depending on tides) to see the beguiling cobbled streets, leading to the dreamlike fairy-tale castle on the rocks.
On a sunny day, you won’t be able to resist a dip in the splendid Jubilee Pool, a large triangular art-deco open-air lido where you can even paddleboard. Safe swimming and paddling for children make this a family favourite. Walk along the seafront to Newlyn to visit the renowned art gallery there, for the light here is an artist’s dream.
The drive is pretty straightforward to Penzance. Either take the motorway (M4/M5 from London) or the more scenic A303, then A30 until you reach Penzance.
If you’re driving to West Cornwall in a plug-in electric vehicle, see our list of charging locations here.
There is a direct train service from London Paddington to Penzance, it’s a pretty journey which takes around 5 hours. Or perhaps you fancy experiencing the GWR sleeper train, which leaves London Paddington at 23:45 and arrives in Penzance the next day at 8am.
Penzance isn’t short of both long and short stay car parks, in fact, there are 21 car parks in total. A lot of the car parks in Penzance are owned by Cornwall Council.
For short stay car parks (usually parking permitted for 1-3 hours), the council-run ones cost from £1.50-£4.50, but if you’re planning to spend the day here you’re better off finding a long stay. However, if you just want to have a browse for a few hours, Penalverne on Alverton Street has 75 spaces, Greenmarket on Union Street has 31 spaces, and Clarence Street has 85 spaces.
Harbour long stay car park is paid on exit, and prices start from 50p for 30 minutes up to £8 for 24 hours. It’s centrally located on Wharf Road and is the largest with 780 spaces. St Anthony’s is also a long stay on Battery Road, costing £1 for an hour, and £5.60 for 24 hours. A further long stay car park is St Erbyns is on Penalverne Drive with 320 spaces, prices start from £1 for an hour and £8 for 24 hours.
Penzance is one of west Cornwall’s biggest foodie hotspots, with a brilliant selection of eateries covering cuisines of the world, from the quirky gastropubs to grown-up restaurants and harbour-side cafes. So rest assured you’ll finish your day in Penzance with your belly full.
For a truly gastronomic experience then it’s hard to beat The Shore on Alverton Street. With an intimate supper club style, the set menu boasts the very best local ingredients from Newlyn fish to locally-grown vegetables and meat. It’s a real taste sensation and food journey you won’t forget.
As well as being a stylish hotel, Artist Residence on Chapel Street has a smokehouse, bar and garden which is very relaxed and open to all. As breakfast is the most important meal of the day, head there for its smashed avocado on sourdough toast or buttermilk pancakes.
If you’ve a hankering for a proper Cornish pasty then head to Lavenders Deli and Bakery tucked away on Alverton Street. A family bakery who has been operating since 1976, if you drop in just after 12noon you’ll get a pasty straight from the oven, but you’ll have to be quick. They’ve also a lovely cafe which serves hearty lunches, or grab some local cheese and meat at the deli to take back with you.
If you fancy something different, The Singing Rooster on The Causeway specialises in Polish and European delicacies such as pierogi, goulash, croque monsieur, bigos plus their cakes are rather impressive too.
Nearby fishing village Newlyn also has some pretty tasty options too. Mackerel Sky Seafood Bar is open from 12-9 pm every day, while it doesn’t take bookings we believe it’s well worth queuing for. The tasting plates are great for lunchtime grazing, and as to be expected there’s a big fish focus.
Ben Tunnicliffe took over The Tolcarne Inn in 2012 and is known as a bit of a champion when it comes to Cornwall’s food scene since settling here in 2001. For a traditional village pub, it’s hard to beat The Tolcarne Inn. The chalkboard-style menu heavily favours the sea, with mackerel, scallops, crab, mussels, bass and bream often featured.
Mr Porter’s journal named Jelberts the best ice cream in England. This rather unassuming ice cream shop in Newlyn offers just one flavour… vanilla. Make sure you get clotted cream on top.
It’s safe to say you won’t be short of things to do here in Penzance. Once a tranquil Georgian sea resort, it has literary and cultural, as well as seafaring, connections to keep visitors busy.
When the sun is shining, there’s no better place to take the kids than the large triangular art deco open-air Jubilee Pool. It’s the largest sea water pool in the UK, boasting a main pool, learner pool and geothermal pool (which is heated from the end of August). Children can swim and paddle safely under the watchful eyes of the pool’s lifeguards.
Head to nearby Marazion, as St Michael’s Mount appeals to all ages. There is something special about crossing to such a majestic island, either on foot or by boat. Families can follow in legendary giant’s steps at low tide, while ferries are available at high tide. Be warned, in rough seas, the ferries do not run.
For thrill-seekers, thirty minutes away in Helston is Flambards Theme Park with indoor soft play and sky-high rides, depending on children’s ages.
You’ll have to head out of Penzance to get involved in watersports, but there are plenty of options nearby.
At Marazion, Ocean High offers lessons and coaching, plus paddleboard and kayak hire for those with higher adrenaline levels. Run by marine biologist, Lawrence Smith, they also run Eco SUP (stand up paddleboard) tours around the superb St Michael’s Mount and Mount’s Bay. They have qualified professional instructors for kitesurfing and paddleboarding. There’s also the Hoxton Special, which offers kite-surfing lessons, power kiting, and kiteboarding. They also offer SUP, Paddleboard and Kayak Hire as well as Yoga sessions.
Penzance has so much to offer to art enthusiasts.
There are varied art exhibitions in the genteel Penlee House Gallery and Museum in the town. Cornwall Contemporary opened in 2006 and is a large art gallery set across three floors. The ground floor is used for changing exhibitions while the upper two floors are used for paintings by gallery artists and special capsule installations. While you’re on the historic Chapel Street, be sure to walk along to appreciate the exquisite art deco Egyptian Revival House there, which has been in the ownership of the Landmark Trust since the 1970s.
Walk along the sea front to Newlyn to visit the renowned Newylyn Art Gallery there, for the light here is an artist’s dream. This gallery has been bringing the best in contemporary art to audiences in the south west for more than 125 years. Presenting contemporary work in all media by regional, national and international artists, with a supporting programme of events for all ages. The Exchange is its sister site, which is a contemporary arts space with glass running the length of its façade is also worthy of your attention.
If you really enjoy beautiful sculpture gardens, prepare for something special at Tremenheere, set in a sheltered valley awash with inspirational eco-friendly sculptures by renowned artists, with the bonus of a bright, modern restaurant.
A two mile walk away is Longrock Beach. Longrock is at the Penzance end of sands that stretch around Mount’s Bay to Marazion. It’s the most easily accessible stretch of sandy beach from the town. Safe for swimming it takes a lot of walking to get into even waist-deep water also making this is a popular spot for windsurfing. For peace of mind the lifeguards at Marazion keep an eye on the eastern end of the beach during the summer months. It’s also dog friendly all year round.
Marazion beach is a ten-minute drive from Penzance. It has sand and pebbles, lovely clear water, parking and a play area nearby and it is lifeguarded during the high season. Serene in the evening, the beaches are amazing for sunsets, so, with the backdrop of the castle on the mount, this spot always has people clamouring for their cameras. If you walk a while, you will find rocky coves which you may even have all to yourself.
If you’re looking for some good surf, then Porthmeor, Perranuthnoe, Gwenver and Sennen are all close by.
The centre has a host of historic pubs, antiques, independent shops, and restaurants but all only a 10-minute walk from the energising spray of the seafront.
If you’re a self-proclaimed bookworm then a visit to leading independent bookshop The Edge of the World Bookshop is a must. With a fantastic variety of volumes, from classic novels to quirky novelties, and plenty of local and Cornish books too. You’ll also find an array of cards, stationery and gifts too.
There are plenty of shops to fill your homes. The Planted House sells plants, pots and ephemera galore. At contemporary homeware and clothing shop No.56 on Chapel Street, you’ll find a mix of handcrafted interior pieces specialising in natural materials such as linens, wood and ceramic.
For coastal-themed prints, swing by clothing shop Seasalt. The Penzance store was the first for the popular clothing brand, which now has shops up and down the country.
Circa 21 is a contemporary gift and homeware shop which focuses on makers, designers, artists and fairtrade small businesses and is well worth a visit.
If you’re after a bottle of locally-sourced wine, then head to Mounts Bay Wine Company, a long-established family-owned independent wine merchant specialising in fine wines across all price points. For a local deli, it doesn’t get much better than The Cornish Hen in the middle of Penzance, offering the best of Cornwall with a mix of Spanish and Italian products too. You’ll also find coffee, patisserie and pasties galore.
Penzance’s array of museums and galleries are a great place to go when the weather isn’t on your side. The amazing Museum of Global Communications is perfect on a rainy day to see how Cornwall got connected.
If you’re of a green-fingered nature, or just appreciate the great outdoors, relax in the beautifully designed Morrab Gardens, an oasis in the heart of the town, providing delightful secluded walks among sub-tropical trees and shrubs, many unique to Penzance.
A little further out of Penzance and you’ll find Chygurno Garden. Perched on the edge of the ocean, having been unoccupied for more than 20 years, the garden was little more than a cliff-edge jungle when its present owners reclaimed it. You’ll get a spectacular sea view from here, plus there’s a striking range of vibrant species which stand out against the rugged backdrop. The garden has been planted into a maze of steep pathways, steps and terraces that have been cleverly carved into the rocks.
In the summer Jubilee Pool has been known to host cinema nights, or for something more unwinding indulge yourself with a relaxing massage or facial before or after your swim with their in-house therapist Rachel Lorente.
Nearby check out Porthgwarra, the cove where actor Aidan Turner took a dip in the sea in Poldark. You are only 10 miles from Land’s End, while the superb surfing beaches of Sennen are a stone’s throw nearer. Blow away the cobwebs by driving to Lamorna and walking the coastal path to Mousehole, or drive to the cliffside theatre Minack for a truly spectacular experience.
A 3.5 mile meander along the coastal path (tarmac pavements and a cycleway) will see you pass through Newlyn and take you to picturesque Mousehole.
St Michael's Mount, National Trust
Another easy walk is to Marazion, it’s a 2 mile walk along a surfaced path, this gentle amble will provide great views across Mounts Bay to St Michael’s Mount, the Lizard and Mousehole.
If you are looking for something more challenging, why not embark on the 4-day walk from Penzance to St Ives, taking in Porthcurno, st Just and Gurnard’s Head along the way. This is a strenuous walk, so not for the lighthearted.
Sir Humphry Davy, an English chemist who discovered several chemical elements (including sodium and potassium) and compounds and who invented the miner’s safety lamp, was born in Penzance. You’ll find a statue of the local hero at the top of Market Jew Street, close to where he was born.
Stroll along historic Chapel Street and check out the brick-built Rotterdam-style Branwell House, home to Maria Branwell, mother of the world-famous Brontës. It’s near the exquisite art deco Egyptian Revival House we mentioned earlier.
Weatherwise, the best time to visit Penzance is June-October. The highest average temperature in Penzance is 10°C in July and the lowest is 9°C in January.
There are plenty of public toilets in Penzance. You’ll find them in Alexandra Play Park, Princess May, South Pier, Tourist Information Centre, Wherrytown and Penalverne. Bear in mind that Penalverne toilets are only open at weekends and Bank Holidays.
You can get a direct train from London Paddington to Penzance
For a bustling seaside town with a vibrant historical centre, nowhere beats Penzance...