Penzance: The Complete Visitor Guide

Written by: Ben Pike

With its location at the very end of the British railway line, at the convergence with the last main road this side of the UK, Penzance is a town that has been shaped by its unique location. 

Once a hub for pirates and smugglers, drawn by its distance from civil England, today it is a bustling hub for art, culture, and adventure.

As the home of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance, there has been a long history of swashbuckling and shipwrecks. But these days, you’re more likely to find Penzance’s residents sipping tea in one of the town’s cosy cafes. 

Whether you’re strolling down Chapel Street with its eclectic mix of independent shops, galleries, and cafes, or wandering along the promenade with its breathtaking views of St. Michael’s Mount, Penzance is a town that will steal your heart. With its mild climate and stunning scenery, it’s no wonder that artists, writers, and wanderers have been drawn here for centuries. 

So why not hoist the Jolly Roger and set sail for Penzance – a town that’s sure to shiver your timbers and make your heart sing sea shanty.

Around Penzance

penzance town

The layout of Penzance is testament to its past, with a meandering mix of narrow alleys and grand Georgian terraces that seem to have been plucked from a bygone era.

One of the most striking features of Penzance’s layout is its compact nature. The town is relatively small and easily navigable, with winding streets leading to picturesque squares and hidden courtyards that offer a sense of intimacy and charm. This compact layout means that no matter where you find yourself, you are never too far from the sea, which serves as both a natural boundary and an ever-present reminder of the town’s maritime heritage.

But don’t be fooled by Penzance’s small size – this town has plenty of surprises up its sleeve. Venture down any one of the winding streets, and you might stumble upon a hidden garden or a quirky shop selling artisanal wares. Or, make your way up to the top of the hill, and you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views of St Michael’s Mount and the surrounding coastline. The layout of Penzance may be compact, but it is full of character and surprises, just waiting to be discovered.

How to Get to Penzance

Driving to Penzance with Pirate FM

Are ye ready for a swashbuckling adventure? 

Well, you most likely won’t be arriving by hoisting the main but, there be several other ways to get here!

If ye prefer to keep yer boots dry, Penzance is still very well connected to the rest of the UK. So, hop aboard a train from London, or a bus from Bristol, or just drive down from ya granny’s… Or if ye fancy a bit of a challenge, why not cycle or hike your way down, taking in the rugged beauty of the South West along the way? 

Arrrr, whatever way ye choose, Penzance be waiting for ye…

Driving: By car, Penzance lies at end of the A30, which runs through the length of Cornwall. From the A30 it’s super simple, you can just follow any of the signs for Penzance, and once you’re in the town, there are plenty of car parks.

Train: If you prefer to travel by train, Penzance has its own station, which is served by Great Western Railway. The train journey from London Paddington to Penzance takes around 5 hours, and there are also direct trains from other major UK cities such as Bristol and Birmingham.

Bus: National Express operates services to Penzance from various UK locations, including London, Bristol, and Birmingham. Once you arrive there are local bus services and taxis available to help you get around the town and explore the surrounding area.

Flight: While there’s no airport in Penzance you can fly into Newquay Airport, which is about an hour away. From there, you can rent a car or take a taxi. There are local buses to Penzance from Newquay, but they may not be so frequent and can take double the time of a car to arrive.

What to See and Do in Penzance

penzance swimming pool

You could cool down with a fresh stroll along the promenade whilst enjoying the stunning views of Mount’s Bay, or warm up by dipping your toes into the UK’s first geothermal lido pool. For a dose of art visit the Penlee House Gallery and Museum, with exhibits on the town’s history. For nature lovers, Morrab Gardens is a must-see, with its exotic plants and tranquil atmosphere. And, of course, no visit to Penzance would be complete without trying a famous Cornish pasty.

A Promenade Stroll

The promenade is lined with palm trees, benches, and cafes, making it a perfect spot to relax and people-watch. With views of the iconic St Michael’s Mount and in the evening, some of the best sunsets around.

The Jubilee Pool 

jubiliee pool penzance

This historic art deco lido (classic English beach swimming pool thingo) was built in the 1930s and has been recently renovated. located on the promenade it’s the perfect place to cool off on a hot summer’s day and enjoy a swim in the saltwater pool.

In recent years, the pool has undergone major renovations. The refurbishment included the installation of a geothermal heating system, which allows the pool to remain open year-round and reduces its carbon footprint.

The pool’s Art Deco architecture and stunning sea views also make it a popular spot for tourists, but it remains a beloved local hangout for swimming, sunbathing, and socializing. Some locals even describe it as the “heart” of Penzance.

Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens

This unique destination combines the drama of the landscape with large-scale exotic, sub-tropical gardens, and inspiring art by internationally renowned artists. Nestled in a beautiful sheltered valley overlooking St Michael’s Mount, with woods and a stream, Tremenheere features an evolving programme of contemporary artwork that will leave you awestruck.

Penlee House Gallery and Museum

This unique museum features an impressive collection of art, history, and archaeology. You’ll be wowed by the interactive exhibits that bring history to life, and the engaging displays that showcase the works of some of the most talented artists in the world. The perfect place to explore the treasures of the past. 

Walk up to St. Michael’s Mount 

Marazion and St Michaels Mount in the background

Located on a stunning island in the Bay of the same name St Michael’s Mount features a picturesque castle, beautiful gardens, and breathtaking views of the sea. Stories of knights, pirates, and mermaids surround this magical place. Whether you’re exploring the castle, hiking the trails, or simply soaking up the beauty of your surroundings, this is definitely one thing you shouldn’t miss.

Ancient Stones

Ya like rocks? Perfect!

The areas around Penzance have some of the most unique ancient stone formations in Cornwall.

One of the most famous sites is the Merry Maidens, a circle of 19 standing stones that are said to represent a group of maidens who were turned to stone for dancing on the Sabbath. 

Nearby is the Pipers, a group of three stones that are said to have been turned to stone for playing music on the Sabbath.

Another must-see site is Men-an-Tol, a unique formation consisting of three upright stones with a round hole in the centre. According to legend, passing through the hole can cure various ailments and illnesses.

Eating and Drinking

From traditional Cornish pubs to award-winning seafood restaurants, Penzance is a foodie’s paradise. Here are some of the best places to eat that will leave your taste buds bouncing:

The Shore: This award-winning seafood restaurant located on the promenade offers an unforgettable dining experience. The menu changes daily based on the catch of the day, ensuring that every dish is as fresh as it can be. You can pair your meal with a selection of fine wines and cocktails while enjoying the serene view of the sea.

The Cornish Barn: If you’re looking for a hearty and authentic Cornish dining experience, The Cornish Barn is your go-to. Run by a local family, this restaurant prides itself on sourcing its ingredients locally to provide you with the best of Cornish cuisine. Feast on traditional dishes such as pasties, fish and chips, and sticky toffee pudding.

The Artist Residence: This boutique hotel has a restaurant that serves modern British cuisine with a focus on locally sourced ingredients. The menu features dishes such as roasted cauliflower, lamb rump, and chocolate brownie, all with a contemporary twist. The chic decor and ambience of the restaurant make it a unique and trendy dining experience.

The Dolphin Tavern: This historic pub in the heart of Penzance has been serving up classic pub food for over 500 years. The pub’s menu includes traditional dishes such as fish and chips, pies, and Sunday roasts. The rustic charm and historic character of the pub make it a must-visit spot for a cosy and homely meal.

Mount Haven Restaurant: This restaurant boasts a stunning location overlooking St Michael’s Mount, providing a breathtaking backdrop to your dining experience. The menu features modern British cuisine with a focus on seafood, including dishes such as crab linguine, scallops, and lemon posset. The combination of fine dining and stunning views make this an unforgettable dining experience.

The Admiral Benbow: This historic pub is known for its pirate-themed decor, making it the go-to unique dining spot for something quirky. The pub serves a range of real ales and classic pub dishes such as steak and ale pie, fish and chips, and burgers. The lively atmosphere and pirate-inspired charm make it a fun and entertaining place to grab a bite.

The Bakehouse: For a casual mid-day munch this quaint bakery and cafe located in the heart of Penzance is a perfect spot. The Bakehouse serves freshly baked bread, pastries, and cakes, and also has a range of light lunch options. The aroma of freshly baked delight wafting through the air is sure to transport you to food heaven.

Where to Stay

From a converted Methodist chapel to a historic pub inn, Penzance has a slice of all the accommodation pies. Enjoy stunning sea views at the luxurious Lugger Hotel, or soak up the quirky ambience at the Artist Residence. With such a wide range of options, you’re sure to find the perfect spot to put your legs up when the sun’s down.

The Lugger Hotel: This charming hotel is located in the heart of Penzance’s historic harbour, providing stunning views of the sea and nearby St. Michael’s Mount. The hotel’s luxurious rooms and suites are beautifully furnished with unique decor, creating a cosy and elegant atmosphere. The hotel also features a restaurant serving fresh and locally sourced seafood, making it a perfect spot for a romantic dinner.

The Chapel House: This unique and stylish bed and breakfast is housed in a converted Methodist chapel, providing guests with a one-of-a-kind experience. The rooms are beautifully designed with a mix of contemporary and vintage decor, creating a cosy and eclectic ambience. The Chapel House also features a charming courtyard garden, perfect for relaxing with a cup of tea or a glass of wine.

The Old Coastguard: This stylish hotel is situated in the village of Mousehole, just a short drive from Penzance. The hotel has cosy rooms with stunning sea views, and a restaurant serving locally sourced seafood and seasonal produce. The Old Coastguard also offers a range of fun activities, such as wild swimming, hiking, and kayaking, making it a perfect spot for adventure-seeking travellers.

Artist Residence: This boutique hotel is located in the heart of Penzance’s historic town centre, housed in a beautifully restored Georgian building. The hotel’s rooms are individually designed with unique artwork and decor, creating a fun and quirky ambience. The hotel also has a popular restaurant serving modern British cuisine, as well as a cosy cocktail bar.

The Queens Hotel: This historic hotel has been a Penzance landmark since 1862, and has hosted famous guests such as J.M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan. The hotel features elegant rooms with sea views, a beautiful garden, and a cosy lounge bar. The Queens Hotel also offers a range of fun activities, such as wine tasting and garden tours, making it a perfect spot for a relaxing and indulgent stay.

YHA Penzance Hostel: This affordable hostel offers comfortable and clean accommodation at a fraction of the cost of other options in the area.

Located just a short walk from the town centre and the train station this hostel features a variety of room options, from private rooms to dormitories, all equipped with comfortable beds and shared bathroom facilities.

And there’s a communal kitchen to prepare your own meals and save even more money on dining out. 

Shopping in Penzance

Browse handmade crafts at the local markets, pick up a vintage treasure at Retro Chic, or sample locally made chocolates at Chocolarder. Penzance is also home to many independent bookstores, art galleries, and music shops. Whether you’re searching for a one-of-a-kind souvenir or just love a browse, there’s the whole variety basket.

For your basic grocery needs, there are large supermarkets dotted about town, including Tesco, Morrisons, and Co-op. These are all located within walking distance of the town centre, so they’re convenient for picking up essentials.

If you’re looking for more specialty or local products, there are several independent shops and markets. I highly recommend checking out the weekly Penzance Farmers Market, held every Friday at St. John’s Hall. Here you can find a variety of local produce, meats, cheeses, and baked goods, all sold by the farmers and producers themselves.

Archie Browns, is a health food store that offers a range of organic and vegetarian products. There’s also the Cornish Food Box Company, which delivers locally sourced produce and goods straight to your door.

And of course, if you’re in the mood for some fresh seafood, be sure to check out the local fishmongers, like Stevenson’s, who offer a variety of fresh fish and shellfish caught daily in the waters around Penzance.

Surrounding Area 

If you’re looking for adventure beyond Penzance, fear not, as there’s plenty to do nearby! First on the list is a visit to the Minack Theatre, a stunning open-air theatre carved into the cliffs overlooking the sea. For nature lovers, St. Michael’s Mount is a must-visit, a tidal island with a medieval castle and stunning gardens. If you’re feeling sporty, head to the surf town of St. Ives for some world-class waves, or take a hike along the rugged coastline of the Land’s End Peninsula. And for those seeking a taste of history, the nearby town of Marazion boasts ancient stone circles and standing stones.


Go to The Isles of Scilly
Once known as the ‘Gateway to the Scillies’, Penzance has long been the favoured launch point for those seeking to explore the stunning Isles of Scilly. While the loss of the helicopter service and flight options from Newquay and Exeter may have diluted this claim somewhat, Penzance remains the only place where you can sail to the Scilly Isles from.

Thankfully, the Scillonian III ferry continues to run from Penzance harbour from the end of March until the beginning of November. While the journey may take 2 hours in each direction, it is by far the most affordable option for those looking to reach the Scilly Isles. And WOW, it worth the trip!

Penzance – A Pirates Playground

This may be the end of the railway but Penzance is far from the end of the adventure. There’s enough here to keep you occupied for weeks on end, and that’s 

without even considering its proximity to many of Cornwall’s other gems.