Are you searching for things to do in Penzance? This West Cornwall town has plenty to offer tourists, from beautiful beaches to historic castles to an intriguing history.
This blog post details all of the best Penzance attractions, so you can make sure that you don’t miss anything while you’re visiting.
Penzance is the most westerly major town in Cornwall and mainland Britain. Its name has evolved from Pensans, which means ‘holy headland’ in Cornish.
Surrounding Marazion and Mousehole both have much more historic harbours, and they were historically more significant places. However, Penzance harbour developed over the 16th and 17th centuries.
Many people know about Penzance because of the Pirates of Penzance. You’d think that this is a play about Cornish pirates – but it actually has nothing to do with Penzance other than the name (and most locals don’t like the play!).
In terms of actual Cornish pirates, they did exist – but the pirates who left their mark on the town were the Barbary pirates. These pirates came from what is now Morocco and pillaged Devon and Cornwall, taking thousands of men, women and children and capturing them as slaves. Penzance certainly suffered hugely at the hand of these bandits, and they are still remembered throughout the town.
In the 17th century, the Spaniards came to town – after the Spanish Armada, they landed at Mousehole and burnt the village to the ground. They also attacked Penzance and Newlyn before being defeated by the British army.
Up until the 18th century, coastal Cornwall (notably the South coast) revolved around the smuggling trade.
Things to do in Penzance
Jubilee Pool is an open-air swimming pool and is one of the most popular Penzance attractions. It has two parts – the open-air art deco seawater pool and the geothermal pool, which is usually 10 degrees or so warmer!
However, if you’re visiting on a hot day, the Jubilee Pool isn’t too cold. It’s a great place to have a swim and enjoy the sun – there is a cafe on-site, but there aren’t any loungers (take camping chairs if you want somewhere to sit!).
A session for the main pool costs £6, and the geothermal pool costs £10.
If you want to learn a little more about the fascinating history of Penzance and go around the main tourist attractions, I recommend doing a walking tour. Anna has lived in Penzance for years and knows tonnes about the history and culture of the town. She will take you around all the main sites and detail stories of its intriguing past.
Tours are free on Wednesdays at 4 pm, and Sundays at 10 am. You can do tours at other times, but these cost £6.50 per person. The meeting point is outside Penzance Railway Station, but currently, you must book in advance. See Anna’s website here.
You can also do a self-guided walking tour around Penzance’s main tourist attractions. See directions here.
Admiral Benbow Inn
The Admiral Benbow Inn is one of the most historic pubs in Penzance. This pub has a long history of smuggling, and nowadays has a famous statue of a pirate sitting on top!
It’s worth popping into the Admiral Benbow for a drink – the inn used to be owned by Roland Morris, a famous wreck diver, and he decorated the interior with lots of treasures found on the shipwrecks. So it’s a really unique place for a drink!
If you’re interested in shipwrecks and treasure, don’t miss the Shipwreck Treasure Museum, which is one of the best things to do in Charlestown in southeast Cornwall.
Chapel Street is probably the most famous street to walk down in Penzance town centre. it is full of independent shops and fascinating historical buildings, each with its own story to tell.
The Egyptian House is one of the most prominent. This is a Georgian house that has no link to Egypt, other than the decor – it was simply fashionable to have this sort of decoration at the time.
Also, don’t miss the Turk’s Head. Chapel Street is thought to be the oldest pub in Penzance, and there are reportedly tunnels from the pub that leads down to the harbour – which would have been used for smuggling. A pub has been on this site since the 12th century.
It is called the Turk’s Head because, in the days of Barbary Pirates, everyone from Africa/ Asia was called Turks (not politically correct at all, I know, but we’re talking about uneducated people in the 15th-17th centuries). They managed to capture and behead one of these pirates and hung it outside this pub for all to see. It’s retained this name until today!
A little further down the street is the house where Maria Branwell lived, the mother of the Bronte sisters. She was from a prosperous family in Penzance but moved up to Yorkshire to be with Patrick Bronte, who was from a much poorer family.
Penlee House Gallery and Museum
Penlee House Gallery & Museum acts as the town museum, detailing stories from the history of Penzance and West Cornwall specifically.
Situated in a Victorian manor house, the museum focuses on history from the Stone Age to the present day. The art gallery has artists from Newlyn School, a group of artists who began the Plein Air movement (painting entire pictures outdoors) in the country. Newlyn School members included Walter Langley and Stanhope Forbes.
These beautiful gardens are one of the best places to visit in Penzance. The Morrab Gardens stretch from the seafront to the heart of Penzance town centre.
Because of West Cornwall’s sub-tropical location, you’ll find plants here that you won’t see elsewhere on the British isles, including banana plants, palm trees, and Japanese bitter orange trees.
There are also manmade features, like a Boer War memorial, a fountain and a bandstand.
It is free to enter the Morrab Gardens.
Visit nearby Mousehole
With narrow streets and a gorgeous harbour, Mousehole (pronounced Mowzel) is one of the most beautiful villages in Cornwall. It has a long history spanning back through the 13th century and before – it was once a much more important settlement than Penzance.
There are quite a few things that you can do in Mousehole. Elaine is a local who runs walking tours, telling people about the history. You can also enjoy the beach, go swimming or stand up paddle boarding, go shopping or eat at some of the cafes, or even walk to the nearby village of Paul to find the grave of the last monoglot Cornish speaker!
St Michael’s Mount
St Michael’s Mount is one of the best things to do in Penzance for families, couples – or anyone really!
It is a castle on its own island, which is connected to the mainland by a causeway. The island is located in nearby Marazion, but you can see it from Penzance bay.
This National Trust owned castle has a long history spanning back to ancient times when it was a place of pilgrimage, although the Medieval castle was built in the 12th century. It was a hotbed of conflict and violence for centuries, although it has enjoyed relative peace and stability since the Civil War period.
You can visit the castle and learn all about its fascinating history, as well as seeing the gorgeous gardens and walking around the island itself, taking in excellent views of the Cornish coast at every turn. There is also a cafe and gift shop on the island.
If you are a National Trust member, your visit is free – although you may still need to pay for a boat crossing if you are unable to use the causeway.
Trengwainton Garden is a National Trust run property situated just inland from Penzance. With colourful flowers, woodland paths, wide-open spaces and beautiful sea views from specific points, these manicured gardens are an excellent place for an afternoon stroll.
Various parts of the gardens are accessible for visitors in a wheelchair, and multiple areas have been designated as silent spaces where you can enjoy nature and reflect. Dogs on leads are welcome.
To get to Trengwainton Garden, it’s a 7 minute drive from Penzance town centre, or you can take the 18 bus.
There are quite a few incredible wineries in Cornwall, and Polgoon vineyard is no exception – it’s definitely one of the best things to do in Penzance.
In this lush vineyard, the owners make wine, cider and soft drinks (all certified vegan). You can visit for a guided or self-guided tour – both options include a walk around the vineyard and a tasting at the end. It costs 10 for a self-guided tour and £15 for a guided tour.
Visit the beaches near Penzance
There are plenty of sandy beaches around Penzance, ideal for spending an afternoon relaxing on!
- Pedn Vounder Beach is often thought of as one of the best beaches in West Cornwall. It is a bit difficult to get to – there is no car park right by the beach, and you need to walk 45 minutes to get there – but it has stunning white sands and gorgeous blue waters.
- Long Rock Beach is one of the closest beaches to Penzance. A popular family beach, it spans from Mount’s Bay to Marazion. Although there is no lifeguard cover, it is a popular place for swimming and windsurfing (but Marazion lifeguards can cover the eastern end in the busy months).
- Perranuthnoe Beach is a popular sandy beach, just down from the village of Perranuthnoe. There is no lifeguard cover at the beach, although there are two cafes in the village.
- Marazion Beach is a lovely long sandy beach, with epic views over the water to St Michael’s Mount and lots of watersports opportunities. Due to its proximity to St Michael’s Mount, it is very popular.
- Lamorna Cove Beach is located between Penzance and Mousehole. It’s a beautiful spot, popular with swimmers – although there is no lifeguard service. Be careful if you are using the car park – it must be paid for, even if you are only there for a moment – lots of people have been fined. It is cash only.
- Mousehole Beach is a charming stretch of sand in Mousehole village, the perfect accompaniment to a day trip there. There is no lifeguard cover, but it is a famous beach, and the harbour is calm and favoured by paddleboarders. There is also a rocky beach on the eastern side of the village.
- Praa Sands Beach is known for its beautiful white sands. It is popular with families in the summer and has a full lifeguard service. It is a 20 minute drive from Penzance town centre, or you can take the U4 bus.
Hike to Porthcurno
The South West Coast Path traverses through Penzance, and you can enjoy coastal walks on both sides. From Penzance, you could hike all the way to Porthcurno. This is easy at first as you walk through Newlyn and Mousehole and a little more challenging as you walk around Lamorna.
Hike to Praa Sands
In the other direction, you can take the South West Coast Path to Marazion and St Micheal’s Mount and then venture to Praa Sands. This is a fairly easy walk, and Praa Sands Beach is a lovely place to end the day!
Things to do in Newlyn
Meaderies are popular throughout Cornwall, particularly in the west – and there is one to enjoin Newlyn.
Mead is a beverage that is made by fermenting water and honey. It has historically been popular throughout Cornwall, although more so in Medieval times.
Newlyn Meadery pays homage to this with its Medieval theme. This restaurant is famous for its mead, but that’s not all they serve – you can get other Cornish beverages, as well as food for any dietary requirement.
If you’re looking for unique restaurants in Cornwall, Newlyn Meadery is definitely a place to visit!
Seafood in Newlyn
Newlyn is famous for fishing – it has one of the biggest fishing fleets in the country and a vast harbour. The fishing industry has historically been critical to Cornwall, and it remains so today – with Newlyn being one of its hubs.
If you like seafood, you can guarantee that you’ll find fresh produce in Newlyn. There is a busy fish market where fresh fish is sold every day, and you can also visit the Newlyn Fish Festival, which is held on the August bank holiday every year.
Newlyn Art Gallery
Cornwall is an arty place, and one of these creative enclaves is Newlyn, which is considered “the new St Ives”. You can learn all about this and see some contemporary art at Newlyn Art Gallery & The Exchange.
With various exhibitions focusing on modern art, some permanent and others temporary, as well as many workshops and events, there’s plenty to marvel at here. This is ideal for when you are wondering what to do in Penzance on a rainy day!
Where is Penzance?
Penzance is the furthest west major town in Cornwall, sitting just 10 miles from Land’s End!
How to get to Penzance
Although Penzance is quite far away from most places in the country, it is fairly easy to get to. The town is connected to London, Reading, Exeter, Plymouth and other towns in Cornwall by a National Rail service. There are also coach services.
It sits on the A30 which terminates in Exeter and by the M5, so it is also quite easy to get to if you are driving. Just a word of warning – the A30 can be incredibly busy, especially during the popular summer months!
Where to park in Penzance
I always park in Penzance Harbour Car Park. This is convenient for the town centre, and it’s always got lots of spaces.
Things to do around Penzance
Often thought of as the gateway to West Cornwall, there are lots of things that you can do around Penzance!
Land’s End is one of the best places to visit in Cornwall. It is the furthest southwestern point of the UK, sitting 970 kilometres from John O Groats in Scotland.
Nowadays, there are many things to do in Land’s End, including Merlin’s Adventure experience and dinosaur exhibit! Or, you could stand on the end of the country, looking out over the crashing waves…
St Ives is one of the most popular places to visit in Cornwall, but that doesn’t make it any less charming. It’s a beautiful village that has attracted artists from all over the world.
There are many things to do in St Ives, including the TATE Gallery, Barbara Hepworth Sculpture Gardens, and Seal Island, which has its own seal colony.
It’s also a lovely place just to walk around, enjoy the food scene, and of course, hit the beach!
The Minack Theatre is located in Porthcurno and is one of Cornwall’s most popular tourist attractions. Built by Rowena Cade, the Minack Theatre is a beautiful open-air auditorium that contrasts with the blue waters.
It costs £10 to visit, and tickets to the open-air theatre should be purchased in advance (especially in the summer). You can either drive or take the A1 bus to Porthcurno. Porthcurno also has the Telegraph Museum and Porthcurno Beach, both popular attractions.
Sennen Cove is a beautiful beach just half a mile from Lands End. It’s very isolated, but still gets very busy in the summer, as it is a large stretch that is popular with surfers. There is a beach bar on site, and plenty of golden sands to enjoy!
The Lizard is an incredible destination in Cornwall. Jutting out from the county’s south coast, encompassing a few miles of rugged coastline until it terminates at Lizard Point, it’s a place of excellent walks, beautiful beaches, and rural living.
Must visit places on the Lizard are Kynance Cove, Poldhu Cove, Roskilly’s Farm, Cagdwith, Coverack, and Lizard Point, the southernmost point of mainland UK.
You could also visit the Helston Museum of Cornish life, which is located in Helston, just before the Lizard Peninsula. See all of the best things to do in Helston here.
On the other side of the Lizard is Falmouth, one of my favourite towns in Cornwall and home to popular tourist attractions Pendennis Castle and the National Maritime Museum. Here are all the best things to do in Falmouth.
Truro is Cornwall’s only city, and it is home to the Royal Cornwall Museum (the best history museum focusing on Cornish culture) and Truro Cathedral, amongst other attractions. It’s also a popular place to go shopping. Here are all of the best things to do in Truro!
Where to stay in Penzance
- The Longboat Inn is located right by Penzance station and is a friendly pub with cosy rooms above. All rooms are en-suite and have HD TVs and tea and coffee making facilities. You can enjoy breakfast downstairs each day. Click here to read more about the accommodation and to book.
- The Dolphin Tavern is a historic pub on Penzance Harbour with comfortable rooms, all furnished with a wardrobe and flat-screen TV. Breakfast is served at the Dolphin Tavern each morning, with vegetarian options available. Click here to read more and to reserve your room.
- Hotel Penzance is a 4 star property with modern, stylish rooms and beautiful views across Penzance Bay. There is a swimming pool and Mediterranean gardens on-site, as well as a guest lounge displaying modern artwork. There is also a restaurant serving modern European cuisine with an outdoor decked terrace area. Click here to read more and book your stay.
The best Penzance attractions!
From learning about its history to enjoying the beaches, there are so many fun things to do in Penzance. Follow this guide on your visit, and you’ll be able to see the very best of the town!
Also, check out the rest of my Cornwall posts to plan the rest of your holiday to this beautiful part of the country.