During our family’s time backpacking across Europe, we visited lots of exciting, famous cities. But if you ask us our favorite place, you’re likely to hear a reply of “Penzance!” Read on for the best things to do in Penzance and find out why we love this hidden gem!
Located on the southwest edge of England, in Cornwall, Penzance is a lovely coastal town. We lived in Penzance for one month in a cozy house called the Yellow Blossom Cottage, and it’s still one of our favorite places from all of our travels.
During our time there, we toured a castle that’s only accessible when the tide is out, explored the many walking trails and found a secret tree swing, ate the best fish and chips in the world, discovered the delicious wonders that are Cornish pasties, had a tea party, and stole a coin from a pirate’s grave (more on this later).
Best things to do in Penzance: Quick Guide
- St. Michael’s Mount – Walk to the island at low tide and tour the castle
- Minack Theatre – See a performance with the ocean as your backdrop
- Chapel Street – Explore the shops and restaurants and unique architecture along this historic street
- Morrab Gardens – Wander among a variety of beautiful plants and flowers at these public gardens
- Penzance Promenade – Stroll along the waterfront while enjoying some fresh fish and chips
- Jubilee Pool – Take a dip in this geothermal heated pool
Things to do in Penzance, Cornwall
If you’re looking for the ultimate British seaside getaway, look no further than Penzance. With its picturesque harbor, waterfront promenade, and relaxed small town energy, Penzance is the perfect escape from city life.
Whether you prefer to kick back and relax, or put on your adventurer boots, we’ve got you covered. There’s something for everyone, from history buffs and nature lovers to souvenir hunters, foodies, and beach bums!
Iconic Sites and Legends
Penzance is steeped in history with landmarks wrapped in legend, providing plenty to explore on your visit. Let’s start with the biggest and best: a castle you can only visit when the ocean allows!
1. Tour St. Michael’s Mount
St Michael’s Mount is a sight to behold, sitting majestically off the coast of Marazion. Accessible by walking the cobblestone causeway at low tide, or by boat, this island boasts a medieval castle with layers of history and folklore. It’s a perfect day trip where you can uncover tales of giant slayers and enchanted mirrors.
From our cottage, we had a perfect view of the castle out in the water. On certain nights, they light up the castle, and it was always a joy to see!
Near the end of our stay, we made our way to Marazion Beach and walked the causeway to the castle. That experience alone was incredible, but exploring the castle was another adventure!
On the hike up to the top of the hill, there are several landmarks to look for, including the Giant’s Heart. Find the big rock by the “Giant’s Heart” sign on the side of the path, and then look for the small heart-shaped stone in the walkway!
Fans of the Game of Thrones series might be interested to know that St. Michael’s Mount was used as the filming location for Driftmark in House of the Dragon — a fact I learned after returning home to the US and watching the show. As soon as they showed the carriages trekking up the coastal causeway, I recognized it immediately!
Head to St. Michael’s Mount official website for access times and to buy tour tickets.
2. See a show at Minack Theatre
Imagine watching a play with the Atlantic Ocean as your backdrop. That’s what you’ll get at the Minack Theatre, an open-air venue carved into the cliffs. With its dramatic setting, it’s a must-see for theatre lovers.
Don’t miss the chance to see “The Pirates of Penzance” performed in its namesake town — a place that evokes the era of swashbuckling legends.
The theatre runs shows from May to September, providing both matinee and evening performances. Plus, it’s more than a theatre — it’s a garden with spectacular views, so arrive early to enjoy!
If you’re looking to breathe in the fresh coastal air and immerse yourself in nature, Penzance and its surroundings are a treasure trove waiting to be explored.
3. Explore one of the many walking paths
There are lots of public walking paths all over Penzance — we had one that passed right by our front gate before disappearing into the woods. These public access trails are a great way to get some exercise while exploring!
Check the official Cornwall public rights of way website for an interactive map showing all the walking trails.
After months of city-dwelling, we were thrilled to send our kids out into the woods to explore. And they were thrilled to find several exciting paths, including one that led to a rope swing!
It was an everyday occurrence for them to pack up their lunch and head to the swing, and that’s one of their favorite memories from all of our travels.
4. Stroll the Penzance Promenade
From the Penzance Promenade, you can get a stunning, panoramic view of the Penzance Harbour as you enjoy a serene walk along the waterfront. I won’t tell you how to live your life, but if you don’t have a bag of chips to enjoy along the way, you may be doing it wrong.
We loved these big “beach pebbles!”
5. Visit Land’s End
A short drive from Penzance you’ll find Land’s End, the most westerly point of mainland England. It’s known for its breathtaking coastal landscapes, rugged cliffs, and awe-inspiring views of the Atlantic Ocean.
One of its famous features is the Land’s End signpost, which displays the distances to various international locations, making it a popular spot for memorable photos.
Additionally, there’s a visitor center with shops, dining options, and family-friendly attractions, making it a must-visit spot for anyone looking to experience Cornwall’s natural beauty and maritime heritage.
6. Hike the South West Coast Path
While at Land’s End, be sure to hike that section of the South West Coast Path, England’s longest waymarked long-distance footpath and a National Trail. You’ll be rewarded with some of the most breathtaking views of Cornwall’s coastline.
7. Sennen Cove
Turn your jaunt to Land’s End into a full day trip by heading to Sennen Cove, a sweeping white sand beach ideal for both surf enthusiasts and families. Then, wrap up your visit to Land’s End with dinner at one of the local restaurants for some of the freshest seafood you’ll ever eat!
Gardens and Natural Beauty
Amidst the coastal charm, Penzance is home to luscious gardens where you can admire a variety of plants and flowers, such as magnolias and camellias, adding bursts of color to your day.
8. Morrab Gardens
Morrab Gardens is a peaceful, subtropical oasis filled with colorful flowers, exotic plants, and Victorian architecture. It’s perfect for a relaxing stroll or just chilling out with a book.
With its winding paths and tranquil atmosphere, it’s an ideal escape from the hustle of everyday life. This hidden gem, right in the city, is a must-visit for a bit of calm and beauty.
9. Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens
Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens is a really cool spot where visitors can see amazing art pieces outside among beautiful plants and trees. It’s like walking through a hidden valley filled with surprises, where every turn shows you something different — from big sculptures to neat little art pieces.
Our cottage was near the sculpture gardens, and we could even see a few of the installations from our yard!
10. Trengwainton Gardens
Trengwainton Gardens in Cornwall is a fantastic place to visit if you’re looking for a mix of beautiful gardens and a bit of history. It’s known for its lush, exotic plants and amazing views over Mount’s Bay.
The garden paths wind through different sections, each with its own vibe, from serene ponds to flower-packed borders.
Sun and Surf
Whether you’re looking to soak up the sunshine or take a refreshing dip, Penzance has an array of beach options for your perfect day on the sand.
11. Jubilee Pool
The Jubilee Pool is a must-visit with its magnificent Art Deco design providing a safe sea swimming experience. As a geothermal lido, the temperatures are just right for a pleasant swim at any time of year!
Time your visit with the tides – high tide fills the pool with fresh seawater, while low tide reveals the pool’s unique shape and is a perfect time for sunbathing.
You’ll find changing rooms and a cafe at the pool, so you can go for the whole day!
12. Catch some rays and waves
Head to Long Rock Beach or adjacent Marazion Beach and spend some time soaking up the sun and playing in the sand.
Or, trek slightly further east to Praa Sands Beach. Known for its long stretch of white sands, Praa Sands Beach is a haven for surfers with consistent waves.
When you visit Penzance, you can enjoy authentic Cornish cuisine and the freshest seafood imaginable. I’m still dreaming of the Cornish pasties, scones, and fish & chips.
13. Eat a Cornish pasty
You can of course sit down and enjoy a meal, but we usually prefer to grab takeaway to enjoy while having adventures (takeaway is the term for “to go” in Britain, for you Americans)! While exploring the town in Penzance, we discovered Warrens Bakery and their Cornish pasties.
If you don’t know, Cornish pasties are baked turnovers with a crimped edge, filled with meat and veggies. We visited Penzance in the winter, so their warm, crispy goodness was a delicious savory treat as we walked around town!
14. Have cream tea
Cornish cream tea is not a type of tea — it’s a whole experience. It consists of freshly baked scones, often warm and slightly crumbly, served with generous dollops of clotted cream and strawberry jam, enjoyed alongside your choice of tea.
Many local cafes and restaurants serve cream tea in Penzance, or you can make your own at home!
15. Eat the best fish & chips
Down by the Promenade, head straight to Fraser’s Fish & Chips for the most delicious lunch. We stopped by to order fish and chips for the whole family on a sunny but chilly day, and it was one of the best meals I ate during our time in Europe.
After eating our meal, the kids had fun playing on a nearby, pirate-themed playground!
16. Enjoy a leisurely lunch at the Coldstreamer Inn
The Coldstreamer Inn was our favorite place to eat in Penzance (actually in nearby Gulval). Yes, it was basically the only restaurant we could walk to from our remote cottage (and even then it was a trek), but the food was always amazing.
I could describe it, but I think a picture will do it justice.
Eating this delicious, hearty food by the fire on a cold day was such a treat!
Exploring Penzance’s Rich History
Penzance is a town steeped in history. As you wander through its streets, you’ll discover tales of its past, shaped by both land and sea.
17. Chapel Street
Take a walk down historic Chapel Street and you’ll encounter buildings from a variety of periods and styles. Among them is the Egyptian House, with its distinctive ornate façade that grabs your attention among the many boutique shops and pubs.
18. The Egyptian House
Architectural enthusiasts will appreciate the Egyptian House on Chapel Street. Its unique façade, built in the 19th century, is a rare example of Egyptian Revival architecture in the UK.
You can book one of the three apartments and stay here! You’ll experience a piece of Egypt in the heart of Cornwall!
19. Gulval Church and Cemetery
If you took my advice to eat at the Coldstreamer Inn, stop by the Gulval Church while you’re nearby. After admiring the beautiful, quaint church and grounds, look for the grave of Pirate John ‘Eyebrows’ Thomas. Read more about this mysterious man here on The Cornish Bird blog!
People tend to leave coins on the skull and crossbones on the grave and, well, I took one. Come on, how many people can say they stole treasure from a pirate’s grave?! I told my husband I’d return it if things suddenly turned badly for us, but it’s only been uphill ever since, so maybe it’s more of a pirate’s blessing than a curse?
Art and Culture in Penzance
When you explore Penzance, you’ll notice the fusion of historical significance and modern influence in the art scene. The town boasts a rich heritage in visual arts, partly due to the influence of the Newlyn School, and it continues to foster a vibrant community for creators.
20. The Exchange
Another unique building and beloved landmark on Chapel Street is The Exchange, a former telephone exchange turned into a modern art gallery. Explore the latest exhibits amid the original industrial feel of the building as history meets the modern world.
21. Newlyn School of Art
Emerging in the late 19th century, the Newlyn School was a group of artists who were drawn to the quality of light and everyday life in Cornwall. The most notable among them include Walter Langley and Stanhope Forbes, whose works captured the essence of Cornwall.
Today, aspiring artists can take courses at the Newlyn School of Art, taught by many of the best-known artists in Cornwall. They offer a variety of short courses taught over 1-3 days. Visit their official site to see what’s coming up!
22. Penlee House Gallery & Museum
Art aficionados will love the Penlee House Gallery & Museum where you can browse exhibits of historic and contemporary art, including paintings from the founders of the Newlyn School.
The grounds are a work of art on their own, so spend some time wandering the gardens, then enjoy lunch at the onsite Orangery Cafe.
Shopping in Penzance
I don’t know about you, but any trip I take is incomplete until I do some local shopping! Luckily, there are several great spots around Penzance for finding a unique souvenir to bring home as a reminder of your time by the shore.
23. Market Jew Street
This was our favorite area to browse shops while visiting Penzance. You can find everyday necessities, delicious snacks, and souvenirs.
One of our kiddos desperately needed new shoes while we were there, and we found him a pair at the shoe store there. I also stopped in at the pharmacy and weighed myself! I was curious after being away from a scale for so long that I used a paid scale for probably the first time in my life, and wouldn’t you know, I’m about 11 stone!
We also enjoyed browsing some home goods shops, grabbing a pastry from the bakery, and visiting The Edge of the World Bookshop!
Frequently Asked Questions about Penzance
The distance between Penzance and London by road is approximately 275 to 300 miles (440 to 480 kilometers), depending on the specific route you take.
The quickest way to travel between Penzance and London is by train. The train journey from London Paddington Station to Penzance Station takes approximately 4.5 to 5.5 hours. This is how we traveled from Penzance to London, and it was a comfortable, convenient way to travel!
If you prefer to drive, you can take the M4 motorway from London to the A30 in Cornwall, which leads to Penzance. The driving distance is around 275 to 300 miles, and the journey can take around 5 to 6 hours, depending on traffic and road conditions.
On our journey back to London, heading to Scotland, we took an overnight bus that left around 11pm from Penzance and dropped us off in London around 6am.
You can enjoy a day out at the Jubilee Pool, a geothermally heated lido perfect for all ages. Also, a visit to St. Michael’s Mount is a must-do and a fascinating experience for both adults and children.
Couples can enjoy a romantic walk along the Promenade, followed by a performance at the Minack Theatre, an open-air venue set on a stunning cliff top overlooking the ocean. Cap off date night with a candlelit dinner in one of the many waterfront seafood restaurants.
Morrab Gardens offers a quiet retreat with its lush plants and serene atmosphere. Chysauster Ancient Village, a short drive away, is an intriguing Iron Age settlement tucked away from the usual tourist spots.
Stroll through the town and admire the historic architecture, or visit Trengwainton Garden where you can wander around its expansive grounds without a fee during certain times of the year. Best of all, head to the beach and enjoy a day on the sand and in the water!
The winter season is perfect for warming up by eating some fresh seafood by the fire in your favorite pub or catching a film at the classic Savoy Cinema, which offers a cozy escape from the chill. And don’t forget that you can swim in the Jubilee Pool year-round!
On rainy days, you might explore the art at Penlee House Gallery & Museum, or take the opportunity to enjoy some Cornish cream tea in one of Penzance’s many quaint cafes.
Like I said in the beginning of this post, Penzance is one of our all-time favorite destinations, and that’s coming from a family who traveled full-time across 12 countries for 4 years!
I hope this helped you learn about all the fun activities and things to do in Penzance and that you’re excited about planning your visit.
We can’t say enough about our time on the “edge of the world” in Cornwall and can’t wait to return again soon!