Top 10 things to do in Penzance
The market town of Penzance is located in the far west of Cornwall and is in fact the last stop on the old Great Western train line. A thriving port throughout the ages, the arrival of the railway transformed Penzance into a major holiday resort. Towards the end of the 19th century it became home to Cornwall's only promenade and later the Jubilee Pool, Britain's largest outdoor lido.
The years have not been kind to Penzance though and as the holiday trade declined nothing took its place. Many current guide books list museums and attractions that are long closed down.
However, it is not all bad. Penzance is an inherently attractive town, with many wonderful granite buildings, particularly around the town's two central parks. It also has a considerable artistic community which is reflected in a number of galleries.
The list below contains a few suggestions of things to do in Penzance and surrounds. I consider myself somewhat of an expert on this as this is my home town!
Running from the town centre down to the harbour is Chapel Street, the most historic street in Penzance. It is an eclectic mix of shops, houses and hotels most of which date back to the 18th century and before. Possibly the most unusual of these is the Egyptian House with its colourful Egyptian styling and sphinx like adornments. Practically every building on Chapel Street has a story with others of note including the Admiral Benbow pub, the Rotterdam Buildings and the Turk's Head pub.
Just around the corner from Chapel Street is The Exchange, a major contemporary art gallery / space. The works featured here range from those of local to international artists. The building itself is of interest; the former telephone exchange was extensively altered to include a huge bowed glass wall illuminated by 100s of coloured LED lights.
Situated within the confines of Penlee Park, this Victorian manor house is now home to a gallery, the town museum and a pleasant café. The gallery specialises in the Newlyn School artists the best know of which were Stanhope Forbes and Walter Langley with regular exhibitions. The museum upstairs is mainly concerned with local history ranging from the stone age onwards. There is also an extensive photographic collection.
Three and a half acres of subtropical garden stretching from the centre of town to the seafront. The gardens contain many exotic plants, rarely seen in other parts of Britain. These include various palms, tree ferns, banana plants and Japanese Bitter Orange. Other features include a bandstand, a fountain and the Boer War memorial.
The Jubilee Pool is the jewel in Penzance's seafront. Positioned on the headland between the Promenade and the harbour this art deco lido is the largest of its kind in Britain. Built to withstand the violent winter storms the pools triangular shape is softened with the sweeping curves we associate with art deco. If you don't fancy a swim there is a small café overlooking the pool - the best spot in town on a summer's day!
The gardens at Trengwainton are now run by the National Trust but were started by the Bolitho family in the mid 19th century. As with Morrab gardens, Trengwainton takes advantage of the mild micro-climate of West Cornwall with many exotic species alongside the magnolias, rhododendrons and camellias. There are also two fantastic walled gardens; the kitchen garden and the smaller lawned garden which is home to the tearooms.
The landscape of West Cornwall is littered with ancient sites dating back to the Stone and Bronze Ages. Some of the most iconic of these are with in a stone's throw (!) of Penzance. These include Lanyon Quoit, the holed stone of Men-an-Tol and the Merry Maidens stone circle. There are many, many more and Penzance is the perfect base for exploring them.
Golowan (meaning Feast of St John) is a recently revived festival held around the midsummer solstice. The opening ceremony involves a torch lit procession down to the quayside led by a figure with a horses skull. The main even it Mazey Day in the town centre with a series of colourful processions, street performers and traders. For the week after there are numerous events and performers from all over the world at a range of venues around the town.
If you are going to spend any time in Penzance then a trip over to the picture perfect fishing village of Mousehole is a must. Once described as the loveliest village in England by poet Dylan Thomas, Mousehole is a jumble of granite cottages clinging to the hillside around a small harbour. The harbour entrance is where the village gets its name from and the harbour is also home to a small sandy beach.
Penzance used to be able to justly claim the title of 'Gateway to the Scillies'. However, since the loss of the helicopter service and options to fly from Newquay and Exeter this claim has been somewhat diluted. But Penzance is still the only place you can sail to the Isles of Scilly from, and is likely to remain that way. The Scillonian III is a ferry running from Penzance harbour from the end of March until the beginning of November. It is by far the cheapest option, although the journey takes 2 hours in each direction.