Penzance (Cornish: Pennsans) is the most south-westerly town in Cornwall. Famous for its association with the Gilbert and Sullivan opera (now often played as a musical) The Pirates of Penzance, the town is an ideal base for exploring the Penwith area of Cornwall. It is increasingly attracting those interested in cultural tourism due to its long association with the arts.
Penzance is the main link with the Isles of Scilly via the spring and summer-only ferry.
By planeCornwall Newquay Airport (NQY) has flights from London (Gatwick & Stanstead), Dublin, Leeds Bradford, Bristol, Manchester and Cardiff. It's about 30 miles (48 km) away from Penzance by A3075 and A30, reckon 45 min by car. Its two disadvantages are (i) most flights are summer only; (ii) public transport is tricky as first you have to get the bus into Newquay (last bus around 6:30PM), then rely on an infrequent bus or branch-line train for connections to Penzance.
Exeter Airport (EXT) is further but may be a simpler option. It has more flights year-round, the airport bus runs until 10PM, and mainline trains run hourly from Exeter to Penzance.
There are flights to the Isles of Scilly from (LEQ) at St Just TR19 7RL, 6 miles (10 km) west of Penzance. Flights operate year-round M-Sa and in summer are every 30 min; flight time is just 15 min so day-trips are feasible. The "Skybus" aircraft are small fixed-wing twin-props (e.g. Twin Otter or BNF Islander) so your total baggage limit is only 15 kg, and flights can be grounded by weather that wouldn't bother an Airbus or 737. There's also a helicopter service, using a 10-seater AW169. Adult fare is from £80 each way, day-trip £120 by "Skybus" and from £120 each way, day-trip £220 by helicopter. (For other transport routes, see Isles of Scilly "Get in".) A bus runs hourly between Penzance railway station and the airport to connect with flights: 20 min, £6 each way, book it along with your flight. By car follow A30 then B3306, long-stay parking is available.
There are plans for a new helipad just outside Penzance, to run helicopters year-round to St Mary's and Tresco in the Isles of Scilly, including on Sundays. This is intended to start service in 2019 but at present is not confirmed.
Direct trains run to Penzance from London Paddington (8 daily, 5 hours), Exeter (8 daily, 2 hours) and Plymouth (15 daily, 2 hours). There are frequent connections to Bristol (4 hours), Birmingham (5 hours) and the north, with one direct service to Sheffield, York, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
There is also an overnight sleeper train, The Night Riviera. This runs Sunday to Friday from London Paddington around 11:30PM, reaching Penzance by 8AM (on Su by M 9AM). The return train leaves Penzance Su-F around 9:30PM to reach Paddington at 5AM; you can stay aboard until 7AM. Book via Great Western (www.gwr.com), with airline seats, or single or double sleeper cabins available.
Other nearby destinations along the main line, served by hourly trains between Penzance and Plymouth, are St Erth (for St Ives), St Austell (for Eden Project), Par (for Newquay), and Bodmin. See National Rail for times and fares; advance booking is usually much cheaper. A Ride Cornwall Ranger is good value for local travel. It allows unlimited off-peak travel within Cornwall, and between Cornwall and Plymouth, by all trains and most buses. "Off-peak" means M-F after 9AM, and all day Sa Su & holidays. An adult day-ticket is £13, children and concessions around £10.
Penzance railway station is at the bottom end of town by the bus station, and a short walk from the ferry terminal. There's not much within the station, but cafes and other facilities in town nearby.
First Kernow bus T1 runs every 30 min between Penzance and Truro (1 hr 45 min), via St Erth, Hayle, Camborne, and Redruth. Change at Truro for Newquay, St Austell and Bodmin. Reaching Plymouth and Exeter by bus is not worth the bother, take the train.
By carPenzance is a 5- to 6-hour drive from London via M4, M5, and A30. It's a long way and at some point you'll need to refuel. Don't be paying motorway prices, there's supermarket petrol at (amongst others) M5 jcn 28 (Cullompton Tesco), A30 Bodmin (Asda, Launceston Rd Bodmin) and A30 Penzance (Tesco).
By boatA ferry plies between Penzance and the Isles of Scilly, daily from mid-March to October. The ferry (Scillonian III) leaves Penzance around 9AM to reach the main island of St Mary's at noon; it returns at 4:30PM for 7:15PM. Only foot passengers are carried. Day-trips allow enough time to visit Tresco, where the Abbey Gardens are the islands' main draw. Booking strongly recommended, and see Isles of Scilly: "Get in" for other ferry practicalities.
For long-stay parking in Penzance while you visit the islands, check Islesofscilly-travel for options, which include:
- For a day-trip, the Council-run long-stay car parks at the Harbour and St Anthony's Gardens charge £8 for 24 hours. They're pay & display so you can't use them for longer stays.
- IOS Parking and Scilly Parking are two firms offering secure long-stay parking, both near the harbour and off-site with shuttle transfer. They're about £5 per day.
Walking is the best way to get around town in Penzance. Newlyn, Mousehole and St Michael's Mount are within hiking distance for healthy adults, but use the bus for those places if there are children, luggage, or dodgy knees or hips involved. Take the bus for:
- Land's End: bus A1 hourly via Newlyn, Lamorna and Porthcurno, one hour, from 7AM to 6PM.
- St Ives: bus A2 hourly via Marazion, St Erth and Lelant, 45 min, from 9AM to 10PM.
(Bus A3 runs hourly between St Ives and Land's End along the B3306 via St Just, Pendeen and Zennor, but doesn't serve Penzance.)
These "A"-buses, operated by First Kernow, are blue open-top double-deckers in summer. For bus travel plus rail, a good deal is the Ride Cornwall Ranger (adult £13) described above. For bus only, buy a Day Rider for £12 (child £6) from the Bus Station or from the driver on boarding - contactless bank cards accepted. Bus drivers also issue Ride Cornwall Rangers, but only for full price, go to the station for concessions.
phone: +44 1736 363625address: Morrab Rd, TR18 4HEThe Newlyn School was an art colony based in nearby Newlyn from the 1880s to the early 20th century. They sought naturalistic scenes of fishing and harbour life, their leaders being Stanhope Forbes and Walter Langley. Penlee House is a Victorian mansion adapted to showcase their work. Though the "School" no longer exists as an art movement, Newlyn continues to inspire art - see that page for classes and its own gallery.
address: TR18 4DAA fine example of a sub-tropical public garden, opened in 1889. "Morreb" is Cornish for "besides the sea".
phone: +44 7831 757934address: Newmill, Penzance, Cornwall, TR20 8XAA village was made up of stone-walled homesteads known as 'courtyard houses', found only on the Land's End peninsula and the Isles of Scilly, dating from 100 BC-300 AD.
address: MarazionAn abbey, then fortified home on an island offshore. At low tide, you can walk across a causeway. At high tide, frequent boats will take you across for £2 each way (£1 for children).
- See Newlyn, an hour's walk or ten minute bus ride, where the Gallery and Fishermen's Memorial Statue are the main sights.
- Land's End is an overpriced tourist trap. If you've come all this way from John O'Groats (e.g. by unicycle, for charity) then you've no option but to continue to the bitter end. But for cliff-top walks and scenery, you'll do better elsewhere, e.g. towards Sennen Cove or the Lizard.
Hike town trailsThe Penzance, Newlyn and Mousehole town trail maps are available from the Penzance Town Council offices and local outlets. These planned walks are an excellent way to see the unique history of the area.
Marine DiscoveryWildlife boat trip for a dolphin-watching and basking shark-watching sea safari tour on a sailing catamaran.
phone: +44 1736 364474address: Morrab Pl, TR18 4DAFor those interested in all things book-related, Penzance has an excellent private library consisting of more than 60,000 volumes, archives and photographic collections. Think floor-to ceiling book cases, leather chairs, and sea views. A book-lover's paradise. Day membership available at £3. The library is in the Morrab Gardens.
TennisExcellent facilities are available at the Penzance Tennis Club.
Western DiscoveriesGuided walks. Historical and folklore-based tours of Penwith's ancient monuments.
EventsPenzance is home to many ancient folk customs and festivals. They can be a colourful spectacle, with costumed participants processing through the town, often accompanied by musicians.
Golowan FestivalWeek-long festival every year at the end of June. The festival is part revival of ancient midsummer customs practiced in the Penzance area (and throughout Cornwall) and part arts festival. The two busiest days are Mazey Day and Quay Fair Day where many streets are closed to traffic and the town fills with tens of thousands of people for the processions, traditional dance, and musicians from many Celtic nations.
Montol FestivalMontol is a celebration of the Cornish traditions of Christmas and midwinter, held on 21 December each year. Follow lantern processions of the costumed "guise dancers" beginning at 4pm and 6pm, then visit the pubs in the town centre to see appearances from the guise dancers performing music, plays and traditional games. Guise dancing is a tradition already called 'ancient' in its first mention in a newspaper in 1804. At 10PM a torchlit procession moves along Chapel Street down to the seafront beacon for a folk custom known as "Chalking the Mock". Expect fabulous costumes, fire, noise and dancing in the streets.
St Pirans Day ParadeCornwall's largest St Piran's Day parade. Watch thousands of people, including most of the local schools, parade through the streets in traditional costume and colours, accompanied by dancing and music, to celebrate the life of St Piran, Cornwall's patron saint. Starting at 10:15AM at the top of Causewayhead, it be seen from most of the major streets in the town. Follow the procession into the Morrab Gardens for a short play on the life of St Piran.
The May HornsThe ancient custom of "bringing in the summer". Watch and join in with the procession of people dressed in white and green, decorated with leaves and flowers as they make their way from Newlyn into Penzance making a great noise as they process with horns, whistles and drums to 'Drive out the Devil of Winter and call in the warmth of Summer'. Expect dancing, an appearance from the Queen of May, and the guise beast 'Old Ned'. In 2019 this begins at the Tolcarne Inn, Newlyn, at about 7:15PM. Ends in the Admiral Benbow for Cornish music and dance on the first floor. Visitors welcome.
GuldizePenzance's traditional celebration of the Harvest Festival. Gather outside the Yacht Inn for the "Crying of the Neck" ceremony followed by a procession of musicians to the Admiral Benbow where there is traditional Cornish music and singing on the first floor. Visitors welcome.
Live musicPenzance is a centre for folk music, with many lively clubs and sessions playing tunes from Cornwall and the other Celtic nations. You will often find musicians in pubs, busking in the town, or processing during Penzance's many Cornish celebrations. The Acorn theatre provides a small (230 capacity) venue for live music and theatre, but many pubs will offer live music throughout the week.
phone: +44 1736 363545address: Parade Street, Penzance, TR18 4BUThis converted chapel is home to Penzance's largest live music and theatre venue. There is a varied programme of events throughout the year.
phone: +44 1736 332988address: Bread St, Penzance TR18 2EQHidden away in a back street is this small but popular live music venue, hosting bands every night of the week. Music is usually indie, rock and punk. Open very late, it's small, crowded, but very popular.
phone: +44 1736 363448address: Chapel Street, Penzance, TR18 4AFEvery Thursday musicians gather to play traditional Cornish music in this atmospheric nautical pub. Hear tunes from Cornwall's rich musical heritage as well as those from today's Cornish Celtic music scene. Listen, dance, enjoy. Visiting musicians welcome.
phone: +44 1736 332269address: St Clare St, Penzance TR18 2PDCornwall has a rich traditional music scene. Listen to traditional Cornish, English, Scottish and Irish music performed informally in a pub by local and visiting musicians. Free to attend, just buy a drink and enjoy. Visiting musicians welcome. Buy a drink for the players and enjoy it even more! This is the session previously held at the Pirate Inn.
address: Bath Inn, Cornwall Terrace, TR18 4HLHeld on alternate Wednesdays. See "Diary" section of the Penzance Folk Club website for dates.
- Open mic session at the Crown (see below for details) each Monday. Very popular, with a range of folk and acoustic acts in this small local's pub.
There are several other folk sessions in Penzance, which are listed on the Folk in Cornwall website, and at the events listed above.
Penzance has a reasonable selection of shops including national retail chains and small independent outlets.
- Good secondhand bookshops in Chapel Street. New books from shops in Market Jew Street and Chapel Street.
- Penzance has an increasing number of retro and antiques shops. Most of these can be found along the picturesque Chapel Street and at the lower end of Market Jew Street.
- Art galleries (shops) in Causewayhead, Market Jew Street and Chapel Street.
- Admiral Benbow, see "Drink" listing.
phone: +44 1736 362828address: Old Brewery Yard TR18 2EQHealth-food store downstairs, vegetarian cafe upstairs, with home-cooked meals, cakes and refreshments. The café is also an art gallery.
phone: +44 1736 369729address: 12 Chapel StFreshly sourced local Cornish produce for lunchtime and evening dining. Fish is from the nearby fish market in Newlyn.
address: 6A Alverton Street, TR18 2QWExcellent Cornish pasties. A large pasty is very large, don't expect to do much after eating one!
address: 37 Causewayhead TR18 2STLong-standing fish & chip shop, take-away with some cafe tables.
Waterside Meaderyphone: +44 1736 364424address: Wharf Rd, Penzance TR18 4ABMeaderies are medieval-themed restaurants which have become a Cornish tradition. They serve simple food, such as "chicken in the rough" (chicken and chips in a basket), and serve jugs of mead and other fruit wines, all produced locally. Did we mention the serving "wenches"? No bookings, so you may have to queue. Other meaderies in the region are at Newlyn, Trewellard, Redruth and Newquay.
Sea Palace Ltdphone: +44 1736 330997address: 19 Quay St, Penzance TR18 4BDPopular restaurant serving Cantonese and Peking cuisine.
address: 63 Daniel Place TR18 4DUServes Nepalese and Indian cuisine. Great food in a modern setting, just a stones throw from the sea front.
phone: +44 1736 874418address: 20 Chapel Street, TR18 4AWThey've given up on being an American diner and shifted upmarket, though BBQ ribs are still on the menu. It's mostly Med cuisine nowadays.
phone: +44 1736 361168address: 24 Market Jew Street, Penzance TR18 2HRSmall Portuguese café and chocolatier serving great coffee, hot chocolate, pastries, cakes and hot cheese breads and chorizo breads with a friendly atmosphere. Free WiFi.
The Admiral Benbowphone: +44 1736 363448address: 46 Chapel St, Penzance TR18 4AFEccentric and friendly pub and restaurant containing a jumble of maritime objects from boats or wrecks. The dining room at the rear of the pub is a replica of an 18th century ship's "mess" - ask if you wish to be seated there or just to look. Traditional British food.
phone: +44 1736 364106address: Quay St TR18 4BDBar is full of character and has a great jukebox; restaurant; small hotel.
phone: +44 1736 351070address: Victoria Square, Bread Street TR18 2EPThis small pub has its own brewery, "Cornish Crown", brewing seasonal beers. Popular with locals, on sunny days the crowds spill outside onto its terrace which catches the afternoon and early evening sun. It also serves meals made with local produce.
The Lamp and Whistlephone: +44 1736 361449address: 2 Leskinnick Place, Penzance TR18 2EZA tiny back-street pub serving a large array of craft beer, also with a huge selection of rums and bourbon whiskies. Quirky decor. A friendly place where you can meet with locals and visitors alike.
phone: +44 1736 364744address: 13 Regent Terrace TR18 4DWGuest house overlooking the sea and the promenade. Good breakfast.
address: Green Lane, Marazion TR17 0HQ5-star small, family-run park.
phone: +44 1736 363836address: The Blue Dolphin, Alexandra Rd, TR18 4LZA central youth hostel. Reception is open 9AM-noon and 5-10PM.
phone: +44 1736 362371address: Western Promenade TR18 4HGVictorian style hotel at the beachfront. Parking £5 per day.
phone: +44 1736 362319address: Chapel Street TR18 4AEStout 17th-century building steeped in history - which means no lift to upper floors. The same management run the White Hart in Hayle and the Angel in Helston.
phone: +44 1736 365821address: 17 Marine Terrace, The Promenade TR18 4DLOn the seafront near harbour.
phone: +44 845 371 9653address: Castle Horneck Rd, Penzance TR20 8TFYouth hostel, reception is open 8-10AM and 4-10:30PM.
phone: +44 1736 334820 or +44 1736 365016address: YMCA Cornwall International House, The Orchard, Alverton Rd TR18 4TEHostel with 24-hr reception which includes a light breakfast.