Down to the Coast: The Top Things to Do in Penzance
More than just a pirate opera, this artsy Cornish town is bursting with things to do.
Known thanks to the Gilbert and Sullivan opera The Pirates of Penzance, this quaint village by the sea typifies everything lovely about Cornwall, with its old-world edifices overlooking a bay full of fishing vessels and colourful boats. Pirates are fairly scarce, of course, because it’s not the 1800s, but the town is primed for when they do make a comeback.
Among the highlights are the Jubilee Pool by the sea and the so-called ballet of the waves. You’ll get to grips with a thriving art scene, while gorgeous gardens generate a leafy ambiance. Explore the art galleries and pretend to know what you’re talking about to your partner. They’ll be impressed. But if you want them to be really impressed, take them on a tour of the town with the help of Plum Guide's expert advice on the best things to do in Penzance.
Explore the art galleries
Despite being hidden away in the southwestern corner of the country, Penzance is known throughout the land as a hub of the arts. Attend the Golowan Festival for its artistic exhibitions and learn about the ancient midsummer traditions. Admire the works on display in The Exchange, which is part of the pre-eminent Tate Gallery. You’ll also find several independent shops where you can purchase artworks and antique books on Chapel Street, Causewayhead and Market Jew Street.
Arrive at the Penlee House Gallery & Museum to admire its elegant whitewashed frontage. Tell your partner you’re considering buying this mansion for them, before entering to study the works by Norman Garstin, Walter Langley and other members of the so-called Newlyn School that developed in these parts.
Head back to Plum Guide home Cornish Cream and enjoy the artsy atmosphere, complete with upcycled furniture and curated bookshelves.
Splash around in the Jubilee Pool
On a warm and sunny day (what? It happens), head down to the Jubilee Pool, an art deco complex overlooking the sea. The site itself makes a claim of being 'the UK’s largest and most celebrated art deco sea water lido in Penzance' …which seems like quite a specific brief to be honest. In any case, it makes for a unique stop. With its stylish buildings and pool right by the coast, the Jubilee Pool is a rather extraordinary sight.
Relax and warm up in the heated salt water of the geothermal pool, which uses heat from a thermal well beneath the earth. Swim a few laps and then recharge your batteries in the Jubilee Pool Café, with its indoor and outdoor seating.
Marvel at the architecture
One of the best things to do in Penzance is to simply saunter around town. As you meander through the centre of Penzance, admire the Regency and Georgian architecture of the façades, transporting you to a bygone era. One of the most unusual and impressive sights in the town is the Egyptian House. Its Egyptian Revival style dates back to the 1830s. (Write that down to impress your family).
If you're looking to stay somewhere with just as impressive architecture, take a gander at this incredible cabin in the woods. Each part of this unique home is hand-crafted.
Go on a boat trip
If you're a fan of boats and the sea, Penzance is the place to be. From the harbour, you can take a fishing or sailing trip around the tip of southwestern England. You can go with one of several tour operators, including Marine Discovery and Mermaid Pleasure Trips (which may sound like an erotic fantasy, but we assure you it’s all good family fun). Spot the seals, dolphins and porpoises barking and messing about on the rocks out at sea.
Tuck into something tasty
There’s more to Cornish cuisine than pasties and fish and chips. That said, you can’t go wrong at Market Plaice Fish Bar, which has been a huge part of the local culture for many decades. If you're a foodie, trying the battered cod here should top your list of things to do in Penzance. Other traditional seafood restaurants include Admiral Benbow, Sea Palace and Poolside Indulgence. If you’re looking for fine dining, head to Shore Restaurant, the Garden Bar & Restaurant or the Harris’s Restaurant, and enjoy a classy and romantic evening.
Explore the gardens and historic attractions
Just outside the centre of the town lies one of the marvels of the region in the form of the Minack Theatre. Having been carved into the rocks in the early 20th century, the open-air theatre continues to put on plays in summer. Enjoy the sea breeze and make your way through the region, stopping to admire the beauty in the Tremenheere Sculpture Garden. Inspect the ruins of the Merry Maidens and enjoy the views of the dramatic cliffs in the Chygurno Garden. Other scenic highlights include the Tanglewood Wild Garden and the Trengwainton Garden. Top off your unforgettable trip (and make it somewhat…forgettable) with a few bottles at the Polgoon Vineyard.