On this rugged Southwestern peninsula at the tip of Cornwall, lies the artistic town of Penzance. A treasure trove of breath-taking landscapes, thriving wildlife and historical landmarks. We’re often asked by visitors what are the best things to do in Penzance? Is Penzance worth visiting? What is Penzance known for? So we’ve put a Penzance guide together to help you explore the seafront attractions, the bustling town centre, local gardens, and surrounding areas.
Through our boat trip adventures around Cornwall, we’re clued up on the best locations for exploring our history and coastline. If you want quirky, exciting, and adventurous ideas on what to see and do in Penzance, with rich history and low environmental impact, read on! Before we get into our top things to do, we thought we would give a brief intro to the rich history of Penzance.
Penzance was originally named Pensans, meaning holy headland, after an ancient chapel was built on this south-westerly peninsula. Religious or not, both locals and those who visit Penzance agree that the surrounding landscape does have a touch of the ‘sacred’ about it. The centre of Penzance’s history is the quay, from here leads up to the infamous Chapel Street which is rich with local independent shops and boutique hotels along the promenade, that contain an eclectic mix of buildings and businesses, such as the Artist Residence. Steeped in legends of pirates, explorers and miners, and with a dramatic coastline worthy of these legends, Penzance town is far more than just the last stop on the railway line.
Almost destroyed during the Spanish invasion in 1595, the locals rebuilt their fishing village, and it became a bustling home for its sailors, smugglers and fishermen. By the 1870s the fishing boats were bringing in about 50 tonnes of fish a day into Penzance harbour. A hell of a haul! Today Penzance and its neighbouring towns, such as Newlyn, are a reminder of West Cornwall’s legacy and continue to inspire the local community there, with contemporary art galleries, museums and seafront pubs.
The Best Penzance Experience: Coast Boat Trips
Of course, we have to say that a Coast Boat Trip is one of the best things to do in Penzance! If you’re visiting Penzance, then going on a Coast Boat Trips adventure is a must! A once-in-a-lifetime experience, creating memories that will last forever. From seeing the incredible Cornish scenery, and diverse wildlife to enjoy the unique thrill of being on the Atlantic Ocean in a fast and safe boat.
You might be lucky enough to see some of the ocean’s most magnificent creatures such as dolphins, whales, basking sharks and seals. Whether you’re looking for a fun family day out or a fun adventure, Coast Boat Trips is perfect for you!
St Michael’s Mount
No trip to Penzance is complete without casting your eyes over St Michael’s Mount, one of Cornwall’s most captivating landmarks. You have to see it to believe it. This National Trust gem is an island at high tide nestled in Mount’s Bay, with a magnificent ancient castle standing proudly at the top.
At low tide, for those chancers among you, you can feel the sand between your toes as you walk there from Marazion Beach. Just keep an eye on those tide times! Still lived in today, the St Aubyn family have been there since the 17th century, and both the family and the National Trust preserve and manage the spectacular St Michaels Mount. If you aren’t one to chance the tides we offer a Mount’s Bay Discovery Boat Trip, where you can explore Penzance’s historic landmarks and a variety of marine life.
With the legendary castle dating from the 14th century and originating from a Benedictine chapel founded in 1044, St Michael’s Mount has many tales that we love to tell, from trading Cornish tin with the Greeks to being used as a fortress during the Cornish Rebellion.
Jubilee Pool, Penzance
Cold-water & outdoor swimming have had something of a renaissance in recent years. With research showing it has impressive physical and mental health benefits, us hardy Cornish folk are no strangers to the healing powers of fresh air and swimming.
The Jubilee Pool in Penzance is a picturesque beauty, bringing a little luxury to your swim. First opened in 1935, the art-deco lido has recently undergone a huge £1.8 million renovation but maintained all its original charm. Those smooth white curves and pockets of blue water have never looked so tempting.
If the thought of a cold water pool has you shivering already, there is a new geothermal pool heated to 30-35 degrees, making it the first geothermal lido in the UK. With upgraded changing rooms, showers, and café alongside other activities such as stand-up paddleboards, yoga, circuits and baby pools, the Jubilee Pool in Penzance is a perfect place to spend the day. And if you feel like just soaking it all up and admiring the seafront harbour views, or taking a breather then there are deckchairs for hire.
Cornwall’s microclimate has encouraged many exotic and sub-tropical plants to thrive. Trengwainton Garden in Madron, just on the outskirts of Penzance, is well worth a visit and offers a little bit of everything.
From walled gardens, secluded woodlands, expansive sea views and award-winning rhododendrons, magnolias and camellias, the variety of nature is special in these gardens. Many of the plants at Trengwainton flowered here for the very first time in Britain. Dogs on leads are welcome, and the orchard is a perfect sunny spot for a picnic.
Don’t let the name put you off visiting Hell’s Mouth, this exhilarating rocky inlet is a great place to feel the power of the Cornish elements. Situated on the North Coast between Hayle and Portreath, this untamed headland isn’t far from the popular St Ives.
The craggy cove, with sheer 300ft cliffs, is inaccessible without climbing gear, so is best experienced from above or from the sea. Peer down the cliff face, and you can often spot seals lazing down below. This stretch of North Cornish coastline is home to a large seal colony, and we often see them on our boat trips.
With a seasonal café just over the road, it’s a great spot to walk to. The walk from Godrevy to Hell’s Mouth, much of which is maintained by the National Trust, is one of our favourite North Coast trails. For directions see this helpful guide.
The Minack Theatre is an open-air theatre located on the dramatic cliffs of Porthcurno, just along from the bustling town of Penzance. Founder Rowena Cade moved to Cornwall in the early 1920s, buying the Minack headland for just £100. Cade’s love for Shakespeare productions soon led to her offering her clifftop garden as a venue. Mythical plays performed in the open air, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean providing a perfect, unforgettable experience.
Over the years Cade built the theatre we see today, hauling rocks, stones and sand to create a space that will rival any ancient roman ruins. Book a show, visit the theatre and gardens, and treat yourself to a pasty from the café, before visiting the surrounding area. The Porthcurno coastline is rich in its mining heritage and surf scene.
Just three miles down the coast from Penzance is the picturesque fishing village of Mousehole (pronounced ‘Mowzel’). Mousehole harbour was one of many bustling Cornish fishing villages, bringing in more pilchards that you could tempt a greedy seagull with. With charming narrow streets full of small shops, galleries, pubs and cafes there’s plenty to keep you busy.
The small sandy beach and nearby facilities mean Mousehole is perfect for families with small children. With an idyllic harbour, that famous Cornish light, and charming houses built from local Lamorna granite, it’s no surprise that Mousehole was once described by Dylan Thomas as ‘the loveliest village in England’. If you’re an art lover it’s well worth stopping via Newlyn on your way to Mousehole, renowned for its impact on Cornwall’s art scene.
Lands End Cornwall
Lands End is one of Cornwall’s not so well-kept local secrets. But other than its impressive geographical claim as the westernmost point of England, what will you find there? Alongside the stunning coastal scenery of Sennen, you’ll find family attractions, a shopping village, cafés and the First and Last Inn.
The surrounding green landscape is largely untouched, and the Land’s End Peninsula is a haven for wildlife and vegetation, with over 220 species of flowering plants and 81 species of lichen. Look up and you might spot Fulmars, Peregrine Falcons and Ravens. Look down and with a little bit of luck you’ll see dolphins, Basking sharks, or (if your lucky) even Minke and Killer whales.
Longships Lighthouse, about 1.25 miles from Land’s End, is a reminder of the treacherous waters around the Cornish coast. These waters have seen the passage of pirates, sailors, traders and fishermen, and have caused many shipwrecks. The first lighthouse was built in 1795, on a small island of rocks. Too short for the mighty waves that interrupted its signals, a taller lighthouse was built, and was manned by teams of two keepers until it was made fully automatic in 1988.
Rising from the rock, the Longships Lighthouse is an impressive feat of engineering and spectacular to see from the water. Today it has a range of 11 nautical miles, with one flash every ten seconds, accompanied by the booming foghorn.
Pedn Vounder Beach
Pedn Vounder is home to one of the most beautiful beaches in Cornwall and has become an internet sensation in the past few years. It’s notoriously difficult to get to, but we’ll arm you with the facts and you can decide whether to channel your inner climber or experience it from the safety of our boats.
The dog friendly, naturist beach is an idyllic cove, with turquoise waters and white sand. With no set path down, it is a very difficult climb down the steep cliff, sturdy footwear and free hands are essential.
The nearest car park is in the local village of Treen, or you can park up at Porthcurno and walk over, both about 10 minutes walk. At low tide, you can walk to the picturesque Pedn Vounder from the more accessible Porthcurno beach. Luckily this stretch of coastline at the very tip of Cornwall is just as exhilarating to experience from the water itself via our boats.
You might have gathered that we’re pretty fond of Penzance and all that you can do here. We might even consider ourselves experts! Many of these landmarks, both natural and manmade have been just as they are for a very long time. We intend to keep it that way and are proud to be conserving the coastline we love so much with our sustainable coast boat trips. If you think we’ve missed somewhere off our list? Let us know! We are always excited to learn about new places!
We choose minimal impact tours on our Penzance boat trips, that allow local wildlife and habitats to thrive, so we can be in our boats championing our brilliant Cornish coast for many years to come.