Penzance is the most south-westerly town in Cornwall. – England – United Kingdom , 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.
Access : Coordinates: 50.119, -5.537 / By plane : 1 Cornwall Newquay Airport (NQY IATA) has flights from London (Gatwick & Stanstead), Dublin, Leeds Bradford, Bristol, Manchester and Cardiff. It’s about 30 miles away from Penzance by A3075 and A30, reckon 45 mins 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 18:30), then rely on an infrequent bus or branch-line train for connections to Penzance.
Exeter Airport (EXT IATA) is further but may be a simpler option. It has more flights year-round, the airport bus runs until 22:00, and mainline trains run hourly from Exeter to Penzance.
There are flights to the Isles of Scilly from 2 Land’s End Airport(LEQ IATA) at St Just TR19 7RL, 6 miles west of Penzance. Flights operate year-round Mon-Sat and in summer are every 30 mins flight time is just 15 mins so day-trips are feasible. The “Skybus” aircraft are small fixed-wing twin-props (eg 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 mins, £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.
By train : 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 23:30, reaching Penzance by 08:00 (on Sun by 09:00 Mon). The return train leaves Penzance around 21:30 (Su-F) to reach Paddington at 05:00; you can stay aboard until 07:00. Book via Great Western , 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 09:00, and all day Sat Sun & holidays. An adult day-ticket is £13, children and concessions around £10.
3 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.
By coach : National Express coach NX404 runs overnight from London Victoria (8 hrs) via Heathrow Airport, Bath, Bristol Airport, Exeter, Torquay and Plymouth. NX315 runs daily along the south coast from Eastbourne via Brighton, Portsmouth, Southampton, Eastbourne, Exeter and Plymouth. First Kernow bus T1 runs every 30 mins 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 car : Penzance is a 5-6 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 boat : A ferry plies between Penzance and the Isles of Scilly, daily from mid-March to October. The ferry (Scillonian III) leaves Penzance around 09:00 to reach the main island of St Mary’s at noon; it returns at 16:30 for 19:15. 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.
- Penzance is a fine example of a Cornish granite working town. It’s not touristy like St Ives, so there’s space to enjoy its 18th/19th C architecture, harbour and sea views. Grand buildings grace Chapel Street, Regent Square, Morrab Place, Market Jew Street and Alverton Street and then there’s the wacky Egyptian House on Chapel Street. The harbour area is busy with small fishing vessels and pleasure craft, and passenger and freight ships sail to the Isles of Scilly. The promenade, built in the 1840s, stretches all the way to Newlyn. Along it admire the cool white Art Deco of the Jubilee Pool, and the tumult of waves breaking at Battery Rocks.
- The Market House Penzance.
- Penlee House Gallery & Museum, Morrab Rd, TR18 4HE . Apr-Oct Mo-Sa 10:00-17:00, Nov-Mar Mo-Sa 10:00-16:30. The Newlyn School was an art colony based in nearby Newlyn from the 1880s to the early 20th C. 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. Adults £5, concs £4, under 18s free.
- Morrab Gardens, TR18 4DA (in the centre of town). Dawn until dusk. A fine example of a sub-tropical public garden, opened in 1889. “Morreb” is Cornish for “besides the sea”. Free.
- Chysauster Ancient Village, Newmill, Penzance, Cornwall, TR20 8XA (Newmill, 4 miles north of Penzance) . 10AM-5PM. A 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 100BC-300AD. adults £4.60, children £2.80, concessions £4.10.
- St Michael’s Mount, Marazion (2.5 hour walk east of Penzance). Su-F, closed Sa. An 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). For castle/garden/both: adult £9.50/7.00/14.00; child £4.50/3.50/6.50; 2 adults & 3 children: £23.50/n.a./34 2 adult & 3 children: £14.00/n.a./20.50.
- 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 . If you’ve come all this way from John O’Groats (eg 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, eg towards Sennen Cove or the Lizard.
Activities : Hike town trails. The 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 Discovery. Wildlife boat trip for a dolphin-watching and basking shark-watching sea safari tour on a sailing catamaran.
1 Morrab Library, Morrab Pl, TR18 4DA, Tue-Sat 10AM-4PM. For those interested in all things book-related, Penzance has an excellent private library consisting 60K+ volumes plus 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 located within the Morrab Gardens
Tennis. Excellent facilities are available at the Penzance Tennis Club.
Western Discoveries. Guided walks. Historical and folklore-based tours of Penwith’s ancient monuments.
Penzance 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 Festival. 15 Jun – 24 Jun 2018. Week-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 Festival. Montol 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 Parade. Annually, 5th March. Cornwall’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 Horns. Annually, 1st Sunday in May. The 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 2018 this begins at the Tolcarne Inn, Newlyn, at about 7:15PM. Ends in Admiral Benbow for Cornish music and dance on the first floor. Visitors welcome.
Guldize. Annually. In 2018 held at 7:00PM, 22 September. Penzance’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.
Isles of Scilly – day trips or longer stays available via ferry or fixed-wing aircraft.
Sennen beach – about 9 mi (14 km) from Penzance – lovely beach, busy in summer.