By Katie Wilson
Penzance in West Cornwall is the farthest flung town in the UK with the warmest climate, but far from being a summer hotspot it’s fast becoming a year-round destination.
Positioned on the very southwest tip of England, it’s home to some of the country’s most beautiful beaches, tropical gardens and close to iconic landmarks like St Michael’s Mount, The Minack Theatre and Land’s End.
The town itself is full of Georgian and Regency buildings, particularly on pretty Chapel Street which leads down to the harbour. From here you can catch a ferry to the Isles of Scilly for a day trip or longer.
There is also an abundance of art galleries, chic shops, bustling pubs and seafood restaurants. Not forgetting the recently reopened Jubilee Pool, an Art Deco lido with saltwater and geothermal heated pools, meaning you can even take a dip in January.
Here’s what else we discovered when we spent a weekend in Penzance…
Where to stay in Penzance
A short taxi ride, or less than a 10-minute walk from Penzance train station, is Artist Residence, where we stayed for the weekend.
Centrally located on Chapel Street, it is set across three floors of a Georgian coach house. Expect neon signs, quirky artwork, eclectic but comfy interiors, plus a bar, restaurant and sun trap terrace also open to non-guests.
Room range from Snug to Super Comfy Luxe. The latter come with roll-top bathtubs and walk-in rainfall showers. All have Roberts radios, Bramley toiletries (perfect for a bubble bath), fully stocked mini bars and Smeg fridges.
For a treat book The Chapel Suite or The Lookout, the best room in the house. It comes with a super king-size bed, log burner, kitchen and dining area, showstopping bathroom and sea views from your own private balcony.
Groups of up to six can book The Cottage, which has three double bedrooms (one is a bunk bed room), an open plan living room and kitchen and luxury bathroom with a freestanding copper bathtub.
Rooms start from £155 a night
Across the road, another boutique offering is Chapel House, perched just above Penzance harbour and offering mesmerising views out to St Michael’s Mount.
Previously the Penzance Arts Club, this beautiful townhouse reopened in 2015 following a complete renovation from owner Susan Stuart that is so stylish it caught the attention of Architectural Digest.
It now features six rooms, all boasting sea views and fabulous bathrooms – one even has the option for an open air bath if you slide back the glass roof – plus two private suites. Dogs and families are welcome here.
Breakfast is included in the room price (from £195 a night) and served in the downstairs kitchen. Unlimited tea, coffee and cake is also on offer. And if you’re staying on a weekend, there is a Friday and Saturday night supper club at a very reasonable £30 for three courses.
Guests can sit out on the two terraces if the weather is nice, take a dip in the outdoor hot tub or relax in the grand lounge. There is even a boot room with wellies, Barbour jackets, blankets, jumpers and picnic hampers to help yourself to.
Closer to the seafront, The Beach Club is a Victorian hotel on the promenade featuring artwork from local artists and a cosy lounge. Most rooms have a sea view with rates starting from £99 a night.
The Old Coastguard is a seaside hotel and locally loved restaurant in the pretty fishing village of Mousehole, a 10-minute drive down the coastline. Its 14 rooms overlook the sea and there is an outside terrace above a tropical garden that slopes down to the harbour wall. Room rates can include breakfast and dinner and start from £172.50 a night.
Ednovean Farm is a luxury B&B a 15-minute drive from Penzance, within walking distance of the sandy beach of Perranuthnoe. With sea views and spectacular gardens, rates start from £100 a night.
Self-catering holiday homes include Saltponds House, a cottage for four in Mousehole right on the seafront, from £1,500 for a minimum seven-night stay. Woodstock Ark is one of the quirkiest cabins we’ve ever seen. Sleeping two from £135 a night, you’ll find it on the South West Coastal Path close to St Michael’s Mount. Slightly further out, Harbour Reach sleeps 10, is dog friendly and starts from £235 a night.
Where to eat and drink in Penzance
Anywhere close to the sea is famed for its fish, and Penzance is no exception. Be sure to book a table at The Shore Restaurant, where chef Bruce Rennie serves up an excellent seven-course tasting menu for £90pp.
45 Queen Street is in an old warehouse down a secret side street. It is part deli, part restaurant and can also be hired out as an event space. Interiors are cool and rustic, the food is a mix of small plates and sharing boards, and cocktails are served with extra touches. Order a Cherry Manhattan.
Artist Residence, where you can also stay, has the best terrace in town. Pop in for an alfresco drink. They also do breakfast, brunch and dinner.
When it comes to drinking, the pubs are plentiful. On Chapel Street pop into the quirky Admiral Benbow, a pirate pub said to be the oldest in Penzance. The Star Inn, The Dolphin Tavern, The Yacht and The Navy Inn are also worth a pitstop on your way down to the seafront.
Head to The Waterside Meadery for a speciality Mead Fizz, but be warned any more than two could give you a sore head the next day. For late night drinks head to The Vault or new cocktail bar The Crumb.
A little further afield, Polgoon is a family run vineyard and orchard offering wine tours and tastings. Note tours are only available from April to September, but the shop is open all year round.
Things to do in Penzance
Penzance has the only promenade in Cornwall, which stretches for around a mile along the seafront. The beach in the main town is mainly shingle, but a secret beach – Battery Rocks – is unveiled at low tide. A rock pool paradise, it’s also great for snorkelling when the tide is in, and even a certain Harry Styles has been spotted swimming here.
For epic views of St Michael’s Mount – a historic castle accessed by a cobbled causeway at low tide – visit Marazion Beach. Beach horse riding is available here. Paddle boarding, kayaking head or kite surfing can be booked in nearby Mount’s Bay. For surfing lessons head to Sennen Beach close to Land’s End.
A walk along at least some of the 630-mile South West Coastal Path, the UK’s longest trail, is a must. It’s particularly pretty near Carbis Bay and St Ives, around a 30-minute drive away. Another great way of getting around is by bicycle. Ebike Cornwall offer hire bikes in Penzance and several other locations in the area from £45 a day. Routes include wild swimming spots and the Great Atlantic Way for more experienced cyclists.
Back in the town, the Jubilee Pool – Britain’s only surviving seawater lido – is great for a swim all year round. Heated to 35C, it is also home to the first geothermal lido in the UK. Tickets for the heated section of the pool are £11.75. A regular adult swim is £6. Massages and facials can also be pre-booked with their in-house therapist.
Sea safaris and fishing trips go from Penzance harbour. Ferry trips to the Isles of Scilly also leave from here. Return day tickets for adults are £35, but bear in mind you only get four hours on the island of St Mary’s. If you can visit for longer via helicopter or plane we would recommend doing this so you can see the more picturesque islands of Tresco, St. Martin’s and St.Agnes. See a guide to the islands here.
History buffs will love that Penzance has the highest concentration of ancient sites in Europe. Culture vultures can check out what’s on at The Minack, a spectacular open air theatre perched on top of a Cornish cliff. While art lovers will love the charming town of Newlyn, famous for its art school and independent cinema.
For shopping, Chapel Street is where to head. Chic homeware can be found at No. 56 and &Living, for botanical delights pop into The Planted House, cards and gifts can be bought at Captain Cutters House and Fishboy PZ is best for designer and hand-printed clothes.
In June each year, Penzance hosts its traditional Golowon Festival to celebrate Midsummer, so visitors will see music and processions through the streets. Also in June is the Penzance Art Festival. While the Penzance LitFest takes place in July.
How to get to Penzance
Penzance may seem a long way away, but is actually easily reached by car, train or plane.
By car follow the motorway towards Exeter until you reach the A30. Stay on this road all the way to Penzance, which is clearly signposted the closer you get to the town.
National Express and Megabus run coach services from major UK cities to Penzance.
Trains run regularly between London Paddington and Penzance, which is the end of the line, and take around 5 hours and 30 minutes. If you’re travelling from further up north, head to the Cross Country website to plan your route.
Planes fly from London Gatwick and Manchester to Cornwall Airport Newquay, which is just under an hour drive to Penzance via taxi or hire car. Extra flights run from Edinburgh, Birmingham, Leeds Bradford and Liverpool in the summer months.
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