A weekend in Penzance, Cornwall: Where to stay, where to eat and what to do

Ellie Ross
Here's how to spend a glorious weekend in Penzance. [Photo: Getty]

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In the far southwestern reaches of England, at the very end of the westbound train line, Penzance has a wind-and-wave-whipped charm all of its own.

With sweeping views of Mount’s Bay, this historic fishing town has an old harbour that feels more authentic than many of Cornwall's spruced-up ports. Stroll along the Victorian seafront promenade, or pop into the health shops and boutiques selling everything from local soaps to works of art. And with the South West Coast Path on your doorstep, you could happily spend your time exploring the walking trails. 

It may be almost at the end of England, but Penzance is a forward-thinking town – this was the first place in the country to go plastic-free. Shiny new boutique hotels now rub shoulders with quirky old pubs (don’t miss Admiral Benbow, which is decorated with maritime artefacts rescued from shipwrecked vessels). 

As Cornish foodie destinations go, Penzance is often overlooked in favour of its esteemed neighbours such as Padstow and St Ives and Padstow. But there’s plenty to whet your appetite here, too, whether you’re after fine dining local seafood fare, or a quirky cafe serving homemade scones and fresh soups.

Stroll along the picturesque Penzance Harbour. [Photo: Getty]

Penzance: Fun facts

  • The town’s name is derived from the Cornish “pen sans”, which means “holy headland”, a reference to the chapel that stood on the headland over a thousand years ago.

  • Famous folk from Penzance include the actress Thandie Newton, Olympic gold medalist rower Helen Glover and Sir Humphry Davy, who invented the miner's safety lamp (Davy lamp) in 1816. 

  • The Dolphin Inn, on Quay Street, is thought to be the first place in Britain where tobacco was smoked (by Sir Walter Raleigh). The tavern was also used as a courtroom for centuries.

Here’s our guide to the best places to stay and eat, and what to do while you’re in Penzance – no matter your budget.

Where to stay

If you’re on a budget

Thrifty travellers, look no further than YHA Penzance, which offers a variety of accommodation options, from shared dorms to family, double and twin rooms. Set inside a beautiful Georgian mansion, surrounded by serene gardens, the hostel is ideally located just under a mile from the centre of town. Onsite facilities include a car park, free wifi, laundry facilities and a games room. In summer, bell tents and a campsite are available. There’s also a cafe serving affordable breakfast and dinner, perfect to set you up for a day of surfing, hiking or simply exploring the Cornish coast. Shared rooms from £14; private rooms (sleeping two) from £29.

Book the YHA Penzance here

If you're a thrifty traveller YHA Penzance is a great option. [Photo: YHA]

If you’re looking for luxury

Tucked away down cobbled Chapel Street, rubbing shoulders with independent shops, bars and heritage architecture, The Artist Residence is just the spot for a pampered, yet unpretentious, stay. Set in a Georgian townhouse, it’s quirky and cosy in equal measure, featuring funky decor, with 22 eclectically decorated bedrooms and a gorgeous three-bedroom cottage to choose from. Rooms are individually-styled – think freestanding copper bathtubs, wood-burning stoves, rustic wood floors, Rajasthan textiles and vibrant palm prints.

Downstairs, The Cornish Barn serves excellent food with a laid-back atmosphere and contemporary style – don’t miss the prawn tacos at dinner (£16) and crushed avocado (£8.50) for brekkie. Room-only doubles cost from £85.

A few doors away, Chapel House blends traditional style with modern comforts, with six, pared-back double rooms featuring whitewashed walls, waterfall showers and four-poster beds. B&B doubles from £150. 

Book The Artist Residence here

Stay in the quirky interiors at the Artist Residence. [Photo: The Artist Residence]

Where to eat

If you’re on a budget

For good coffee, fresh sandwiches and soups, pull up a chair at The Honey Pot. This cute cafe is ideal for a low-cost breakfast or brunch – porridge, dippy hummus and jacket potatoes are all on the menu, and for under £5. The decor is charmingly mismatched, with sturdy wooden tables, vases of fresh flowers and window seats with cushions. Some of the culinary creations are more exotic, such as Huevos Rancheros – Mexican spicy eggs with refried beans, tomato salsa, sour cream and cheese on charred tortillas. Ideal for a delicious, homemade, quick bite – without a hefty price tag.  

The incredible food at The Honey Pot won't disappoint. [Photo: The Honey Pot]

If you’re looking for luxury

For a real treat, head to The Shore, a restaurant headed up by Bruce Rennie, who worked for some of the UK’s top chefs including Gary Rhodes and Rick Stein before going it alone last year. Bruce is a one-man-band, creating all the dishes himself, from mouth-watering bread and butter through to the delicate seafood dishes. Bruce sources the ingredients available on a daily basis, and offers diners a set menu (£60), which changes seasonally. Tuck into everything from cured mackerel with apple and fennel flower to banana and fig leaf sherbet. 

The gourmet food at The Shore. [Photo: The Shore]

What to do

If you’re on a budget

Penzance is an artsy town – and nowhere is this more evident than at The Exchange. Housed inside Penzance's former telecoms building, this gallery hosts regular exhibitions of contemporary art. It costs just £3.30 for a seven-day pass, which also gets you into the sister gallery in Newlyn, a mile up the road (free entry for under-18s). For a potted history of west Cornwall, step inside Penlee House Gallery & Museum, which has collections of fascinating sepia photographs and paintings by local artists. Entry costs £5 for adults (free for under-18s), with frequent free tours.

If you love contemporary art The Exchange is definitely worth a visit. [Photo: The Exchange]

If you’re looking for luxury

A ten-minute drive east, St Michael’s Mount rises, mirage-like, out of the sea. This tidal island fortress – crowned by a medieval church and fortress – is a fascinating place to spend a few hours exploring. At low tide you can walk across the causeway to reach the rocky isle, or catch a boat when the water is high. Adult tickets cost £16.

Or how about a dip in the UK's largest and most celebrated art deco seawater lido? Created in 1935 to celebrate King George V's Silver Jubilee, the Jubilee Pool measures 100m by 73m, stretching out from the harbour into the Atlantic. It is currently undergoing geothermal works to turn part of the pool into an Icelandic-style Blue Lagoon, which will keep it open throughout winter. Adult tickets cost £5; £3.50 for under-16s; under-fours go free. Grab a coffee and cake in the onsite cafe after your dip.

Book a visit to St Michael’s Mount

The view of St Michael's Mount silhouetted in a pink dawn. [Photo: National Trust]

How to get there

Penzance is the last stop on the direct railway service from London Paddington, taking approximately 5 hours 30 minutes. The Night Riviera Sleeper train travels overnight between London and Penzance. CrossCountry operate trains from the Midlands, the north of England and Scotland. For coach travel, the National Express serve towns as far west as Penzance, and the town is connected by regular bus services

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