Whist recently doing a spot of research on things to do in Penzance I was more than a little surprised on how out of date much of the information on the internet was. For example, out of the Lonely Planet Guide’s suggested points of interest no less than 5 had closed down, including Coco’s which ceased to exist about 7 years ago. And this ranks #5 in Google?! For the record the Penzance Maritime Museum, the Trinity House Lighthouse Museum and the Geological Museum have all ceased to exist. I have to say that none of these are a huge loss, but it does reflect a changing holiday market.
Other guides seem to treat Penzance as 10 mile radius around Penzance including everything except the town itself! The number 2 ranking site on Google is very much guilty of this featuring not a single thing to do actually within Penzance itself! The ‘official’ Tourist Board website fares little better.
So what’s wrong with Penzance that these websites can’t provide a half decent list of things to do IN Penzance for someone visiting, possibly on foot? I have to point out here that having lived in Penzance for around 30 years I have managed to keep myself amused most of the time!
Chapel StreetMy first suggestion would be to take a stroll down Chapel Street. This is often described as Penzance’s most historic street, and it is. Running from the centre of town to the harbour this is where the town of Penzance began. The headland at the bottom of Chapel Street which is called Battery Rocks was the original Holy Head(land) from which the town gets its name.
|Penzance's historic Chapel Street|
Most of Penzance’s best pubs are located on Chapel Street including the oldest, The Turk’s Head. Just a few doors down is Penzance’s best known pub - the Admiral Benbow. As much a maritime museum as a pub, with décor including cannons, diving finds and ship’s figureheads. If that wasn’t enough there is a smuggler straddling the roof with musket in hand!
The Jubilee PoolBuilt in 1935 to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of George V this fantastic art deco lido is still worth celebrating. Perched on the rocky headland at the eastern end of Penzance Promenade the Jubilee Pool is a marriage of form and function. Designed to withstand the battering of winter storms yet featuring the elegant sweeping curves you would expect from an art deco structure, the pool does not disappoint. It is both the largest lido and largest seawater pool in Britain too, in case you needed further reason to visit.
|The Art-Deco Jubilee Pool|
If all that isn't enough then there is a fantastically positioned café here overlooking both the pool and promenade. This is without doubt the best spot to enjoy a coffee or lunch on a calm summer’s day.
Art GalleriesPenzance has a rich artistic heritage dating back to the late 19th century when the Newlyn School came into being with artists such as Walter Langley, Stanhope Forbes and Dod Procter to name a few. Since then the area has been draw to artists of all styles and media. The artistic credentials of West Cornwall are further qualified by its proximity to St Ives with its artistic heritage and more recently the Tate St Ives.
Whilst St Ives may get the limelight, Penzance has not only what is probably the oldest established gallery in Cornwall but a host of other nationally and internationally recognised galleries.
|The Exchange Gallery|
The newest of Penzance’s big galleries is the Exchange. Built in 2006 this provides what is described as a major contemporary art space. The gallery has allowed larger scale works to be seen in the region that was previously possible. The building itself is a feature; a former telephone exchange, the ground floor external wall has been replaced by a 30 meter long undulating window containing an array of coloured LED lights. So even when the gallery is closed in the evening, it is well worth a visit.
Morrab GardensThe 3 and a half acre Morrab Gardens stretch from the town centre down to the sea front. The name “Morrab” itself means sea shore. Once the private garden of a local brewer the gardens were bought by the town council in 1889.
|Penzance's sub-tropical Morrab Gardens|
Montol and GolowanOver recent years two Penzance traditions have been revived; Montol and Golowan.
Montol translates to ‘winter solstice’ and involves a costumed procession through the town culminating in the ‘Lighting of the Mock’ (a bonfire) on Leskudjack Hill, Penzance’s most ancient site. Whilst I have seen it written that the procession resembles that of the Venetian Masquerade’s ‘Rivers of Fire’ parade I think this is getting a little carried away!
|Mazey Day - Part of the Golowan celebrations|
The main event of Golowan is Mazey Day in which traffic is banned from the town centre and a day of parades, street entertainers and market stalls commences. One of the high points of the day are the processions of local school children accompanied by a spectacular array of giant effigies based on the year’s theme. If you don’t like crowds then Mazey Day might not be for you as it is pretty busy affair.
Throughout the Golowan period there are a host of activities on the fringe. These range from musicians and entertainers from all over the world to the ‘Mock Mayor’ elections, a celebration of the ridiculous. Other favourites include the Mazey Boats Regatta down at the boating pool in which home made model sailing boats race it out.
So, there we have it. A few suggestions on what to do actually in the town of Penzance, and one that only lists things that are not closed down or 5 years out of date! Even if you do nothing mentioned above it is worth a walk around the town and harbour. Penzance is after all a historic market town with an artistic heritage and strong local community working to keep the town as vibrant as ever.