Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to a perfect 24 hours of the best things to do in Penzance. If you’re anything like me, and I hope you are or there’s no reason for you to be reading this blog, the first thing you’ll think of when you hear the phrase “things to do in Penzance” is pirates. Perhaps you are also the very model of a modern major general, and you’ve information vegetable, animal, and mineral.
But the modern town of Penzance, England is even more interesting than a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. Since it’s the westernmost town of Cornwall, which is the westernmost part of England, when you visit Penzance it almost feels like you are stepping into another world. With 24 hours of the Best Things to do in Penzance, you can learn pirate history, find a hidden fishing village, go for the gold, and eat about seven different kinds of fish an American has never heard of before.
Join me for 24 hours of the Best Things to do in Penzance and we’ll find many cheerful other facts about the square of the hypotenuse.
Things to do in Penzance
Where to Stay
Are you a fan of cozy little attic rooms, delicious English breakfasts, and charming old Cornish people? Then you should stay at Glen Afton. It’s the perfect place to spend your 24 hours of the best things to do in Penzance. There are lots of cute places to stay in Penzance, but I promise that Glen Afton has the charming seaside cottage vibe you’ll love.
Things to Do in Penzance
What to Pack?
The United Kingdom, as you may have heard, is on the rainy side. So the two most important things you’ll need to bring are an umbrella and some rain boots. My favorite travel umbrella is the Repel Teflon Waterproof Umbrella. It is strong enough to stand up to the sometimes-quite-strong winds of the UK. I hear they’re strong enough to carry a nanny up into the sky like a kite, but that could just be a rumor.
For rain boots, I recommend the Asgard Rain Boots. They are comfy/cozy and keep my feet dry all day. Plus they’re cute enough that I can wear them to tea without feeling like some gauche American with gross feet.
Finally, if you’re not from the UK, you need a universal adapter if you’re going to plug in electronics. UK electrical outlets don’t work with either American or European plugs. I suggest the NEWVANGA travel adapter. It’s usable with any electrical outlet in the world, so you won’t need to keep buying new adapters. I always carry two with me, just in case something happens to one.
Things to do in Penzance
Morning: Penzance Walking Tour
As one of the cutest little towns in Cornwall, Penzance is perfect for a walking tour. Of course, it’s possible to give yourself a decent tour of Penzance all by your lonesome. But fortunately, there is a simple and quadratical walking tour of Penzance that leaves from the train station every Tuesday and Thursday morning in the summer months.
The timing is perfect because you can tour the best Things to do in Penzance on a Tuesday, and then you can pop over to nearby St. Ives for the Wednesday walking tour. Either way, I guarantee that the walking tour will teach more than…
three fun facts: Things to do in Penzance
1) Port Side
No visit to Penzance is complete without a stop at the port. Penzance, like many Cornish towns, was once renowned for its ships. Of course, with shipping comes one major problem: smuggling! The smugglers in Penzance were apparently omnipresent. I was hoping they’d be smuggling something exciting like rum, diamonds, or unpasteurized cheese. Because there are an abundance of fluffy sheep in the Cornish countryside, smugglers would sneak wool out of Penzance, and they would smuggle salt in. I must say, that doesn’t sound so bad as smuggling goes. It’s not like salt is a drug. Let the people have their salt lick!
Also, please note the fabulous gold post box located in the center of the port. The GBP is placed in every British city that was home to the winner of a gold medal in the London Summer Olympics. Traditionally post boxes are red in the United Kingdom, so the government thought it was understood that the gold boxes were temporary and eventually would default back to the red standard. Reader, it was not understood. When the government tried to let the gold paint lapse, there were protests, so the cities were allowed to keep their Olympic mailboxes.
2) Celebrities of Penzance
Penzance hasn’t been home to too many famous people, unless you count fictional pirates. But one local celebrity was Maria Branwell, the mother of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Bronte. She was born in this very house in 1783. She moved up to Yorkshire when she got married and never returned to Penzance. Apparently the change in weather from sunny Penzance to windy Yorkshire was too much of an adjustment, and she died rather young. But not without bequeathing her three literary genius daughters to the world!
But Maria Branwell isn’t the only celebrity from Penzance. And the Pirates of Penzance aren’t the only fictional pirates from Penzance either. Above, you see the Admiral Benbow Inn, not very far off the Penzance beaten track. On the roof, you can see the replica of a smuggler defending his honor and treasure from the King’s Men. As The Admiral Benbow was used in the classic novel, Treasure Island, I choose to believe that plaster pirate on the roof is none other than Long John Silver.
3) The Egyptian House
This spectacular abode came about because of the craze for Egyptian-style architecture that began after Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt. The Egyptian House was actually built for a fellow named John Lanvin who wanted to turn the Egyptian house into a museum. According to our guide, Lanvin thought that this was what the pyramids looked like. I’m sure Lanvin was a proud and proper Englishman, but did he really think that there was the seal of William IV of England on the pyramids? I’m pretty sure even William I wasn’t born when the pyramids were built.
If you’re a naval history geek, and I hope that you are, be aware that the Union Hotel next door is where it was announced to the public that Lord Horatio Nelson had been killed. They named one of their rooms the Trafalgar Room in his honor. I think Lord Nelson’s ghost might rather have the room named after one of his great victories rather than one of his defeats. But I can’t be 100 percent sure because Nelson’s ghost and I aren’t really on speaking terms.
Things to do in Penzance
Afternoon: Explore Penzance
Of course, half the fun of visiting a small town like Penzance is getting some time to gambol about on your own! Penzance has everything from 21st century art museums to 20th century art museums to three-colored cats who sit on rocks silently sunning themselves. Perhaps you’d rather visit some colorful English gardens by the sea? Or eat the world’s best vanilla ice cream? Would you prefer to get into a fight with a Cornish seagull? It can all be yours with
approximately top 5: Things to do in Penzance
1) Lunch at The Honey Pot
The Honey Pot is the Platonic ideal of a cozy English lunch spot. According to their website, even former Prime Minister Gordon Brown likes their cakes. Does Gordon Brown like your cakes? I doubt it. Even on a summer day, don’t miss one of their cozy soups. The watercress soup tasted so fresh, I could practically hear the watercress scream as it was dropped alive into the pot of boiling water.
And of course, I couldn’t pass up my favorite British lunch item, the cheese sandwich. This one was made with Cheddar sharp enough to cut a diamond and brown bread as hearty as a Cornish seagull. I felt exactly like a cranky miner while eating it, which is precisely how one wants to feel in Cornwall.
2) The Exchange
As I mentioned in my article on 24 hours in St Ives, there is a long tradition of artists coming to Cornwall to paint the light. So even though Penzance is a small town, it has more than one art museum. The most recent addition to the Penzance art scene is The Exchange. This museum specializes in contemporary art. Open in 2007, it is affiliated with the much older Art Gallery in neighboring Newlyn. A ticket to one gets you admission to the other.
When I arrived at The Exchange, I was excited to find that there was an exhibition on light. After all, light is why so many painters came to Cornwall in the first place. One piece I loved was the stained glass pyramid by Cornish artist Peter Lanyon. The beat-up sides of the pyramid de-glamorize stained glass, which I’ve always thought of as a tres classy art form. But between that and the Egyptian House, I’m a little concerned that no one in Cornwall knows what a pyramid is supposed to look like.
This next work is the confusingly titled Untitled by Anish Kapoor. Kapoor is most famous to Americans for being the designer of everyone’s favorite selfie spot in Chicago, The Bean. In fact, I think that rope around the Kapoor above might be there to prevent people from taking selfies with it. Or maybe it’s a secret portal into another dimension, and the rope is there to stop kittens from falling in. Silly museum! A teeny rope isn’t going to stop a kitten from going anywhere it wants to.
Now that we have a free ticket to the Newlyn Art Gallery, we might as well head to Newlyn. Newlyn is the next town over from Penzance. Unlike many other towns in Cornwall, Newlyn is still known as a fishing port. If you’ve ever wanted to watch some burly dudes fling around pilchards, this is the spot. It’s just a short and highly pleasant walk along the beach from Penzance to Newlyn. As long as you’re not attacked by roving gangs of angry Cornish seagulls, you should be fine. Oh, and be wary of angry fisherman seeking to lasso unsuspecting ladies and drag them to the bottom of the sea.
You’ve been warned! Watch out, blonde lady!
Unfortunately, when I arrived at the Newlyn Art Gallery, I was told it was closed for a few days when they put up a new exhibition. I wish they had warned me back at The Exchange! Maybe they were just angry with me because I kept asking if I could take a selfie with the Anish Kapoor. We’re in luck though, because even if the Newlyn Art Gallery is closed, there’s one other major reason to come to Newlyn…
24 Hour Treat: Jelberts Ice Cream
That is the world’s greatest vanilla ice cream from Jelberts. They have one flavor. You can choose to get clotted cream and Cadbury chocolate flake on top if you want. (And you do want.) They scoop ice cream all day until they run out. Then there is no more. I never, ever order vanilla ice cream because vanilla ice cream is the vanilla of ice creams. So please believe me when I say that you will live a miserable, lonely, pointless existence until you put some of this ice cream in your mouth.
Don’t miss the flowers in Newlyn Green as you are walking back to Penzance. If you can’t find time to stop and smell the roses in your 24 hours in Penzance, when can you find the time? And there’s no evil fisherman lurking in this garden, I promise!
4) Penlee House Gallery and Museum
The Penlee House is dedicated to much older work than The Exchange. You’ll be able to find pieces here that date all the way back to the early 1900s. Unfortunately photography is not allowed inside. But what is allowed is photographing the posters of their exhibitions.
As you can see from the poster, Stanhope Forbes was the father of the Newlyn School of art. He trained in France but decided to paint and work in teeny tiny Newlyn. People credit him with helping to revitalize the area around Newlyn because he encouraged other artists to come paint there. He was groundbreaking in a subtle, quiet way, portraying the lives and homes of simple Cornish fisherfolk.
His work became darker after WWI, probably because his son was killed in action. Being an American, I know very little about World War I, so it was interesting to read the docent notes about the small clues you can find in his later paintings of Newlyn that the citizens of the town were in mourning.
5) Penlee Park
When you’re done with the museum, don’t sleep on taking a stroll around Penlee Park. The community bought the park after World War II as a war memorial, but nowadays it has other functions. It acts as a quiet place to read, play with your kids, or get chased by insane fishermen. They also have an open-air theater in the summer evenings, if the rain isn’t raining every day. (In Cornwall, that’s far from guaranteed.) Just hope your 24 hours of the best things to do in Penzance coincides with beautiful weather!
Things to do in Penzance
Evening: Dinner at The Shore
Like any right thinking person, I enjoy all types of food. Let it never be said that I turn my nose up at street meat, pub grub, or cafes frequented by highly forgettable former Prime Ministers. If it’s delicious, I eats it with relish. But I admit that I have a true soft spot for fine dining and tasting menus. It’s exhilarating to watch a chef at the peak of her powers throw everything at the wall to see what will stick (to my ribs).
And a fine dining lover with 24 hours of the best things to do in Penzance can’t miss The Shore. The Shore is one of only two restaurants in Penzance mentioned in the prestigious Michelin guide. It’s also the only restaurant I’ve ever been to that does a Fish Only tasting menu. Also the chef, Bruce Renny, works ALONE in the kitchen, which is mindboggling. I’m all the more impressed with…
approximately top 5: the shore edition
FISH COURSE ONE
We begin with a light pollack ceviche. This comes with tomato, coriander, and red onion. I’ve had pollack in things like fish sticks many times, but never thought to eat it basically raw. But the mild flavor is pleasant in ceviche. You don’t feel like you’re being smacked in the face by a giant fish tail while you’re eating it. More like gently tapped by Nemo’s adorable fin.
fish course two
Now meet the red mullet. He is business in the front and party in the back. He is accompanied by a courgette and saffron broth. I enjoyed how the flavors of each dish seemed to hop from country to country along with each dish. This dish felt simple and French, whereas the first had more of a Latin influence. Of course, the fish is always English. RULE BRITANNIA! BRITANNIA RULES THE WAVES! BRITONS NEVER, NEVER, NEVER WILL EAT IMPORTED FISH! (I’m pretty sure that’s how the song goes.)
fish course three
This next dish would not be out of plaice at any fine restaurant. The fish is plaiced on a bed of summer cabbage and sausage with cauliflower puree. I always think of plaice as being the most English fish because of this episode of Fawlty Towers in which the characters keep making plaice puns. (You’re not allowed to read this blog unless you like Fawlty Towers.)
Please note the flawless harmony of shape and color in each dish. You could almost hang these fishies in one of Penzance’s infinite number of museums except the smell might eventually put the customers off the plaice.
Fish course four
My favorite course was the hake served with squid ink risotto and tenderstem broccoli. I quickly realized that hake is one of the most popular fish in Cornwall. After all, I’d been served it here and at the restaurant I frequented in St Ives. Apparently hake was endangered due to overfishing, but thanks to regulations, the Cornish hake fishery is now sustainable. Any time I can do good for the planet and indulge in squid ink pasta, I am on board!
The vegetable in this dish, Tenderstem broccoli, was previously unknown to me. I Googled it, and apparently it is a cross between broccoli and Chinese kale. Sustainable fish and kale all in one course? It’s a millenial’s dream come true!
I wish I could weird you out by claiming this dessert was strawberries with shrimp paste. But even at The Shore, they can’t make everything out of fish. This dessert is strawberries with pink peppercorn meringue and basil sorbet.
It makes sense that they would use some savory ingredients in the dessert, as this restaurant is more famous for its seafood than for its sorbet. But I found this to be the perfect light end to four fabulous fish dishes. Even a carnivore like myself didn’t miss the meat, and I’m sure you won’t either.
That’s a Perfect 24 Hours of the Best Things to do in Penzance
What would you do with 24 hours of the best Things to do in Penzance? Are you ready to start booking your hotel in Cornwall right now? Is there a better ice cream than Jelberts? (No.) And what did that fisherman do with that poor woman’s body after he buried her? Please leave your thoughts below!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours with the best things to do in Penzance. If you have another 24 hours in Penzance, consider this itinerary for a day trip to St Ives. If you want to add on 24 hours in London, click here.