Regardless of how you pull in to Penzance, this coastal town is bound to be a sight for sore eyes.
Due to its southwesterly location, whether you arrive after an overnight shift on the sleeper train from London or roll in on four wheels, you will have traveled a serious distance to get there.
The fact that Penzance is pretty easy on the eyes doesn’t hurt either.
Seagulls soar overhead, pastel homes with lush tropical gardens line the lanes and you can spot St. Michael’s Mount from nearly any vantage point in town —a romantic tidal island complete with castle—shimmering in the distance.
Chapel Street is the best place to start exploring, as here you will find Georgian architectural gems, bohemian boutiques and one of the most historic pubs in Cornwall.
The most eye-catching edifice is easily the Egyptian House, a former museum and geological shop with features fit for a pharaoh’s tomb. The Turks Head pub—established in 1233 and notorious for being a former haunt of salty seafarers—resides a few doors down. Grab a pint and play pirate here, just remember that pillaging is strictly prohibited.
You will find St. Mary the Virgin Church at the far end of Chapel Street. While the interior is certainly worth a look, it’s the windswept grounds with views out to sea that capture the imagination.
The Jubilee Pool may just be Penzance’s crown jewel. This alluring Art Deco lido is located directly on the waterfront and is filled with fresh seawater. Do as the locals do by swimming a few laps and soaking up the rays on a summer day. (The water may be a bit chillier than you are used to, but you just have to embrace it.)
Penzance is home to one of the most stylish hotels in all of Southwest England: Artist Residence Cornwall. This bespoke boutique hotel is part of a small family of art-inspired lodgings; Everything in the 23 rooms and onsite cottage looks like it has been touched by a design deity.
I was based in the cottage, and it was packed with wooden planks, distressed chestnut brown leather chairs and a sleek fireplace set inside a wall of lovingly roughed-up gray tiles. All of this was contrasted with scattered splashes of yellow, nautical blue and palms that put me in vacation mode from the minute I checked in.
It’s not all style at Artist Residence Cornwall, as the hotel comes through on substance, too. Their restaurant, The Cornish Barn, serves up fresh local seafood while the colorful outdoor beer garden is the perfect place to enjoy their daily happy hour and take part in a little al fresco foosball.
Simply put, staying here will make you feel like you’ve got a million followers.
Once you are done exploring Penzance proper, there is plenty more on its doorstep, most of which can be reached on foot.
An hour walk to the east will find you at the aforementioned St. Michael’s Mount. This island can be walked to at low tide but is reachable only by boat otherwise, which only adds to its allure. Visit the hilltop castle and learn about the ancient legends surrounding its past or simply just stroll the cobbled streets of the small village.
An hour or so in the other direction and you will find the miniature village of Mousehole. Here, you will still see fishermen at the harborside Ship Inn discussing the day’s catch over an ale, so pull up a chair and join them.
Pick up a Pasty
If there’s one thing you must eat in Penzance, it’s a pasty. These overstuffed pastry pockets are the signature “fast food” of Cornwall and are typically filled with beef, potato, swede and an assortment of seasonings.
You’ll find a fine version at Lavender’s, in both classic and creative flavor combinations.
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