Arriving in Penzance from the South West Coast Path, walkers will find a bustling but relaxed atmosphere prevails, with a mix of independent shops, galleries, restaurants and cafes. Alleys and narrow passages lead to the busy working harbour and the ancient buildings refer the visitor back constantly to previous centuries.
Named “Pen Sans” in the Cornish language, meaning Holy Headland, Penzance is sheltered within Mounts Bay, its microclimate giving lush subtropical gardens a chance to grow many exotic flowers and palm trees which cannot survive outside anywhere else in the UK. The headland on the western side of the harbour was the site of a chapel established by early Christians well over 1000 years ago, after the Vikings and Saxons had moved on, and before the Old Town was razed by the Spanish and then Turkish pirates in the sixteenth century.
One of the oldest standing buildings in the town is the Penzance Turks Head Pub, dating from the 13th century, boasting an underground tunnel leading from the harbour where smugglers secretly transported their bounty before celebrating in the inn. The Admiral Inn, just a few doors away, is named after a famous 17th century character. Inside the building, converted from an old cottage with a smuggler on the roof, the walls are decorated with authentic figureheads and cannon, salvaged by divers from the many wrecks around the notorious Cornish coast.
Close by, the flamboyant Egyptian House in Chapel Street dating from 1835, is one of the most ornate examples of architecture built at that time. It was originally owned by a geologist, whose collection is now in the Oxford University Museum, and stands out among the stately Victorian and Edwardian villas built over the following century along the promenade for successful merchants who settled in the balmy temperature and extraordinary light, made accessible by the Great Western Railway.
The Art Deco Jubilee bathing pool is still a fabulous example of the glamorous lido, and art galleries pay homage to the once prolific Newlyn School (especially the Penlee House Gallery Museum) , as well as exhibiting high quality modern art. Live music is easy to find amongst a diverse range of inns and there are some excellent restaurants these days mainly in and around the art galleries in Chapel Street
From the harbour, including the berth for the Scillonian, the ferry to the Isles of Scilly, (a heliport to the Scillies is on the outskirts of town) looking east, the iconic image of St Michaels Mount rises out of the sea on the next leg of the Cornish Coastal Path.
The shoreside village at the end of the cobbled causeway leading out to the island, is Marazion which provides another of our overnight locations. It’s only 3 miles beyond Penzance around Mounts Bay and can be an attractive alternative ending point to the Lands End Way for those wanting a quieter village location for their last night’s stay.