Uncover the story of Penzance by walking its official trail, taking in the towns history and some of its most interesting landmarks.
Distance: Approximately 2km or 1.3 miles.
Duration: Allow at least two hours.
As you walk around Penzance, you may notice small slate markers engraved with numbers on streets and buildings. Taken in turn, these form a whistle-stop tour of the town’s heritage (not to mention its top beauty spots.)
1. St John’s Hall
Begin your walk at St John’s Hall in Alverton Street. This impressive structure was built between 1864 and 1867 to celebrate Penzance’s prosperity during the Victorian era. Designed by architect John Matthews (who also created many other buildings in the town), it incorporates ‘Downs Stone’ taken from the embankment of the Iron Age Chun Castle circa 500BC, near Madron, Penzance and the facade is built with granite quarried in nearby Lamorna.
Did you know? The top step measures 5.75m by 1m, making it one of the largest pieces of granite ever quarried.
Walk towards the town centre and take the first left into Clarence Street. Continue to the top of the street on the left-hand side.
2. The Cattle Market
Penzance’s weekly market drew crowds of farmers and producers from the surrounding towns and villages. The event lasted all day, with livestock starting their journey into town well before dawn.
A new market built here was extended in 1932, covering the old town reservoir. You can still see evidence of the water supply today: just across the road is a restored drinking chute, which once connected to the same stream that fed the reservoir.
Did you know? The cattle market was first moved here around 1820 after livestock escaped from the nearby Green Market site, wreaking havoc in Causewayhead.
Turn right to walk down Causewayhead.
Don’t miss; Waves Cafe Bar on Causewayhead, housed in a beautiful art deco building that was once the town’s Electricity showroom.
3. The Savoy Cinema
The Savoy opened in November 1912, described as ‘The handsomest Picture Palace in the country, outside the West End’. It’s now the oldest continuously running cinema in the UK.
Did you know? Years ago, there were two cinemas in Penzance: the Savoy, which you see here, and the Ritz, on Queen Street. The Ritz operated as a cinema for only 30 years, becoming a bingo hall in 1965.
Continue to the bottom of Causewayhead which boasts an impressive range of independent shops and cafes, stopping near the bank on your right.
4. The Green Market
The Green Market represents the joining of four roads, and was once home to the Penzance Market Cross. This stone cross dates back to the 11th century and was previously used as a marker for the centre of the town: the 1614 charter defined Penzance as everything within a half-mile circle of the cross. The cross after several moves in now grounded at the entrance to Penlee House Gallery and Museum [see 15]
Did you know? The ornate red brick building in front of you dates to 1905 and was once used by The Public Benefit Boot Company.
Turn right at the bottom of Causewayhead keeping The Market House (Lloyd’s Bank) on your right.
Don’t miss; Market House, this Grade 1 listed building was completed in 1838 and its basement originally contained cells for prisoners, from 1867 to 1898 the first floor of Market House served as a Grammar School.
5. Humphry Davy statue
This likeness of Penzance’s most famous son was erected in pride of place in 1872. Born very near here on 17 December 1778, Sir Humphry Davy is best known as the inventor of the ‘Davy Lamp’: a safe form of lighting for coal mines. He also discovered the elements potassium, sodium and chlorine.
Did you know? Although he’s best known as a chemist and inventor, Davy was also a keen writer whose friends included Wordsworth and Coleridge.
Don’t miss; The Rotary Shop; Just across the road, on the corner of New Street, Previously Peasgoods Chemist, this is the former pharmacy building where a young Davy learnt his trade as an apprentice.
With the statue on your right, walk down the slope and across the pedestrian crossing. Go right, back up the street, until you reach the Star Inn. Turn immediately left into New Street, and take the next right into Princes Street. Follow this until you emerge onto Chapel Street and then turn left to walk down the street. You may notice that the streets leading from Market Jew Street are rather steep this is because they all used to be slipways that led directly to the town’s waterfront.
6. The Union Hotel
The Union Hotel is the oldest hotel in Penzance, dating back to the Elizabethan period. During the Georgian era, it was a fashionable hotspot with a theatre and assembly rooms in the grounds. The assembly rooms, now used as the hotel dining room, are famously where victory at the Battle of Trafalgar and the death of Admiral Horatio Nelson were first announced on British soil in 1805.
Did you know? If you head inside to the Nelson Bar, you can still see smoke damage caused by the Spanish invasion of Penzance in 1595.
Continue walking down Chapel Street, the oldest street in Penzance which links the medieval market centre with the town’s historic port and is home to a variety of galleries, antique shops and eateries.
Don’t miss; Egyptian House, a stunning grade 1 listed building built in the style of Egyptian Revival architecture in the 1830’s.
Don’t miss; The giant anchor on the side of Captain Cutters Cottage and the ornate Chocolate House which is now a holiday cottage.
7. No. 20 Chapel Street (The Artists Residence)
Now a boutique hotel, this Georgian building has historically been a cooperage, dispensary and mayoral residence. It achieved notoriety, however, as the site of a grim death and strange haunting.
This respectable home once belonged to a wealthy widow named Mrs Baines. Highly protective of her orchard, she went to great measures to prevent local children stealing the apples – including paying a personal night watchman (her servant Jan) to guard them. Suspicious that Jan was sleeping on the job, she crept out in her nightgown and bonnet to catch him out. This she did a little too well, being unfortunately shot as a poacher when Jan awoke. For years later, her ghost was said to walk the area, still looking out for thieves.
Did you know? When sightings of Mrs Baines’ spirit died down, the man living opposite projected a ghostly image onto the walls using a magic lantern trick.
Don’t miss; The Turks Head which is reputed to date from 1233 when during crusades the Turks invaded Penzance from Jerusalem. During the 17th century the pub housed a smugglers tunnel leading directly to the harbour. Just down from the Turks Head you will find The Admiral Benbow, the fictional home of Jim Hawkins of the 1883 novel Treasure Island.
Take a left straight after the Admiral Benbow, full of maritime artefacts, and walk down Abbey Street. On your left is a bright blue building owned by Jean Shrimpton the 60’s model that used to be the Abbey Hotel. Pass along the Abbey Slip until you see the Lifeboat House ahead. If you have mobility issues, retrace to Chapel Street and turn left heading for Quay Street and jump ahead to The Dolphin Tavern (marker number nine).
8. The Lifeboat House
As Penzance’s harbour became bigger and busier in the 1880s, its lifeboat service earned a new base. Opened in 1885, this building first contained the eight-oared boat Dora. The bell tower that you’ll see at the top was used to summon volunteers in an emergency.
Eventually, larger lifeboats were stationed at Newlyn, with only reserve boats kept at Penzance. The station finally closed in 1917, and is now used as a bistro.
Did you know? The crew of Penzance’s lifeboat Janet Hoyle became overnight heroes during the 1912 Boxing Day hurricane. Pounded by waves while trying to reach the SS Tripolitania, they returned to Penzance with the boat almost wrecked and areas of paintwork stripped back to the first coat.
With your back to the lifeboat house and the harbour in front of you, turn right to walk across the Ross swing bridge and along the quayside.
9. The Dolphin Tavern
A history filled with salty sea dogs and shady characters has made the Dolphin one of Penzance’s most famous pubs. Dating to the 1500s, it was used as a recruitment base for sailors fighting the Spanish Armada, and is said to be where Sir Walter Raleigh first smoked tobacco on English soil. It was also used as a base by the infamous Judge Jeffries (the hanging judge of the 1600’s)
Did you know? Before the sea wall was built, stormy weather often caused waves to crash against the pub, flooding its cellars with seawater.
Walk around the corner and along the road, passing over to the Jubilee Pool at the pedestrian crossing.
10. The Jubilee Pool
Opened in 1935 to celebrate the silver jubilee of George V, the Jubilee Pool is an Art Deco masterpiece. Built on a historic bathing spot on the Battery Rocks, it provided a safe and sheltered alternative to diving off the rocks and straight into the sea.
Did you know? Jubilee Pool is Britain’s largest surviving seawater lido. In addition part of the pool is due to be heated by geo-thermal energy in the near future.
Don’t miss; The Yacht Inn, another stunning example of art deco architecture.
Go back across the pedestrian crossing, turn left and walk alongside the car park. Turn right after the car park and up the hill past the Yacht Inn, towards the church.
11. St Mary’s Churchyard
Stroll up through this tranquil churchyard to look back over Mount’s Bay from one of its many benches. Although the church you see now was built in 1895, the spot has been religious ground since the 12th century.
On the southern side of the church you’ll see St Anthony’s Cross, which has survived since the 12th century. This once belonged to a small fishermen’s chapel that stood on the holy headland Penzance (Pen Sans) is named after.
Did you know? In 1985, St Mary’s Church suffered a disastrous fire, which destroyed the altarpiece and work by Newlyn School artists.
Walk up through the churchyard and exit through the main gate onto Chapel Street, turning left to walk up the street. Continue on and take a left onto Voundervour Lane (past the number seven marker you saw earlier). Where it forks, keep to the left.
Don’t miss: the red brick house that you’ll pass on the way – this is where Maria Branwell mother of the Bronte Sisters was born.
12. Regent Square
This elegant Georgian-style square was built in the 1830s, as Penzance reached new heights of wealth and popularity. In early summer, the air here is richly floral from the tightly packed well-kept gardens.
Did you know? Regent Square was built on land known as Close Yeare Meadow: a popular spot for Sunday school outings.
Continue through the square and turn left at the road, walking downwards. Take the first right onto St Mary’s Terrace and follow it around until you reach the gate to Morrab Gardens
13. Morrab Gardens
Morrab House was built in 1841 for the brewer Samuel Pidwell, who worked at Tolcarne and Penzance Brewery and became mayor of Penzance in 1844. The informal world class sub-tropical gardens still in bloom today were created in 1888 after the house and grounds were bought at auction by the Corporation of Penzance.
The mature plants you’ll walk among come from locations including North and South America, North Africa and Australia.
Did you know? Morrab House is now the Morrab Library: a remarkable independent library with old and rare books, historic memorabilia and a photographic archive.
Take the garden exit leading onto Morrab Road and walk down the hill towards the sea. Turn right and walk along to cross the road at the pedestrian crossing, heading onto the promenade. Keep the water on your left and walk along to enjoy the experience of ‘promenading’ (once a highly popular pastime).
Don’t miss: The array of colourful flags above you that adorn the promenade during the Summer months.
14. The Promenade
Before this grand promenade was created, the area you now stand on was rough sand dunes. After its opening in 1843, ‘the prom’ became a popular meeting and walking spot. Bathing machines were available on the beach, allowing swimmers (particularly women) to protect their modesty while changing into bathing suits.
Did you know? During extreme weather, the promenade can bear the full brunt of high waves and is sometimes closed off for safety.
Continue along the prom and cross the road (taking care) before the mini-roundabout. Follow the pavement up Alexandra Road. Around halfway up the road, turn right onto Trewithen Road (opposite Penzance Backpackers) and take the first right into Penlee Park.
Don’t miss; Penlee Park Open Air Theatre, this unique outdoor theatre has celebrated Cornish, national and international performers since 1948.
15. Penlee House
This fine Victorian home was built in 1865 for the Branwell family and purchased by the local council in 1946. The park surrounding it was opened as a Second World War memorial garden, while the house became a museum.
Today, museum exhibits sit alongside an impressive art collection with works by members of the Newlyn School.
Did you know? One of the gallery’s most famous paintings is The Rain it Raineth Every Day by Norman Garstin, which shows waves and rain whipping across walkers on Penzance promenade.
Penlee House is also home to the Orangery Cafe, the perfect place to end the trail by rewarding yourself with a cup of tea and a slice of cake. Opposite Penlee House you will find Penlee Park Open Air Theatre; a unique outdoor theatre space that has celebrated Cornish, national and international performers since 1948.