How do you define buzz? You can’t see it, smell or taste it. But you can certainly feel it in Penzance more than any other town in Cornwall.
There’s a pan-fried, vintage-clothed, gin-soaked, canvas-splashed celebration of our town and its unique culture happening right now. And you’ll discover it in the ever-growing number of independent shops, and quirky restaurants and bars springing up in our streets.
It’s like – BOOM – Penzance has suddenly levelled up from best-kept-secret to must-visit Cornish destination for 2023 and beyond.
We’d love you to join us. Perhaps at the next restaurant, gallery or boutique opening (which, at current rates, can be only a matter of hours or days away).
Here’s some reasons to visit in a post that – we’ll admit from the off – is one part cultural guide and two parts unashamed love letter to the seaside town that’s making BIG cultural waves.
1) Penzance is gourmet central
You could talk about Penzance as a ‘centre of culinary excellence’, which it is – but that kind of totally misses the vibe.
When you get this far west, there’s a lovely informality to little joints making big statements with menus that rival any Big Smoke bistro.
Michelin-guide restaurants rub shoulders with ‘rock-up and tuck-in’ fish joints to die for. It’s like Penzance went and stole the food capital of Cornwall title right under Padstow’s nose. (Fun fact: it did.)
When you’re not swooning at the crab tacos or freshly caught sardines, you might want to pop in for a drink at a gin palace or speakeasy-style joint. The vibe is strong in these ones.
Meanwhile, we are still rocking some of the best fish and chips in the UK and basically have full rights (sorry, everywhere else) on pubs with piratey atmosphere.
2) Penzance is ever, EVER so arty
From wildly creative and eccentric Chapel Street to local hotspot Causewayhead and beyond, you’ll discover a gamut of galleries featuring painting and sculptural works from Cornish artists with an international reputation.
These range from small one-room shopfront spaces to The Exchange (just off Chapel Street) which features exhibitions of international repute.
Hovering large over the contemporary arts scene is Glastonbury Artist in Residence Kurt Jackson, whose Cornish land and seascapes are chillingly beautiful.
Since we’re mainly focusing on the contemporary Cornish scene, we haven’t even begun to talk about the rich history of 19th-century fisherfolk art from the Newlyn School, much of it viewable at Penlee House Gallery and Museum.
There’s cultural treasure in Penzance for visual art lovers. Visit and start digging.
3) Penzance is a shoppers’ paradise
Penzance does beautiful-things-you-don’t-truly-need-but-desperately-want better than any other town in Cornwall. You’ll find antique curios, retro fashions, fashion-statement limited-run T-shirts, contemporary and collectible books, vintage vinyl and – gosh we don’t know – just gazillions of beautiful things.
The secret is the outpouring of independent shops that are rocking up on our high street like big brands never happened. It’s 1967 out there (in a good way).
And before you say we’re getting impossibly up-our-bums boutiquey, there’s good old-fashioned knick-knack and shell shops too.
4) Penzance is live and kicking
While Penzance is red hot right now, the truth is it’s ALWAYS been leading the way in live cultural happenings.
Some older locals have to pinch themselves and ask did they REALLY see, in one famous Penzance venue (the Winter Gardens), Sex Pistols, Talking Heads, Ramones, Fleetwood Mac, 10CC, Queen and AC/DC. (Answer, yes, but not all on the same night.)
The tradition continues in our beautiful live venue The Acorn Theatre, which hosts musical legends, internationally renowned theatre, and comedy. Meanwhile, summer sees Shakespeare and plenty of kids’ silliness at the charming Penlee Park Open Air Theatre.
Some live events come and go, but two stalwarts at opposite ends of the year are really living, breathing manifestos of Penzance culture.
Golowan, our town’s midsummer festival, updates an ancient Penzance tradition with spectacular parades through the streets, world cuisine and live music.
Montol, meanwhile, is held on the shortest day, 21st December, and is a revival and reinterpretation of traditional Cornish winter customs. It’s seriously, wonderfully odd – all masked parades and freaky costumes.
And, really, where else but Penzance will you find a festival where crowds cheer a gentleman cavorting about in a horse’s skull?
Find out more.
5) Penzance is a living, breathing Cornish town
Penzance has enjoyed a wonderful influx of ideas and cultures in recent years, which have mingled with our own artsy roots to create something unique.
But, still, we’re an unashamedly Cornish port town. For every melba toast with paté there’s a piping hot pasty; for every gin bar a traditional greengrocer.
Walk down to the harbour and you’ll see not just pleasure cruisers but working fishing boats, too.
For us, this is one of the biggest cultural triumphs of Penzance. While many Cornish towns have become 24/7 tourist centres, we have remained a resolutely working Cornish town, with a living culture 365 days per year.
And, in fact, the attention we’re receiving now isn’t because Penzance has changed – we’re just getting more and more confident about who we are.
Come visit. We’ve got a big dose of Penzance culture waiting for you all year around.
Discover more about Penzance now, including places to stay, visit, eat and drink.