Life in Penryn, Cornwall
A county like no other
The University of Exeter has two sites in Cornwall; the Penryn Campus, shared with Falmouth University, and the Knowledge Spa at Royal Cornwall Hospital, Truro, home to the University's College of Medicine and Health in Cornwall.
Thanks to its scenic beaches and coves, and dramatic clifftop views, Cornwall is one of Britain’s favourite holiday destinations. The county also has a rich history of artistic and scientific innovation, making it a fascinating and stimulating place to attend university.
The Penryn Campus is located at the former site of Glasney College, an influential 13th century institution. Modern Penryn is home to a growing community of artists, young professionals, and university students. The nearby town of Falmouth offers a wide variety of boutiques, eateries, and social venues, and hosts a number of annual events such as the Oyster Festival and Sea Shanty Festival.
The city of Truro is a short bus or train ride away and boasts stunning views of the impressive Truro Cathedral – site of the Cornwall campuses’ graduation ceremonies, as well as many opportunities for retail therapy, dining, cultural and architectural delights and festivals.
Although most students find that there is plenty to do right on their doorsteps, some head further afield to see what else Cornwall has to offer – including fantastic surfing on the north coast, art galleries in St. Ives, the beautiful gardens at the Eden Project, and the breathtaking views on The Lizard Peninsula and Bodmin Moor which is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. All of these and other destinations are easily explored by bus, train, car, and bicycle, or even, via the Coastal Path, on foot.
There is no shortage of excellent eateries near the Penryn and Truro Campuses, cumulatively offering a range of culinary genres. Penryn’s Muddy Beach offers an unpretentious ambience with delicious food (vegan and vegetarian friendly options) served up with a side of river views and, on many weekend evenings, live performances. Falmouth boasts a number of restaurants—including Oliver’s, The Shack, and Cribb’s—owned and operated by local chefs, as well as franchises of popular chains such as Zizzi’s and Pizza Express.
Prior to taking in a show at Truro’s Hall for Cornwall, diners might drop by to Hooked! (which has a sister restaurant in Falmouth), Manning’s or Bone China. If you're after a more chilled out location then the infamous Hubbox is taking the South West by storm after starting in Cornwall and opening up further eateries in Devon and Bristol. Gravy Boesti and Tabb’s, recommended by international food publications, are also excellent choices.
As well as restaurants, there is such an abundance of cafes here, you’ll have a hard time choosing where to indulge in your first cream tea; in fact, you might end up having several just so you can sample all the different venues and take part in the favoured debate of cream or jam first!
Living in Cornwall, you will never be far away from traditional Cornish pasties or fish and chip shops which are a great option to eat whilst overlooking the river or taking in some sea air.
Take a look at our 'A student guide to eating local' for further insight into some local hotspots.
Cornwall has been inhabited since the Palaeolithic period, and it is not difficult to find burial chambers, hill forts, and standing stones dotted across its rolling green hillsides.
Truro is Cornwall's capital and archaeological evidence dates back several centuries, and, in the 12th century, the city was home to a castle built by the Chief Justice of King Henry II. Soaring above the surrounding rooftops, Truro Cathedral is located in the centre of this thriving Cornish city. Completed in 1910, the Cathedral is relatively young, it is still unique and very impressive. Made in the gothic style, the building incorporates fragments of the old parish church that once stood on the same site, and features a number of noteworthy stained glass panels. Each year, the Penryn and Truro Campuses hold their graduation ceremonies in this impressive building; throughout the year, the Cathedral also hosts a number of talks and musical performances that are open to the public.
Founded in 1216 by the Bishop of Exeter, Penryn is one of Cornwall’s oldest towns. From 1265 until 1548, Penryn was home to Glasney College, a religious institution whose dissolution was one of the factors leading to the Prayer Book Rebellion in 1549.
Although Henry VIII built Falmouth’s Pendennis Castle in 1540, the town was not officially incorporated until 1613. Falmouth became the Royal Mail packet station in 1688 and, as such, was the port into which news of the events at the Battle of Trafalgar was brought to the British mainland. The town has a long history of maritime activity; the Falmouth Docks—still highly active today—were founded in 1858. The introduction of the railway in 1863 greatly improved access to the town and allowed Falmouth to develop into the popular tourist destination that it is today.
Those wanting to know more about local history can visit the Penryn Town Museum, which houses artefacts dating back to the 13th century. Truro’s Royal Cornwall Museum also has many exhibits pertaining to life in Cornwall, though it also documents natural history, culture, and art more broadly.
Elsewhere in the region
The majority of our students report that they are more than satisfied with all the social and recreational offerings of Penryn, Falmouth, and Truro. However, the surrounding area provides many options for students and visitors who are in the mood to explore a bit further afield. A variety of destinations offering adventures in recreation, shopping, history, and culture are just a bus or train ride away; for those who want to leave the county altogether, Newquay Airport (located within an hour’s drive of the Penryn Campus) operates every day of the week, offering quick flights to London, Manchester, and the Isles of Scilly.
The Eden Project is a groundbreaking facility erected on the site of a former china clay pit. It features a collection of biomes that house plants from around the world; this includes the largest indoor rainforest in the world. Exhibitions on art, science, nature, and culture can be found scattered throughout the greenhouses and also around the beautiful outdoor gardens that surround them. A skating rink is created on-site each winter, while in the summer visitors can attend a series of outdoor concerts from a variety of musicians ranging from Snow Patrol to Elton John and Kylie Minogue. There are a number of eateries on the grounds, as well as an extensive gift shop.
Cornwall’s North Coast comprises over forty miles of ruggedly beautiful landscape between Bude and Perranporth. It is a popular destination for surfers and beachgoers, but also offers fantastic opportunities for photographers, hikers, and nature-lovers. History buffs won’t want to miss out on Tintagel Castle, a medieval fortification often linked to tales of King Arthur.
The Lizard Peninsula is home to the southernmost point on the UK’s mainland. It offers a stunning and dramatic landscape where you can fully appreciate Cornwall’s unique geology and the habitat that it provides to a variety of rare flora and fauna—including Cornish choughs, which have only recently returned to breed in the county after decades of being locally extinct. The Lizard is considered a National Character Area and is part of Cornwall’s Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Visitors can dine on locally caught seafood and duck into pubs to hear performances of traditional Cornish music.
Considered the shopping centre of Cornwall, Truro boasts a wide variety of both chain and boutique shops. However, Falmouth and Penryn have their own charming collection of quirky independent retailers found alongside well-known high street businesses. In addition to shops selling surf gear, clothing, home decorations, and gifts, there are also many stores specialising in more unique items, such as vintage clothing, vinyls, and antiques.
Cornwall has been a creative hotspot for years and is home to a number of contemporary artists, innovators, and creative organisations whose galleries, workshops, and educational spaces are open to the public.
The Princess Pavilion is located alongside the verdant Gyllyngdune Gardens, and is within a stone’s throw of Falmouth’s scenic beaches (Castle and Gylly). It provides space for live music, arts and crafts fairs, exhibitions, stand-up comedy routines, and small theatrical performances. It also houses the Garden Room, which serves lunch and dinner throughout the year.
The inaugural performance at Hall for Cornwall took place in 1997, but the building itself dates to 1846. The impressive facility has room for nearly 1000 audience members, who come to enjoy everything from stand-up comedy to rock concerts (Elbow have played there) to performances of Shakespeare’s plays. The programme always features a number of family-friendly events and offers matinees as well as evening shows.
There are three main cinemas near the Cornwall campuses: Phoenix and The Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society in Falmouth, and the Plaza Cinema in Truro. Both the Phoenix and Plaza Cinemas offer access to blockbusters as well as live broadcast viewings of musicals, ballets, concerts, and plays. The Poly runs a mixture of well-known popular films as well as foreign-language, arthouse, and vintage movies that you won’t find anywhere else.
There is an abundance of museums near the Cornwall Campuses, cumulatively covering a wide variety of topics. The award-winning National Maritime Museum Cornwall is located in Falmouth’s Discovery Quay (Events Square) which is a vibrant part of Falmouth’s waterfront and features displays exploring the long relationship between humans and the sea. The acclaimed Falmouth Art Gallery features British art in a variety of styles and from a variety of eras; hands-on activities and exhibitions allow children to get up close and personal with the art world.
Sunsets are beautiful in Cornwall—not just because you can watch their orange glow spread across the sea, but also because they signal the start of the county’s nightlife.
Within Truro you can dance the night away at the Vanilla Bar which is very popular with students and locals. Other venues to enjoy your evening include Bear Bar & Kitchen where you can enjoy good food, drinks and DJ sessions or Rocco's Gin & Retro Bar where you can dance along to tunes from the 80s, 90s and 00s.
The Penryn Campus regularly hosts a number of events at the Stannary. Those looking to venture further afield can head off campus for live music, dancing, comedy shows, theatre, and cinema. A number of nationally and internationally acclaimed acts headline at venues in both Falmouth and Truro, and the renowned outdoor Minack Theatre, just over an hour away, offers audience members stunning views of the ocean during performances. For a quieter night, you can drop by one of the many art galleries that routinely host evening engagements, or have a relaxed cocktail at one of the area’s many small, intimate bars.
Visitors to the Cornwall campuses can choose from a wide variety of drinking establishments—many of which serve up not only alcohol, but also entertainment in the form of pub quizzes, performances of shanties and other local music, karaoke evenings, and open mic nights.
Thanks in part to the number of performers who stay in the area after graduating from Falmouth University, there is a thriving community of musicians who regularly perform near the Cornwall campuses.
Why our students love Cornwall
Don't just take our word for it, find out why our student bloggers love living in Cornwall.
My name is Kira and I am an undergraduate studying English on the Penryn Campus in Cornwall. In September I will be going into my second year of study, and I wanted to share my experience with the Penryn campus and why I believe it’s such an amazing place to study. As a student who...
by Kira May Louise Orchard, 22 July 2020
Hey there everyone! My name is Matt and I’m a second year History student lucky enough to be studying at Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall. There’s a lot to say when it comes to Penryn – and what I’ve included here is really only the surface of it. On my first visit to campus back...
by Matthew Slack, 09 June 2020
Hi everyone! My name is Emily and I’m a 2nd year History student at the University of Exeter. I’m based down at the Penryn campus in Cornwall which I love because it is such a different experience and atmosphere compared to Liverpool which is where I’m from. I love the independent that university brings, and...
by Emily Green, 23 April 2020
My decision to study on Penryn Campus and adjust to life in Cornwall was a huge leap of faith. A year down the line and many smiles and laughs later, I couldn’t be happier with my choice.
At Penryn Campus, you don’t make friends, you make family. My favourite aspect about studying here has to be the people. The size of Penryn Campus means that you belong to a closely-knit community. You get to benefit from the extremely high quality of education the University of Exeter has to offer whilst forming long-term friendships along the way.
Francis from Ghana
Studying Mining Engineering