St Ives in Cornwall is one of the UK’s most popular seaside towns. With beaches, gift shops and arcades aplenty, it has all the markings of a classic British summer getaway destination – but there is so much more to discover. Home to a branch of the Tate and a cluster of independent galleries, it is an artistic hub. Its sloping hillside interwoven with narrow alleys offers glorious ocean views, while adventurers can hit up the renowned surfing scene. We pick our favourite things to do in St Ives to help you make the most of it.
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In this article:
Things to do in St Ives: sightseeing and activities
1. Visit Tate St Ives
The Tate is one of the UK’s most iconic modern art galleries, with two branches in London, one in Liverpool, and another right here in St Ives. So, if you have even a fleeting interest in art, this is a must-visit while you’re in town.
Built on the premises of an old gasworks, the white facade of Tate St Ives is unmistakeable looking over Porthmeor beach. Opened in 1993, it is the youngest among the family of Tate galleries, and focuses on the works of a diverse range of artists with links to the town.
Exhibitions are staged frequently around the year. Check out the Tate website to see what’s coming up.
2. Browse the small independent galleries
A maze of backstreets around St Ives are riddled with independent art galleries, each one differing in style from the next. You can barely turn a corner with stumbling across a new one.
You could easily spend a whole day getting lost among St Ives’ art scene. These are a few of the galleries you can explore around the town:
- Market Place Gallery – featuring a range of works from Cornish artists and some from further afield.
- Art Space Gallery – a cooperative gallery overlooking the harbour with a variety of original works.
- New Craftsman Gallery – showcasing contemporary craft with eight curated exhibitions each year.
- Penwith Gallery – set in an old pilchard-packing factory housing a complex of galleries, workshops, studios and a sculpture courtyard.
- Porthminster Gallery – one of St Ives’ larger private galleries and winner of Cornwall Today‘s ‘Best Art Gallery in Cornwall’ award.
3. Stop by at Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden
Barbara Hepworth was one of the most renowned creatives on the St Ives scene, part of a group of artists who lived in the town during the Second World War. She stayed in St Ives until she died in 1975 in a tragic fire at her studio.
Her work is celebrated today at the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden, which has been managed by the Tate since 1980. The museum and garden is set at Trewyn Studios, where she lived and worked for so many years. Many of the sculptures are still set in position where she placed them.
4. Peruse the quirky shops on Fore Street
The cobbled streets of St Ives are crammed with an array of eccentric shops, from surf shacks and bucket-and-spade beach stores to independent outlets selling clothes, gifts, craft and random bric-a-brac.
Fore Street is the colourful main artery of the shopping area, running parallel behind Wharf Road that stretches along the harbour. It’s a great pivot point for exploring the town’s shops and grabbing a souvenir to take away.
5. Learn about the town at St Ives Museum
St Ives Museum is another example of an imaginatively repurposed building by the seafront. Over the years it has been a pilchard curing cellar, a christian chapel, a launderette and a cinema.
Today it is dedicated to telling the story of St Ives, from its nautical roots, through the mining days of the 19th century, and up to the present day. Part of the old pilchard cellar has also been kept in tact, displaying pressing instruments dating back up to 175 years.
6. Explore the Leach Pottery
Another of St Ives’ artistic institutions, the Leach Pottery, recently celebrated its centenary. It was founded in 1920 by Bernard Leach, a legendary British potter, and Shōji Hamada, a Japanese potter who was living in St Ives at the time.
The Leach Pottery was reopened in 2008 after a lengthy £1.7 million renovation project and now features a gallery, museum, active pottery and shop. You can see works by the original founders and many of its distinguished students from over the years in special exhibition areas.
7. Have a go at surfing
St Ives not only a great place for art, but also for adventure! The town’s beaches provide some of the best conditions anywhere in Cornwall for learning to surf. Porthmeor Beach in particular is a brilliant spot for beginners.
There are plenty of places around town to buy or rent surfing gear. St Ives Surf School, based right on Porthmeor Beach, is one of a handful of popular places for lessons. Make arrangements in advance, as spots at the surf school get booked up quickly.
8. Take the scenic train ride to St Erth
St Ives happens to be at the end of one of the UK’s most beautiful train routes, albeit a very short ride. The journey by rail between the town and St Erth takes a little over ten minutes, passing over clifftops looking out over St Ives Bay and Porthkidney Beach. The line has been running since the 19th century.
In St Ives it is notoriously difficult to find parking. So, instead of hunting frantically for a space, this short scenic train ride offers an enjoyable alternative. You can park much more easily in St Erth or in the village of Lelant (which is midway on the line), and then ride the train in and back out. Services run every half hour.
Things to do in St Ives: beaches
9. St Ives Harbour
St Ives has a handful of golden beaches strewn around its headland and various little coves and cubbyholes. Among these, the beach on St Ives Harbour is conveniently located for getting around, and among the most popular spots to relax on the sand.
The harbour is also one of the town’s famous images, often the focal point of paintings and postcards. It has been at the crux of St Ives’s economy since its first days of settlement some 1,500 years ago, and is still an active port today, with fishing boats coming and going.
This is a nice spot to slow down for a while, either on its sandy beach or relaxing on one of the blue-and-white-striped deck chairs on the wharf. If you walk out to the tip of the harbour there’s also a lovely view back onto the town.
10. Porthmeor Beach
As mentioned above, Porthmeor Beach is a hotspot for surfing, as well as other water activities such as kayaking and paddle-boarding. This is also the largest and most picturesque of the town’s beaches, its glorious crescent of white sand nestled between the Island (which is actually a headland) and the rocky path to Clodgy Point.
With its easily accessible location, gorgeous setting and the Tate gallery overlooking, it’s no surprise that Porthmeor also tends to be the busiest of the beaches in St Ives. There are also excellent facilities, including a café, toilets and lifeguard services through the summer season.
11. Porthminster Beach
Porthminster Beach is a large, sheltered, gently sloping beach that sits right underneath the train station. It is immaculately clean, which is demonstrated by the quality of the brilliant turquoise waters lapping the shore.
This is usually a bit of a quieter spot in comparison to Porthmeor. It’s perfect for getting out a book, sunbathing, or just enjoying the gratifying views of St Ives Harbour and right across to Godrevy Lighthouse.
Like Porthmeor Beach, Porthminster also has good facilities and seasonal lifeguard services.
12. Porthgwidden Beach
Porthgwidden Beach is situated on a cosy little cove flanked by rocks just around the headland from Porthmeor. The Island behind it provides some shelter from the wind, making it a pleasant spot to unwind in the calm.
There is a good beach café at Porthgwidden, standing next to rows of white beach huts with colourful doors that glint against the sunlight. Overall, this is a pretty little spot that provides an offbeat alternative to the popular Porthmeor and Porthgwidden.
13. Bamaluz Beach
The smallest and most secluded of the beaches in St Ives, Bamaluz is tucked in between Porthgwidden and the harbour. Its sand is only exposed at low tide, and you can reach it by descending the steps opposite St Ives Museum.
Bamaluz is the only of St Ives’ beaches that is dog-friendly all year round, so you can bring your canine friends, but note there are no facilities or lifeguard services.
14. Carbis Bay Beach
Carbis Bay is home to what is probably the most famous beach on St Ives Bay, located just down the coast to the south of St Ives town. Featured in our guide to the best beaches in Cornwall, it is easy to reach via foot from St Ives by following the coastal path.
Carbis Bay became the focus of the world’s attention in June 2021 as it hosted world leaders at the G7 summit. The event was mostly held at the stunning Carbis Bay Hotel overlooking the beach.
In normal times the beach rarely gets too busy, despite its fame and popularity. Its large arc of golden sand stretches wide, and there are some lovely sheltered spots backing onto the cliffs for fish-and-chip picnics on the beach.
Things to do in St Ives: walks
15. Walk uphill for the views
St Ives is built on a hill that rises up sharply from the coast. While it’s a bit of a steep climb, you don’t have to go too far up to find some stunning views back across the town and onto the Celtic Sea beyond.
There are quite a few vantage spots to be found. Walking down from Park Avenue Car Park you are soon greeted with views across the rooftops towards the harbour. On the north side, climbing up Porthmeor Hill gives a view down onto Porthmeor Beach and the Island. And the more you explore uphill St Ives, the more hidden viewing points you will find.
16. Take a walk around the Island
‘The Island’ of St Ives is misleadingly named, as it is not an island at all. It is actually a peninsula headland that separates the harbour from Porthmeor Beach. You can walk all the way around it, or up onto the top of its little hill with relative ease. The stony old building that stands proudly yet forlornly on the summit is St Nicholas Chapel, on a site that was once a promontory fort.
The middle of the Island is the best place in town for a picnic, with plenty of open grass and fabulous panoramic views. Sometimes, at low tide, you can still see the shipwreck of the SS Alba which ran aground here in 1938.
17. Stroll from Porthmeor Beach to Clodgy Point
The South West Coast Path wraps around the whole of Cornwall, encompassing St Ives in its pathway. The coastal walks to either side of the town are some of the most scenic along the entire route.
Just to the north of St Ives, you can take a short and gentle walk up to Clodgy Point. From Porthmeor Beach this only take about 20 minutes and there isn’t too much up and down, so it’s a doable walk even with basic fitness levels.
Along the way you will pass the stacked rocky outcrop of Man’s Head, where you can look backwards for a lovely open-facing view of Porthmeor Beach.
18. Continue on the coastal path to Zennor Cove
If you keep going past Clodgy Point, you can undertake a more challenging walk all the way to Zennor Cove. This takes about 2.5 hours each way at a steady pace, passing some jaw-dropping clifftop scenery along the way.
There are several vantage points and beauty spots to look out for on the route. The path passes the ancient Merry Harvesters stone circle, and Seal Island is just off the coast further along. At low tide some secret beaches can be seen too.
19. Try the Lelant to St Ives walk
This gem of a walk is over on the south side of St Ives. I mentioned above that an alternative to parking in town is to get the train in from St Erth instead. Another option, and our preferred one, is to park in Lelant and walk to St Ives along the coastal path. Then you can take the train back later (or do the return walk if you’re up for it). It’s about seven kilometres each way.
Much of this route traces along the rear of the vast Porthkidney Beach. At low tide, you can find a rocky stairway at the north side of the beach. This leads up to a path and over to Carbis Bay. The views of St Ives from this clifftop route are gorgeous, especially when the sun is shining.
Things to do in St Ives: food and drink
20. Try one of the famous burgers at Blas Burgerworks
Hidden away in the narrow alleys of St Ives is one of the world’s most renowned burger shacks. Blas Burgerworks has been commended by the Wall Street Journal and featured in the Good Food Guide for over a decade continuously. People have come to the town from far and wide just to try its burgers.
Given this hype, there are two surprising things about Blas Burgerworks. Firstly, it’s very small. So be ready for a cosy experience! Secondly, it’s not that expensive. The burgers are all priced £13.45–£14.95, which isn’t bad considering you’re getting world-renowned food.
The burgers at Blas are made with naturally reared Cornish meat, and come in a startling array of varieties. Vegan and gluten-free options are available too.
21. Learn to make gin at Tarquin’s Gin School
One of Cornwall’s best-kept secrets is that it has become a hotbed of craft gin production. A handful of distilleries have sprung up around the county as the trend has burgeoned in recent years. The first of these to emerge – and our favourite among Cornish gins – was Tarquin’s.
The business is only a decade old, but has already achieved a multitude of accolades, including ‘World’s Best Gin’ at the World Spirits Competition in San Francisco in 2017.
Following the success of the product, Tarquin’s opened two gin schools in Cornwall, one of which is in St Ives. (The other is in Padstow, the location of the distillery, in case you’re wondering.)
At Tarquin’s Gin School you can discover the secrets of hand-crafting gin and make your own bottle to take home. You can even wax and label it with your own tasting notes, all of which you’ll learn about on the day. Find out more and on the Tarquin’s Gin School website.
22. Try a proper Cornish pasty
The St Ives food scene has diversified a lot over the years, but still nothing beats the county’s most famous of food traditions: the humble Cornish pasty. Days out in the town can be busy with shopping and sightseeing, and this is the perfect lunch to eat on the go.
The classic Cornish pasty is comprised of baked shortcrust pastry stuffed with meat and vegetables, and folded and crimped into a D shape. You will find shops selling them in any Cornish town.
Our favourite in St Ives is Pengenna Pasties, just off the south end of Fore Street. If you’re driving into the town you could also stop by at Philps in Hayle, which makes one of the best pasties around.
23. Dine in the spectacular setting of Pedn Olva
Few restaurants are blessed with such a stunning location as Pedn Olva in St Ives. The white building is perched on top of the granite rocks wedged between the harbour and Porthminster Beach, with waves crashing just a few feet below, and the ocean stretching out in front.
The menu at Pedn Olva features fresh Cornish seafood and gastro-style pub classics. It’s a real treat, but surprisingly not that expensive for a reputed restaurant with such incredible views. Mains begin at £11.
If you really want to push the boat out, you can book to stay the night at Pedn Olva in one of its amazing sea view rooms.
Things to do near St Ives
24. Have a pub lunch in Zennor village
The pretty seaside village of Zennor is a few miles west along the coast from St Ives. You can reach it via a scenic ten-minute drive, or continuing up inland from Zennor Cove on the coastal walk.
The Tinners Arms in Zennor is one of those brilliant village pubs that just oozes homeliness and olde-world character. It’s one of Cornwall’s oldest pubs, dating back over 700 years. A hearty lunch in its large sun-exposed beer garden followed by an ice cream from the legendary Moomaid of Zennor next door is the perfect way to break up the coastal walk from St Ives.
25. Take a road trip around Penwith
Thanks to St Ives’ location on the threshold of the Penwith peninsula, it is the gateway to some of Cornwall’s most bleak and dramatic scenery. This sparse region is at the extreme southwestern tip of the UK, incorporating both Land’s End and Lizard Point.
You can drive all the way around the peninsula on a scenic coastal road. It’s a route that contrasts simple hilly countryside, breathtaking ocean views and a smattering of historic landmarks. The latter is because this part of Cornwall is its most historic, from the ancient ritual sites to the relics of age-old mines.
On the way around you can stop by at the seaside town of Penzance on the opposite side of the peninsula from St Ives. The route also encompasses beauty spots such as the Botallack Mines, the Minack Theatre and quaint fishing village of Mousehole.
Map of things to do in St Ives
You can see the St Ives activities, highlights and landmarks featured in this article on the map below:
Where to stay in St Ives
These are our top picks for places to stay in St Ives for different accommodation styles and budgets:
- Backpackers: Cohort Hostel, one of the coolest and most sociable hostels in Cornwall.
- Guest houses: Storm in a Tea Cup, with garden views a short walk from Porthmeor Beach.
- Mid-price hotels: The Queen’s Hotel, just off Fore Street with a great gastropub on site.
- Luxury hotels: St Ives Harbour Hotel & Spa, overlooking Porthminster Beach with great facilities.
- Luxury cottages: Zareba, with three bedrooms, a fireplace, free-standing bathtub and two kitchens.
We’re in the process of compiling a comprehensive guide to the best places to stay in St Ives, so look out for that soon. Zareba mentioned above is also featured in our guide to the best luxury cottages in Cornwall.
Thinking of visiting Cornwall on a remote working trip? See our ultimate guide to taking a workation in Cornwall. Also see our ideas for fun things to do in Truro and fabulous things to do in Falmouth.
Have you been to St Ives in Cornwall? Let us know your own recommendations in the comments below.
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