Top 10 things to do in St Ives
St Ives is one of Cornwall’s most popular holiday spots, and for very good reason. Not only does the town have six beaches within walking distance of the centre — from wide sandy stretches to half-hidden coves — but it also has world-renowned galleries, wonderful places to eat and drink and a fascinating heritage to dip into. Little wonder, then, that it’s regularly named as one of the UK’s favourite holiday destinations. Here are our top 10 things to do in St Ives.
Hit the beach
Sheltering under the iconic Tate St Ives, Porthmeor beach is the best family-friendly beach in town, with a Blue Flag status, a great cafe, plus a surf school offering all sorts of watersports lessons and hire. Another Blue Flag beach, the calm waters of Portminister are perfect for swimmers and paddleboarders. Harbour beach is the place to watch the fishermen haul in their catches, whilst pretty Porthgwidden is hidden a few minutes’ walk along the coast path.
Take a closer look at the six stunning beaches in St Ives.
Browse the galleries
A trip to St Ives wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the world-renowned Tate St Ives, overlooking Porthmeor beach, and both the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden and Leach Pottery Museum should also be on your hit list. Away from the main galleries, St Ives has over 20 smaller galleries which are perfect for a quiet wander. The New Craftsman Gallery is one of the oldest, whilst the Anima Mundi gallery brings together international artists from all medias, from painting to performance and installation.
If you’re in need of a bit of R&R, then the new spa Una St Ives is just the ticket. The qualified team of therapists offer a range of treatments, from spa packages including the use of the pools, both indoor and out, sauna, steam room, jacuzzi and fitness suite. Their treatments range from indulgent hour-long massages and pedicures to spa evenings, which include one of the restaurant’s signature cocktails. There’s also a beautiful lido, open from spring.
Make a splash
Whether you’re a seasoned surfer or wanting to try out a new watersport, there are a number of water-based activities to keep you busy. On Porthmeor, right in the heart of the town, the St Ives Surf School runs beginner, improver and advanced surf lessons. They also offer a range of other lessons, too, such as paddleboarding, kayaking and coasteering, where you’ll leap off rocks into the ocean below, explore caves and float through gullies in what has to be one of the most exhilarating coastal activities around.
The award-winning Porthminster Beach Cafe serves up incredible seafood (fish comes from the day boats outside) and relaxed vibes in one of St Ives’ most enviable spots; their sister restaurant, the Porthminster Kitchen, is a good shout too. Right in the heart of the town, The Seafood Cafe is a friendly spot serving delicious fish and seafood; they also run the Harbour Fish & Chips on the front. Also worth a visit is the Rum and Crab Shack, tucked in a back street behind the harbour, The Allotment Deli for all your picnic and barbecue supplies, and the fabulous Yallah Coffee, which has a cafe hub in the centre of the town.
Like every other coastal town in Cornwall, you’re spoilt for choice for wonderful local walks, from easy circulars to more challenging hikes. This gentle four-mile loop takes in some of the most famous parts of the town, including the harbour and The Tate, whilst a longer route to neighbouring Carbis Bay passes through a nature reserve and along the sandy beaches of Carbis Bay and Porthminster. If you planning a day’s walk, we’d recommend the 12-mile hike to Zennor and back via the wonderful Tinners Arms for lunch.
Explore by bike
One of the best ways to explore the local area is undoubtably in the saddle. In town, St Ives Bikes have a fleet of bikes available to rent, from regular mountain bikes to the very latest eBikes with full suspension. The friendly team also offers guided rides, where can can join a local guide and experienced rider on a range of routes, from the 2-hour ‘Hidden St Ives’ tour to the more challenging ‘Moor and Mines’ tour, a 35-miler along the Tin Coast Trail around the Penwith Peninsula. If want to explore at your own pace, there are some brilliant circular routes around the St Ives area, including the gentle 12-mile circular to the RSPB in Hayle, and a more challenging scenic loop from St Ives to St Michael’s Mount.
The ‘island’ of St Ives is one of the best places to view wildlife, from seals and porpoises to flocks of migrating birds. If you’re lucky, you may spot dolphins and basking sharks, too. Wander along the coastal path in either direction and you’ll soon spot something that will have you reaching for your binoculars. Keen birders should make the trip to the RSPB Hayle Estuary Reserve, just the other side of Carbis Bay — it’s a brilliant place for birdwatching, particularly in the winter months when thousands of wading and migrating birds overwinter here. In summer you might even spot an osprey.
Channel your inner artist
With dozens of galleries, art shops and workshop spaces, St Ives is one of the best places in Cornwall — indeed the country — to try out a new creative skill. The main galleries, including the Tate St Ives and the Barbara Hepworth Museum, run courses throughout the year, and some of the smaller spaces offer short courses and workshops, too. The St Ives School of Painting runs a huge range of courses, from still life to print making, whilst Leach Pottery offers courses in pot throwing and glazing, as well as courses for children during the holidays. The tiny gallery of Barnoon Arts runs courses throughout the year with local artists, from outdoor sketching to watercolour.
Explore the coastline from the water
If you want to take to the water, between Easter and November St Ives Boats run boat trips around the coastline, including sea safaris to Seal Island, a rocky island a few miles away, where you’ll spot all sorts of wildlife, from migrating birds to colonies of seals. Or how about a trip on a glass-bottomed boat? The friendly team at Nemo runs trips from St Ives Bay along the coastline, as well as longer excursions to Lands End. You can’t beat an evening Twilight Adventure Trip around the bay, spotting seals, dolphins, and maybe even a minke whale.
Where to stay in St Ives
At the top of town, you’ll find this former sea captain’s house on one of St Ives’ most popular roads, with panoramic views across the town and out to sea. There are thoughtful touches everywhere you look, such as the stack of boardgames in the living room, and the sunny seating outside is the perfect spot for a morning coffee or sunset G&T. You’re perfectly placed for everything St Ives has to offer — the beaches, shops, galleries and restaurants are a minute’s walk downhill.