10 Best things to do in St Ives, Cornwall
The north coast fishing town of St Ives in Cornwall is one of the region's best loved destinations, and with obvious reason. The town is built on a narrow peninsula fringed with sandy beaches. Radiating out from the idyllic harbour are a maze of painfully quaint cobbled streets lined with fishermen's cottages. And if all this wasn't enough, St Ives has a rich artistic heritage which is celebrated with a plethora of galleries from the small to the internationally acclaimed. To use a well worn cliché, there is something for everyone in St Ives and in this short guide we aim to suggest a few of the highlights. The list below is in no particular order and by no means exhaustive.
For a town of its size St Ives is blessed with an inordinate amount of beaches. Not only are they numerous but these are without question some of the best beaches in Cornwall (and thus the world!). There are 4 main beaches within walking distance of the town, each with a different character. Porthmeor is perhaps the best known, facing into the Atlantic and backing on to the Tate Gallery. Porthminster is the second biggest and is conveniently located next to the train and bus stations. The Harbour beach is right in the centre of town and a great, safe family option. Porthgwidden is tucked away around the corner from all the hustle and bustle with beach huts available.
The St Ives branch of the Tate Gallery opened its doors in 1993. At the time the building was as much of a talking point as the gallery itself. Overlooking Porthmeor beach this building was not intended to be invisible being around 3 storeys tall with its iconic circular entrance vestibule.
As would be expected from the Tate the gallery features contemporary art, however, there is an emphasis on the St Ives School and artists such as Alfred Wallis.
There is little doubt Barbara Hepworth was one of St Ives' most influential artists with works featured in prestigious locations around the world. She is probably best known for her geometric abstract sculptures in bronze, many of which have a hole, a concept she is credited with. The museum and gardens are where Hepworth worked from 1949 until 1975 when she was tragically killed in a fire. Her studios and gardens were opened to the public the following year with much left as it was. The gardens include many examples of here sculptures and are complemented by the subtropical plants that grow here.
Positioned where it is, jutting out into St Ives Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, St Ives is a very popular surfing destination. During the winter Porthmeor often provides some of the only surfable waves in West Cornwall with ‘the Boiler' being a highly rated and challenging wave. But surfing in St Ives doesn't end at Porthmeor, there are a few tucked away secret spots that produce great waves on the right day. In summer things are very different and beginners can take advantage of Porthmeor's sheltered aspect to learn to surf. There are plenty of places to hire the gear and lessons are available right on the beach. Check out the latest surf forecast here.
Seal Island is located around 3.5 miles (5km) west of St Ives and as the name suggests it is home to a colony of grey seals. Boat trips are run on a daily basis from the harbour. The trip along the coast is half the point of this excursion with great views of Porthmeor Beach, The Island and rugged Cornish coast. On arriving at seal island visitors can get fairly close to the seals and generally soak up the scenery. And it's not just seals; on the right day there is a whole host of other wildlife to be spotted on this sea safari.
Not only does St Ives have some fantastic beaches, it has some of the best beach cafes to be found anywhere. The best known and longest running in its current guise is the Porthminster Beach Cafe. The small whitewashed, 1920s building is located practically at beach level with views right across St Ives Bay. This award winning café is best known for seafood but there is plenty of food on offer. The Porthmeor Beach Café has equally splendid views and speaking from experience the food is great! Third in this trio of top notch beach cafes is the Porthgwidden Cafe. Open all year this little cafe is a certainly in the same league.
The Down-a-long is the old, lower part of St Ives built on the narrow ridge of land that separates the Island to the rest of the town. This part of town is the archetypal image of St Ives with its jumble of cobbled streets lined with whitewashed cottages. The street names are equally evocative and unique with favourites such as Salubrious Place, Teetotal Street and The Digey. Whilst you won't find many fishermen living in the Down-a-long anymore you will find more galleries, cafes and little shops than you can shake a stick at.
When is an island not an island? Well apparently when it is the Island in St Ives! The Island is the imposing headland that juts out into the sea from the spit of land that separates the harbour and Porthmeor beach. In ancient times it was a promontory fort but these days it is probably better known as the location of the coastguard lookout. Unsurprisingly, the views out over St Ives and the Bay are spectacular from the top of the Island. Sat on top of the Island is the tiny chapel of St Nicholas. Dating back to medieval times this single roomed granite building was built to look over passing sailors.
St Ives Harbour has always been the town's focal point. As with most harbour towns this is the area around which the town grew. The harbour in St Ives though is a cut above the rest with the area doubling as both a beach and bustling shopping street. There are any number of cafes and restaurants overlooking the harbour and the view is the reason why. Clear, turquoise waters with small boats bobbing around between the piers. It is also worth taking a stroll along the historic Smeaton's pier to get an equally stunning view back to the town.
Opened in 1877 the route between St Erth and St Ives is regarded by many as one of the most scenic rail routes in Britain. The railway follows the coast providing many spectacular views out over St Ives Bay during the 20 minute ride. Highlights include the RSPB birdwatching haven of Lelant, passing through the sand dunes overlooking Porthkidney Beach, climbing up to overlook Carbis Bay and the view of St ives as the train rounds Porthminster Point.