Depending on who you ask (your mum, your boss, your 5 year old, or your taxi driver), St Ives in Cornwall generates all manner of memories and experiences. And isn’t that just the best thing of all? Of all the things to do in St Ives, you’ll never be short of options.
Although there’s a strong artistic thread, it’s also one of the prettiest Cornish seaside towns. But sun, sea and sand aside, let’s get to grips with what to see, do and experience in St Ives and the inseparable Carbis Bay.
7 things to do in St Ives
- Take a train ride
What? We’ve only just got here! Whether you arrive by train or simply take a train ride in and out of town during your stay, just do it, as some wise brand manager once said. The views of St Ives and Carbis Bay from the train are unmissable. It’s a glorious way to genuinely gauge the wider scenery, the oh so long golden sands of St Ives Bay and the sweeping harbour wall with lighthouse perched atop.
- Art galleries and museums
This St Ives (not the one in Cambridgeshire) is home to Tate St Ives, a striking seafront gallery. It is homage to and reflection of the arts scene that has thrived in this Cornish town for an age already. And however many times you return to St Ives, there’ll be something new to see here thanks to regular new installations. Plus, the cafe on the roof doles out the views like sweets and they’re pretty kid-friendly here too.
Right in the centre of town the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden puts one of those arty locals front and centre for all to appreciate. One of the 20th-century’s greatest sculptors, Barbara Hepworth found great peace and inspiration upon moving to Cornwall and many of the 30 sculptures on display here are still exactly where she put them for her own enjoyment.
Around the corner is the Leach Pottery. Once pivotal in positioning the concept of artist potters was its owner Bernard Leach. The pottery today is a museum and gallery telling his story and that of studio pottery.
- Wondrous wildlife
No, we don’t mean the seagulls diving for your fish and chips. Take a boat trip out to mini archipelago The Carracks and head for Seal Island. Its colony of Atlantic grey seals, depending on their egos (and the time of year), will delight young and old.
In the summer months don’t be freaked by the fins of basking sharks in the water. Typically they’re after plankton rather than toes. More joy-generating, if you can suss out when feeding time for the dolphins is, you might just get lucky and spot a hungry pod out for lunch near your boat.
- Walk around town
In a town that’s home to a laneway called Teetotal Street, you know things are going to be interesting if you look properly. St Ives is a maze of cobbled streets and curiously named lanes dotted with quirky crafts, artisan producers, locally sourced food and gorgeous independent shops. The town is awash with charming fisherman’s cottages and from every turn there’s a view to take in.
The South West Coast Path traces all the way along St Ives Bay and Carbis Bay, through town, around The Island and onwards. A particularly stunning, and tricky underfoot, section leaves Porthmeor Beach towards Zennor if you fancy a challenge. But if you’re just looking to explore beyond the town a little there are plenty of routes and views to discover.
A short yet steep climb will steer you to Knill’s Monument, designed as a mausoleum for an 18th-century mayor of the town who sadly died and was buried in London. A lengthier effort via St Michael’s Way will lead you all the way to Marazion, some 12 miles away. Boots at the ready!
- Visit outside of peak season
Get your timing right and an off peak visit to St Ives will charm your socks off with community spirit and sheer joy.
Visit St Ives in May for the annual Food & Drink Festival to feast on Cornish food and drink while learning from the best Cornish chefs. Taking over Porthminster Beach for the weekend, this’ll put a whole new perspective on sand in your sandwiches.
Turn up in September for a typically St Ives bash. 200+ performers and artists celebrate with music, art, theatre, walking tours, open events and exhibitions over a two week period. St Ives in September is like an equally impressive yet smaller scale Edinburgh Fringe.
Ditch the festive haze next December and instead head to St Ives and Carbis Bay. A jam packed calendar of Christmas events takes over the town including farmers markets, live music, Christmas lights and children’s events. And the icing on the pasty? A fancy dress carnival through the streets on New Year’s Eve. Move over Notting Hill, Cornwall is where it’s at.
- Beaches and beachcombing
The lay of the land in St Ives and its headland, not forgetting its geology, make for fabulous beach holidays in Cornwall. St Ives Bay stretches wide, sweeping away from the town and across the Hayle estuary all the way to Godrevy lighthouse.
Within immediate vicinity of the town there are four beaches:
- Harbour Beach is the town beach sheltered by Smeatons Pier and backed by Wharf Road. It packs a punch with all the pretty boats in the harbour and the glorious Cornish light bouncing all around.
- Porthgwidden Beach is a dinky bay around the other side of the harbour wall in the shadows of St Nicholas Chapel atop the grassy knoll known as The Island
- Porthmeor Beach is at the back of town, overlooked by the Tate.
- Porthminster Beach extends away from town as far as the Hayle estuary – you can pretty much step off the train on to it.
If your munchkins are fascinated by tales of pirates and talk of treasure hunts, beachcombing in St Ives is a must-do activity. There are plenty of shells but also seaglass, driftwood and Lego. Since a container full of Lego went overboard in 1997, lego pieces have been washing up on Cornwall’s beaches. Forget rockpooling; it’s all about beachcombing here.
- Stay in Carbis Bay
Carbis Bay is a privately owned beach that is thankfully open to the public. Follow the coast path or go one stop on the train from St Ives for a day trip to Carbis Bay. It’s a picturesque spot with a wide expanse of the golden grainy stuff and gradually sloping at the seashore making it perfect for launching a kayak or paddleboard. Bring your own or hire them here to reduce the load. Bring a picnic or make an excuse to explore the promenade of shops in search of lunch and whatever else catches your eye.
But you don’t have to just visit, you can stay here too in one of our Carbis Bay holiday cottages.
So a stay in St Ives is brimful with sea air, cultural beats and enough cobbles to keep your step counter happy for the duration of your visit. Beauties like Coasters Cottage get snapped up quickly, but we have more than ample sufficiency of gorgeous places to stay in Ives.
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