With a thriving artistic heritage, charming streets and several beautiful beaches, St Ives is a popular seaside destination. Here are our favourite things to do in St Ives on a day trip.
St Ives is a picturesque fishing town on the north coast of Cornwall. Set on a narrow peninsular and squeezed in the middle by two glorious sandy beaches, it’s a popular vacation destination for sun-seeking, beach-loving tourists.
Yet, despite its popularity, St Ives manages to maintain an artistic, bohemian charm.
After the decline of the fishing industry, disused lofts were re-purposed into artists’ studios, nurturing a creative environment that has built a strong artistic heritage in the community. Strolling around the quaint backstreets lined with fisherman cottages and popping into small independent galleries is still one of the best things to do in St Ives today.
This bohemian spirit has nurtured a string of independent businesses not seen in other parts of the country. Enjoy artisanal coffee, cool wine bars, bespoke gin distilleries and a retail sector that beats to its own drum.
A day in St Ives is a great opportunity to explore the best of the British seaside. Here’s what to do.
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01 – KICKSTART YOUR DAY WITH A QUALITY COFFEE
Start the day with a coffee at one of the excellent cafes in St Ives. If you arrived by car you don’t need to go very far. St Ives Brewery, just beside the main car park (Burrows), does an excellent coffee on their outdoor terrace with views across the town. If you arrive later in the day, try one of their craft beers.
Down on the harbourfront, Yallah Coffee serves single-origin coffee with a rotating selection of house roasts. Take a seat inside café and watch the world go by or make a quick pitstop at the kiosk window.
Head a little further towards the headland and you’ll come across Mount Zion Coffee. One for the connoisseurs, this little shed with a few seats and a tiny window has a strict policy. They have little regard for lattes or cappuccinos instead, according to them, they sell “slow, pretentious expensive coffee.” But if you like it crafted to perfection, this is the place for you.
02 – DISCOVER A WEALTH OF ART
For a small town, St Ives packs quite a punch in the art world. Attracting painters, sculptors, and potters for well over a century it hit the big time when the Tate St Ives opened in 1993. Housed in an art deco building overlooking Porthmeor Beach, it focuses on modern and contemporary British artists with a link to St Ives. You’ll find works by local celebrities Barbara Hepworth, Peter Lanyon, Sandra Blow and Patrick Heron as well as related pieces by Rothko, Matisse, Picasso and more. Tickets need to be booked in advance.
Just a ten minute walk away is the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden. Moving to St Ives in 1939, Barbara lived and worked in the town until her death in 1975. One of the artists that gave St Ives its reputation, her studio and garden is now a gallery of modernist sculptures. Abstract, grand in scale and inspired by the natural world her sculpture are in the garden while the house exhibits her paintings.
There are also lots of smaller galleries tucked into the backstreets. Don’t miss Whites Old Workshops (see map below) where you can watch the 7 or 8 artists who share the space at work in their studios.
03 – EXPLORE THE DOWN-A-LONG & HEADLAND
The area around Old Whites Workshop is known as the Down-a-long. Built on the ridge of land that separates the headland from the town, it’s a maze of cobbled narrow lanes. On a summer’s day, the sunlight reflects off the whitewashed houses and glows on the evocatively named cobbled streets.
A great thing to do in St Ives is to explore the art galleries and cafes before making your way up to the headland. This rocky promontory at the end of town is a great spot for walking a short section of the South-west Coastal Path. It passes the tiny chapel of St Nicholas, a coastguard lookout, and some excellent views over St Ives and its two golden beaches.
04 – HAVE LUNCH AT A BEACH CAFE
In the UK, it’s not always easy to dine right on the beach, but St Ives is blessed with some great beach side lunch locations. Just outside the Tate, the Porthmeor Beach Café overlooks the beach from their first-floor terrace. The focus is fresh seafood and tapas but they have good options for vegetarians as well.
On the other side of town, at the back of Porthminster beach, the Porthminster Café is set in the sand under the cliffs. With fresh seafood complemented by their own garden produce and coastal foraging, it’s a land and sea fusion of Asian and Mediterranean influences.
In peak season, particularly on sunny days, the restaurants in St Ives can be overflowing, so book well in advance.
05 – AMBLE THE HARBOURFRONT & SHOPS
A colourful mix of old fishing vessels and tourist boats shelter in St Ives harbour. At high tide they are bobbing on the water, but at low tide, they are left stranded on shining golden sand. Taking a stroll along the sea walls and watching the local fisherman land their catch is a great thing to do in St Ives.
Tucked behind the harbourfront, Fore Street is the main shopping strip of St Ives. It has avoided the national chain stores and remains a hub of independent local shops with their own style.
Don’t miss the Allotment Deli with its award-winning cheeses, breads and fish; John’s with its enormous collection of Cornish alcohol; or Tarquin’s Gin School & Shop which has free gin tasting, tours or a distilling masterclass where you make your own gin to take home.
06 – SPOT GREY SEALS ON A BOAT TRIP
Britain is home to about 40% of the worlds grey seal population. The largest colony can be found on the Farne Islands in Northumberland, but Cornwall has its fair share too. A great thing to do in St Ives is to pick up a boat from the harbour and head to Seal Island or Godrevy Island. Both of which have their own grey seal colonies.
The coast along St Ives is rugged and the views across the beaches and bays is glorious. If you’re lucky it’s also possible to spot bottlenose dolphins, basking sharks, porpoises and whales.
St Ives Boats has Seal Safari Tours which last 1 hour and cost £25 for adults and £15 for children.
07 – LAZE ON THE BEACH OR HIT THE WAVES
If the sun is out and the day is warm, there’s probably no town in Britain better equipped to offer a day out on the beach. Here are some of the great choices around St Ives
Porthminster Beach is a glorious sweep of golden sand set under green cliffs. It’s great for lazing around, swimming and taking in the views.
Porthmeor Beach is on the other side of town. Facing the open ocean, great Atlantic rollers pound the shore making it perfect for surfing. Budding surfers can book a lesson at St Ives Surf School, or you can hire a board from them if you already know what you are doing.
Porthgwidden Beach is a small pretty beach tucked under the headland. Backed with colourful chalets it harks back to Victorian times.
Harbour Beach, only visible when the tide retreats, is a well-protected swathe of sand which is a great choice for young families who prefer to avoid the waves.
The Penwith Peninsula is also not far from St Ives, including the wonderful Porthcurno Beach which has several great sights including the Minack Theatre. The whole peninsula is great for scenic coastal walks and – in our opinion – the most beautiful beach in the UK.
08 – TIME FOR AN EVENING TIPPLE
You’ll have no trouble finding a classic pub for a drink in St Ives. However, there are also a few great little places tucked into the back streets.
Little Palais is a tiny wine bar with a small, well-curated selection of wines and craft beers. Jess and her husband rotate the wines regularly which can be paired with small tasting plates. They only have 5 tables (all inside) and only accept walk-ins.
St Eia Coffee and Wine is a friendly neighbourhood bar that serves organic natural wines, craft beers and fine ciders. They have a lovely menu of small simple plates that go perfectly with their drink selection.
If you love finding a hidden gen, read our guide to the best places to visit in Cornwall.
MAP / THINGS TO DO IN ST IVES
We have included our list of the best things to do in St Ives on the below map. To save them to your device, click on the star on the title bar which will load it in GoogleMaps and save it to “your maps.”
WHERE TO STAY TO VISIT ST IVES
Cornwall is a large county with a lot to see. Getting around can take some time, so it’s a good idea to know what you want to see to decide where to base yourself. Our guide to the best things to do in Cornwall has our curated list of the top experiences in the area.
To find a place to base yourself, along with our hotel recommendations, read our guide on where to stay in Cornwall.
HOW TO GET TO ST IVES
In spite of the heavy number of visitors that come to St Ives, it has retained its wonderful charm. However, it does get packed on summer days. There are plenty of car parks but in peak season it pays to arrive early. The largest car park is the Burrows Car Park, which extends into Trenwith Car Park and the field behind. From here it’s a steep 15 minute walk down into the town or a short bus ride.
Park & Ride facilities also run around the edge of the town which is a good option if the centre looks busy. There is also parking at Lelant Saltings train station.
St Ives has a small train station but direct trains only run to Carbis Bay, Lelant Saltings and St Erth. To get to St Ives from further afield you need to change at St Erth station which is on the mainline and has direct trains from London Paddington, Cardiff Central, Exeter St. Davids & Bristol Temple Meads.
BEST TIME TO VISIT ST IVES
The best time to visit St. Ives is from May to early July when the days are long and dry, and the school holidays have not yet begun. September is also excellent. Often warm and dry it also hosts the St Ives September Festival, a two-week celebration of Music & Arts including poetry, theatre, sculpture, painting, folk and rock music.
From mid-July to the end of August the weather should be better and the beaches in their prime, however, this is also peak tourist season. The area will be busy so make sure to book your trip in advance.
All our trip tools can be found on our BOOK page.
Winter months can be cold and wet, but if you can book late and wait for a window of good weather, then this could be a great time to potter the streets and amble the art galleries in relative peace and quiet.
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As London based travel bloggers, we’re often exploring exotic destinations far from home, but there’s a wealth of great experiences to be had within the UK. Here are some of our favourite guides to our home country. For more see our Britain page.
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Our guide to Porthcurno beach
The best places to stay in Cornwall
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