Located on the extreme northwest coast of Cornwall, St Ives is a top spot for a visit. It was an important fishing and mining hub from mediaeval times. Tourism arrived with the building of the Great Western Railway in 1877, bringing flocks of Victorian holidaymakers in search of healthy sea air. It became a notable artists’ haven and resort, known for its glorious sandy beaches and turquoise sea. More recently, St Ives has been voted "UK’s best Seaside Town" by the British Travel Awards on more than one occasion.
The old town is clustered around the fishing harbour with steep narrow streets lined with shops and cottages. Home of Tate St Ives, this coastal community has dozens of studios, potteries and galleries thanks to the extraordinary natural light. It celebrates its artsy heritage by hosting one of the longest running Festival of Arts every September.
5 worthwhile reasons to visit St Ives
There are plenty of great reasons to visit St Ives, but here’s a taster!
Tate St Ives
Tate St Ives is a top reason to visit St Ives as it attracts over 240,000 visitors every year. The purpose-built art museum overlooks Porthmeor Beach and has four floors of paintings, sculptures and exhibitions connected by a spiral incline. Beyond the collection of contemporary artworks, there’s plenty more to enjoy. Admire the remarkable architecture with its shimmering external tiles before heading to the rooftop cafe. You’ll find some of the best views of the coast and sea from this iconic building.
St Ives’ beaches
Six beaches provides something for everyone, from rolling surf to sheltered coves. Harbour Beach is St Ives’ main beach and is naturally sheltered by the headland. Porthminster’s golden sand stretches over half a mile. Northwest-facing Porthmeor Beach offers fine surfing while Porthgwidden is a small sandy cove suitable for families. Next to Porthgwidden, the little-known Bamaluz Beach only exists at low tide and is accessed down steps from the town museum at Wheal Dream. Sandwiched between Porthminster and Harbour Beach, Lambeth Walk beach is another tidal beach and is dog-friendly all year round.
Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden
The Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden is one of the main attractions in St Ives. The exhibits are arranged around the home and garden of this famous artist and sculptor who lived and worked at Trewyn Studio for over 35 years. The display of her unfinished works still in situ are as avant-garde as ever.
Hop on the train
Ditch the car and get around by rail. It’s one of the most scenic ways to explore the coastline around St Ives. The four-mile branch line to St Erth passes beautiful Carbis Bay and Lelant as it heads inland on the short journey. St Erth has park and ride facilities and a nice cafe. Sit on the right-hand side of the train from St Erth to St Ives for the best views. All this for £4 return!
Take a boat trip
Fancy a boat trip? From the harbour, enjoy a mackerel fishing trip or just sit back and enjoy seeing the rugged coastline from the sea. Several operators run boat trips to Seal Island, part of the Carracks, about 3½ miles offshore. See a whole colony of Atlantic grey seals and the possible sighting of dolphins, basking sharks, seabirds, and even a humpback whale if you’re really lucky.
5 fun facts about St Ives
Now for some serious trivia…
Why is St Ives called St Ives?
St Ives is named after Saint Ia, a 5th century saint said to have been an Irish Princess. Legend has it that she was carried across the sea on a leaf. Her name lives on although her remains are buried beneath St Ia’s Church in St Ives.
A megalithic burial chamber near St Ives?
The area around St Ives is rich in Stone and Bronze Age sites including the famous Zennor Quoit just a short drive from the town. The sloping slabs mark a ruined megalithic burial chamber.
What’s St Ives harbour famous for?
St Ives harbour now shelters local pleasure boats, fishing boats and the RNLI lifeboat house. However, it once saw two Spanish galleons sail in, seeking shelter from a fierce storm in 1597. They were captured by Sir Walter Raleigh who just happened to be sheltering there too! The information gleaned from the captives gave England the edge in that historic naval battle.
Where’s Pedn Olva Mine?
The Pedn Olva Hotel now occupies the site where the engine house of the Pedn Olva Mine once produced tons of copper from the cliffside adit mine.
What’s that in the water?
A propeller from a warship washed ashore on the beach at St Ives in 2008. Turns out it was from the Royal Navy warship HMS Wave that ran aground 56 years earlier!
5 places to sip and sup in St Ives
These are five places where you need to arrive hungry to truly appreciate!
The Sloop Inn
Located on The Wharf, The Sloop Inn is the oldest pub in St Ives and is a characterful as its name suggests. It dates back to 1312, so it’s seen a few changes in its time. Right on the waterfront it’s a great place to nurse an icy Doombar beer and enjoy people-watching. This "locals boozer" has a typical pub menu with excellent mussels and seafood. As well as the large bar with low beamed ceilings, there are plenty of outdoor areas. The most peaceful spot to escape the hubbub is the Upper Deck Bar.
Part of the chic Carbis Bay Hotel, the Ugly Butterfly is home to Michelin star chef Adam Handling. This seafront venue offers stunning views through wall-to-wall windows while diners devour beautifully presented dishes featuring the freshest local ingredients. Despite its posh credentials, the Ugly Butterfly retains a casual vibe.
This unassuming Bar and Bottle Shop in St Ives serves a handpicked selection of low intervention wines and bottled cocktails that are chosen solely for their quaffability. Open Wednesdays through Saturdays from 4pm ’till late, Little Palais also offers a menu of nibbles to be enjoyed at a leisurely pace in The Workshop. The private dining table can be booked for 4 to 7 guests to enjoy a selection of house cocktails, organic wines and small plates in an authentic setting, or just drop in for a take-out.
Frequently mentioned on any list of Best Breakfast Cafes in St Ives, the Scoff Troff offers a full menu of scrumptiousness served until noon before moving onto lunch and dinner. They do a fantastic full English plateful of butchers sausages, thick cut bacon, Heinz beans and all the rest. Vegans don’t miss out on taste with turmeric spiced scrambled tofu and avocado toast, among other healthy goodies. Wash it down with the best “hair of the dog” Bloody Mary to help you face the day.
The Yellow Canary
Serving award-winning pasties, homemade cakes and the very best Cornish cream teas, The Yellow Canary is located on Fore Street. It has been family-owned and run since 1972. The name comes from the canaries once used by miners to detect deadly gases present in the mines. Recently refurbished, the cafe boasts professional baristas and quality baked goods to eat-in or take out and enjoy on the beach.
We’ll see you in St Ives
☀️ Why not book your holiday cottage in St Ives and discover all these delights for yourself?