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The once tiny fishing village of St Ives, down in the farthest reaches of the Cornish peninsula, has grown far beyond its humble sea-faring roots. Thankfully, it has lost little of its quintessential Cornish charm. St Ives is a wonderful enclave for swimming, surfing, walking, eating, art, shopping and anything in between.

St Ives Harbour at Low Tide Cornwall

Having visited Cornwall many times over the years, this was my first visit to St Ives. Due to increased demand for British “staycation” holidays, even in October, out of the high season, I found suitable accommodation difficult to find. Hence my week away ended up being split into two days in Lynton in North Devon and a four-day “long weekend” in St Ives.  As it turned out, this was ideal as the stay in lovely Lynton helped break up the long cross-country road journey from Suffolk.

Here’s what I discovered during the Cornish part of my holiday. I hope it inspires you to visit the pretty fishing town of St Ives.

What To Do In St Ives

There are lots of things to do in St Ives and, if you’re only there for a few days like I was, there’s no need to brave the narrow and often choked Cornish roads to explore Cornwall’s other areas, for there’s plenty to see and do within walking distance of the town.

Porthminster Beach St Ives at Low Tide

Hike The Rugged South West Coast Path

From Portminster Beach, walk Westwards (along the beach if the tide is low) to the harbour, then take the SW Coast path up the hill.  Follow it around the headland, then down onto Porthmoer beach (a great surfing beach), past the art-deco monolith of the Tate Gallery building, and then up onto the far headland. You can then follow the path as far as you wish, taking in the beautiful, rugged Cornish coastline, finding hidden little coves, and clambering over the rocks.

SW Coast Path Near St Ives

Take snacks and drinks as once you leave Porthmoer Beach there are no facilities.  There are toilets behind the Surf School at the end of Porthmoer Beach for a quick pitstop.

Relax on One of Many Beaches

When it comes to beaches, St Ives is head and shoulders above most British seaside towns. Not only are the beaches immaculately sandy, but they are also lapped by the typically clear Cornish seas, an ever-changing palate of turquoise greens and dolphin blues. The big skies and their unique light (which is said to be what attracts so many artists to the area) add an overall Greek or the even Caribbean feel to the beaches, especially when the sun shines.

Porthmoer Beach St Ives Cornwall from SW Coast Path

Not only are there lots of beaches to choose from, all within walking distance of town and its holiday accommodations, but each beach also has its own unique character and attractions.

On one day you can hire a surfboard or take surfing lessons on Porthmoer beach with its rolling white top waves, where lifeguards reassuringly watch your every move.  On another day swim in the calmer waters of Porthminster Beach or hire kayaks and stand-up boards. After a slap-up breakfast overlooking the crescent sands of Porthgwidden Beach, take a dip in the luminescent warm waters, and sunbathe in this sheltered bay whilst reading your favourite book.  Bamaluz beach is a small bay on the headland past the harbour, and a great place to sit and eat your fish and chips.

Bamaluz Beach St Ives Cornwall

A short walk along the coastal path to the East brings you to Carbis Bay (now infamous as the venue for the G7 leaders’ barbeque earlier this summer). This is another great beach for swimming and sunbathing, and is often less crowded than Porthminster.

Whatever you prefer to do at the beach, St Ives has it all.

Discover St Ives’ Artistic and Seafaring HisTory

There are several museums in the town, including the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden and the St Ives Museum.  The former can be found on the corner of Barnoon Hill and Ayr Lane, amongst the whitewashed lopsided cottages and cobbled lanes. Barbara Hepworth moved to Cornwall in 1939 following the outbreak of world war 2 where she established the Trewyn Studios. The studio became a museum in 1975 following her death and is said to have helped establish St Ives’ influence on the global art scene. At the museum, you can see her still working studios and a range of exhibits, mainly her typical bronze sculptures, in positions chosen by the artist herself.

Cobbled Streets of St Ives Cornwall

If it’s a complete history of St Ives and its sea-faring past you are more interested in, then visit the St Ives Museum on the headland at the north end of the harbour.

The travellers amongst us will want to visit the Sir Richard Burton Museum, one of the most influential explorers of the undiscovered world and inspiration for so many expeditions.

Another great way to discover the historical past of St Ives is to take a guided walk and Shanty Baba the Storyteller of St Ives is a great place to start.

Marooned Boats in St Ives Harbour At Low Tide

 

Browse In The Numerous Art Galleries

If you love art, St Ives is the place for you. Renown globally and a magnet for artists of all backgrounds, the wonderful natural light, and varied scenery provide the perfect base for scores of artists from around the world.  The Tate St Ives is also the home of an offshoot of the Tate Modern Gallery, located in a monolith art deco building sitting high above the golden sands and rolling waves of Porthmoer Beach.

I must admit, having recently spent a day at the Tate in London, I was disappointed with the Tate Gallery in St Ives.  There aren’t many exhibition rooms and even though reading most of the accompanying information on most exhibits, was in the café within an hour.  The cake and coffee in the café were excellent by the way, and the view from the windows either out to sea or across the rooftops of St Ives is worth a visit.

An alternative way to satisfy your art fix, which I personally much preferred, is to wander the winding back streets and stumbling on the many small, independent galleries, artist studios, and art shops. In many, the artists are busy working away inside the galleries and are often more than happy to chat about their work.

St Ives Art Galleries

Find Solitude At Trewlyn Garden

When you’ve done enough shopping in the many boutique stores and galleries, or had enough sun rays and need a quiet time for contemplation, head to the Trewlyn Garden.

This tiny oasis in the centre of St Ives’ cobbled streets, provides a tranquil place to sit and enjoy the bird song and sub-tropical gardens.  The garden can be found hidden away at the top of Lifeboat Hill.

Trelwyn Gardens St Ives

Photo: Jo Eyre (JoJo Grows)

Where To Eat In St Ives

St Ives has developed a thriving food scene. Unfortunately, as ours was only a short visit, we didn’t get a chance to eat at as many of the tempting restaurants and bars as we would have wanted. However, we did eat at some amazing places, and here are a few to choose from.

Sticky Toffee Pudding Porthminster Cafe St IvesYou can’t visit St Ives without eating at the Porthminster Beach Café. Although it’s at the higher end of the price scale, the quality of the food, together with its location, make it a perfect restaurant for a special occasion, or just a romantic dinner. The cafe (which is more of a bistro) also does an excellent cooked breakfast and delicious lunches. It also has a heated outdoor terrace and separate garden bar, all overlooking the breathtaking Porthminster beach. The cafe’s burgeoning reputation means it is always busy, so reserve a table via their website well in advance. I can especially recommend the monkfish curry and the sticky toffee pudding was melt-in-the-mouth delicious.

We also ate at the Seafood Café, which to be honest was a little disappointing as it comes with rave reviews.  The food was okay, but nothing special.

Whilst wandering the back streets, we stumbled upon the Bier Huis Grand Cafe, a small bistro/bar specialising in Belgian beers and food. If you like Trappist beers this is a must, with a good selection of bottled beers and some on tap. You can also buy takeaway beer from their cute little hatch, from just a single pint to a gallon bag.

Best Cornish Pastie In St Ives

Pengenna Pasties Cornish Pastie Best in St IvesAs I always do when in Cornwall, I indulged in Cornish pasties.  By far the best bakehouse to get a traditional pastie is Pengenna Pasties on Bedford Road. These enormous beauties, stuffed with steak and vegetables and heavily seasons as a Cornish pasty should be, are hand prepared at the back of the shop.

Where To Stay In St Ives

In St Ives, you are spoiled for choice. There are a plethora of holiday homes for rent and a small selection of hotels and B&Bs.

We decided to avoid the tempting little fisherman’s cottages in the winding, narrow, cobbled streets between Porthmoer Beach and the harbour (parking is a nightmare!) and instead went for an apartment with a sea view a short walk out of the main town. Porthia Penthouse, available to rent via Orange Roofs, fits the bill perfectly.  It has an allocated parking space out front and has recently been refurbished to a very high standard and comes with complimentary passes for the adjacent spa at the Harbour Hotel. More importantly, its picture windows and balcony provide stunning views down onto Porthminster beach and the bay beyond. The sunrise on our final day in St Ives was particularly vivid (see the unfiltered photos below as well as my Reluctant Backpacker Instagram feed).

Sunrise Photos Over St Ives

The sunrises over Porthminster bay and viewed from our holiday apartment were so beautiful and varied that I had to dedicate an entire section to them. The photos were taken on an Apple iPhone 12 Pro, using the telephoto lens. I have applied to filters nor edited any of the settings. The iPhone is just great at pre-processing surmises (and sunsets). I just love the way the sky changes vibrancy and colour as the sun rises.

Sunrise Over Porthminster Beach St Ives Cornwall Main
Sunrise View From Porthia Penthouse Holiday Apartment St Ives
Sunrise Over Porthminster St Ives 4

Getting There

As there is so much to do in and around St Ives you don’t really need a car. Car parking is at a premium and you’ll need a cool nerve to drive anything bigger than a Fiat 500 through the narrow, winding and pedestrian thronged streets. If you do drive here, try to find accommodation with its own parking or at least a reserved space in one of the car parks. Driving into St Ives is relatively easy, it’s just off the main A30 Cornwall artery.

St Ives is also served by a railway line. You may need to change at Truro if coming from London or farther afield, but the line into St Ives runs along a very scenic route, which is well worth taking even if you just go to nearby Lelant and back.

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