Things to do in St Ives

The Best Things to Do in St Ives, Cornwall

The seaside town of St Ives is one of North Cornwall’s most unique places to visit. St Ives is bordered by gloriously sandy beaches, crisscrossed by cobbled streets and dotted with a combination of traditional fisherman’s cottages and trendy galleries and eateries. St Ives is a great place to live, and it’s a wonderful place to visit. Whatever type of visitor you are, there are many enjoyable things to do in St Ives – so read on and see the best things to do in St Ives.

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The Best of St Ives

Cornwall’s artistic beach town of St. Ives is one of the most popular places to visit in the United Kingdom. It has beautiful beaches, and there are several popular beaches within walking distance of the town proper. With its world-class food, you can enjoy a laid-back lifestyle. The charming winding streets of the seaside town are full of character and history, leading to the picturesque harbour, which looks like it’s straight off a postcard.

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Spend time on the beaches of St Ives in Cornwall

If you’re looking for a beach vacation, St Ives is unquestionably the place to be. You can choose from four main beaches, all within walking distance of the town. Porthmeor is the most popular, facing the Atlantic and backing the Tate Gallery. Porthminster Beach is the second biggest and conveniently located next to the train and bus stations. Portminster is one of our top beaches in North Cornwall. There’s more on the others here. If you want a more secluded beach, we recommend Porthgwidden Beach, which is tucked away in the corner of Downalong, can be a quiet spot. The Harbour beach is suitable in town and a great, safe family option. It spans the main beachfront area of St Ives. 

things to do in st ives go to the beach

Make a day of it! Get on the beach and rent a beach chalet!!!

Who wouldn’t want to rent one of those darling-looking beach chalets on Porthgwidden Beach? Put all your beach gear in there, along with deckchairs and a small camping stove. Have warm-weather gear, wet-weather gear, wetsuits, buckets, and spades, and make a day or longer of it.  Beach chalets can be rented on Porthgwidden, Porthminster, and Porthmeor beaches and it makes a day at the beach with the family so much easier. You can rent one of the 39 Porthgwidden Beach chalets by calling 01736 799097

Go to the St Ives Farmer’s Market

The St Ives Farmers market is held every Thursday between 0930 and 230pm. You’ll find it in the Guildhall. This market which showcases local producers has been running since 2008. And you’ll want to look out for Cornish Cheeses – you must try the Yarg, it is a regional specialty, although the Cornish Brie is my favourite.  

You’ll also want to look out for Cornish Gin and Cornish Saffron. Plus pick up some Cornish wine. There have been vineyards in Cornwall since 1978 and you can visit most of them. The closest to St Ives is Polgoon Valley, which you can get to on the bus to Penzance (its only 9 miles away and the bus takes a meandering 54 minutes. Try the Polgoon Valley Vineyard Sparkling Pinot Noir Rose.

Visit the Tate St Ives

Tate St. Ives is worth the visit for the Frosts and Rothko alone. Three galleries of very well-curated pieces, lots of light, and space in which to appreciate it. Since its inception in 1993, this branch of the art brand has been a popular destination for both visitors and residents alike. In addition to the gallery, the building was an essential topic of conversation at the time. This building, which overlooks Porthmeor Beach, was not designed to be inconspicuous. It’s three stories tall with its iconic circular entrance vestibule. The circular entrance of the structure, which overlooks Porthmeor Beach, is a must-see. Stunning collections of contemporary art fill the interiors, too, adding even more allure. You’ll also notice that St. Ives School is a significant focus. And famed artists like Alfred Wallis are to be found here too.

Take a Boat Trip to Seal Island off St Ives

Seal Island is about 3.5 miles (5 kilometres) west of St Ives and, as the name implies, is home to a colony of grey seals. There are boat trips available daily from the harbour. The journey along the coast is half the point of this excursion, with great views of Porthmeor Beach,

The Island and the rugged Cornish coast will welcome visitors arriving at Seal Island, where you can get as close to the seals as if fair to them and generally soak up the scenery. And it’s not just seals; on a clear day, there is a plethora of other wildlife to be seen on this sea and seal safari. A visit to Seal Island is one of the few opportunities in the UK to see these mammals up close in their natural habitat.

Visit the Sculpture Garden of Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth was without a doubt one of St Ives’ most influential artists, with works displayed in prestigious locations all over the world. Known for her geometric abstract paintings, she made bronze sculptures, many of which have a hole in them. Hepworth worked at the Museum and Gardens. The parks include many examples of here sculptures and are complemented by the subtropical plants that grow there. Read more about this and the other top gardens to visit in Cornwall here.

Take the train from St Ives to St Erth.

It is fabulous hopping on the scenic branch railway line that connects St Ives to the rest of the UK rail network in Cornwall and South West England. The train runs between St Ives and St Erth. Take in the breathtaking scenery from the train window as the line sweeps along the coast past Carbis Bay and Hayle Towans’ golden sands. Alternatively, we recommend waiting ten minutes and then disembarking at Lelant and walking three miles back into town along the coastal path. You’ll need your camera ready for this adventure! It is one of the most scenic rail routes in Britain.

Walk along Smeaton’s Pier

It’s worth taking a stroll along the historic Smeaton’s pier simply to get the stunning view back to the town. Head for the harbour, which has been the beating heart of St Ives for centuries. Sheltered by a dock at both ends, the water is cross-hatched by colourful boats from the crack of dawn. And then do pick up a coffee from The Pier Coffee Bar by Smeaton’s Pier and watch the fishermen and day anglers hauling in their catch.

smeatons pier

Watch the RNLI Lifeboat Launch

St Ives has two RNLI lifeboats that serve different purposes. Princess Royal is an all-weather self-righting Mersey Class lifeboat capable of launching in any weather condition to assist ships and people in distress. The other is the Colin Bramley Parker, a smaller D Class inshore lifeboat designed to get in and around the rocky coast and beaches surrounding St Ives.    The brave crews of the St Ives RNLI have been saving lives at sea since 1839 and have received 33 medals for gallantry.   You’ll find the RNLI station in St Ives at Wharf Rd, Saint Ives TR26 1LF, United Kingdom.  Remember to stand well back.

things to do in st ives lifeboat launch

Go to the open-air cinema on the beach in St Ives

Open-air cinemas are one of the best ways to take advantage of warm summer evenings in St Ives and you’ll find a great selection of films to watch on the beach this year.  There are family-friendly options and action movies – you’re bound to find something for all the family!  The open-air cinema in St Ives is hosted on Porthminster Beach.

Go Foraging in St Ives

For something completely different why not try foraging while you’re in Cornwall? Join Fat Hen for a foraging experience in the local hedgerows, cliffs, and coastline. It’s a fabulous experience and you’ll definitely learn a huge amount.

Visit the St Ives Bookseller

Pick up your next good read at the local St. Ives Bookseller, a leading independent bookstore with a relaxed, cozy atmosphere. Take a moment, also, to appreciate the solid oak bookshelves and floors of Cornish slate. Walk among the bookcases and discover new authors, from prize-winners to independent names. The children’s section is powerful. Ask the staff for suggestions and please do try local authors: with over 5,000 titles of different genres in the store, there’s something to suit everyone’s taste.   If you’re looking for the best books about Cornwall, then we put together a guide here.

Take a Ghost Walking Tour

St Ives Ghost walking tours are taken by the acclaimed storyteller Shanty Baba, who will light his hurricane lantern to reveal “the darker side of St Ives.” Join Shanty and see the town’s most haunted locations and the eeriest alleyways.  A walk around St Ives with Shanty Baba will take you through St Ives old town at night – where you’ll be regaled with stores of ghosts, smugglers, and spirits.  You’ll get to visit places where the restless dead wander and where supernatural experiences and paranormal activities happen! 

Visit the Well

Venton Ia Well was named after St. Ives’ patron saint, St Ia. The well (Venton in Cornish) is perched idyllically above St Ives’ surfing beach, Porthmeor.   It has been an old wishing well and a source of freshwater for people who lived nearby.  It was the main source of freshwater for locals from Downalong until 1843!  The well is an important part of the distinctive St Ives ritual of Feast Day, which is observed each year at the beginning of February.

Take a Boat Trip to Godlevy Lighthouse

The boat ride to Godlevy Lighthouse follows the coast from St.Ives Bay to Godrevy Island, providing passengers with up-close views of Porthminster, Carbis Bay, Lelant, and Hayle beaches. The boat passes the infamous Hayle Bar at the mouth of the Hayle Estuary. Godrevy Beach, with its National Trust Car Park, is located further up the coast.   It’s a fabulous way to see the coast and get some glorious views of this stunning part of the world.

Visit the Trewyn Tropical Garden

This is a lovely surprising miniature St. Ives Garden, hidden up a steep path behind Barclay’s Bank. There’s a green and tidy lawn surrounded by subtropical planting and cosy benches. It always has a really calm feeling about it, perhaps because not many people know about it!   But it’s definitely a spot for locals and you won’t find that many seagulls here either!

Visit Knill’s Monument

You’ll find Knill’s Monument high on Worvas Hill, overlooking the sea.  Knill’s Monument is a 50-foot-high granite obelisk dating back more than two centuries.   It was designed by the architect John Wood the Younger of Batheaston, who designed the Royal Crescent in Bath. It was built in 1782 as a mausoleum and memorial for the mayor of St.Ives, John Knill (1733–1811).   It is a Grade II listed monument and provides excellent views over the countryside and coast.

Visit St Nicholas Chapel on the Island

The Chapel has overlooked the lovely beaches of St Ives, Carbis Bay, and Hayle for more than 500 years.   It’s known as the Island Chapel, it stands on “the Island”, which isn’t an island, rather a small grassy peninsula.  It was originally called Pendinas, which means fortified headland and it can be found between Porthmeor Beach and the Harbour.   It is a popular place to get married and it makes for a great walk too!

things to do in st ives st nicholas chapel

See Harvey the friendly St Ives Cat

Harvey, the St. Ives Cat, lives in St Ives at Cornerways Guest House in Bethesda Place, in the lives in the Downalong area. Harvey is a friendly, fluffy black and white cat who loves to be stroked.   If you stay at the Cornerways Guesthouse, then Harvey may honour you and ask to sleep on your bed!  You might also find him wandering around – sometimes he hands out at Olive’s Café in Island square too.

St Ives is a great place to play golf.

One of golf’s (many) appealing features is that no two courses are identical and St Ives offers several well-known golf clubs that welcome visitors: The Presidents Golf Course at Tregenna Castle Hotel is an 18-hole course, open to non-residents, while the West Cornwall Golf Club is a superb links course on the Hayle Estuary near Lelant. Tehidy Park Golf Club in Camborne is another lovely Cornish course; Porthminster Beach in St Ives has an 18-hole mini-golf course.  Golfing widows and widowers can escape to the hotel’s two swimming pools or enjoy the relaxed surroundings. If you just fancy hitting a few balls more, there’s an 18-hole mini-golf course at St. Ives’ Porthminster Beach.

Go Surfing in St Ives

Regardless of whether you’re a first-time surfer or a seasoned pro, you’ll have a blast at St. Ives! Winter at Porthmeor can bring some of the only surfable waves in West Cornwall, with ‘the Boiler’ being one of the most highly regarded and difficult waves to ride. In the summer, Porthmeor’s sheltered location makes it possible for beginners to learn to surf.  You can organize surfing lessons and rental of equipment from St Ives Surf School – details here.

Visit the Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton Museum

The Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton Museum is open all year and is located in a private residence in central St Ives, Cornwall, UK, and is modeled after Burton’s smoking room in Trieste.   Burton was a British explorer, writer, scholar, and soldier.  He was famous for his grasp of languages, and his explorations of Asia, Africa, and the Americas. He was born in 1821 in Torquay and died in Trieste in 1890.   After dark, Moroccan lanterns add to the incredible atmosphere. During an hour-long tour, you’ll be served complimentary Moroccan mint tea, plus, a get the chance to talk more about Burton with the Museum’s creator, Shanty Baba.

Try your hand in a Pilot Gig Sloop.

Pilot Gigs are long narrow boats, built to transport pilots out to ships waiting to enter harbours.    They were, of course, also used for other purposes – salvage, transport, and smuggling too!  You’ll see some of the blue pilot gigs in the harbour in St Ives.  They belong to the St Ives Pilot Gig Sloop club and the club rows on summer evenings when you can head to the slip and have a go too.  I’d definitely wait for a calm evening!

things to do in st ives pilot gigs

Go crabbing off Smeaton’s Pier.

Fishing for crabs off the pier is a fabulous thing to do in St Ives.  And one of the best places to go crabbing in St Ives is off the old pier wall behind Smeaton’s Pier. It’s a great place for crab life and you should get a bite pretty quickly!

Watch the Sunset in St Ives

The Island, the headland crowned by the small Chapel that gives St Ives its distinctive silhouette, is one of the unique places to watch the sunset in St Ives. Walk at St Nicholas’ Chapel at the top for the best views of the sunset, or find a bench on the quieter seaside of the path.

sunset in st ives

Look out for a Shanty Shout

A shanty is a type of work song – they were traditionally sung by sailors and workers on merchant vessels using the rhythm to keep time when undertaking tasks together.  Traditionally they’re a “call and response” type of technique.     The word shanty is believed to have come from the French “chanter” to sing. A Shanty shout is likely to happen in a pub and you’ll definitely know it when you hear it!  The annual St Ives Shanty Shout began in 2016 and grew to include more than 20 groups singing at various venues in the town.

Go for a Walk in St Ives

Walks in St. Ives are a delight, especially when the weather is good and it’s marvellous to see Cornwall’s natural beauty, history, and wildlife which can only be appreciated by putting on your walking boots and exploring it on foot. Take a two-mile stroll to Godrevy Head or another short walk, the Upton Towans, and Gwithian Towans Circular Walk, which are great round walks on sandy paths. The Gwithian to Hayle Walk, including the Towans, is a longer walk but mostly flat and follows the South West Coast Path through the dunes to Hayle.

Then there’s the Lelant to St. Ives Walk which follows the route of the railway line where you can see three white-sand beaches all in a row and then the Reskajeage and Tehidy Walk, it is a seven-mile walk, with some steep climbs and rough paths and more suitable for experienced hikers.

Where exactly is St Ives?

St. Ives is located in North West Cornwall, England. It lies north of Penzance and west of Camborne on the Atlantic coast; it is a civil parish, port, and seaside town.

The popular town radiates out from the idyllic harbour and is a maze of quaint cobbled streets lined with old fishermen’s cottages. As if all of this wasn’t enough, St Ives has a rich artistic heritage that you’ll see in evidence in a plethora of galleries ranging from the small to the internationally acclaimed.

Where to Stay in St Ives Cornwall

Once you’ve decided to come to St Ives, you’ll next want to decide where to stay in St Ives.  And you have some great choices of places to stay in St Ives.  Whether you opt for a campsite, a caravans site, hotel B&B, or holiday cottage, there are some great spots.  Here are some of the best places to stay in St Ives. We have a full guide on the best places to stay in St Ives here.

A Great Hotel in St Ives, Cornwall

The Boskerris Hotel in St Ives is just a 4-minute walk from the beach in St Ives.  Rooms come with free private parking and there is free WiFi throughout the property.  All rooms at the Boskerris Hotel have a flat-screen TV and a private bathroom, and a coffee machine. Some rooms have sea views and terraces and the hotel offers a continental or buffet breakfast.  Check room availability and rates for this lovely hotel in St Ives here.

A Fabulous Holiday Cottage in St Ives, Cornwall

Whistler in St Ives is a stunning 2 bedroom first-floor apartment with excellent views over Tate Reach in St Ives.  The Victorian-era apartment has high ceilings and a Victorian feature fireplace with a picture bay window.  There’s an open plan sitting and dining room with two bedrooms and a modern kitchen.  There’s a washer-dryer and a back terrace accessible by French doors.  This is a new apartment for holiday rentals and it has been spectacularly refurbished.  Check rates and availability here.

Whistler Cottage St Ives

Best Hostel in St Ives, Cornwall

Located in an old Wesleyan Chapel, Cohort is a simply amazing hostel in St Ives.  The hostel has both private rooms and shared dorms, with an in-house bar, lounge, and courtyard.  The Cohort hostel is located extremely centrally, just five minutes walk to the bus and train station, and has laundry and dry room facilities with free tea and fresh coffee served every morning.  There’s a really well-equipped kitchen and all the rooms have custom-built pod beds each with its own light, plug socket, USB port, and lockable storage space; curtains on all the beds ensure privacy within the dorms and most rooms have sinks en suite.  This is a truly fabulous hostel in St Ives in a great location.  Book a room or dorm bed here!

Cohort Hostel St Ives

Best B&B in St Ives Cornwall

West by Five is a contemporary and stylish bed and breakfast in St Ives.  West by Five is located near Porthmeor Beach, Carbis Bay, and Tate St Ives.  All the rooms in this lovely B&B in St Ives, West by Five feature free WiFi. a seating area, a flat-screen TV with satellite channels, and a private bathroom with bathrobes and shower. Some rooms have a patio and/or a balcony with sea views and the bed & breakfast serves a buffet breakfast for guests.  You’ll want to book early as this St Ives B&B gets booked early.

West by Five BandB

Travel Tips for Exploring Cornwall

Final Words on the Best Things to do in St Ives Cornwall

St Ives is one of Cornwall’s most popular and beloved locations, and it’s not difficult to see why! I hope that you’ll fall in love with this lovely seaside town as well, with its sandy beaches, picturesque views, and breathtaking scenery. It is one of the best places to visit in Cornwall and its ambiance and energy refresh the soul and spirit of its visitors, your challenge will be leaving before you’ve seen it all!

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