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The Best Things To Do In St. Ives Cornwall

St Ives is a seaside gem in the very south west of England. It is nearly at the tip of Cornwall and unlike anywhere else in the country, with rugged landscape, turquoise waters and its own history. Legend has it that St. Ia sailed over to this little peninsula from Ireland in the 5th century, so there is some Celtic influence. Nowadays though, St. Ives is known for its art and beaches.

St. Ives’ culture and beauty have attracted so many from around England that a Cornish person is hard to find!

Cornwall is has become a great escape from the city, especially after the pandemic. This remote county offers quaint rural seaside villages, perfect for road trips and coastal walks. The town of St. Ives is a lively summer destination in itself, with five beautiful beaches and endless art galleries. There are plenty of things to do, but St Ives is a small enough town that it can be experienced in a day.

These are the top things to do in St Ives that you won’t want to miss. You can do them all in a day with my itinerary below, or you can spread the activities out over a weekend trip from London. I visited in June and couldn’t believe that I was still in England, with glorious sunny weather and unbelievable beaches. If it wasn’t for the Pimm’s on tap, I could have mistaken it for the Mediterranean with the cobbled meandering streets and whitewashed buildings.

Here are the best things to do in St Ives Cornwall

Beaches in St. Ives –

White sand, turquoise water and so many to choose from! Here’s a quick low down of the five main beaches in St Ives. There are more beaches along the coast but they are outside the town.
Porthminster Beach – Largest beach with water activities, has rentals and a cafe
Harbour Sand Beach – You can go swimming in the harbour!
Bamaluz Beach – Lovely secluded spot, perfect for a picnic on a windy day
Porthgwidden Beach – Protected horseshoe shaped beach with a small cafe/ bar
Porthmeor Beach – Surf beach, has a wide break all day every day

Local Arts –

St Ives is known for it’s Art. Visiting the town just isn’t complete without a stroll down Fore street to have a look at the local products. There is also a handful of other crafty souvenirs ranging from jewelry and antiques to skin care products and fashion. I don’t usually buy much to take home from a holiday, but I found the souvenirs here quite practical. I will actually use the skin care items and I found some jewelry made from recycled sea glass!

Cornwall Culture –

Along with the artwork in shops, St. Ives is filled with artist studios, galleries and museums of local pieces. The Tate St Ives is the big museum, but the Barbara Hepworth Museum and sculpture garden are also well worth a visit. Among other cultural spots, is the Parish Church named after St Ia, and the the old Market Place across from it.

Beautiful Scenery –

Being on a small peninsula, St Ives has amazing views in any direction you look. The winding cobblestone streets and old stone buildings are typical of an old Cornish village. There are nooks and cranny’s of viewpoints and vignettes for photographers or instagrammers, and they say that on a good day you can see Wales from St Ives head.

Food –

Cornwall is known for it’s small fisherman villages and St Ives is no exception. You will find the Cornish classics like cream tea, pasties, fudge, and fish and chips on every corner, but there are also many top rated restaurants. The specialties are always fresh seafood and whatever the catch is that day.

An Ideal Itinerary for One Day in St Ives.

If you want to fit all of the highlights from above into one day, here’s my recommended itinerary for one jam packed (but not too hectic) day in St. Ives, Cornwall.

10am – Arrive to St Ives and go to a museum.

Even if your not a huge art person, the sculpture garden at the Barbara Hepsworth Museum is outside and the Tate has a nice coffee shop! But you will want to experience some of the lovely art that the town is known for. Best to book ahead.

11:30 am – Explore the St Ives harbour for lunch.

You can have a quick peak at the shops as you make your way to the water. Strolling around the harbour is scenic and mid day everything is in the sunshine (so perfect for photos).

Get a take away lunch and sit on the St Ives harbour wall enjoying the view and the local cuisine. The harbour beach is surrounded by fantastic restaurants, but also has many informal take away options. Try a fresh crab sandwich, fish and chips or a pasty (the jumbo version of a Maltese Pastizzi) that are easy to take away. Sit on the harbour wall or rent a sun chair for one pound while you eat and admire the view.

1pm – Next stop, the beach!

The best beach in St Ives depends on what kind of activity you are looking for, as described above. However either way I recommend getting in/on the water – it’s not as cold as you think! There are many water activities and it’s a great way to see the beautiful town from another perspective.

Porthminster beach would be my go to as it is large and has Stand Up Paddle boards for rent. It’s less than a ten minute walk and you can see other parts of the town along the way. There are also change rooms and toilets nearby.

If getting all wet and sandy isn’t your thing, there are boats for hire at the harbour all day. Hire a self drive boat for to explore the water, or take a boat trip to seal island. Both options allow you to get on the water and see St Ives from another perspective.

3pm – Dry off, get an ice cream and go shopping!

Cream tea is a pot of English black tea served with a scone. The scone comes with jam and cream so thick you could hang tiles with it. That’s a bit heavy for me, but the ice cream is a great substitution on a sunny day and there are a ton of local producers. Next carry on along and around Fore Street to search for that unique souvenir. I found some Poldark inspired fudge and an antique compass. This is also a great time to meander along the historical landmarks of Market Place and St Ia Parish church. There are also some local breweries that offer samples of gin and beer.

5pm – Walk to St Ives head for the views and then Porthmeor beach for sunset.

Continue along Fore Street from Porthminster beach, towards “The Island” at the tip of the peninsula. From up here you have magnificent 360 degree views and will find an old chapel. If you walk along the perimeter, you can even say that you walked some of the South West Coast Path!

Just beside St Ives hear, is Porthmeor beach, where you will find all the surfers! It is a huge stretch of sand and west facing, so perfect for sunset. You can relax on the beach, or go to the lovely restaurant “Porthmeor Beach Services” which is more upscale than it sounds. This place is perfect for drinks or dinner and they also offer surf lessons!

7pm – Dinner with a view.

As mentioned, I loved Porthmeor Beach Restaurant but I also like trying as many places as possible when on holiday. So I headed back into town for dinner. Along the harbour there are a ton of restaurants, and many with live music on the weekends. However be sure to make a reservation on the weekends as they fill up fast. We chose the Beach restaurant where we were actually served by a person from Cornwall! She was the only local we found on our whole trip. The food was delicious and the prices weren’t bad either for having a view of the harbour. I’d recommend the seafood chowder as its been on the menu for over twenty years!

So that’s a full day of what to do in St Ives! Of course you can spend a whole week here, exploring the galleries, coastal walks and restaurants, but with this itinerary you can get the whole experience in one day!

So if your looking for things to do in Cornwall, or just a place to start your coastal hike, St Ives should definitely be on your list!

Tips for visiting St Ives:

  • Try not to visit on the weekend, it is crazy busy, especially in summer.
  • Shops close at 4 or 5pm so don’t leave your shopping until the last minute like I did!
  • Park in St Erth and take the train to St Ives for a short but scenic trip across Carbis Bay
  • St Ives is the perfect starting point for the West Coast Path – a scenic hiking route
  • Eat a pasty every day

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