The big trip

A weekend in St Ives, Cornwall

Everything you need to know for a break in the arty Cornish beach town

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Why you should visit St Ives

The harbour town of St Ives is one of Cornwall’s best and most famous destinations. As well as boats and beaches, it has plenty of excellent restaurants worth a visit after a trip to the Tate, a modern art collection by the sea.

Known as the “dazzling jewel in Cornwall’s crown”, St Ives is located on the far western side of the English county. With its natural beauty, artists have been attracted to the area for decades, starting with JMW Turner and marine artist Henry Moore, who first came to St Ives in the mid-1800s. 

St Ives boasts “picturesque winding streets which ooze Instagram appeal”, said Lucy Cornes on CornwallLive.com. But look beyond the glass-fronted restaurants and pretty boutiques and you’ll find a community that’s “proud of its artistic heritage, keen to champion small local producers, bravely entrepreneurial and fiercely protective of the natural environment”.

Cornwall had a “bit of a moment” in 2021 when the leaders of the free world congregated on Carbis Bay, near St Ives, for the G7 summit, said Oliver Berry on the i news site. “Not that this corner of Cornwall really needs the extra publicity: St Ives has long been celebrated as one of Cornwall’s prettiest (and most popular) port towns.”

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Tate St Ives on the popular Porthmeor beach

Tate St Ives on the popular Porthmeor beach

Monica Wells/Alamy Stock Photo

Top attractions: things to see and do

Art galleries 

One of the top things to do in St Ives is to visit the “amazing” galleries, said StayInCornwall.com. The best known is the “fantastic” Tate St Ives, one of four Tate galleries in the world. Opened in 1993, the gallery is home to hundreds of works. Other favourites include the Porthminster Gallery, Penwith Gallery, New Craftsman Gallery and the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden. 

Beaches 

Cornwall is blessed with some of the UK’s wildest coastline and most beautiful beaches. In St Ives there are six easily-accessible beaches to choose from, “it’s fair to say this town is a sandy paradise”, said ForeverCornwall.com. Beaches include Porthminster, Porthgwidden, Harbour, Porthmeor, Lambeth Walk, and Bamaluz.

Walking and cycling 

One of the best ways to truly see the “spectacular beauty” of the Cornish coast is by walking or cycling the South West Coast Path, said StayinCornwall.co.uk. Walk east around St Ives Bay and you’ll reach Godrevy Head. Travel west then you can enjoy a “more rugged, atmospheric” coastal walk. Easy walks on the South West Coast Path include the St Ives Town Trail (1.9 miles) and Carbis Bay to St Ives (1.2 miles).

Go foraging for food 

Wild St Ives offers foraging walks along the Cornish coast, said Lucy Cornes on CornwallLive.com. “Learn about the array of edible food growing, how to forage responsibly, and what to do with your wild harvest.”

Surfing and water sports 

St Ives is regarded as one of Cornwall’s top surf spots. The best place to learn is at St Ives Surf School, located at Porthmeor Beach. The school provides bespoke surf lessons and coaching, paddleboarding tuition, sea kayaking tours and coasteering adventures.

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Trevose Harbour House in St Ives

Trevose Harbour House in St Ives

Horst Friedrichs/Alamy Stock Photo

Hotels and accommodation: where to stay 

Home to some of the “most perfect seaside experiences Britain can offer”, St Ives’s accommodation options all boast “lovely views and bags of atmosphere”, said The Hotel Guru. In its guide to St Ives, the website picks out the boutique 3 Porthminster as “ideal for a romantic getaway” and Blue Hayes Hotel as a “real gem that is almost impossible to leave”.

One of the best places to stay in St Ives is Trevose Harbour House, said The Telegraph. Given a 9/10 rating, “it’s hard to imagine a more stylish place” than this family-run, six-room guesthouse. 

If self-catering is more your style, Booking.com reviewers rate No 12 Furze Croft; The Lighthouse Penthouse, Studio and Holiday Home; and Little Dolly sea view apartment as “exceptional”. 

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The Carbis Bay Hotel near St Ives

The Carbis Bay Hotel near St Ives

Simon Burt/Alamy Stock Photo

Restaurants, cafes and pubs: where to eat and drink 

St Ives does not yet have a Michelin-starred restaurant, but two popular eateries are featured on the guide’s website. Porthminster Kitchen’s all-day menu offers “light, fresh, global cuisine with a focus on local seafood”, while Porthminster Beach Café has a seasonal seafood menu offering “unfussy, vibrantly flavoured dishes with Asian influences”. 

In The Times’s best places to eat on the coast guide for 2022, the “beautiful” Carbis Bay Hotel was picked out by chef Ainsley Harriott for being a “lovely, lovely place”. Here you should “book in for lunch at the Beach Club restaurant, order the crab or fish platter and a glass of white wine”. Harriott added: “It reminds me of Barbados.”

At the popular Una Kitchen, award-winning chef Glenn Gatland rustles up some impressive dishes on the wood-fire oven in the restaurant’s open kitchen, with diners able to watch their dinner being cooked over the flames. Brimming with local and seasonal produce, the menu provides generous helpings of fresh Cornish seafood and lamb shoulder to authentic wood-fired pizzas and antipasti. Una Kitchen even offers a flame-grilled Sunday roast.

The Queens Hotel is “recommended” by The Good Pub Guide. This is a “bustling inn” with a “spacious bar, open fire, real ales and tasty food”. Other pubs “worth a visit” include the Golden Lion, Lifeboat, Pedn Olva, Sloop, and Union.

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The train to St Ives passes the beach of Carbis Bay

The train to St Ives passes the beach of Carbis Bay

Andrew Gulland/Alamy Stock Photo

Transport: how to get there

Driving 

St Ives is a “compact town, easily explored on foot – but the traffic in high season is hellish”, said Oliver Berry on the i news site. “Parking is expensive and devilishly hard to find.” If you are to take the car, driving distances are around 190 miles from Bristol, 270 miles from Birmingham and 290 miles from London.

St Erth Park & Ride – St Ives Bay Line

One “top tip” is to “leave the car behind if you possibly can”, said Lucy Cornes on CornwallLive.com. “The small streets of St Ives were not designed for the volume of traffic you’ll find there today.” Park your car at St Erth (£4.10 Monday to Friday; £2.90 Saturday and Sunday) and take a short train ride on the St Ives Bay Line to the town. This is “one of the most spectacular train rides in the country”. 

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A seal basking on the rocks at Seal Island in St Ives

A seal basking on the rocks at Seal Island in St Ives

John Chard/Alamy Stock Photo

What the locals say…

Visit the seals on Seal Island

Since the 1930s visitors have been taking the boat trip from St Ives harbour to watch the local colony of seals “frolicking in the sea and sunbathe on the rocks”, said the Visit Cornwall tourism board. Located three-and-a-half miles to the west of St Ives, the “aptly named” Seal Island is home to more than 40 seals who inquisitively like to say “hello”.

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