Often described as a jewel in Cornwall’s crown, St Ives is a holiday destination that must be experienced to be truly appreciated. With seven beaches (some of which are amongst the best in the UK, if not further afield), attractive cobbled streets and a quality of light that has been captivating artists for over 200 years, once you arrive, you maybe not want to leave.
There’s plenty to keep you, your friends and your children occupied whilst in this southwest corner of Cornwall, from galivanting and galleries to events and eateries.
Continue scrolling to find out everything you can do in St Ives or tap the button to find a cottage to call home.
Arts and Crafts in St Ives
Are you inspired by the beautiful quality of light found in St Ives? Why not participate in one of the many art and craft courses available year-round? Barnoon Arts offer arts and crafts for the whole family from drawing and watercolours to crafts such as beach-find mosaics, guitar for beginners and candle making.
At Leach Pottery, you can participate in a family clay day, or take a longer 3- or 5-day course in pot throwing. The St Ives School of Painting offers courses in mixed media, oils, watercolours and drawing suitable for all levels, from complete beginners to those with more experience. Other independent artists offer opportunities in a range of activities from drawing to glass sculpture – quintessential St Ives things to do if you’re an art lover!
Tate St Ives
With a changing series of exhibitions throughout the year, the Tate Gallery is a must for visitors to this coastal town. At Tate St Ives, you can explore the history of modern art in St Ives with works by artists such as Ben Nicholson, Peter Lanyon and Barbara Hepworth as well as Piet Mondrian and Naum Gabo.
Located on the doorstep of Porthmeor Beach, come and celebrate West Cornwall’s connections to the wider art world by exploring the four award-winning galleries, as well as taking in the stunning architecture of the building itself. When you’ve had your fill of painting and sculptures, why not sample some fine art of a different variety by tasting a beautifully crafted coffee in the rooftop cafe?
Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden
Tate St Ives also manages the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden. Open year round, this museum and garden is based at Trewyn Studios where she based herself from 1949 until her death in 1975. The museum displays sculptures in bronze, stone and wood along with paintings, drawings and archive material.
The garden was laid out by Hepworth with the help of her composer friend, Priaulx Rainier, and many of the bronzes are still in the position in which the sculptor placed them herself. The work of Barbara Hepworth is also on public display around town at the Malakoff, the Guildhall and Trewyn Gardens (find out a little more about these later on).
Keeping the arty theme going, we’re off to Porthminster Gallery, a richly diverse showcase of expressive and sometimes surprising works by over 60 artists, many of whom are inspired by St Ives and Cornwall.
Not just an award-winning art gallery, Porthminster is one of the premier art galleries in Cornwall; in fact, it was voted ‘The Best Art Gallery in Cornwall' by readers of Cornwall Today magazine. Close to the Barbara Hepworth Museum, so you can do both in one day if you like, the gallery showcases paintings, signed original prints, sculptures and ceramics alongside collectable post-war pieces and modern art.
Cinema and Theatre in St Ives
Merlin Cinemas runs close to 20 cinemas across the UK, including six in Cornwall. Royal Cinema in St Ives has three screens and shows all the popular Hollywood releases as well as the occasional art or foreign film. Prices are competitive and they sell snacks and drinks.
For a slightly different viewing experience, time your visit in the summer for when the Cornish Cinema Club are in town. Popping up all over Cornwall, this company sets up its cinema on Porthmeor Beach and shows classics such as Top Gun, The Greatest Showman and more! Grab a pizza from West Beach and set up your deck chair/blanket for a cinema event like no other.
If theatre is more your thing, head over to Kidz R Us. Celebrating its 29th season in 2023, this multi-award-winning theatre company offers homegrown talent the chance to show off their acting chops. Mixing adults with children, productions coming out of this performing arts hub include Annie, Les Misérables, Cats, and various musicals.
St Ives September Festival
If you’re looking for things to do in St Ives once the children have gone back to school, visit in September and witness this magnificent celebration of music and arts. Taking place across two weeks, the St Ives September Festival is choc-full of incredible musical acts, free exhibitions, film screenings, art workshops and street entertainment.
You’ll find some big names at the Guildhall, as well as other enviable shows at St Ia Church. There are plenty of other venues throughout the town too, showcasing poetry, spoken word performances, comedy and dancing. So, grab a beer from the St Ives Brewery stand and find out why St Ives’ got talent!
St Ives farmers’ market
Running every Thursday throughout the year, the St Ives farmers’ market is a marvellous platform for some of Cornwall’s best produce and businesses. Located in the Guildhall and open from 9.30am until 2pm, the market offers tasty treats to satisfy sweet tooths and lovers of savoury. There are many principal sellers who are well-renowned in St Ives, but new stalls are being added all the time.
If you don’t require anything for your belly, how about something for your heart? The craft stalls selling their handmade wares make the perfect gift for yourself or one of your guests, or you could even pick up a flower to plant in your garden back home to remind you of your St Ives holiday.
Escape Time St Ives
There’s plenty to do in St Ives whilst the sun is shining. However, if the heavens open and you’re satisfied that you’ve been to enough art exhibitions, we think we have the perfect St Ives activity for you.
Escape Time St Ives offers award-winning escape rooms with games such as the aptly named The Lost Treasure of Pirate Kernow, and Prison X. Gather your group of up to six members and start the one-hour timer. Find the clues and solve the puzzles together to escape the room in time.
If you’d like a taster, try these head-scratchingly tricky riddles first.
Beaches in St Ives
St Ives is truly blessed when it comes to beaches, with no fewer than seven calling the town home. There are even more if you’re willing to travel the short distance around to Hayle but we’re going to focus on the seven St Ives beaches that are among the best in Cornwall.
Overlooked by the Tate St Ives, this gorgeous sweep of sand sits between two rocky headlands and has an excellent beachside cafe. It’s also an excellent spot for surfing in the winter.
Tucked beneath the Island (which isn’t actually an island), you’ll find Porthgwidden Beach, a lovely sandy cove with beach huts and a cafe.
This small beach, situated just below the St Ives Museum, is found via a series of narrow back streets. It’s secluded and dog friendly all year.
Lambeth Walk Beach
Disappearing at high tide, this small sand and rock beach joins up with Harbour Beach and can be reached from neighbouring Porthminster Beach at low tide.
Possibly the most family-friendly beach on our list, Porthminster is great for paddling when the tide is low. This wide beach also offers lots of sand for building castles or relaxing – your choice!
Boasting clean, turquoise waters despite the many vessels deployed here, Harbour Beach is the town’s central beach. Look for sea glass before grabbing some fish and chips or an ice cream.
Carbis Bay Beach
Walk along the coastal path for 1 mile from Porthminster Beach and you’ll come across Carbis Bay Beach. A bay with a Mediterranean vibe, these shores are perfect for swimming, kayaking and paddleboarding.
Walks in St Ives
With the South West Coast Path passing through the town, St Ives is bound to have some exquisite walks on offer. Pack a bag, pop on your walking boots and cross your fingers for fair weather… we’re going on a hike!
Perfect if you want to take in a little history on your scenic walk, this ramble exhibits a 50ft tall granite obelisk in Steeple Woods. The panoramas from the top of Worvas Hill are exceptional, a worthy reward for a short yet steep climb.
The coast path to Zennor
Cited as one of the more spectacular stretches of the (already spectacular) South West Coast Path, this route from Porthmeor Beach to Zennor can be hard going so make sure you stop regularly to take in its beauty. Sights include Man Rock, the ruins of the Klavji, and Seal Island.
St Ives To Lelant
Heading in the opposite direction to Zennor, this walk takes you past beautiful Carbis Bay, Hawkes Point and Porthkidney Beach before arriving in Lelant. If you wanted to cross the Hayle Estuary and check out some more beaches, you can continue along the coast, taking in no less than five more beaches before reaching Godrevy Point and Godrevy Lighthouse.
More things to do in St Ives
We’ve covered most of the things that you can do in St Ives but if you are busy bees and you want to pack in as much fun as you possibly can whilst on your Cornish break, here are a few extra activities and destinations to fill your days.
St Ives Railway
Considered by many to be one of the most scenic rail routes in the UK, the St Erth and St Ives line hugs the coast and passes the Hayle Estuary RSPB reserve, the dunes of Porthkidney Beach and the hypnotic views over Carbis Bay.
Boat trip to Seal Island
You may have seen Seal Island if you took our suggested walk to Zennor but nothing beats getting up close and personal on a boat tour. Vessels leave the harbour daily to visit this island 3.5 miles off the coast and you’ll also get to look back towards St Ives and soak up the rugged coastal scenery.
Surfing and paddleboarding
St Ives is a popular destination for surfers and paddleboarders, with Porthmeor Beach often providing the only surfable waves in West Cornwall during the winter months. Less swell can be advantageous if you’re looking for a relaxing time on a paddleboard though. And if you’re visiting during the summer, the smaller waves can be perfect for beginner surfers.
If you want a break from the salt water, there are some lovely gardens worth visiting. St Ives Memorial Gardens sits by a church and can be a serene spot to rest and listen to the church bells. Trewyn Gardens is a hidden spot and is therefore another great place to find solitude away from the bustle of the town. Lastly, The Malakoff Garden has one of the best views in St Ives, sitting as it does high above the harbour with an outlook over the bay and towards Godrevy Lighthouse.
The Invisible Man of St Ives
The last ‘attraction’ on our list won’t take you long to visit but you will have to find it first! This invisible man is more of an institution than an attraction and he stands at the top of some steps overlooking Bamaluz Beach. Visit on a still day as if the wind gets up too much, he might get blown away. A small donation for selfies or photos can be placed in the box by his feet.
Self-catering holiday cottages in St Ives
Come and stay at one of our self-catering St Ives cottages and have the holiday of a lifetime. We have luxury cottages for a 5-star stay, family-friendly holiday lets and dog-friendly accommodation too so no one gets left behind. Book your break today.
Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing,
please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.