A Guide to St Ives, West Cornwall

A Guide to St Ives, West Cornwall

“Yet, he who breasts the hill on the road from Hayle after the sprawling villadom of Carbis Bay, passing the landward leaning woods at Tregenna Castle – he who passes these things and gazes down on the huddled town on its promontory below him, can hardly restrain a gasp of admiration.” John Betjeman, in Cornwall: A Shell Guide, 1964.

John Betjeman, poet and long-time lover of Cornwall, had a good point. St Ives in West Cornwall, once known for its fishing and tin, is a hotbed of artistic talent and a magnet for tourists. Known for its white-sand beaches, world-class eateries and unique light that casts an ethereal glow over the town, it’s the kind of place that has endless appeal for both short breaks and luxurious holidays by the sea. Brooding and romantic in winter and positively Caribbean in summer, its year-round appeal makes it one of the South West’s top destinations. 

If you find yourself enjoying a holiday in St Ives or plan on visiting St Ives for the day, there is plenty for you to see and do. Simply standing on the harbour and casting your gaze from the cascade of hodgepodge cottages, shops and cafés to the crystalline waters lapping the shore, to the views of St Ives Bay in the distance will keep you glued to the spot. That said, there are plenty of activities, attractions and tasty titbits to pull your further into the town and along a journey of discovery that’ll cement your love for this halcyon corner of the world. Let’s dive in.

A Guide to St Ives, Cornwall

St Erth to St Ives Railway

A beautiful view over St Ives showing the town's beaches, white sands, turquoise seas and harbour at low tide.

If you are visiting St Ives for the day, then a novel way to get to the town is via the St Erth branch line. At just over 4-miles long, the St Ives Bay Line leads passengers along one of prettiest stretches of railway in the world from St Erth Station, past Carbis Bay and into St Ives itself. Only taking 10 minutes each way, the journey treats onlookers to some of the most iconic views of the Cornish coast and provides a really lovely way to reach St Ives. For most of the year, there are two trains running every hour, meaning that you can make the most of regular services throughout the day. Just remember to grab a seat on the righthand-side of the train if you can to enjoy the very best views. 

Arts and Artists

Photogenic boats on the beach in St Ives. St Ives has long been a magnet for artists and painters looking to make the most of the beautiful scenery and unique light.

If Cornwall were to elect a cultural capital of art, St Ives would make a worthy claim. Home to Leach Pottery – the studio and museum of the 'Father of British Studio Pottery' Bernard Leach; gardens dedicated to the pioneering sculptor Barbara Hepworth; the St Ives Artists' Colony; the St Ives School of Painting; the Tate St Ives and more, its connection with artists both past and present is a huge part of the town’s fabric. Head towards the gleaming white contours of the Tate St Ives to see hundreds of paintings, peruse the huge number of galleries hosting works by countless artists capturing St Ives' spark on canvas, or get creative with an art course or workshop and lap up the local inspiration.

Green Spaces

If you are looking for things to do in St Ives, then why not check out the town's gardens? This is a view of the island and some of the town's green spaces.

St Ives enjoys a temperate climate with lots of sunshine hours and balmy sea breezes. Owing to its own little microclimate, it embodies the perfect conditions needed for many native and subtropical species of plants to thrive. To get lost within the town’s verdant underbelly, a trip to some of its gardens and green spaces are a must. Trewyn Subtropical Garden, St Ives Memorial Gardens and Tregenna Castle Garden are all located within the town itself, each providing somewhere tranquil to sit back and relax for a while. The island, the green peninsula between St Ives harbour and Porthmeor beach, is also a wonderful place to wander and look out over the sea surrounded by a grassy quilt. 

Places to Eat

A bowl of moules served up in a seaside cafe. No guide to St Ives would be complete without including the best places to eat in St Ives.

When it comes to places to eat in St Ives, you are simply spoilt for choice. Join the gastronomes on the wooden deck of the Porthminster Beach Café and be greeted by the delicious smell of freshly cooked fish and crisp silver skins gleaming on plates. For a tropical twist, head to the Rum and Crab shack for sea faring fodder and views over the harbour, or for Mediterranean and Asian inspired food, try the Porthgwidden Beach Café. To continue your culinary exploration of local fish and seafood, the Mermaid and the Porthminster Kitchen are tempting propositions, while the Cellar Bistro serves up classic dishes and cosy feels. The Firehouse, Blas Burgerworks and Hub all exude upmarket diner vibes and serve mouth-watering grills and burgers, while for drinks, the Sloop, the Searoom and Little Palais should be at the top of your list. 


A stunning view of the white sand and turquoise sea of St Ives, with people enjoying their time on the beach in the background and marram grass in the foreground.

As you wend your way along the uneven cobbled paths and alleyways of the seaside town of St Ives, the splintered streets present a number of beaches to steal your attention. For sunworshippers, the silky sand of Porthminster beach is a real treat, while Porthmeor beach is a honeypot for surfers. For feet-paddling and sand-castle building, Porthgwidden beach and St Ives Harbour beach are great options, while for year-round dog-friendly fun, then Bamaluz beach is the place to go. 1 mile to the south of St Ives is Carbis Bay, a wide, sheltered sandy beach that nestles into the dunes of St Ives Bay. Often protected from the swells that crash into the beaches of Gwithian and Godrevy to the north, it is a popular spot for families and sea-bathers looking to branch out from the town and savour relaxed, sun-kissed days under cloudless skies. 


A scene showing St Ives harbour and lighthouse near high tide with fishermen's cottages in the background.

St Ives is famous for its beaches, which provide stunning natural attractions throughout the year. You can also take a wander out to St Nicholas Chapel and St Ives Head, located on the island called Pendinas between the harbour and Porthmeor beach, to take in far-reaching views of the town and St Ives Bay. Of course, the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden, Leach Pottery and the Tate St Ives are all major attractions, though the list doesn’t stop there. To learn more about the town, the Saint Ives Museum provides interesting insights and exhibitions that will appeal to all ages. Detailing the history of St Ives’ heritage, it houses eight rooms across two floors and contains collections on local art, boat building, farming, fishing, sailing and more. If you fancy a bit of evening entertainment, keep an eye on the Boathouse Theatre’s line up of events too.

Things to Do 

An image of St Ives harbour with lots of boats on the water and the town in the background. Some of these boats are available for trips along the Cornish coast.

No matter what your interests, there are all sorts of things to do and activities that you can look forward to during a luxury holiday in St Ives. One of the best things to do in St Ives comes in the form of breezy boat trips along the coast. With multiple boats heading out from St Ives harbour, you can climb aboard for a spot of wildlife watching, take a jaunt out to Seal Island or venture across St Ives Bay for views of the famous Godrevy lighthouse. If it’s a calm day, you can also hire kayaks and stand-up paddleboards from local operators, or on days when there’s a little more swell, hire a surfboard or take a surf lesson at Porthmeor or Porthminster beaches. That said, activities don’t have to be action packed, and days by the shore are equally well-spent simply relaxing, picnicking and dozing on the beach in St Ives. Just remember to pack the sun cream and water as even in winter the sun can catch you out.


A stunning aerial shot of one of St Ives' beaches. There are lots of great walks in St Ives, including along the coast and inland.

Should you fancy donning your walking shoes, there are loads of walking routes around St Ives that cater to all abilities, both two-legged and four-pawed. Running along the spine of high ground between St Ives and St Just, the Tinners Way is one of the best walks from St Ives. This 18-mile path would have been trudged by miners' boots and carts laden with tin ready to be shipped and transported to foreign lands. That said, the path’s origins are probably Bronze Age and there are around 20 ancient sites including stone circles, quoits and menhirs peppered along the way. Following the South West Coast Path, you can head 6 miles south to Zennor or 5 miles north to Lelant and the Hayle Estuary. For something a little less challenging, you can also stay local and hike the 1.5 miles from the harbour up to Knill’s Monument above St Ives. Once you’ve made it back, nothing will be more relaxing than putting your feet up in your luxury home-from-home and settling in for an evening of bliss. 

Feeling inspired? Take a look at our luxury retreats in St Ives here.

Overlooking the town of St Ives in West Cornwall. Boats bob on the crystal-clear waters of St Ives harbour and fishermen's cottages, shops and cafes line the background.



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