Sandy beaches, panoramic sea views and a wealth of modern art – the picturesque seaside town of St Ives has long been the jewel in the crown of the Cornish coastline, and a cultural hub for artists and surfers alike. Here's how to spend a perfect day in St Ives.

Looking over the stone buildings and slate rooftops of St Ives, which curves round a harbour onto a grassy headland, with the bright blue Atlantic Ocean beyond.
St Ives occupies a picturesque Atlantic setting © Boris Stroujko / Shutterstock

Scenic stroll

First things first, get your bearings and soak up the salty air and bohemian lifestyle of this small town. From the train station, you can walk along the harbour dotted with colourful fishing boats, past Porthgwidden Beach to the beautiful headland known as the Island. Arm yourself with a traditional Cornish pasty from one of the many local shops (Pengenna Pasties are particularly tasty) and sit in the park near the Chapel of St Nicholas. With connections to smuggling and the Napoleonic Wars, it’s the perfect place from which to admire the power and immensity of the Atlantic Ocean.

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Looking up at the white walls, columns and ceiling of the circular interior of Tate St Ives.
Inside the striking spiral building of Tate St Ives © A G Baxter / Shutterstock

Art and culture in St Ives

St Ives has long been a haven for artists and is the birthplace of the St Ives School, a group of artists including Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth and Patrick Heron. It’s no wonder, then, that the Tate set up camp here. Housed in an iconic spiral-shaped building, the modern European art on display at Tate St Ives is a must-see, and the gallery has a rolling catalogue of special exhibitions. Just down the road from the Tate is the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden, an oasis of calm where you can relax among Hepworth’s famous stone, bronze and wooden sculptures. A combined ticket over 7 days to both museums costs £14.50. There are a number of other smaller galleries including Leach Pottery – a working pottery studio with a small museum and shop – and the St Ives Society of Artists, one of the town's most established art collectives.

The beach and clear turquoise waters of the Atlantic at St Ives, with the white cottages of the town spilling onto a headland beyond the harbour wall.
The beach at St Ives during low tide © Jason Batterham / Shutterstock

An afternoon mooch

No trip to St Ives is complete without an afternoon wandering the quaint backstreets of fisherman’s cottages lined with shops, bakeries and local galleries. Meander down Fore Street and enjoy a traditional Cornish cream tea at The Yellow Canary; bag yourself a piece of Cornish artwork at the New Craftsman Gallery; and try to walk past the glut of cakes and pastries in the window of St Ives Bakery without drooling. There are gems to be discovered like St Ives Parish Church, which has one of the tallest church towers in Cornwall, and tiny Mount Zion Coffee, who specialise in the art of making top-notch coffee very slowly.

The more adventurous can spend some time on the water enjoying a surf lesson or paddleboarding with St Ives Surf School.

Dinner with a view

Recharge your batteries and replenish the lost calories by ending a day of exploring with dinner. With some of the best restaurants in Cornwall, you’ll be spoilt for choice. Porthminster Beach Café and Seafood Café specialise in the fruits of the Cornish sea, or for supper with a sea view head to the terrace at The Loft. More casual diners should head to Blas Burgerworks, or if you’re just looking for a pint of Cornish ale check out the Sloop Inn, reputedly one of the oldest pubs in the UK.

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Getting there

Parking in St Ives is notoriously tricky (and expensive), especially in the summer when the town is thronged with tourists. If you have a car, a more rewarding option is to use the Park & Ride at St Erth station – a 15-minute drive from St Ives – and catch the coastal train to St Ives station. It’s only two stops and you can enjoy spectacular ocean views as the railway sweeps along the coast past the golden beaches of Hayle Towans and Carbis Bay. Trains from London Paddington go direct to St Erth but can take over 5 hours.

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