St Ives: The Complete Visitor Guide

Written by: Ben Pike

Lose yourself in the quaint Cornish cobblestoned corridors of St Ives. Long before the days of big city grid system streets, miners, farmers, fishermen and pirates were sculpting town alleyways and village paths to dip and weave, intertwined with the rise and fall of the land, and the ebb and flow of the water.

Almost unchanged since those long past Celtic days, St Ives is an opportunity to time travel. Only now, with all the luxuries and amenities of modern hotels and fine dining to keep you comfortable, and endless art galleries and museums to keep you entertained.

St Ives is a smoothie of rustic slate-roofed cottages and minty fresh abstract art. A generous dash of culture, and a sprinkle of indulgence, and you’ve got one scrumptious, slurpable, station you’re gonna HAVE TO disembark the train at.

Ever since the opening of the world-renowned Tate Gallery and the nearby Barbara Hepworth Museum, St Ives has become Cornwall’s epicenter of art. But even since way before this fresh influx of artist influence, people have been pulled to paint and draw its spectacular scenery.

Picturesque would be an understatement!

Around St Ives

St Ives Sign Post

Whether you’ve wound your way down the winding path from the carpark above the town, or you’ve arrived by train and are rabbling along the Warrens cottage-lined streets, very soon, after passing enchanting views, golden sand beaches and balancing rocks, you will be enveloped into the embrace of St Ives art and history.

Born from the harbour, the locally known ‘Down-a-long’ has always been the center of St Ives hustle and bustle. Once filled with fisherman’s cottages, stocked to the rooves with pilchards, those times have long been replaced by cosy cafes and poignant pasty shops. Take your time to explore all the cute nooks and crannies leading off of the main drag – Fore Street.     

Or just parallel to you, overlooking the harbour, there’s Wharf Road – Lined with bars and cafes. Here there’s something to wet the whistle for any-one, at any-hour.

From there, follow the setting sun to the West until you reach Smeaton’s Pier. Now look back over your shoulder and give the camera a break whilst you just take in the picture-perfect panoramic view.

St Ives Smeaton Pier

How to Get to St Ives

St Ives Road

It’s crazy how beautiful it can be solely travelling TO St Ives!

Without even considering the place itself, St Ives has the most spectacular train route connecting it to the rest of Cornwall. And just the location of the bus station is enough to make you want to take a bus there!

Driving: Whether coming from the East or the West, take the A30 until you reach Hayle. From the St Erth roundabout take the turning signposted St Ives and 10 minutes down the B3311 you will have arrived.

(Parking in the summer season is notoriously difficult to come by, so get there early)

Train: St Ives has its own train station with a branch line from St Erth. To combat the lack-of-parking problem they offer a convenient park-and-ride service. The journey is considered to be one of the most scenic in the country as it tracks the coastline passing pristine beaches and bays. (Once in St Ives, there’s no need for a car as everything is within wandering distance.)

Bus: The Malakoff bus station famously has some of the best views a terminal could offer. You can take regular buses here to and from all main hubs in Cornwall, as well as many park-and-ride car parks in the summer.

What to See and Do in St Ives

Tate Art Gallery in St Ives

So yes, Cornwall’s capital of Art has some MEGA galleries. But that’s far from all this buffet has to offer. The beaches are beautiful, there’s great surf, and you can take a boat trip out to visit seals. Explore The Island (which is actually not an island) but still, has lovely coastal walks and stunning views.

And to finish the day with a truly unique experience, book your spot at the quirky Boathouse Mini-Theatre. The single most intimate theatre experience you’ll ever have.

The Tate

With over 20 galleries to explore, art lovers are going to have their hands full in St Ives, but no matter what, there’s one gallery you MUST visit. The Tate!

Amongst the most visited attractions in the UK, the Tate’s reputation precedes it. Showcasing some of the best British art of the twentieth century alongside a constantly evolving exhibition of national and international, modern and contemporary art, all coupled with spectacular views… Just what a place!

Also run by the guys at Tate, and only a ten-minute walk away, there’s the:

Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden

The wonderful home and distinct garden of one of the twentieth century’s greatest sculptors who came to reside here during the second world war. With most of the bronze sculptures in the exact positions Barbara had left them, you can really imagine the artist and how she worked here all those years ago.

The Boathouse Theatre 

This former boat shed is now a ‘Charmingly compact’ teeny tiny theatre. With seating for an estimated maximum capacity of 50 people, and usually only 2 actors playing several roles each, the Boathouse relies on pure, raw, gritty acting skill. And it does not disappoint! With its raving reviews don’t forget to book a seat before they fill up.

Seal Island and other Boat Trips

A classic for a sunny day out in St Ives. Walking along Wharf Road you’ll find plenty of ticket stalls more than willing to hook you up with a boat trip. They offer rides out to the grey seal colony on Seal Island as well as taking you down towards Hayle Towans and Godrevy Lighthouse.

The Wild Land’s End Way

Here’s one for the active and adventurous out there. The lesser-known Wild Lands End Way is a 41-mile coastal walk that starts in St Ives and finishes an estimated 3/5 days later on Cornwall’s southern coast in Penzance. There are several ways to approach this incredible adventure hike, but ‘EncounterWalkingHolidays’ have all the info you’ll need to go self-guided, and experience something magical not many others have!

Where to stay

St Ives Accommodation

Alive with boutique and chic accommodation options as well as quaint campsites in the nearby lush countryside. Large hotels alongside their adjacent golf course or self-catering converted fisherman’s cottages. Everyone should be able to find the exact mattress firmness of desire in St Ives. There are more accommodation options in St Ives than white-washed cottage walls gracing her cobblestoned streets.

If you’re hiking or backpacking, then there are hostels, if you are lugging your own personal luxury caravan, then there are caravan parks, and even if you turned up stark dangly naked, I’m sure you can find somewhere that would accommodate your every bare-buttocked needs.

in all honesty, accommodation in St Ives is nothing short of plentiful there’s no shortage of cute cottages and stylish apartments to find once you start looking! If you’re wanting a stress free quiet stay at one of the hotels such as St. Ives Harbour Hotel & Spa, Trevose Harbour House or looking for more affordable accommodation like those offered at Cohorts Hostel; you’re sure to find something to suit you.

If the great outdoors is more your preference, why not take a look at Ayr Holiday Park, Polmanter Touring Park or Hellesveor Holidays – perfect for enjoying the fresh air and spectacular views that St Ives has to offer.

Shopping in St Ives

Shopping in St Ives

Art baby, oh yes, there is art! Paintings, jewellery, ceramics, sculptures, and basically all things created by hand. As well as endless galleries, there is an outdoor craft market to fill your boots with one-off, locally-made delights.

But if art isn’t really your thing? Don’t fret. Whilst granny is picking up her bespoke bejazzled smurfzonian vase, you can choose from the wide variety of gift shops, camping shops, surf shops, and book shops for all your shopping needs.

Whether you’re looking for souvenirs to take home or want to treat yourself to the latest fashion finds, this beautiful coastal town has something special waiting for you. With its colorful boutiques and independent artisan shops, browsing in St Ives is like entering a world of discovery where unexpected treasures await around every corner. From jewellery handcrafted with local materials to designer items inspired by the town’s beachy aesthetic, each store holds its own unique charm.

If it’s groceries you’re after, then within town there are plenty of smaller supermarkets, and Tesco Superstore is only 1.5 miles away in Carbis Bay.

Where to Eat and Drink in St Ives

Restaurants in St Ives

As Kernow as it gets! Food and drink in St Ives is something else. It’s like all the Cornish got together and decided, ‘Here it is, this is where we make our most scrumptious food !’

The finest fresh seafood straight from the harbour, over-indulgent cream teas, homemade handmade ice cream, and of course, some of the pastiest pasty’s Cornwall has to offer. And that was just lunchtime!

Ice Cream in St Ives

Fine dining with your feet in the sand, and some local food celebrities name swinging over the door in the ocean breeze, or feeling at home in a local Cornish pub like The Sloop Inn. Serving a spankingly well-priced Sunday roast to get your mouth salivating from the pure waft of it before you even set a foot in the door. There are more Restaurants, bars and eateries in St Ives than Ozzy Osborn could shake his shakin stick at. So I’m just gonna give you a couple of the standouts.

The Sloop Inn

The Sloop in St Ives

‘Your home away from home’, that’s how they sell it at The Sloop, and really, that’s how it is. Not just because they offer cosy rooms with ocean views to stay the night, but this ol’ pub is full of character, not to mention, delicious food.

The Ugly Butterfly   

Nothing like its name would suggest, The Ugly Butterfly restaurant and bar is stunning. Perched overlooking Carbis Bay about a mile from St Ives, you couldn’t wish for a better oceanside view. And the food…Is basically art!

Precisely sculpted succulent mouth art crafted to dance the cha-cha with your taste buds.

Of course, for such an experience you’re gonna pay for it, but they do offer a 5/7 course taster menu to truly immerse your tongue in every aspect of euphoric flavour on offer.

The Bean Inn Vegetarian Restaurant

For the veggies and Vegans alike, The Bean offers some of the tastiest meat and dairy-free dishes from around the world. Using local, organic and seasonal produce, even the non-veggies amongst you will be blown away by the flavours.

Surrounding Area

As I’ve mentioned a couple times, Carbis Bay is but a stone’s throw away. With its award winning privately-owned but publicly-open beach. This absolute stunner is a prime spot for kayaking, canoeing, and boat tours. You can easily walk along the coast to reach it, but if you’re feeling less about walking, then the train even has a station here. If you’re curious about exploring a little further afield, then the joy of being at the tip of Cornwall’s boot awaits.

Everything here is SO close.

Penzance, Lands End, and Porthcurno are all within an hour’s drive. So check out their guides to see even more of what’s on offer.

St Ives – Conclusion

Art, food, culture, beaches, wildlife, nature, and convenience all in one pasty sized package. St Ives is seen, felt, and tasted. A full sensory dunk into Cornwall’s rich, creative essence. A destination worth any journey. So sit down, plop a chunk of cream tea in your mouth, and just take it all in.