St Ives may be small but it’s spectacularly beautiful and you’ll be AMAZED by how much there is to do here. St Ives is not only one of Cornwall’s best surf spots and surrounded by four stunning sandy beaches, it also boasts a great food scene and is the perfect base to explore the rest of Cornwall.
What’s more, this tiny port with its quaint fishermen’s cottages is one of the best places to see contemporary art outside of London, after it became an unlikely capital of Modernist art in the 1950s. Read on for 15 amazing things to do in St Ives.
1. Learn To Surf On Porthmeor Beach
The beautiful Porthmeor Beach is one of the best places to surf in Cornwall. If it’s your first time surfing, try St Ives Surf School located directly by the beach for fun surfing lessons. If you want something a little more relaxing that will also allow you to appreciate the stunning coastline, give paddle boarding a go.
2. Go for Sourdough Pizzas & Sundowners At The West Beach Bakery
Best pizza in town 🍕 📷 @_elliestubbs_
There’s only one place to refuel post-surf: the fabulous West Beach Bakery on the west end of Porthmeor Beach serves local ale and heavenly sourdough pizza – it’s the best you’ll ever taste. You can eat and drink with the sand between your toes and a great surf crowd for company.
3. Hike To The Tiny Village Of Zennor
Beautiful coastal walk from Zennor to St Ives 🌸 📷 @rebeccawaites97
If you’re looking for things to do in St Ives that get you away from the crowds, then don a good pair of hiking boots and head west from St Ives towards Land’s End on the South West Coast Path. Within 10 minutes you’ll be in the middle of nowhere with nothing but the gulls for company. Stunning doesn’t even come close to describing the scenery you’ll find as you hike the 6.5 miles (around 4 hours) to the tiny hamlet of Zennor. Once there, stop for a well-earned pint at the quaint Tinners Arms and then either jump on the bus (20 minutes) or take a shortcut inland (2 hours) back to St Ives.
4. Zen Out At The Barbara Hepworth Museum
Whilst the Tate may be the best known art gallery in St Ives, the Barbara Hepworth Museum & Sculpture Garden is definitely the prettiest. The small museum is housed in this internationally renowned artist’s former home, and the tranquil garden is full of her sculptures. Take a sketch pad, notebook or just your thoughts to this inspirational place.
5. Hike Barefoot Around The Island
Take the footpath around The Island, an amazing place to view St Ives and its breathtaking coastline from every possible angle. Wander the backstreets in search of local artists who have open studios, and just soak up the incredible views. You can see the sea from almost anywhere in St Ives, and it’s easy to spot dolphins close to the shoreline between May and September.
6. Tuck Into A Cornish Sweet Treat
Scones, ice cream… or both?! 📷 @littlestbeetle
A traditional cream tea is one of the obligatory things to do in St Ives – just make sure you do it like the locals and put the jam on first, followed by the clotted cream! If it’s hot, try some of the locally made ice cream from Moomaid of Zennor or Willy Waller’s Ice Cream Factory, we love the traditional vanilla ice cream in a salted caramel cone, or clotted cream with strawberries.
7. Dangle Your Feet Off St Ives Harbour
Take a moment on St Ives harbour 📷 @beccaincornwall
Walk to the end of Smeaton’s Pier on St Ives harbour, which faces toward Hayle. Sit down and look out. Keep looking, keep sitting. That is all.
8. Eat A World Famous Burger
For drool-worthy burgers, you cannot miss a trip to Blas Burgerworks. Listed in the Wall Street Journal as one of the top 5 places in Europe to get a burger, even vegetarians are catered for at this eco-friendly hangout. Sit down at communal tables in this tiny spot, and bite into the best burger you will ever taste in your life – EVER!
9. Take Part In A Silly Surf Competition For A Good Cause
Every summer, the epic Swellboard Shoot Out turns St Ives into one big crazy party. Part surf competition, part fancy dress extravaganza, the three day event also features an open-air beach cinema, a mass paella fest hosted by Cohort Hostel and a parade through the city. And the best bit? All proceeds from the event go towards the great work of charity Surfers Against Sewage.
10. Ride One Of The UK’s Most Scenic Rail Routes
One of the prettiest train journeys in England 📷 @kernowthunder
Another amazing thing to do in St Ives is to take the tiny railway line that connects the town with the rest of the rail network. This runs north along the coast and the views are just incredible. Jump on at St Ives for just £3 and enjoy the 10 minute ride to Lelant Saltings, before walking the few miles back to St Ives.
11. Explore St Ives’s Prettiest Street
A trip to St Ives is not complete without a visit to Fore Street. This lovely little street feels wonderfully quaint, with its cobbles and dinky independent shops. You can buy anything from designer clothes to clotted cream fudge, and although it can get a little touristy, it’s so pretty you won’t mind much.
12. Get Cultured On A Free Tour Of The Tate St Ives
Views from the Tate St Ives… and the art’s pretty damn good too! 📷 @sarahcroft__
The Tate St Ives hosts cutting edge art exhibitions dedicated to both international and local artists, and is built on the site of an old gas works. Even if you’re not an arty type, it’s a fascinating way to spend an afternoon with some great views. If you want to brush up your art knowledge, catch one of the free tours which run twice a day from the foyer of the gallery.
13. Take a dip on Porthminster beach
Who knew Britain could look so tropical?! 📷 @lisamarie_brown
This is one of Cornwall’s most famous beaches and it’s an absolute beauty. As you take a dip in the beautiful calm waters or sun yourself on the golden sands, you’ll find it hard to remember this tropic paradise is actually in Britain. This is probably one of the busiest beaches in St Ives, but it’s never unpleasantly so even in high summer. If you’re feeling peckish afterwards head to the award-winning Porthminster Beach Café for delicious locally roasted coffee or fresh fish and chips served with amazing beach views.
14. Go Gluten-Free At The Searoom St Ives
Probably the best cafe in St Ives 📷 @elizabethallcock
There is no bad place to eat in St Ives, from super fresh fish & chips to Cornish pasties on every corner. But one of the best places to eat in St Ives is undoubtedly The Searoom St Ives. This is where the locals come to brunch, and almost everything on the menu is available gluten free.
15. Catch A Sunset Away From The Crowds At Man’s Head
Sunsets + cold beer
Most tourists will hit St Ives’s beaches for the sunset, but really the best place to catch it is Man’s Head – just a few minutes’ walk along the South West Coast Path towards Land’s End. Take a cold beer, perch on the rock (shaped like a man’s head if you hadn’t guessed) and watch the sun go down just 20 miles from the very end of the UK.
Where To Stay In St Ives
The gorgeous design-led Cohort Hostel couldn’t be more central 📷 @kendralee95
The best place to stay in St Ives is the super sociable Cohort Hostel, which is located in the centre, 5 minutes from all the bars, restaurants and beaches. It’s just been fully refurbished and will give you major design envy.
About the author
Lee Strickland lives in St Ives and took over and refurbished Cohort Hostel in 2015. Leave a comment below and let her know some of your favourite things to do in St Ives, maybe there’s a few we missed?