St Ives is one of my favourite places in the entire country. It’s a bold claim I know, but there’s something magical about this little fishing village perched on the Cornish coast. Perhaps it’s the sunny climate, the golden beaches or the bustling harbour, or maybe it’s the lively community, the strong artistic heritage or the wonderful clear light.
If you’ve yet to experience it (lucky you!) I’ve compiled a list of the 10 things you should do on your first visit to this wonderful coastal town. Enjoy.
1 Climb to the top of the Island
The first thing you should do on arriving in St Ives is to head straight for Porthmeor beach. Take your shoes off as soon as you get there and sink your feet into the soft velvety sand. Then take several lungfuls of fresh, clean sea air.
Once you’ve done that look to your right and you’ll see a grass covered peninsula with a little building on it (St Nicholas’ Chapel). Head for that and climb to the very top. The view is worth it.
2 Watch the boats in the harbour
Once you’ve soaked in some sand and sea air, your next stop should be the harbour. This busy little working harbour teams with life all day long. The coastal tides mean that it empties out and refills rapidly throughout the day, so there’s always something to watch. Perch on a bench or the harbour wall and practise the art of watching the world go by.
3 Walk around the lanes and get House Envy
There are so many picture-perfect seaside cottages in St Ives it’s almost a joke. As my dad would say, it’s straight out of central casting. So if you’re as obsessed with houses as I am and you like to day dream about your ‘one day’ seaside home, grab your camera and wander along the little streets.
You’ll find many, many gems like this one with its sea green shutters, wobbly walls and sash windows. Many of them are available to rent too, so you can add them to your wish list for next year. Because you’ll be back.
4 Buy some nautical attire in Seasalt
My favourite discovery on my last visit was Seasalt. A cornish institution, it’s THE clothes shop for anyone who’s addicted to Breton stripe tops, or dreams of living by the sea and hunting around in rock pools all day long. On my last visit I took full advantage of an unseasonal rain shower to buy this bright yellow jacket with a stripy lining.
My sister says I look like the RNLI teddy bear when I wear it but I take that as a compliment, as the design is based on a traditional fisherman’s mac. (Note: The photo above is of a Seasalt model wearing the coat – not me sadly 😉
5 Visit Porthminster beach
Tucked around the bay from Porthmeor beach this sandy cove is well worth a visit. With ridiculously sandy beaches and almost tropically blue sea it’s the perfect beach for a bucket and spade holiday (it’s a blue flag beach). And the Porthminster beach cafe is legendary. (Image from cool places‘ guide to St Ives)
6 Have regular cake stops
A walk down the main high street is essential. It’s pleasingly cobbled and wobbly, there are tiny shops, galleries and cafes galore and the bakeries have windows that look like this. The perfect excuse to stop on a regular basis for coffee and cake. Put the St Ives Bakery high up on your list.
7 Pop into Poppy Treffry’s lovely shop
No trip is complete without a visit to Poppy Treffry’s lovely gift and homeware shop on Fore Street. From cushions and mugs to jewellery and make up bags, everything has a nautical flavour and a quirky edge. The shop is like an Aladdin’s cave and I defy you to come out empty handed.
8 Visit Alfred Wallis’ house
My uncle introduced me to the work of Alfred Wallis and, in turn, the St Ives school of art that Wallis had such an impact on. If you’re a fan of his iconic naive-style paintings you need to first pay a visit to the collection of his paintings held by the Tate (more below).
Then ask them for a map to find the tiny house he lived and worked in which is just a couple of streets back from the beach. It’s now a holiday let, so true fans can also stay there (early booking essential)
9 Visit Barbara Hepworth’s house and garden
I’ve already written a post about how much I love Barbara Hepworth’s studio and garden, so do check that out if you’d like to find out more but I highly recommend a trip here. Tucked away on a steeply winding lane, the house and studio have been preserved by the Tate and opened up to visitors.
It’s both enchanting and a little sad to look around Barbara’s home and studio which have been left exactly as they were found after her death. The garden is an absolute gem – a tropical oasis that needs to be seen in high summer.
10 And finally… the Tate
With a commanding view out over Porthminster beach you can’t visit St Ives without paying a visit to the Tate museum. Find out more about the artistic history of this magical place, then reward yourself with a cup of tea and a piece of cake on the roof top cafe. And yes, there are, yet again, the most incredible sea views to be had too. (This image is from a colourful interactive exhibition I visited last summer.)
The staff are experts on St Ives and the artists who lived and worked there, so quiz them while you’re there. They can loan you headphones and a map to take a walking tour of the town too which is well worth it.
11 A word of warning
Seagulls are an absolute menace in St Ives. So hold on to your ice creams, chips and hats and make sure you don’t drop any food. They can spot it at 10 paces and have absolutely no fear!
And that’s it for now! Have a missed anything? Let me know your favourite things to do in St Ives below.
Images: Intro Victoria Harrison, 1-3 Victoria Harrison, 4 Seasalt, 5 cool places, 6 St Ives Bakery, 7 Poppy Treffry, 8Houses at St Ives, Cornwall c.1928-42 Alfred Wallis 1855-1942 Presented by Ben Nicholson 1959 Photographic Rights © Tate, CC–BY–NC–ND 3.0 (Unported), 9-11 Victoria Harrison