St Ives is a small town in the South West of the UK, and it is one of the most popular destinations in Cornwall. It is surrounded by beautiful beaches and has a lot of narrow cobbled streets sprinkled with cute independent shops. Most of all, it has this coastal-town vibe that I really like, and that I will try to describe here in listing the things that, in my opinion make St Ives special.
The sea and sandy beaches
One couldn’t talk about St Ives without mentioning its beaches, as the town is almost surrounded by them. The biggest and most popular one, Porthmeor Beach, is located right in front of the Tate St Ives museum, and is great for surfing and swimming – if you don’t mind cold-ish water. On the other side of the town, Porthminster Beach hosts every year the St Ives Food and Drink Festival, which is a wonderful way to welcome the warmer days with great music and delicious food. Another one that I want to mention is the Harbour Beach, as it is a harbour during high tide, and a beach during low tide. It is particularly nice at this time as all the boats rest on the sand instead of floating.
The whole town is surrounded by turquoise water, and even when you don’t see it, everything reminds you of the sea: from the squealing seagulls to the sea breeze and small cottages with sea-inspired home decor. When the days get warmer some brave souls even swim in the ocean without a wetsuit, and even braver ones make the most of the high waves to go surfing.
Cobbled streets and cute independent shops
It is definitely one of my favourite characteristics of St Ives. There are very few cars in the centre and most of the streets are car-free, so it is very easy and enjoyable to wander around. If you walk along the main street you will encounter countless cafes, restaurants, pubs, bakeries and independent shops, selling everything from clothes and candles to vintage posters and crystals.
In the summer, the whole city and especially this street, can get very crowded with tourists. However, the smaller, narrower streets of the centre, with only the occasional shop or restaurant, always seem to have the quietness that characterizes residential areas. I’d say they are also worth seeing because of all the cute cottages and tiny gardens adorned with flowers that could easily be the setting of a romantic novel. A lot of them are actually self-catering, and you can rent them for your holiday if you want to escape the city life.
Cornish pasties & Cream tea
For lunch in Cornwall, you have to eat the famous Cornish pasty, that you can have pretty much everywhere. It became famous in the 17th century when miners and farm workers adopted it in their diet. It is basically a circle pastry filled with beef, potatoes, onions and turnips, and has a semi-circular shape. The thick crust on the side was used as a handle to hold and eat the pasty without contaminating it with dirty hands. Also, in order to provide an all-in-one meal, the miners’ wives would sometimes fill one side with this savoury and hearty mixture and the other one with a sweet course! In bakeries, you usually find the savoury version (or other variants), which is delicious. In St Ives I recommend trying the Pengenna Pasties, or at least stopping in front of the shop to watch the bakers preparing them at the window.
If you get hungry in the afternoon, the best thing you can do is to go to a café for a Cornish cream tea. It consists of freshly baked scones topped with jam and delicious clotted cream, enjoyed with a pot of tea. Be careful though, as they usually put the cream on top of the jam in Cornwall, and they seem to be a bit sensitive about this topic. I personally prefer the Devon way (cream and then jam), as it seems more logical to me, but the Queen apparently eats her scones the Cornish way so… How do you or would you eat your scones?
The best cream teas I’ve had in Cornwall were from the Olive’s Café in St Ives. This little gem is hidden away in a tiny square but serves terrific home-made scones and the staff is lovely.
During the 20th century, many artists came to St Ives on holiday or moved there, and in 1938 the St Ives School of Painting opened (it is still open today). As a consequence, St Ives has many great art galleries and museums such as the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Leach Pottery and also a branch of the Tate Gallery: Tate St Ives. The town is also famous because the author Virginia Woolf spent her summer there and she drew her inspiration for the novel To the Lighthouse from the view she had from her bedroom.
If you go to St Ives, I really recommend visiting at least one museum. The Tate St Ives is, in my opinion, a bit more comprehensive, and the building in itself, right in front of Porthmeor Beach offers an amazing view. But it all depends on your interests!
St Ives is a very small town so it’s possible to see everything in just an afternoon, maybe more if you want to visit museums or chill by the beach. However, I highly recommend staying in the area, possibly with a car, to enjoy the wonderful things West Cornwall has to offer: other beautiful beaches, cute towns, incredible castles and gorgeous nature.
Have you ever been to St Ives or Cornwall?