Surf's Up: Great Things to Do in St Ives

Surfers, artsy types and ramblers will find their calling in St Ives.


St Ives, Cornwall, UK

For whatever reason, there’s no dot after the St of St Ives. We don't know why. But don’t let that become an obsession and spoil your holiday. This resort town in Cornwall is brimming with fun family activities and scenic hotspots. Once a haven for smugglers and pirates, it’s now a resort for families and couples looking for a romantic break (from the kids). The long beaches skirting this picturesque peninsula are a perfect excuse to not have to think of anything for your children to do all day, as they sit and frolic on the sand. And the cobbled lanes make for a quaint getaway, far from the hubbub of big city life.

St Ives Harbour, England, UK

St Ives Harbour, England, UK

As it happens, it’s also an artists’ hub, packed with galleries and museums that’ll make you feel all cultured between trips to the beach. And if it was good enough for Virginia Woolf…although she probably wasn’t the happiest of travellers. In any case, the town is said to have influenced her novel, To the Lighthouse.

We don’t pretend to have Woolf’s literary genius, but then, she never had anything like our travel expertise. Let’s just say that we’re both important parts of the cultural zeitgeist. Here are Plum Guide's tips on the best things to do in St Ives.

Go for a walk

The town is so darn charming and scenic that one of the biggest thrills is simply walking through it. Ambling down the cobbled lanes and listening to the cries of seagulls will place you in the literary past of St Ives, somewhere between Virginia Woolf, D.H. Lawrence and pirates both real and fictional. As you pass between the fisherpeople’s (is that the politically-correct term?) cottages, you’ll immediately see why this town was the haunt and muse of such established writers… and the fictional pirates. The so-called Downalong is the focal point, a narrow alley flanked by white cottages containing galleries and cafés. If a cottage break in Cornwall sounds ideal, the lovely Dune Cottage might just be the Plum Guide home for you.

Dune Cottage, Plum Guide home in Cornwall, UK

Dune Cottage, Plum Guide home in Cornwall, UK

Take a break

Oof, all that walking has worked up an appetite (and an urge to rest tired legs). Stop for lunch at the Lakeside Cabin Café, the Silco Searoom or the Cornish Deli. The first two are upmarket restaurants with lovely views of the sea, while the Cornish Deli is so quaint it feels like a dollhouse.

As evening falls, put on your best garb and head out to the Sands Restaurant or the Story by the Sea. These posh eateries afford a glimpse of the high life in St Ives. If you’re in a more casual mood, go for a meal of fish and chips at the Balancing Eel. Make sure to drown those beauties in vinegar for the authentic British fish and chips experience.

Pretend you like art

A list of things to do in St Ives would be incomplete without mentioning the town's artsy institutions. Rummage through the displays of the Tate St Ives Gallery, which showcases modern British artists with a link to St Ives. Rummage through temporary exhibits that have until now covered such intriguing artists and writers as Naum Gabo, Rebecca Warren and Virginia Woolf. Make your way to the nearby Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden, which is also now managed by the Tate. If you chat to the docents and read some of the plaques, you should be able to build up enough basic knowledge to impress your friends back home. For something a little different in the art world, visit the Leach Pottery gallery.

A day at the beach

St Ives has some great, long names for beaches. There’s the Porthmeor Beach, the Porthgwidden Beach or Porthminster Beach. They love porths here, which is Cornish for gate and comes from the Latin word portus. Wait, are you interested in this? Yes? Good. But that’s the extent of our knowledge, we’re travel experts, not etymologists.

Anyway, bring your bathing costumes and cover yourself in suncream to avoid the lobster look. Read Treasure Island on the strand and wait expectantly for a pirate invasion on the beach.

St Ives Harbour, England, UK

St Ives Harbour, England, UK

The Porthgwidden Beach undoubtedly has the best name, like something out of a Harry Potter book. It also has a café serving food and is right by the St Ives Musuem. Walk up to the St Ives Head, a rocky promontory with gorgeous views of the sea. Continue around the coast to reach the St Nicholas Chapel. Embark on a boat trip to the Seal Island, which has a whole bunch of seals all over it. Those cute, half-dog half-fish things. If proximity to the beach is top of your list when it comes to picking a place to stay, you'd do worse than staying at our beachside home True Colours, just up the coast from St Ives in Newquay.

True Colours, Plum Guide home in Cornwall, UK

True Colours, Plum Guide home in Cornwall, UK


When it comes to things to do in St Ives, hitting the waves is a must. St Ives is one of Cornwall’s most reputable and popular surfing destinations, and a perfect spot to practice your belly flop. Porthmeor has big splashy waves for surfers, with one particular wave known as The Boiler. It’s one of the few places in West Cornwall that are good for surfing in winter.

Still undecided on where to stay in Cornwall? There's plenty of places to suit all holidaymakers in this southwestern county, from foodie heaven Padstow to the white sand beaches of the Isles of Scilly. Alternatively, experience as much of Cornwall as possible in the space of a week with our 7 day Cornwall itinerary.

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