St Ives - Art, Light and More

5 August 2022

Cornwall is an exceptional county. Packed with glorious countryside and coastline, it’s also home to a thriving band of creatives. While there are other, smaller hotspots of inspiration, few rival the old seaside town of St Ives. Once a sleepy fishing community, St Ives came to life in the late 1880’s and has thrived ever since, helped by its unique micro-climate and quality of light. Art aside, there’s plenty on offer here to guarantee an interesting and invigorating visit.

Tate St Ives

It’s a testimony to the artistic importance of St Ives that the Tate Gallery Group decided to open a space there in 1993, and there’s no better way to understand the impact the town (and the artists who have lived in St Ives) has had on the history of art than to spend some time in Tate St Ives. As you’d expect from a world-class, award-winning gallery, there are outstanding permanent exhibitions on display, as well as important touring work from international artists. The top floor café is well worth a visit - great views out to sea and is open every day from 10AM - 5:20PM. Entry is £10.50 per adult, children get in for free and there are discounts for seniors, students and those with disabilities. Booking ahead online is recommended.

Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden

Barbara Hepworth was one of the most important sculptors in the history of art, and she lived in St Ives from 1949 until her death in 1975. Also owned by the Tate Group, the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden preserves her original art studio and garden pretty much as they were when she lived and worked there, as well as containing the largest permanent collection of Hepworth’s artwork in the world. Open daily 10AM - 5PM until October 31st, then 10AM - 4PM from November 1st until February 28th. Entrance costs £7 for adults and £6 for concessions plus free entry for children.

The Leach Pottery

Named after Bernard Leach, the renowned British ceramicist and potter who founded his workspace here in 1920, The Leach Pottery profiles his legacy and celebrates his work as a pioneer in elevating ceramics-making to an artform. The complex includes a museum, galleries, pottery kilns and a shop inside Leach’s old cottage. Open Tuesday to Thursday and Saturday (closed Friday) 10AM - 5PM, Sundays 11AM - 4PM. Guided tours take place every Thursday at 11AM, pre-booking essential. Courses and classes for beginners and those with intermediate abilities are available.

The Seafood Café

It’s only natural that there are going to be plenty of places around St Ives that rely on seafood as their main income stream, but The Seafood Café has it down to a fine art. Something further evidenced by the fact that they also run one of the town’s best fish and chip shops, Harbour Fish and Chips. The menu includes such wonders as locally-caught mackerel (smoked or braised) and oysters from the Cornish village of Porthilly. And there’s a considerable wine list specially developed to complement the seafood, with bottles starting at £22. There are a decent number of veggie and vegan dishes on offer too and prices are reasonable across the board. Open every day from midday until 11PM.

The Cornish Deli

A couple of minutes walk from the Barbara Hepworth Museum, The Cornish Deli sells the very best in Cornish produce by day and, on the occasional night, transforms into a dinner venue. Don’t be fooled by the place’s unprepossessing décor - it is, after all a deli, rather than a restaurant - there really is all manner of brilliant food available here, to either eat in or take away. Naturally, there’s an emphasis on seafood but the deli also specialises in gluten-free products. Their fish finger sandwich is quite something. Open every day except Sunday from 9.30AM - 4PM. Special dinner nights are also held throughout the year.     

Porthminster Kitchen

Nestling along the edge of Porthminster, St Ives’ main beach, the Porthminster Kitchen is bathed in sublime views of the harbour and the ocean beyond (book a table on the terrace for sunset if you can).  Once again, fresh fish and seafood dominate the menu - and the prices reflect this - and there are a couple of very good vegetarian options on show. The Kitchen building also includes two luxury self-catering apartments. Open daily from midday until 9.30PM.  

St Ives Surf School

Strictly speaking, Cornwall’s north coast is better for surf, but the sea off the St Ives coastline does generate enough swell to make it worth a go - and is gentle enough for beginners.  Perfect for first-timers, the St Ives Surf School’s staff have an excellent reputation for making newbie surfers feel safe, and the company provides everything that’s needed for a few hours in the surf. The school also runs kayaking tours and conducts coasteering expeditions - coasteering being a combo of traversing rocks, floating through gullies, sea swimming, cave exploration and jumps. For those that want to go it alone, the school has a whole range of sea-going equipment available to hire by the hour.

Beer & Bird

A modern, informal US-style bar and diner, Beer and Bird is home to one of the largest selections of craft beer in the South West.  Honestly, the choice is enormous, featuring all manners of interesting brews from independent local makers. The dine-in menu is built around lots of things to do with chicken, plus some very good (and very large) vegan burgers.  What’s more, the place has its own barrel-aged, black spiced rum, Crusty Juggler, that’s worth a try. If you don’t fancy eating in, takeaways are available. Open Monday to Thursday, 5PM - 11PM, Friday 5PM - 10PM, Saturday and Sunday, midday until 11PM.