St Ives is in the news a lot these days. Whenever there's a story about over-tourism, you can guarantee it will be mentioned. It's been a popular tourist resort since the arrival of the railway in the 1870s and people continue to flock there for its beautiful beaches, its excellent restaurants, its rich history and, of course, the exceptional light that has attracted artists since the early 20th century. It's both the quintessential Cornish harbour town and a cosmopolitan outpost of contemporary culture.
I have to be honest; we rarely venture there during the high season. With the beaches and narrow streets packed with visitors, it's just too busy for us but whether you like the the quiet and misty winter days or the hustle and bustle of high season, you'll find plenty to see and do.
Sometimes, though, it's just nice to wander and explore the tangle of little streets that makes up The Downalong or have a walk up to Talland House where Virginia spent the childhood holidays that inspired To The Lighthouse. If you prefer to be more active, put on your walking boots and get out on the South West Coast Path or book a surf lesson.
It can be very tricky to find parking spot in St Ives so we recommend taking the train. The St Ives branch line is an absolute delight, a 10-minute ride along the coast with beautiful views across the bay. If you're staying at The Bell Tower, take the train from Penzance and change at St Erth. For those of you travelling by car, there's a large park and ride facility at the station.
St Ives is surrounded by beaches, each one offering something different. Porthmeor is best for surfers and is home to the St Ives Surf School. Porthgwidden, with its brightly-coloured beach huts, is a little more tucked away and can be less crowded. Porthminster is popular with families while Bamaluz is dog-friendly all year round.
It may be remote but St Ives has played a key role in the development of British art. Nowhere is its status more evident than at Tate St Ives, a striking building created from a former gasworks overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. As well as a regularly-changing programme of exhibitions by national and international artists, there is a permanent collection of works by the artists most closely associated with St Ives including Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson, Alfred Wallis, Peter Lanyon and Terry Frost. The cafe on the fourth floor is worth visiting just for the views across town and Porthmeor beach.
For me, it's impossible to visit St Ives without calling in at The Barbara Hepworth Sculpture Garden and Museum. Hepworth lived and worked here until her death in 1979 and it's a beautiful, contemplative space even at the height of summer. Visitors can buy a ticket that gives them entry to both the Hepworth and Tate.
If your'e even remotely invested in pottery, then make the walk up the hill to The Leach Pottery. Founded by Bernard Leach and Shoji Hamada in 1920, it's considered the home of studio pottery in the UK. Guests staying in our cottages receive free entry to the museum.
I would also recommend The New Craftsman Gallery, founded by potter Janet Leach in 1965 to champion the work of emerging artists such as Sandra Blow and Patrick Heron, and Penwith Gallery, home of The Penwith Society of Arts and housed in a former pilchard packing factory.
Food & Drink
St Ives is home to a thriving bar and restaurant scene but these are among our favourites:
St Eia - a wonderful little wine bar and coffee shop hidden away on The Digey.
Little Palais - situated on on the harbour, St Eia is a bar and bottle shop that also serves up delicious ice cream and cool tunes.
One Fish Street - a family-run restaurant serving dishes made with the best seasonal produce. Currently relocating to Fore Street and due to open in early February.
Talay Thai Kitchen - authentic Thai food and stunning views across the harbour
Coffee lovers are well-served in St Ives but we're particularly fond of Mount Zion Coffee and the Yallah kiosk. For pasties and pastries, St Ives Bakery takes some beating. If you're looking for something for a picnic or to take home, try The Allotment Deli and John's Wine and Spirits.
There are plenty of shopping opportunities in town from well-known high street names to traditional fudge shops. We like
Rose Lane - a little vintage store tucked away selling interior and vintage clothes.
St Ives Bookseller - small but bursting at the seams with books.
The Common Wanderer - a selection of gear for exploring the great outdoors.
Illustrated Living - lighting, homewares and gifts.
Academy - clothing and lifestyle.