With its four blue-flag beaches and renowned art scene, St Ives is Cornwall’s flagship resort.
Both a beloved family vacation spot and Cornwall’s cultural epicentre, seaside St Ives buzzes with activity from dusk to sundown. Wake up early for a surf class, hike along the South West Coast Path, and spot seals and seabirds from The Island, then relax at one of many cafés looking out across the harbour. Once you’ve had your fill of beachy sea and sand, head into the town to stroll the cobbled lanes, browse the galleries and artisan boutiques, and admire art masterpieces in the Tate St Ives. Camping is equally varied, whether you prefer a tranquil country camping ground or a 5-star holiday park.
Cornwall’s western arm is a rugged wilderness of soaring sea cliffs and windswept headlands. Hike along the coast, stopping to swim at hidden sandy beaches, discover Bronze Age ruins, and camp out at remote coastal campsites. A visit to Land’s End, the westernmost point of mainland Britain, is a rite of passage for travellers, but equally enchanting is St Michael's Mount, an island monastery marooned off the south coast.
East of St Ives, the coastal road to Newquay winds its way past rocky coves, ocean lookouts, and pretty fishing villages. Newquay and Bude are the destinations of choice for budding surfers, but if you prefer a more relaxed beach vibe, head to Perranporth or Port Isaac. Additional highlights include the ruins of Tintagel castle and the foodie hub of Padstow, where you can tuck into everything from seafood to Cornish pasties.
Ferries set sail from Land’s End or Penzance to the Isles of Scilly, a cluster of tiny islands off Cornwall’s western tip. Camping on the islands is a retreat from the mainland crowds, and you can pitch your tent amid verdant farmlands or right by the seafront. Simple pleasures await on the islands—lounge on white-sand beaches, hike along rugged headlands, and spot wildlife along the coast.
St Ives is an ideal destination to take your kids, as the Cornish town is a hugely popular destination for family holidays. With many of its campsites within close proximity to its top spots and gorgeous beaches, St Ives makes for a laid-back trip to take with the kids in tow.
If you're looking to start your holiday off with a bang, then you could even book a trip with the St Ives Bay Line, a train journey from St Erth to St Ives that offers an incredible view of the coast.
Once in St Ives, the kids will love the family-friendly blue-flag beach of Porthminster, which is safe for shallow swimming (dogs are only welcome in winter) and offers views of Godrevy Lighthouse in the distance. It's spacious, too, giving you and your clan plenty of room to find your spot in the sand. If you have younger kids, we'd recommend Cardis Bay, which has far less surf than its counterparts, ideal for toddlers on a supervised paddle.
For evening entertainment, Kidz R Us is an award-winning youth theatre group that hosts events throughout the year. The group works with children, teenagers, and young adults, putting out shows for everyone to enjoy, from musicals to pantomimes.
Summer vacationers descend on St Ives in July and August so expect big crowds. Advance bookings are essential at this time, for everything from campsites to restaurants. Shoulder-season campers can make the most of lower prices and fewer crowds, and it’s often still warm enough to swim—lifeguard patrols run from easter through early October at the main beaches. For the biggest waves, seasoned surfers hit the water in winter.
There's a reason St Ives has been named the British Travel Awards' Best UK Seaside Town on multiple occasions: there are few places better to get your dose of sun and sand than here.
1. Hit the beach
Spending the day at the seaside will be at the top of most people’s list when visiting St Ives. The shape of the St Ives peninsula means there’s a beach facing every direction, so whether you’re heading out to take photos at sunrise or going for a sunset paddle, you’ll see a beach that’s bathed in sunshine (assuming the sun is out, of course).
Choose Porthmeor or Porthminster blue-flag beaches for top-quality surfing and swimming, with the latter being the most popular beach in the region. Though the smallest beach in the area, the sheltered Porthgwidden proves a sun-trap throughout summer and is sought out among those looking to top up their town. At St Ives Harbour beach, you can admire the boats from your spot on the shore, while kid-friendly Carbis Bay and its tranquil waters are just a mile from town.
2. Wander the town
Visitors can walk along St Ives’ cobbled streets to the harbour and working port, where fishers go by in their boats. Shops, galleries, cafes and pubs line its street, great spots for dining out while overlooking the harbour.
Wandering the maze of independent shops and galleries in St Ives is a nice way to while away an afternoon, and a trip to Tate St Ives is a great place for rainy days. The Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden is another cultural hotspot, dedicated to one of the region's most influential artists. The historic St Ives Society of Artists, meanwhile, features changing exhibitions through the year.
3. Get active
If browsing art galleries isn't your cup of tea, how about something more upbeat? You can go for a run or ramble on the South West Coast Path, the UK's longest national trail at 630 miles, which can be picked up from St Ives and runs around the southwest peninsula. We wouldn't recommend the St Ives 14-mile walk in one trip, but even following a portion of the trail affords some magnificent views.
To get active in the water, a stand-up paddleboard or kayak can be hired at the beach, or you can also take a boat trip to Seal Island to see a grey Atlantic seal colony.
Wild camping is generally not allowed in St Ives, United Kingdom, as most land in the area is privately owned or protected. However, there are several established campgrounds and caravan parks nearby where you can legally camp. Some options offer various amenities and are close to the beaches of St Ives.
Beach camping is generally not allowed in St Ives, United Kingdom. However, there are several campgrounds and holiday parks nearby that offer easy access to the beaches. Some of these campgrounds are within walking distance or a short drive from the beautiful beaches in St Ives. While you may not be able to camp directly on the beach, you can still enjoy the stunning coastal views and beach activities during your stay.