Almost at the very western tip of Cornwall – or at the top of the big toe at least – St Ives is a little suntrap with a special atmosphere not seen in many of the Cornish coastal towns. Less than twenty miles from Land’s End, St Ives hugs the cliff top, its snugly fitting townhouses clustered together, stacked one above the other as they cling to the hillside, down to the tiny little harbour and shop fronts.
The town very much has its own character that appeals to many. There is the bucket-and-spade brigade making the most of the gorgeous beach by the harbour, with ice creams and tearooms within an arm’s reach.
Spoilt for choice, just a short walk ‘across’ town (two minutes’ walk) beach lovers will find the less sheltered but equally pleasant north-facing Porthmeor Beach and, on the tip of the headland upon which St Ives sits, Porthgwidden Beach. Heading towards the neighbouring town of Carbis Bay, there’s Porthminster Beach too.
But it’s the beach in the harbour that is arguably the most appealing with its sheltered spot, and the opportunity to watch the comings and goings of boats available for hire within a footstep, the occasional small fishing boat arriving home and the bustle of The Wharf right behind.
There you’ll find a selection of eateries, from fresh-caught seafood, cream teas, pub food and ice-cream, arguably the best of which is Moomaid of Zennor, which is made on Tremedda Farm just a few miles from the town.
St Ives has long been a thronging community of artistic endeavour and along every winding, narrow street you’ll find shops and studio spaces selling art work created right here in the town, often being sold by the very artist that produced the work. Glassware is extremely popular, the clear Cornish light reflecting well on the glass plates, bowls, ornaments and glass ‘paintings’.
This bohemian artistic crowd attracts further cultural minded residents, creating literary events, musical soirees and buskers on street corners.
You’ll find plenty of places to eat in these back streets away from The Wharf too – whether you’re looking for a pub lunch, a quaint bistro in the evening or something to fill a picnic basket. If that’s the case, head to Pengenna Pasties on the High Street for some of the best pasties and scones in Cornwall, where you can watch the edible goodies being made on the premises. Then stop off at The Allotment Deli on Fore Street to add to your picnic.
If it’s art work to look at rather than buy, Tate St Ives celebrates 30 years in the town in 2023. Located opposite Porthmeor Beach, the gallery opened in 1993 to celebrate the history and legacy of the St Ives modernist movement of art. Major international exhibitions come to the town in addition to bringing the Tate’s growing London collection to Cornwall. Regular events and workshops take place at the gallery, including those for babies, toddlers and young children.
On the west side of St Ives Bay, the town has a spectacular location within Cornwall that’s worth exploring. On the opposite side of the bay is Gwithian Sands, with miles of strikingly golden beach running between the popular town of Hayle and Godrevy Point. While to the west of St Ives is, arguably, one of the best roads in Cornwall for outstanding coastal views.
The narrow road runs for 14 miles between St Ives and St Just, passes through idyllic villages such as Zennor and Morvah and has the full stretch of the coast on one side and Celtic moorland on the other, brimming with ancient stone ‘structures’. Watch out for the cows that are apt to wander straight into the road, whether you’re approaching or not!
Things to do
1.On your caravan holiday in Cornwall you should visit Tate St Ives, one of the UK’s major cultural attractions. There is always something new to see and there are plenty of things to do, too, for visitors of all ages.
2.We suggest you see the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden. The museum is based at Trewyn Studio where the artist, considered one of the most important and influential artists of the 20th century, lived and worked for much of her life. And if you can’t get to the museum during opening hours, one of her sculptures is outside the entrance to the Guildhall for public viewing.
3.Take an art workshop with the St Ives School of Painting. For all ages, there are both practical art workshops for adults and children’s workshops aimed at five- to 12-year olds.
4.Take a boat trip from the harbour to Seal Island where you can spend a few minutes watching the grey seals that live there. The 90-minute cruise includes 15 minutes at the island and you can take your own picnic to have while on board. You might also get the chance to see dolphins and sharks, too.
5.Rent an ebike from St Ives eBikes for a potter along the coast. Why not try that incredible route from St Ives to St Just? Or extend the trip for a circular ride to Land’s End and back.
When to visit
There is always something going on in St Ives, but the main annual event is the September Festival, a celebration of the town’s artistic heritage with a feast of musical performances, gallery exhibitions, readings and workshops plus lots of open studios. The festival takes places throughout the middle fortnight of the month.
The town’s other big event is held in May, which welcomes the St Ives Food and Drink Festival with the best of Cornish food to taste, food demos from top chefs and plenty of music for all the family to enjoy.
If you are going for a caravan holiday in Cornwall and St Ives is your destination, take junction 31 off the M5, then follow the A30 dual carriageway through Devon and most of Cornwall, then the A3074 to St Ives.
Bear in mind that many of the roads in St Ives are not suitable for towing caravans along, being both narrow and steep, so do check ahead to find the best route to reach your chosen caravan park or campsite.
Where to stay
There are several campsites and touring parks in the vicinity of St Ives, however one caravan park is very close to the centre – Ayr Holiday Park. This should be approached via the B3311 and B3306 – follow the signs to St Ives for HGVs and Tate St Ives.
For other fabulous caravan parks, look at out guide to the best caravan parks in Cornwall. Alternatively, if you’re after some inspiration for other campsites from across the UK, our guide to the best caravan parks is worth checking out.
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St Ives is a little suntrap with a special atmosphere