Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to a perfect 24 hours of what to do in St Ives. Like most people who are not English, I first heard of St Ives in the old nursery rhyme, “As I was going to St Ives”. It’s sort of a math problem/riddle as well as a nursery rhyme, so I won’t trouble you fine Internet Strangers with it now. But I never suspected that one day I myself would be the number of people going to St Ives or that I would know what to do in St Ives.
With 24 hours and a guide to what to do in St Ives you can learn fun facts about mining history, geek out on historical romance novels, commune with art and nature, and get attacked by many vicious seagulls. So, how many are going to St Ives? Don’t you want to come too?
What to do in St Ives
Where to Stay
Are you a fan of cozy little attic rooms, delicious English breakfasts, and charming old Cornish people? Then you should stay at Glen Afton. It’s in Penzance because I found out What to do in St Ives as a day trip from Penzance, which I strongly recommend doing. There are lots of cute places to stay in Penzance, but I promise that Glen Afton has the charming seaside cottage vibe you’ll love.
24 Hours: What to Do in St Ives
The United Kingdom, as you may have heard, is on the rainy side. So the two most important things you’ll need to bring are an umbrella and some rain boots. My favorite travel umbrella is the Repel Teflon Waterproof Umbrella. It is strong enough to stand up to the sometimes-quite-strong winds of the UK. I hear they’re strong enough to carry a nanny up into the sky like a kite, but that could just be a rumor.
For rain boots, I recommend the Asgard Rain Boots. They are comfy/cozy and keep my feet dry all day. Plus they’re cute enough that I can wear them to tea without feeling like some gauche American with gross feet.
Finally, if you’re not from the UK, you need a universal adapter if you’re going to plug in electronics. UK electrical outlets don’t work with either American or European plugs. I suggest the NEWVANGA travel adapter. It’s usable with any electrical outlet in the world, so you won’t need to keep buying new adapters. I always carry two with me, just in case something happens to one.
What to do in St Ives
Morning: The Story of St Ives Tour
St Ives walks softly, but it carries a big stick. The town only has about 10,000 people, but it is frequently voted one of the best seaside towns in the United Kingdom, a country that is basically all seaside. If you’re looking to spend time in a quaint village in Cornwall, St Ives might very well be your best bet.
I did not stay overnight in St Ives, choosing to rest my head in the larger town of Penzance because I was hoping to meet a singing pirate. But St Ives is just a short train ride from wherever in Cornwall you decide to leave your suitcase. It will be easy to head here to explore What to do in St Ives.
I generally feel that a walking tour is the best introduction to any unfamiliar place, even one with a small fraction of the population of my hometown. Fortunately, St Ives has The Story of St Ives walking tour that leaves from the Guildhall every Wednesday. The local guide, Dawn, will lead you on an amusing and edutaining romp around this fair former fishing village. But even if you’re not lucky enough to be in St Ives on Wednesday, you can still find…
approximately top 5: What to do in St Ives
Our tour of what to do in St Ives begins in the Guildhall, and being on the tour is the only way to get to the top floor of the Guildhall. This painting that Dawn is pointing to in my photo really captures why St Ives is important. The subject is fisherman, and St Ives was an important fishing town until quite recently. But St Ives has also been a major destination for British artists like Joseph Turner who were interested in capturing the rosy pink light that emanates from its beaches.
Whether or not you take the tour, the lower level of the guildhall often has farmers markets and artists markets in the summer. I bought a clock made from an old CD from a cheerful elderly couple. They seemed quite excited to learnt that their clock would be traveling all the way to New York City, but I can’t tell if they were just being terribly polite or if they meant it. Old English people are confusing that way.
2) Lambeth Walk Beach
Lambeth Walk Beach is a spot many tourists miss because the sand isn’t as good as some of the other beaches in St Ives. But if you miss this spot, you’ll pass up the chance to see some of the best views in your 24 hours in St Ives. From here, we can see two lighthouses, the old and the new. In true English fashion, New Lighthouse dates all the way back to 1890.
The beach was named Lambeth Walk after the popular song and dance from the 1930s. But Dawn said that people in St Ives meant it as a joke because the “Lambeth Walk” that people were doing on the beach in St Ives was more of a drunken stumble than a dance hall dance. A beach that’s also a sarcastic insult? St Ives is my kind of town!
3) St Ives Parish Church
So this is the parish church of St Ives. Confusingly, it is also called St Ia’s Church because it was named for the Irish Saint Ia who brought Christianity to Cornwall. The legend has it that she came over from Ireland on a leaf. I try to keep an open mind about a lot of things, but I really feel like a leaf would fall apart if you tried to sail it across the Irish Channel. But maybe this is why I am not a saint.
4) Doors of St Ives
Dawn explained that even the color of doors in St Ives has a meaning. If a house had a blue door, it meant a fisherman lived there. A green door meant a farmer, and a black door meant a miner. The Cornish mining industry has been important to England for thousands of years. Dawn said that the Bronze Age would never have begun in England if not for the Cornish mines. That’s a lot of responsibility for one little fishing village.
Dawn also taught us how to tell if someone is from Cornwall by looking at their last names. Most Cornish last names begin with the letters “Tre”, “Pen”, or “Pol”. I started waving my hand, so Dawn graciously let me tell everyone that the most famous Pol person is the terribly fictional Ross Poldark.
Even though Ross Poldark is not real, he has still had one book series and two TV series made about him, so he’s already a lot more successful than I am. Poldark is partially filmed in St Ives, so if you’re a Polgeek like me, you simply have to spend at least 24 hours in St Ives finding all the Poldark film sites.
5) Hicks Court Arch
Of course with all the ships that came into St Ives, you also had smugglers. Dawn said that the smugglers used to try to run from the beach and escape the law in the shady part of town. The shady part of town was separated from the rest of St Ives by a simple arch. But the officer of the law in St Ives, aka the portreeve, very cleverly put his house directly by the arch so he could trap the shady people before they dashed away into Shadyville.
Dawn said that the really dangerous people weren’t the smugglers but the wreckers. Wreckers would actually try to wreck ships so that they could scramble up to the beach and get the goods that washed ashore. Of course if you got caught wrecking, you were hanged. I don’t believe in hanging, but I find it hard to muster too much sympathy for people who would wreck an entire ship, possibly killing everyone on board, for some money.
6) Cornish Pasty
Once the tour is over, you’ll want some lunch. There’s no more classic Cornish lunch than a warm, flaky Cornish pasty filled with chicken, vegetables, steak and stilton, lamb, and maybe even all the above if you encounter an especially adventurous baker. I chose to get mine at St Ives Bakery because it had the best reviews and I was not disappointed with its flaky crust or its abundant chicken filling.
24 Hour Tip
Just be careful when you are eating your pasty because Cornish seagulls are everywhere, and they do not give a what. I had to sneak little pieces of pasty in my mouth very quickly so the seagull wouldn’t snatch it out of my hand. Eventually one of the gulls got mad and divebombed me in the back of my head so I’d drop my piece of pasty. Fortunately I lucked out when a little old lady walking down the beach dropped some food and a swarm of seagulls descended upon her. Thanks little old lady! I hope the seagulls didn’t eat you.
Anyway, the moral of this story is: Cornish seagulls do NOT give a what. You’ve been warned.
7) Cornish Butter Tablet
Of course you can’t have a pasty without washing it down with something sweet for dessert. That’s just science. I was excited to try a type of sweet I’d never heard of before: Cornish butter tablet. (Butter tablet is also popular in Scotland, so we’ll try it when you come with me to Edinburgh.)
Basically it’s harder, sugarier, butterier fudge. If that doesn’t sound appealing, there may be no hope for you, Internet Stranger! I got mine at Myring’s, but there are approximately a flobbityjillion candy shops in St Ives, so go wherever appeals to you.
What to do in St Ives
Afternoon: St Ives Museums
You can’t really say you know What to do in St Ives unless you spend a few gentle hours in contemplation at its fine museums. Though it is a small town, St Ives is lucky enough to feature two world-class museums. One is the Tate St Ives, a cousin to the Tate in London.
The other is the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Garden. You can get a combination ticket at either location that will give you access to both museums. There will be plenty of time in your 24 hours in St Ives to visit both. This way you can learn at least…
three fun facts: st ives art
1) Barbara Hepworth Sculpture
Dame Barbara Hepworth is one of the most famous female artists of all time. She was originally from Yorkshire, but moved down to Cornwall and made her home in St Ives. Hepworth was an art student with Henry Moore, and there are obvious similarities in the abstract smooth shapes you can find in their work.
She is famous for her larger pieces, but I was rather drawn to this small work in the museum. There’s little information given, so I get to guess anything I want. Are they a man and a woman? A mother and a child? The Penguin and Mr. Freeze? Whoever they are, they seem to be heading in different directions, yet they are bound together by the dish in which they rest.
2) Barbara Hepworth Garden
The best part of visiting the Barbara Hepworth Museum is getting to explore her gorgeous green garden. As Hepworth got older, she became more interested in making large bronzes for her garden. I was enamored with how her pieces blended into the background so that they began to resemble plants. It was hard to tell where the nature left off and the art began.
This was my favorite sculpture in the garden because I liked how it was furry and could run around. I’d sure like to bring one of those running fur sculptures back home with me!
3) Tate St Ives
Unfortunately the Tate St Ives doesn’t allow photography inside, so I can’t show you their impressive collection. They have a section devoted to classic pieces of Cornwall-inspired art. My favorites were the earth toned Leach Ceramics, which were made by Bernard Leach and Shoji Hamada in St Ives in the first half of the 20th century.
The Tate St Ives also has more contemporary works, like Sea Paintings by Jessica Warboys. The artist actually created these giant pieces by putting pigment on a large canvas and then sinking the canvas under the sea. It sounds gimmicky, but the final result is most impressive. I bought a postcard of Sea Paintings, so I suppose I could just show you by taking a photo of the postcard and putting it on this blog. But that seems kind of tacky.
What to do in St Ives
Evening: Dinner at Cellar Bistro
Cellar Bistro, as you might imagine, is a bistro in a cellar. It is run by a husband and wife team, and it definitely shows in the inviting atmosphere. You certainly get a warm welcome when one of the owners runs the front of the house. The ingredients are almost entirely local, and in Cornwall that means getting a whole boatload of seafood. You’ll find no complaints from me!
For starters, I had a satisfyingly salty mackerel pate served with warm, crusty fresh bread. Fish pate sounds so classically English to me because characters in Golden Age murder mysteries always seem to be eating it. I remember a character from an Agatha Christie novel dying from eating fish pate. The killer wanted people to think it was botulism, but really it was MURDER. But absolutely no one was murdered by this mackerel pate.
24 Hour Treat: Hake
I feel confident in saying this hake dish is one of the house specialties because its picture is featured on the restaurant website. According to my research, hake is similar to cod, so I imagine you could use it in fish and chips. It’s white, flaky, and firm enough to stand up to the fryer.
But I prefer the hake as it is prepared at the Cellar Bistro: breaded in Parmesan crumbs and served with peas and potatoes. It’s so green that it almost looks like it belongs in Barbara Hepworth’s garden. And unlike that furry sculpture, I bet it would stay put.
24 Hour treat: moomaid of zennor ice cream
You might think after that giant piece of hake that I wouldn’t have room for dessert. But only if you’d never read this blog before. I always have room for dessert! Especially if that dessert is lemon mascarpone cheesecake. The cheesecake was fab: smooth and not too sweet. But the star of the show here was the local Moomaid of Zennor raspberry sorbet.
According to the company’s website, Moomaid of Zennor gets its name from the legend of the Mermaid of Zennor. Their ice cream is made with fresh local ingredients, including milk made from a cow named Sid Vicious. I really need to meet this cow because she must be one tough lady. However, Sid Vicious was obviously not involved in the making of my dessert because there is no milk in sorbet. I’ll get your milk next time, Sid!
That’s a Perfect 24 Hours with What to do in St Ives!
What would you put in a guide of What to do in St Ives? Are you ready to start booking your hotel in Cornwall right now? Are you also a Polgeek? And who would win in a fight to the death, a Cornish seagull or Sid Vicious? Please leave your thoughts below!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. 24 hours, if you know exactly what to do in St Ives seems like the perfect amount of time to me, but you’ll definitely want to link this day with other itineraries for Cornwall and England in general. If you want to try 24 hours in Penzance, try this itinerary. If you want to add on 24 hours in London, click here.