With beaches that look like they could be in the Caribbean nestled amongst the signature craggy cliffs of Cornwall, St Ives is one of the most popular destinations in the entirety of the UK.
In the summer months, tourists flock to this gorgeous Cornish town – and we can see why. With a mild climate and beaches with palm trees (yes, really!), visiting St Ives is basically a chance to feel like you’re abroad without leaving the UK.
But what about a winter break in St Ives? Is the West Cornwall town worth visiting even when the thermometer’s a little colder?
If you’re asking all of these questions, you’ve come to the right place.
My family is from Cornwall and I live next door in Devon, so I’ve spent much of my life in the region – including a few wintery trips to St Ives!
And while I won’t deny that winter in St Ives is different, I still think it’s very much worth visiting! Read on, as I go through what winter in St Ives entails!
What’s the weather like in St Ives in winter?
Do you want the good news, or the bad news?
The good news is that St Ives (and Cornwall in general) is usually warmer than the rest of the country – average temperatures in January are around 9°C.
So not exactly warm, but you might not need your gloves!
The bad news is that winter in St Ives is storm season! So, expect a fair amount of wind and rain.
Reasons to visit St Ives in winter
So, if the weather’s not exactly tropical, then why would you visit St Ives in the winter months? Here are some reasons:
- No crowds: Aside from the two weeks around Christmas, there are virtually no crowds in St Ives in winter; it’s basically a ghost town. If you’ve ever visited this Cornish town in the summer season, you’ll know how valuable time without the crowds is!
- Lower prices: Equally, prices are much lower in St Ives out of the peak season. You can get way more bang for your buck and stay at some of the fanciest hotels in town for much better value prices.
- Dramatic weather: Some people prefer dramatic weather! Storm watching is popular in St Ives – although I haven’t included any recommendations in this guide as I haven’t personally gone storm watching in St Ives myself and wouldn’t want to recommend anything that’s unsafe. If you’re interested, speak to the receptionist at your hotel about the best and safest spots.
- It’s still St Ives!: Even if the weather’s not amazing, St Ives is still beautiful, trust me. It’s one of the best places to visit in Cornwall for a reason! If you get a chance to visit this Cornish town at any time of year, grab it!
What is closed in St Ives in winter?
It’s worth pointing out that some of the best attractions in St Ives (you can read my full list here) are not open or accessible in the winter period. This includes:
- boat trips to Seal Island
- sea safaris and jet ski rentals (for obvious reasons!)
- St Ives Museum
- the Atlantic Coaster bus, which connects St Ives with other North Cornwall destinations like Newquay and Padstow (the Land’s End coaster runs all year with a reduced timetable in the winter)
- the beaches are open, but sunbathing and swimming may be off the agenda!
Things to do in St Ives in winter
Despite the fact that some of St Ives attractions are closed in the winter season, you’ll be glad to know that there’s still plenty to do in the gorgeous town!
Check out the Tate St Ives
Did you know that there’s another TATE Museum located in the heart of this Cornish town?
The TATE St Ives is a fantastic exhibition of modern and historical art.
St Ives has been an arty place since the turn of the 20th century when many artists and sculptors moved to the town, inspired by the beautiful natural scenery (and probably it’s milder climate!).
This eventually led to the famous art gallery opening a branch here.
There’s also a beautiful rooftop cafe with impressive views spanning over Porthmeor Beach.
While the TATE in London is free, the St Ives branch does have a cover cost of £10.50 for adults (and less for children and concessions).
See the Barbara Hepworth Sculpture Garden
Another arty attraction in Cornwall is the Barbara Hepworth Sculpture Garden, an impressive complex boasting gorgeous statues.
Barbara Hepworth was a sculptor who moved to the town; but tragically, she died in a fire in her studio in the 1970s.
Nowadays, the studio has been remodelled, and all of her sculptures have been put in the garden as a memorial to her.
From the garden, you can take in fantastic views of the town’s rooftops and the sea.
It’s a beautiful, relaxing space and I think it’s a must-visit on any trip to the town.
Have a hearty Cornish pasty
Of course, this one reason why people come to Cornwall is… the pasties!
Cornish pasties are fairly large pastries, traditionally made with beef, carrot, swede and onion.
My Cornish grandma, always drilled into me that these were the only “proper” Cornish pasty – so I think she was quite disappointed when I went vegetarian!
However, nowadays, vegetable pasties and variants with many other fillings are common.
My favourite place for pasties is St Ives bakery, which also serves up a variety of sweet goods.
If it’s a dry day, you could get your pasty to go (they stay warm for eons, which is part of the reason why they were originally taken down the mines as a lunch snack) and enjoy it while sitting on St Ives harbour.
Or try a cream tea!
If it’s drizzly and gloomy outside, I have a dry-experience suggestion for you!
Head to Olives, a lovely St Ives cafe that’s famous for their cream teas.
Cream teas come from Cornwall and Devon and consist of a scone, cream and jam.
The BIG difference is whether the cream goes on first, or the jam goes on first!
In St Ives, you’re in Cornwall, so put the jam on first (don’t get this wrong, or you’ll have locals tutting at you!).
As a part-Cornish person who spends a lot of time in Cornwall but actually lives in Devon, I’m constantly doing mental gymnastics about how to eat my scones. I end up just switching depending on where I am and who I’m with!
If you know anything about St Ives, you’ll know that it’s a surfing hotspot, particularly Porthmeor Beach which faces the wild Atlantic Ocean.
In the summer months, the waters are full of tourists and locals looking to catch the next wave – but what about in winter?
Winter surfing is indeed possible in St Ives – and it’s actually when most of the pros visit the town, as the waves are at their gnarliest!
However, if you aren’t a surfing pro (I’m certainly not!), then I heartily recommend that you don’t go surfing on your own.
Most surf schools are closed in the winter months, but you can book private lessons with St Ives Surf School, who will happily take you out as long as the weather conditions are decent.
The team at St Ives Surf School are fully lifeguard trained.
Walk along St Ives bay to Lelant
Wrap up warm, grab a coffee to go and take this lovely stroll from St Ives to Porthkidney Beach, the Hayle Estuary and Lelant!
This route traverses along the South West Coast Path, taking in views of Porthminster Beach, Carbia Bay (there’s still palm trees, even in winter!), the often forgotten Porthkidney Beach and ultimately the Hayle Estuary (a great place for birdwatching) and Lelant.
You could walk a bit further and check ou the best things to do in Hayle too.
You can either walk back or take the train from Lelant back to St Ives – more on that below!
Scenic train ride
The scenic train ride from St Ives to St Erth (calling at Carbis Bay and Lelant) is one of the most beautiful in the country – and it’s a fantastic budget-friendly activity in the town!
Choose a brisk, sunny winter’s day, and hop on the train at St Ives. The route to St Erth only takes 10 minutes, but keep your camera ready – there are so many amazing views.
The most scenic part is between Lelant and St Ives, so you could hike one way, as described above, and take the train the other.
Walk to Zennor
This route is more challenging, and I’d only recommend it on a still winter’s day.
Zennor is a magical village famous for its connections with the mythical Mermaid of Zennor, sitting around 6 miles from St Ives on the South West Coast Path – but this is one of the most challenging sections, with climbs up and down cliffs and a scramble across rocks at the end!
That being said, while it’s wild, it’s certainly beautiful! However, the fact that it involves climbing up and down cliffs means that it isn’t safe when it’s raining or the wind is too strong.
Once you get to Zennor, either have a pub lunch at The Tinner’s Arms (one of the pubs in Cornwall that absolutely everyone, me included, raves about!) or grab a coffee at the Moomaid of Zennor.
To get back to St Ives, there is an option to walk through country fields for an easier, flatter hike – just be wary of what time the sun sets in winter.
Or, you can take the Lands End Coaster from Zennor to the town, but do check times before you go, as they run on a reduced timetable in winter (which could leave you with more time for drinks at The Tinner’s Arms, so no bad thing!).
Check out St Ives’ shops
Back in St Ives town, there are countless adorable boutique stores to admire and purchase some Cornish souvenirs.
My favorites include:
- The St. Ives Bookseller, which always has a Cornish-themed book or two (being part-Cornish, I’m obsessed with the history of this region and am always reading about it – I’m even trying to learn a little Cornish!)
- St Ives Jewellery Studio which makes beautiful nautical-inspired jewellery
- Onda St Ives which is a small boutique stores selling clothes and homeware.
Geevor tin mine in Pendeen
Pendeen’s Geevor Tin Mine is an all-year attraction, and one of my favourite hidden gems in Cornwall.
There has been mining in the area since 1791, and Geevor Tin Mine was adapted at the beginning of the 20th century, when the Boer War broke out in South Africa and some Cornish miners, who had taken their mining skills to the nation, came home.
The company was formed in 1911 and the mine continued to deepen until 1975.
However, thanks to the “tin crisis” in 1985, Geevor tin mine closed its doors in 1986. But this wasn’t the end – the mine re-opened in 1988 with fewer staff members. However, this was short-lived, and the doors officially closed in 1991, with the museum opening in 1993.
Nowadays, there are a few exhibitions about Cornish mining, the chance to see mining equipment, a mine that you can walk through and my favourite bit – The Dry, which was the offices of the old mine, left exactly as it was in 1990, when the miners came up for the last time.
It’s a thought-provoking and emotional spectacle, as you can imagine what miners experienced when they learned that their livelihood was gone.
For me, it’s especially emotional as my family were historically Cornish miners (not in Geevor though, they lived over in Redruth), and I know all about some of the financial implications that happened as a result of the collapse of tin mining in the region.
Geevor Tin Mine is open all year round, and it’s honestly one of my favourite things to do in Cornwall. Don’t miss it!
Places to visit near St Ives
Once you’ve taken in St Ives, there are a few other excellent places to visit in the area!
Unless you’re coming from the Isles of Scilly or Sennen, you’ll drive eastwards to get to St Ives, which means that you can stop off at many of the Duchy’s best attractions en-route.
The Eden Project, Lanhydrock, Bodmin Jail, Jamaica Inn and the Lost Gardens of Heligan are all excellent places to stop off en-route!
However, this list below is of places that are actually close to St Ives (i.e. in West Cornwall) that you can easily see with minimal driving.
20 minutes from St Ives by car, or take the train to St Erth and then change to Penzance line, OR take the Land’s End Coaster.
While Penzance isn’t quite as jaw-droppingly beautiful as St Ives, it’s a fascinating fishing village with lots of charismatic pubs, great restaurants and historic buildings.
If the weather is fine, walk along to Mousehole, which is an adorable fishing village with stunning Christmas lights in winter. You can take the M6 bus to and from Mousehole.
St Michael’s Mount
20 minutes from St Ives by car – or you can travel to Penzance by public transport and take a bus.
You can pair a visit to Penzance with a trip to St Michael’s Mount. This dramatic castle and church standing on top of a rocky island is a replica or Mont St Michel in Normandy, France.
In the winter months, the castle has limited opening hours; it’s only accessible when the causeway is clear (as boat crossings don’t run). You can read more about the opening hours here.
40 minutes from St Ives by car – or the Land’s End coaster connects the towns.
Porthcurno is home to one of my favourite beaches in Cornwall – Porthcurno beach is a dramatic cove with towering cliffs – but that’s not all that it has to offer.
It’s famous for the Minack Theatre, which is a clifftop theatre built by a woman named Rowena Cade, boasting dramatic vistas across the seascape.
It’s a working theatre, although there aren’t any productions in the winter months. However, the theatre is open for tourists from Saturdays to Wednesdays.
It’s also worth checking out the Porthcurno Telegraph Museum, which documents the fascinating history of the telegraph lines in the area that were vital for communications during World War Two. The museum is open on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays in winter.
40 minutes from St Ives by car – or take the Land’s End coaster.
Rocky and foreboding, Land’s End is a dramatic place at the best of times, and one of the most popular Cornish landmarks.
It’s the furthest south west point in mainland UK, and is a majestic place to take in.
During wilder weather, it’s even more fun!
There are a few attractions in Land’s End, including shops and a 4D cinema, and these stay open for most of the year (just closing for around a week over Christmas).
However, the actual site of Land’s End is open and free to visit any time of year.
Where to stay in St Ives
There’s accommodation for pretty much any style and budget in St Ives. Read my full list of where to stay for all of the best options, or take a look at my top picks below:
Boasting epic views of St Ives coastline, Tregenna Castle Hotel is a there-star property with an indoor pool, two local restaurants and gardens.
It’s a family-friendly hotel, with comfortable, spacious rooms and suites on offer.
Sitting on the heart of St Ives Harbour, Pedn-Olva boasts a fantastic location on St Ives’ granite rocks. With 30 boutique bedrooms, each with its own bathroom, this hotel is small yet luxurious.
There’s a restaurant on-site that has some of the best views in town!
Located in St Ives only gastropub, The Queens Hotel has 10 refurbished rooms sitting above the main restaurant.
Rooms have comfortable vintage furniture and Cornish artwork on the walls.
The Queens Hotel has great rates – it’s amongst the most affordable hotels in St Ives.
One of the most romantic hotels in Cornwall, Carbis Bay Hotel and Spa is THE option to choose if you want to treat yourself on your St Ives winter break!
Right in the heart of Carbis Bay, this hotel has bright rooms, boasting balconies and roll top baths.
On-site, you’ll find two restaurants (Sands and the Conservatory) and the incredible spa – which is the ideal place to warm up in after a full day of exploring St Ives!
St Ives is one of the best destinations for Cornwall staycations, with cosy pubs, wintery walks and museums. Plus, even if the weather isn’t amazing – it’s still St Ives, one of the most beautiful places in the UK!
If you have any questions about visiting St Ives, drop me a message on Instagram – I’m happy to help!