It is said that Britons have explored almost as little of our own seas as we have of the great unknown void of outer space. Much the same can be said of our own country. Many enthusiastic holiday-goers jet off to warmer pastures every summer, unaware of the wealth of UK city break holiday possibilities right on their doorsteps.
This is particularly true of the growing trend for city breaks. Whilst a typical young couple wouldn't think twice of dropping a grand on a weekend in Barcelona, they might balk at spending a third as much on a weekend away closer to home. They are truly missing out though, particularly when it comes to the more underrated and uniquely British towns located just a couple of hours outside of London. St Ives is one such town.
St Ives is an idyllic and historic market town located just north-west of Cambridge. There's more than enough to do to keep any cultured couple, group of friends, or family entertained for a long weekend. Your typical city break might be beset by the trappings of everyday urban life: the busy traffic, the smog, the perpetual sight of commercial scaffolding. St Ives offers a definitively more laid back and reflective experience.
The Great Ouse River offers some spectacular views of the town and there are numerous boat cruises scheduled throughout the summer months. Many of these electric riverboat cruises include a tour guide who will indulge you in the history and cultural heritage of the town. Electric cruises are often followed up by lovely lunch at one of the many riverside cafes that line the Ouse.
The Cambridgeshire countryside is arguably one of the best-kept secrets in the UK. Teeming with wildlife, the valley is a short walk from the centre of town and offers miles of unspoilt beauty. Walk through the quaint village of Hemingfords up to Hemingford Grey, past the Holt Island Nature Reserve and over the old St Ives Bridge Bridge in a blissful, two-hour stroll that encompasses the very best the British countryside has to offer.
The market at St Ives has been running for over 900 years and still offers one of the most authentic shopping experiences in the country. Stalls typically sell everything from fresh and frozen fish to fruit and veg and local meats. Groceries are just the tip of the iceberg though, as you'll also find vintage clothing, electronics, handmade crafts, and bespoke, made-to-order trinkets.
Many of the local shops also run their own market stalls, each of which will be imbued with that unique Cambridgeshire charm. There's also the more modern (but no less spectacular) bi-weekly Farmers' market, which boasts award-winning local produce, all of which is sourced within 30 miles of the town.
Opened in 1933, the Norris Museum is the life's work of St Ives historian Herbert Norris, who was fascinated by the history of Huntingdonshire. To this day, the museum (which has seen a significant update in recent years) continues to showcase over 33,000 artefacts in a beautiful riverside location that underlines what a special and unique location St Ives is.
The annual St Ives Old Riverport Jazz and Blues Festival is a great draw for music fanatics and has increased in both size and quality in recent years. Local, regional, and national acts flood the town's halls, churches, pubs, and clubs with music to mark the end of the summer season every September.
In the winter months, meanwhile, the unique St Ives Snowman Festival sees hundreds of snowmen taking over the town every November. The free day includes craft sessions, carol singers and, of course, a prize for the best snowman. The event climaxes in the St Ives Christmas Lights Switch On, which brings in families from across Cambridgeshire.