When we talk of St Ives in the UK, the vast majority of us think of the Cornish seaside town. Famous for its surfing beaches, artistic heritage, and boat trips to the idyllic and aptly-named Seal Island, it’s a popular holiday destination.
However, there is another St Ives in the UK that often gets overlooked: St Ives, Cambridgeshire. This is a quaint market town that couldn’t be further removed from its more famous twin, but still has a great deal to offer any tourist. Here, we’ll shine the spotlight on what both have to offer in terms of entertainment and culture to determine once and for all which St Ives is the best St Ives.
St Ives, Cornwall
Seal Island St Ives is a tiny rock located just off the coast, named for the Atlantic grey seals that call it home. Besides the chance to see these adorable seals in their natural habitat, the island is also home to a number of exotic fish and an ancient shipwreck, which lends an element of danger to the experience. Boat trips depart throughout the day in the summer when the weather is good, and whilst you're not guaranteed a seal sighting, you’re highly likely to catch a glimpse. You might even catch sight of a dolphin if you're particularly lucky.
Although most railways will take you through industrial complexes, heavy scaffolding and barren fields, the St Ives Railway is the UK's most scenic journey. Operating for over 100 years, the line runs between St Ives and St Erth. The ride takes just 20 minutes and follows the coast, providing some truly exceptional views of sand dunes, birdwatching haunts and, of course, St Ives itself.
St Ives, Cambridgeshire
The main draw to the less famous St Ives is definitely the market. It’s been around for over 900 years and offers up an eclectic range of authentic wares and foodstuffs. From vintage clothes and homemade crafts to fresh fish, fresh fruit and locally-sourced produce, the market takes up the entire town every week, so there should be something for everyone. There’s also a bi-weekly Farmer’s Market, which tends to draw many adventurous foodies.
Aside from the market, the town also offers some truly glorious electric boating trips along the Great Ouse River, with some of the most beautiful views in the region. That’s what’s so special about St Ives, scaffolding and skyscrapers are nowhere to be seen. It’s all greens and blues and the perfect backdrop to a summer picnic. Speaking of which, the countryside surrounding the town offers some perfect hiking opportunities for keen ramblers - with miles of pure green beauty to explore along the river.
St Ives, Cornwall
20th-century artist Barbara Hepworth is one of the most revered sculptors of her generation. This museum marks the site where she lived, worked, and died (in a tragic fire in 1975) and features some of her most famous pieces. Although modern sculptors might favour more esoteric building materials (everything from Nathan Sawaya's Lego houses to Ben Long's commercial scaffolding series), Hepworth favoured good old-fashioned stone and wood. This lends her work a timeless, organic beauty that is breathtaking to behold.
Also indicative of the area's rich, artistic heritage, the Tate St Ives is a less intimidating reflection of its more famous, London-based cousin. The gallery boasts a permanent exhibition of St Ives artists that have been influenced and inspired by the town's famously bold summer light, as well as a number of touring exhibitions. It's also doubled in size in recent years. It might not be as famous as the Tate Modern, but it's certainly worth travelling outside of London for.
St Ives, Cambridgeshire
For something unique, visit the Norris Museum. It gathers together the works of historian Herbert Norris, who dedicated his life to documenting the history of the Huntingdonshire region. There are thousands of artefacts in the museum, which itself boasts a relaxed riverside location. If you have even a passing interest in local history, this museum should easily take up an entire afternoon of your time.
For music fans, meanwhile, the town hosts the famous annual Riverport Jazz and Blues Festival, which sees both local and regional acts filling the town’s various pubs and clubs with live music. The St Ives Snowman Festival, meanwhile, which takes place in November, floods the town with snowmen. Like a traditional scarecrow festival given a festive makeover, the festival culminates in the annual Christmas lights switch on and is a perfect family day-out.
Which St Ives is the best St Ives? Honestly, the two towns offer completely different experiences. Indeed, it could be argued that the only things the two have in common are their names and the fact they both offer an affordable vacation destination for British tourists who don’t want to deal with the hassle and the expense of a plane. Whichever you choose, you can be sure of a very special and very unique weekend away.