When travelling to the very tip of Cornwall there are two main towns to stay in – Penzance or St Ives. But which one is for you? Well here is our personal opinion on the pros and cons of both towns to help you decide which one to visit.
St Ives is the perfect, picturesque seaside town boasting seven beaches with golden sand and gorgeous views. It is the place on the tip of everyone’s tongue due to its cute, cobbled streets with various bars, cafes and restaurants not to mention its abundance of small independent galleries where the many local artists display their work. If its true beauty and charm you are looking for then St Ives definitely wins every time!
Accommodation – St Ives
Louies Loft – Beachfront apartment with stunning views of Porthmeor (sleeps 4) click here to view
Azenor House – Great house for groups (sleeps 10) click here to view
Scots Craig – Gorgeous views over St Ives (sleeps 8) click here to view
Uno – Cosy apartment for a romantic getaway with stunning views (sleeps 2) click here to view
Penzance has had a bit of a makeover in the last few years with a brand new promenade, the reopening of the Jubilee Pool (an art deco salt water geothermal pool) and lots of new boutique shops, galleries and restaurants popping up. It isn’t such a seaside holiday resort as St Ives but still has a lot to offer. Its location makes it the perfect base for exploring this part of Cornwall and the accommodation is considerably cheaper than St Ives something you definitely need to take into consideration.
Accommodation – Penzance
Chyandour Cliff – Stunning home with breathtaking sea views (sleeps 4) click here to view
The Beach Club – Boutique Hotel with sea views – click here to view
Belmont – Large beautifully decorated house with sea views (sleeps 8) click here to view
Sullivans Loft – Gorgeous apartment in Newlyn (sleeps 4) click here to view
If beaches on your doorstep is what you want then St Ives is the place for you. It has a total of seven beaches which face in different directions giving them their own characteristics. Porthmeor is the biggest beach and faces the Atlantic, so is the best for surfing and bodyboarding, this beach is half a mile wide so plenty of room even at high tide. Porthgwidden and Bamaluz Beach, are sometimes good for surfing depending on the weather conditions and Harbour Beach, Breakwater, Lambeth and Porthminster are much calmer as they face into St Ives Bay so better for swimming.
With such an array of different beaches in St Ives, Penzance finds it hard to compete but it does have pebble beach within easy walking distance of the town centre. You can also walk along the coastal path to Longrock Beach a lovely golden sandy beach which has views of St Michael’s Mount. We found that this beach was often the best place to be when there was a northerly wind as it is protected by the sea wall. From Penzance you are also very close to some of Cornwall’s best secret beaches such as Nanjizal and Pedn Vounder. Read our Guide to Hidden Beaches to find out more.
Food is where I think Penzance gains the edge, it has lots of restaurants in the centre of town offering up anything from fine dinning to simple yet delicious fish and chips. Then there is also Newlyn, the heart of the Cornish fishing industry, which for a small town has a plethora of excellent restaurants serving up wonderfully fresh food. Our personal favourite for casual dining is Mackerel Sky Seafood Bar in a tiny little building next to the river which offers up an array of fresh fish tapas. For more formal dining there is the Tolcarne Inn, again offering excellent seafood, in a cosy and friendly 18th century pub. It features in the Michelin guide which describes it as serving “Appealing, flavoursome dishes centred around fresh fish and shellfish, most of which is landed at the adjacent harbour”.
St Ives also has many restaurants, cafes and bars particularly around the harbour. One of our favourites is Balcony Bar and Kitchen, which due to its second floor location has great views across the harbour and serves delicious comfort food and an excellent breakfast. The other place that comes highly recommended is Porthmeor Beach Cafe. It serves lovely fresh food with an amazing view out over Porthmeor Beach, ideal for breakfast, lunch, tapas right through to evening meals and is the best place to watch the sunset.
Things to do
If surfing and water sports are your thing, then St Ives is definitely the place to be as it offers great options for everyone from surfing on Porthmeor Beach to paddle boarding in the calmer waters in St Ives Bay. It also has a buzzing art scene, so if you are creative or simply enjoy admiring original artist and designer’s work then you’ll find lots of options here. St Ives is home to the Tate and the Barbara Hepworth Sculpture garden which are a must see if you are an art lover like me.
Penzance also has a growing number of galleries including Penlee House Gallery, Newlyn Art Gallery and the nearby Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens. Lots of the shops in Penzance that are opening up have a vintage vibe and you will also find lots of small independent shops scatter amongst some of the pedestrian area.
Penzance boasts the Jubilee Pool which is the largest salt water lido in the UK. It was built in the 1930s and more recently renovated in 2014 when it had started to fall into disrepair. It has a smaller geothermal pool which is a real treat to relax in after a refreshing dip in the larger sea water pool next to it. We spent a lovely afternoon here enjoying the pools and then visiting the onsite cafe for refreshments afterwards. In the summer they have an inflatable obstacle course at different times which was great fun for everyone.
Penzance is on the main train line but St Ives can also be accessed by train as it has its own branch.
Parking in St Ives is not easy due to the small winding cobbled roads and many places do not come with parking nearby so you have to park at the car park at the top of the hill and walk down into St Ives. Penzance has on road parking for many places and a huge car park by the harbour which is reasonably priced.
St Ives is extremely busy in high season so be prepared to go shoulder to shoulder when wandering around the smaller streets near the harbour and book well in advance if there is a particular restaurant you want to visit. Penzance is a lot quieter and also a bigger town so if you don’t like battling through crowds, it is probably the better option for you. We visited St Ives while staying near Penzance and thoroughly enjoyed our day but were happy to get back to the relative peace and tranquility of the south coast.
Quick Verdict: Penzance or St Ives
St Ives is a beautiful, quaint English seaside town boasting seven beaches so something for everyone.
It has a great art scene and so many galleries you’d struggle to visit them all.
Very lively atmosphere, particularly in the summer season and lots of good food options in walking distance.
Penzance is a lot quieter with no need to book months in advance to get a table.
There is a great food scene and excellent fresh fish in Newlyn, the heart of the Cornish fishing industry.
It makes a good base to explore the coastal path, hidden beaches and St Michael’s Mount.
Accommodation is considerably cheaper than St Ives.
Laura loves travelling across the UK and abroad. She has two children and a husband who are often her travel companions. Beach holidays, cosy cottages, treehouse adventures and brunching are just a few of her favourite ways to spend her travel time.