After World War II, the fishing town of St Ives became the centre of British Modernism, so here you can revel in the inspirational and tranquil by visiting St Ives museums.
An area known for its artist-inspired communities, St Ives is vibrant and buzzing, meaning there is plenty for the culturally minded. Here, we round up five of our favourite St Ives museums to have on your radar.
© Matthew Tyas
Location: Leach Pottery, Higher Stennack, St Ives, TR26 2HE
Admission price: Adult: £8, under 18: Free. £13 for guided tour package (includes museum entry and guide book). Entrance Gallery: free entry.
A passion for pottery? You’ve come to the right place with St Ives museum offerings. The original home and workplace of renowned potter Bernard Leach, The Leach Pottery Museum showcases 100 year old pottery, a clay room, the throwing room with kick wheels and its own Japanese climbing kiln.
Learn about the history of pottery skill, and find out which potters have spent time training and working at this inspiring pottery. Guided tours also take place on a Thursday where visitors can learn more about Bernard Leach and the pottery’s fascinating history.
Before you go, visitors will get to shop the Standard Ware range and a selection of pottery by Leach Potters and talented individuals, all showcased in Bernard Leach’s old cottage. There’s also two exhibition spaces at Leach Pottery, with an evolving programme of exhibitions.
Modern Conversations collection display, installation view at Tate St Ives, 2021. Photo © Kirstin Prisk
Location: Porthmeor Beach , St Ives, TR26 1TG
Admission price: £10.50 (not including donation), entry for under 18s is free
The Tate St Ives gallery attracts around 240,000 visitors a year, hardly surprising given its hugely impressive white gleaming building overlooking Porthmeor Beach. Arguably the best known of St Ives museum offerings, a former gas works, a visit to the Tate St Ives is a marvellous experience. Providing an incredible, modern, thought-provoking artistic journey, visitors will also gain a fascinating insight into the town’s artistic history. The exhibitions change regularly, too.
For most people a visit should last a few hours, although art lovers could easily spend a day here. The building is architecturally fascinating, while the arts and installations link to the local area, with a significant number of Cornish artists’ works exhibited. Before heading off, a trip to The Tate St Ives isn’t complete without stopping by the top floor restaurant, which affords a wonderful view of the beach and ocean.
View of the Barbara Hepworth Sculpture Garden © Bowness. Photo © Kirstin Prisk
Location: Barnoon Hill, St Ives, Cornwall TR26 1AD
Admission price: £8 (not including donation), entry for under 18s is free
One St Ives museum you should certainly have on your radar, even if sculpture is not really your ‘thing’, is the Barbara Hepworth Museum.
A talented sculptor, originally from Wakefield, West Yorkshire the Barbara Hepworth Museum comprises of a studio and garden to celebrate her artistic life. The museum is a magical oasis where her sculptures are displayed in their natural, intimate setting, along with a collection of all her tools, chisels, saws and hammers. There are also fine views over the rooftops of St Ives.
As one of the most important artists of the 20th century, learning to carve in Rome. She was later inspired by the natural, rugged landscape of the southwest and Cornwall in particular.
Barbara Hepworth’s life is as interesting as her art, so her living room is largely as she left it.
A fascinating woman whose work is revered, her studio/home is definitely a place to see.
Location: Wheal Dream, St Ives TR26 1PR
Admission price: £5 per adult, children go free.
St Ives is such a unique corner of the world, and naturally you’ll want to learn more about the history of this buzzing fishing town. Look no further than a visit to St Ives Museum.
Independently run by local volunteers, the St Ives Museum is open to the public from Easter to the end of October. This ‘no thrills’ museum is packed to the rafters with local historical artefacts all about the bygone age of St Ives. A treasure trove of St Ives’ heritage, there are eight rooms on two floors to explore, discovering collections of all aspects of the town’s rich history.
Location: 28 Trenwith Place, St Ives TR26 1QD
Admission price: £8
St Ives is home to the world’s only Museum dedicated to Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton, a most extraordinary individual. A famous Victorian Maverick, Burton was an adventurer, spy, explorer, and the translator of the Kama Sutra and 1001 Arabian Nights.
This St Ives museum is modelled on Burton’s smoking room in Trieste, Italy, providing the most wonderful atmosphere enhanced by Moroccan lanterns and complimentary Moroccan mint tea. Museum visits last around an hour, giving visitors a chance to discuss Burton further with the museum’s creator, Shanty Baba.
Unlike other museums in St Ives, entrance is appointment only, at an agreed time, including in the evening. It’s also worth noting that the museum is not suitable for children and limited to groups of four people.
We have curated a collection of our favourite luxury self-catering holiday cottages in the artist town of St Ives, known for its harbour, shops and food scene. Browse our accommodation to book your perfect stay.