Where To Go And What To Do In Devon

Ed Maughan
Ed Maughan

With a vast array of vibrant beaches, bustling market towns, family adventures and beautiful moors, there is truly something for every member of the family in Devon

Where is Devon?

Devon is found in South West England. It forms part of the South West (Cornish) Peninsula of Great Britain, and is the UK’s fourth-largest county. It stretches from the Bristol Channel in the North, all the way down to the English Channel in the South. Its neighbouring counties are Cornwall in the West, Somerset in the North-East and Dorset in the East. 

Within inland Devon, you will find both Dartmoor National Park and Exmoor National Park. Dartmoor rises around 600 metres and is famous for its granite plateau, marshy valleys, Dartmoor ponies, forest and wetlands. Exmoor reaches around 480 metres, and is similar to Dartmoor, but features far more farmland. 

You are also spoilt for choice with the coastal region of Devon with 120 beaches to choose from. Because of its location, Devon has two separate coastlines, one on the Bristol Channel in the North and one on the English Channel in the South. The East Devon Coast, also known as The Jurassic Coast is a World Heritage site and runs around 95 miles from Exmouth to Stutland. The North Devon Coast is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and runs around 60 miles from Braunton to Ilfracombe. 

If you’re planning a trip to the area, check out our top places to visit in Devon: 

  1. Exeter and Exmouth
  2. The Salcombe Estuary
  3. Dartmouth
  4. Barnstaple 
  5. North Devon Coast 
  6. Torquay
  7. Dartmoor National Park
  8. East Devon 
  9. Exmoor National Park

1. Exeter and Exmouth

Exeter is a city in Devon, close to Exmouth, where you will find the famous Jurassic Coast. A popular seaside destination, Exmouth is considered to be the oldest holiday resort in Devon.

Things To Do In Exeter and Exmouth

Visit the Exe Estuary nature reserve, and see how many rare migratory birds you can spot. There are two areas of coastal grazing marsh to explore, both owned and managed by the RSPB. If you prefer to take in the sights of the city, why not do so on one of Exeter’s electric bikes, which you can hire by the half-hour? If walking is more your bag, take a self-guided tour of the 2000-year-old city walls. To keep the younger family members entertained, bring paper and pencils with you, as the city has designed quizzes and puzzles to take part in along the way.

Places To See In Exeter and Exmouth

The bustling 2km Exmouth beachfront is well worth a visit. As well as golden sands, you’ll find pedalo boats and arcades for the kids, as well as plenty of pubs, restaurants and ice cream bars to suit everyone. Exmouth is set at the beginning of the Jurassic Coast, arguably the best coastal drive in the UK. Head to the Geoneedle to enjoy the views of both the rolling countryside and the blissful beachfront.

Where To Stay Near Exeter and Exmouth

Accommodation In Exeter and Exmouth

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2. The Salcombe Estuary and South Hams

Peaceful creeks, blissful beaches and pristine waters, the Salcombe Estuary really is a glorious place to visit, found in the South Hams area of Devon. This Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty boasts some of the most unspoilt coastline in the UK.

Things To Do In Salcombe

The area of South Hams includes stunning rivers, moorland and beaches. If you enjoy being in the great outdoors, you will be spoilt for choice. Sea-n-Shore offers classes in waterskiing, wakeboarding or coasteering. If you prefer to stay inland, why not visit Lukesland Gardens, a 24-acre garden in Dartmoor National Park. Children will delight at the treasure hunt, and can even play with some unusual instruments in the Sound and Story Garden. 

Places To See In Salcombe

Hire a bike from one of the many companies in the area, if you prefer a less strenuous day, you can even hire an electric bike from e-Xplore Devon and let the bike do the hard work for you! For the walkers amongst you, stroll along part of the South West Coast Path National Trail. This 3-mile route takes you through rocky spires to the mouth of the Salcombe Estuary, with stunning 360-degree views.

Where To Stay In Salcombe

Group Accommodation In Salcombe

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3. Dartmouth

If history and culture peak your interest, a trip to Dartmouth with its’ historic houses, castles, and winding lanes won’t leave you disappointed. The South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is only a short drive away, and the beaches are to be found right on your doorstep!

Things To Do In Dartmouth

To explore some nautical history in the area, head to the Britannia Royal Naval College, where an expert tour guide will take you on a journey, exploring the iconic architecture and history of the college itself. For a family day out, visit multi-award-winning Pennywell Farm. Complete with animals, activities, and displays, Pennywell has been awarded Best Visitor Attraction for two years running. Say hello to any of the hundreds of friendly animals, enjoy a tractor and trailer ride, or challenge a family member in the Run Rabbit Go Karts! 

Places To See In Dartmouth

For historians, Dartmouth Castle offers unspoiled views of the estuary. If the weather permits, hop on a riverboat trip from the town quay, which takes you all the way to the castle entrance! While we’re on the subject of history, Dartmouth Visitor Centre hosts the oldest preserved working steam engine in the world, the invention of Dartmouth-born engineer Thomas Newcomen. 

Where To Stay In Dartmouth

Holiday Houses In Dartmouth

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4. Barnstaple

The bustling market town of Barnstaple is found on the River Taw, just to the north of Dartmoor, and the west of Exmoor National Park. Because of its location, it’s a fantastic place to stay to take in the natural beauty of the area, as well as enjoy the town itself with its local market, narrow lanes, and vibrant shops.

Things To Do In Barnstaple

Visit Arlington Court, an 1820s Neoclassical National Trust mansion, and tour 16 originally decorated rooms. Head to the stable yard to look at the Carriage Museum, with over 40 coaches available to view. While you’re in the area, stroll around the Pannier Market, erected originally in Saxon times, the building was elegantly modernised in the mid-19th century. The market is open 6 days a week, with stalls dedicated to collectibles, produce, books, and much more.

Places To See In Barnstaple

Take a stroll towards Barnstaple Quay to find Queen Anne’s Walk. This open space was originally built as a meeting place for merchants, and features a frieze with the coats of arms of the 13 members of the Corporation of Barnstaple, alongside a statue of Queen Anne. Alternatively, hop in the car to visit Broomhill Sculpture Garden. A 10-acre outdoor museum, featuring over 300 works by around 60 sculptors.

Where To Stay Near Barnstaple

Holiday Houses In Barnstaple

Browse our selection of stunning group accommodation in Barnstaple.

5. North Devon Coast

The North Devon Coast covers around 66 square miles of coastal landscape, ranging from roaring waterfalls, rocky coves, beaches, valleys, and seaside towns. 

Things To Do In North Devon

While in North Devon, make sure to visit the pretty village of Croyde. Known as the surfing capital of North Devon, there are plenty of places to hire a surfboard and book lessons. If you prefer to keep your feet on the ground, why not book a rockpool ramble to discover some of the marine wildlife in the area? The bustling seaside town of Ilfracombe is also well worth visiting. It is fast becoming a foodie-hotspot, so make sure to visit one of the many restaurants while you’re there.

Places To See In North Devon

Take a trip on the Hampshire Rose, a historic lifeboat which will guide you west, towards the famous Victorian Tunnels Beaches, while taking in views of the seaside town of Ilfracombe. If the weather isn’t quite as nice as you’d like, hop over to the award-winning Aquarium, situated in the Old Lifeboat House on the Harbour. 

Places To Stay In North Devon

Holiday Houses In North Devon

Browse our selection of stunning group accommodation in North Devon.

6. Torquay

Torquay is a traditional seaside town, set on Devon’s English Riviera coast. Featuring a bustling harbour, international marina, sandy beaches, and more recently, a vibrant array of restaurants, it really is an up-and-coming place to visit.

Things To Do In Torquay

 If you’re unlucky with the weather, visit Kents Cavern, and explore prehistoric caves, spot stalactites and stalagmites, and visit the interactive Stone Age Zone. For animal lovers, visit Paignton Zoo, just 5 miles out of Torquay. With indoor and outdoor activities available, you’ll have a fantastic day out regardless of the Great British weather! 

What To See In Torquay

Children (and adults) will delight at Babbacombe Model Village. Set over 4 acres, this miniature world features over 400 tiny buildings with amazing attention to detail, including stately homes, shops and factories. Alternatively, take part in a truly immersive experience at Bygones, a life-size Victorian street. Featuring 15 shops, and 9-period rooms, take your time exploring the cobbled streets and visiting the authentic apothecary, toy shop, blacksmith and so much more.

Where To Stay In Torquay

Holiday Houses In Torquay

Browse our selection of stunning group accommodation in Torquay.

7. Dartmoor National Park

With something for every member of the family, a trip to Dartmoor is not to be missed. Found in South Devon, the wild moorland itself covers around 365 square miles, and is protected by National Park. 

Things To Do On Dartmoor

A clever combination of water power, climate change, and geology has created Lydford Gorge, the deepest river gorge in the South West. The steep sides, famous ‘Whitelady Waterfall’ and tempestuous pothole the ‘Devil’s Cauldron’ has brought walkers to the area for many years. Make sure to wear sturdy footwear, as the walks in the gorge are challenging with steep climbs and drops throughout. For a family-friendly day out, visit Dingles Fairground Museum, featuring a host of unique fairground rides, stalls and displays. Purchase tokens for rides at the museum itself, or save yourself some pennies by booking online in advance.

What To See On Dartmoor

You can’t go to Dartmoor without heading onto the moor itself, however, there are plenty of ways to take in the sights these days. Why not visit Dartmoor Llama Walks, and take a guided Alpaca and Llama walk? These experienced trekkers will even carry your afternoon tea for you! 

Where To Stay On Dartmoor

Holiday Houses on Dartmoor

Browse our selection of stunning group accommodation on Dartmoor.

8. East Devon

The East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is an awe-inspiring landscape, showcasing woodland, heathland, undulating hills, beautiful river valleys and the East Devon section of the Jurassic Coast, home to prehistoric fossils and rocks. 

Things To Do In East Devon

For a family fun day, head to Seaton Jurassic, and travel back 200 million years in your own time-ship! Take the controls and choose which prehistoric creatures you would like to encounter. Featuring plenty of family friendly activities, and a fantastic garden to explore, there’s an adventure to be found for the whole family. Alternatively, stroll along any section of the 40 mile long walking route, the East Devon Way. Download a walking guide to find the best place to stop for a picnic, and to learn about the flora and fauna you will spot along the way. 

Places To See In East Devon

While you’re in the area, you simply have to take in the views along the Jurassic Coast. A World Heritage Site on the English Channel, the coastline itself is thought to span around 185 million years. If you want to partake in some fossil hunting, rumour has it that the beaches between Charmouth and Lyme Regis are the places to be!

9. Exmoor

Exmoor is found in North Devon. Originally a royal forest, the area features a unique landscape of farmland, valley, woodland, moorland, and quaint villages.

Things To Do On Exmoor

Take a Safari (yes, you did read that correctly) specifically, a Red Deer Safari! Hop in your guides super comfy Discovery, and visit the remote areas of the moor to enjoy panoramic scenery, as well as spotting Exmoor Ponies, Red Deer and Birds of Prey. If there are thrill seekers in the group, head to Exmoor Adventures to take part in archery, coasteering, kayaking, mountain biking, raft building and many more activities. 

What To See On Exmoor

Visit Castle Drogo, the 20th-century castle with fantastic views of the Teign Gorge and renowned gardens. There are always a host of events put on for families so it’s well worth checking the website to see what they have planned. If it’s a bit chilly for a day outside, why not hop in your car and take a drive around ‘Little Switzerland’, a scenic figure of eight route that takes you through woodland, cliff edges, gorges and villages.

As you can see, you really are spoilt for choice in Devon. There’s always something wonderful to see or do for every member of the family. We hope you’ve found a little inspiration for your next trip! 

Devon Travel FAQs

HOW DO I TRAVEL TO DEVON? 

By train: There are two main lines into the county, served by South Western Railway, and Great Western Railway. The Great Western Line starts at London Paddington, and takes in areas such as Bristol, Swindon and Bath. The South Western Line runs from London Waterloo, and runs through Woking, Southampton and Poole.
By car: Devon is accessible by both the M5, or the M4. There are also major A roads linking the M5. For North Devon take the A361, and leave at junction 27. For West Devon take the A30 and leave at junction 31. For South Devon you want the A38 and A380, which are a continuation of the M5 at junction 31. If you’re travelling from the South and East, follow the M25 and M3, then hop onto the A303 or A30.
By coach or bus: You can very easily reach Devon by coach or bus, the National Express and Megabus both offer trips from all over the country.

HOW TO GET AROUND IN DEVON? DO I NEED A CAR? 

There are both trains and buses available across Devon, so it is absolutely possible for you to visit without a car. The train lines are wonderfully picturesque, so it’s a great way to take in the landscape. The extensive local bus service links smaller routes in the area, meaning you’re not tied to places with a train station. You can check the timetable and stops by visiting the council website. There are also a number of apps available that will give you up-to-date timetables, fare information and live updates.

HOW MANY TOURISTS VISIT DEVON EACH YEAR? 

Devon is a popular tourist location, with approximately 24 million visitors each year. Tourism dominates the coastal areas, although it is also significant inland.

WHAT TIME OF YEAR SHOULD I VISIT DEVON?

Devon is delightful no matter the time of year, however if you’re keen to avoid the tourist rush Autumn is the season for you. It avoids the peak tourist season, but you’ll still find mild temperatures and plenty of daylight to enjoy the scenery.

CAN I VISIT DEVON FOR A DAYTRIP? 

Absolutely, but with such a wide array of activities and things to see you’ll want to plan ahead, and think about whether you’d prefer a day at the coast, a day on the moors, or a day wandering around pretty villages and finding foodie hotspots.

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