Devon is a beautiful English county in the South West of England which is defined by its coastal and moorland landscape. The only county in the UK with two coastlines, it is a haven for holidaymakers, surfers and nature lovers alike and has much to offer for a short getaway that you’ll be spoilt for choice! North Devon is famed for its long, sandy beaches and is a hotspot for keen surfers while South Devon is thriving with activities for families in the picturesque seaside towns.
The county is a spectacular destination for lovers of long nature walks and trails with plenty of quaint villages to stop off for a warming roast dinner in a charming country pub. There is something for all ages, whether you fancy a relaxing weekend away or a total adventure in one of the country’s most beautiful regions. No matter which part of Devon you visit, you’ll be sure to encounter breathtaking countryside views, stunning nature and idyllic towns and villages, however, this list should help to narrow down some of the top places to visit to get the most out of your Devon experience.
Beautiful places to visit in Devon
Dartmoor National Park is a vast wild moorland landscape in the heart of Devon. With wide open spaces, magnificent granite tors and bronze age history, it is a spectacular place to take a hike, go picnicking and climb the giant rocks to survey the inspiring landscapes. Keep an eye out for the famous Dartmoor ponies and other roaming animals while taking a walk through this vast countryside. Haytor rock is a particularly great tor for climbing; uniquely shaped like a foot with six toes, it offers spectacularly 360-degree views and is a great little adventure for the family! Letterboxing has been a quirky pastime on the moor for 150 years and is a unique activity for all ages to leave their mark on Dartmoor.
This region is also home to Castle Drogo where you can learn the history of the building and visit the grounds which hosts events through the summer months and Dartmoor Zoo which was the inspiration for the 2011 drama/comedy film ‘We Bought a Zoo’ starring Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson. Indeed, film fanatics are in for a treat when visiting Dartmoor as the quaint village of Widecombe-in-the-moor is the location for Steven Spielberg’s beautiful film adaptation of War Horse.
You might also be interested in a Llama Walk in the Dartmoor National Park.
Visiting the city of Exeter, a former Roman Garrison, is a must if you’re in the South-East region of the county. It is a blend of old architecture and historical charm with modern leisure facilities. The Princesshay shopping centre has an excellent selection of popular brands all within a very short walking distance of each other and the city is constantly developing its abundance of diverse restaurants and bars. It is essential to visit Gandy Street, a curving cobbled passageway lined with boutique shops and bars. It has long been suspected an inspiration for Harry Potter’s ‘Diagon Alley’ as J.K. Rowling spent some time at the University of Exeter. Exeter Cathedral is also worth a visit, it is one of England’s most beautiful Cathedrals; an intricately detailed display of Gothic architecture.
A fifteen-minute walk out of the centre takes you down by the river Exe to Exeter Quayside where you’ll encounter a selection of independently-owned pubs, cafes and restaurants. There is also an abundance of sporting activities to choose from such as the South West’s largest indoor climbing wall at the Quay Climbing Centre, bike rentals and kayaking on the Exe. In the summer months, the terraces are always full of locals and tourists enjoying live music and the occasional Brass Band performance. There is also arts and crafts for anyone wanting to get creative on their trip. Just outside of Exeter is Powderham Castle. Easily accessible by the coastal railway line, it is a grand castle with over 600 years of history and deer roaming freely on the grounds. Take a tour of the castle or plan your visit to coincide with one of the many diverse events that the castle hosts throughout the year from headlining music acts to food fairs and theatrical performances.
Salcombe is a beautiful harbour town nestled in the South Hams district of South Devon. It boasts breathtaking views of the Kingsbridge Estuary which is often populated by a vast number of sailing boats and yachts on a sunny day. The town itself is petite, with a narrow one-way road running through, however, the array of charming boutiques, fudge shops, pubs and ice cream parlours make it a delightful spot for an afternoon stroll and if you’re taking young kids, be sure to take part in some crabbing on the harbour. Head to the Winking Prawn or the Crab Shed for a quaint seafood lunch or if you’re feeling fancy, there’s the Salcombe Harbour Hotel and Spa or the South Sands Hotel and Restaurant for a dining experience with spectacular estuary views!
The coastline around Salcombe is a haven for those looking to spend a day at the beach. Bantham is well known for its golden sands, dunes, and watersports; it’s the perfect spot for the family. Activities at Bantham include surfing, canoeing, kitesurfing, and bodyboarding. If you’re not up for the cold water you can stroll along the cliffs or the Avon River for picturesque scenery. Across the river is Bigbury-On-Sea which is another great beach resort and when the tide is out you can walk across to the Burgh Island to visit the Art Deco style Burgh Island Hotel or take the sea tractor at high tide. The island has served as the inspiration for Agatha Christie’s famous works “And Then There Were None” and “Evil Under the Sun”. Other stunning beaches worth visiting in this area include Blackpool Sands and Slapton Sands.
Plymouth is a city with a rich heritage and naval history, famous for Sir Francis Drake playing bowls on the Hoe as the Spanish Armada approached Plymouth Sound. It is a lively seaside city with plenty to see and do. The National Marine Aquarium is located near the Barbican which also affords access to a wide range of restaurants and bars. Drake Circus is the focus of the city’s shopping and those with an affinity for the arts can head for the Theatre Royal which hosts highclass performances throughout the year. In the summer, the Tinside swimming pool is an outdoor art deco lido overlooking Plymouth Sound for those who want a unique swim experience. The Mayflower Museum is a must-do for those with a keen interest in the history of this famous voyage. Set over three floors it boasts amazing views of the busy Barbican where the Mayflower steps are situated and it is believed that the Pilgrim Fathers set sail for North America from this very spot in 1620.
The English Riviera
Torbay, also known as The English Riviera, is a seaside borough of South Devon made up of three towns; Torquay, Paignton, and Brixham. It is popular with holidaymakers for the vast array of family activities such as the world-class Paignton Zoo, the Ferris wheel on Torquay Seafront, the Model Village or the amusement arcades and rides on Paignton Pier. A visit to Cockington Village is essential when visiting Torbay. It’s an idyllic hidden gem situated just inland of the seafront which boasts charming tea-rooms, thatched cottages, and beautiful country walks. At the heart of the village is the manor house where you can enjoy a light lunch whilst watching the cricket on the manor green, or take a wander round to the converted stables behind where you can observe the glassblowing and visit other craft shops and art galleries.
For those with an interest in history, head to Babbacombe to visit Bygones; an attraction museum of British history from the Victorian era, the wartime, the 1950s and more. Take the historical Babbacombe Cliff railway down to Oddicombe beach to pick pebbles or observe the beautiful red cliffs and be sure to keep an eye out for seals whilst enjoying lunch at The Cary Arms on Babbacombe beach. Another area to visit in the Bay is the fishing town of Brixham. A quieter part of the area, it is a harbour town where the replica of the Golden Hind is moored and open to visitors all through the year. The harbour itself is a perfect location to start a leisurely stroll, maybe grab a Devon ice cream and take in the spectacular views across the whole of Torbay. The Berry Head coastal headland is a popular spot to look for dolphins in the Bay and wander along the red clifftops.
North Devon’s Croyde beach is a one-of-a-kind gem with golden sand surrounded by national trust headland. It is widely popular as one of the South West’s best surfing and bodyboarding beaches and a clean, safe place to spend the day with RNLI lifeguards on duty. For an action-packed trip with kids, visit The BIG Sheep in the neighboring Abbotsham, a family amusement attraction of events, rides, indoor play, and animals. Alternatively, for a more chilled excursion visit one of the many delightful tea rooms, restaurants, and pubs in Croyde village. The nearby coastline areas of Ilfracombe and Woolacombe are also great places to visit in this area. If you’re a fan of Damien Hirst’s work, be sure to check out his ‘Verity’ statue which stands at twenty metres tall on the entrance to the harbour on Ilfracombe Pier.
For Golfers, the Saunton Golf Club and Royal North Devon are two fine links courses with plenty of history to have a swing on a clear day. Or for cyclists, the Tarka Trail runs along this coastline for 32 miles, completely traffic-free. It is the trail
taken by the fictional Tarka the otter from the 1927 novel by Henry Williamson. If you’re looking to find some the best fish and chips you will ever sample, head to Braunton where the exceptional Squires fish and chip restaurant will wet your appetite.
Totnes and Dartmouth
Totnes has long been branded the hippy town of the region. The high street of this historic market town is lined with vintage shops, independent boutiques, art galleries and vegan/ vegetarian-friendly restaurants. It is not uncommon to come across Totnesians (the locals) wearing funky Harem pants and ‘Conker’ shoes. Totnes is situated on the River Dart and is one of the oldest settlements in the UK with a Norman motte and bailey castle, which has overlooked the town for around eight hundred years. It’s a great location to take a picnic, learn about the history of Totnes and enjoy 360-degree views of the surrounding area. If you’re feeling creative or are looking for a fun family activity, head to China Blue to paint some pottery at the largest ceramics studio in the South West of England. For the adults, take a visit to Sharpham Wine and Cheese just a stone’s throw away for a tour of the vineyard with cheese and wine tasting after.
From Totnes, you can take a pleasant river cruise on the Dart and visit the National Trust’s Greenway Estate, once the home of famous crime novelist Agatha Christie. Take a stroll through the beautiful grounds and house which are open to the public and enjoy contemporary art from local artists in the Barn Gallery. Departing from Greenway, the cruise continues down the river to Dartmouth – another picture perfect harbour town. Another hugely popular way to travel this part of the coastline is by the famous steam train that runs along the coast from Paignton to Kingsbridge where you can then take the ferry over to Dartmouth. Throughout the year Dartmouth hosts many events and festivals, most notably the Dartmouth Regatta, as well as markets and exhibitions where you can sample local produce. For a fun-filled day out with the kids, go to the Woodlands Family Theme Park to enjoy the indoor and outdoor play areas with rides, water slides, and a zoo farm.
Whether you’re looking for a fun-filled family trip to the beaches and attractions, a relaxing time away sampling the local produce or a stunning getaway to lose yourself in nature, there is something for absolutely everyone in this beautiful part of the country. There’s so much more to explore than just the places on this list but hopefully, it’s given you an insider’s look at Devon to help you plan your perfect trip!
Olivia Ford is a recent graduate from the University of Nottingham and works as an audiovisuals producer and travel-writer in Barcelona, though she hails from Devon, England.