Devon is the kind of destination that rewards exploration. With coastlines on two separate sides of England you’ll have seaside towns and clifftop walks to enjoy, and with Dartmoor and Exmoor your adventures can expand to kayaking, hiking or just admiring the spectacular scenery. So you can make the very best of this wonderful English county, we’ve created this Devon travel guide that’s full of tips, inspiration and great things to do – and our range of beautiful cottages in Devon make the perfect place to stay.
Devon is a spectacularly varied county, from the windswept, bleak beauty of heather-covered Dartmoor to the two distinctive coastlines where you can spend your days catching waves or rays, or walking along the rugged cliffs – according to your preference. Then there are the towns and villages, brimming with beautifully preserved heritage attractions, quaint rural architecture and cosy, open-fire pubs. Cementing Devon’s appeal is a cuisine inspired by the wilderness, offering fresh game from the moors, locally farmed produce and fish delivered straight from the sea to your plate.
- Dartmoor – Wander the wilds of this rugged National Park, which is rich in literary heritage and local legends.
- South West Coast Path – Tackle part of Britain’s longest footpath.
- Exeter – Wander the historic streets of the county capital, a lively university town with a famous cathedral.
- Powderham Castle – Spend a whole day exploring the grounds of this elegant country mansion.
- Salcombe – Head to one of the numerous sandy beaches around this picturesque coastal town.
When to Visit?
Timing your holiday well can make a big difference to your trip to Devon. Most National Trust attractions as well as many other heritage sites are closed between November and March, although winter does promise tourist-free escapes to the countryside if you are willing to brave changeable weather.
Summer has the best climate and the most options for things to see and do, but you’ll have to share the best beaches and buildings with other visitors. Perhaps the best times to go are spring and autumn. During these seasons, the weather remains mild, the moorland bursts into seasonal colours and you are more likely to have a bit of space to yourself. If you are planning a summer trip, avoid travelling on weekends, especially during summer holidays, and ask a local’s advice for the quieter routes and secluded spots to enjoy Devon so you can avoid any jammed-up carparks and overcrowded beaches.
- Airports: Flights to Devon land in Exeter Airport, with excellent links within the UK.
- By train: Trains are hassle-free ways of trundling through the scenery of Devon, and routes run to most of the major towns. Ranger tickets offer unlimited roaming on local lines for the day, and can take you along some of the region’s most scenic routes, such as the spectacular Tarka line. Visit NationalRail for tickets.
- By car: Popular car rental firms such as Avis, Europcar, Sixt and Hertz offer the most flexible way of getting around Devon, allowing access to places off the beaten track. E-cocars, which operates out of Totnes, is a car share club that lets you borrow a local’s car.
- By Bus:Buses provide slightly more flexible public transport around the villages of the region. JourneyDevon has an interactive bus map which shows you all the routes you can take.
- By Bike: Cycling is an excellent way to get around Devon. Visit Cycle Devon for information on trails to suit cyclists of every ability.
- Clovelly is a car-free village hidden on the northern coast of the county; it is worth visiting simply to wander the attractive pedestrianised streets. Kids will love riding the donkeys, which were historically used as transport here in place of motors, while the village’s two inns make for scenic dinner spots.
- The Napoleonic fortifications are just one of the reasons to visit Berry Head National Nature Reserve; there is also a vast array of wildlife and coastal walking trails. The cliffs around the edge of the reserve are ideal for adventure sports like climbing and kayaking too.
- Exmoor in the north of Devon is like a lesser-known, equally stunning version of its southern counterpart, Dartmoor – except Exmoor has the added bonus of a coastline. It’s a wild and alluring stretch of countryside that feels far removed from the busyness of modern life. Start your explorations in Exford, which is found right in the heart of the park.
- Most guidebooks will use the word ‘alternative’ to describe the relaxed Totnes, a town that celebrates diversity and exudes a New Age vibe. What makes the area unmissable for us, however, is not just its progressive outlook but also its collection of listed buildings, which feature unusual overhanging upper storeys.
- Learn about the legends that surround Okehampton Castle, a country manor best known for the grisly story of Lady Howard who reputedly murdered her husbands to turn them into carriages. The ruin, which dates back to the Dark Ages, is impressive and well worth a visit – whether you buy into the ghastly ghost stories or not.
- There’s always something going on in the village of Appledore. Its popular book festival draws in authors and literature-lovers from around the country, while the whole community joins in with the celebrations during its annual regatta. But even if you arrive when there is no special event taking place, the seaside village is still a delight to explore, full of quaint, charming cafés and colourful, independent shops.
The wide open spaces of Devon’s countryside are the perfect place for children to discover their inner explorer. Hop on a steam boat or train for an old-fashioned journey into nature, or drift over the fields and moors in a hot air balloon. Not only can animal-loving broods take along the family pet (Fido will love running wild across the moors), but they’ll also have tons of opportunities to make friends with other critters; otters, donkeys, penguins and zebras are just a few of the many creatures they might come across during a holiday in Devon. Adventure awaits the most active and daring children, who can try their hand at surfing on the coast and assault courses inland.
The biggest adventure, however, is the countryside itself – a wild patchwork of moorland and woods that feeds the imagination and beckons children to come and explore. And if the weather is nice, give them a beautiful beach, and make a fun family holiday you won’t quickly forget.We’ve collated a list of Devon’s best family-friendly offerings, so there’s no excuse for not having fun! You can find out even more by checking out our blog on the best family-friendly activities in Devon.
The Best Family Friendly Activities in Devon
- You might think that going on a tour is an invitation for grumpy, bored kids but that all depends on the kind of tour you’re thinking of. A trip round Devon’s many (but lovely) Anglo-Saxon churches is just asking for trouble, but luckily there’s plenty more on offer taht’ll have the whole family enchanted.
- Unique Devon Tours run a whole host of brilliant themed tours, from fossil hunting to retracing the steps of the great detective himself, Sherlock Holmes.
- Devon boasts around 450 miles of beaches, so you know that a day by the sea with the kids is a great way for everyone to relax. The fishing and coastal towns that you’ll find nearby are often a joy to explore too.
- But a day at the beach doesn’t have to be solely about paddling and sandcastles – why not head to the North Devon Surf School and take on the waves?
- There’s also a good few activity centres and parks in Devon that provide a great day out. You can choose between zooz, water parks and other activities depending on how energetic you’re feeling (and maybe the weather too – this is Britain after all!)
- The Ultimate Adventure Centre is a great choice thanks to the fact you’re not tied down to any one adventure – try kayaking, a high rope course, mountain biking or the brilliantly wacky water-boarding.
And want the ultimate way to enjoy all that breathtaking Devon countryside? One way that everyone will surely remember is a hot air balloon ride over the county, with several companies offering tours when the weather’s in your favour.
- Aerosaurus Balloons offer flights from South Hams and Tiverton, and you can even enjoy a flight that skirts the dramatic and beautiful Devon coastline.
The Best Family Friendly Walks in Devon
- The route from Ringmore to Ayrmer Cove is a brief three miles, the cove is full of nature for inquisitive kids. The route down to the cove might not be suitable for pushchairs though!
- The Tarka Trail runs down a disused railway line between Meeth and Barnstaple – while it’s 23 miles long, it’s accessible enough that you can hop on and off at any point.
- Heddon’s Mouth takes in everything that’s great about the Devon countryside, passing through ancient woodland and ending up at a charmingly small shingle beach.
Devon’s diverse assortment of old towns, wild uninhabited moorland and breathtaking coastline, provide freedom in abundance as well as a lengthy catalogue of activities for grown-up groups to get involved with. Rent out a house that’s equipped for a big party and take along a large group of friends for a staycation that will be hard to beat.
Sporty – or at least wannabe sporty – types can cycle, ride horses or kayak their way around the county, while those less keen on high-energy pursuits can try Segways, barges or cruises instead. Culture connoisseurs, meanwhile, will be satiated by the multitude of museums, theatres and heritage. Of course, there is always the option of simply relaxing in the beautiful countryside, tossing lines for fish by the sea or holing up in your cottage with a book and a glass of wine.From coasteering to glass-blowing to cruising the canals, we round up the hottest Devon activities for grown-up groups – and don’t forget to check out our blog on the best group activities in Devon too!
Adrenaline Fuelled Activities in Devon
- Coasteering involves getting to grips (quite literally!) with Devon’s coastlines as you climb, scramble and splash your way along challenging routes along the coast – you can even explore some hidden caves!
- Reach Outdoors can show you along some great coasteering routes, and they can sort you out with kayaking or bushcraft skills if you’re feeling less adventurous.
- Not quite on the level of coasteering but still pretty exciting, grabbing a bike and heading out to enjoy the diverse landscapes of Devon is a great way to discover the county – and get a bit of exercise while you’re at it, too.
- Hot Pursuit Cycles is a good recommendation when it comes to hiring bikes, and they can even suggest a route that’s right for you (and your fitness level).
Then there’s the Devon coast to consider! There’s nothing better than messing about in boats, and hiring one for a sail or even some watersports is a great way to spend a day.
- The brilliantly names Fish ‘N’ Trips can arrange brilliant fishing trips for you and your group, and you can eat what you catch afterwards (so that’s dinner sorted too).
Laid Back Group Activities in Devon
- If you (or any of your friends) are the literary sort then Devon has a treat in store – it’s the birthplace of Agatha Christie and a visit to her old holiday home of Greenway is an illuminating day trip if you’re a lover of mystery novels or books in general.
- Looking for something a little different? The Greenway Ferry can get you across to Christie’s old stomping ground in an authentic vintage bus!
- Though there’s a lot of coast to explore in Devon, its inland waterways can provide loads of great memories too. There’s canals for walks and a bit of narrowboating, and lakes and reservoirs for boating or even watersports.
- A fantastically relaxing way to enjoy the canals is with Tiverton Canal Co, who can take you back to a far more relaxing time with a narrowboat trip pulled by a horse.
- And you can indulge in a little equine relaxation with Adventure Clydesdale, which offers tours of the wonderful Dartmoor on Clydesdale horses.
- Fancy doing something a little more artistic and out of the ordinary? You can try your hand at glass blowing at Dartington Crystal, who also offer a fascinating tour of their workshops.
Devonshire cuisine has entered the modern world with aplomb, majoring on local, organic food and inventive, trendy dishes. Seek out the region’s best restaurants to discover a culinary county where the meals are shaped by the landscape. Game, meat and vegetables have a short journey between field and fork, giving the dishes an authentic, local flavour. Inland, the farms provide rich cheeses and even wine, while the coast is a constant source of gastronomic inspiration – the menus here are decided by the daily catch.Part of the fun of eating in Devon, however, is simply pottering around, finding your own little cake shop or café and whiling away the hours talking to friends over coffee and confectionery. Explore, take spontaneous diversions and head into tiny villages and you’re sure to find a charming, family-run business ready to serve you tea and scones with thick decadent Devonshire cream.
Feeling hungry yet? You will be after reading our list of Devon’s finest food and drink experiences! You can find even more tasty info in our blog post on the best foodie experiences in Devon too.
The Best Restaurants in Devon
- If you want a meal that’s quintessentially Devon, head to Ode True Food in Shaldon. All their ingredients are locally and ethically sourced, and with dishes including slow cooked lamb and home smoked River Teign salmon you’ll see how eating responsibly doesn’t mean skimping on taste.
- If you’re looking for high-end eating, Plympton’s Treby Arms boasts a Michelin star for its gourmet food, which takes a traditional direction in the surroundings of a beautiful country inn.
- The fruits of Devon’s extensive coastline get placed front and centre at The Oyster Shack in Bigbury. With seafood of all sorts to choose from, if you can’t choose you should probably go for the restaurant’s eponymous shellfish – it’s what they’re famous for, after all.
- The Elephant Restaurant and Brasserie in Torquay provides diners with an agonising choice – do you eat in the Michelin-starred upstairs section or the laid back brasserie on the ground floor? Luckily, you can’t go wrong as both serve mouth-watering food, it really depends on whether you feel like splashing out a bit…
Dishes From Devon You Have to Try!
- Though it’s a bone of contention in the county whether it actually originated in Cornwall, the Devonshire Cream Tea is a must – a scone topped with clotted cream and jam is an absolute joy to behold (and even better to eat).
- Brixham crab is particularly well-regarded, and you’ll find crab salad on many pub and restaurant menus. Well worth a try.
- As far as drinks go, Devon is famed for its scrumpy – a flat and often highly potent cider that might leave you with a sire head come the morning (don’t say you weren’t warned!)
- The county’s extensive dairy farming also produces some amazing cheeses – the Devon blue is a recent award winner that’s definitely worth searching out but keep your eyes peeled for Curworthy, Sharpham and Vulscombe too.
The Best Foodie Activities in Devon
- Sharpham Wine and Cheese in Totnes offers foodies a double whammy of deliciousness – they produce high quality wine and cheeses, and you can take a tour of the vineyards before sampling some of the farm’s award-winning produce yourself.
- It’s not just wine that’s produced in Devon – the county has a long history of distilling too, which you can delve into at the Plymouth Gin Distillery, unsurprisingly found in Plymouth. There’s even an option to make your own blend!
- Fancy yourself as a bit of a whizz in the kitchen? You can probably still learn a thing or two at the cooking masterclass held at The Mason Arms in South Molton, whose Michelin star chefs will teach you the tricks of the trade before you enjoy a sumptuous lunch with wine.