Exeter – Like a Local

by Dan Ayres  |  Published December 1, 2015

Discover Exeter – a characterful jewel in England’s South West offering historical sights, outdoor activities, a cracking cream tea or a top night on the town.

Exeter Quay at Night (Photo: Andi Campbell-Jones via Flickr)

Exeter Quay at Night (Photo: Andi Campbell-Jones via Flickr)

The provincial capital of Devon, Exeter is simultaneously a charming old Cathedral town, a buzzing student city and an enticing blend of rural and urban. It is a city on the up, with recent development transforming sections of the city centre into flashy shopping centres, whilst still featuring enough independent businesses and rich history to keep its heart intact.

Exeter is a very easy city to travel around on foot or by bicycle, though its undulating hills mean that you will have thighs of steel after a day or two of exploration. Do not worry though, you will never be too far away from a sit down with a hearty pasty, indulgent cream tea or a fine local cider; this is the West Country after all.

History & Culture

Embarking on the City Wall Trail is a great way to get a sense of just how far Exeter’s history stretches back. With 70% of the structure still intact and formed of 2000 year old Roman masonry, the two mile journey around the city proves an interesting activity for history buffs and walkers alike.

Arguably Exeter’s shining star is its Anglican Cathedral, the completion of which dates back to 1400. Vast, imposing and beautiful from almost every angle, the interior boasts England’s longest vaulted ceiling. The Cathedral Green (known simply as ‘the Green’ to all locals), acts as the centre-point for the city often featuring live music and events.

Recently reopened after a massive refurbishment project, the Royal Albert Memorial Museum boasts an array of exhibitions on topics including fine art, local history, world cultures and botany. Look out for the big bull giraffe which has stood in this building since 1920, and is affectionately known to all as Gerald.

The campus at Exeter University is all red brick, rolling hills and leafy loveliness. Here you will also find the Northcott Theatre, the city’s foremost professional theatre and a great place to go and check out a show.

If you are after something a little more alternative, check out The Bike Shed Theatre. This recent initiative is both a 60-seat auditorium and vintage cocktail tavern, which champions new work and innovation in theatre.

Rougemont Castle Gate (Photo: James Taylor via Flickr)

Rougemont Castle Gate (Photo: James Taylor via Flickr)

Shops & Cafes

Situated on the fringe of The Green, The Plant is a little cafe that serves up a selection of “vegetarian food made with love”. Try their beetroot and raspberry cake paired with a fair trade coffee for a heartwarming experience.

Big, busy and a local institution, the Boston Tea Party is a favourite hang out spot situated near the city centre. The tea selection here is huge, but if you are feeling indulgent you should order the white hot chocolate and nestle into one of the comfy armchairs upstairs.

Hidden away in Mccoy’s shopping arcade on Fore Street, The Real Mccoy may well be Exeter’s coolest, quirkiest secret. They serve up top notch fried English breakfasts and hearty milkshakes, whilst fashionistas can browse the accompanying shop for second-hand wares of a burlesque persuasion.

The recently completed Princesshay Shopping Centre is a glitzy, flashy affair with lots of mainstream shops and restaurants to keep visitors entertained for hours. Its positioning at the centre of the city draws in shoppers from Exeter’s rather tired high street.

It would be folly indeed not to mention where to get your hands on the perfect cream tea, arguably the creme de la creme of the West Country’s culinary scene. The Welcome Cafe is just off the river in Exeter’s bustling quay and is a local favourite, with its outdoor tables and menu featuring quintessential English classics. Roger gets up at 4am every day to handcraft his mouthwatering selection of scones, which come served with mountains of clotted cream and jam as standard.

The Double Locks by the Canal (Photo: John Englart via Flickr)

The Double Locks by the Canal (Photo: John Englart via Flickr)


One of the most well-loved establishments in the whole city, The Old Firehouse Pub brings together locals and students alike, enticed here by its sociable courtyard, candlelit tables and cracking selection of food and booze. Do as the locals do – grab a bottle of house wine for just over a fiver, order a firehouse pizza and hunker down in the courtyard using an upturned brewing barrel as a stool.

When the sun is out in force and there is a big night on the horizon, there is only one place to go. The Imperial Pub sits just beside the esteemed university and has a truly massive beer garden, which brims with students making merry especially in the wake of exam season.

Situated some way out of the city on the historic Exeter Ships Canal is the Double Locks, a proper old pub with a great atmosphere, a huge selection of local ales and proper hearty food. It is a beautiful 30-minute cycle here along the river and canal, and when you arrive you can reward yourself with a pint of locally brewed Otter Ale and a solid Sausage & Mash. The enormous outdoor area is peppered by pine trees and provides waterside seating, BBQs in summer, volleyball courts and even mini assault courses.

For those seeking a more intimate affair, head to The Hourglass, a cosy, low-lit pub which feels like you are drinking inside a galleon, and with a history dating back to 1848 and fitted with (in their words) “plenty of dark corners for trysts and plotting”, you might as well be.

A Gig at the Cavern Club (Photo: Emma Le P via Flickr)

A Gig at the Cavern Club (Photo: Emma Le P via Flickr)


Thanks to its youthful vibe and energetic student population, Exeter has a fairly vibrant nightlife for a city its size. Everyone here knows Timepiece, a two-story venue with a bar and courtyard downstairs and a club upstairs. Drinking ‘Reef’ and letting your hair down on a packed Thursday is a rite of passage here, as is finishing it all off with an obligatory “Timepiece burger” from the burger van situated just outside.

The Cavern Club is a must for those seeking alternative music and indie nights. Dark, subterranean and with consistently sticky floors, this intimate venue attracts quality local and international bands. By day it doubles up as a cafe and makes a great place to nurse a bowl of cheesy curly fries when you can’t bear to be in daylight.

Exeter’s foremost gay club is Vaults, which always offers a buzzing night out with a friendly crowd. Pop down on Fridays and Saturdays, when live DJs play the best cheesy hits imaginable, and may even take requests if you ask nicely enough.

The Great Outdoors

Folk from round these parts tend to be of an outdoorsy persuasion. With kayaking, climbing, rowing, cycling, canoeing and good old fashioned pedallo-ing on offer, Exeter’s lovely quay is the place to start an adventure. Visit Saddles & Paddles whose passionate staff rent out quality equipment at reasonable prices.

Customs House at Night (Photo: Adrian Midgley via Flickr)

Customs House at Night (Photo: Adrian Midgley via Flickr)