From its sandy beaches and fossil cliffs to its national parks and medieval towns, the region of Devon in southwest England is a paradise for lovers of the great outdoors.
Home to some of the UK’s most picturesque coastline and countryside, Devon is a particular magnet for water sports enthusiasts who come in their droves to enjoy the exceptional surfing conditions found in the choppy Atlantic waters. But whatever your predilections, you’re guaranteed to find an almost unending choice of wonderful things to see and do in Devon. Here are 20 of the best.
Hike across a world-renowned National Park
Comprising almost 400 square miles of moorlands, forests, rivers, wetlands and craggy granite tors, Dartmoor National Park is a hiker’s paradise, offering some of the most natural dramatic scenery to be found across the entire British Isles. A huge network of walking trails and footpaths wind through valleys with Neolithic tombs, Bronze Age stone circles and abandoned medieval farmhouses. Trails vary in length, allowing visitors to pick a route that best suits their fitness and energy levels.
Marvel at a magnificent cathedral
One of the UK’s oldest and most beautiful cathedrals, Exeter Cathedral dates back nearly 1,000 years and is testament to the engineering and design skills of the era. Among its most eye-catching features are what is said to be the world’s longest stretch of unbroken Gothic vaulting, stunning stained glass windows, and a 15th-century Astronomical Clock. There are guided tours of the cathedral that run several times a day and you can also book onto roof tours that takes you high above the structure’s Nave.
1 The Cloisters, Exeter / Mon-Fri 9.30am-4.30pm Sat 9am-4.30pm Sun 11.30am-3pm
Discover a fascinating village heritage centre
Managed and maintained by a dedicated group of local volunteers, the Whimple Heritage Centre serves the role of preserving and celebrating the long and cherished history of Whimple, a picturesque village in East Devon, which was once home to the world renowned Whiteway’s Cyder Company. Visitors to the centre, which opened back in 2003, will find thousands of photographs and other artefacts connected with village life over the past 150 years, all complimented by a growing programme of digital content, including an interactive touch-screen display chronicling the history of cider-making. There’s the chance to pick up gifts and local delicacies such as home made preserves and wassail cups made by a local potter, followed by a glass of cider in the village pub next door.
Church Road, Whimple, Exeter / Sat 10.30am-4pm Weds 1pm-3pm Closed Thurs-Fri & Sun-Tues
Go wildlife spotting on an unspoilt island
Situated off the coast of North Devon, where the Atlantic ocean meets the Bristol Channel, Lundy Island makes for a hugely popular day trip. As well as its picture-postcard scenery, the unspoilt island is also home to an exotic array of wildlife, with its name deriving from the puffin – Lundy meaning ‘Puffin Island’ in Old Norse – a species of bird once abundant on the island. Among the animals you’re likely to spot here are sika deer, wild goats and the only native mammal, the pygmy shrew.
Hit the ocean waters on a sea kayak
With its secluded beaches, sheltered estuaries, spectacular cliffs and sea caves, the South Devon coast is a mecca for sea kayakers. Whether you’re a veteran or novice, there’s no substitute for local knowledge and expertise and there are several companies offering guided kayak tours on this stretch of coastline. Catering to individuals, groups and families of all abilities, full or half-day adventures invite you to discover the majestic scenery, with plenty of wildlife spotting opportunities along the way, including seals, dolphins, basking sharks, and birdlife.
Hunt for dinosaur fossils
Stretching 95 miles from Devon to Dorset, the Jurassic Coast is home to endless walking paths, stunning views and historic landmarks. But the area is perhaps best known for its exceptional fossil hunting opportunities, with cliff exposures providing an almost continuous sequence of rock formations spanning some 185 million years of the earth’s history. Everyone from curious kids to scientists scour the coast for dinosaur fossils, with one of the most popular spots being the beach at the idyllic seaside village of Charmouth. As the area is a World Heritage Site, visitors are asked only to collect loose fossils and to avoid digging them out of cliff faces.
Walk in the footsteps of an iconic Devon author
Born in the Devon seaside town of Torquay in the late 19th century, the late legendary author Agatha Christie is one of the county’s most famous daughters. This two-hour Life of Agatha Christie Tour allows guests to learn about the famous writer while visiting many of the places in Torquay that influenced her life and writing. Among the stop-offs are the Princess Pier, the Italian Gardens, the Pavilion, and Torre Abbey, many of which helped stir Christie’s creative juices, giving rise to many of the plot-lines and characters that remain loved and cherished by literary fans around the world to this day.
Learn about Devon’s rich history on a guided tour
Select South West Tours offer bespoke trips that take in a number of Devon’s classic tourist hot spots, as well as lesser known gems, immersing guests in each area’s diverse scenery and rich history. Among their most popular excursion is the Plymouth and Dartmoor Combined Tour, which combines a visit to the historic port city of Plymouth with the vast, brooding moorland of Dartmoor. Offering a unique contrast between city life and the Wilderness of the National Park on the same day, this tour takes in Plymouth’s unparalleled maritime heritage before making the short journey northwards by car to Dartmoor to round off your adventure.
Attend a fun-packed festival
The beautiful Regency coastal town of Sidmouth in East Devon plays host to the 2023 Sidmouth International Jazz and Blues Festival each May. Headline acts include the likes of multi–award-winning American singer and saxophonist Curtis Stigers, British Acid Jazz giants, The Brand-New Heavies, Chicago Blues giant Mud Morganfield and the legendary multi–award-winning British Jazz Saxophonist, Courtney Pine. Music takes place at venues across the town with free music presented over three days on the outdoor performance stage. You can expect to hear the absolute best Jazz, Swing, Blues, Roots, Soul, Funk, Latin, and Cuban music.
Venues across Sidmouth / May each year
Devon is well established as one of the UK’s foodie capitals. Once described as ‘a feast for the senses’, the Dartmouth Food Festival, which takes place in the beautiful estuary town of Dartmouth, has been going strong since 2004, bringing together a diverse selection of celebrity chefs, notable speakers, and other food experts who fill the three-day event with culinary-themed talks, demonstrations, tastings, seminars and workshops. Free to enter, there are also parties, markets featuring local food purveyors, and plenty more.
Royal Avenue Gardens, Dartmouth / October each year
Ride a scenic steam train
There are few more genteel experiences than travelling aboard an old-fashioned steam train. In Devon, one such antiquated train to have been preserved is the Dartmouth Steam Railway, which takes in seven miles of the South Devon coast, including the beautiful village of Kingswear, the picturesque stations at Goodrington and Churston, and the wooded slopes of Long Wood. As well as soaking up the scenery, passengers can also look out for a variety of wildlife including dolphins, seals, kingfishers, pheasants, herons and egrets.
Explore labyrinth-like prehistoric caves
An officially designated geological Site of Special Scientific Interest since the middle of the 20th century, Kents Cavern Prehistoric Caves are among the world’s most important Stone Age caves. As well as being investigated routinely by scientists, all year round joe public can come and explore the extensive labyrinth of spectacular and easily accessible caverns and passageways, accompanied all the while by an experienced and knowledgeable guide who will entertain you with fascinating tales and facts about the unique landmark.
91 Ilsham Road, Torquay / Mon-Sun 10am-4pm
Check out the UK’s largest aquarium
One of Devon’s most popular family attractions, the National Marine Aquarium, located in Britain’s self-styled ‘Ocean City’ of Plymouth, is a guaranteed hit with kids of any age. It boasts the honour of being the UK’s largest aquarium and teems with over 4,000 fascinating underwater creatures for visitors to enjoy. As well as being home to a array of marine life, the aquarium also functions as an education, conservation and research facility. Visits typically last around three hours.
Rope Walk Coxside, Plymouth / Mon-Sun 10am-5pm
Connect with nature at an enchanting garden
Set in a steep wooded valley between Dartmoor and Exmoor National Parks, the RHS Garden Rosemoor is spread across 65 acres of stunning flowers and fruit gardens, plus a variety of seasonal displays. Horticulture enthusiasts can explore the gardens at their own pace while breathing in the sweet-smelling scents of over 250 varieties of blooms, and admiring an abundance of produce ripe for picking in the Fruit and Vegetable Garden. Other highlights include the Hot Garden, famed for sizzling reds, oranges and yellow-coloured flora, and the Cool Garden, a tranquil Eden laid out around a teardrop-shaped pond.
Torrington / Mon-Sun 10am-6pm
Visit a historic woollen mill
Thanks to technological innovation, textile manufacturing has evolved dramatically over the past couple of centuries, but nonetheless there remain living reminders of how the ancient trade was once performed. One such testament to the past is Coldharbour Mill in the small Devon village of Uffculme, which is widely considered one of the best-preserved textile mill complexes anywhere in the UK. Still operational today, people can come and see craftspeople making traditional textiles, knitting yarn and hand-woven rugs, while the mill has also retained many of its original features including an impressive chimney that dominates the village’s topography.
Uffculme, Cullompton / Weds-Sat 9.30am-4.30pm Closed Sun-Tues
Stroll around a scenic honey farm
A family-run business first established in 1949, Quince Honey Farm is now in its third generation and with over 1,500 hives its owners are always refining their beekeeping techniques and growing in knowledge. Set in over 40 acres, the site’s beautifully landscaped Nectar gardens are planted with millions of bee-friendly plants. Wander through the hexagonal plots, and take in the seasonal display of colours and textures. When you need a break, head back to the Visitors Centre where a restaurant serves up home-made meals, drinks and special honey cream teas.
Aller Cross, South Molton / Mon-Sun 9.30am-5.30pm
Discover a magical miniature village
Model villages tend to exude a level of charm that has an almost therapeutic effect, making visiting them – even with kids – a positively tranquil experience. One of the best attractions of its kind that you’ll find in Devon is Babbacombe Model Village in Torquay, a miniature village and railway that’s spread across some four acres of gardens and features hundreds of quaint model scenes, vehicles and figurines, all designed to depict quintessential English scenes from the past, present and future.
Hampton Avenue, Babbacombe, Torquay / Mon-Sun 10am-3.30pm
Enjoy a horse-drawn barge on a historic canal
Meandering through more than eleven miles of idyllic mid-Devon countryside, the Grand Western Canal is home to England’s last horse drawn barges. Offering sublime views of the surrounding countryside, the ‘Tivertonian’ barges are pulled by a shire horse as they traverse a mix of agricultural land and small pockets of woodland, with opportunities for eagle-eyed visitors to spot a wide variety of birdlife including swans, ducks, kingfishers and reed warblers along the way.
Spend the day at an animal & attractions park
A hugely popular day trip for families, there’s enough to do at World of Country Life to keep you and your little ones entertained for days. A quintessential countryside attraction, animals take centre stage, with the chance to hand feed a Deer or Llama, walk a pygmy goat, or bottle feed a lamb As well as its eclectic mix of animals, there’s also a daily programme of activities, trampolines, a full size pirate ship, adventure playground, and Maize Maze. For more adult interests, The Hall of Transport houses one of the largest collection of vintage vehicles, motorcycles and steam engines in the country.
West Down Lane, Sandy Bay, Exmouth / Mon-Sun 10am-5pm
Wander through a beautiful country house
There’s no shortage of historic landmarks in Devon and one of the finest is Buckland Abbey, an ancient gem nestled amid the picturesque Tavy Valley landscape. Dating back over 7,000 years, the fully restored National Trust building is now part museum, part house, and is awash with significant trinkets that help tell its long and distinguished story. Highlights include the Great Barn, virtually unchanged since its construction, and the stunning Elizabethan gardens.
Yelverton / Mon-Sun 10am-5pm
Immerse yourself in the world of gin
Devon is considered one of the gin capitals of the UK and among the most renowned purveyors of Devon gin is the Plymouth Gin Distillery, a historic company that’s been in operation since the late 18th-century. Fans of the juniper berry-based drink can come and discover the history of the distillery and learn about the centuries-old gin-making process, by joining official guided tours of the site’s production facilities. Tours also include a short tutored tasting session of the home-grown gin.
60 Southside Street, Plymouth / Tues-Sat 11am-5.30pm Sun 12pm-5pm Mon 11am-4.30pm