England

20 Unique things to do in Devon

by Paul Joseph  |  Published July 20, 2020

Situated in southwest England, the county of Devon is home to some of the UK’s most idyllic coast and countryside. From its sandy beaches, gentle rivers, fossil cliffs, medieval towns and national parks, the region is a veritable paradise for lovers of the great outdoors – not least water sports enthusiasts who come in their droves thanks to the exceptional surfing conditions to be found here.

The popular Devon tourist town of Dartmouth (Photo: Jonathan Camp via Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Needless to say, Devon is one of the nation’s most enduringly popular tourist destinations, and is a particular favourite for so-called ‘staycations’. Wherever you’re travelling from, you’re guaranteed to find a seemingly unending number of fabulous things to see and do in Devon, including several truly unique landmarks and attractions. Here are some 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 dramatic scenery in England. A huge network of footpaths invite visitors to pick a route that suits their energy levels, each offering the chance to see varied habitats and prehistoric remains along the way.

Snappers Tor in Dartmoor National Park (Photo: Jean Fry via Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0)

Marvel at a 900-year-old medieval castle

One of the UK’s oldest and most visually striking 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. Visitors can join guided tours of the cathedral that run several times a day and you can also book onto special roof tours that takes you into the roof void high above the cathedral’s Nave.

LOCATION 1 The Cloisters

The stunning interior of Exeter Cathedral (Photo: JackPeasePhotography via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

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 for visitors to the region. 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.

A wild animal is snapped on Lundy Island (Photo: Nick Stenning via Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Hit the ocean waters on a sea kayak

With its secluded beaches, sheltered estuaries and spectacular cliffs and sea caves, the South Devon coast is a mecca for sea kayakers. Whether you’re a seasoned or novice kayaker, there’s no substitute for local knowledge and expertise and one of the most renowned companies offering guided kayak trips on this stretch of coast is Sea Kayaking Devon. Catering to individuals, groups and families of all abilities, their full or half-day adventures invite you to discover stunning cliffs, remote rocky headlands, and deep estuaries that cut into ancient Oak forests, with plenty of wildlife spotting opportunities along the way, including seals, dolphins, basking sharks, and an array of birdlife. There are also multi-day kayak course as well as wild camping trips including over-night stays and culminating with a campfire on a remote beach.

An intrepid kayaker navigates the Devon coast (Photo: Sea Kayak Devon)

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.

A scenic stretch of the Jurassic Coast (Photo: sagesolar via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Learn about Devon’s rich history on an organised tour

There’s no better way to get under the skin of a place than by joining an organised tour. Select South West Tours offer bespoke, themed trips that take in a number of the region’s classic tourist hot spots, as well as lesser known gems, immersing guests in each area’s diverse scenery and rich history. Among the most interesting tours they offer 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.

A riverside stop off during the Plymouth and Dartmoor Combined Tour (Photo: Select South West Tours)

Attend a mouth-watering food festival

The Dartmouth Food Festival has been described as ‘a feast for the senses’ and brings together a wonderful selection of chefs, speakers, and experts who fill the weekend with fascinating talks, enlightening demonstrations, educational seminars and inspirational workshops. The festival takes place in a food-rich area, and invites a wide selection of local exhibitors selling their appealing wares. It was a real shame that the 18th food festival in 2020 was cancelled due to Covid-19, but they are making plans to come back bigger and better in 2021. The festival is a not for profit organisation run by volunteers. You can sign up to the festival newsletter via their website ( www.dartmouthfoodfestival.com) or follow their social media for news and updates.

LOCATION Royal Avenue Gardens, Dartmouth DATES 22-24 October 2021

Board an authentic 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 to buzzards, pheasants, herons and egrets.

A Dartmouth steam train makes it way along the South Devon coastline (Photo: Dave_S. via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Explore the labyrinth-like confines of prehistoric caves

A 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. All year round visitors can come and explore its 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 site.

LOCATION 91 Ilsham Rd, Torquay

Check out the UK’s largest aquarium

One of Devon’s most popular family attractions, The National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth boasts the honour of being the UK’s biggest aquarium. Teeming with fascinating underwater animals, the venue has tanks featuring a variety of ocean habitats including a 15 by 5 metre shark tank. As well as being home to a myriad of marine life, the aquarium also functions as an education, conservation and research facility.

LOCATION Rope Walk Coxside, Plymouth HOURS Mon-Sun 10am-5pm

A visitor admiring underwater life at National Marine Aquarium (Photo: Tanya Hart via Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Visit one of the UK’s oldest woollen mills

Thanks to technological innovation, textile manufacturing has evolved dramatically over the past couple of centuries, but there nonetheless 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, visitors 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. Guided tours are available. or information about Coldharbour Mill, go to www.coldharbourmill.org.uk.

LOCATION Uffculme, Cullompton HOURS Tues-Fri 9.30am-4.30pm Closed Sat-Mon

A scenic waterside view of Coldharbour Mill (Photo: Coldharbour Mill)

Meet an adorable herd of alpacas

A family run, working Alpaca Farm and Glamping destination located a short drive from the Jurassic Coastline, Little Orchard Alpacas offers visitors the chance to walk, have tea with, and learn all about these friendly, inquisitive creatures. Brand new for 2020, the venue is offering luxury, adults-only glamping breaks set in their peaceful three-acre apple orchard, with a choice of whole site bookings or individual pitches available. There’s also the chance to get up close with the alpacas (and the resident mini-pigs) on special themed Experiences, ensuring there’s something for all ages, including Meet the Alpacas, Alpaca Walks which run all
year round and Picnic Cream Teas in the summer. A well stocked Farm Gift Shop invites you to pick up handmade alpaca gifts and other souvenirs. Booking ahead is essential.

LOCATION Rowlands, Axminster

Residents at Little Orchard Alpacas pose obligingly for a photo (Photo: Little Orchard Alpacas)

Wander around a picturesque honey farm

A family run business first established in 1949, Quince Honey Farm is now in its third generation and with over 1500 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. The centre piece attraction is the pristine Nectar Gardens that can be explored and enjoyed all year round. Wander through the hexagonal plots, each with a different theme, and take in the seasonal display of colours and textures, with all plants being bee and pollinator friendly. When you need a break, head back to the Visitors Centre where you’ll find a restaurant serving up delicious home-made meals, drinks and special honey cream teas.

LOCATION Aller Cross, South Molton HOURS Fri 9am-12pm Sat-Sun 11am-3pm Closed Mon-Thurs

Blooming flowers at Quince Honey Farm (Photo: Quince Honey Farm)

Step back in time at a fashion and textiles museum

Totnes Fashion & Textiles Museum is home of the Devonshire Collection of Period Costume and is one of the largest collections in the South West. It holds a range of garments from the 1740s to the present day. The museum can be found at Bogan House under the Butterwalk in Totnes town centre. A selection of the collection displayed annually in a different themed exhibition. At the time of the Coronovirus lockdown, the core team was busy preparing for the 2020 exhibition which was to be called The Survival of Glamour looking at the two decades 1935-1955. Unfortunately this was not able to happen, but you can see a virtual exhibition of the garments with information on the museum website www.totftm.org.

LOCATION 43 High Street, Totnes HOURS Tues-Fri 10am-6pm Sat 9am-5pm Closed Sun-Mon

A sign outside the Totnes Fashion & Textiles Museum (Photo: Totnes Fashion & Textiles Museum)

Explore a magical miniature village

Model villages have a uniquely soothing quality that makes visiting them – even with kids – a tranquil experience. One of the best you’ll find in Devon is Babbacombe Model Village in Torquay, a miniature village and railway spread across four acres of gardens and featuring hundreds of quaint model scenes, vehicles & figurines, all designed to depict quintessential English scenes from the past, present and future.

LOCATION Hampton Avenue, Babbacombe, Torquay HOURS Mon-Sun 10am-5pm

Enjoy a horse drawn barge on a historic canal

Meandering through more than 11 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 to spot a variety of birdlife including swans, ducks, kingfishers and reed warblers along the way.

Meet an assortment of rescued donkeys

Devon is replete with opportunities to get up close and personal with animals, but few of its wildlife destinations are quite as special as The Donkey Sanctuary. The free-to-enter attraction has grown dramatically from its humble beginnings as a small charity in the late 1970s to a fully-fledged organisation that recues donkeys from neglect and abuse. Visitors can come and enjoy the animals, as well as join activities, trails, tours, talks, demonstrations, and plenty more.

LOCATION Slade House Farm, Sidmouth

Two residents at The Donkey Sanctuary in Sidmouth (Photo: kristofarndt via Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0)

Spend the day at a family-friendly 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 a week, let alone a mere 24 hours. A quintessential countryside attraction, animals take centre stage, with visitors given 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 a 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 Southwest.

LOCATION West Down Lane, Sandy Bay, Exmouth

Discover a beautiful National Trust home

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.

LOCATION Yelverton

An exterior shot of Buckland Abbey (Photo: Mark AC Photos via Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Immerse yourself in the world of gin

Along with cider, gin is a big deal in Devon. Among the most renowned purveyors of Devon gin is The Plymouth Gin Distillery, a historic company in operation since the late 18th-century. Visitors can come and discover the history of the distillery and learn about the centuries-old gin-making process by joining official tours that include a short tutored tasting of Plymouth Gin Original and Plymouth Sloe Gin.

LOCATION 60 Southside Street, Plymouth HOURS Mon-Sat 10am-5pm Sun 11am-5pm