The best things to do in Devon

written by Joanne Owen
updated 8/13/2021
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Whether you fancy a fun-packed family break or a back-to-nature adventure, holidays in England's Devon deliver it all. Travellers of all ages will find rewarding things to do — from finding fossils to roaming many of the beautiful national parks. England's glorious southwest has a lot to offer, and Devon is the perfect place for an unforgettable staycation. Here is our list of the best things to do in Devon.

This page is inspired by our Rough Guide to Devon and Cornwall

, your ultimate guide to travelling in Devon.

Ramble Dartmoor National Park

For lovers of the great outdoors, exploring Dartmoor National Park is one of the very best things to do in Devon (and Britain as a whole, for that matter).

Covering some 365 square miles of southcentral Devon, Dartmoor is one of Britain’s great wilderness areas - a haunting place of rugged grandeur, menacing moorland, and wooded valleys speckled with secluded villages. And with around 2000 Bronze Age sites dating back to 4000 BC, it’s as rewarding for history buffs as it is for ramblers.

The eastern gateway to the moor is Bovey Tracey, a small pleasant town with its main street running up the hillside. Another must-see sight is Hay Tor. Reached via a relatively short walk from Widecombe road, the climb to the summit is steep, but more than worth the effort for the panoramic views. 

Viewing a stunning Dartmoor sunrise is one of the best things to do in Devon © Shutterstock

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Find fossils on the Jurassic Coast

Beginning at Orcombe Point in Exmouth, Devon, and continuing to Old Harry Rocks near Swanage in Dorset, the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site represents 185 million years of Earth’s history along 95 miles of the coast. The rusty red section in East Devon is the oldest segment and home to Britain’s richest concentration of mid-Triassic reptile sites. When it comes to keeping monster-mad kids entertained, few things can beat going on a family fossil-finding expedition. Discover more about walking the South West Coast Path - Britain’s longest national trail, no less.

For further geological wonders, you won’t want to miss Kent’s Cavern is a network of limestone caves created by underground rivers some two million years ago. The best of the 80,000 archaeological artefacts found here are now housed in Torquay Museum.

Beer - a beautiful village on Devon's UNESCO World Heritage Jurassic Coast © Marcin Jucha/Shutterstock

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Walk on Dawlish Warren’s wild side 

If you’re looking for holidays in Devon that blend a traditional seaside break with natural beauty, it doesn’t get better (or more convenient) than Dawlish Warren. A golden sandbar covering the entrance to the Exe Estuary, Dawlish Warren boasts a Blue Flag beach backed by sand-dunes, funfair attractions, plus an exceptional nature reserve.

Comprising over 500 acres of protected grassland, sand dunes and mudflats, Dawlish Warren Nature Reserve is home to over 600 different species of plants and over 23,000 wildfowl and wading birds, for whom the warren is a migratory hotspot. With rarities recorded here including the Broad-billed Sandpiper and Stone Curlew, it’s little wonder the reserve is beloved by bird-watchers.

To experience the area in all its golden-sanded, red-cliffed glory, follow the South West Coast Path from Dawlish Warren to Dawlish. With a path that clings to the crimson cliffs as it follows the train line along the coast, taking this trail between the two towns is a truly top thing to do Devon.

Devon's Dawlish Warren - a bird-lovers delight © RogerMechan/Shutterstock

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Pootle picturesque Totnes

Often as described as Elizabethan, Totnes’s history actually stretches back much further, to AD 959 when “Totta’s Ness” (meaning fort on a “ness”, or ridge of ground) was established as a walled town. In Henry VIII’s day, Totnes was the second richest town in Devon (after Exeter) and today an eclectic array of independent shops - vintage clothing boutiques, bookshops and artists’ galleries - makes it the perfect place to part with your own hard-earned riches.

Other Totnes treats include the castleTotnes Elizabethan House and Museum, and the Guildhall, where Oliver Cromwell sat in 1646 after taking the town for the Parliamentarians. With almost one thousand years of history to explore through fascinating exhibits, this handsome building (it's set behind a pillared portico) still houses monthly council meetings. 

Totnes panorama © Samot/Shutterstock

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Eat, drink and make merry in Exeter

Lying on the River Exe in South Devon, Devon’s county town of Exeter is a grand old market town enlivened by one of Britain’s oldest universities, and beautified by its majestic 14th-century cathedral and quaint cobbled Quayside.

Located in the 1680-built Custom House, the Quayside’s visitor’s centre hosts arts and cultural events alongside an exhibition of Exeter’s 2000 years of history. It’s also home to an excellent indoor antiques market (a treasure trove of everything from art deco jewellery and Victorian parasols, to vintage postcards and mid-century glassware) and scenic waterside bars and restaurants. Perched in a 19th-century warehouse on the edge of the water, the appropriately named On the Waterfront is a great spot to sip cocktails and people-watch.

Summer in Exeter © Alexey Fedorenko/Shutterstock

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Take a cliff-top train trip

Connecting the town of Lynton with Lynmouth (located 150m below), the Lynton and Lynmouth Cliff Railway has provided passengers with stunning coastal views since opening in 1890. That said, its raison d'etre wasn’t recreational. As the towns are separated by a high cliff, its primary purpose was to transport people and goods between them. 

Designed by a student of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, this Grade II listed site is the UK's only fully water powered railway. In fact, there are only three of its kind in the entire world, and this is the highest and the steepest of the lot. Hands down, taking a trip aboard the Lynmouth Cliff Railway is one of the best things to do in Devon if you’re travelling with children. What’s more, the Cliff Top Café is arguably the most scenic spot in Devon to enjoy a traditional cream tea.

The quaint and lofty Lynton and Lynmouth Cliff Railway, Devon © Hilton T/Shutterstock

Enjoy Ilfracombe’s boats, birds, beasts and caves

Ilfracombe is a delight of north Devonshire, and the most significant resort area in the region. Overlooked by Lantern Hill, head to Ilfracombe’s characterful harbour to enjoy a host of seaborne adventures, the highlight of which is taking a boat to Lundy Island. Owned by the National Trust, and managed by the Landmark Trust, it’s a peaceful refuge for puffins (they far outnumber the resident human population), with on-island activities ranging from diving and climbing, to birdwatching. From Ilfracombe’s harbour, you can also book sea-fishing charters, and seasonal coastal cruises aboard a paddle-steamer.

Parents with kids in tow would do well to head to Ilfracombe’s Tunnels Beaches. After a short walk through the creepy caves, little ones will love splashing in the safe tidal pool and exploring the rock pools. More family-friendly fun can be had at Combe Martin Wildlife and Dinosaur Park. With full-size dinosaur models in the woods, a Dino Express train ride, plus plenty of wildlife - including sea lions, lions, penguins and meerkats - it’s a guaranteed winner.

Ifracombe is one of the best things to do in Devon © Havelock/Shutterstock

Where to stay in Devon

Devon is not short of fantastic places to stay. Here is our Rough Guides editors picks:

  • For a stay in Exeter: Hotel du Vin. This red-brick former eye hospital has been reincarnated as a contemporary hotel with quirky details and eye-catching murals.
  • For East Devon: Exmouth Country Lodge and Campsite. A couple of miles east of the centre and just half a mile from the beach.
  • For a stay in South Devon: Calton Court. In a quiet neighbourhood, this Victorian villa has bright, spacious rooms.

For more ideas about what to see and do in Devon, take a look at our Rough Guide to Devon and Cornwall.

If you travel further within England, you won't want to miss our Rough Guide to England. Read more about the best time to go, the best places to visit and best things to do in England.

If you prefer to plan and book your trip to England without any effort and hassle, use the expertise of our local travel experts

to make sure your trip will be just like you dream it to be.

We may earn commission when you click on links in this article, but this doesn’t influence our editorial standards. We only recommend services that we genuinely believe will enhance your travel experiences.

Header image: tropical vibes on St Mary's, the Isles of Scilly © Shutterstock

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written by Joanne Owen
updated 8/13/2021
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Joanne is a Pembrokeshire-born writer with a passion for the nature, cultures and histories of the Caribbean region, especially Dominica. Also passionate about inspiring a love of adventure in young people, she’s the author of several books for children and young adults, hosts international writing workshops, and has written articles on the Caribbean and inspirational community initiatives for Rough Guides. Follow her @JoanneOwen on Twitter and @joanneowenwrites on Instagram.

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