The best things to do in Devon, including the South West Coast Path and Dartmoor National Park

Suzy Bennett
Dartmoor National Park is a 365 square-mile wilderness of wild moors, wooded glades, fairy-tale castles, cute villages and ancient hamlets - Moorefam

More insider guides for planning a trip to Devon

  1. 48 hours

    48 hours

  2. Attractions

    Attractions

  3. Restaurants

    Restaurants

  4. Pubs

    Pubs

  5. Hotels

    Hotels

  6. Beaches

    Beaches

Don’t bother with itineraries and to do lists; the best way to experience Devon is to be impulsive and do as the mood (and weather) takes you. Most of the fun things to do are outdoors, exploring the square-jawed scenery of Dartmoor and Exmoor national parks, cycling riverside trails, surfing, sailing, bird-watching on Lundy Island, and hiking the South West Coastal Path. For culture vultures, stately homes offer a taste of Devon high life, while sophisticated seaside towns such as Dartmouth run regular arts, music and food events and sailing regattas.

Take a hike on Britain's longest footpath

The South West Coast Path, Britain’s longest footpath, traces the both coasts of Devon, offering easy access to wild and windswept cliffs, secluded sandy coves and remote hamlets. There are occasional pubs and cafés on the path, and a regular bus network means you can dip in and out as you please. If you’re on a multi-day trip, Luggage Transfers (01326 567247) will drop off your luggage at your accommodation each day.

Insider tip: Clovelly to Hartland Point is the most dramatic section, while Bantham to Salcombe has a string of postcard-pretty beaches. The further away you are from a car park, the more likely you are to find a cove to yourself.

Contact:01752 896237; southwestcoastpath.org.uk
Opening times: Daily, 24 hours
Price: Free

South West Coast Path, Britain’s longest footpath, traces the both coasts of Devon

• An insider guide to Devon

Go bird-watching on Britain’s Galapagos

Lundy Island is a three-mile long granite outcrop off Hartland Point in north Devon. It’s a marine reserve, where twitchers, divers and snorkellers get up close and personal with seals, puffins, basking sharks and seabirds. Dating from 1958, the graceful Oldenburg sails several times a week from Bideford and Ilfracombe. It has wood panelling in its comfortable saloons and a deck for fair-weather. In winter (from November to March), a helicopter service operates from Hartland Point.

Insider tip: If you want to spot a particular species, drop in at the Marisco Tavern, the island's only restaurant, where locals will give you advice on where to find it. Reference books will help you identify local flora and fauna.

Contact: 01271 863636; landmarktrust.org.uk
Opening times: See website for sailing times
Prices: £

At Lundy Island, you can get up close and personal with seals, puffins basking sharks and seabirds Credit: Backyard Productions LLC 2018 (Backyard Productions LLC 2018 (Photographer) - [None]/BackyardProduction

• The best things to do in Devon

Freewheel along Britain’s longest traffic-free cycle route

Following a disused railway line from Braunton to Meeth, the Tarka Trail still has colourful Thomas the Tank Engine-style signal boxes and carriages on the sidings. The 180-mile route takes in ancient villages, wooded valleys, rivers and moorland, with the northerly section following the journey of Tarka the Otter, from Henry Williamson’s classic novel. Largely flat, the trail is perfect for children, with plenty of cafés en route.

Insider tip: A day-trip between Great Torrington to Meeth (11 miles) gives a good taster, with stunning Dartmoor views and a regular bus service to take you back. Bike hire is available at Great Torrington.

Contact:tarkatrail.org.uk
Opening times: Daily, 24 hours
Prices: Free

Tarka Trail is Britain’s longest traffic-free cycle route Credit: Backyard Productions LLC 2018 (Backyard Productions LLC 2018 (Photographer) - [None]/BackyardProduction

• The best restaurants in Devon

Stock up at a farmers’ market or farm shop

Devon’s market towns come alive at weekends with local producers selling fresh vegetables, artisan cheeses, preserves and meats on market stalls. Exeter Street Food Market is one of the best, serving up delicacies from Friday to Sunday in the city centre. Ullacombe Farm Shop, near Haytor, sells traditional scrumpy, English wine, superb meat, fresh fish, handmade cheeses and even Devon-grown chillies, while Dart’s Farm, near Topsham, is another great option.

Insider tip: Wherever you travel and eat in Devon, look out for the 'Love the Flavour' logo on menus and in shop windows – this affiliation of food suppliers and producers is committed to quality Devon food and drink.

Contact: streetfoodexeter.co.ukullacombefarm.co.ukdartsfarm.co.uk 
Opening times: Varied; see websites
Prices: £

Exeter Street Food Market is one of the best farmer's markets around, serving up delicacies from Friday to Sunday in the city centre

• The best pubs in Devon

Indulge in a traditional cream tea

Don’t even think about leaving Devon without indulging in this tea-time tradition. With so many offerings, it’s hard to choose a favourite place, but the Guardhouse Café, housed in an 1802 Napoleonic fortress at the Berry Head Nature Reserve, near the pastel-painted fishing town of Brixham, regularly tops our list for its delicious offerings and dramatic clifftop location.  

Insider tip: Heated debate surrounds whether the jam or cream should go on first, but a recent study showed that the Devon approach of putting the jam on first ensures a more even spread of toppings.

Contact: 01803 855 778; guardhousecafe.com
Opening times: Daily, 9am-5pm
Prices: £

Don’t even think about leaving Devon without indulging in cream tea, a local tradition Credit: mg7/mg7

• The best beaches in Devon

Blow away the cobwebs in Dartmoor National Park

There’s no better place in Devon to get some headspace than the wide open spaces of Dartmoor National Park, a 365 square-mile wilderness of wild moors, wooded glades, fairy-tale castles, cute villages and ancient hamlets. A walk up a Dartmoor tor – granite-topped hill – is a must. Look out for wild ponies, birds of prey, kingfishers, otters and rare butterflies.

Insider tip: Dartmoor’s single-track narrow country lanes have few passing places so don’t attempt them unless you’re confident at reversing long distances and around corners. If you get stuck, politely ask the other motorist politely to reverse instead (and hope they’re better at it than you).

Contact: 01626 832093; dartmoor.gov.uk
Opening times: Daily, 24 hours
Prices: Free

There’s no better place in Devon to get some headspace than the wide open spaces of Dartmoor National Park Credit: antony spencer/antonyspencer

• The best hotels in Devon

Visit Agatha Christie’s holiday home

Agatha Christie’s private holiday home, Greenway, on the River Dart is much as it was when the crime writer stayed here when seeking inspiration for her books. First editions line the shelves, along with family photos and collections of botanical china and archaeological finds. Even if you’re not a Christie fan, the house is worth a visit for its beautiful setting on the River Dart and gardens. Don’t miss the peach house, winery and fernery.

Insider tip: The most scenic way to get to Greenway is by ferry or steam train from Dartmouth. You can drive, but parking is limited so you’ll need to book it ahead of your arrival.

Contact: 01083 842382; nationaltrust.org.uk
Opening times: Apr-Oct, daily, 10.30am-5pm
Prices: ££

Greenway was where Agatha Christie stayed when she wanted inspiration for her books

• An insider guide to Cornwall

See how the other half live

Powderham Castle is one of the oldest family seats in Devon, belonging to the Earl of Devon. Set in its own deer park, it has been added to and altered repeatedly over its 600-year history. Tours take in the medieval core, neo-classical areas and the Victorian kitchen. There are beautiful rose beds and a walled garden with a Victorian glasshouse.

Insider tip: You’ll have to hunt for it, but the working blacksmith’s forge (03333 350 125) in the grounds is a highlight. Opening times vary from Powderham’s so check ahead.

Contact: 01626 890243; powderham.co.uk
Opening times: Mar-Nov, Sun-Fri, 10am-5pm
Prices: ££

Powderham Castle is one of the oldest family seats in Devon, with its own deer park and Victorian glasshouse

• The best restaurants in Cornwall

Visit a harbour town

Set on the River Dart, the harbour town of Dartmouth is a gem, with ancient narrow streets, boutique shops and stylish art galleries. Highlights include brunch at legendary café Alf Resco, a visit to Dartmouth Castle and Bayards Cove, a tour of Dartmouth Naval College, wine-tasting at nearby Sharpham Estate and a meal The Seahorse.

Insider tip: For a picnic with a difference, hire a private boat up the Dart with The Picnic Boat (07968 752625). You can stop off in little bays to go crabbing, or take a vineyard tour at Sharpham. There’s cover in case of bad weather.

Contact: 01803 834224; discoverdartmouth.com (visitor’s centre)
Opening times: Daily, 24 hours
Prices: ££

The harbour town of Dartmouth is lovely, with ancient narrow streets, boutique shops and stylish art galleries Credit: clubfoto/clubfoto

• The best things to do in Cornwall

Hang ten with the surfers

Regarded as one of the best place in the country to go surfing, Croyde Bay has gentle breaks for beginners and bigger swells for more experienced surfers. There’s a handful of local surf schools offering lessons with board and wetsuit hire included, as well as coasteering expeditions for non-surfers.

Insider tip: For a grown-up surfing break, stay at the Old Rectory (01598 763 368), a luxury hotel on Exmoor that’s well worth the 45 minute drive from Croyde. Saunton Sands Hotel (01271 890212) is another good, budget option.

Contact: 07875 676757; croydedevon.co.uk (visitor’s centre)
Opening times: Daily, 24 hours
Prices: Varied

Croyde Bay provides great waves for both beginners and experienced surfers Credit: DaveBolton/DaveBolton