With millennia of fascinating history, charming cobbled streets, and plenty of trendy bars and cosy restaurants, there’s plenty to do in Exeter. The second-largest city of Devon is an excellent destination for a UK holiday or staycation.
But one of Exeter’s appeals is how close it is to some of the UK’s most spectacular nature. Within 20 minutes, you can be in charming Devonshire nature, there are beaches within half an hour drive, as well as some stunning national parks.
Most of these day trips from Exeter focus on the surrounding nature, but Plymouth is also worth visiting and is only an hours drive away. Here are ten day trip ideas that are easy to reach from Exeter!
The Best Day Trips from Exeter
I’m a bit biased (my gran has lived in Exmouth my whole life and I actually spent three months living there myself), but I think Exmouth is one of the best beach destinations in the country. It sits on the edge of the Jurassic Coast – which I’ll go into in a bit more detail in the next entry – and the Exe Estuary.
The Jurassic Coast has epic cliffs – some only a 20 minute walk from Exmouth centre. On a sunny day, there are spectacular views, and it’s possible to walk back to Budleigh Salterton, the next town.
The Exe Estuary has various villages dotted along both sides, and you can take a boat from Exmouth to Starcross on the other side. There’s a boardwalk along the side of the estuary too, so you can walk, enjoy the views, and birdwatch! Exmouth is the furthest point from Exeter on the eastern side, so you can stop at different villages on the way.
There are also some great moorland hikes in Exmouth. You can hike to nearby villages such as East Budleigh, a charming spot with thatched roof cottages, and Otterton which has a quaint mill. Here’s a guide to an Exmouth to Otterton walk.
In Exmouth, you can visit A La Ronde and the Exmouth Museum. And of course, one of the best things to do in Exmouth is to visit the beach!
How to get there: it’s around a 30 minute drive from Exeter to Exmouth, and around 30 minutes by train as well. Buses take about 45 minutes.
The Jurassic Coast
The Jurassic Coast spans over a 95 mile stretch from Exmouth to Studland in Dorset (near Bournemouth). There are many places to stop at en route, like Old Harry’s Rocks which are white cliffs with spectacular views of Bournemouth, the unique Corfe Castle, and many seaside towns and villages like Seaton, Weymouth and Lyme Regis.
On a day trip from Exeter you can tick a few of these off, although for the real Jurassic Coast experience it’s a good idea to take 2-3 days to do it.
How to get there: The only area of the Jurassic Coast that is really accessible by public transport is Exmouth – see the instructions above. You could also get a train to Axminster from Exeter and then take buses to other posts on the coastline. Alternatively, you can drive – either if you have your own car or rent a car in Exeter. It’s about 2 hours from Exeter to Studland.
Dawlish Warren is on the other side of the Exe Estuary, opposite Exmouth. It’s a resort town, with plenty of funfair things to do and a beautiful beach. There are also lots of rocks for viewpoints and hiking opportunities.
En route, there’s also Powderham Castle. This is a 600 year old property that was owned by the Coutenhugh family, a wealthy family in the area. It had an integral part in the English Civil War, and is one of the best things to do near Exeter!
How to get there: You can take a train to Dawlish Warren, and the continuing train journey is one of the most scenic in the country. Alternatively, it’s a 30 minute drive. If you’re going to Powderham Castle, you can take the number 2 bus that stops an 8 minute walk away. Alternatively, Starcross station is on the same line as Dawlish Warren.
Exmoor is one of the most spectacular parts of Devon. With a mix of moorland and beautiful coastline, Exmoor has all sorts of varied sceneries, charming villages, and some epic hikes. You could spend two or three days here seeing all that there is to offer, but there are certainly some highlights.
The Valley of the Rocks Walk is near Lynton and has some spectacular clifftop scenery. There are also plenty of things to do in Lynton and Lynmouth, including the country’s only water-powered railway. There’s also Dunkery Beacon, the highest point of Exmoor, which has epic views of the park. Also, check out the beautiful village Porlock and hike Porlock Weir.
How to get there: You do really need a car to get from Exeter to Exmoor. It’s a 1.5 – 2 hour drive depending on where you are going.
Two hours from the North Devon coast is the enigmatic yet spectacular Lundy Island. This rugged island is only inhabited by those who work in tourism, and most of the island is not built upon. There are amazing beaches, clifftops, and plenty of wildlife.
Due to Lundy’s position at the confluence between the Bristol Channel and the Atlantic Ocean, there’s a diversity of wildlife too. See seals, birdlife, ponies, and all sorts of different fish! You can do a snorkelling tour with the seals (click here for more information), or just visit Lundy Island for the day. It’s not known about that well, but it is definitely one of the most spectacular Exeter day trips.
How to get there: You’ll need to get to Ilfracombe; the only realistic way to get there is to drive. From Ilfracombe, it’s a 2 hour boat ride to Lundy Island. In the summer the boat runs day trips, leaving at 10am and returning at 4pm. In the winter, a helicopter takes the place of a boat. It’s a long day trip for not that much time on the island, but Lundy is spectacular – it’s worth it. However, you can also stay overnight.
Devon’s other expansive moorland, Dartmoor is a vast area, perfect for hiking and delightful scenery. Located close to Plymouth, but with some parts only 20 minutes from Exeter, it’s one of the best places to visit near Exeter.
Highlights are the countless walking trails across the rugged moors, waterfalls like the spectacular Becky Falls, and picturesque towns such as Tavistock and Chagford. Oakhampton is a town north of Dartmoor where you can go to the Museum of Dartmoor Life and Okehampton Castle.
Dartmoor is the only place in England where you can camp anywhere for free – so if you have enough time for an overnight trip and are visiting in the summer, it’s a great place to be!
How to get there: Dartmoor is best reached by car. It’s a 20-60 minute drive, depending on where in Dartmoor you are going. Buses leave Exeter to a few Dartmoor towns and villages, such as Moretonhampstead, Okehampton, and Princetown.
Plymouth is Devon’s largest city, and like Exeter, it has a lot to offer. The best things to do in Plymouth include the Mayflower Steps and Museum, the Barbican which is a harbourside area with bars and restaurants, the sights of the Plymouth Hoe including an art deco lido, the Plymouth Gin Distillery, and cruising along the Tamar.
How to get there: It’s about an hour’s drive from Exeter to Plymouth. You can also take a train that connects the two cities or a coach – Megabus and National Express serve both cities.
The English Riviera
One of the most unique places to visit near Exeter is the English Riviera. With a palm-lined waterfront, you could be forgiven for thinking you are in the south of France. The English Riviera is the Torbay area of Devon, composed of 4 towns: Torquay, Paignton, Babbacombe, and Brixham.
As well as beautiful beaches, there’s Paignton Pier, the Babbacombe Model Village, Kents Cavern, and the Torre Abbey. There are tons of ways to spend a day here or longer. It’s one of the best places to stay in Devon, but if you’ve only got an extra day, it’s one of the best day trips from Exeter.
How to get there: It’s a half hour drive from Exeter to Torquay, and slightly longer to Paignton. You can also take a train – it’s 45 minutes from Exeter to Torquay, and 55 minutes to Paignton.
Clovelly is a privately owned fishing village (you have to pay to get in!). It’s been preserved to still look like an 18th century fishing village, and is built into a very steep hill!
There are plenty of things to do in Clovelly, including walking around a fisherman’s cottage, seeing the picturesque harbour, walking along the cliffs, and trying out some of the workshops where you can learn to make authentic local goods.
You’ll only need a couple of hours here, so I would recommend tying this Exeter day trip together with Croyde if you’re driving. You could also check out some of the other stops on this North Devon Road Trip guide.
How to get there: it’s too fiddly to reach Clovelly with public transport, but it’s about an hour and a half’s drive.
Croyde and Woolacombe
Croyde and Woolacombe are two beautiful towns in North Devon. With epic beach views, they are a bit more chilled than the southern beach towns (although still get very busy in the summer season). There’s excellent surfing in both towns, and Woolacombe has actually been voted the 20th best beach in the world!
How to get there: You could take a train to Barnstaple from Exeter and then connect to the 21 bus. It will take a little while, but it’s still doable as a day trip. Alternatively, it’s an hour and a half drive.
Best things to do near Exeter
There are lots of things to do near Exeter, and these are some of the best spots. These Exeter day trips combine some of Devon’s best coastal and inland scenery, as well as its many charming towns and Devon cities. Try one of these day trips from Exeter if you’ve got a little extra time in the city!