There are so many fun things to do in Exeter, from aweing at its dramatic Cathedral to exploring the waterfront at the Quay.
But one of the more offbeat attractions has to be Parliament Street.
It’s rumoured to be the narrowest street in the world (although, as we’ll learn later, this has been disproved), but it almost certainly is the narrowest street in the UK.
It’s a very random attraction and isn’t much more than a small alleyway, but for lovers of the weird and wonderful, it’s a must-visit.
Plus, it’s right in Exeter high street, just a stone’s throw from the Cathedral and many of the city’s other attractions.
I live close to Exeter, and whenever I show family and friends around the city, they always get very excited about Parliament Street.
So I thought I’d better write this full guide for any visitors to the Devon city!
Where is Parliament Street Exeter?
Parliament Street is right in the heart of Exeter’s town centre, literally tucked in between Greggs and Patissiere Valerie.
It links the High Street with Waterbeer Street.
At first glance, it looks no more than a tiny gap between two buildings.
But, if you cross the road, you’ll see a plaque proudly commemorating that this is “Parliament Street, believed to be the narrowest street in the world” (emphasis on the words “believed to be”!).
Is Parliament Street really the narrowest street in the world?
The short answer (or indeed, the only answer) is – no.
According to the Guinness Book of Records, that award goes to Spreuerhofstraße in Reutlingen, Germany. This means that Parliament Street is not even the shortest street in Europe!
However, it is the shortest street in the UK – which amounts to something, right?
How narrow is Parliament Street?
Parliament Street is 0.64 metres (2 feet 1 inch) at its narrowest and 1.22 metres (4 feet) at its widest.
It measures 50 metres, or 160 feet, long.
Spreuerhofstraße, on the other hand, is just 0.31 metres (12.2 inches) at its narrowest!
A narrow (get it?) history of Parliament Street
Dating back to the 14th century, Parliament Street used to be called a more appropriate “Small Lane”.
It used to be somewhere that people disposed of their waste – so wasn’t the most pleasant place to visit in Medieval Exeter!
In fact, in the 18th century, the stench got so bad that the city chamber ordered that doors be installed at either end of the street to seal the odour in!
The origins of its current name aren’t certain, but one theory stands out amongst the others.
This is that, as an attempt at humour, the street was renamed Parliament Alley in 1832, after it passed the Reform Act of 1832.
This act basically stripped working men of votes and their chance to be heard on important issues.
So it’s theorised that Exeter’s retaliation was to make its most inconsequential street on a level with parliament!
This was soon changed to Parliament Street – because it is a street and not an alleyway (more on that in a moment!).
In 1836, there was a petition and a fundraiser for £130 to widen Parliament Street. However, this never came to fruition.
Why is it not an alleyway?
As mentioned above, Parliament Street is not an alleyway – which is why it can proudly claim to be the narrowest street in the UK!
This is because there are buildings on either side and the street has addresses.
There’s a 1, 2 and 3 parliament street, and the street even has streetlamps!
However, it’s (very) strictly pedestrian-only – no way would you fit a car down here!
What’s walking down Parliament Street like?
It’s a bit of a claustrophobic street, and it still smells a little like chamber pots – some things never change!
However, it’s a quirky attraction right in the middle of Exeter city centre, and it’s worth visiting if you’re in the vicinity.
The street is a bit of a wind tunnel, and if there’s a breeze while you’re exploring the city, you’ll notice that it amplifies when you take a step down the street.
After walking down the darkened street, perhaps walking down from the High Street to Waterbeer and then turning around to walk the opposite way, rejoining the high street right by Greggs is a bizarre experience.
You’ll suddenly be amongst shoppers and tourists (Exeter Cathedral is just a short walk away), who may have no idea that one of the world’s narrowest streets that’s brimming with history (and has definitely seen a few chamber pots in its time!) is just a few steps away…
Other historical attractions in Exeter
I’m going to guess you’re probably not visiting Exeter for Parliament Street alone.
The city is incredibly historic, and here are a few places to look out for while you’re in town!
- Exeter Cathedral: One of the most impressive cathedrals in the country!
- Gandy Street: An adorable pedestrian road that looks like Diagon Alley.
- The House That Moved: A medieval house that was placed on rail tracks to move it. This saved the house, as it was destined to be demolished for a new road to go through Exeter.
- The RAMM Museum: A free museum detailing Exeter and Devon’s history.
- Exeter Quay: A beautiful historic waterfront area.