There are so many unique places to visit in Devon. This county is known for its almost tropical-like beaches and two epic moors, but there are also countless charismatic towns and two very different but equally dynamic cities.
So, where do you begin when working out where to go in Devon? I’ve created this (very long) blog post to break it down for you. In this post, you’ll see a brief description of all of my favourite places in Devon, and you’ll be able to click through to read more about each destination!
If you’re wondering where to go on holiday in Devon, you could base yourself in any of these places I mention below. I would recommend deciding what region you would like to explore and deciding which town, village or area to look for hotels in (read about where to stay in Devon here). You can then visit most of the other destinations in that area (and some other regions) on a day trip.
The Best Places to Visit in Devon for beautiful nature and history – East Devon
East Devon is easy to reach, but that doesn’t make it any less spectacular. Here, you’ve got the western end of the Jurassic Coast, the charming Exe river, and the East Devon area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB). There’s also the historic city of Exeter, which is brimming with interesting stories – and has one of the most spectacular Cathedrals in the country.
Exeter is Devon’s second-largest city – and it’s far more interesting than a lot of people give it credit for. It was a Roman city and still has some of the original Roman walls to this day. Exeter Cathedral is 1100 years old (!), although it has been refurbished over time, particularly when part of it was destroyed in the Blitz.
The city suffered a lot in the Blitz, with many of its historic buildings destroyed and countless lives lost. Nonetheless, the Medieval row of houses bordering the green still remains intact, and the Quayside is beautiful, with many buildings here dating back to Exeter’s heyday.
With beautiful beaches, the wildlife of the Exe Estuary and enigmatic moorland, there are few more diverse places to visit than Exmouth. I’ve written a lot about Exmouth on this blog because it’s where I currently live (I’ve also done a stint in Bath and lived for six years in Bristol and am currently choosing between Exeter, Plymouth and Exmouth to buy a house!).
Even though I might be biased, I think Exmouth one of the best places to visit in Devon. Exmouth Beach is expansive and easy to access, with golden sands as far as the eye can see. You can walk through the estuary and admire the riverside views or take the East Devon way through the moors.
Or, climb up the cliffs at the eastern end of the beach – and you’re on the world-class Jurassic Coast. You can also take boat trips around the Jurassic Coast or up the River Exe with Stuart Line Cruises. There’s so much to enjoy in this town.
The Exe Estuary
The Exe Estuary spans between Exmouth and Exeter, and while there are several interesting towns and villages to visit on this route, you can easily see them all in a day. I recommend spending a day driving, taking the train or bus, cycling or even hiking around the Exe Estuary, taking in sights like the following.
- The tidal beach of Lympstone
- The historic town of Topsham
- Exminster marshes
- Powderham Castle, which is still the home of the Courtenay family.
- Dawlish Warren, a popular seaside resort.
See my blog post all about the Exe Estuary for more information.
Budleigh Salterton is a small town east of Exmouth. It is the first (or last!) town on the Jurassic Coast, and it’s a beautiful spot for hiking. The beach here is pebbly, so it’s not ideal for sunbathing – but there are some stunning views. You can also walk up the River Otter to Otterton, looking out for the resident beaver population on the way, and visit Otterton Mill.
Sidmouth is a little further along the South West Coast Path. It has epic coastal views as well as glorious countryside, being in the East Devon AONB. You can get an epic view of the coastline from the Connaught Gardens and visit the Donkey Sanctuary, which is home to hundreds of rescued donkeys.
Beer is another popular coastal town in East Devon. The beach and town centre are charming in themselves, but make sure that you visit the Beer Quarry Caves too – these are human-made caves used for smuggling purposes!
Branscombe is one of the prettiest villages in the area, with rows of thatched cottages and rolling countryside in the background. The village is very historic, with some fascinating old shops and other buildings, and is pleasant for a stroll around.
Seaton is located in Lyme Bay, the area of East Devon that borders on Dorset. It is an excellent spot for watersports or hiking, or you can enjoy the Seaton Wetlands Nature Reserve.
Honiton is an inland market town with plenty of historic buildings. It’s a pleasant place for a stroll around, and there are also several museums and art galleries in the town itself. It sits in the East Devon AONB, and you can see this delightful countryside from many locations in the town.
The Blackdown Hills AONB borders Somerset, and it’s a wonderful place for hiking, cycling or just admiring the natural beauty. Unlike some parts of Devon, the Blackdown Hills aren’t too touristy, so it’s a great spot for secluded woodland walks and spectacular scenery.
Where to go in Devon for a holiday atmosphere – Torbay and around
Known as ‘The English Riviera’, Torbay consists of four towns and villages: Torquay, Paignton, Brixham and Babbacombe. I’ve also included some nearby towns in this section. Torbay is a popular holiday destination, famed for its warm climate and sailing culture.
The town of Dawlish is a traditional Victorian seaside town with a lovely sandy beach, whereas nearby Dawlish Warren is a more recent seaside resort. You can travel from one town to the other on a scenic rail journey, by driving or by walking the South West Coast Path.
Teignmouth (pronounced ‘tinmuth’) is a glorious holiday destination on the South coast of Devon. Teignmouth Beach is a family-friendly bay with a pier and other attractions, and there is also a Lido for those days when the sea is too cold! Also, don’t miss the Teignmouth River Beach, which is a popular spot for fishing.
Torquay is the biggest town in the area, and it’s somewhere that is immensely popular with tourists. You’ll feel like you’re in another country here – the roads are lined with palm trees!
There are loads of things to do in Torquay, including the Kents Cavern Caves – a popular visitor attraction that depicts how the caves were made and used over the centuries – and Bygones, a museum depicting Victorian life. Of course, you can also enjoy the glorious beaches and hidden coves of the area.
Paignton is another popular South Devon tourist town. It has been popular with tourists since Victorian times when the railway was built and is famed for its long sandy beaches, which are great for rock pooling and bustling holiday atmosphere. Other attractions in Paignton include visiting its pier, beach hopping and visiting the Medieval Torre Abbey.
Brixham is a smaller settlement in the English Riviera. It’s a little quieter than Torquay and Brixham, but it’s still a fun holiday town. Sitting at the southern end of Torbay, it’s a great position to enjoy the beaches and visit other destinations in South Devon.
Babbacombe is a small Torbay village, but it packs a punch when it comes to attractions. Don’t miss the Babbacombe Cliff Railway and the epic views as you ascend upwards. Then there’s the Babbacombe model village – a great attraction for families and adult groups alike! Of course, like every seaside holiday town in Devon, Babbacombe also has epic beaches and is on the South West Coast Path.
Newton Abbot is a popular market town about 10 kilometres from the coast, sitting on the River Teign. It’s a great place to absorb everyday life in Devon and enjoy the independent shops, indoor and outdoor markets, but there are also some excellent tourist attractions in the area. Don’t miss the War Memorial Heritage Trail, Haldon Forest Cycle Trails and the nearby Decoy Country Park.
Where to visit in Devon for beaches and the city – South Hams and Plymouth (South Devon)
South Hams is the southwesterly area of Devon – home to dramatic beaches, charming inland market towns and the bustling city of Plymouth. If you want to visit isolated spots but also be wowed at the urban atmosphere of Devon’s largest city, this is a wonderful region.
Totnes is an incredibly historic place. First, visit Totnes Castle, a Norman castle with a keep and curtain wall from the 14th century. Then, stroll through the town – there are lots of old buildings here that hark back to historical eras.
The riverside is always a pleasant place to sit and watch the world go by – and you can take boat trips through the beautiful countryside to reach the seaside at Dartmouth.
Salcombe is a fun tourist town in South Devon. Here, you can enjoy the many independent shops, including Salcombe gin and ice cream vendors, take in the epic beaches and do various watersports.
Dartmouth is a beautiful coastal town. It is home to epic beaches, an impressive estuary (where you can take boats up to Totnes), and the grand Dartmouth Castle, which defended the south coast from invaders. Nearby is the Coleton Fishacre House, which is one of the best historic houses in Devon.
Bigbury-on-Sea is a small village that is home to South Devon’s largest sandy beach! This award-winning bay is often acclaimed to be the best in the country. Visiting Burgh Island is a must – it is linked to Bigbury-on-Sea by a causeway, and it is famous for its Art Deco hotel, Agatha Christie connections and its beautiful wildlife.
East Prawle is close to the most southerly tip of Devon (Prawle Point), and it is a small, isolated village with lots of wild, rugged scenery. This area of Devon is called ‘pig country’ due to the amount of farming around – and there is undoubtedly a piggy theme running through the village! This is a picturesque area of the South West Coast Path and a great place for people who want a little solitude to visit!
Hope Cove is a stunning area in the South Devon AONB. It consists of two beaches and some dramatic cliff views and is only a short journey from Salcombe. There isn’t too much here, but it’s well worth visiting to see the stunning beach.
Plymouth is the largest city in Devon and a must-visit while you’re here. There are plenty of things to do in Plymouth, from touring the UK’s oldest gin distillery to cruising the Tamar and learning about the Devon/ Cornish border to visiting the exceptional museums in the city and reading about the Mayflower voyage which set off from Plymouth. You can easily spend a weekend in Plymouth or even longer – see all of the best things to do in Plymouth here.
Places to go in Devon for inland hiking – Dartmoor National Park
Dartmoor is one of the most epic places to visit in Devon – and is certainly one of the most popular non-seaside spots in the county! This vast ancient moorland is one of the most famous places for hiking in the country – it’s also the only place in England where wild camping is legal. If you want to hike, mountain bike, or do several other activities, I’d really recommend visiting Dartmoor.
Bovey Tracey is a welcoming market town on the edge of Dartmoor. It’s home to the House of Marbles which is one of the best things to do in Devon in the rain. The House of Marbles is a museum all about glass and marbles and it also features a games room and a cafe. Bovey Tracey has a colourful high street and is the ideal location to base yourself to see Dartmoor.
Okehampton is also a lovely town to base yourself in if you want to go hiking in Dartmoor, with attractions like the Meldon Reservoir close by. In the town itself, there’s Okehampton Castle and the Museum of Dartmoor Life. Okehampton also a great place to stay if you want to enjoy the wilds of this area of Dartmoor!
Chagford is a historic town with stone houses and thatched-roof cottages, as well as a 15th century church. It has plenty of traditional pubs and restaurants, making it an attractive place to stay in Dartmoor. Nearby is Castle Drogo – the most modern castle to be built in the UK and a National Trust property, and it’s just a short drive to some of Dartmoor’s best walks.
Places to visit on holiday in Devon for local life – Mid Devon
Mid Devon is the least touristy part of the country, but it’s a great area to enjoy local life and experience the countryside. Many locals call this ‘the true Devon’, so if you want a slice of authentic rural living, head to mid-Devon!
Nestled in the countryside, Tiverton is one of the best places to go in Devon to enjoy local life. Visit Tiverton Castle, which dates back to 1106, or Bickleigh Castle, which was built in the 11th century. The National Trust property Knightshayes Court is also nearby. On the outskirts of Tiverton, you can enjoy the Grand Western Canal and its 24 bridges!
Cullompton is located in the Culm Valley and is close to the Blackdown Hills AONB. Being a historic market town, it has a lot of history and has one of the best churches in the country.
Crediton is another historic market town with an impressive church. The patron saint of Germany, Boniface, was born here in 680 AD. He was educated in Exeter and eventually killed in Europe by being stabbed through a bible – and he is often immortalised holding the bible as a shield. There are references to Boniface everywhere in Crediton. It was also the site of Devon’s first Saxon Cathedral.
Where to go on holiday in Devon for adventurers – North Devon and Exmoor National Park
North Devon is famous for its dramatic coastline, rugged cliffs, and epic scenery. It’s a lot less built-up than the south coast, but its panoramic views certainly have the wow factor, and this region is well worth visiting.
Lynton and Lynmouth
Lynton and Lynmouth are twin villages that sit on the edge of Exmoor. Lynmouth is at sea level, whereas Lynton is perched above on the cliffs. Lynmouth has been called the ‘Switzerland of Devon’ due to the scenic hillside views, and it’s a charming town to stroll around. You can also take the Lynton – Lynmouth cliff railway, which is the only water-powered funicular in the country! See all of the things to do in Lynton and Lynmouth here.
Combe Martin is one of the best places to enjoy the scenic Devonshire countryside. Popular with tourists in the summer months, it is a secluded bay with a beautiful cover and a small village from the beach.
Exmoor National Park
Exmoor National Park is one of the best parks in the country. Bordering the Bristol Channel to the north, this area has a dramatic coastline and moorland. Most of Exmoor is in Somerset, but the Western section is in Devon. There are plenty of hikes both along this part of the South West Coast Path and in the inland moors.
Ilfracombe is a small seaside town perched on the North Devon coast. It is most famous for being the launching place for day trips to Lundy Island, but it also has some beautiful coastal walks and boat tours to see the coastline from the sea.
Barnstaple is the largest town in North Devon – it is an ancient market town dating back to 930 AD. There’s plenty of history to learn about in Barnstaple – you can begin by visiting the Museum of North Devon. Also, visit the Pannier Markets which give you a sense of its market history, and explore the surrounding Tarka Trail.
Bideford is a riverfront town on the River Torridge – it was the UK’s third-largest port in the 16th century. Some of the buildings from this time remain, and the St Mary parish church still has a Norman tower.
Lundy Island is, without a doubt, one of the most incredible places to visit in Devon. This island sits out in the Bristol Channel, at its meeting point with the Atlantic Ocean. This means that it is home to an incredible amount of wildlife, including seals, puffins and ponies. It’s also got an interesting historical background, featuring tales of smuggling and pirates! You can visit Lundy Island by taking a boat from Ilfracombe or Bideford. Here are my detailed instructions for spending a day on Lundy.
Woolacombe is an incredibly popular North Devon seaside town. Woolacombe beach has been voted the best in the UK and the 13th best in the world – who needs tropical destinations? The town has a laid-back atmosphere, although it does get busy in the summer. There’s also the nearby village of Croyde, which has an excellent dining scene, and plenty of other sandy beaches!
Most famous for its expansive beach and large sand dunes, it’s well worth adding Saunton to your North Devon itinerary. It’s a rural place, but perfect for a summer holiday and in an excellent location to reach other towns and villages.
Westward Ho! is an interesting place. It is a town built just for tourism purposes and was named after a book about the local area. Nowadays, it’s a popular town for surfing and other activities. It isn’t the most authentic of places to visit in Devon, but it’s a popular favourite with kids.
The picture-perfect village of Clovelly is one of the most talked-about fishing villages in the UK. You can stay here, but the vast majority of tourists visit on a day trip – and pay for the privilege. That’s right; it costs £8 to get into Clovelly village. Once you’re here, you can enjoy the dramatic views of the coastline, walk down the cobbled streets and soak in the atmosphere of a village that has been preserved to resemble what it did in the 18th century. There are also a few museums and cafes to visit. You can read all about the best things to do in Clovelly here.
Just a short drive from Clovelly is Hartland Quay and the border of Devon and Cornwall! Because of their closeness, many tourists to North Devon also venture into North Eastern Cornwall. You can see all of the best places to visit in Cornwall here!
There are so many epic places to visit in Devon – this list is a good starting point of the main tourist attractions, but the more time you spend in this county, the more you’ll find!