If you’re looking for things to do in Barnstaple, this blog post is here to help!
Barnstaple is a historic market town in North Devon – it’s actually the largest settlement in the area, with a population of just over 20,000 people. It’s not coastal, so it isn’t the most famous town in North Devon, but in a way that adds to its charm – it’s a great place to experience local life.
Barnstaple does offer an exciting range of family attractions, hikes with wonderful views, outdoor activities and educational activities. It is in a prime position to enjoy water sports on North Devon’s best beaches and its rolling countryside. There are also lots of National Trust and privately run stately homes and gardens in the area.
Barnstaple is also easy to get to, with a rail link for those who aren’t driving. This scenic route encompasses the Tarka Line, so there’s plenty to see on the way!
So, if you’re wondering what to do in Barnstaple, read on for all my best tips on visiting this attractive market town!
Things to do in Barnstaple
The Tarka Trail
You can cycle or walk from Barnstaple to Instow Beach (around 10 kilometres), and then travel up the Torridge Estuary towards Bideford, and even down the other side to Appledore if you desire!
You’ll experience beautiful riverside views and unique fauna. It is a weather permitting activity, but it’s an enjoyable day out and a great way to see more of North Devon without needing a car.
If you don’t have bikes with you, Tarka Trail Cycle Hire can set you up with two wheels for the day. Browse their website here.
Don’t cycle? You can also walk the Taw Estuary to Instow and then take the 21 bus back.
Barnstaple Long Bridge
Barnstaple is the biggest town in North Devon, and it has a long history. You’ll be able to see this in its Medieval bridge. The Barnstaple long bridge has many arches and connects the town to Tawstock. It is a fantastic place to take photos and admire the historic atmosphere of the town centre.
Barnstaple long bridge is right in the town centre, so definitely spend some time admiring it while you’re visiting!
Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon
This museum describes life in Barnstaple and North Devon – if you are interested in what it is like to live in this attractive market town, this museum is a must-visit!
Located in the centre of town, the museum tells the stories of people who call North Devon home and its fascinating and alluring landscape. This museum is one of the best things to do in Devon in the rain!
Broomhill Sculpture Gardens
With over 200 sculptures, the Broomhill Sculpture Gardens is the largest garden of its kind in South West England. With lots of contemporary sculptures, it’s a great place to get amongst art and enjoy nature at the same time. Dogs are welcome outside, and it is open from 9 am – 9 pm in the summer.
Arlington Court and National Trust Carriage Museum
Arlington Court is a nearby National Trust property. This Regency building is Grade-II listed. There are broad expansive gardens and 600 years of fascinating history on display inside.
The house is also home to the National Trust Carriage Museum, where you can learn all about different horse-drawn vehicles throughout the centuries.
Barnstaple Castle is not as impressive as it undoubtedly once was, but you can visit the motte where it stood. Barnstaple Castle was built in the 11th century but was already in decay by the 14th century and part of it was destroyed in the 17th century.
It protected the town by standing in an elevated position and being able to see the rivers that an enemy could access. Nowadays, there isn’t much to see at Barnstaple Castle, but you can visit the site and imagine the epic historical events that took place here.
Barnstaple Castle is located near the centre of town, so it’s worth popping by when you’re exploring!
Pannier Markets, which are very popular throughout Devon, are indoor markets where you can find various food and souveniers. As a historical town, Barnstaple has one of the best pannier markets in Devon. This market has remained almost unchanged over the last 150 years and is one of the best places to go shopping in North Devon.
RHS Garden Rosemoor
The RHS Garden Rosemoor is a beautiful place for a day out in North Devon. Home to exotic blooms, you’ll get to wander around some beautiful gardens, which fuse a range of different types of flora to create a stunning montage. There is also a garden tea room on site.
Try a Devonshire cream tea!
Speaking of tea, you’ve got to try a Devonshire cream tea when you’re in Barnstaple! This is a small meal usually eaten around mid-afternoon, consisting of two scones, jam, cream and a mug of tea. Try Tea by the Taw or The Cream Tea Cafe. Alternatively, if you follow a plant-based diet, visit Willows Tea Room for a vegan version!
Beaches near Barnstaple
Although Barnstaple isn’t coastal, it is in a great position to travel to the coast. This beautiful stretch of beaches includes sprawling sands and little coves. You can access lots of these beaches using public transport, or they are only a short drive away.
Westward Ho! is a popular tourist town close to Barnstaple. This place is heaving in the busy summer months as it has lots of family fun attractions (including crazy golf and go-karts!). However, it is a very large beach and is popular with surfers. So if you’re prepared to walk a little down the beach, you’ll find a spot! See all of the things to do in Westward Ho! here.
Woolacombe Beach is a huge stretch of sand that has been voted the 13th best in the world. It is an incredibly popular spot in North Devon in the summer season – the beach can be rammed! However, if you get to Woolacombe early, you can rent one of the colourful beach huts or deck chairs.
However, if you walk southwards towards Croyde Beach, you should be able to find some quieter spots. There are lots of other beaches around Woolacombe too, such as Barricane Beach.
Back in Woolacombe, you could visit Funder Island. This is a popular family attraction with mini-golf and bumper cars!
This is a North Devon beach that isn’t as well known – in fact, it’s a local favourite! Located between the broad sands of Woolacombe and Croyde Beach, it’s a great place to go to if you want to avoid the crowd.
Miles of sand will grace you at this North Devon beach! Popular with surfers and sunseekers, Saunton Sands is a beautiful place to enjoy the waves and bask out on the shores. The UK’s largest dune system, Brauton Burrows, is also a short walk from Saunton Sands.
Croyde Bay is located in between Woolacombe Bay and Saunton Sands. You can do a range of activities at Croyde Bay, from surfing to hiking to other watersports. Croyde Bay is a popular beach with surfers and other water sports enthusiasts – there are some epic waves here – and the whole town has a fun, chilled out vibe.
Woolacombe and Exmoor National Park often overshadow Ilfracombe, but there are lots of beautiful beaches around the town as well. Try the nearby Hele Bay Beach, Lee Bay, or Wildersmouth, which is in Ilfracombe itself.
For something a bit different, check out the Tunnels at Ilfracombe. These are among the most popular beaches there – but you do need to pay to visit. The tunnels beaches were made during Ilfracombe’s Victorian heyday as a tourist town, and they made the hidden coves accessible.
There are lots of other exciting activities in Ilfracombe too. If you’re looking for attractions in the rain, visit the Ilfracombe aquarium or the Ilfracombe town museum. In the evenings, the harbour is a lovely place!
Combe Martin Beach
Combe Martin Beach is a beautiful cove that is home to a popular sandy beach – ideal for making sandcastles with the little ones or just relaxing! You’ll also get some fantastic coastal views if you walk along the cliffs above the town – on a sunny day, you could be mistaken for thinking you are on a Caribbean Island. As it has a couple of great pubs and a fun holiday atmosphere, it’s ideal for a beach day!
Other places to visit near Barnstaple
Because of Barnstaple’s handy position, there is a fantastic variety of day trips that you can do from the town. Some of these are accessible by public transport, whereas you will need a car for others.
Watermouth Castle is an all-weather theme park that’s perfect for a family day. Located in between Ilfracombe and Combe Martin, this Victorian castle has indoor and outdoor rides. It’s great for kids, but big kids will love it too!
This 17th century fishing village is one of the most popular places to visit in North Devon. Full of historic buildings along cobbled streets leading down to a shingle beach with rock pools and caves, Clovelly is an ancient fishing village stuck in time.
There are lots of things to do here, including visiting historic cottages and museums. Clovelly also has art galleries and shops selling local produce.
You do need to pay to visit Clovelly, as it is privately owned. However, it is well worth it – it’s like a village stuck in time. Here are all of the best things to do in Clovelly.
Tarka Pottery is a popular pottery studio and clay workshop located in Torrington, close to Barnstaple. This is one of the best creative activities to do in Devon in the rain and is loved by children and artistic adults. You’ll be able to create something to take home with you as a souvenir!
Lynton and Lynmouth
Lynton and Lynmouth are popular seaside towns, famous for Lynmouth beach, the cliff railway connecting the two, and the epic views of cottages spilling down the hillside. Some people call it ‘the Switzerland of the UK!’. Here are all of the best things to do in Lynton and Lynmouth.
Exmoor National Park
Exmoor National Park begins in Minehead in Somerset and terminates around Combe Martin in east Devon. It’s a fantastic place to enjoy nature in Devon – there are some epic coastal walks you can do here with stunning views, plenty of beaches to enjoy and other attractions like the magnificent Watersmeet or the beautiful Heddon Valley, a wooded valley not too far from Lynmouth Beach.
Heddon Mouth has a lovely cobbled beach. Also don’t miss Dunkery Beacon which is the highest point in Somerset.
Exmoor Zoo is between Barnstaple and Exmoor National Park, and while I always find zoos to be a bit controversial, it does have an emphasis on conservation. You can read more about it on the Exmoor Zoo website.
Day trip to Lundy Island
Lundy Island is without a doubt one of the most epic places to visit in Devon. It has natural habitats of some of the UK’s most loved animals (including puffins and seals), exceptional walks, beautiful beaches and fascinating history. You can learn all about this history on a ranger walk around the island. If you want to stay in Lundy Island for longer, there’s an amazing range of self-catering properties. Alternatively, here is my Lundy Island day trip guide.
Hartland Abbey is a wonderful visitor attraction if you are visiting Clovelly. It is a historic abbey and beautiful gardens close to Hartland Point and Quay. It’s also worth visiting Hartland Quay for the shipwreck museum!
Affinity Devon Shopping Outlet
If you want to go on a shopping trip while in North Devon, visit Affinity Devon Shopping Outlet. Home to stores selling clothes and shoes at hugely reduced prices, there’s a lot of fantastic shopping to enjoy here!
Where to stay in Barnstaple
Budget Hotel: The Royal and Fortescue Hotel is a pub with rooms – all very comfy and modern, and excellent value for money. Click here to read more.
Mid-Range Hotel: The Barnstaple Hotel is a great value place to stay, with modern and luxurious rooms, all with their own bathroom. You’ll find some large gardens with an outdoor pool and a gym. Click here for rates and to reserve.
Luxury Hotel: The Park Hotel is a modern 4* property with comfortable, bright rooms, all with their own deluxe en suite bathroom. Click here for rates.
The Best Attractions in Barnstaple
Whether you are looking for stately homes and gardens, museums, a pretty town centre or want to be close to North Devon’s many beaches, Barnstaple is an awesome place to stay. While it’s not a seaside town, it’s the ideal place to base yourself to see North Devon’s stunning countryside and enjoy the historical aspects of the town itself!