If you’re looking for things to do in Totnes, this blog post is here to help!
Totnes is one of the best places to visit in Devon, with centuries of fascinating history and a fun arty atmosphere.
This south Devon town is inland, but it is still one of the most popular places in Devon. However, many tourists only see the castle and miss some of its other gems!
That’s why I’ve put this Totnes travel guide together – to help you see it all and make sure you don’t miss out on anything.
I guarantee that you’ll love Totnes!
Totnes is a historic market town and one of the most interesting places to visit in Devon.
It has been a crucial place throughout its long history, although nowadays it is only a small country town with around 8000 people.
But the story of this town will amaze you!
Totnes is a fascinating place that has seen rises and falls in its industry throughout the years and has managed to always adapt to the times – even now, as it is a tourist hub for people visiting the region.
Here’s a rundown of Totnes’s incredible history.
Totnes and Legend
Totnes’ history is integral to Britain’s history. It is said that Brutus of Troy, who, legend has it, was the founder of Britain, first came abroad on “the coast of Totnes”.
You can see the Brutus Stone, which is allegedly the first stone he stepped on, is now located on Fore Street.
However, the stone is located on a steep hill, way higher than the highest tides have ever been, which means that at least some part of this story is a fabrication!
The first record of Totnes as a town is in the 10th century. King Edward the Elder founded the town in 907 AD as part of the ring of defensive towns established in Devon. It was built on a historic trackway acting as a ford for the river at low tide.
Until the 12th century, Totnes had a mint for coins. Totnes Castle started to be built sometime between the Norman conquest and the completion of the Domesday book by Judhael, a local Breton. He was endowed the town of Totnes and the surrounding lands by William the Conqueror.
After building Totnes Castle and the priory, Judhael fell out of favour with the monarch and Totnes town was in danger of declining. However, townspeople elected officials and developed their cloth trade.
This was a roaring success, and in the 13th century, Totnes was a prosperous market town. It was given a royal charter in 1206 – one of only two towns that have received this honour. It was famous for being in easy access to the river and coastline as well as destinations both further east and west.
By the 14th century, the castle had a shell keep.
Totnes in the Tudor era and Civil War
By the 15th century, Totnes was an incredibly wealthy town – the second richest in Devon and the sixteenth richest in England. As well as the cloth industry, it also benefited from the boom in tin mining in west Devon.
This prosperity resulted in St Mary’s Church being rebuilt in the 16th century, as well as many other buildings that you’ll see walking around Totnes today. In 1624 the guildhall was used as a magistrates court, and Oliver Cromwell visited to meet other parliamentarians in the Civil War.
Totnes after the cloth trade
The cloth trade in Totnes began to decline in the 18th century due to the industrial revolution further north. Coal was used to operate machinery, and it meant that people could do the work a lot quicker; there was no coal in Devon, which hugely impacted the once prosperous industry.
However, Totnes remained a wealthy town – it was the main settlement of this part of Devon, which had a lot of agricultural industry. Its advantageous position on the River Dart also meant a popular place of residence for merchants.
Indeed, the writer Daniel Defoe visited in 1720 and commented on how many gentlemen lived in Totnes, and the number of middle-class people who moved there from elsewhere in Devon.
Totnes once again grew in the 18th century, with lots more buildings and bridges being constructed. This was overlooked by the Duke of Somerset, who was a descendant of Edward Seymour (Jane Seymour’s brother) to this day, a lot of buildings in Totnes are still owned by the Seymour family!
Totnes in the 20th and 21st centuries
Totnes’s success continued through the 19th century, but it again faltered at the start of the 20th century, as the modernising world was in less need of market towns. However, a variety of new businesses, including Cow and Gate dairy and C and T Harris Ltd, a bacon factory, kept the industry in Totnes ticking over.
Nonetheless, its days as a grand market centre of Devon do belong in the past – but today, it is a famous tourist town with a vibrant cultural heritage. Like many places in the southwest, Totnes relies on tourists – and the good news is it is an incredible place to visit!
Things to do in Totnes
Totnes Castle is a traditional norman motte and bailey castle and is one of the best things to do in not just Totnes, but all of Devon – make sure you visit here first!
Built shortly after the Norman conquest, Totnes Castle is an immensely historic place that is well worth visiting. A 13th century shell keep surrounds it. This keep is still in excellent condition, making it one of the best castles to see in the region!
Italian prisoners of war were held here in World War Two, and you can still see graffiti by them on the trees.
Other points of interest are the tranquil grounds with the historic moat and of course, the historic castle itself with amazing views over the town.
Totnes Museum is a fantastic place to visit in the town. Formerly known as Totnes Elizabethan House Museum because it is located in a Tudor house, this museum is a treasure trove of information about the historic town.
As well as exhibitions about the town and work from local artists, you can enjoy some historical features of the Totnes Elizabethan House Museum, including its kitchen, a nursery and corridors.
There are also areas that replicate a Victorian pharmacy and shop.
Finally, visit the Babbage Room to learn about Charles Babbage, an inventor who is thought to be the father of computing, who studied in Totnes.
Totnes Fashion & Textile Museum
The Totnes Fashion & Textile Museum is another place to visit in Totnes on a rainy day – or anytime!
With exhibitions ranging from period costumes to fashion in the 21st century, it’s a must-visit place for any stylish tourists – or people who are interested in how fashion has changed through the centuries.
Totnes Fashion museum is open from Tuesday to Friday in the summer, from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm. If you want to visit the museum at another time, you can make an appointment.
Totnes Guildhall began life as an 11th century Benedictine priory, then turned into a medieval hall.
The guildhall has been at the heart of life in the town for centuries and is well worth visiting while you’re here!
It was originally built in 1088, but most of it was destroyed under the dissolution of the monasteries. However, the guildhall was built onto the remains in 1553, and it has since been used for multiple purposes.
Over the centuries, it has been Totnes’ goal, a school, a magistrates court and the headquarters of Totnes town council.
It is open for guided tours, where you can see pictures and portraits of Totnes mayors and the historic council chamber where Oliver Cromwell plotted some of the Civil War.
Walk around the historic streets
One of the best things to do in Totnes is just to walk around!
The town is full of winding streets with beautiful historic buildings. Fore Street, in particular, is a scenic place to walk around.
Don’t miss Brutus Stone on Fore Street, where Totnes – and the whole of Britain – was allegedly founded. Brutus of Troy apparently left Troy when it fell and travelled to the UK, becoming the first Briton. Brutus Stone allegedly marks where he took his first step onto British soil.
Not many people believe this story, partially because Totnes is not by the sea and the stone is up a steep hill, much further than river levels have ever risen – but it’s still cool to check out!
Another point of interest is East Gate. This is the medieval gateway to the town centre. Sadly, it was the victim of a fire in 1990 but was well restored.
Shop at the many independent stores
There are lots of independent stores in Fore Street and beyond. Totnes nowadays has a very creative feel, with amazing art galleries and boutique stores, which is reflected in its high street.
South Devon Railway
The South Devon Railway is a family-friendly attraction. It is a steam train that takes you on a 14 mile round trip from Buckfastleigh to Totnes Riverside, through some of the most beautiful scenery in Devon.
It is a traditional Great Western Railway service and feels like a step back in time as you travel on the steam train. You’ll get to enjoy epic views of Dartmoor and Devon hills, as well as the scenery along the River Dart.
In Buckfastleigh, you can browse the museum, display of steam and diesel locomotives, and the gift and model shop. You can also visit Dartmoor Otters and Buckfast Butterflies, which is near Buckfastleigh station.
The train also stops at Staverton, a country town that looks like a time capsule from a century ago. There are some beautiful riverside walks and a 15th century bridge. You can stop off here and enjoy the town.
It costs around £11.50 for adults and £7.00 for children, and you can book your tickets on their website.
Boat trip to Dartmouth
The River Dart connects Dartmouth and Totnes, and it is a beautiful area to explore.
You can enjoy it with the Dartmoor River Boat company. The cruise covers nine miles and takes 90 minutes each way.
You will get to enjoy Agatha Christie’s Greenway Estate, the Sharpham Estate and vineyards and the incredible natural beauty around the river.
You can enjoy the fantastic beaches at Dartmouth, and it is connected to Totnes by good bus links.
Follow the Totnes Town Trail
The Totnes Town Trail is a great way to learn about the heritage and history of the town.
The trail covers significant points, including:
- Totnes Castle, the main landmark of Totnes town.
- St Mary’s Church which was part of the Benedictine priory of Totnes, but was rebuilt in the 15th century.
- The guildhall which has a fascinating 1000 years of history.
- Brutus Stone, where Totnes was allegedly founded!
- Seven Stars Hotel dates back to the 17th century but was built on the site of a medieval inn.
- Wills Obelisk, which is commemorated to William Wills, who explored Australia and was born in Totnes town.
- Leechwell, which is a natural spring with healing properties.
Dart Valley Trail
The Dart Valley Trail is a walking route from Totnes to Dartmouth, passing through beautiful riverside scenery.
The entire walk is 9 miles or 14.5 kilometres and is classed as ‘hard’. If you don’t want to do the full distance, you can do a circular walk around Totnes – here are some directions for such a walk.
Cycling is also permitted in some sections.
If you do the full hike, you can get back to Totnes by bus.
Dine at one of the waterfront cafes
Totnes isn’t just about the historic centre – there’s also a stunning waterfront waiting to explore!
One of the best ways to soak this in is to dine at cafes and restaurants along the river.
Waterside Bistro is a lovely little tapas and seafood restaurant serving up relaxed cuisine and drinks. It has a wonderful courtyard overlooking the river and inside seating for when the weather isn’t so good.
You can pop into Waterside Bistro for a light bite, a drink or a full meal. For more details and reservations, click here.
Totnes Good Food Market
Another way to enjoy Totnes’ fantastic food scene is by going to the Totnes Good Food Market!
As the name suggests, this is a chance to enjoy some delicious local food. It runs every third Sunday of the month and has 60+ stalls from Devon and the West Country, serving delicious cheese, chutney, cider, jam… and plenty more!
If you are in Totnes when it is on, it is not to be missed!
As well as lots of delicious food, there is local wine near Totnes!
If you want to try some English wines, I recommend visiting Sharpham Vineyard, which is close to Totnes town centre.
There are a few options if you would like to visit. You can simply take a walk through their vineyard, enjoying the scenery, for £2.50 per person. Or, do a self-guided wine tasting flight for £8.00, a guided tasting for £15.00 (which includes two kinds of cheese), or a tour and tasting for £25.00.
All experiences apart from the independent walk need to be booked in advance.
Sharpham wine was one of the first English wines to be produced in this area, dating back to 1981.
You might think that England doesn’t have much to offer when it comes to wine – but you’d be mistaken, as the cooler climate of South Devon with a longer growing season can produce some excellent wine varieties!
Sharpham has won countless awards for its sparkling, red, rose and white wines. They also make delicious cheese.
If you don’t want to drive, the BOB2C bus takes you from Totnes to near the vineyard – although you will need to walk the last 0.7 miles.
Berry Pomeroy Castle
The nearby Berry Pomeroy Castle is another English Heritage property that is just a five minute drive from Totnes town centre.
Parts of Berry Pomeroy date back to the 15th century when it belonged to the Pomeroy family, but the castle you see today mainly dates back to the 16th century when it belonged to the Seymour family.
After the death of Henry VIII and the succession of Edward VI, the Seymours were perhaps the most influential family in the country. Jane Seymour was Edward VI’s late mother, and her brothers used this connection to influence the young king, who was only nine when he became king.
Although this castle was reconstructed in 1560 after Edward VI died and during the reign of Catholic Mary I, the castle still exudes a lot of the wealth you’d expect from such an influential family. The Seymours planned to make it the most magnificent manor house in Devon.
That said, its ambitions were never properly met, and it was all but abandoned by the 18th century. This resulted in it becoming a breeding ground for ghost stories – which you’ll be able to hear about on the audio tour!
It is set in stunning gardens and is well worth the trip from Totnes.
Like Totnes Castle, Berry Pomeroy is also managed by the English Heritage. If you visit more than five castles in a year, I would highly recommend getting an English Heritage membership. You can click here for more information.
Dartington Hall is a country estate close to Totnes. Its gardens are open for all to explore.
The gardens are Grade II* listed and have an impressive history spanning back over 1000 years.
Encompassing 26 acres, these gardens feature sculptures, ancient trees and rare plants.
It’s a lovely place to go for a walk near Totnes!
It costs £7.00 for an adult and £2.00 for a child and is free for under-fives. It is a 7 minute drive from Totnes, or the gold bus goes most of the way.
Where is Totnes?
Totnes is located in South Devon, inland from Dartmouth. It is 23 miles from Plymouth and 30 miles from Exeter.
It makes an ideal stop-off if you are driving from destinations further east to Plymouth or south Cornwall.
It’s also a potential day trip from
However, it’s also well worth visiting in its own right!
How to get to Totnes
If you’re driving to Totnes, head towards Exeter and then take the A38, turn off at Buckfastleigh, and follow the A384 until you get to the town.
It’s super easy to get to Totnes train station on public transport, as it is connected by rail to Exeter, Plymouth and even stations further east like Reading and London Paddington.
There are also buses to Dartmouth, Torquay, Paignton and Salcombe, amongst other destinations.
Where to park in Totnes
There is no parking at Totnes Castle, but a few car parks nearby. The nearest to Totnes Castle is Heath Nursery Car Park which costs up to £3.50 for four hours (max stay). The postcode is TQ9 5DZ and the Ringgo code is 3495.
There is also a range of long-stay car parks in the town, all of which cost up to £6.50 for 24 hours.
- Old Market – postcode TQ9 5SP
- The Nursery – postcode TQ9 5GJ
- Heathway – postcode TQ9 5DZ
- Steamer Quay – postcode TQ9 5AL
Places to visit near Totnes
Exeter is an easy journey from Totnes by road, bus or rail and is one of the best day trips from the town.
Like Totnes, Exeter prospered from the wool and cloth trade, and many buildings in the city hark back to this period. There’s also the stunning Exeter Cathedral, some parts of which date back to the 11th century.
I recommend learning about Exeter’s history on a Red Coat Tour. These guided walks take you around the centre and portray the city’s fascinating past. They are entirely free, and there are several themed walks that you can do every week.
It’s also worth visiting the Royal Albert Memorial Museum (the RAMM), going underground in the Exeter Tunnels, and hanging out by the beautiful quay.
Exeter has a great food scene too, so make sure that you stay for dinner!
Devon’s other city, Plymouth, is also easy to reach from Totnes and is a great day trip.
Plymouth’s historical harbour is one of the most interesting in the country, with tales stretching back to the medieval period and before. The Mayflower voyage set off from Plymouth in 1640, which were the first settlers moving to what is now the USA.
You can learn all about Plymouth on a walking tour with Devon and Cornwall guides or by visiting The Box Museum.
Other attractions in Plymouth include visiting the gin distillery – the oldest continuously operating distillery in the world – walking around the barbican and the hoe, and visiting the largest aquarium in the country.
Beautiful and enigmatic Dartmoor is just north of Totnes and is a popular day trip from Totnes. It is easy to reach most areas of Dartmoor from the town. Highlights include:
- Buckfastleigh, where the South Devon railway ends, is also home to Buckfast Abbey and the Buckfast Butterfly Farm and Dartmoor Otter Sanctuary.
- The picturesque village of Widecombe in the Moor
- Hiking around Haytor Rocks
- Ashburton and its antique trail
- The Wrey Valley and Lustleigh
- Becky Falls, beautiful waterfalls and a woodland trail
- The historic Postbridge Clapper Bridge
Dartmouth is the most accessible coastal town to visit near Totnes. The town has some epic beaches and a fun holiday atmosphere.
It’s also worth visiting Dartmouth Castle, which dates back to 1388 when it was built to protect the Dart estuary. It’s a large castle with lots to explore, including inside parts if you want to go when it’s raining! You can buy tickets for Dartmouth Castle here.
The English Riviera
The four settlements and the stretch of the English Riviera coastline are ideal for a day trip from Totnes.
The English Riviera found fame in the 1950s as the most exotic holiday destination in the UK. This is a touristy part of Devon, but it has some beautiful clifftop walks where you won’t see a soul!
As well as the palm-lined beaches, you can enjoy attractions like:
- Babbacombe Cliff Railway travels to Oddicombe Beach and takes in some amazing views.
- Kent’s Cavern Caves date back to the prehistoric era.
- The award-winning Paignton Pier dates back to 1879 and is a must-visit for rides, food and beach scenery.
- Babbacombe Model Village, which represents England in five decades and is famous for its landscaped gardens.
- Torre Abbey dates back to 1196 and is nowadays a history museum.
Where to stay in Totnes
With a range of wonderful hotels, Totnes is a fantastic place to stay in Devon. Here are some of the best!
The Great Grubb is a lovely B&B, with comfortable and clean rooms, friendly hosts, and a delicious breakfast served each morning. It is less than a mile from Totnes town centre. Click here to reserve your stay.
The Royal Seven Stars Hotel is a historic property dating back to the 17th century – it was here where Daniel Defoe stayed! A lot has changed at the hotel since then, and now it provides comfortable rooms with a historic atmosphere. In addition, it is in a prime location right by the water! Click here to reserve and for rates.
Dartington Hall is an eight minute drive from Totnes and is a beautiful place to stay if you want to get away from it all. Rooms have beautiful period features and fantastic views over the countryside. Click here for more information.
Your Totnes travel guide!
Hopefully, this list of things to do in Totnes has helped you plan your trip there – and has ensured that you’ll see some hidden gems!