Our Top 10 Things to Do in Devon
Prepare for a wonderfully English escape to the coast with our guide to Devon
Sandwiched between Cornwall and Dorset, topped and tailed by sea, Devon is a southerly haven for beachgoers: its pretty harbours and swathes of sand bookended by dramatic cliffs make up some of Britain’s best stretches of seaside. Team that with windswept moors and intriguingly named towns and villages (Topsham, Woolfardisworthy and Budleigh Salterton are just the beginning) and you have yourself a wonderfully English escape. The real challenge, though, is choosing where to go and where to stay in Devon. But fret not: we here at Plum Guide have done extensive research, and compiled this go-to guide for the most beautiful and interesting spots in the area. Here are our top insider tips for things to do in Devon.
Hop over to Lundy Island
This well-kept secret has the nickname ‘Britain’s Galapagos’ for good reason: the unique habitats of this marine reserve provide a home for rare and diverse wildlife. The three-mile-long granite isle crops up where the Bristol Channel meets the Atlantic, and is an excellent place to spot rare birds, puffins, seals, basking sharks, dolphins - and there’s even a semi-wild herd of Lundy ponies. Dive, snorkel or simply take a walk around to take in the rugged, craggy views and fresh sea air. Accessible by helicopter or boat.
Follow the Agatha Christie literary trail in Torquay
With its stylish seafront, pretty gardens and sandy beaches, Torquay is a classic stop on the English riviera (yes, England has a riviera). It’s also the birthplace of crime writer Agatha Christie. As well as being a big selling point for the local tourist board, the Agatha Christie literary trail is well worth exploring. Highlights include a display at Torquay Museum, including Poirot’s desk and other props from the TV adaptations, and her holiday home, Greenway, where she set two of her detective novels (its boathouse set the scene for one of her fictional murders).
Walk along the River Exe to Topsham
Wake up bright and early in your Plum home, and welcome the day with a relaxing dip in the hot tub before a day of exploring. Beginning at Exeter Quay, take a leisurely stroll south along the picturesque River Exe. Stop off at the 18th-century Double Locks inn for outdoor spritzes in the summer and cosy log fires in the winter. And then end up in ultra-loveable, chocolate-boxy Topsham for maritime history, bakeries and cosy community vibes (it was named the best place to live in the South West last year). Don’t miss Dart’s Farm to stock up on local cheeses and other artisan produce, and stick around for a sunset over the estuary.
Make your own gin in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
Salcombe is a real looker, and it’s no secret: the seaside town is part of the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Head here for a holiday filled with simple pleasures: think barefoot beach walks and ice creams from the local Salcombe Dairy. And there’s the option to learn a craft, too: Salcombe Gin Distillery runs gin-making sessions in its converted boathouse, overlooking the estuary. It’s one of the world’s only distilleries you can access by water (welcome to the world of unneccessary-but-lovely accolades). Learn which botanicals make a well-balanced gin, before distilling it yourself into a mini copper pot and sticking a personalised label on a 70cl bottle. Sip a G&T in the beautifully light and airy distillery bar before taking your creation home.
Cycle the Tarka Trail
Head out in the morning and and pedal your way on a figure of eight route past striking North Devon cliffs, over wild beaches and through acres of unspoilt countryside, all the way down to the top edge of rugged Dartmoor National Park. At 180km, the Tarka Trail is the longest uninterrupted car-free cycle path in the UK, and if its name sounds familiar, that’s because some of it follows the journey of novelist Henry Williamson’s Tarka the Otter.
Visit a beachside spa
Source Spa at Saunton Sands makes the most of its beachy locale, with huge windows offering sandy views from the loungers and the massage tables. There are tailored packages for men and women, and - while this may not be everyone’s idea of a wild time - wellness warriors will enjoy the ice fountain after a visit to the saunas and salt inhalation steam room.
Dine on local produce at Lympstone Manor
Food snobs will appreciate Michael Caines’ ‘taste of the estuary’ menu, which uses seafood that comes from almost literally right outside the window. And as well as the chef’s high standards when it comes to local produce, this Michelin-starred restaurant is set in an 18th century, Grade II listed building with glorious views of the River Exe. Of all the things to do in Devon, this is the one you’ll be bragging about for some time. It makes for the perfect place to celebrate a special occasion, like an anniversary or birthday in Devon, too.
Visit the town that had a Silicon Valley makeover
Multimillionaire Bebo founder Michael Birch had fond memories of childhood holidays in Woolfardisworthy (Woolsery for short). So, seeing that the North Devon village had fallen into a sad state of disrepair over the years, investing was a no-brainer. He bought up the local pub, fish and chip shop and manor and helped to restore them to their former glory. It’s well worth a look if you’re in the area: the tarted-up Farmers Arms pub even won a CAMRA award this year.
See ‘Little Switzerland’
Lynton and Lynmouth got the nickname ‘Little Switerland’ from Romantic poet Robert Southey, who astutely picked up on the surrounding area’s slightly Alpine vibes. Take a walk through the lush, dramatically named Valley of the Rocks, and ride the defyingly steep water-powered cliff railway that connects Lynton (at the top of the cliffs) and Lynmonth (by the sea). In the latter, there are British seaside vibes in spades, with a small harbour and quaint little fudge and ice-cream shops. Nearby is wild, rugged Exmoor if you’re feeling the need for a wide, open space.
Visit RHS Garden Rosemoor
Rounding off our expert list of things to do in Devon, we have the impressive RHS Garden Rosemoor. With the Hot Garden, Winter Garden and woods that come alive with colour in the autumn, RHS Garden Rosemoor provides a seasonally changing escape (yes, we’re well aware all gardens work like that, but this one makes a real thing of it). Keep an eye out for workshops and stop by the Garden Kitchen for a Devon cream tea (the jam goes on top here, please).