No matter the itineraries and to-do lists; the best way to experience Devon is to be impulsive and do what the weather (and the weather) takes you. The fun is at its best outdoors, exploring the square-jawed scenery of Dartmoor and Exmoor National Parks, biking along riverside trails, surfing, sailing, birding on Lundy Island and walking the South West Coastal Path. For culture lovers, the mansions offer a taste of high Devon life, while sophisticated seaside towns like Dartmouth host regular arts, music and food events and sailing regattas.
For more Devon inspiration, check out our guides to the city’s best hotels, restaurants, pubs, cream teas and beaches.
Take a walk on Britain’s longest trail
The South West Coast Path, Britain’s longest trail, traces Devon’s two coasts, offering easy access to wild, windswept cliffs, secluded sandy coves and remote villages. There are occasional pubs and cafes along the way, and a regular bus network means you can hop on and off as you please. If you are on a multi-day trip, Bagagem Transfers will leave your luggage at your accommodation each day.
Inside tip: Clovelly to Hartland Point is the most dramatic section, while Bantham to Salcombe has a number of postcard-perfect beaches. The further you are from a parking lot, the more likely you are to find a cove for you.
Go bird watching in the Galapagos, Great Britain
island of lundy is a three mile long granite outcrop off Hartland Point in North Devon. It is a marine reserve where twitchers, divers and snorkelers get close to seals, puffins, basking sharks and seabirds. Dating back to 1958, the graceful Oldenburg sails several times a week from Bideford and Ilfracombe from April to October. It has wood paneling in its comfortable lounges and a nice-weather deck. In winter (November to March), a helicopter service operates from Hartland Point.
Inside tip: If you want to see a particular species, stop by Taverna Marisco, the island’s only restaurant, where locals will give you tips on where to find it, while the pub’s reference books will help you identify the local flora and fauna.
Freewheel along Britain’s longest traffic-free cycle path
Following a disused railway line from Braunton to Meeth, the Tarka Trail has signal boxes and colorful Thomas the Tank Engine-style carriages on the detours. The 180-mile route passes through ancient villages, wooded valleys, rivers and heathlands, with the northern section following the journey of Tarka the Otter from Henry Williamson’s classic novel. Largely flat, the trail is perfect for children, with plenty of cafes along the way.
Inside tip: A day trip between Great Torrington and Meeth (11 miles) offers good tasting, with stunning views of Dartmoor and a regular bus service to take you back. Bike hire is available in Great Torrington.
Stock up at a farmers market or farm shop
Devon’s market towns come to life on weekends with local producers selling fresh vegetables, artisan cheeses, preserves and meats from market stalls. Exeter Street Food Market is one of the best, serving delicacies from Friday to Sunday downtown. Ullacombe Farm Shop near Haytor sells traditional scrumpy, English wine, Dartmoor whiskey, gins and vodkas, excellent meats and artisan cheeses, while Dart’s Farm near Topsham offers a wide range of Devon produce.
Inside tip: Wherever you travel and eat in Devon, look for the ‘Love the Flavor’ logo on menus and in store windows – this affiliation of food vendors and producers is committed to the quality of Devon food and drink.
Contact: streetfoodexeter.co.uk; ullacombefarm.co.uk; dartsfarm.co.uk
Indulge in a traditional cream tea
Don’t even think about leaving Devon without indulging in this teatime tradition. With so many offerings, it’s hard to pick a favorite, but Hele Corn Mill, a working water mill dating back to 1525, tops our list for its twice-baked scones, with their perfectly crispy crusts and soft centers.
Inside tip: A heated debate surrounds whether jam or cream should be put on first, but a recent study showed that Devon’s approach of putting on jam first ensures a more even distribution of toppings.
Contact: hellecornmill. with
Blow through the cobwebs in Dartmoor National Park
There’s no better place in Devon to get some free space than the wide open spaces of Dartmoor National Park, a 365-square-mile wilderness of wild swamps, wooded glades, fairytale castles, pretty villages and ancient hamlets. A hike up a Dartmoor Tor – granite-topped hill – is a must. Keep an eye out for wild ponies, birds of prey, sandpipers, otters and rare butterflies.
Inside tip: Dartmoor’s narrow single-lane lanes have few passing places, so don’t try unless you’re confident in backing into tight spaces. If you’re not sure, wait for the other driver to reverse (and hope he’s better at it than you are).
Visit Agatha Christie’s Vacation Home
Agatha Christie’s private Greenway vacation home on the River Dart is much like when the crime writer stayed here to write her book. The first editions are on the shelves, along with family photos and collections of botanical porcelains and archaeological finds. Even if you’re not a Christie fan, the house is worth visiting for its beautiful setting on the River Dart and gardens. Don’t miss the peach house, cellar and fern.
Inside tip: The most scenic way to get to Greenway is by ferry or steam train from Dartmouth. You can drive, but parking is limited so you need to book in advance of your arrival.
See how the other half lives
Powderham Castle is one of the oldest family seats in Devon, owned by the Earl of Devon. Set in its own deer park, it has been added and changed repeatedly throughout its 600-year history. Tours cover the medieval core, neoclassical areas and Victorian cuisine. There are beautiful rose beds and a walled garden with a Victorian greenhouse.
Inside tip: You’ll have to hunt it down, but the blacksmith’s forge operating on the ground is a highlight. Opening times vary from Powderham’s, so check ahead.
Visit a port city
Situated on the River Dart, the harbor town of Dartmouth is a gem, with old narrow streets, boutiques and elegant art galleries. Highlights include brunch at the legendary cafe Alf Resco, a visit to Dartmouth Castle and Bayards Cove, a tour of Dartmouth Naval College, wine tasting at nearby Sharpham Estate and a Southern European-style shared-course meal at Andria.
Inside tip: Escape the summer crowds with Dartmouth’s nautical equivalent of an open-top bus tour (dartmouthrailriver.co.uk), a scenic passenger ferry that runs between Dartmouth and Kingswear.
Contact: Discoverdartmouth.com (visitor center)
Hang ten with the surfers
Considered one of the best places in the country to surf, Croyde Bay has gentle waves for beginners and bigger waves for more experienced surfers. There are a handful of local surf schools that offer lessons with board rental and wetsuit included, as well as coasteering expeditions for non-surfers.
Inside tip: For a break from surfing, stay at Woolacombe Bay or Saunton Sands Hotel.
Contact: Visitor Centre, croydedevon.co.uk