Devon has a diverse range of attractions, with something for everyone. Its spectacular coastline incorporates a swathe of sandy beaches with those along the north coast particularly popular. Devon also takes in part of the fossil-rich Jurassic Coast and boasts two outstanding national parks, Exmoor and Dartmoor. Devon is a great place to explore and enjoy coastal walks, including part of the South West Coast Path, water sports such as bodyboarding, and of course, the quintessential Devonshire cream tea.
Salcombe is one of our favourite places to visit in Devon, with its pastel-hued houses and sailing boats bobbing in the harbour. It has a beautiful setting on the banks of the Kingsbridge Estuary, and is part of the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Naturally, it is a place to enjoy time on, in or relaxing beside the water, while the town is equipped with a great range of shops, art galleries and restaurants, as well as Salcombe Ice-cream and Salcombe Gin outlets. Throughout the spring and summer there are regattas and festivals including the Salcombe Crabfest in April which is great if you like seafood.
Salcombe is a well-known for its water sports and none more so than sailing, with it’s annual regatta, whilst the local beaches are superb. The nearest are South Sands and North Sands, which are both great for families. At the latter, the Winking Prawn Cafe has earned a good reputation for its laid-back barbecue dinners. Walkers can enjoy hikes along the South West Coast Path and through the rolling countryside to Hope Cove or Start Point Lighthouse. Meanwhile, local attractions include the National Trust’s Overbeck’s Museum and Garden, and the famous Burgh Island which is accessed at high tide via a sea tractor.
Thurlestone is a small, but pretty coastal village in south Devon, named after Thurlestone Rock, an impressive archway that rises from the sea just off the main Thurlestone Beach. Views of the rock can be seen from the popular Thurlestone Golf Course, while the village features a Grade II listed church, quaint thatched cottages and a delightful pub where you can try out the local ale. The Thurlestone area is on the South West Coast Path with walks in one direction towards Hope Cove and Salcombe, and to Bantham in the other, whilst several gorgeous sandy beaches are right on the doorstep.
South Milton Sands and Thurlestone Beach, both have good facilities and water sports equipment to rent, while Bantham Beach which sits beside the Avon estuary and sand dunes is particularly beautiful. Bantham Beach is also one of the best in the South West for surfing with the Bantham Surfing Academy offering lessons for all abilities. The shallows here are popular with children who like to paddle, while the Bantham village store and cafe serves good quality refreshments. There are incredible views across to Burgh Island, the inspiration for Agatha Christie’s ‘And then there were none’, which you can get to by foot or sea tractor from nearby Bigbury.
Dartmoor is an area of upland in south Devon where the national park is the star attraction. Wild and rugged, Dartmoor National Park is a blanket of gorse-covered moors, deep valleys, thick forest, bogland and rocky outcrops (more often referred to as ‘tors’ in these parts) that are spread across 368 square miles. Dartmoor is famous for its Bronze Age archaeological sites and its semi-wild Dartmoor ponies that have roamed free here since the last ice age. Along with a plethora of outdoor activities to get involved in, Dartmoor’s pretty villages and vibrant market towns host festivals, craft events and lots of cosy pubs and cafes.
There are numerous ways to get active: mountain biking up steep hills, rock climbing on tors, kayaking or fishing on the River Dart, wild swimming, horse-riding and walks for all levels of ability, including guided treks with llamas. On your travels you’ll discover curious sites such as Wistman’s Wood which is full of eerie shaped twisted oaks, said to be planted by druids, while those interested in history will find all kinds of ancient monuments including burial chambers and stone circles. Attractions in the area include Castle Drogo at Drewsteignton, Buckfast Abbey and the South Devon Steam Railway that runs through the Dart Valley between Buckfastleigh and Totnes.
Get out in the fresh air of the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which is located between Exmouth, Sidmouth, Honiton and Lyme Regis. The area is important for local wildlife and biodiversity, with fascinating landscapes ranging from heathland and verdant river valleys, to chalk cliffs and part of the World Heritage Site of the Jurassic Coast. Meanwhile, the East Devon Way offers a host of paths and trails for cyclists, walkers and horse-riders to enjoy. Kayaking and sailing are also popular pastimes, and there is rich local history to discover too.
Coastal resorts here include Budleigh Salterton, which is the area’s largest town, and Seaton. While particularly scenic villages include the fishing port of Beer and delightful Branscombe, which are both on the Jurassic Coast where a day at the beach can be spent looking for fossils. For heritage and culture try visiting the Bronze Age burial site at Farway, the Iron Age hill fort of Blackbury Camp, or the Beer Quarry Caves. You’ll find things to do at any time of the year, while the local produce from the farms, vineyards, orchards and fishing boats will keep you suitably satisfied.
Ilfracombe is one of the most popular places to visit in Devon and offers a good mix of outdoor activities, beaches, attractions and home comforts. In the town the elegant architecture serves as a reminder of the Victorian heritage, as does the dedicated Victorian festival which is held each June. Ilfracombe is also a regular winner of Britain in Bloom with beautiful floral displays adorning the streets and harbourfront. As well as a good range of shops and restaurants, there’s also the Landmark Theatre which offers a programme of events year-round, while nature lovers and ramblers come for the superb scenery.
Set amongst spectacular cliffs, with sheltered bays and coves close by, Ilfracombe is a great place for water activities including stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking, surfing and coasteering. At the harbour entrance you won’t fail to notice Damien Hirst’s 66 foot-high Verity sculpture and from here you can take boat trips to Lundy Island which is an unspoilt haven for wildlife. For walkers, The Torrs Walk across the cliffs is one of Britain’s finest and will take you close to the unique Tunnel Beaches which offer access to secluded bathing areas.
Woolacombe is renowned for its stunning and multi-award-winning beach which stretches for three miles and boasts some of the cleanest sands and best water quality in the UK. Meanwhile, Woolacombe itself is a lively village with great pubs, restaurants and a range of shops. It is a great base from which to explore the surrounding coastal beauty and rugged countryside of North Devon. Woolacombe is perfect for a summer family holiday, surfing trip, as a stop over on the South West Coast Path, or just to enjoy the laid-back beach vibes.
Children might like to visit nearby Barricane Beach to look for shells that wash up here all the way from the Caribbean – it’s a great place for rock pooling too. Throughout the Woolacombe area there are opportunities to try bodyboarding, kayaking and stand up paddleboarding, while beach huts can be rented for lazy summer days. If you’re serious about surfing, Croyde nearby is the premier destination in North Devon, whilst in summer it hosts the Goldcoast OceanFest music festival, as well as outdoor cinema screenings. Either the South West Coast Path, or Exmoor National Park a short drive away, will reward you with outstanding walks. For cyclists, the Tarka Trail on the Devon Coast to Coast Cycle Route is a good choice, whilst Woolacombe Riding Stables offers exhilarating guided horse-rides along the sands.
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