Devon is located in South West England and is bounded by Cornwall, Dorset and Somerset. Also known as Devonshire, it is the third largest county in England. Much of its varied landscape is dominated by the rugged Dartmoor moorlands but it also boasts two separate coastlines, one of which is designated as a World Heritage Site.
Devon’s northern coast consists of sandy beaches and steep cliffs which combine to form picturesque coves and remote, hidden caverns. In contrast, the southern coast is renowned for its temperate climate which features a seafront lined with palm trees. Visitors will find a collection of resorts that take advantage of the pleasant weather such as Torquay, which is part of the English Riviera.
Inland, the moors of Dartmoor offer a barren, rock strewn landscape, most of which has National Park status. The Dartmoor National Park consists of 365 square miles of windswept, untouched beauty which is popular with cyclists and hikers. This region is punctuated by a number of granite hilltops called Tors – Yes Tor and High Willhays are the most famous and are over 2000ft.
Visitors will also find a number of important historical sites such as the Roman villas at Ilchester, East Coker and Camerton – as well as the rural beauty and charm, Devon also has a rich, fascinating heritage. Read on as we offer a guide to some of the most notable Devon visitor attractions and historical places of interest.
History and Culture
Bradworthy Transport Museum is a popular historical attraction and houses over 100 historical vehicles including jeeps, motorbikes and tractors and vans. Popular exhibits include a Green Goddess Fire Engine and a 1932 Hillman Minx.
Powderham Castle in Exeter is also worth seeing. Home to the Earl of Devon and his descendants for over 600 years, the castle features a secret garden, a birds of prey centre and an adventure playground for children. Guided tours of the castle are also available throughout the day.
Torre Abbey is also an important historical site and is the oldest building in Torquay at over 800 years of age. The ornate interior includes a selection of classical paintings, some of which date back to the 19th century. There’s also a well-kept garden area featuring a number of exotic plants such as a Chinese Yellow Wood Tree.
Crealy Great Adventure Park in located in Devon and features a number of high-adrenalin rides such as the Meteorite and the Tidal Wave Terror – there’s also a dragonfly lake, a maze and dinosaur park. The Milky Way Adventure Park in Bideford is also popular, particularly with families and includes a number of adventure play areas, live shows and roller-coasters.
Nature lovers should visit Combe Martin Wildlife Park which is set on the fringes of Exmoor. It boast 25 acres of parkland and woods and is home to over 250 different plant and animal species. There’s also a dinosaur park and sub-tropical gardens.
Towns and Villages
As well as the major Devon visitor attractions discussed above, the county also boasts a wonderful array of picturesque towns and villages both on the coast and inland. Here are a few highlights.
Dartmouth is a seaside town set on Devon’s River Dart Estuary. It’s situated some 10 miles from Torbay and has been an important harbour since Roman times. Many historic naval expeditions have sailed from its shores, including the fleet sent by Edward III to assist in the siege of Calais in 1347. The town is idyllically situated on a steep wooded hill on the west bank of the River Dart.
Dartmouth’s illustrious history is reflected in many of its buildings. The 15th century Dartmouth Castle, is one of the most prominent and faces a similar fortification, Kingswear, across the estuary. The two were built so that a chain could be stretched across the water to hinder invading enemy ships during times of war. A ferry now runs to the castle every 15 minutes.
Also of historical interest is the Butterwalk, a row of 17th century timber-framed houses. Built on granite pillars, they feature carved, overhanging storeys and look close to collapse – Charles II once sheltered there during a storm in 1671. Dartmouth Museum is located at the end of the Butterwalk and exhibits an eclectic collection of swords, vintage toys and maritime bric-a-brac.
Other popular attractions include the Paignton and Dartmouth Steam Railway, which operates between Paignton and the nearby Kingswear Station. This heritage line runs for over 6 miles along the beautiful South Devon coast and affords some wonderful coastal vistas. Steam locomotives run during the summer months as do boat trips around local waters, as part of a round robin, full day excursion.
Exmouth is a seaside resort on the East Devonshire coast, some 5 miles from Budleigh Salterton. Considered to be one of the oldest resorts in Devon, it is steeped in seafaring history – Sir Walter Raleigh sailed from its harbour on many of his expeditions. The town, set on the East bank of the River Exe, has a long sandy beach and a handsome seafront lined with Georgian and Victorian houses.
The 18th century A La Ronde is a major historical attraction. Located near Lympstone. this sixteen-sided house was built for two well-to-do cousins, Jane and Mary Parminter on their return from a European tour. Inside, visitors will find a collection of objects they acquired during their travels, including an extensive array of seashells and a handmade frieze.
Boat cruises are available from the marina, which take visitors on tours up the River Exe and around the stunning Jurassic coast. Day trips are also run to the nearby towns of Torquay, Sidmouth and Brixham. In addition, special guided bird-watching cruises are arranged during November and March which allow nature lovers to fully appreciate the diverse range of bird species that inhabit these parts.
Exmouth is also home to arguably the largest 00 gauge model railway in the country. It took almost 15 years to complete and features 20 trains which run along more than 100 scale miles of track. Both past and present rail eras are represented and include steam engines like the Flying Scotsman.
Ilfracombe is a seaside village on the coast of North Devon. Situated around 50 miles up the coast from Bude, it was at one time a major port town before the introduction of the railways and the use of ferries hastened its development as a holiday resort. The town, which is dominated by Hillsborough Hill, has a grand seafront, backed by a collection of Edwardian houses and a picturesque harbour area.
Watermouth Castle and Theme Park is one of many popular visitor attractions. Situated in nearby Berrynarbor and overlooking Watermouth Cove, this Victorian Castle houses an array of artifacts from that era including model railways, old penny arcades and a 1950 seaside organ. Its well-kept gardens feature a large maze and wide variety of rides and activities for children of all ages.
The acclaimed Tunnels Beaches are a must-visit. These award-winning beaches feature large tidal pools and a selection of tunnels, hand-carved by Welsh miners in the 19th century to improve access between the beaches and coves. Kayaking hire can be arranged in the summer months there’s a play hut for children which includes slides, scramble nets and a toddler zone.
Combe Martin Wildlife and Dinosaur Park is also worth a mention. Its home to a variety of animals including lions, tigers, monkeys and meerkats. There’s also a collection of scale dinosaur models some of which have been created with animatronics. The park is spread out over 25 acres and includes sub-tropical gardens. an impressive light show and a collection of theme park rides.
Salcombe is the most southerly seaside resort in Devon, located between Plymouth and Dartmouth. Originally a fishing port, the town, which overlooks the Kingsbridge Estuary, has become a popular yachting centre and is particularly popular with holiday-makers due, in part, to the region’s temperate climate. It has two sandy beaches and affords some inspiring views of the Devonshire coast.
Overbecks Museum is a major local attraction. This Edwardian house features an exotic 6 acre garden and a collection of artifacts including boats, ship-building tools and old photographs. Salcombe Castle is also of historical interest and is situated off North Sands beach. Dating back to Henry VIII, the ruined castle can be reached by foot at low tide.
The town’s seafaring history is also celebrated by the Salcombe Museum of Maritime and Local History. Through its annually changing exhibitions, the museum traces Salcombe’s early history of smugglers and fruit schooners right through to the 1940s and the town’s role in the D-Day landings. It features interactive displays and includes a large collection of items retrieved from local shipwrecks.
Water sports are popular in the region and there are a number of centres that offer a variety of activities. The South Sands Sailing Centre is one of the most well-known and offers yacht rental, kayaking and power-boat hire.
Sidmouth is an attractive seaside resort on the coast of Devon. Like its neighbours Budleigh Salterton and Seaton, it is considered to be the gateway to the World Heritage Jurassic Coast. Originally a small fishing village, Sidmouth developed into a popular holiday town in the 18th and 19th centuries. Thankfully, the town retains its Regency and Victorian buildings and offers a tranquil charm.
The understated, but impressive Sidmouth Museum displays a variety of fossils and geological objects collected from the nearby Jurassic Coast. There’s also a collection of paintings and photographs which chart the town’s transition from fishing village to holiday resort. Families and the young are well catered for with a young people’s area featuring quizzes, games and other activities.
Star gazers will enjoy the Norman Lockyer Observatory. Various events are arranged each year allowing visitors to view comets, meteors as well as man made objects in space. Visits can be arranged during public openings and include a presentation and tour of the telescopes and dome.
The Donkey Sanctuary is also popular and offers free entry. Visitors are allowed direct access with the donkeys in the sanctuary area and the visitor centre includes a gift shop and provides information about how donations benefit its four-legged inhabitants. Crealy Adventure Park is also close-by and includes a variety of high-adrenaline rides such as a log flume, pirate ship and water chute.
You can learn more about the major Devon visitor attractions at: https://www.visitdevon.co.uk
Thinking about renting a holiday home in the region? Then view our hand-picked collection of Devon Holiday Cottages and self catering properties.