Although Exeter is a relatively small city, it has an interesting history that visitors can explore and it has the moors and the coast on its doorstep. There are a number of websites that will give you information about what to do in Exeter, so this page is just to get you started!
In the City
Exeter boasts its own set of medieval passages – an ancient monument that cannot be found in any other British city. Dating back to the 14th century the passageways were built for the piping system that would bring fresh water into the city. Today visitors are permitted to explore them and to walk deep into the heart of the city.
The Castle of Exeter stands in the highest part of the city, within the north-east angle of the city walls. From the reddish colour of the volcanic rock on which it stood, it became known locally as Rougemont Castle. Only a few remains of the buildings are left although the lofty entrance gatehouse, with a circular arch, is still to be seen from Castle St and Rougemont Gardens. Visitors often spend time wandering between Rougemont and Northernhay Gardens examining the ruins and learning more about the history of the city.
The city council hosts a number of free walking tours around Exeter on a daily basis. These take place every day (except from Christmas Day and Boxing Day). The tours include different areas of the city or different aspects of interests (ghost tours, medieval treasures, etc). There are no need to book onto the tours, all you have to do is turn up and meet the host (in a red coat) at the specified place and time.
In the heart of the city, Exeter Phoenix Arts Centre presents a unique and exciting contemporary programme of dance, theatre, live art, music, spoken word, film and visual art. The centre has four exhibition spaces that are open to the public. A good cafe can also be found in the centre. Please see the website for details of location and listings.
Pilgrims and visitors have been making their way to Exeter Cathedral since medieval times. It is one of the most visited places in the west country. Built in the decorated gothic style, it has the longest uninterrupted medieval gothic vaulting in the world. Visitors are always welcomed to share in the beauty and unique atmosphere. The Cathedral stands in the middle of a large green that is central to life in Exeter. The doors of the Cathedral are open on a daily basis, with some special services laid on for visitors at certain times of the year.
Exeter is proud of its mix of old and new shops and its local and national stores. The Princesshay Centre has only recently been built and offers many of the national chains that can be found in larger British cities (including Reiss, Karen Millen, LK Bennett and Molton Brown). The high street also houses a number of well-known brands, including House of Fraser, Boots and Marks and Spencers. In smaller side streets, like Gandy Street, you will find more of the local specialist shops selling food and artwork. All in all, there is a great deal of shopping that can be done in Exeter!
The origins of clotted cream is hotly debated in the West Country – is it from Devon or Cornwall? One thing that is certain, however, is that cream teas (scones served with clotted cream, jam and a cup of tea) are very popular in Exeter. A number of the local cafes and restaurants will serve you a cream tea in the afternoon, with some even serving a full afternoon tea complete with mini sandwiches and cakes.
Exeter is on the edge of the moors and Dartmoor is a famous place for tourists to visit. Many visitors like to make the journey to Widecombe village and to have an afternoon tea amongst the wandering wild ponies. Others like to climb to the top of tors like Haytor and Hound tor. Dartmoor is easily reached by road and there are some public transport options in the spring and summer months.
Powderham Castle is located in a unique, picturesque setting just outside Exeter, beside the Exe estuary. Six hundred years of history are contained within the walls of one of England’s oldest family homes. Built in 1391 by Sir Philip Courtenay it has remained in the same family to this day and is currently home to the 18th Earl & Countess of Devon. For locals and visitors to Devon it is a ‘must see’. Regular guided tours offer a fascinating walk through the Castle’s majestic rooms, where you can admire the most amazing architecture, hear some remarkable stories and learn about the family history. Outside there is acres of space to discover and explore too.
Although this is a working farm, visitors do not generally see much of ‘farm life’ on visits. Instead, Darts Farm is a small shopping village selling locally grown produce and homewares. Visitors are often most attracted by the restaurant, which serves fantastic home-cooked meals using the local produce (from stick sausage sandwiches to lobster). Darts farm is located just on the edge of Topsham (a small village by the estuary). The farm is easiest to access by car, although there is a local bus service that stops nearby.
Killerton House, built in 1778–9, brings to life generations of the Aclands, one of Devon’s oldest families. ‘Dressing up, dressing down’, this year’s historic fashion exhibition, explores the numerous changes of dress required daily. The gem of Killerton, beautiful year round, is the garden created by John Veitch – with rhododendrons, magnolias and rare trees surrounded by rolling Devon countryside.
Exeter is fortunate to be surrounded by the coast. Visitors can reach a local beach in less than half an hour. The most local beaches include Exmouth (a sandy beach which is just short train ride from Exeter Central Station) and Dawlish (a pebbly beach that can also be reached by trains – usually the mainline services for Cornwall from Exeter St Davids Station). There are, however, several more beaches in the near vicinity.
Exeter is approximately an hour away from Plymouth (by road or rail) and just slightly further from Cornwall. Many visitors to Exeter also wish to visit Plymouth to see this historic maritime city, to visit the aquarium or to go to Drakes Circus (a newly built shopping centre). A number of visitors also wish to travel further down into Cornwall – perhaps to Truro (the largest shopping centre in Cornwall), Penzance (to be closer to Lands End or to travel to the Scilly isles) or to Padstow (a beautiful fishing village also known for Rick Stein’s fish restaurants).