With glorious beaches, spectacular scenery, quaint villages and heaps of attractions, it’s no wonder North Devon is one of the country’s top tourist destinations. Whether you are looking for a summer stay or a winter vacation, you will not be disappointed.
From surfing to sightseeing, walking, wine and dining, there’s so much to see and do. And of course, no visit to the region would be complete without a cream tea.
So if you’re thinking of holidaying in North Devon, here’s our expert guide to the best places to explore, to help you plan your visit. The only thing we cannot guarantee is the weather. But we think it’s beautiful all year round.
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North Devon beaches
One of North Devon’s biggest draws is its stunning coastline where you can enjoy watersports, rock pool or just soak up the rays (weather permitting). North Devon is also the first and only place in the UK to be classified as a World Surfing Reserve (WSR), joining Malibu and Santa Cruz.
The area’s outstanding beaches offer something for everyone. For families, award-winning Woolacombe is a firm favorite and is renowned for its cleanliness and facilities. This stretch of coast draws crowds in the summer, but with three miles of golden sand, there’s room to stretch out if you keep walking. At the opposite end of the beach is the beautiful, but slightly quieter beach of Putsborough Sands.
Nestled around the corner from Woolacombe is Barricane Beach, a charming cove tucked between the rocks. It is famous for the exotic cowries and other shells that are transported thousands of miles across the Atlantic from the Caribbean. But its most recent fame is the beloved beach cafe which serves snacks by day and authentic Sri Lankan curries in the evening. Bring a picnic blanket and enjoy it at sunset.
Further up the coast is the surfing mecca of Croyde, which boasts some of the best waves in the UK. It is the home of several surfing competitions and the venue for Oceanfest, a three-day surf and music festival that takes place every June.
Saunton Sands is another jewel in North Devon’s crown and has featured in numerous films and TV productions including Aquaman, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and Robbie Williams’ video for ‘Angels’. The three and a half mile sandy beach is easily accessible with excellent facilities and is backed by Braunton Burrows – one of the largest sand dune systems in the British Isles and an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Other North Devon beaches worth exploring include Westward Ho! which is popular with families, surfers and kite surfers, Rockham Bay at Morthoe – a secluded rocky sandy beach ideal for the rock pool, and Lee Bay – a beautifully serene spot between Woolacombe and Ilfracombe.
Ilfracombe is also home to the unusual Tunnel Beaches, which are accessed through a series of tunnels, hand carved in the 1820s. The sheltered sandy and shingle beaches are perfect for the rock pool and there is also a swimming pool victorian at tide. There is a £10 entry fee for a family of four to visit the beaches and dogs are not allowed.
Villages and towns to visit in North Devon
North Devon the “capital” town is Barnstaple. Here you will find a range of bars and restaurants serving high quality local cuisine. Don’t miss the historic satchel where you’ll find vendors selling everything from local artwork to handcrafted jewelry. For rainy days, there’s the cinema, Queens Theatre, recreation center and Outside In Rollerdrome – the largest indoor skating rink in the Southwest. Barnstaple also makes a great base for exploring the surrounding area with a good bus service and train service to Exeter.
Another town of interest is Ilfracombe, home to Damien Hirst’s ‘Verity’ – a remarkable bronze statue of a pregnant woman. You’ll also find arts and crafts galleries, independent shops and restaurants here. Further along the coast is Bideford, nicknamed the ‘little white town’ for its whitewashed houses.
North Devon is also dotted with an array of enchanting villages, including historic Clovelly. A trip here is like stepping back in time. The private village (paying visit) is entirely traffic-free and the cobbled streets are lined with old cottages, some of which are open to the public. The small streets meander to the port where you can enjoy a pint at the Red Lion while admiring the bay.
Appledore is another charming village that is full of charm and character. Perched on a hill just outside Bideford, it’s a kaleidoscope of pretty pastel cottages and narrow streets, lined with galleries, cafes and independent shops. It’s also the birthplace of Hocking’s ice cream (you can’t come to North Devon without trying one) and the Appledore Book Festival, which takes place in September and October.
From Appledore you can take the small ferry to the pretty village of Instow across the estuary. Here you can relax on the sheltered golden beach, stroll through the dunes or discover the delicatessens, cafes and restaurants.
For the ultimate North Devon getaway, Lundy Island offers a complete escape from the hustle and bustle of modern life. Located 12 miles offshore, the island is three and a half miles long and home to an abundance of plants, seabirds and wildlife including puffins and seals. Boats to Lundy leave from Bideford and Ilfracombe.
Exmoor National Park
Away from the beaches, Exmoor National Park offers some of the most beautiful scenery in North Devon and is the perfect place to put on your walking shoes. Whether you prefer a leisurely stroll or an invigorating hike, there are hundreds of routes to choose from. A popular spot is Tarr Steps, from where there is a two-mile circular walk along the River Barle. The Valley of the Rocks is another highlight and the scenery is one of the most spectacular you will ever see. Exmoor National Park was also Europe’s first Dark Sky Reserve and is home to some of the darkest skies in the country. On a clear night, the sky is simply dazzling.
A visit to Exmoor wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the quaint towns of Lynton and Lynmouth. Known as ‘England’s Little Switzerland’, Lynton is linked to its twin town of Lynmouth by the Cliff Railway – the highest and steepest fully water-powered Victorian railway in the world.
Other attractions and things to do in North Devon
North Devon is a great place to visit with kids. Here are some of the area’s top attractions for young and old.
The big sheep. Located just outside of Bideford, this family favorite features animals, rides, a large playground and an outdoor entertainment area.
The Milky Way. This theme park, near Clovelly, has rides for all ages and all weathers, from bumper cars to roller coasters.
Nordic falcon activity. If you’ve always dreamed of getting into ax throwing, this is the place to come. You’ll find it in Bishop’s Tawton and ax throwers must be 11 or older. For more information, visit Norsehawk.org
Quince honey farm. This working honey farm in South Molton makes for a great day out. You can see millions of bees up close and learn how the hive is formed and how the bees live and work, and there is also a playground and a restaurant. Book your tickets in line.
The ultimate adventure center. For adrenaline seekers, the Ultimate Adventure Center near Abbotsham offers a range of action-packed activities, from the ultimate assault course and erasable balls to high ropes and water sports. Check the website for more details.
Crystal Dartington. The only UK The remaining UK glass factory is based in Torrington, North Devon. Here you can see skilled glassmakers creating beautiful things from molten crystal.
RHS Rosemoor. For garden lovers, RHS Rosemoor is located just outside Torrington and there are also playgrounds to keep the little ones entertained.
The Tarka trail. The United Kingdom the longest continuous off-road cycle track runs 30 miles along a disused railway line between Braunton and Meeth. It’s almost completely flat, there are cafes along the way, and it’s totally free. What’s not to like?
With so much to see, do and enjoy in North Devon, your only problem will be trying to fit it all in. Which means you just have to come back another time.
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