Steeped in history, yet with a modern edge that sets it apart from some of its neighbouring towns, Barnstaple is a must-visit during a holiday to Devon.
You’ll find stylish bars, great restaurants and big-name retailers on this high street, along with some wonderful independent shops and a bustling Pannier Market, all sites that combine to give the town a fantastic unique energy.
Widely thought of as the “capital” of North Devon, the historic market town sits central to the popular region, with fantastic transport links connecting it to the rest of the county - and the rest of the country.
Our local’s guide will you give you an insider’s glance at the town, showcasing some hotspots that you might not have read about on TripAdvisor...
About the town:
Barnstaple is a thriving market town with a traditional Pannier Market at its heart that often, sometimes daily, plays host to events.
There’s much to see and do here. Regular music and live bands, occasional shows by some of the world’s best stand-up comedians, spectacular walking and cycling routes that lead out to countryside and coast, and a collection of top food and drink establishments all combine to make it a contemporary and relevant destination.
Trains and bus services run from the town, the former connects with the vibrant cathedral city of Exeter, while the latter connects to the entire country, with local, regional and national busses venturing out from the central bus station.
Uncover a fascinating history, including buildings dating back to the 10th century, and a busy, modern town centre, which seems to be growing by the day. This fusion of old and new, traditional and contemporary, gives Barnstaple a fascinating edge - and one which begs to be explored...
If there’s one reason to visit Barnstaple, it’s to enjoy a bite to eat, a tipple… or both!
First things first, let’s talk about the restaurants. With everything from Asian cuisine to excellent pub grub, you’ll find something to cure your hunger pangs. We recommend a visit to The Custom House on The Strand, where you can build your own burger, choose from their extensive menu or take on one of their monstrously tasty food challenges.
If you’ve got the taste for something spicy, head to Everest Gurkha Chef, an authentic Nepalese eatery tucked away on Maiden Street. You’ll have to book for here though, as the restaurant only fits a small number at any one time - but it’s well worth it! If you’d rather an extensive menu covering a range of dishes, 62 The Bank is your best shot. The menu covers everything from local steaks to Mexican fajitas via French-style moules mariniere, along with a choice of vegan and vegetarian dishes.
If you’re after something to drink, there is a range of excellent pubs and bars offering everything from extravagant cocktails to local ales, ciders and beers. Lilico’s, also an excellent tapas bar found on the square, makes a great espresso martini as well as selling some top local beers such as Sulis, an English lager created by Bath Ales.
Claytons, a cosy lounge bar with exposed brickwork, has a top choice of cocktails and offers half price Prosecco and sharing boards every Thursday. If it’s more of a pub feel you’re after, there are plenty to choose from: The Bull and Bear is full of superhero memorabilia and TVs to watch sports; The Tavern is the go-to for a Saturday night boogie; while The Ebberley Arms often plays host to some of the best local musical talent.
The shops and cafes:
Although full of fantastic high street names and with several big shopping developments in the works, it’s the town’s independent retailers and boutique shops which really make the shopping experience memorable.
Head down Butchers Row, just off the high street, and you’ll be surrounded by tantalising scents from the likes of Block, The East and West Bakery, the Potato Station, South West Cheese and The Cupcakery. In the town itself, visit the likes of Youings, Just Trio, Donna Flower Vintage, Beatsworkin Coffee n Skate shop, and Bazaar, opposite which you’ll find Driftwood Cafe, maker of the town’s best flat white.
On the theme of coffee shops and cafes, you’ll find plenty. Tea on the Taw, right on the riverside, makes some jaw-dropping sandwiches, The Corner Cafe makes an awesome fry up, and Boston Tea Party has an incredible selection of cakes, including vegan options.
If it really is big name retailers you’re after, there are plenty, including: Next, River Island, Sports Direct, Joules, Boots, M&S, New Look and Primark.
As well as the Museum, there is a great range of attractions for friends, families and couples to enjoy.
Looking for something active? Visit Air Extreme, a trampoline park on the edge of town in Roundswell; try the escape rooms at Escape Down the Rabbit Hole, an escape room/cafe hybrid inspired by popular culture; get your petrolhead fix at North Devon Karting; enjoy a spot of bowling at Let’s Go; or take the kids to North Devon’s largest soft play centre, Funderzone - perfect for littl’uns. There’s also a selection of parks to enjoy, including Rock Park and Pilton Park, both of which have some fun activities and apparatus to enjoy.
Those wanting to enjoy a spot of culture will really enjoy a visit to the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon or the White Moose art gallery, while Broomhill Sculpture Gardens on the outskirts of town, is chock-a-block full of brilliant artwork and fascinating sculptures.
The town’s cinema is always showing the current hit films and blockbusters, while Queen’s Theatre plays host to a range of excellent shows including top tribute shows, local productions, Christmas pantomimes and stand-up comedians like Alan Carr, Jimmy Carr and Dawn French.
With so much to see and do in Barnstaple, we’d recommend staying somewhere where you can make a base, while still allowing yourself to get out and about to explore the beauties nearby. A cosy holiday cottage allows just this, with no time or dining constraints allowing full flexibility over your time in this fantastic town.
Take a look at our range of Barnstaple holiday cottages to discover the attractive properties we have in and around the town, or venture over to our page dedicated to holiday cottages in North Devon for a full list of accommodation in the region.
Take a trip along the figure-of-eight Tarka Trail in any of four directions: walk or cycle towards the surf culture and beaches of Braunton, Croyde and Woolacombe before taking in the craggy cliffs and undulating landscapes of Exmoor, Lynton and Lynmouth and returning to Barnstaple; or head towards the fellow market town of Bideford and its cafe culture, on to quaint Torrington and Mid Devon, skirting the edge of Dartmoor before returning back via Eggesford.
Of course, you (probably!) won’t be able to take in all of that route, so we’d recommend a walking or cycle venture either towards Braunton, stopping off at the Braunton Inn for a bite to eat, or towards Bideford, enjoying a pitstop at the Fremington Quay Cafe.
Officially the oldest borough in England, this ancient town was granted its charter in 930 AD by King Aethelstan, the grandson of Alfred the Great, and has historically been a prosperous town - at one time a major UK port, particularly important for American trade.
In the middle of town, next to the popular library, you’ll find the oldest surviving part; a Norman mound and remnants of the original Norman castle wall. Close to here, on The Strand, you’ll find the ornate Grade I listed Queen Anne’s Walk and the 13th century Long Bridge, next to which is the Museum of North Devon, home to an abundance of histories and facts.
Discover this market town that is such a hub for the spectacular region of North Devon by visiting yourself. Take a look at the excellent holiday options we have on offer in Barnstaple or find out more about beautiful North Devon here.