Exeter is a lovely city which has the feeling of both town and country village about it. Within sight of the heights of Dartmoor National Park, it really is at the heart of the county offering culture, history, shopping, fine dining, city walks and excellent places to rent a holiday cottage to stay in.
Without feeling like other English cities, Exeter still has all the facilities of a major centre. Besides Plymouth, it is the largest urban centre west of Bristol and draws in Devonians from far and wide for its nightlife, fantastic shopping and places to hang out, eat and drink. Exeter is also a major hub for business and Devonshire industry but don’t let this put you off as Exeter is a very winning and attractive city.
About the city:
Exeter is very much like a garden with ancient buildings and striking modern edifices lining its streets and pathways; at its centre is an ornate Cathedral decorated with stone gargoyles, alcoves and columns. There is also the ruin of a castle, which is now surrounded by a park, Rougemont Gardens where the city workers break at lunch for a sandwich in the shade on a sunny day.
Right next door is the Grade II listed Northernhay Gardens, the oldest city park in England. At the southern end of the park, you will find the rear entrance of the RAMM, Exeter’s finest museum on Elizabeth Street, which has a wide international collection of clothing, geological products, fashion and engineering exhibits within its halls.
Head down from the centre of the city to the River Exe for good pubs, nightspots and circular walks; Exeter is surrounded by green space, so long-distance walkers can enjoy the Green Circle Walk. Outside of Bristol and Plymouth, the city has the highest concentration of shops, both High Street favourites and a refreshingly large swathe of successful independent shops. Cineastes rejoice because Exeter has over 20 screens in the city centre; including a busy two-screen art-house cinema. Live entertainment is high on the city’s list of priorities with several theatres and music venues drumming up a roaring trade. Being a university city, you can expect a thriving arts scene and a youthful vibe to the city centre.
Exeter is well-connected to the national road network, via the M5, and the rest of the country via one of three stations in the city. Exeter also has an airport serving both domestic and international terminals.
The best visitor attractions include the Norman era ruins of Rougemont Castle just off the High Street; the Devon County War Memorial (c 1922); designed by Edwin Lutyens and ‘The house that moved’ - a 14th century, three-level building that was relocated in its entirety to make way for a bypass. For a bit of fun, see if you fit down Parliament Street, one of the narrowest roads in the world.
For family fun, head down to the Butts cable ferry to get to the other side of the River Exe. If you love sports, Exeter is second to none in the South West for the choice of sporting facilities across the city which include squash, speedway, gyms, swimming pools, climbing walls and more.
Head into Dartmoor for excellent walking and trekking choices across the open expanses – full of wild animals and unspoilt views. Also, marvel at the strangeness of Dartmoor Prison, now a museum, that has stood for centuries, guarding some of England’s most infamous criminals.
We have a lovely collection of holiday properties around Exeter and the wider Mid Devon region. Exeter stands on the north-west of Dartmoor, where we have many superb holiday homes for you to stay at including farm cottages, mansions, suburban home-from-homes, and apartments with inspiring views. Exeter is an excellent city to base your holiday in or around – take a visit to our collection and plan your next break to Mid-Devon.
The food and drink:
Exeter is large enough to sustain branches of your favourite High Street restaurants, but why dine somewhere that you could quite easily visit when you are back home? Exeter is a university city, so you can expect an adventurous diversity of eateries to cater to all tastes and budgets. Head to Fore Street, around Gandy Street, or the upper end of the High Street for some of the more interesting eateries.
At the edge of the city centre is the renowned Double Locks that specialises in delicious English fare. Down by the River Exe, try out the similar pub, On the Waterfront, if you fancy some pleasant views with your evening meal. For something exotic try out the friendly Dee Yi, a Chinese restaurant that also offers takeaways. A favourite with locals, it’s been plying its trade for over a decade. For a quality Indian evening meal out or a simple takeaway Exeter’s top three line up like this: The Curry Leaf, The Ganges, and Goa Spice Premier - all of which have special offers for diners. For even more ideas, take a look at our Guide to the best Sunday lunches in Devon.
It was the Romans that put Exeter on the map as it was the most south-westerly fortified settlement in Britain for many hundreds of years. After the fall of the Romans, Exeter became a major religious centre throughout the Middle Ages through to the Reformation in the 16th century. Also known for being a 19th-century hub for wool merchants, the city went into decline around the time of the First World War. Ever since the Second World War, the city has been rejuvenated in cycles to make it a major visitor attraction, a shopping destination and the cultural heart of Devon.
There are many ancient ruins in various stages of ongoing care and restoration across the city centre including the gatehouse of Rougemont Castle, the Exe Bridge (c.1200) and the eye-catching Exeter Cathedral which dominates Cathedral Close. In recent years, Exeter has become loved for its leading University and the Princesshay Shopping Centre. Locals travel from all over the county for the shopping, the dining possibilities, the best nightlife and the best National Museum around, the RAMM.
The nearest beach is at Exmouth, down the River Exe, 11.5 miles away – a long drive down country roads but with rewarding views when you reach the seafront. Exmouth is a traditional English seaside resort and has a superb beach and promenade. The city itself has a pleasant river bank which is lined with some lively pubs, good restaurants, street artists and facilities for hiring bikes and small boats and kayaks to paddle up and down.
Down by the river, there is also an outdoor climbing wall, where you can hire kit and get some supervised lessons too. Other beaches that can be reached in under an hour are Budleigh Salterton and Dawlish which both have excellent views of the river estuary, prime bird watching habitat, and unspoilt sea vistas.
The number of shopping choices in Exeter dwarves just about anywhere else in the south-west, although Plymouth and Bristol could give the city a run for its money. Head to Fore Street which is the centre for independent shops; whether you like shopping for furniture, cool clothes, retro toys and computer games, records, guitars, fancy a light lunch or trip to the art-house cinema, shopping for army surplus, new toys, haberdashery, books, exotic tea leaves, second-hand everything, beans on toast, a new hair-do and a makeover, and pet grooming, you’re guaranteed to find something you won’t find it on your average High Street.
Exeter also has you covered if you like the High Street big hitters. Virtually all the most popular retail chains in the country have some representation in the city. Head over to Gandy Street for even more independent shops mixed in with some choice restaurants and night spots, and to see inspiration behind Diagon Alley, made famous in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter book series. Read our guide about other places in Exeter that inspired Harry Potter.
Stay in Exeter on your next holiday to Devon. We have some lovely accommodation throughout Exeter and the wider Mid Devon area.