South Devon has everything you could possibly need on a holiday, however you wish to spend it. Whether you're hoping for a romantic break with a significant other, a fun getaway with a group of friends or a fab summer holiday, you can't go wrong in this stunning part of the country. A spectacular World Heritage Coast, gorgeous countryside and important nature reserves, as well as a myriad of attractions to make any staycationer happy - this part of the South West is a great place to unwind and explore. Add to that the great food and fun festivals, pop a hearty cream tea on top and we think you'll agree that South Devon has it all.
We bring you some of our favourite things to do in South Devon, whether you're bringing the kids, looking for a piece of history or simply wanting to discover some breathtaking new spots to relax and recharge. Let's start with the smallest members of the family.
If you have little ones with you...
Where do we start? South Devon is home to so many fabulous days out. Historic houses and gardens, theme parks, zoos, water sports or just getting out and about on horseback or two wheels to see the sights. There's so much to do if you are looking to keep yourselves busy, especially important if you have children with you!
If you've got energetic offspring who seem to permanently have ants in their pants, take them to the River Dart Country Park in the Dartmoor National Park where they can get down and dirty on the assault courses, have fun in the adventure playgrounds and whizz along nail-biting zip wires - younger kids can take part on lower rope wires which are less intimidating for them. Tiny tots will love clambering aboard the pirate ship on the play lake, and you can hire canoes and kayaks to get out on the bigger boating lake if you like messing about in the water. Want to lie on the water in a giant bubble? Yes, we hear you cry! Then book in some water zorbing which has got to be the most surreal yet fun activity around.
There are also the fun rides at Woodlands Family Theme Park in Totnes if you are hoping for somewhere for energetic kids to run their batteries down. Ten adventure zones with white-knuckle rides such as the Trauma Tower and Vertigo will entertain the older ones, and for the smaller people, the Toddler's Village Zone, a zoo farm, and an indoor fun factory will keep them occupied for hours, meaning you can sit down for a 5-minute rest whatever the weather.
Discover the deepest tank in the UK, the Atlantic Ocean tank, at The National Marine Aquarium in the seaside town of Plymouth. Watch the sharks, rays, turtles and squidgy jellyfish swimming about and find out some interesting fishy facts as you go. Children with fluffier animals on their minds can instead head to Pennywell Farm where they can get up close to all sorts of animals, from bunnies and ducklings to cute little piglets. Tractor rides, a play barn with bouncy castle and piggy racing are also on offer.
There's nothing that says holiday in the UK than a ride on a shiny vintage locomotive. Jump aboard either of the two railway lines in Devon - The Dartmouth Steam Railway and The South Devon Railway - for a more tranquil way of spending an afternoon. The lovely thing about this activity is that it makes a great day out whatever the weather - gaze out at meadow-filled fields as the sun sets on late summer afternoons, playing I-Spy as you chug along, or curl up under a blanket, watching the rain pelt against the windows when our mercurial English weather lets you down - hot chocolate optional. Devon really is the most beautiful sight to behold from a vintage steam train, come rain or shine!
If you're coming for the festivals and events...
South Devon has a whole host of brilliant local events throughout the year. From beer and food festivals to music and literary events, you'll always find an interesting way to spend a few hours. Many events are summer based but if you're heading to South Devon at Christmas, you won't want to miss the array of festive Christmas markets and fairs, full of glittering gifts and sumptuous festive produce. We find, however, that simply walking the pretty village streets and harbours with their Christmas trees and glittering lights is a treat in itself.
South Devon is a well-known name on the music festival scene and every year hosts a mixed variety of events, from small indie gatherings to 3-day festivals. The Dartmouth Music Festival is one of the best with a friendly and vibrant vibe. For rock festivals, Lemonfest and Chagstock are the ones to head to, and if folk is your thing, you'll see many top names at Teignmouth Folk Festival and Sidmouth Folk Festival. Bringing the family? You'll want to book tickets for Glas-Denbury, the perfect day out for all ages. The Two Moors Festival rounds off the music season with a classical edge.
Foodies will feel right at home in South Devon. The Exeter Food and Drink Festival starts the season off with a bang and it continues throughout the year. Seafood lovers can experience the best local produce and learn how to prepare it at the Salcombe Crabfest, while those with a tipple on their minds can try out the plethora of gins at the Gin Festival Torquay or one of the summer beer festivals. Another huge one is the Dartmouth Food Festival, but don't discount the smaller events such as Taste of The Teign, which are just as big in spirit.
Fans of the River Cottage TV series and books and those who love Britain's favourite environmentally-friendly chef, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall should head over to the River Cottage Festival in Axminster where a concoction of fabulous food and cooking masterclasses are waiting for keen chefs and equally keen tasters.
Literary events such as the Way with Words Festival and the Budleigh Salterton Literary Festival bring interesting talks and readings to the county, where book and poetry lovers can listen to talks and readings by their favourite authors. Most of the festivals mentioned take place annually but do check beforehand to make sure your favourite event is returning.
If you've got history on your mind...
Much of the South Devon region is steeped in history, with historic towns, ancient monuments and churches all beckoning visitors to come along to discover the area's heritage. National Trust properties are an answer to rainy days with their fascinating collections, walled gardens and romantic gardens - and don't forget the hundreds of tors and acres of ancient woodland to explore.
If you fancy an outdoors day with a touch of history, then the wilderness of Lydford Gorge on Dartmoor is your best bet. The deepest gorge in the South West, children will be fascinated by the waterfalls and whirlpools as well as the murky deep pools and impressive ravines. After you've explored and felt some fresh air in your lungs, return to the outside play area and finish with some sticky cake and a steaming hot choc in the tearoom. Young children will need to be supervised closely in the gorge, so bear that in mind when you are working out your adult to children ratio.
A good bet on any holiday is a National Trust property. One of our favourites in Devon has to be Agatha Christie's former holiday home, Greenway, near Dartmouth. Maybe it's working out which of her characters came to a sticky end in the boathouse or wondering if any of the collector's items on display were used as inspiration for murder weapons - who knows? But what we can say is that it has a fascinating air about it. Roam the rooms, have a picnic in the pretty walled gardens and just generally enjoy this Georgian delight before going home to dig out your copy of Poirot.
You could also take a guided tour of Powderham Castle, just a few miles north of Dawlish Warren, for a taster of Devon history. One of England's oldest family homes, there's a pets' corner and play area in the Victorian walled garden if you've got little ones with you. A wooden fort with turrets will thrill those who want to be king and queen of their own castle and in the summer, bird of prey demos show you the best of owls, falcons and hawks.
If you want to go back further in time, check out the prehistoric settlements on brooding Dartmoor, where medieval and Bronze Age villages and ancient settlements will take you back in time. Take an afternoon walk up one of the hundreds of tors and if you've got a four-legged friend with you, grab their lead and show them the Templer Way. This 18-mile route winds its way along the line which used to take granite from the Haytor quarries right to the docks at Teignmouth via tramway and canal for export.
If you like the great outdoors...
With over 125 miles of unspoilt coast and acres of countryside at your fingertips, you'll love the variety of places to get out and about in South Devon. The largest and most famous is, of course, Dartmoor National Park which takes up a huge western chunk of the county and is a walker and explorer's dream.
To the west of the park you also have the Tamar Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and further down to the coast, the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. If you are visiting the east of the county, you'll have access to the delightful East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty which leads up into the Blackdown Hills AONB. All of these are made for long country walks - hikes and climbs for the serious walkers, muddy trails for those with children and dogs at foot, and coastal and beach strolls for those who like their walking with a sea view.
Cyclists can grab their helmets and ride along one of the waymarked routes and cycle paths all over the county. One of the best is Haldon Forest Park, which has 3,500 acres of woodland to explore. Head deep into the forest to have some good old-fashioned fun - build dens and climb trees, look for magical hidden fairy doors, and of course, finish off with a picnic packed with the best of Devon's produce. You don't even have to take the kids on this one!
Water babies should do as the locals do, and head to Salcombe, one of the area's most beautiful boating locations. Hire a motorboat or take an organised cruise if you want to fully relax and recharge. Cruises are hourly during the day and in the evenings, there's a two-hour cruise which stops at the Millbrook Inn in South Pool where you can take advantage of some great food and local ale before returning back to base. You really should make use of both sea and river while in Devon though, so if you're up for a bit of adventure, there's lots to choose from: kite buggying, coasteering, paddleboarding, kite surfing, sea kayaking - the list goes on.
Looking for somewhere to surf in Devon? Have a flick through our guide to the best places to surf in Devon.
If you've only come for the beaches...
Nobody comes to South Devon without at least an afternoon on one of the glorious beaches. Running from Seaton in the east along to the maritime town of Plymouth in the west, this stretch of coast is home to some of the country's most beautiful beaches, from long blankets of golden sands to secluded coves hidden under domineering rugged cliffs.
One of these, the sheltered cove of Blackpool Sands, is particularly beautiful. Nothing to do with towers and ballrooms, this southern gem has clear golden shingle leading out to calm turquoise waters, where you may see the odd paddle boarder or kayaker gracefully gliding by. You can hire a board or boat if you want to be the one being admired from the organic Venus Café and Bar on the beach - just make sure you practise first before coming into view of the hundreds of beach-goers who make this eco-friendly café their stop-off point.
The best family day out is probably at Bigbury-on-Sea where you'll find safe bathing and rock pooling adventures at low tide. Hop aboard the sea tractor that will take you across the tidal causeway to Burgh Island (or walk at low tide), home to an iconic art deco hotel that inspired two Agatha Christie novels.
It's not all about lying back on the warm sands of Devon's beaches, though we wouldn't blame you if that's all you wanted to do. There's also some great coastal walking, so why not tie in a morning at the beach with an afternoon coastal walk? You can easily access the South West Coast Path from most beaches; snaking its way around the coastline, it gives lucky visitors the opportunity to see some of Britain's most spectacular scenery up close.
Hound coming along for their hols too? Then you'll need this guide for the best dog-friendly beaches in Devon - it includes walkies all over the county, not just South Devon, but we're sure you'll have no complaints from your four-legged family member! If you're looking for a paw-friendly pad, have a look through our collection of dog-friendly cottages in South Devon which welcome all of your gang.
If you want to take a tour of the gorgeous towns and villages...
There's no shortage of beautiful locations to visit in South Devon. Delightfully quaint coastal and country villages, bustling historic market towns and vibrant cities - from quiet afternoons out to full-on day trips, we've got you covered.
You've probably heard of the English Riviera: 22 miles of Devon coastline, a warm climate, outstanding views and charming resorts dotted in between rocky coves and outstanding stretches of beach. No wonder that it's one of the top holiday destinations in the UK! Visit its four main locations - laid-back and tranquil Babbacombe, the busy fishing port of Brixham with its colourful houses and arty vibe, the traditional resort of Paignton with its pier and long sandy beaches, and the vibrant and cheerful Torquay.
But don't forget the delightful quaint country villages and market towns, set amongst rolling green Devon countryside and moor. Take a drive to Widecombe-in-the-Moor, seen from miles around due to its 120-ft tall 14th-century church tower nicknamed the 'Cathedral of the Moor'. Also, Princetown, the highest village in the moors, home for many years to the Kray Brothers who infamously spent their days in Dartmoor Prison. Perched on the edge of the moors is the charming and historic Bovey Tracey, known as the gateway to Dartmoor, and from here you have easy access to the moor itself, a landscape of intrigue and natural beauty.
And what about the traditional market towns on the water - the sailing haven of Salcombe, Teignmouth with its Victorian pier and lido, Dawlish with its famous black swans and stylish Sidmouth with its vivid red sandstone cliffs. Or if you fancy something a bit more glittery, the cities of Exeter and Plymouth offer a vibrant alternative to the peace and tranquillity of the smaller towns and villages - fascinating history, culture, shopping and dining will give you a day out to remember.
If you are looking for somewhere to rest your head...
Coast or country? Town or city? The choices are endless. The good news is that in South Devon, you are near to it all. Stay in a coastal cottage where you are steps away from the sands, then drive for a country or city day out. Or unwind in a cosy country cottage or elegant manor house and just throw your beach things in the car and head for a day at the coast. Wherever you stay, you'll be within driving distance to a wealth of possibilities.
For a beach stay, take your flip flops to the delightful 3 Avocet, The Cove - Brixham. Situated in one of Devon's most gorgeous fishing villages, this light and airy apartment not only has amazing beach views but also has use of a shared heated swimming pool during the summer months.
If a country retreat is more your thing, grab a significant other and head to Cuttrye Old Dairy, just 2 miles north of Dartmouth. Set in a rural location amidst rolling hills, this is the perfect escape to the country. Just a few miles from gorgeous beaches and clifftop walks, you have everything you need at this cute-as-a-button stone cottage with its charming suntrap courtyard.
For a greater selection of properties across the region, have a browse through our collection of cottages in South Devon.