There’s a list of places where you can holiday in Devon. We can go through some of them here. To make the most of your time in Devon, you need to find a location that’s central to the county, then you can travel in a number of directions and get a bit of everything.
When most people go on holiday they tend to go to a location and remain local. Find somewhere in Devon that’s equidistant to the main attractions. If you manage to do this, you will find that you won’t need to travel far to find something different to fill each of your Devon holidays.
What is there to do in Devon?
Once you’ve settled on a place to stay, you will be ready to explore and appreciate the variety of locations that will bring you some of the delights of Devon.
Let’s start with places to visit in central or mid Devon.
Tiverton is central enough in Devon to make it a place worth staying. From here, you are in relatively easy reach of Devon’s secrets. For example, did you know that Devon has a canal? This is the Grand Wester Canal. Stay at Tiverton during your Devon holidays and take the chance to walk along the canal path or, when you’ve had enough of walking, you can climb aboard the horse-drawn barge.
Its origins of the Grand Western Canal began around 1796 when the plan was to create a link between the Bristol Channel and the English Channel to remove the need to navigate around Lands End.
Although the section between Tiverton and Lowdwells, on the Devon and Somerset border, was opened in 1814, the work to build the complete link was never finished. The rapid development and appreciation of railway transport made canals redundant.
Tiverton has a museum. If or when, you get the chance to spend a holiday in Devon, you must make the effort to visit Tiverton museum. Devon is, historically, an agricultural region and there are many items on display to show this. There is also an extensive display of the textile industry for which Tiverton has become famous.
The museum traces the history of the Heathcote-Amory family who moved their weaving operations to Devon from Nottingham in 1816. They made the move to escape a workforce that smashed up the modernised weaving mills. It was John Heathcote who was credited with designing the mechanised lace-making machinery that caused the unrest among the work-force.
Heathcotes of Tiverton focused on producing some of the finest quality weave in the world including fine-lace and, in recent times, Kevlar, one of the strongest man-made materials currently in production.
In 1869 the foundations were laid for, what was to become, the stately home of the Heathcote-Amorys, Knightshayes Court. It was Sir John Heathcote-Amory the grandson of John Heathcote-Amory, who oversaw the building of the Knightshayes house.
The whole thing nearly didn’t happen. It would appear that there were arguments, about the style and design of the build, between Sir John and the appointed designer William Burgess. Burgess was an eccentric that didn’t fit with the Heathcote-Amory ideals. He was told to leave when the build was far from complete but not before having injected his eccentricity that resulted in, what many today believe to be, a Victorian Gothic masterpiece.
Another designer, John Diblee Grace, was appointed but it wasn’t long before he, too, found himself at odds with the demands of the Heathcote-Amory family. There are many examples of Grace’s work having been covered over to be kept out of view as a result of the Heathcoat-Amorys’ disapproval. The National Trust now manages the Knightshayes Estate and much of what was covered is now open for all to see.
Tiverton has a couple of castles
Both castles were given a rough time during the English civil war but there’s enough of them left for you to come and see.
Tiverton Castle can be found in Tiverton town. It was built in the early 1100s with further additions made, to enlarge it, through the 13th and 14th Centuries. In the 17th Century it was modified to become a country residence but it’s open to the public, pending pandemics. Find out more about Tiverton Castle for when you spend your next holiday in Devon.
The other castle is Bickleigh Castle, located on the River Exe, about 3 to 4 miles South of Tiverton. Here, there was a fight during the English civil war, which left the castle largely destroyed but enough of the buildings were left standing to be able to call it a castle. It’s open to the public by appointment and is often used as a wedding venue.
The Mid Devon Show
Another reason to take a holiday in Devon is the annual Mid Devon Show. This is held every July and displays examples of what this part of Devon can offer.
Within reach of Exmoor National Park
Another advantage of taking a holiday in Devon is that, wherever you are in Devon, you won’t be too far away from the Exmoor National Park. The thing that needs mentioning about Exmoor is that it’s not all in Devon, it’s mainly in Somerset, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t go and visit it. You can sneak across the border from Devon to Somerset, almost without knowing it.
- Devon has its own moor
If you don’t want to venture out of Devon to go to the Exmoor National Park, now is the time to mention that Devon actually has its own moor. Dartmoor takes up a huge chunk of Devon. In fact it takes up about 368 square miles of Devon. So if you choose to take a holiday in Devon, Dartmoor will be difficult to miss.
There’s much more space on Dartmoor as well. It’s a vast area of Devon where you can literally get yourself lost, which is one of many reasons to make sure that you get to know the moor well enough before you go for any long walks. One of the hazards to look out for is boggy areas which can be quite dangerous.
If you venture to take a walk onto the moor, you will get a chance to appreciate some of the best countryside views that Devon has.
- North Devon
Devon is often referred to as a county made up of 4 regions. These are North Devon, South Devon, Mid Devon and East Devon. The main attractions of North Devon tend to be around the coastline and, depending on how adventurous you are, beyond the coastline.
There are beaches and coastal attractions along the North Devon coast. The three most popular features that most people head for are Woolacombe Bay, Saunton Sands and and Croyde Bay.
The beach at Woolacombe Bay is about 3 miles long facing the Atlantic Ocean. The expanse of sand seems to go on and on. If you take a walk out to the water’s edge when the tide is out, be ready to take your shoes and socks off if the tide is coming in because the water can move very quickly on the flat sands.
When you next holiday in Devon…
- You must visit Woolacombe Bay
Woolacombe Bay is one of the favourite destinations for surfers in the South West and is generally considered to be one of the best beaches in Europe for surfing.
There is the Woolacombe Bay Holiday Park. Here you can find accommodation ranging from surfing lodges to apartments and caravans that have been turned into holiday homes.
The beach at Woolacombe Bay retreats into sand dunes for you to explore among the tufts of marram grass and sea spurge.
On a clear day you can see Lundy Island to the west. At each end of Woolacombe Bay there are Cliffs where you can find a rare maritime Heathland.
Woolacombe Bay has a history of being used for training purposes during World War II. This is where part of the preparations were made for Operation Overlord, when the allied forces landed on the beaches of Normandy on 6th June 1944.
The vast expanse of the beach of Woolacombe bay is very similar to Omaha Beach, on the coast of Normandy. At the north end of the beach you will find a stone memorial that’s been dedicated to the Soldiers who didn’t return.
Then, there’s Saunton Sands
- Saunton Sands
Another destination to head for when you visit Devon, is Saunton Sands. This is another vast expanse of open sandy beach, very similar to that of Woolacombe Bay. To find Saunton Sands you need to head for the village of Braunton, East of Barnstaple.
The waves that come rolling onto Saunton Sands are very similar to the waves at Woolacombe Bay. Both are very popular with long-board surfers. However, there are hidden dangers for those who are less experienced, in the form of rip tides. It’s known to be dangerous for swimming and there is a long history of Coast Guard call-outs. There don’t appear to be any lifeguards patrolling the beach at Saunton Sands. This, then, is a beach that’s more suitable for taking a long walk to take in the fresh Atlantic air on a windy day.
Then, there’s Croyde Bay in North Devon
- Croyde Bay
Saunton Sands is South of Woolacombe Bay, along the North Devon coast, and in between these two sizeable beach expanses, you will find another of Devon’s sandy-beach secrets, Croyde Bay.
Croyde Bay is like a miniature Woolacombe Bay or Saunton Sands in that it’s a beach that runs back to land that’s made up of sand dunes. This beach appears to be more popular with swimmers and experienced surfers. As a surfing destination, Croyde Bay is yet another destination that’s rated as one of the best beaches for surfing in the world.
You will also find a very entertaining area of rock pools which can be found at both ends of the beach.
Find Ilfracombe on the North Devon coast
Then, there’s cosmopolitan Ilfracombe
We can’t look at North Devon without mentioning Ilfracombe. There isn’t much to boast about, at Ilfracombe, when it comes to beaches but there is just about everything else that you would expect at a seaside-town when you visit or stay at Ilfracombe. The fishing harbour indicates a long history of Ilfracombe being a busy port among the rugged cliffs, chiselled out by the North Atlantic waves.
You can do all the usual stuff, paddle boarding and coastal rafting, that most seaside resorts offer but there’s always a little bit more with Ilfracombe. There are caves that need exploring. This isn’t on the scale of the Cheddar Caves, which you may see if you stop off on your journey to Devon, but it’s worth taking a look.
Today, Ilfracombe is seen as a cosmopolitan seaside destination and targeted by many who take a holiday in Devon. Ilfracombe has a very impressive Promenade which, in favourable weather conditions, definitely presents a Mediterranean feel, especially when it’s lit up at night. There are all the usual cafes, restaurants, tea-rooms and gift-shops but Ilfracombe has a bonus in the shape of, what’s known as, the Landmark Theatre.
The Pavilion Theatre is a rebuild of a Victorian construction which was burned down during the 1980s.
The rebuild structure took the shape of a double conical design. Locals have, since it’s completion, enthusiastically named it as Madonna’s bra. So, there’s something else to look out for when you next visit Ilfracombe when you take a holiday in Devon.
From Ilfracombe you can, if you dare, take a trip to Lundy Island. This is something that I would recommend doing provided you make sure that the seas are calm before going out on the boat that’s provided. The boat they use sails from the North Devon coastline in two places. These are the Ilfracombe Harbour and Bideford Quay, near Barnstaple.
The distance from the North Devon coast to Lundy Island is approximately 20 miles and it takes about 2-hours to do the distance. The boat that they use is called the Oldenburg; it’s a German river boat that survived the war or one of the wars, I’m not sure which. As a river boat, some question whether it’s up to the job of going out to sea.
This is why it’s important to pick a calm day to travel on it. If you choose a day to travel to Lundy Island on this boat during rough weather, you will endure the horrendous experience that I had on my first and last journey on it.
However, should you make the journey and arrive at Lundy in one piece, you will find Lundy Island the most enchanting place. During the time between arriving and leaving, you will have a chance to visit the local pub and walk the three mile length of the island. If you’re lucky you may catch sight of the local population of puffins and see the odd seals bobbing around in the water.
Lundy Island is a massive lump of granite, the terrain of which is the same as that found on the North Devon coastline.
Find Lynton and Lynmouth
- Lynton and Lynmouth
Another spot that you may want to visit while on holiday in Devon is the village of Lynton and Lynmouth. To find this you need to head East along the coast from Ilfracombe.
Many people think that Lynton and Lynmouth is in Somerset and it’s generally considered to be part of Exmoor. Well, it doesn’t matter if part of Exmoor comes into Devon but Lynton and Lynmouth is definitely in Devon.
If, while in Devon, you find yourself crossing the border into Somerset to discover Exmoor, it’s quite likely that you will also find Lynton and Lynmouth. Approaching from high on Exmoor, you may find the descent into Lynmouth a little steep. Stick it in a low gear and don’t rely, too much, on your breaks.
Lynton and Lynmouth are referred to as a pair because they are very close together. In fact Lynton is right on top of Lynmouth, separated by 500 ft in height. The Victorians built a funicular railway that joins the two settlements. A cliff railway that operates to this day, it was constructed in 1888. It is a water powered railway system and is considered to be the highest and steepest cliff railway in the world and there are only two other examples of this to be found anywhere.
The South Hams of Devon
- The South Hams
Then we come to South Devon if you make your way South past or through the Dartmoor National Park you’re coming to an area that’s known as the South Hams. This is the part of Devon that pushes into the English Channel and is the southernmost part of Devon.
To the west you’ll find Plymouth to the east you will find Torquay. The South coast of Devon doesn’t have beaches similar to that of Woolacombe bay and Saunton Sands but what it doesn’t have in length it makes up for with quality, smaller beaches that have plenty of sand and a generally kinder climate.
When you’re in South Devon you must visit Dartmouth and find the Dartmouth steam railway. This is a heritage line that runs for nearly 7 miles and was part of the Great Western Railway. It will take you from Paignton to Kingswear in Devon. When you get to Kingswear you can climb aboard the Dartmouth passenger ferry that will take you across the River Dart to Dartmouth.
Look out for Burgh Island on the South Devon coast
- Burgh Island
Don’t forget to visit Burgh Island. You will find it at Bigbury-on-Sea near Kingsbridge in South Devon. You can get to Burgh Island at low tide but when the tide comes in, this is when things get interesting. You have to climb on board the resident sea-tractor. The water, from the incoming tide, is shallow enough for the tractor to transport passengers across to the island and back to the mainland.
Burgh Island has a hotel and a few other buildings including private dwellings and a well frequented pub.
If you want to get away from city life for a while, Devon will surely provide you with an escape. There’s the, largely, unspoilt quilted landscape, a wide range of beaches tucked away in secluded coves to the North and south of Devon and many exhibits of a bygone age that are unique to Devon.