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Top things to do in Exeter

Only got a couple of days to get to know a new city? Our Big Five City Guides can help. We break each destination down into culture, history, dining, shopping and relaxation must-sees and dos. Guest contributor Claire Toze checks in from Exeter — the gateway to Devon and Cornwall in the United Kingdom...

Founded by the Romans in AD 55, Exeter in England’s beautiful Southwest has a long and rich history, evident in its stunning architecture and heritage attractions.

Located in the heart of Devon, surrounded by rolling countryside and at the head of the River Exe estuary, it’s easy to see why the Romans chose the site for their most south-westerly fortified settlement in Britain.

Fast-forward to today and the city successfully manages to fuse culture and heritage with a fabulous dining scene.

Here’s a city guide to the top things to do in Exeter.

Things to do in Exeter
Things to do in Exeter: Cathedral Close. Image: Bigstock


As you’d expect from a city with a 2,000-year history, Exeter has much to show off and the city’s Royal Albert Memorial Museum is a good place to start. Housed in a beautiful Victorian building, the museum takes visitors on a voyage of discovery from the city’s pre-history to the present day.

Whatever your cultural taste, Exeter will have something to offer. Catch professional touring theatre productions at the Exeter Northcott, quirky underground performances at the Bike Shed Theatre, and large scale festivals at nearby Powderham Castle.

Things to do in Exeter
Things to do in Exeter. Image courtesy of Bike Shed Theatre

The city has a year round calendar of vibrant events with the Exeter Festival of South West Food and Drink taking over Northernhay Gardens and Exeter Castle in April, the Exeter Craft Festival in July, and a very atmospheric annual Christmas Market on Cathedral Green.


For historical things to do in Exeter, start at Exeter Cathedral, whose twin Norman towers dominate the city’s skyline. Cathedral Yard is dotted with cafes and restaurants in which to sit and admire the Cathedral’s impressive West Front. Then head inside to marvel at the longest stretch of unbroken gothic vaulting in the world.

Things to do in Exeter
Things to do in Exeter: Exeter Cathedral. Image courtesy of Visit Exeter

In medieval times the citizens of Exeter enjoyed access to fresh drinking water brought into the city through lead pipes from springs outside the city walls. A remarkable network of subterranean passages survives largely intact and can be visited on a guided tour. It’s not for the claustrophobic!

Exeter’s position on the River Exe led to great wealth in the 17th and 18th centuries, largely due to the woollen cloth trade. In 1680 the Custom House, a beautiful building renowned for its sweeping staircase and ornate plaster ceilings, was constructed on the city’s Quayside. Today it’s a visitor centre, bringing the history of the Quayside to life.

Things to do in Exeter
Things to do in Exeter: Custom House. Image: Tony Howell


Surrounded by lush farmland and close to many miles of glorious Devon coastline, Exeter’s top chefs create gastronomic delights from fresh, local ingredients. The choice of eateries is vast, putting the city firmly on the map as one of the foodie capitals of South West England.

A weekly farmers’ market sells field-fresh produce, while the street food market provides the opportunity for a quick lunch stop.

One of the most delicious things to do in Exeter is to enjoy a world-famous Devonshire cream tea of freshly baked scones, clotted cream and homemade jam. Try the quaint and very English Tea on the Green or ABode Exeter’s in-house restaurant where you can wash your cream tea down with a glass of sparkling English wine.

Top things to do in Exeter
Enjoy a traditional Devonshire cream tea in Exeter. Image: Bigstock

Many of Exeter’s pubs have been serving visitors and locals for hundreds of years. The Well House Tavern even has a skeleton in the cellar!

Smart wine bars are to be found hidden away in Exeter’s nooks and crannies, such as cobbled Gandy Street.


Exeter’s compact size makes it the perfect shopping destination and there’s a fantastic choice of shops within easy walking distance. Large department stores in the main shopping areas of High Street and Princesshay are complemented by independent, vintage and even downright quirky stores in the West Quarter.

Head to the Quayside to watch local craftspeople at work in historic bonded warehouses, and take the opportunity to buy a unique, handcrafted souvenir.


Just off Exeter’s High Street lie the gardens of Northernhay and Rougemont, providing an oasis of calm amidst the hustle and bustle of the city.

Head to the Quayside to watch the world go by from one of the waterside pubs or cafes, or hire a bike or canoe to explore the Exeter Canal. The south west’s largest climbing wall can also be found here at the Quay Climbing Centre.

Top things to do in Exeter
Top things to do in Exeter: Travel along the Exe Estuary by train.

Exeter is just ten miles from the coast. The train journey along the Exe Estuary to the coast is one of Britain’s most scenic rail journeys. In places, the train seems to float above the water!

You don’t have to go too far to reach the beautiful Devon countryside either, and the rugged landscapes of Dartmoor National Park are within easy reach.

Do you have any tips for top things to do in Exeter? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.

Additional images: Bigstock


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