Day Trip: Exeter
A fine Norman cathedral, pretty Georgian streets, a fabulous street food market and the West Country’s best farm shop makes Exeter an interesting day trip. Here’s our pick of the best things to do in and around Exeter.
Magnificent in warm, honey-coloured stone, Exeter's cathedral is one of Devon’s most impressive ecclesiastical sights. Dating largely from the 12th and 13th centuries, the west front is framed by extraordinary medieval statuary, while inside the ceiling soars upwards to the longest span of unbroken Gothic vaulting in the world, dotted with ornate ceiling bosses in gilt and vibrant colours.
A fixture on the city's cultural scene since Victorian times, this hulking red-brick museum recently received a £24 million revamp. It's a treasure trove of rambling rooms, filled with glass cases of curiosities and archaeological finds – from samurai armour, African masks and Egyptian mummies in the World Cultures galleries to a truly amazing echinoderm collection of starfish and sea urchins amassed by the inveterate Victorian collector Walter Percy Sladen. Exeter's own history also figures strongly.
Prepare to crouch down, don a hard hat and possibly get spooked in what is the only publicly accessible system of its kind in England. These medieval vaulted passages were built to house pipes bringing fresh water to the city. Guides lead you on a scramble through the network, relating tales of ghosts, escape routes and cholera. The last tour is an hour before closing; they're popular – book ahead.
On fine sunny days the people of Exeter head to the quay. Cobbled paths lead between former warehouses that have been converted into antique shops, quirky stores, craft workshops, restaurants and pubs (popular spots for al fresco drinks and people-watching).
Take a guided tour
Our Guided Tours page has details on Exeter city tours.
Real Food Store
Boxes and bags full of field-fresh veg, racks of fragrant bread, ranks of local cheeses and piles of cured meat and fish. Some 70% of the goods in this community-run cafe-cum-store are from Devon, and the other 30% is from the wider southwest.
The estuary-side town of Topsham is a delight: its narrow lanes wind towards the harbour, which is ringed with restaurants, pubs and antique shops. Other attractions include an appealing run of 18th-century Dutch-style gabled houses, a long riverside strand and a huge antiques market on the quayside.
Drink in a traditional ale house
One of England’s last traditional ale houses, little has changed at The Bridge Inn for centuries: faded bunting from George V’s 1911 coronation still hangs in the tiny bar. This ‘museum-with-beer’ is a must for ale connoisseurs.
Excellent news: one of Exeter's hippest little bakeries has now added half-a-dozen tables, meaning there's even more room to sample superb flat whites, macchiato and inventive cakes – the lemon, polenta and pistachio is a hit.
Stock up at a farm shop
Described as being ‘Selfridges’ food hall in the middle of a farm’, Darts Farm has done so much to promote regional produce it's something of a legend in the south-west. Come here for your shop, a three-course meal or just a takeaway. A favourite is the Fish Shed, a restaurant, fishmonger and take-out place rolled into one: the fish will have been caught that day.
See how the other half live
One of the oldest family seats in Devon, Powderham Castle, set in its own deer park, belongs to the Earl of Devon. Added to and altered repeatedly over its six hundred year history, tours take in the medieval core, neo-classical areas and Victorian kitchen.
Have lunch at the River Exe café
Our favourite alternative-eats venue, at least on a sunny day, is the River Exe Café a floating shed-cum-pontoon moored off Exmouth. Serving seafood dropped off by passing fishing boats, the sea-to-plate interval can be as little as five minutes. Get there on the new Topsham to Exmouth cycle path, then catch a water taxi to the café. Closed winter. Booking essential.
Go grazing on Magdalen Road
Magdalen Road is Exeter's foodie enclave. Along one short stretch of tarmac, you will find a fishmonger (remember them?), wine shop, the butchery outlet for award-winning Devon farm Piper's, the old school Village Bakery, as well as Bon Goût (45 Magdalen Road, 01392 435521, bongoutdeli.co.uk) and Belgreen (25 Magdalen Road, 01392 271190, belgreen.co.uk), a couple of interesting budget eating options.