Last updated on January 27, 2023 by Wandering our World
Exeter is a cozy riverside city in Devon, England. It is a university town and also one of England’s ancient cities, giving the city a fantastic mix of culture, scenery, and fun.
From medieval buildings to beautiful river ports, there are plenty of things to do in Exeter. As we know this city well, here are our recommendations for things to do in and around Exeter.
We’ve even split them up into sections to make things easier. Enjoy!
- Historic Landmarks & Museums
- Leisure Activities
- Adventure & Sports
- Where To Take Your Kids
- Grab A Bite
- Unique & Fun Things To Do In Exeter
Things To Do In Exeter: Historic Landmarks & Museums
1. Go To Exeter Cathedral
Formally named the Cathedral Church Saint Peter in Exeter, the Exeter Cathedral is more than 600 years old!
It has several notable points of interest such as an early set of misericords, an astronomical clock, and the longest uninterrupted medieval stone vaulted ceiling. The church is very large and majestic, truly an impressive piece of architecture you don’t want to miss.
2. Visit Royal Albert Memorial Museum
You know a museum is going to be good when it looks like a castle from the outside.
The Royal Albert Memorial Museum is filled with collections in various areas, including fine art, anthropology, archaeology, geology, botany, and zoology. The best thing is entry is FREE!
3. Explore Exeter’s Underground Passages
Exeter’s Underground Passages were built in medieval times to house water pipes. Nowadays, you can tour these one-of-a-kind passages for 25 minutes with tour guides that will tell you all about the passages’ history.
They also have an interpretation center filled with interactive displays such as a talking figure of a medieval man and artifacts.
4. Learn Film History
The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum boasts one of the largest collections of movie-related materials in the country.
Located on the campus of the University of Exeter, it still serves as an academic research facility. The museum showcases film history, especially the days of pre and early cinema. Overall a great place for film nerds.
5. View Rougemont Castle
Also called Exeter Castle, Rougemont Castle was built in 1068 following Exeter’s rebellion against William the Conqueror. It’s got stunning architecture and interestingly, it’s also the last place where witches were burned.
Don’t go around looking for an entrance to this big castle cause there is no interior access. Just walk the paths, enjoy the gardens, and view the exterior walls.
6. Or Visit Powderham Castle
But if you want to get into a castle, you should go to Powderham Castle instead! You can tour the inside of the castle while the guide tells you all about the castle’s history.
7. Geek Out About Trains
Another unique museum in Devon is the Devon Railway Centre just a 20-minute drive away from Exeter. See interactive model railway exhibitions that can be controlled with the push of a button, go on a train ride, and see miniature villages.
The railway center has many other attractions and is overall a fun and fascinating place to visit for kids and adults alike.
8. Go To A Historical Benedictine Priory
The UK is really filled with castles. Another castle-like building that you can visit in Exeter is St Nicholas Priory.
It was a monastery, but now it’s just functioning as a museum which gives an insight into Tudor life.
9. See The House That Moved
Do you think a house can be moved? No, not with balloons like in UP, but there is a house in Exeter that was literally moved from its original place to evade demolition.
The House That Moved was moved 220 feet using a combination of steel rails and winches, and you can see real footage of the move below! Even now you will see that the house has a strange shape: smaller at the bottom and bigger at the top.
10. Go To Exeter Guildhall
A landmark of both architectural and political interest, Exeter Guildhall has been the center of civic government for the last 600 years.
Guided tours with full explanations of the guildhall are free. However, the building is still actively used for council meetings and official receptions so it’s not always open to the public, so be sure to check their opening times.
11. Learn About Topsham’s Maritime History
Topsham Museum is a maritime museum in Topsham, one of the towns in the district of Exeter. In the museum, you will learn all about the town’s role as a trade port and shipbuilding center and see unique exhibits of river craft, local trades, and memorabilia of film star Vivien Leigh.
12. Visit A Quirky “Round” House
Not so much round as it is 16-sided, A La Ronde is an 18th-century National Trust house in Exmouth, near Exeter. There you can learn the history of the house, admire the interior, and shop for second-hand books.
13. Visit The First Custom House In England
Built to deal with the high trading activity on the quay, Exeter Custom House is the first custom house in the country.
It’s now a free-admission museum with displays and artifacts of the development of Exeter’s Quayside.
14. See The Remains Of One Of The Biggest Railway Failures
Back in the 1800s, engineers were testing out the most efficient propulsion systems for trains, one of them being the atmospheric propulsion system.
However, after only 2 years of operating, Brunel’s Atmospheric Railway proved to be plagued with problems and maintenance was too costly so the whole thing was scrapped. Now you can see the remains of one of the biggest railway failures in history at Starcross Atmospheric Pumping Station.
15. Explore The Grounds Of Killerton Estate
Another National Trust house around Exeter is Killerton House.
The house has an interesting history and the grounds have plenty of things you can do including the garden, the chapel, the Bear’s hut and ice house, and even a period fashion exhibition.
Things To Do In Exeter: Leisure Activities
16. Take A Stroll At Exeter Quayside & The Canal
Exeter Quayside or Exeter Quay is the port side of the city next to River Exe and the Exeter Ship Canal. Nowadays, it’s a popular tourist site because of its scenic view and a variety of things to do such as bars and cafes.
17. View The Quayside From A Canoe
One of the best things to do at Exeter Quay is to rent a canoe or kayak. It’s a great way to enjoy the view the city has to offer whilst indulging in a little workout session with the family.
18. Go On A River Cruise
Yet another way to explore not only Exeter Quay but the city is to go on the Exeter Canal Cruise. They will take you on a tour from Exeter Quay and sail along the oldest working shipping canal in Europe, through the Countess Wear Swing Bridge, to Exmouth Marina.
Have a drink and enjoy all the panoramic views. If you’re into bird spotting, there’s also a special Bird Watching Cruise.
19. Bike Through The Quayside
You can also rent a bike to explore the quayside on land without having to walk. This way you can actually stop by and enter places that pique your interest instead of just floating past them.
20. Walk Around St. Luke’s Campus
St. Luke’s Campus is part of the University of Exeter. Because of its beautiful stone buildings and green parks, it’s a great place to spend an afternoon just walking around admiring the campus.
21. Watch Ships Sail By At Exeter Ship Canal
From small canoes to large shipping boats, the Exeter Ship Canal is always bustling. Make a quick stop here to take a quick breather and just watch the world go by.
22. Walk Your Dog At Ludwell Valley Park
Ludwell Valley Park is a farmland area filled with birds and wildlife. It’s a great place for dog walking and seeing flowers and cherry orchards.
23. Have A Picnic At Northernhay Gardens
On the northern side of Rougemont Castle lies a stretch of gardens filled with various flowers and trees called Northernhay Garden.
It’s a great place to sit for a bit and just enjoy the beautiful greeneries and colorful flowers. The park also has several war memorial statues scattered around the area.
24. Discover Various Plant Species At Bicton Botanical Gardens
Spend a day touring the beautiful gardens of Bicton Botanical Gardens. They have everything from colorful flowers to rare plants to greenhouses. There’s also a play area for children.
Tired of walking? Hop on the train and ride around the park. The website recommends calling beforehand to check if the train is operating.
25. Feed Ducks & Swans In A Tranquil Park
Who says you have to drive far from the city to get a serene nature view? Situated next to River Exe, Belle Isle Park is a city park with a peaceful atmosphere.
The view here is immaculate, not to mention that the facility is completely free! Visitors can feed the ducks and swans in the river, walk their dogs, have a picnic, or just soak up the atmosphere.
26. Segway Through Through Haldon Forest
Just 15 minutes from Exeter, there are 3,500 acres of woodland where you can enjoy a quiet stroll. Haldon Forest Park is a great place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and refresh your mind.
If you don’t want to walk, you can always rent a segway. There are instructors who will teach you, so don’t worry if you’ve never ridden a segway before.
27. Go Star Gazing
If you want to stargaze in Exeter, you should also go to Holden Forest Park. Its away from the bright city lights which creates an incredibly dark sky during new moon periods. That makes it a great spot for star gazing. In early 2017 the park opened a self-led stargazing discovery trail.
28. Take A Walk Through Gandy Street
Around the corner past the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, you’ll find a small quaint cobblestone street called Gandy Street.
Lined with little shops and cafes, the street has a nostalgic romantic vibe. Another interesting point is that the street is allegedly the inspiration behind Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley since JK Rowling went to university in Exeter.
29. Do Winetasting & Tour Vineyards
At Pebblebed Vineyard, visitors can wander around a vast vineyard, taste some wine, hear all about the owners’ passion, and you might even get to harvest some grapes for wine. Past visitors applaud the accommodating and knowledgeable owners and staff.
30. Go Bird Watching
Spot migrating wetland birds in the areas of River Exe Estuary. There are three RSPB nature reserves on the estuary, namely Exminster and Powderham Marshes, Matford Marsh, and Bowling Green Marsh. Some of the species often seen in the area are Brent Goose, Cetti’s Warbler, Lapwing, and Little Egret.
31. Explore Dartmoor National Park
Dartmoor National Park is a vast moorland to the west of Exeter.
Covering 954 km2 of land, there are countless things you can do in the national park, including finding wildlife in the forest, finding archaeological sites, and even wild camping.
32. See The Waterfall Voted “The Most Beautiful Place In Devon”
In the Dartmoor National Park complex, there’s a waterfall named Becky Falls and it has been voted the most beautiful place in Devon. The 70ft high waterfall sits in a stunning boulder-strewn valley.
33. Take The First Train Out To The Beach
A favorite activity for Exeter students is to hop on the train and head south to Exmouth Beach. It’s only about half an hour away by train and the beach is gorgeous with soft golden sand.
Another popular beach around Exeter – that’s not as easy to access – is Beer Beach. Get a railcard to get a third off the fare price.
Things To Do In Exeter: Adventure & Sports
34. Join The Weekly 5K Run
If you’re a runner, go join the Saturday Exeter Riverside Park Run. It starts at 9 am at Exeter Quay & River Valley Park and it’s a great way to challenge yourself to a 5km timed run. It’s also a great place to meet new people.
35. Cycle The Exe Estuary Trail
View the nearby coastline from the Exe Estuary Trail. The trail goes from Dawlish to Exeter to Exmouth and is a very popular bicycle ride place.
36. Go Surfing
Devon is known for its surfing scene. One of the nearest beaches from Exeter is Dawlish Town Beach just about half an hour’s drive away. But the waves might not always be good, it’s the best during winter.
If you don’t mind driving an hour or more, the most popular surfing beaches in Devon are Croyde Bay, Bantham Beach, and Woolacombe Beach.
37. Do Some Water Sports
At Exeter’s canal and quayside, Haven Banks Outdoor Education Centre offers countless water sports. The activities range from paddle boards and kayaking to raft building. Talk about a great way to build teamwork with your family or friends!
38. Cliff Jump At Spitchwick
Spitchwick (also called Deeper Marsh/Spitchwick Common) is an area in Dartmoor National Park. It’s a beautiful natural green reserve comprised of trees surrounding the River Dart.
The area is very popular amongst tourists and students – and you will see people flinging themselves off of cliffs into the river. It’s such a great way to refresh both your mind and body. If you try cliff jumping be careful and ask locals for advice.
39. Go Mountain Biking At Haldon Forest
Pedal your bike while looking at the scenic view of the city and the surrounding countryside. Don’t worry if you’re not a pro because the mountain biking trails at Haldon Forest Park are beginner-friendly.
They also have special options for riders with reduced fitness or mobility, including electrically assisted bikes. All cycle hire is heavily discounted for those over 55 too.
40. Try Rowing A Dragon Boat
You might have tried canoeing or kayaking, but have you ever tried paddling a dragon boat with 6-10 other people?
Exe Calibre is a friendly Dragon Boat Club, they train weekly on Exeter Ship Canal and compete in races around the UK. You can hire a dragon boat for your group or try paddling, the club members will help you get familiar with the boat.
41. Golf At Exeter Golf And Country Club
For a more lowkey sports activity, go to the Exeter Golf and Country Club. It is Devon’s premier leisure club for golf, gym, tennis, squash, and swimming.
42. Have A Bowling Match
Another great place to get active is the bowling alley called Tenpin Exeter.
The place is lit – literally neon-lit – making it a fun hangout spot with friends. Other than bowling, they also have pool tables, a sports bar, and a cafe.
Things To Do In Exeter: Where To Take Your Kids
43. Come To The Perfect Park For Kids
If you drive 14 miles to the northeast of Exeter, you’ll find an animal park called Wildwood Escot at Ottery Saint Mary.
There you will meet wolves, boars, lynx, red squirrels, a family of otters, and many other animals. But we say this park is perfect for kids because it has everything.
Aside from meeting animals, there are plenty of other attractions here such as outdoor play and indoor soft play, traversing walls, a maze, a 40-meter zip line, and a drop slide.
44. Spend The Day At Crealy Theme Park
Go to St Mary, just about 15 minutes away from the heart of Exeter and experience Crealy Theme Park’s 60+ amusement rides. It’s been voted as the best day out in Devon for eight years running.
45. Cool Off At A Waterpark
If you’re in need of a refresh, go to Finlake Falls Swimming Pool & Waterpark. They have big pools for swimming both indoors and outdoors and also fun attractions like long water slides (flumes) and water walking balls.
46. Go To A Beautiful Tree Park With Big Paddle Pools
For free water play, take your kids to the paddle pools at Heavitree Pleasure Ground. The park combines a wide range of leisure facilities with horticultural heritage.
With facilities for picnicking, skateboarding, basketball, BMX, and tennis, Heavitree Pleasure Ground is the ultimate pleasure ground for a family day out.
47. Take Your Kids To Pet Donkeys For Free
Even though it’s not in Exeter, one of the most popular attractions for people visiting Exeter is the Donkey Sanctuary. Just about a 40-minute drive from Exeter, you can come to this sanctuary and pet the donkeys. It’s a very popular family outing because the entrance is free.
48. Bounce Away At A Trampoline Park
There’s an iBounce trampoline park down at 33 Marsh Green Rd W. Take your kids to this trampoline park and let them jump until they’re out of energy. It’s also got a foam pit and dodgeball activity.
49. Engage In A Friendly Competition Of Paintball
Have a nice day out shooting balls of paint at Exeter Paintball. It’s an outdoor arena surrounded by forests and the terrain is really varied.
50. Or A Game Of Laser Tag
Another choice is to play a competitive game of laser tag at Exeter Laser Tag. The place uses the latest art digital laser guns with themes using sound effects and smoke screens. It’s extremely fun and safe, available for anyone older than 6 of age.
51. Try Indoor Rock Climbing
Get your kids active by taking them to Clip n Climb Exeter or Quay Climbing Centre. Other than rock climbing, the place has various climbing activities that make the place the ultimate vertical playground.
52. Take A Horse Riding Lesson
Oakland’s Riding School provides horse riding lessons for both kids and adults. The place also has ponies.
53. Befriend Animals At Pennywell Farm
If you’re in Exeter and you have a car, take a trip to Pennywell Farm in Buckfastleigh. It’s only about 40 minutes away from Exeter and you can spend hours feeding and petting adorable animals such as piglets, baby goats, and ferrets.
This is definitely one of the cutest things to do in Exeter!
54. Meet Otters And Butterflies
On the way back to Exeter just 2 miles from Pennywell Farm, make a stop at Buckfast Butterfly Farm and Dartmoor Otter Sanctuary.
Have a once in a lifetime experience seeing adorable otters in their habitat. The butterfly enclosure is filled with various butterflies and you can see cocoons lined up. There are also other interesting animals including iguanas.
55. Feel Like A Giant In A Miniature Village
Babbacombe Model Village is a miniature village and railway located in Torquay, 22 miles to the south of Exeter. All the miniatures here are very well-crafted and insanely detailed, with sprinkles of humor. It’s a very great place to take the family.
56. Spend A Day At Paignton Zoo
Where else should you go when you want to see animals? Paignton Zoo is located 25 miles to the south of Exeter near Dartmouth.
See all kinds of animals from giraffes and zebras to peacocks and gorillas. There are so many things to see here so you can definitely spend a whole day at this zoo.
Things To Do In Exeter: Grab A Bite
57. Brunch At A Popular Vegan Restaurant
Great interior, great atmosphere, and healthy food, what more could you possibly need? Have a perfect plant-based brunch at Sacred Grounds. A bonus is the restaurant is pet friendly.
58. Have A Coffee At Exeter’s First Roastery
EXE Coffee Roasters has been a fixture of the city for many years. The baristas here know how to make good quality coffee and the location is very strategic at the heart of Exeter.
59. Try Going To A Floating Cafe
When it comes to a unique experience, there’s nothing like riding a water taxi just to get coffee. At River Exe Cafe, you can have a cup of coffee while floating on River Exe. If you want to try it out, go to their website to book a table.
60. Get Dessert At A Lovely Pink Cafe
From cake and bread to quiche and pastel de nata, Sara’s Petite Cuisine has it all.
You would think that this little patisserie’s pretty exterior and interior are what makes them popular, but everything on their menu is delicious and the staff are extremely attentive and friendly!
Visiting is definitely one of the tastiest things to do in Exeter!
61. Eat At A Locals’ Favorite Italian Restaurant
Located in the heart of the city between Exeter Cathedral and Princesshay, Sabatini is a trendy bistro that serves authentic Italian food. It’s popular amongst locals with amazing food, a nice ambiance, and great service.
62. Have Afternoon Tea At The Glorious Art House
True to its name, the Glorious Art House is gloriously vibrant. Have some tea and pastry while enjoying the cafe’s artsy interior which was inspired by the colors and patterns of Mexico.
You can also find fun exhibitions and workshops here at times, and even a weekly children’s sing-along, so the place is always vibrant.
63. Grab Lunch At A Restaurant Overlooking The Quayside
Famous for their pizza menu, On The Waterfront is a quay-themed restaurant. The indoor has a cozy old dock warehouse interior, while the outdoor is perfect for dining with a view of the quay.
64. Try Out HubBox
Hub Box is a small local chain restaurant with 9 restaurants across the country. It’s just a 2-minute walk from Exeter Cathedral and is a popular spot to grab some burgers and milkshakes and other classic fast food dishes. They also have gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan options.
65. Have A Caribbean Dining Experience
Turtle Bay is a Caribbean restaurant and bar serving bottomless brunch. Reggae is always playing and the colorful cocktails will make you feel like you’re in a Caribbean paradise.
Things To Do In Exeter: Nightlife
66. Find The Best Clubs
Situated next to River Exe is an underground nightclub called Move Exeter. Even though the place is pretty small, the nightclub is one of the wildest in the area with special guest rappers and DJs.
67. Go To The Locals’ Favorite Pub
A popular place among students, The Old Firehouse is a cozy ale and cider pub with a rustic theme. The place is always buzzing with large groups having drinks and sharing their hearty 14” square pizza.
68. Drink Craft Beer In A Rooftop Bar
From daytime cocktails to dancing until past midnight, The Terrace is the perfect party venue. Try out their beautiful cocktails, worldly gin menu, extensive craft beer selection, international wine list, and signature cocktail tree.
It’s also a great dining place offering a la carte menu, pizza, and bottomless brunches.
69. Disco The Night Away
Are you more of a disco kind of person? There’s a Fever & Boutique in Exeter on 54 Mary Arches Street.
Get your move on on the lights-up dance floor, sit in the boutique room, or go to the roof terrace, Fever ensures a long night of spirits and partying.
70. Have Your First Bingo Night Club Experience
Most people wouldn’t expect to see “bingo” listed under the nightlife category. Well, this student bingo experience isn’t like any other bingo.
As they say, Batty Bingo “combines the dramatic bingo experience with the atmosphere of clubbing. Expect fun, and bizarre!”
71. Enjoy Some Live Music
Located right at Queen Street, Cavern is a live music venue with mostly indie performers.
They’ve brought some big artists there including The 1975 and George Ezra. It’s a very popular place amongst locals and has been running since 1991.
Unique & Fun Things To Do In Exeter
72. Go On A Harry Potter Self-Guide Tour
As we stated above, JK Rowling attended the University of Exeter. Aside from Gandy Street, there are several other places in Exeter that may be Rowling’s inspiration for some of the places in the Harry Potter books.
The first is Exeter Cathedral which fans are convinced serves as the inspiration for the dining hall of Hogwarts. And then just a minute away is The Vaults, which is actually a gay bar but you won’t believe how similar it looks to the goblin-filled corner bank Gringotts.
The next is of course Gandy Street, which we’ve mentioned above and probably serves as the inspiration for Diagon Alley.
73. Learn How To Drive A Steam Traction Engine
Berrybrook Steam & Classics is a family-owned business selling – and buying – steam engines (both full-size and miniature).
Visitors can walk around their site to see steam engines and try out the Traction Engine Experience Day where you’ll spend the day running a traction engine on the road. The place also offers miniature steam driving lessons.
74. Check Out Some Classic Cars
Still at the same site, Berrybrook also has an exhibition of classic cars and vintage motorbikes. Berrybrook Motors is a dealer for Morgan and Compact Cars. They often hold events such as historic vehicle gatherings and classic car showings.
75. See A Modern Architectural Masterpiece At The Forum
If most of the architectural masterpieces in Exeter have been medieval, the University of Exeter offers a modern piece of architecture in the form of The Forum.
It’s the centerpiece of the Streatham Campus and is a mix of outside and inside space with a grid shell roof. This place is great for those who are a fan of architecture or building physics and acoustics or those just looking for a fresh place to sit and do some work.
76. Go Shopping With The Iconic Exeter Cathedral As A Backdrop
Dating back to 1949, Princesshay is a historic shopping district that’s thought to be the first pedestrianized shopping street in the country.
Now, it’s a busy shopping precinct with over 60 shops from fashion and beauty to gadgets.
77. Or Look For Independent And Specialty Shops On Fore Street
Find gift shops, vintage stores, fancy dress shops, and cute cafes such as the Glorious Art House. It’s a great place to look for unique independent shops.
78. Catch A Movie For £3.50 Only
Watch a movie at the theater cheaply at Exeter University’s independent cinema in Devonshire House. They usually show 2 films every week, each of them played twice. The movies vary from arthouse to mainstream movies.
79. See What’s Happening At Exeter Northcott Theatre
The Exeter Northcott Theatre is a university theatre hosting local, national, and student productions, family shows, music, and comedy. Go visit their website to see what events are coming up.
Another venue with endless shows and events in Exeter is the Exeter Phoenix.
80. Walk On One Of The Narrowest Streets In The World
Although it has been dethroned of its title as the narrowest street, Parliament Street is still a cool random attraction in Exeter.
The 50-meter-long street is 0.64 meters at its narrowest, connecting High Street to Waterbeer Lane. The street was first named Small Lane before it was renamed as a protest against the Reform Act of 1832, which transformed the UK’s electoral system.
Walking this street is definitely one of the most unique things to do in Exeter!
81. Tour Exeter With A Guide For FREE
While you’re here, why not take a guided tour around the city? The Red Coat Guided Tours is a guided tour through Exeter provided by the city council so it’s completely free!
The tour runs daily except on Christmas. They will take you to the most important landmarks of the city, or you can do the Ghosts and Legends tour. The tour guides are always extremely accommodating and informative.
82. Place A Bet At Exeter Racecourse
83. Think Your Way Out Of An Escape Room
Solve puzzles and escape rooms full of mysteries with your friends or family.
All four of them offer several unique themes, from Chernobyl to Alice in Wonderland, and even kid-friendly escape rooms like the ‘Mission: Impawsible‘ that Prodigy Escapes run.
84. Keep An Eye Out For Food Festivals
Food festivals are usually held around Exeter castle. The point is, just make sure to ask locals about the current events in the city.
85. And Other Festivals
Other than food festivals, Exeter has no shortage of fun special events. One of the most popular is Exeter’s Rum Festival, where you get to taste over 100 varieties of rum and make cocktails.
15 More Fun Things To Do In Exeter & Nearby
- Walk along Exeter’s City Walls
- Saunter up the historic Stepcote Hill
- Play arcade at The Arcade Exeter / Boneyard Video Arcade Exeter
- Go back to Medieval times by following the Exeter Medieval Trail
- Explore the history of Exeter’s Woollen Trade
- Ride a horse along the Woodleigh to Topsham Bridge Route
- Walk up The 99 Steps and get a view of the city
- Do the Exeter Green Circle Walk
- Take a walk along River Exe
- Buy fresh juice and cider at Sandford Orchards
- Hike up to Woodbury Castle
- Visit Castle Drogo
- Go to Crackshot range in Newton Abbot
- Explore Kents Cavern Prehistoric Caves
- Visit the magnificent Buckfast Abbey