The East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is a diverse wonderland of superb coastal scenery, history, and charming seaside villages. Get the most out of the area with our guide to the best things to do around Exeter.

By: Paul Healy | Published: 13 Jun 2023

Encompassing the western end of the Jurassic Coast, the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty covers over 100 square miles of breathtaking countryside. Its diverse landscape is characterized by ancient woodlands, rolling hills, and rugged coastlines.

Nestled within the folds of the land are picturesque fishing villages and grand seaside towns, each boasting peculiar historical oddities. Many of the highlights in the East Devon AONB are stitched together by the South West Coast Path which climbs over eroding cliffs and passed fossil-strewn beaches.

Just beyond the borders of the East Devon AONB lies the vibrant city of Exeter. Its majestic cathedral, towering over medieval cobbled streets, offers a striking contrast to the youthful vibe and energy of the city centre.

This guide is the highlights from our luxury glamping getaway with Unique hideaways, covering the best things to do in and around Exeter.  

IN THIS GUIDE

THINGS TO DO IN EXETER & EAST DEVON AONB


01. EXETER

02. BEER

03. SOUTH WEST COAST PATH

04. SIDMOUTH

05. BUDLEIGH SALTERTON

06. A LA RONDE

07. POWDERHAM CASTLE

MAP | EXETER & EAST DEVON AONB

All the attractions we cover in this guide to Exeter and the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) are captured on our map, which you can download to take with you.

How to use this map / Click on the top left of the map to display the list of locations, then click on the locations to display further information. Click on the top right corner of the map to open a larger version in a new tab or the star to save to your Google Maps.  


1 – EXETER

Exeter is a captivating blend of historical periods, where the striking Gothic Cathedral takes centre stage, surrounded by rows of quirky medieval townhouses.

Today, remnants of the Roman walls encase a vibrant city that’s a little bit youthful and edgy yet assuaged with touches of traditional charm.

Here are some great things to do in Exeter: 

  • Exeter Cathedral – Marvel at the grandeur and intricate details of this iconic Gothic cathedral and enjoy city views from the tower.
  • RAMM (Royal Albert Memorial Museum) – Immerse yourself in Exeter’s past with exhibits ranging from the absorbing to the absurd as well as a very strange collection of natural history oddities.
  • Old Centre – Explore the historic heart of Exeter including the Cathedral Close and Guildhall, a 600-year-old medieval building.
  • Exeter Quay – Stroll Exeter Quay, lined with boutique shops, cafes, and restaurants. Take a boat trip along the Exeter Canal or rent a bike and cycle along picturesque paths.
  • Dartmoor – Take a day trip to experience the wild moors of the Dartmoor National Park.

2 – BEER

On a beautiful stretch of the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty lies the charming fishing village of Beer.

Its gentle shingle beach set under high white cliffs, complete with stripped sun chairs and colourful huts, evokes a throwback to Victorian seaside outings.

Join a Mackerel fishing boat and head out to catch your breakfast, photograph the colourful huts, or grab a coffee on one of the many cafes after a morning stroll along the beach.

Beer’s picturesque high street is blessed with traditional local pubs and all the charm of an English village. The Jubilee Memorial Gardens, established for Queen Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee is a great place to unwind with a great view of the beach.

Beer Quarry Caves – Take a fascinating guided tour of the Beer Quarry Caves, where the stone has been quarried for over 2,000 years and used in many cathedrals in the area.

Don’t miss — The views from Beer Head and Hooken Cliffs are spectacular.

3 – SOUTH WEST COAST PATH

The South West Coast Path stretches 630 miles from Minehead in Somerset to Poole Harbour in Dorset and holds the distinction of being the longest National Trail in England.

There are many great day walks along the Jurassic Coast, but our favourite within the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is the Branscombe to Beer Circular Walk.

You can begin the walk in either Beer or Branscombe. In one direction the path heads over the clifftop and meanders through grassy hills, in the other, it goes under the cliffs and into a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Along the way, you’ll pass the remains of WWII radar station, a 1920’s steam-powered winding wheel, and an Iron Age Forge.

Trail Conditions — The path is well maintained but uneven and involves a couple of steep sections. You’ll need a good level of fitness, and the total route should take around 3 hours. The gorgeous coastal views make it all worthwhile.

DETAILS | BRANSCOMBE TO BEER CIRCULAR WALK

Difficulty – Medium | Distance – 7 kilometres (4.35 miles) | Time – 3 hours | Our Tip – Make sure to grab a drink and snack on the beach at Beer


DOWNLOAD OUR MAP

4 – SIDMOUTH

Sidmouth is a charming seaside resort in the heart of the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) occupying a picturesque setting between rapidly eroding red sandstone cliffs.

Grand Georgian buildings lining the esplanade have a faded glory that adds a delightful touch of nostalgia to the town. Simply strolling the promenade while waves crash against the pebbled beach and batter the sea wall is one of the best things to do in East Devon.

Throughout the year, Sidmouth has an arty vibe hosting several festivals. The most celebrated is the Sidmouth Folk Festival which showcases traditional music and dance. The Sidmouth Regatta, held on the August bank holiday weekend, features the RAF Red Arrows who kick off festivities with a dramatic display over the coast.

Jacob’s Ladder Beach – Overlooked by red cliffs, Jacob’s Ladder Beach is a protected cove on the western end of the town beach. It’s named after the historic steps that take you there and it’s a great family-friendly beach not far from Exeter.

5 – BUDLEIGH SALTERTON BEACH

Budleigh Salterton is a sweeping 2.5-mile-long white pebble beach. Overlooked by the distinctive red cliffs of the East Devon AONB, the contrast of white stones, red rock, and blue sea make it a scenic destination on the coast.

The beach has a clean beach rating, and the calm waters are ideal for paddleboarding. There’s a reef just off the beach which is great for snorkelling.

Facilities at Budleigh Salterton — There are 3 cafes along the beach (don’t miss the local crab) as well as toilets, a BBQ area, and a children’s playground.

River Otter Estuary — The estuary behind the beach is a designated site of Special Scientific Interest due to the diverse wildlife habitat it supports and the nearby Triassic sandstone rocks.

Parking at Budleigh Salterton Beach — Parking is available at Lime Kiln Car Park for access to both the beach and the estuary. It’s a 40-minute drive from Exeter.

6 – A LA RONDE

A la Ronde is a quirky 16-sided house packed with curiosities collected by cousins Mary and Jane Parminter from their travels around Europe.  

The building was built in the late 18th century and features the cousins’ taste for unusual design. Strolling around the gallery, it’s easy to see how they enjoyed letting their imagination run wild.

Shell Gallery – The upper floors of the house make up the shell gallery, where the walls are completely decorated with over 20,000 shells.   

Gantry — Take in a unique view of Exmouth and the Devon coast from the upper walkway circling the house.

Drawing Room – The drawing room holds most of the collection including paintings, photographs, mementos, and furniture pieces inlaid with shells. Don’t miss the intricate feather frieze.

DETAILS | A LA RONDE

Hours – 10:30 am to 2:30 pm (Wednesday to Saturday) / closed Monday & Tuesday | cost£9.50 (adults) / £4.50 (children) / £23.75 (families) / free for National Trust Members.

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7 – POWDERHAM CASTLE

Powderham Castle is a fortified manor house located on the banks of the River Exe around 6 miles south of Exeter. Parts of the building date back to the 14th century, giving it a medieval core, later enhanced with a Georgian façade.

The opulent interiors have all the intricate furnishings and impressive collection of artworks that you’d expect from a stately home imbued with English history. The highlights are the Marble Hall, a decorative sitting room with a black and white marble floor, and the music room with its beautiful domed ceiling.

Set on a sprawling estate, the grounds of Powderham Castle include a deer park, immaculate gardens, and a farm shop. It’s a great thing to do near Exeter especially if you can combine it with one of the regular concerts or theatre events hosted at the castle.

DETAILS | POWDERHAM CASTLE

Hours – 11 am to 4 pm (Sunday to Friday) / closed Saturday | cost£14.95 (adults) / £13.95 (seniors) / £10.95 (children) / £39.95 (families).

WHERE TO STAY

There are plenty of unique places to stay in Devon that make the most of the rural ambience and seaside charm of this beautiful part of England.

If you’re really looking to unwind on your escape to Exeter and East Devon, check out Unique hideaway’s hot tub collection to find a glamping pad where you can enjoy a scenic soak at the end of a day exploring.

We stayed at the Rancher’s Hut, a unique property near the town of Ottery St Mary. This dreamy cabin has earthy style in a beautiful farmland location with all the amenities you need including an excellent shower. The wood-fired hot tub and firepit make a great way to relax in the evening.   

This guide was produced in partnership with Unique hideaways.

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