Exeter guide - Spend a weekend in city of historic charms

11 reasons to visit Exeter | Best activities & things to do

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If you are planning to visit Exeter then look no further than this bumper Exeter guide.

Exeter has long been the heart of Devon, this charming city has a historical and political timeline that dates right back to the Roman era.

These days you will find there is a real ‘history meets modern’ vibe in this fancy city.

There are remnants of history next to modern shopping centres, swish bars and a multitude of places to eat.

Reasons to visit Exeter

11 reasons to visit Exeter

Exeter tourist attractions

The city’s population is largely student-based and you will often find throngs of young academics in various states of hipster dress milling about town.

It is easy to overlook Exeter when choosing a UK city break, given it’s proximity to popular Bristol and Bath and to the Welsh Capital of Cardiff.

This charming city has a lot to offer though and there are lots of reasons to visit Exeter for your next UK staycation.

Disclaimer: Content created from a press trip with Exeter BID

11 reasons to visit Exeter

Exeter city centre

Exeter has everything you might expect from a British city, bustling high street, modern shopping centres, coffee shops, restaurants and bars.

The real charm of this city is that these amenities are interwoven with a rich tapestry of historic buildings.

You can marvel at the gothic architecture, a magnificent cathedral and even a 2000-year-old Roman city wall, of which around 70% of it still remains.

Exeter guide - Spend a weekend in city of historic charms

Exeter Cathedral

Surely the first activity on an Exeter itinerary has to be a trip to the iconic Exeter Cathedral?

This medieval cathedral dates back over 900 years and is decorated with stunning Gothic architecture and carvings.

Aside from its architectural delights, it’s a very vibrant and active cathedral with several services a day.

As we were wandering around silently snapping away, we were asked by friendly staff if we would like to attend Choral Evensong?

Exeter Cathedral services

‘Oh yes that would be lovely’, was my enthusiastic response, before realising I didn’t really know what a Choral Evensong was?

My Secular upbringing has resulted in relatively little knowledge of religion, churches, or even what to expect from a service.

Exeter guide - Spend a weekend in city of historic charms

Perhaps sensing my bewilderment, the kindly Clergyman explained that it was a service sung by the Cathedral Choir and include prayers, a sermon and an anthem.

There was beautiful singing from the choir and just the right level of both solemnity and warmth. It was a lovely, immersive experience.

I would highly recommend attending an Exeter Catherdral service when you are in town.

Exeter Cathedral admission charges

Exeter Cathedral receives no regular funding from the Church of England or the UK Government.

The Cathedral charges tourists and sightseers small admission fee to help maintain one of the UK’s most beautiful cathedrals which is an important part of our annual income.

Current Exterther Catherdral Admission fees:

Adults £7.50
Seniors £6.00
Students £6.00

Self-guided walk in Exeter

Coming out of the cathedral, you will find yourself on the pretty Cathedral Close.

Here you’ll find impressive architecture, a cute coffee shop and the historic Royal Clarence Hotel. This magnificent hotel is currently being rebuilt and restored after a fire in 2016.

Exeter guide - Spend a weekend in city of historic charms

Cathedral Green Exeter

With cobbled streets, climbing vines and beautiful listed buildings, this whole area looks like a Pinterest account.

It is definitely worth spending some time relaxing on the green and admiring the scenery. It’s one of the best  free things to do in Exeter city centre

From Cathedral Close, you can easily take yourself on a self-guided walk of Exeter’s City Wall, about 70% of this 2000-year-old wall remains.

I recommend that you pick up a free leaflet from Exeter Visitor Information centre, that will explain the history of the wall as you stroll around.

Exeter guide - Spend a weekend in city of historic charms

Exeter Underground Passages

As well as wandering around the city, you can also explore underneath it by visiting Exeter’s Underground Passages.

This medieval subterranean passageway used to transport water right underneath Exeter city centre. “So, we’re going to look at some sewers?” asked my puzzled husband.

No darling, a medieval vaulted passageway, there is definitely a difference, right?

Our cheerful tour guide informs us that these are the only passages of this kind open to the public in Britain and are a major part of Exeter’s rich history.

As we shuffled through small passageways adorning hard hats, you can actually hear the city life above you.

Listen to cars rumbling, traffic lights sounding and the faint murmur of human activity.

It’s a rather unusual experience, meandering through dimly lit tunnels, listening to tales from our chipper tour guide “We thought we found a homeless man down here once, turns out, it was just a hipster.”

reasons to visit Exeter

Explore Exeter Quay

A short stroll from the passages is Exeter Quay, this vibrant area has a fabulous mix of historic and modern design. It’s a developed part of Exeter that is located next to the River Exe and the Exeter Ship Canal.

There are cafes, restaurants, pubs and a range of boutique shops to explore as you amble about this pretty area. Exeter guide - Spend a weekend in city of historic charms

Exeter quay kayaking

If you are feeling adventurous you hire a bike or kayak Exeter Quay to explore the waterfront by boat.

You can rent kayaks in Exeter Quay from AS Watersports. Hire kayaks, canoes and Sup boards from this professional outdoor company. They also offer Kayak and canoe tasters and one on one lessons.

It’s also a lovely part of Exeter for a stroll by the water as you soak up the scenery. There are also little cafes and boutique shops to discover in the Exeter Quay area.

Exeter quayside shops

If you are feeling especially cultured, I recommend a lovely cup of tea at the riverside cafe at the Antiques and Collectables Centre.

You can even have a little browse through their retro offerings including books, maps and vinyl records. It’s a lovely alternative shopping experience in Exeter.

Exeter guide - Spend a weekend in city of historic charms

Imagine how envious your friends will be when you return home with an antique globe “Oh this old thing? We got it at an adorable little antique place in Exeter darling.” Set smug level to 100%.

You could spend a good few hours browsing the boutique stores and antique shops that dot the quayside. There is also an eclectic mix of cute cafes, restaurants, pubs and bars to keep you entertained.

Shopping in Exeter

There are also a plethora of retail options in Exeter for the shopping fans amongst you.

I’ll admit, I hate shopping, my idea of a successful shop is to get in and get out fast, like a successful military incursion.

However, if retail therapy is your thing, the main shopping centre of Exeter is extensively pedestrianised and has modern shopping centres such as Guildhall, Princesshay and Harlequins Shopping.

There are also several quaint little shopping streets, with boutique and independent retailers to choose from.

Exeter guide - Spend a weekend in city of historic charms

Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery

If you love soaking up arts and culture then make sure you visit the Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery.

There are 16 galleries of displays at this museum that feature a range of exhibits from pre-history to the present day. There are pieces from Exeter and from all over the world.

The Museum also has special exhibition spaces and a lively and changing programme, so there’s always something new to see

The best part is that entry is free to the Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery, so you can visit several times when you are visiting Exeter.

South West Coast path

If you love long seaside walks then you may want to venture out of Exter and walk the South West Coast Path.

This picturesque National Trail is 630 miles long. It runs from Minehead in Somerset all the way to Poole Harbour in Dorset.

The path has a variety of gentle walks, steep coast paths and headland strolls. It’s an incredibly scenic walk and is enjoyed by locals and visitors alike.

You can choose to walk end to end or undertake one of the many circular walks. You can find more information on the South West Coast Path at the Exeter Tourist Information Centre.

Powderham Castle

Immerse yourself in history by spending a few hours at Powderham Castle. There are lots to see in this historic castle and if you find you have run out of time, you can come back within 7 days for free.

To get the most out of your English castle experience, make sure to take a guided tour inside the Castle. You’ll be able to wander through secret doors and even make your way across a haunted landing!

Entry fees to Powderham castle are £12.95 for adults and £10.95 for children.

If you are visiting Exter with children, there are lots of kid activities at Powderham Castle.

They can get stuck in at the nature trail, have a go at arts and crafts and plant seeds in the potting shed. There’s also an adventure play castle and pets corner to keep them entertained.

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Watch a show at Exeter Phoenix

Get artsy at the Exeter Phoenix, one of the South West’s leading contemporary art venues.

Here you’ll find hugely varied arts and theatre programme, featuring dance shows, film, theatre and visual arts.

It’s a really unique thing to do in Exeter and should have something to suit everyone. Check out the Exeter Phoenix website to see what’s on when you visit Exeter.

Catch an Exeter Rugby game

Catch an Exter rugby game and have an exciting few hours at a live sports event. The Exeter Chiefs are the local professional rugby union club and they play a mean game of rugby.

They play their home matches at Sandy Park, which is located on the outskirts of the city.

You can see when the chiefs are playing by checking the fixtures of the Exeter Chief’s website.

Where to eat in Exeter

There are some rather excellent places to eat in Exeter with all manner of cuisines on offer, ranging from cheap eats, pub grub to fancy dining.

Depending on your budget there are many places you can visit on your weekend break.

Some of the best places to eat in Exeter include:

Exeter guide - Spend a weekend in city of historic charms

Harry’s Restaurant Exeter

Harry’s is a firm favourite of Exeter residents. They have been serving up honest and reasonably priced food since 1993.

There’s over 75 menu dishes to choose from in this charming red brick bistro, as well as an impressive selection of wine and cocktails.

Typical menu choices include Devon crab linguini, ribs, Butternut squash risotto, rib-eye steak and sweet potato & bean chilli.

Exeter guide - Spend a weekend in city of historic charms

Rendezvous Wine Bar Exeter

A definite winner for a relaxing lunch and gorgeous wines is Rendezvous wine bar, located near Exeter Cathedral.

This cosy wine bar stocks local and international wines that are paired beautifully with their tempting menu.

Exeter guide - Spend a weekend in city of historic charms

Soak up the sun in their picturesque garden and feast upon a selection of dishes including Cajun-spiced pork loin, pumpkin and sage ravioli and roast fillet of salmon with harissa polenta.

Boston Tea Party Exeter

Boston Tea Party is a popular South West coffee shop chain that serves up a smashing selection of brunch, lunch and tea.

The food in this uber-cool hangout is homemade and deliciously moreish as well as being highly Instagrammable.

Brunch options include chorizo hash, scotch pancakes and eggs florentine with avocado. It’s definitely one of the best cafes in Exeter.

Exeter guide - Spend a weekend in city of historic charms

Doctor Ink’s Curiosities Exeter

Doctor Ink’s is an award-winning, slick, prohibition-era style bar that shakes up a selection of inventive, Victorian-influenced cocktails.

There is an incredible amount of thoughts and detail gone into this quirky bar, from the decor to the menus to the whimsical and expertly crafted drinks.

If you are looking for awesome cocktail bars in Exeter, this is the place for you.

Exeter guide - Spend a weekend in city of historic charms

The Old Firehouse Exeter

The Old Firehouse is frequented by students, locals and Harry Potter fans, who are convinced this bar served as the inspiration for the Leaky Cauldron in the Harry Potter series.

This popular bar is certainly atmospheric, serving a selection of local ales and ciders by candlelight.

There’s also a hearty menu of burgers, baguettes and baked potatoes.

Exeter guide - Spend a weekend in city of historic charms

Day trips from Exeter

If you have time, there are some gorgeous areas near Exeter to visit. Nearby Topsham is located on the Exe Estuary and is a nice day trip from Exeter.

Topsham is technically now a part of Exeter but has its own distinctive, maritime feel.


I think the best time to visit Topsham is late afternoon. This way you can wander around the quaint historic town, have dinner and also catch the sunset.

There’s a really good mix of boutique shops, distinctive buildings and historic pubs in Topsham.

If you are staying for the sunset in Topsham, grab a pint and a bowl of hot chips on one of the harbourside bars and catch the sun setting over the water.

Exeter guide - Spend a weekend in city of historic charms

Dartmoor national park

Exeter is also in the middle of some stunning landscapes including Blackdown Hills and Dartmoor national park.

There are 954 glorious square kilometres that are ideal for hiking horse riding and climbing.

This beautifully rugged and wild national park is around 25 miles from Exeter and is perfect for a day trip from Exeter.

Dartmoor walks

There are many Self-guided short walks in Dartmoor. You can start these walks direct from the National Park Visitor Centres at Haytor, Postbridge and Princetown.

Exeter guide - Spend a weekend in city of historic charms

You can pick up Dartmoor walking leaflets and books from the National Park visitor centres and also get more information about hikes in the area.

If you are new to hiking, Why not join an organised walk at Dartmoor National Park, led by an experienced hiking guide?

This is a great way to explore the wild and open moors with an experienced guide. Visit the Moorland Guides website for details of the Dartmoor walks including ‘dog-friendly walks’.

Where to stay in Exeter

There is a range of accommodation options in Exeter. You can choose from luxury hotels, independent b&b’s, boutique guesthouses, Air BnB properties, or a rural escape in the nearby countryside.

Some of the best places to stay in Exeter include:

Hotels outside of Exeter

If you are looking at places to stay outside of Exeter, I would recommend the magnificent Two Bridges Hotel.

This rather swanky country hotel is located in nearby Dartmoor National Park.

With its grand oak-panelled interior, fine dining and four-poster beds, there is a definite ‘Downtown Abbey’ vibe here.

Exeter guide - Spend a weekend in city of historic charms

Two Bridges Hotel

Two Bridges Hotel delivers exactly what you might expect from an English country hotel.

There is an array of antique-looking decor including grandfather clocks, old paintings and various lampshades.

You’ll also find the occasional brass jug, as well as well worn, padded chairs to sink into with a large scotch next to a cosy open fireplace.

Exeter guide - Spend a weekend in city of historic charms

Two Bridges Hotel Restaurant

Before we went through to dinner I was having the usual ‘what to wear’ crisis. How does one dress for dinner at a country hotel?

The bar area was awash with hunter wellies, walking poles and gilets, lord knows how these people dress for dining?

It could be anything from a ball gown, to full hunting season get up. In the end, I settled for a vintage tea dress and what my mother would describe as ‘occasion shoes’.

Exeter guide - Spend a weekend in city of historic charms

We were treated to some serious upscale dining with rather lovely countryside views.

Dinner was exactly what I would expect from a country manor venue, with a range of classic dishes using local and seasonal produce.

The staff were extremely knowledgeable as to where produce had originated from.

Exeter guide - Spend a weekend in city of historic charms

What to do in Exeter

What do you think of this list of reasons to visit Exeter? Did you know there were this many things to do in Exeter?

Let me know if you are planning tho visit this historic UK city in the comments below.

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