North Devon, in the South West of England is a county of dramatic coastlines, rugged cliffs and breath-taking beaches. Inland you’ll find rolling green hills, picturesque villages and idyllic countryside. It’s the perfect backdrop for outdoor activities and family holidays. It’s time to share my ten favourite things to do in North Devon.
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Best things to do in North Devon
North Devon is a stunning part England to explore. Whether you’re looking for adventure, nature or a family holiday. It’s a fabulous UK destination for a short break or a week or two away and you’ll find some quirky, beautiful and idyllic B&Bs, cottages and hotels in Devon. Let’s explore some of my favourite things to do in North Devon.
North Devon Coastal Walks
The North Devon coast is made up of two coastlines which means you get double the dose of beautiful coastal scenery. Perfect for hiking and walking. From those who like a fair weather saunter, to dog-walkers, serious ramblers and hikers there are miles of coastal walks and trails to suit all ages and abilities.
See the best of the North Devon coast by walking sections of the South West Coastal Path across cliffs, through seaside towns and along golden sand beaches. It’s one of my favourite things to do in North Devon, come rain or shine! The coastal path is the UK’s longest national trail and there are seven sections in North Devon suitable for the whole family.
Ride the funicular at Lynton and Lynmouth
Lynton and Lynmouth are pretty seaside towns, on the northern edge of Exmoor, with a gorge running between them down to the sea. Take a ride on the world’s steepest water-powered funicular to get from Lynmouth at the bottom to Lynton, perched 500 ft above, at the top. Enjoy fabulous view of the North Devon coastline at the top, and maybe a cream tea, before taking the cliff railway back down to Lynmouth nestled by the harbour at the bottom of the cliff.
Eat fresh Seafood on the Quayside
North Devon is dotted with fishing villages and harbours. Many are still working ports so the fishing boats are bringing in fresh fish and seafood daily. Stop by one of the many seafood shacks and stalls for fresh crab, cockles or lobster tails. You won’t get fresher seafood anywhere.
The Best Beaches in North Devon
There’s a stretch of shoreline in North Devon for every kind of beach lover. From pretty little coves, to swathes of golden sand, sheltered bathing pools and surf dude paradise. I’m sharing a few of my favourites but I’ll leave you to discover your own North Devon beach heaven. You won’t have to look too far.
Croyde is a surfer’s dream. It’s a bit of a mission to get to, through some narrow winding roads, but worth it. Croyde, an award-winning beach, sits between two headlands, there are sand dunes, loads of sand and some of the best waves in the UK. There’s a seasonal lifeguard.
Tunnels Beaches, Ilfracombe
Tunnels Beaches are perfect for families. The calm tidal bathing pools are where holidaying Victorians used to hang out. The beaches are accessed by tunnels which were hand-carved through the rock. The beaches are sheltered by the cliffs so it’s a nice sun-trap and there’s epic rock-pooling potential. You’ll pay to get in but can spend the whole day coming and going as you please. There’s a café, toilets and changing facilities plus a small gift shop.
Westward Ho! The only place in the UK with an exclamation mark. Yes, it’s actually part of the name. This beach is great for photographers. There are huge stretches of sand and heaps of space on this two-mile beach. The thin film of water reflects the clouds on a sunny day and the beautiful giant pebbles make for interesting photography.
You could easily spend a whole week in Ilfracombe. In fact we did, and we had a fabulous time. This seaside town sits on the North Devon coast and has small historic harbour as its hub. There’s plenty to explore around the quayside which is lined with shops, bars and restaurants.
The Lifeboat station gives you a chance to check out the boat and maybe meet the crew which kids will love. Follow the Fish Trail which details the history and maritime heritage of the area. Keep an eye out for Verity, the Damien Hurst sculpture. Actually it’ll be the first thing you spot. Read more things to do in Ilfracombe.
Take a Boat Trip
Take a mini-cruise and see North Devon from the sea. The Ilfracombe Princess departs from Ilfracombe and explore the stunning local coastline. You’ll see lighthouses, waterfalls and dramatic cliffs and coves. Keep your eyes peeled for seals, seabirds and, if you’re lucky, dolphins and porpoises. Wildlife spotting is one of my favourite North Devon things to do.
Devour a Devonshire Cream Tea
When in North Devon you must devour a Devonshire cream tea. Scones, still warm from the oven, loaded with thick clotted cream and a generous dollop of fruity jam on top. Heavenly. In Cornwall it’s jam first, cream on top, in Devon it’s jam first. This makes for a good family discussion, as does whether it’s pronounced scone (like stone) or scon. I’ll just leave that there…
Kayak in Combe Martin
Combe Martin is beyond pretty. The small shingle cove transforms at low tide to a beach with wide flat sands and endless views. It’s a great spot for building sand castles, water sports or just kicking back and relaxing.
You could hire a kayak and see if you can spot Dave the friendly resident dolphin. If dry land’s more your thing explore one of the nearby nature trails. Combe Martin beach has plenty of facilities including cafes, toilets and parking.
Follow the Tarka Trail
As North Devon attractions go this is one that always brings a smile to my face. For walkers and cyclists the Tarka Trail brings 180 miles a fairly flat, traffic-free routes through nature reserves, alongside estuaries and through leafy woodland. The Tarka Trail was created from a disused railway line and a walk or cycle along part of it is one of the best ways to experience North Devon’s wildlife and scenery.
The trail forms a figure of eight around the North Devon coast and countryside. The most popular section is the 32 miles of traffic-free, flat path between Braunton and Meeth. It’s suitable for all ages and abilities as it’s fairly flat and tarmacked. Buggies, wheelchairs and beginner cyclists will feel happy following this part of the Tarka Trail.
Clovelly is a traditional North Devon fishing village with charming cobbled streets leading down to a gorgeous old harbour. Clovelly has to be one of the prettiest villages in the UK with tiny fishermen’s cottages bedecked in flowers lining the narrow route down to the harbour. There are a couple of cosy harbourside pubs which make for a cosy lunch stop. A short walk along the beach will take you to a waterfall.
The village is car-free and the route to the harbour is quite steep – we gave up with the pushchair. Good walking shoes will help. The only form of transport is donkey rides for children in the summer. Visit the stables to see them being groomed and fed.
Clovelly village is private so there’s an admission fee but this helps with the upkeep of historical buildings – there are small exhibitions in some of them. There’s a large car park, restaurant and gift shop. For those unable to make it back up the hill there’s a paid Land Rover service.
These are some of my top recommendations for things to do in North Devon. Do you have any favourites that I’ve missed? Let me know your top North Devon activities in the comments below and I’ll add them to the post.