A Guide to the Best Places to Visit in Devon
Sandwiched between Somerset and Cornwall, Devon is like the salty crab filling between two slices of granary bread. It’s a verdant chunk of the British Isles, defined by undulating moorland, jagged cliffs and pastel-hued seaside towns. Whether you visit for a weekend plan an extended staycation there are a whole host of beaches, restaurants, hotels and shop windows that offer a true taste of this West Country hotspot.
Places to visit
Salcombe is a buzzy town on Devon’s South Coast. Much-loved with holidaymakers it’s known for its golden beaches and bustling high street, lined with shops selling artisanal goods, galleries, cafes, pubs, restaurants and even a gin distillery. Salcombe is also a centre for sailing and each year the town celebrates with its week-long regatta, which culminates with a firework display that ricochets throughout the estuary. Even during the off-season, Salcombe makes a great spot for a coastal getaway with footpaths to explore and plenty of places to eat freshly caught seafood – most notably at the Crab Shed on Island Street.
Totnes was once one of the wealthiest towns in Britain, known for exporting wool from Dartmoor sheep and tin from the nearby mines. Today, it’s a vibrant market town, often referred to as the ‘Glastonbury of the west', with a strong creative spirit as seen in the galleries and art spaces. Notable artists include Yvonne Coomber, whose love of wildflowers translates into her kaleidoscopic paintings. The Totnes Town Market, held on Fridays and Saturdays, welcomes a cornucopia of stalls selling everything from vintage trinkets to homemade cakes. Just outside Totnes, you’ll find Sharpham Vineyard and Cheese Dairy, which offers guided and self-guided tasting days.
Situated on the River Dart, Dartmouth is steeped in Maritime history. From its narrow streets with overhanging medieval houses and old quays to the nearby Naval Colleague, there is a seafaring thread that runs through the town like the distinctive stitching on a traditional Guernsey jumper. With a mix of independent shops and high-street names, Dartmouth also has several galleries as well as restaurants to suit every appetite. On the water, you can try your hand at sailing, kayaking, paddle boarding and crabbing, or if you’d prefer to while away an afternoon in the sun, there are two secluded coves in Dartmouth town – Castle Cove and Sugary Cove next to Dartmouth Castle where you can admire the sea views.
Not so long ago, Ilfracombe was often overlooked but since undergoing a £2.5 million facelift, it’s now considered as a cosmopolitan coastal town attracting sailing folk and tourists alike. Set against craggy cliffs and sweeping hillsides, Ilfracombe might look like a modest fishing harbour but it’s also home to several foodie hotspots including The Dolphin Restaurant and Take Thyme Fish Restaurant, Damien Hirst’s striking ‘Verity’ statue and a selection of independent boutiques. For a true taste of Ilfracombe, don’t miss the Tunnels Beaches, created in 1823 as a way for visitors and locals to reach inaccessible beaches on the other side of the steep cliffs.
Places to eat:
The Oyster Shack
What started life as a literal shack on an oyster farm 30 years ago, The Oyster Shack remains a firm favourite known for serving the locally sourced seafood in an alfresco setting frame by a vibrant orange sail. If that’s not enough to make you smile, the restaurant has expanded over time to include both inside and outside dining meaning you can enjoy a meal at the shack come rain or shine!
The Beach House
Nothing quite beats the feeling of stepping off the beach, sand still between your toes, and walking a few metres into the warming embrace of something delicious. The Beach House is a takeaway and café on South Milton Sands known for its ketchup-laden breakfast buttys, fresh seafood and sea views. Whether you choose to warm yourself with coffee after a bracing swim or bag a table for dinner, the Beach House envelopes diners in a cosy embrace no matter what time of the year it may be.
The Crab Shed
As a relative newcomer to the Salcombe restaurant scene, The Crab Shed first opened in 2014 as a way to support the South West fishing industry. It might look like a modest, wood-panelled shed perched on the edge of Salcombe’s Fish Quay but step inside and feel instantly uplifted by the light, airy space. On the menu, it would be rude not to order the Dressed Salcombe Crab, sourced directly from the fishermen who land their sustainable catches just metres from where your meal is prepared and eventually served.
The Riverford Field Kitchen
Further inland, flanked by veggie patches, a couple of polytunnels and views across Dartmoor National Park sits Riverford Farm. As the headquarters of the organic veg boxes, it's also home to The Riverford Field Kitchen restaurant – located in a wooden, wave-shaped building lined by long tables and a wall of dried flowers installed by Riverford’s Head Gardener, Penny Hemming. Lunch and supper service is run family-style, with platters and bowls brimming with seasonal delights such as green beans with tahini and dukka, grilled lamb with aubergine, peppers and oregano, Hasselback potatoes with cavolo nero and aїoli. It’s a feast for all the senses but be sure to save room for dessert!
East Portlemouth is a small village on the opposite side of the estuary to Salcombe. There are several small coves that make up this pretty stretch of shoreline – Fishermans Cove, Smalls Cove and Mill Bay – so you can take your pick. Catch the ferry from the Salcombe side – from the steps of the town’s most famous pub, the aptly named Ferry Inn – and cross the harbour in search of a secluded spot.
Thurlestone Beach is actually comprised of two beaches, separated by a strip of the neighbouring golf course. Both are ideal spots for a morning swim or a relaxing afternoon lying on the sand, ideally with a good book. Facilities on the beach are limited but The Beach House café is just a short walk down the coastal path and there’s plenty of parking for those travelling by car. While visiting, be sure to check out Thurlestone Rock – a triking arch formation best seen at high tide.
With excellent surf, postcard-perfect views, rock pools to explore and a food van serving gourmet street food, there’s no wonder Bantham Beach is consistently considered one of the best beaches in the UK. At low tide, the landscape changes to reveal shallow pools for paddling and rockpools swimming with sea creatures. It’s also when you’ll find the most exhilarating waves and whether you’re a pro or a novice surfer there’s room for all levels, plus the seasonal RNLI lifeguards keep a close eye out for any potential danger. After a day of activity, go in search of a Bantham Burger from The Gastrobus and watch as the sun slinks behind Burgh Island.
Mattiscombe Sands is a perfect, sandy nook for a quiet escape. Accessing the beach is slightly tricky but for those who are able, the reward is well worth the hike. Popular among hardy beachgoers and dog walkers, this is a place for activities such as sunbathing, sandcastle building, picnicking and paddling in the clear waters. Being slightly off the beaten track, Mattiscombe Sands is also a haven for wildlife and if you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of a grey seal – often spotted in late winter and spring – or a basking shark fin.