Looking for a beach getaway for the weekend or beyond? Here are the best places to visit in North Devon so you can start planning your perfect trip today.
Devon is arguably one of England’s prettiest counties with rolling green hills, dramatic cliffs running down to the sea, beautiful beaches and quaint little towns and villages. It’s in North Devon in particular where you’ll find a traditional fishing heritage mixed with modern surf culture, the most beautiful little villages, a jaw-dropping coastline and outstanding natural beauty.
If you’re thinking about visiting the North Devon area, you’ll be happy to know there are many beautiful places to visit in North Devon from cute little villages to golden, sandy beaches. There are also plenty of North Devon attractions for the whole family. Spending some time here is the perfect excuse for a UK staycation at any time of year, even though it’s when the sun is out that this part of the world truly shines.
Keep reading to find out the best fun things to do in North Devon and plan your itinerary today.
*This ‘places to visit in North Devon’ travel guide contains affiliate links meaning I might make a small profit if you choose to book at no extra cost to you. This helps me to keep providing you with top-quality content for free.
The Best Time to Visit Devon
Devon is a wonderful place to visit, generally provided the weather holds which can be challenging- this is England after all.
In general, the best time to visit Devon is in the spring and summer months between May and September. At this time of year, you’ll see less wet weather, warmer temperatures and much longer days to explore the county. That being said it can rain in the summer too so it helps to be as flexible as possible.
The summer months of July and August see the most crowds so if you’d like to explore without the crowds make sure to time your visit for June or early July as well as September.
If you manage to get a sunny weather window in winter, visiting Devon can also work, just be prepared for cold weather, very chilly winds and much shorter days.
How Long to Spend in North Devon
We had four full days to explore the area which was perfect but we could have easily extended our stay. There is no shortage of things to do if you find that you want to extend your stay. With Cornwall just down the A39, you can easily extend your trip to also include the highlights of Northern Cornwall like Bude, Tintagel, Port Isaac, Padstow and even Newquay.
Having said that, I think four days is the minimum you’ll need to experience all the following best places to visit in North Devon without rushing.
The Best Places to Visit in North Devon
There are so many amazing places to visit in North Devon. From hidden coves, dramatic coastlines, sandy beaches and quaint towns and fishing villages, North Devon offers the visitor many things to do in a few days in this part of the United Kingdom.
Here are some of the best places to visit in North Devon you simply can’t miss when planning your trip.
Lynton and Lynmouth
Often listed together, Lynton and Lynmouth are two villages that perfectly exist side by side. Lynmouth occupies the built-up area at the bottom of the hill around the harbour, while Lynton lies at the top of the cliff.
These quaint villages are perfect for walking, exploring, eating and shopping as well as enjoying the divine sea views on a sunny day.
Start in Lynmouth and explore the beautiful harbour, main street and the incredibly quaint Rising Sun pub. From here you can then take the Lynton and Lynmouth Cliff Railway, the steepest, water-powered railway in the world that’s been operating since the late 1800s. On the way up you’ll get some spectacular views of Lynmouth harbour and the bay.
If the railway isn’t quite your thing you can also follow the steep South West Coastal Path all the way up to Lynton or even drive.
Continue exploring Lynton at the top of the hill. Here you’ll find an array of lovely cafes, restaurants and local shops to pop your head into.
One of the larger towns on the North Devon coast, Ilfracombe is full of delightful things to do and you could easily spend the afternoon here wandering around and exploring.
As a typical British seaside town, you’ll be able to find everything here from local sights, fantastic beaches as well as entertainment like arcades, pubs and even a fair.
Start your time in Ilfracombe with the Tunnel Beaches, a tunnel dug by local miners at the beginning of the 1800s in order to access the beautiful beaches on the other side of the cliff without having to somehow get around the steep cliffs here. You could easily spend a few hours at the Tunnel Beaches, enjoying the sunshine, looking into the rock pools and relaxing.
Next, follow the coast around Capstone Hill towards Ilfracombe Harbour. From here you’ll get the best sea views in town and on a clear day make sure to also look out for Lundy Island which you can easily see from the shore. Finally, finish your time here at the harbour. Make sure not to miss taking some lovely pictures of Ilfracombe and the harbour from this angle as well as ‘Verity’– the giant, somewhat grotesque sculpture by British artist Damien Hirst.
Croyde Bay and Croyde Beach
Devon’s surf capital, Croyde is the perfect mix of charming English village and modern surf culture. You’ll find plenty to do here from exploring the bay to having a great coffee in town. There are many surf shops here and places to hire a surfboard or SUP if the water is flat.
Croyde beach is also another large picturesque beach in North Devon with plenty of sand space to relax and have a picnic as well as go for a swim or surf.
If you’ve never surfed before and want to try Croyde is one of the best places in the UK to learn so make sure to sign up for a lesson at one of the surf schools here and give it a go.
If you’re looking for one of the best large, sandy beaches in North Devon, Saunton Sands is definitely one of the best and probably one of the least crowded in summer. It’s easily one of the best things to do in North Devon for beach lovers.
A vast beach, particularly at low tide, there is plenty of space here to spread out, set up for the day or even just take a nice long walk. Flanked by sand dunes this beach is also a lovely space to explore the sand dunes area or even shield yourself from the wind.
Saunton Beach is also one of the best in North Devon for surfing. You can grab a lesson or rent a board here at the surf school at the entrance to the beach. If it’s flat SUP is also a great option for an afternoon on the water.
At the entrance to the beach, you’ll find a cafe and stores for all your needs, Saunton town is also a good spot to buy beach provisions.
From Santon beach, make sure to drive the coastal road to or from Croyde for the best scenic views of the whole beach from the rocky headland above.
RHS Garden Rosemoor
Located just south of Bideford, the RHS Garden Rosemoor offers the perfect slice of tranquillity on any Devon itinerary. Surrounded by lush woods on all sides, this 65-acre- garden showcases the best of British flora. From a variety of different gardens inside such as the woodland, Mediterranean garden or vegetable garden, there is no shortage of natural space to explore.
You can easily spend hours here roaming around, learning more about gardening and horticulture as well as admiring all the different individual gardens. Make sure not to miss the lovely Rose Garden, the colourful Hot Garden, The Cool Garden and the Stone Garden. There are even picnic areas, ideal if you want to bring something to eat and further enjoy these wonderful, peaceful spaces.
Make sure to check their website here before visiting to get up-to-date information about what’s going on.
One of the best and most historic fishing villages in the area, Appledore is another one of the best places to visit in North Devon. Located on the Taw and Torridge Rivers estuary, Appledore was an important settlement throughout history. Famed for being an important shipbuilding centre for centuries, you’ll find many references to fishermen and boats in this historic town.
There are quite a few things to do in Appledore. Firstly you’ll want to take a walk along The Quay and admire the expansive estuary views. Appledore is also home to the North Devon Maritime Museum where you can learn all about Appledore’s history, shipbuilding in the area and more.
Make sure not to miss walking the tiny, cobblestone streets with the town’s colourful, cottages, the former homes of local fishermen.
Next don’t miss relaxing in one of Appledore’s best pubs with sea views. The Beaver Inn and The Royal George are both great options for a drink or lunch with beautiful sea views.
If you have some time, you can also drive over to the pretty village of Instow, just over the water. From Instow, you can get some pretty lovely views and photos of Appledore.
The cutest little hamlet of Buck’s Mills hugs a road that heads down a ravine right to the cliff’s edge. It’s somewhere you have to stop, even just for a walk down the main street and down to the rocky beach. The hamlet is full of quintessential English cottages each differentiated but a different first name.
Head down Main Street and don’t forget to check out the old fisherman’s cabin right on the cliff’s edge and the old kiln whose stone ruins cling to the side of the cliff. Make your way down the hill to the pebble beach to check out the little waterfall a few yards to the right and views of Devon’s stunning coastline.
The coastal path runs through here too so it’s worth walking a bit of it in any direction if you fancy getting in some amazing views and some exercise.
Discover the 19th Century Chichester family manor at Arlington Court and learn a little more about local British history. First built in 1823 by Colonel John Chichester, the house was handed down from generation to generation, each extending and rebuilding over the years.
The house was handed over to the National Trust in 1949, restored and opened to the public.
Today you can visit the house, tour the rooms and find out how the family would have lived over a century ago. You can also visit the National Trust Carriage Museum and the Garden on site too.
One of Devon’s most picturesque villages visiting Clovelly is one of the best things to do in North Devon. Following a ravine that leads down to the sea amongst cliff tops and forests, Clovelly is an ancient fishing village that had a lively agricultural and fishing history.
With its narrow cobbled streets, quaint white cottages, picturesque harbour and stone detail it’s the perfect spot in North Devon. Make sure not to miss the idyllic main street with the historical New Inn, St Peter’s Chapel and Providence House, the Fisherman Charles Kingsley’s House.
Don’t miss the incredibly scenic harbour right at the bottom with its historic RNLI lifeboat station, the Red Lion Hotel and bobbing fishing boats in the harbour. Be warned though, it’s quite a steep walk all the way back up to the main car park.
Due to the steepness of the streets historically goods were transported around by donkeys and while there are still a few around today, locals now use sleighs to move goods around. There are a few people that live in the village today but as it’s privately owned, Clovelly does charge an admission fee to visit.
Located on the beautiful Hartland Peninsula, Hartland Abbey is a private residence with a beautiful manor house, grounds and gardens that’s worth a visit.
Explore the gardens, grounds and tea rooms from 11 am, where you can go for a wander, and admire the plants, trees and beautifully manicured gardens at the base of the property. From the grounds, you can also walk up to the beach and meet the Coastal Path.
The best time to visit is between 2 and 4 pm when the house is also open for visitors. Unfortunately, we visited outside these times and I felt the admission charge of £12.50 per adult for just the grounds and gardens was a bit steep. Check their website here for up-to-date opening hours.
From Hartland Abbey, you’ll want to continue down the road, through the hamlet of Stoke all the way to Hartland Quay for some of the most jaw-dropping coastal views in North Devon.
The drive out here might seem long but it’s certainly worth it. You’ll find dramatic cliffs and beaches that characterise the area that remind one more of Hawaii than the UK. It’s a stunning point to admire the north Devon coastal views as well as grab a drink outside right on the peninsula at the Wrecker’s Retreat Bar.
You can then explore the gift shop and the museum which has some interesting information about shipwrecks and the local coastline.
After that, you can join and follow the coastal path north or south until you feel the need to turn back again.
Exmoor National Park
One of Devon’s two National Parks, Exmoor is a large area of hilly moorland with a beautiful coastline. Known as a former ancient royal hunting forest, Exmoor today is full of rolling hills and local fauna including sheep and the famous Exmoor pony, a wild pony that roams the moors.
There are many things to do in Exmoor National Park including visiting Lynton and Lynmouth (they are actually located inside the park), seeing the ancient Tarr Steps, climbing the Vally of Rocks, seeing Dunster Castle and visiting the wonderful little village of Watersmeet.
One could easily spend a whole day or more just in Exmoor National Park. If you’re coming in from London, this is a good place to start before making your way further south along the coast.
Similar to Saunton Sands, Woolacombe is another lovely summer beach destination. A large expanse of golden sand, Woolacombe is a brilliant surfing beach perfect for watersports, picnics, relaxing and walking.
After visiting the beach, you can head to the town nearby for a coffee at Meraki Coffee Co. and a wander through the modern, surf-vibe town.
One of the least populated and most isolated places in England, Lundy Island is pure paradise for nature lovers and walkers. The island is just 3 miles long but boasts a spectacular range of clifftops, bird life as well as marine species around the island.
Lundy island has been the scene of many shipwrecks in the past and today you can visit its famous lighthouses. You can also walk around the island, and go birdwatching- the island is one of the best places to see puffins in England and visit the historical sights of the island such as St. Helen’s Church.
The National Trust operates ferry services to and from Lundy Island departing both Ilfracombe and Bideford depending on the sailing and the day. Make sure to check the official National Trust website here to get sailing information and to purchase your boat tickets in advance- it is necessary, especially in high season.
It’s also possible to stay the night on the island too, make sure to book ahead via the National Trust website.
Valley of Rocks
Just a few miles south of Lynton and Lynmouth is a gorgeous stretch of rocky coast called Valley of Rocks. With some pretty unique prehistoric rock formations and jaw-droppingly beautiful coastal views, spending time some time here is a no-brainer. Park your car at the Vally of Rocks car park and walk down to the towering rock structures.
You can carefully climb them for impeccable coastal views. The South West coast path also runs through here so it’s a great idea to follow it for a little while for some even more amazing views. Make sure to check out the incredible Wringcliff Bay and its stunning black sand beach which you can descend down to just be careful, it’s steep!
Combe Martin is another firm favourite on our North Devon list. The cute little town clings to the main road, with cottages and little cafes for miles as the road leads to the beach.
Park your car, and head to the Combe Martin Bakery and Tearoom for a quick bite before heading down to the beaches. At low tide, it’s possible to walk around the side of the main beach along a stone platform to check out the cliff caves and tidal pools that are full of marine life.
Cross onto the other side and you can relax on Newberry beach too. Combe Martin has plenty to keep you entertained with kayak and SUP hire available or even kayaking and surfing lessons, waves permitting.
The Coastal Path
Pretty much everywhere you go on coastal North Devon, you’re never far from the South West Coastal Path, a 630-mile path starting in Exmoor National Park and leading all the way around Devon and Cornwall before finishing in Poole.
You probably won’t be interested in walking all of it but the North Devon section is 90 miles and runs from Combe Martin to Marsland which is more doable. Alternatively, you could spend a day on your North Devon trip walking just a chunk of the coastal path to get a feel of it and enjoy the fresh air and picturesque views.
Where to Stay in North Devon
When figuring out where to stay in North Devon you’ll need to ask yourself whether you want to have one base from which you’d do day trips each day or whether you’d like to move accommodation each night, road trip style.
We chose the former and based ourselves just outside Bideford which meant that we were within easy driving distance of most of the best places to visit in North Devon. It worked out well and I certainly recommend doing this, especially in the high summer season when accommodation prices skyrocket and availability becomes scarce.
Slerra Hill Bed and Breakfast – Located on the Hartland Peninsula, this lovely B&B is an old English cottage with beautiful exposed beam roofs and old fireplaces. The rooms here are spotlessly clean and the breakfast is everything you need to set yourself up for the day. They also have lovely gardens to explore and it’s very close to the coastal path. Check rates and availability here.
Downe Cottages – For a 5-star cottage experience, rent your very own English cottage in the country. Fully equipped with all the kitchen appliances and mod-cons you’ll need, this modern cottage allows you to fully relax and make the most of this gorgeous space both inside and out. There’s also a hammam onsite for all your wellness needs. Cottages vary in size from a one-bedroom for a couple up to a three-bedroom cottage for the whole family. Check rates and availability.
Hall Bed & Breakfast – Inside a converted country manor, this is your chance to experience pure English country charm. A beautiful building surrounded by rolling green hills just outside Barnstaple, this property is an absolute hidden gem. The breakfast here too is amazing and so is the service. Check rates and availability here.
Moorview House – A lovely little B&B in the middle of the countryside. Here you’ll find tastily decorated rooms, super comfortable beds and modern bathrooms. The gardens here are also wonderful- opt for the deluxe room and you’ll get full use of a private garden, perfect for relaxing in on warm evenings. A continental breakfast is delivered in a hamper right to your door in the morning. Check rates and availability.
Where to Eat
The are many great places to eat in North Devon from local fish and chip shops to Michelin guide restaurants. As you can imagine there is a big focus on seafood around here, particularly on crab and lobster that are caught locally.
Having said that it’s not difficult to find vegetarian or vegan cuisine either, you might want to look in larger towns however rather than small hamlets.
Take Thyme Lobster and Seafood– Ilfracombe – A good spot close to Ilfracombe harbour for lobster from Lundy Island and fresh local seafood. Their lobster and mussels are particularly good.
Le Petit Monde– Bideford– One of the best seafood restaurants in North Devon, run by a British/French couple. Starters include local oysters, scallops and fried mackerel and mains include grilled fish, seafood platters and more. Don’t miss the great French-style desserts too.
The Royal George – Appledore– A pub with fantastic views and food. They serve a range of delicious seafood dishes as well as a few vegetarian and vegan options.
Roots – Braunton – A small hole in the wall serving falafel and bhajis. Opt for falafel or Middle Eastern wrap, falafel salad, or hummus. A great option for a quick lunch between beaches.
Mad Hatter – Barnstaple– One of the best fully plant-based restaurants in Barnstaple, this small bistro offers sandwiches, salads, and buddha bowls as well as great brunch options too.
Top Tip for Visiting North Devon
↠ To see most of the best places to visit in North Devon you’ll need a car to get around. While there are buses in the area, schedules are few and far in between and many points aren’t even accessed by public transportation. Definitely drive your own car or if you’re visiting internationally you’ll need to rent one. For the best availability rent a car in London and then drive to Devon.
↠ Check opening hours carefully before visiting North Devon attractions. Due to being short-staffed and the current health crisis many North Devon attractions and restaurants have changed or reduced their hours. It’s always a good idea to check each attractions opening hours online before visiting.
↠ Pack for all types of weather. This is England after all and the weather here changes fast. Make sure to bring a sweater, waterproofs and well as some decent footwear for country walking.
↠ While we don’t focus on family travel it is difficult to ignore the fact that North Devon is very much a family destination, especially during the months of July and August. If you are travelling as a family, you’ll be pleased to know that the North Devon area does have a lot to offer kids. Make sure to check out the Combe Martin Wildlife and Dinosaur Park, The BIG Sheep- an amusement park, The Milky Way theme park and Quince Honey Farm.
↠ Check the tide times! Tides vary massively in this area. At low tide, don’t be surprised if you have to walk a whole mile from the top of the beach to get to the sea. At high tide, on the other hand, there may not be much beach left at all to sit on.
During our visit, it was mostly low tide during the daytime so the beaches were very wide but this won’t be the case at high tide. Make sure to check the tides before visiting to see what you’ll be dealing with.
↠ Make reservations at the more popular restaurants, especially in July and August. Things get very busy and the popular and best spots book up fast so make sure to reserve a table to avoid disappointment.
Are you ready to explore the best places to visit in North Devon? Let me know your questions and comments below, I’d love to hear from you.
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