30 great days out in Exeter
- Credit: Archant
From ‘secret space’ tours to vegan pizza - there’s more to the Devon city than meets the eye
Exeter is the pinnacle of city life in Devon (sorry Plymouth). It is home to a magnificent cathedral and a top-ranking UK university. Chris Martin, Joss Stone and Tommy Cooper all started life in Exeter. It is also one of 20 best places in the UK and the gateway to the South West.
In easy reach of both the moor and the sea, Exeter is a country-city. Renowned for its beauty and historical architecture in the past, it was chosen by the German Luftwaffe during the Second World War as the first victim in the Baedeker raids, which targeted cities for their historical and cultural value.
This became known as the Exeter Blitz and the bombing wreaked havoc, destroying stunning architecture and homes. A smattering of post-war brutalist architecture now covers the city’s scars, but there is still plenty of history to be experienced.
Here are my 30 recommendations for a great day out in the city:
In the city centre, there is an opportunity to transport oneself back in time.
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1) Tucked away behind Fore Street is Exeter’s oldest building, the 900-year-old St Nicholas Priory. If you’re lucky, you can time your visit with a Tudor re-enactment or a theatre production.
2) If the priory isn’t open (it is only open once a week) the ruins of Rougemont Castle’s red volcanic rock walls can be walked around in picturesque Rougemont Gardens. Exeter City Council runs ‘’red coat tours’’ that will pick up again when things return post-COVID, I’m sure.
3) Rising from the centre of Cathedral Green like Exeter’s very own Sphinx – all-knowing, all-seeing, mysterious and beautiful – the jewel in Exeter’s crown, is Exeter Cathedral.
Everybody has heard of Exeter Cathedral, but not everyone knows that they regularly host some fascinating tours. I’ve read the Pillars of the Earth series and thanks to Ken Follett I have a modicum of an idea of what it took to build a cathedral - although it is quite hard to fully comprehend the centuries of blood, sweat and tears, thousands of lives and masses of stone it took to build Exeter’s.
I can whole-heartedly recommend experiencing Exeter’s architecture from above by taking a rooftop tour with panoramic views across the city; there is also a ‘secret space’ tour which sounds very interesting.
4 & 5)Other well-known experiences you shouldn’t miss are a historical tour of Exeter’s Underground Passages and a visit to the RAMM Museum.
6) Take a walk around the catacombs and walk the cobblestones down Stepcote Hill to see ‘The House That Moved’.
7) While you are there, second-hand book shop Book-cycle is an absolute must for book lovers. It is a place in which you can sniff the pages (I realise that might be a quirk of mine) and swap your books in a kooky, friendly atmosphere.
The other day, I was trying to explain Devon’s food culture to a London friend of mine. How lucky we are to have so many dedicated eateries and brilliant, local ethical suppliers that make our county’s food offering sublime.
Many of Exeter’s restaurants and cafés are passionate about using local suppliers.
8-10) I’m a big fan of Exeter’s glorious indie restaurant scene, Harrys, while The Conservatory, Oddfellows and Circa 1924 have all adapted their offerings during the pandemic, and all come highly recommended.
11) I think my favourite recentish find is Rendezvous. Nestled between the solicitors’ firms and estate agents in Southernhay, it is a comfortable place to lose a few hours and an excellent spot for an intimate date, with 60+ wine suggestions from all around the world.
12) & 13) Meat 59 on Magdalen Road is my go-to for a burger, and The Flat is my favourite for a vegan pizza.
THINGS TO DO IN EXETER IF YOU’RE INTO FITNESS
14) If the big outdoors is your thing Exeter will spoil you - the Green Circle Walk is 12 miles of green around the city, including several parks.
When the weather is good you can head out on cycles, canoes or paddleboards down the canal to Double Locks or (slightly further away) Turf Locks - a great pub with panoramic views of the Exe estuary from the garden.
15) If you feel like a longer cycle, you can get to Topsham and on to Exmouth easily or Powderham and on to Dawlish.
16) & 17) Climb the wall at Clip and Climb or practise skiing at ski slope at Clifton Hill (this is due to be sold by Exeter County Council so get in quick!)
18) You can even practice yoga in the grounds of Powderham Castle.
A QUICK GUIDE TO EXETER SHOPPING
19-21) Head to quirky Gandy Street for indie shops, eateries with a twist, street food from Red Panda, and Portuguese bakes from Cork and Tile.
22) Gandy Street also hosts the Maker Mart, an indoor market showcasing the very best designer-makers from Devon and beyond.
23) For indie shops, Fore Street is the best destination to visit.
24) At Sancho’s, owner Kalkidan focuses on ethical anti-fast fashion products.
25-26) If you are a music fan, be sure to pop into Manson’s Guitars in McCoys Arcade and while you’re there relive your youth by rummaging through the vintage wear in The Real McCoy.
27) If vintage is your thing, make sure you go to Frocks in Swingtime on Fore Street.
28) Princesshay is where to go if you want to clothes shop in the more well-known stores; there is also a smattering of restaurants and indie stores if you’re going to make a day of it.
29) Cathedral Green is where the boutique shops are, and Guildhall is where you can shop for food and electricals, there are many eateries too with fantastic street food in the square.
30) Quayside you can find lots of crafty shops and places to hire or buy bicycles and canoes.