Planning a trip to Devon and looking for things to do? From historic sites to high-octane water sports, plus wild cliff-top walks and family-friendly beaches, we’ve rounded up some of the best days out around the county’s coast
Words: Alex Reece
1. FOR… A SEASIDE LIDO
Tinside Lido, Plymouth
For an epic outdoor swimming experience, take a dip in this Art-Deco lido overlooking the sea from Plymouth Hoe. Built in 1935, the saltwater pool is Grade II-listed and was restored and re-opened after falling into neglect (and 13 years of closure) in 2005. Among its original features are fountains and a colonnade, while an on-site café affords views across Plymouth Sound. In late summer, the venue also hosts open-air cinema screenings – see plymouthartscentre.org for listings. Swimming session (max 2 hours at busy periods) for adults around £4.75; children (4-15 years), seniors & concessions £3.75; children under 4 free; family £13.
2. FOR… A COASTAL TRAIN RIDE
Dartmouth Steam Railway and River Boat Company
To get an overview of the South Devon coastline, with the added thrill of riding a heritage steam train, book a Round Robin ticket with the Dartmouth Steam Railway and River Boat Company. This award-winning day trip takes in the towns of Dartmouth, Totnes and Paignton with the journey involving a mix of rail, river boat, ferry and bus travel – enabling you to see more of the coastal countryside. The steam trains run along seven miles of track between Kingswear and Paignton, with locomotives dating back to the 1950s and 1920s. Choose your departure point and break the journey to explore the various destinations along the way. Prices: adult £33; child (3-15) £21; concession £32; family £85. dartmouthrailriver.co.uk
3. FOR… A UNIQUE DAY OUT AT TUNNELS BEACHES
Tunnels Beaches, Ilfracombe
Revitalised in the early Noughties by owners Zoe and Jamie McLintock, Ilfracombe’s Tunnels Beaches are an intriguing network of four tunnels carved through the rocks in the 1820s, leading to two rugged beaches plus a tidal pool. Learn about the attraction’s history – which was quaintly divided into separate bathing areas for Ladies and Gentlemen – and how it played a part in transforming Ilfracombe into a popular tourist destination. Then, after sea swimming and rockpooling to your heart’s content, go and explore the town’s vibrant food scene. Admission: adult £3; child (3-15 years) £2.50; under-3s free; seniors/students £2.75; family of 4 £10; family of 5 £12. Tunnels Beaches is also home to a unique beachfront wedding venue.
4. FOR… LITERARY HISTORY AT AGATHA CHRISTIE’S HOME
Greenway, Galmpton, Nr Brixham
Immerse yourself in the life and times of crime writer Agatha Christie at her Georgian holiday home, Greenway, where the gardens sweep down to the River Dart. Discover the many curios collected by her family over five generations, plus a fascinating library frieze painted while the property was requisitioned during World War II by a member of the US Coastguard. Admission for adults around £11; children £5.50; family £27.50; 1 adult 2 children £16.50; NT members free.
5. FOR… WILD EXPERIENCE AT PAIGNTON ZOO
One for animal lovers, Paignton Zoo’s 80-acre site is home to hundreds of species from around the world. Check out the tigers, cheetahs and lions in the big cat enclosure, or see birds, such as toucans, roadrunners and hornbills, in the Avian Breeding Centre. If you want to do one better, book an animal experience for the opportunity to get up close and personal with giraffes, meerkats, giant tortoises and rhinos, to name a few. Go behind the scenes and learn more about these amazing animals from the expert keepers, and you may also get the chance to help with feeding time. Admission with gift aid: adults £20.45; children (3-15 years) £15.30; children under 3 free; senior citizens/student; £17.35.
6. FOR… A DRAMATIC CLIF-TOP WALK
Valley of the Rocks, Nr Lynton & Lynmouth, Exmoor
A spectacular walk encompassing a series of rock formations soaring above the Bristol Channel lies just outside the village of Lynton on the North Devon coast. Start the route by using the Victorian cliff railway from Lynton, then let the South West Coast Path lead you through the Valley of the Rocks, frequented by a family of feral goats. Children will enjoy spotting these, along with the quirky names of the crags seen en route (such as Ragged Jack and Chimney Rock).
7. FOR… SAILING, SHOPPING & SANDY BEACHES
This sheltered, estuary town is well-loved for water activities – think learning to kayak (seakayaksalcombe.co.uk), joining a ferry cruise (southsandsferry.co.uk) or simply crabbing off the quayside. Spend days exploring the various beaches around town – East Portlemouth, across the water, is perfect for sandcastles and accessible by a year-round foot ferry. North Sands, walking distance from the centre, is another family-friendly strand, home to the Winking Prawn restaurant for beach barbecues on summer evenings (winkingprawn.co.uk). Round off the day with a stroll around independent shops and pubs – try the Ferry Inn (theferryinnsalcombe.com).
8. FOR… A BEACH TRACTOR RIDE TO BURGH ISLAND
Bigbury-on-Sea & Burgh Island
Bigbury-on-Sea has one of South Devon’s most memorable views on account of its sandy tombolo beach connecting the mainland to the outcrop of Burgh Island, with its eponymous Art-Deco hotel. Crossing this beach when the tide is high is facilitated by a hydraulic sea tractor – the only one of its kind in the world – and well worth the £2 fare each way. Once on the island, sup a pint in the atmospheric 14th-century Pilchard Inn. Or if you really want to push the boat out, book dinner or a stay at the Burgh Island Hotel, former haunt of Agatha Christie and Noël Coward, for a taste of authentic Thirties glamour.
9. FOR… A SHORELINE CYCLE AROUND THE EXE ESTUARY TRAIL
Exe Estuary Trail
This award-winning £17m cycle and walking route, fully open since late 2014, offers 16 miles of mostly traffic-free trails against a backdrop of the Exe Estuary. Linking the coastal towns of Dawlish Warren and Exmouth, the mainly level track follows the banks of the river through the villages of Starcross, Topsham and Lympstone (plus Exeter Quay), and is one of the best routes in the UK for birdspotting. As the estuary is edged by marshland, it provides a haven for wintering waders and wildfowl, plus rarities such as avocets and Cetti’s warblers. exploredevon.info/activities/cycle/exe-estuary-trail.
10. FOR… LEARNING TO SURF ON WOOLACOMBE BEACH
With its three miles of golden sand, pristine waters and views across to Lundy Island, Woolacombe Beach is, perhaps unsurprisingly, TripAdvisor’s most popular attraction in Devon for 2017. What’s more, it is also a top spot for surfing. Learn to get up and ride with the Woolacombe Surf Centre, a Surfing England-accredited Centre of Excellence, specialising in surfing, coasteering, kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding. ‘The ocean is nature’s biggest playground,’ says owner and head coach Gary King, whose staff are fully qualified as both beach life guards and surf coaches, teaching all levels from age eight upwards. Kit is provided, and free photos are included with every surf lesson. From £35 for half-day taster session.