Coasteering in South Devon is hands down one of the region’s most popular outdoor activities, especially for thrill-seeking groups of...
The River Dart journeys from its source high up on spellbinding Dartmoor towards the South Devon coastline. From Dartmeet, as its name implies, the east and west branches of the Dart join to form one river. On its journey, the river meanders through countless picturesque spots, including the popular holiday destinations of Tuckenhay, Stoke Gabriel, Dittisham, Kingswear, Totnes and Dartmouth. This stunning waterway is famous for white-water rapids and levels that rise and fall without warning on Dartmoor, and gentle unspoilt stretches towards the coast that make its wilder sections feel like they belong to another world.
The River Dart offers something for everyone, so whether you’re happiest in the water or you prefer admiring it from afar, there’s so much to see and do! We have handpicked 15 of our favourite River Dart activities for you to enjoy as a family, couple or by yourself.
Use our quick links below or read on for our comprehensive guide on ways to enjoy the River Dart:
The River Dart is no ordinary river, and fittingly there’s no need to explore it on an ordinary vessel. The iconic Kingswear Castle Paddle Steamer, built in 1924, is the UK’s oldest coal-fired paddle steamer still in operation. This beautiful boat is a familiar sight along the River Dart, which elegantly transports passengers between Totnes and Dartmouth. Choose an outside seat towards the bow to make the most of sunny days, or shelter by the stern which is covered by a canopy. Wherever you sit, the views will be magnificent. Expect to see some of South Devon’s historic castles and most idyllic spots from the water, including charming Kingswear Village, you may even see some friendly seals enjoying river life – bliss!
The picturesque riverside village of Dittisham, with its iconic quay lined with a row of traditional fisherman’s cottages, is a much-loved destination for holidays and day trips. Families catch crabs from the pontoon (one of South Devon’s best crabbing spots!), while some launch kayaks or sailing boats, and others simply sit and soak up the scenery. Spot passenger ferries and pleasure boats carry delighted sightseers between nearby Dartmouth, Greenway and Totnes. Enjoy an ice-cream from the renowned Anchorstone Café or a drink in the cosy Ferry Boat Inn, and why not hop over on the tiny passenger ferry to Greenway Quay. Climb the hill from Greenway Quay and go explore the National Trust owned Greenway House, the former home of Dame Agatha Christie.
To find out more about Dittisham, click here to read our local’s guide to this picturesque village.
Berry Cottage (sleeps 4) is a Grade II-listed former fisherman’s cottage, located just a stone’s throw away from the banks of the River Dart. Due to its enviable waterside location, this luxury property offers stunning river views and boasts easy access to the village pub and café. This is a wonderful holiday home for a romantic retreat.
3 Glendale Cottages (sleeps 4) is an outstanding property resting within a short walking distance to the banks of the River Dart. The interior of the property has retained much of its character and charm, which is complemented by the refreshing ambience and contemporary styling. This is the perfect cottage for a family holiday to South Devon.
When it comes to choosing a trail for a scenic South Devon walk, many people head straight for the South West Coast Path without a second thought, but there are lots of other equally impressive routes to explore. The Dart Valley Trail connects Kingswear through Greenway to Totnes, and can also take you to Totnes from Dartmouth through Dittisham. The views are truly spectacular, stretching across to Torbay on a clear day, and showing acres of wooded banks and sparkling waters of the River Dart.
Here are our top three walks along the Dart Valley Trail:
Whichever your preference, kayaking or canoeing along the River Dart is an unforgettable experience – you may even find friendly seals poking their head out of the water to say hello!
Venture out on your own or go out with experienced groups who can show you the best places on the river to explore – perfect for families and groups! Along the River Dart You’re spoilt for choice, both for places to launch and for providers of equipment to choose from, including Totnes Kayaks, Canoe Adventures and AS Watersports.
Read our guide to kayaking in South Devon for more kayak and canoe hire companies, and our favourite places to visit from the water.
Gliding silently through the still waters of the Dart on a stand up paddleboard is an ideal way to enjoy the scenery and wildlife from an exclusive viewpoint. Watch as herons and little egrets dash along the river banks looking for food, and keep an eye out for colourful kingfishers catching small fish within the estuary creeks.
Read our guide to stand up paddleboarding in South Devon, including the best types of board for your ability, SUP hire, paddleboarding tuition and more.
Combine the independence of paddleboarding and wild swimming with the relaxing nature of a river cruise, and hire a small pleasure boat to explore the River Dart. Dartmouth Boat Hire offers a range of vessels, as does Dittisham Boats based a little way upriver on Dittisham Quay. The operators at Dartmouth Boat Hire estimate a one-way journey time of 30 minutes to Dittisham, 90 minutes to Sharpham and two hours all the way to medieval Totnes. A jaunt to Dartmouth Castle at the mouth of the estuary is also around half an hour.
South Devon is blessed with two iconic steam railways, both popular attractions in the region.
Dartmouth Steam Railway journeys along the most spectacular South Devon coastline. Starting from Paignton and along the picturesque English Riviera, the steam train travels through the Dart valley until it reaches the gorgeous waterside village of Kingswear. These days, very few people have the chance to ride the footplate on a genuine running steam train. Dartmouth Steam Railway offers a ‘Footplate experience’ where you can enjoy this beautiful journey through viaducts, tunnels and along coastal scenery.
The multi-award winning South Devon Railway is one of South Devon’s best loved tourist attractions. It is the longest established steam railway in the South West, celebrating over 50 years in preservation. Journey along seven miles of the former Great Western Railway branch line, built in 1872, along the stunning River Dart between the quaint village of Buckfastleigh and the bustling market town of Totnes. It’s a great all-weather attraction for families and people of all ages. As part of the adventure, you can visit the Totnes Rare Breeds farm and the Dartmoor Otters & Buckfast Butterflies – three great attractions on one amazing day.
The River Dart is famously enticing, especially on a summer’s day, so why not simply jump in? If you’re a strong swimmer with sufficient experience you’ll love the variety provided here, with some sections famed for their tranquillity and others renowned for their white water. The Outdoor Swimming Society’s Director, Kari Furre, lives in South Devon and told the Guardian newspaper that her favourite wild swimming spot was just by Totnes.
Read our blog on wild swimming spots in South Devon for insider information on the best places to visit.
How about something to get the adrenaline pumping? Go just outside the South Hams onto Dartmoor to give white-water rafting a shot. This is one of the River Dart’s specialities, with the region well-known across the country and further afield as a top destination for kayakers and other paddlers who love a challenge. Two popular choices are the River Dart Country Park and Dartmeet, where training and trips are provided. Contact AS Watersports or CRS Adventures to find out more information and make a booking.
Coasteering is an adventure for families and adrenaline-junkies, arguably one of the most exciting things to do in South Devon. This activity involves the thrill of jumping off the rocks into deep blue waters, swimming through caves and scrambling over rocks, along with the stunning scenery along the river and the chance of seeing amazing ocean wildlife!
Find out more about coasteering in South Devon here.
Raft building is a great activity for parties, families, work colleagues or any group of friends. Use your creative thinking and skills to build rafts with rope, logs and barrels. Dynamic Adventures in Dartington offers this fun activity and have loads of other super things to do.
Tearing down the Dart at hair-raising speeds isn’t for everyone, but the variety provided by this meandering river is one of the reasons it’s loved by so many people. Take a picnic with you on the South Devon Railway, walk to a riverside park, or why not choose an unspoilt, shallow stretch of river such as Staverton (the water is ideal for a quick paddle between sandwiches!).
Read our guide on the best picnic spots in South Devon for more fantastic spots to dine al fresco.
If you fancy something a bit special, why not have some delicious South Devon produce on the water? The Picnic Boat runs from Dartmouth and offers picturesque cruises for couples, families and other groups along with a choice of tasty food, from a seafood hamper to a classic Devon Cream Tea.
You’ll be spoilt for choice with stunning spots to drink and dine along the River Dart and estuary.
Located just a short walk from the bustling town centre of Totnes, and situated right on the banks of the River Dart, is the Steam Packet Inn. You will be treated to a warm and friendly welcome, a great selection of wines, beers and spirits and a tempting menu. Tuck into a mouth-watering steak with all the trimmings or feast on their salmon steak with crab while soaking up the fantastic atmosphere. Why not dine out the terrace with a fantastic vista of the river, or cosy up by the crackling fire in the winter months?
A traditional 17th century inn, overlooking the river at Bow bridge, The Watermans Arms is the perfect location for a quiet drink, light lunch or candle lit evening meal. Sit by the river or in the garden terrace seating on fine days and appreciate the tranquil surroundings. Their restaurant offers a variety of delicious dishes using Devon’s finest seasonal produce. Their choice of hearty meals include mushroom, brie and cranberry wellington served with jug of gravy, baby potatoes and fresh vegetables or try the oven baked chicken breast stuffed with brie and spinach topped with a creamy wine sauce served with baby potatoes, both served with fresh vegetables of the day.
Enjoy the relaxed, rustic, waterside destination in and idyllic spot on the banks of the Dart estuary. The River Shack in Stoke Gabriel has a wonderful, shaded outdoor seating area. Relax and enjoy a drink or bite to eat as you listen to the water go by. Their menu is developed around fresh, unique, locally sourced produce where possible, and changes with the seasons. Try the grilled Cornish sardines, with caper butter and sourdough as a starter or for a light lunch, or devour their delicious fish tacos, with crispy Brixham hake, shredded cabbage, citrus sour cream and chimichurri for dinner.
Read our Stoke Gabriel village here.
The Ferry Boat Inn also known affectionately as the ‘FBI’, is an attractive and traditional waterside pub with lovely river views. This iconic bright pink pub is a firm favourite with both visitors and locals alike. With their choice of real ales, a comprehensive wine list and a pub menu that is out of the ordinary, there’s no better place to soak up the riverside atmosphere. This quirky little establishment serves good pub grub with big portions. Be sure to try their scrummy home cooked fish and chips and finish off with a yummy chocolate brownie, if you still have some space.
The Anchorstone Café is one of the South Devon’s favourite river-side cafés, situated on the bank of the River Dart in the beautiful village of Dittisham. Boasting an amazing panoramic view across the water from the outside terrace and serving delicious seafood lunches. The Anchorstone Café offers a fantastic local menu and concentrate on an ever-changing specials board, where you will find meals like Start Bay crab, Elberry Cove mussels or local hand-dived scallops.
A five minute walk from the centre of the historic naval town of Dartmouth is The Floating Bridge. Enjoy a warm atmosphere in their traditional bar and cosy restaurant, or sit out front and watch the boats in the Marina and the Higher Ferry transporting explorers across the water to Kingswear. From their Chef’s Bouillabaisse to their chargrilled steaks, there is sure to be something appetising for you. It almost goes without saying that they have a range of delicious starters and a good selection of puds from their sweet counter too.
Located just around the corner from The Floating Bridge are our Dart Marina apartments, boasting outstanding views over the River Dart. These exclusive properties exude luxury and are perfect for a relaxing foodie break.
This modern, contemporary champagne bar and restaurant is in a unique position and prime location on Dartmouth’s Embankment. Boasting panoramic views of the River Dart, Kingswear and the embankment – there are not many places in South Devon, or indeed the whole country, that offer a better view. Choose from their excellent selection of beers and wines, and naturally a glass of one of their champagnes. Platform 1 prides itself on offering a locally sourced menu focused mainly on the freshest seafood which is sourced from Brixham harbour. Where better to enjoy a lobster thermidor, topped with cheesy herb breadcrumbs or share a seafood platter of scallops, salt and pepper squid, chilli crevettes, monkfish, and garlic tiger prawns than this extraordinary riverside location. Browse through the Platform 1 Champagne Bar and Restaurant’s menu here.
A short ferry ride across the iconic Lower Ferry to Kingswear, The Ship Inn emanates charm and encompasses a traditional, friendly pub experience, not to mention an unbeatable view of the mouth of the Dart as it meets the sea. As a seaside pub, fish is a key element of the menu all year round, and much of the seafood is sourced from the nearby fishing town of Brixham. Treat yourself to one of their delicious home cooked meals from the menu which is constantly changing to reflect the seasonal harvest of local good they use. A trip to The Ship Inn would not be complete without a squid in linguine or their traditional Italian seafood soup.
The pristine environment of the River Dart is one reason it is such a special site, but it is ideal for animals too, with harbour porpoises, seals and dolphins regularly spotted by eagle-eyed visitors. The same applies to fish, with stretches of the river making excellent marks for anglers in search of sea trout, brown trout and salmon with plenty of other species catchable from Dartmouth harbour. Find out more about fishing at Dartington Hall (charges apply) and other spots you can fish with a temporary licence from the Dart Anglers’ Association.
See our blog on fishing holidays in South Devon for super fishing spots and tips for keen anglers.
Views of the Dart Valley don’t get much better than from the sun-baked south-facing slopes of the Sharpham Estate, where Madeline Angevines are raised under the watchful eye of Head Winemaker Duncan Schwabb. Explore the vineyard and try the light and fruity wines, either on a tasting tour or as part of a meal at the Vineyard Kitchen. There’s a cheese dairy on the estate too, so be warned, you’re unlikely to drive away with an empty boot!
The River Dart is home to arguably some of the best crabbing spots in South Devon. Along the river is the perfect place to throw in your net and see how many critters you can fit in your bucket. Be sure to visit the crabbing hotspots at the pontoon in Dittisham as well as the Dartmouth Embankment. Most shops in Dartmouth sell buckets, line and bait. After hours of fun crabbing, why not grab a portion of fish and chips and sit on the embankment to watch the boats sail by.
Here are our top tips to crabbing in South Devon with insider information on everything you need to know about this traditional activity.
Against the backdrop of the sparkling River Dart where it meets the English Channel, take a trip back through time on a visit to Dartmouth Castle. Learn about the history of the river that is the lifeblood of Dartmouth. After a tour around the battlements, potter down to Sugary Cove for a quick dip in the sea and walk along the coast. To find out more about this historic monument, visit our guide to Dartmouth Castle.
From the historic harbour town of Dartmouth to the thriving riverside hamlet of Tuckenhay and the traditional unspoilt village of Dittisham, there are fantastic holiday locations along the River Dart.
Whether you’re looking for a luxury cottage with stunning river views including romantic boltholes, family-friendly properties or a choice of dog-friendly holiday cottages. If our River Dart holiday cottages sound like your ideal getaway book your break today.