Top things to do in South Devon for all ages
October 15th, 2017 | By Ross Purdy
There are so many things to do in South Devon that visitors can always discover something new, even if they’ve been holidaying here for decades. From soft play centres to sampling wines at Sharpham Vineyard, there’s something for every age, taste and mood, and it’s all just a short drive away, wherever you’re based in the region.
Here’s a rundown on the best things to do in South Devon, with links to where you can find out more.
Things to do whatever the weather
Nobody could deny that South Devon looks stunning in the summer sunshine, but there’s plenty to enjoy regardless of the weather, so let’s start with indoor and all-weather activities.
Food and drink
Our region is a treasure trove of charming traditional pubs, fantastic restaurants and thriving cafés. From Salcombe crab sandwiches to Devon cream teas, there’s a local speciality to suit every palate. Whether you’re dreaming of dining al fresco on a waterside terrace or cosying up by the fire with your favourite tipple, you’ll be spoilt for choice in South Devon. There are more interactive things to do in South Devon for foodies too, with lots of food and drink attractions to choose from, such as gin making in Salcombe or a tasting tour at Sharpham Vineyard.
Pure indulgence – Spas and salons
Choose from an array of luxurious spa facilities and salons in our region. For those staying in or around Dartmouth, Dart Marina and Dartmouth Hotel and Spa offer similarly extensive beauty and complementary health treatments. Around Salcombe, the spas at Salcombe Harbour Hotel and in Thurlestone are both popular choices.
Find out more about pampering in South Devon.
Looking for something more active? Between Totnes and Buckfastleigh, Dart Rock is an indoor climbing and adventure centre, perfect for energetic families looking to burn off steam whatever the weather.
For younger kids
Keeping the little ones entertained on rainy days can be a struggle – or at least it would be without South Devon’s selection of soft play centres and art cafés to come to the rescue.
In Salcombe, there’s Paper Bird Island, where kids can paint and decorate a variety of papier mâché boxes and animal shapes. The Kidz & Co (pictured), a soft play centre and spacious café, is another good indoor option for young families, giving the grown-ups a chance to take the load off with a good cup of coffee or fresh bite to eat.
A few miles away in Kingsbridge, Fore Street is home to Bumble, a popular soft play centre, and the Art Café, where kids can paint a selection of ceramics that will be fired and made available to pick up later.
Don’t forget Woodlands either – Devon’s largest family theme park, located a few miles from Dartmouth, includes an extensive indoor adventure centre, ideal for rainy days.
On the water
South Devon’s stunning coastline, rivers and estuaries cry out to be explored – however you like to get on the water.
The most relaxed way to get on the water is to take a scenic boat trip, whether that’s a quick hop on the South Sands or Dartmouth Castle Ferry or perhaps a longer cruise. The latter includes a picturesque passenger ferry ride from Dartmouth to Totnes along the beautiful River Dart, or during the summer a tranquil cruise on the Rivermaid between Salcombe and Kingsbridge. There’s also the option of a meal on the Picnic Boat from Dartmouth, and more frenetic options include a rib ride out of Salcombe with Sea ‘n’ Shore.
If you’d rather plot your own journey, how about hiring a motorboat and exploring the River Dart or Kingsbridge Estuary? Providers include:
Sailing is one of South Devon’s great attractions, with major annual regattas in Dartmouth and Salcombe and some smaller gatherings in villages like Frogmore and Dittisham. Sailing instructors and hire facilities abound, including:
Ways to enjoy the water in South Devon don’t stop at sailing of course – there’s a growing number of activities, from the super-active to the relatively relaxed.
Coasteering is one of the most exciting things to do in South Devon. This activity involves swimming, climbing and jumping into the waters around the craggier stretches of our coastline.
Find out more about coasteering in South Devon here.
Stand-Up Paddleboarding is a fantastic way to see South Devon’s estuaries and sheltered bays whilst getting some gentle exercise. Take a look at our dedicated article on Stand-Up Paddleboarding in South Devon here.
South Devon is a great place to learn to surf or hone your skills. Learn from the experts or hire equipment from Discovery Surf School (Bigbury-On-Sea and Challaborough Beach), TricOceanSurf (Bantham) or Bantham Surfing Academy.
Canoeing and kayaking in our region ranges from taking on white-water stretches of the upper reaches of the River Dart to gently paddling around our picturesque creeks.
This article has lots of information about kayaking in South Devon.
You don’t need to splash out on expensive equipment to enjoy the region’s rivers and estuaries. South Devon contains many locations ideal for wild swimming, and for the intrepid there’s the annual Bantham Swoosh race in the River Avon.
For animal lovers, South Devon offers a nice range of attractions, especially for those who want to get up close and personal with an array of cuddly critters.
Pennywell Farm, near Buckfastleigh, is a petting zoo with animals ranging from stroke-able guinea pigs and rabbits up to magnificent shire horses. It’s big enough to occupy all the family for a morning or afternoon, yet not so big that it would be overwhelming for very young kids.
Totnes Rare Breeds Farm
Totnes Rare Breeds Farm boasts an array of impressive owls alongside lots of pettable animals, including pygmy goats, alpacas and donkeys. There’s a little café where the outside tables are placed perfectly for watching the steam trains come and go.
Dartmoor Otters and Buckfast Butterflies
Located at Buckfastleigh Station on the South Devon Railway, Dartmoor Otters and Buckfast Butterflies is a little twin attraction, great for spending an hour or so as part of your day on the steam train (read on for more details).
Within easy reach of the South Hams, Paignton Zoo is one of the biggest and best animal attractions in the country. The zoo, which you may remember from the long-running BBC television series, ‘Zoo Keepers’, contains a huge range of impressive animals including lions, giraffes, gorillas and rhinoceroses.
Also close to the South Hams, Dartmoor Zoo near Ivybridge is famous as the inspiration for the film, ‘We Bought a Zoo’, and has a few species you won’t see in Paignton.
Seeing South Devon in style
The picturesque towns, villages and countryside of South Devon play a large part in attracting visitors to the area – here are four great ways to discover our Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty for yourself.
Turn heads as you tour South Devon in a beautiful vintage car hired from Self-Drive Classics, located in Wrangaton near South Brent. Get behind the wheel of something special like an original Mini, a Jaguar E-type or even a 1955 MG TF. There are so many scenic stretches of road in the region that, wherever you’re going, the journey is often as memorable as the destination.
The South Devon Railway
Running between Totnes Littlehempston and Buckfastleigh, the South Devon Railway is a nostalgic steam train service that forms the basis of a great day out, especially if you purchase a saver ticket which includes admission to the Rare Breeds Farm, Dartmoor Otters and Buckfast Butterflies. Totnes is well worth exploring, just a short walk from Littlehempston Station, and the station at Buckfastleigh has a café, gift shop and museum.
Dartmouth Steam Railway
Dartmouth Steam Railway operates between the historic harbour town of Dartmouth (departing from Kingswear) and the traditional holiday destination of Paignton, and offers stunning estuary and river views along the way. Why not combine the steam train ride with a river cruise between Totnes and Dartmouth and an open-top bus between Paignton and Totnes? The popular Round Robin is a great way to see South Devon.
The South West Coast Path
Most of South Devon’s most iconic sights, from Burgh Island and Thurlestone Rock to Start Point and Dartmouth Castle all look great from the South West Coast Path. Discover secluded beaches, craggy cliffs and stunning panoramas as you explore this trail, which also includes some fantastic pubs and cafés.
Step back in time
For many visitors who spent their holidays in our region as children, coming down to South Devon is always a nostalgic experience. But how about delving much further back into the history of the area, by visiting some of our castles and other historic sites?
From the 600-year-old fortress that guards Dartmouth to Dame Agatha’s Christie’s beautiful former home, there’s something for every taste and interest. Find out more from these articles:
- Three must-visit castles in South Devon
- Three National Trust properties in South Devon
- Our guide to Dartington village and the historic Dartington Hall estate.
This is just a flavour…
We hope you enjoyed our guide to things to do in South Devon, but we know we’ve barely scratched the surface… How about an old-fashioned day at the beach? Take a look at our South Devon Beach Bible for a rundown on the region’s best beaches, whether you want to sunbathe, swim, build sandcastles or explore the rockpools for creepy-crawlies. Find out how many crabs you can catch from the harbours at Salcombe, Dartmouth or Dittisham, or how about some target practice at Salcombe Shooting School?
You can even try your hand at golf, explore golf courses in South Devon.
How about a fun-filled break for you and your family? Explore our stunning range of holiday homes, suitable for all tastes and requirements in: