Take your pick from some of our favourite days out in Barnstaple. Wildlife lovers can pay a visit to Exmoor Zoo, or hop aboard a ship to Lundy Island – the puffin paradise. There’s also National Trust properties, a fascinating local museum and an incredible sculpture park.
Activities in Barnstaple
The family-favourite Exmoor Zoo is among the top activities in Devon. It’s a little over a 20-minute drive from our Barnstaple hotel, but well worth the mileage for the opportunity to see everything from black leopards to monkeys, snakes and exotic mammals such as tayras and singing dogs. The zoo also offers experiences which can help you get up close and personal with your favourite species. Top tip: book your tickets in advance and you’ll enjoy a discount. You can also check the zoo’s feeding times.
Broomhill Sculpture Gardens
The nearby Arlington Court is the area’s most popular National Trust property. It’s a beautiful neoclassical stately home, which dates back to the 1820s and houses a stunning collection of antique furniture as well as a rather eclectic accumulation of family memorabilia.
As well as the main house, which you should set some time aside to explore thoroughly, the estate also features a carriage museum containing a stunning collection of more than 50 horse-drawn carriages, which include a magnificent gilded State Coach.
On a sunny day, you can spend hours simply wandering around Arlington Court’s extensive grounds. The walled gardens are a particular highlight, but there’s also ponds, lakes and some rather lovely walks to enjoy.
If you want to experience one of the most beautiful sides of nature, hop aboard MS Oldenburg to Lundy Island, the largest island in the Bristol Channel. The entire island is a protected nature reserve, so it exists almost completely unspoilt to provide a precious home for wonderful wildlife including – most famously – puffins; in fact, the name Lundy is the old Norse translation for puffin. A couple of dozen people live on the island permanently, and there is a smattering of buildings dotted around, but by and large, it’s a haven of peace, quiet and beautiful nature.
Explore the stunning Exmoor National Park with a trip to the nearby Heddon Valley. Bring paper and a pen and see if this beautiful wilderness can inspire your hand. After all, legendary bards such as Wordsworth and Coleridge have each been influenced by the local landscape. The cliffs tower over the ocean, the coves hide secrets away from sight, and the wooded valleys welcome you to come and explore their myriad mysteries.
Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon
If you want to find out about the fascinating maritime history of Barnstaple and the wider county, make your way to the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon. You can’t miss it, due to the prime location which it occupies on The Square, overlooking the Long Bridge. Its extensive collection of artefacts range from prehistoric times right the way through to the Victorian Era, and the staff and exhibitions do a brilliant job of bringing it all to life. Entry is free, although donations are warmly received. It’s a great way to kill an hour or two in the town centre.
Broomhill Sculpture Gardens
If you’re on Instagram, fancy yourself as a photographer or simply enjoy a bit of art, you’ll love the Broomhill Sculpture Gardens in Muddiford. It’s home to more than 300 sculptures from an enormously diverse array of over 60 artists, all nestled in this great natural wilderness. Plus, it’s constantly growing so you can return again and again and see something new.
Barnstaple sits on the Tarka Trail, the famous cycling and walking route which winds its way around North Devon. It follows the path of Tarka the Otter, a fictitious character made famous in the namesake novel written by Henry Williamson. It’s a figure-of-eight route, which covers a whopping 180 miles from start to finish, and has Barnstaple at its centre. You don’t need to do the whole thing, but the Tarka Trail enjoys stunning coastal and countryside views all the way around.