It was the Romans’ most south-westerly base in Britain, William the Conqueror built a castle here to keep an eye on rebellious locals and it was one of the last Royalist strongholds to surrender to Parliament during the English civil war. Now it’s your turn to discover this fascinating city through some of the finest Exeter tourist attractions.
Attractions in Exeter
Exeter Cathedral has been enchanting visitors for over 600 years, and it’s easy to see why. The nave contains the longest continuous medieval stone roof ever built; a forest of stonework that stretches uninterrupted for almost a hundred metres. Then there’s the Bishop’s throne, completed in 1316 from Devon oak and a colossal 59 feet high. If you have a head for heights, then we’d definitely recommend the roof tour. Your guide will take you high into the void above the nave, through both the south and north towers and then onto the roof to enjoy spectacular views of Exeter and the surrounding countryside. Tours take place on selected Tuesdays and Saturdays from July to September but if there are six or more in your group, you can book ahead by contacting the cathedral.
Exeter Guildhall on the High Street may be one of the few buildings that give the cathedral a run for its money as far as history is concerned. Dating from 1330, the Guildhall has been everything from a prison to a police station and was even used as a market hall for wool. Today, it’s still a vibrant public space with council meetings, mayoral receptions and civic functions all taking place under its glorious barrel-vaulted roof. On an upper balcony in the main hall, visitors can enjoy a display of the city’s silver, including a ‘cap of maintenance’ presented to Exeter by Henry VII and a sword belonging to Nelson.
Exeter Castle might not be quite as grand as it sounds (most of the buildings date from the Georgian period) but it’s reinvented itself in recent years as a conference venue and events space, so it’s always worth seeing what they have planned. Recent highlights include staging the Exeter Food Festival and their very own Oktoberfest.
If you need a proper castle fix, then make time for a visit to Powderham Castle, the historic seat of the Earls of Devon. Located in Kenton and built in 1391, it’s a magical place with plenty to do for all the family, including beautiful gardens, a walled play area and even a pets’ corner. Look out for their popular themed days throughout summer.
Devon is home to a wonderful collection of grand houses and Ugbrooke House & Gardens (designed by Robert Adam and Capability Brown) and the National Trust’s Killerton are both well worth checking out during your visit to the city.
Take a stroll through England’s oldest public gardens, make a monkey of yourself at a treetop adventure course and book a return ticket on a woodland steam railway.
Grade II-listed Rougemont Gardens sits in the southern shadow of Exeter Castle, a green oasis in the heart of the city. Originally part of the castle defences, today the park includes sections of Exeter’s original Roman wall and the ditches dug around William the Conqueror’s Norman fortress. On the other side of the castle, you’ll find Northernhay Gardens, the oldest public open space in England. Founded in 1612 for public recreation, the park was largely destroyed during the English Civil War but when the monarchy was restored, so were these much-loved city gardens.
Haldon Forest Park is run by the Forestry Commission and has over 3,500 acres of glorious woodland to explore on foot, by bike or even aboard a Segway! It’s home to a spectacular Go Ape! high-wire adventure course too, so is sure to be a popular destination for your own little monkeys.
For something a little more relaxing, Stone Lane Gardens combines art and nature in a stunning setting on the edge of Dartmoor, while Bicton Park Botanical Gardens is an award-winning attraction with plenty for adults and kids alike, including its own narrow-gauge woodland railway.
Arenas and stadiums
Exeter’s Premiership-winning rugby team has really put the city on the sporting map recently but there’s plenty more for sports fans to enjoy, from bagging yourself a spot on Exeter City’s ‘Big Bank’ to watching top-class National Hunt racing high in the Devon hills.
Exeter hasn’t traditionally been a sporting powerhouse but all that changed when Exeter Chiefs won rugby union’s Premiership title in 2017. The club play at Sandy Park just off the M5 – an eight-minute drive or half-hour walk from Exeter (M5 J29) hotel – and with over 12,000 passionate local fans packed in for the biggest games, it’s a great place to watch top-flight rugby. To the west of Sandy Park, on the other side of the M5, you’ll find Westpoint Arena, a 7,500 capacity venue that hosts concerts, sporting events, exhibitions and more.
Exeter’s association football team haven’t been quite as successful as their egg-chasing neighbours but their historic St. James Park is still an atmospheric place to catch a game, although it’s currently undergoing extensive modernisation. If you’re a neutral, stand with the home fans on the Big Bank, one of English football’s last great open terraces.
Exeter Racecourse is the highest in the UK, but there’s much more to enjoy besides the spectacular views. For more on making the most of your day at the races visit our dedicated guide to Exeter Racecourse.