Exeter offers plentiful cultural delights. Kids and adults alike can go underground to explore ancient passages, discover what occupying Romans got up to in Devon and learn the history of the Silver Screen.
Culture in Exeter
Exeter has a number of very different museums that will inform and entertain you, from the Royal Albert Memorial Museum to the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum.
The Royal Albert Memorial Museum looks traditional (with impressive architecture) on the outside, but inside it has a thoroughly modern approach to entertaining, informing and supporting local communities and visitors looking for a great day out. From dementia-friendly art workshops to exhibitions on Devon as it was back in the days of the Roman occupation, the museum applies a 21st-century approach to exploring the past and bringing it to life with over 8,000 objects on display, including the Egyptian mummy of Shep-en-Mut and her beautiful coffin.
For something closer to our own time, try the film-tastic Bill Douglas Cinema Museum near the University of Exeter. It houses one of the largest moving image collections in the UK – over 75,000 items including material on Hollywood stars, such as James Dean, Greta Garbo and Marilyn Monroe, as well as an original 1896 Lumière Cinématographe showing the origin of our long love affair with the big screen.
Topsham Museum has a focus on maritime history and is located in Topsham, just outside the city in a 17th-century building overlooking the River Exe. The River Gallery features historic Exe river craft, including a skiff and Ruby, a salmon boat. The Sail Loft explores shipbuilding, fishing and maritime trade history dating back to prehistoric times. The house itself has two rooms furnished in the style of the time in which it was built, with authentic wallpaper and the preserved kitchen of the museum’s founder.
The museum is closed in the winter months but opens at the end of March every year, only in the afternoons between 2pm-5pm on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays, then Wednesdays and Thursdays. Throughout August, it’s also open on Tuesdays. It’s easiest to reach the museum by train from Exeter, arriving at Topsham station. Walk from here down Holman Way to the Route 2 Café, take the second exit from the mini roundabout and the museum is 300 yards down on the left. Alternatively, you can drive and park on Holman Way or the Quay, or catch buses T or 57.
Tucker’s Hall is a beautiful building with a rich history dating back to the 15th century, owned by and home to the Guild of Weavers, Tuckers and Shearmen since 1471. The hall is open to the public every Thursday and the first Saturday of every month. From June to September, it’s also open on Tuesdays. It can be closed at short notice, so it’s advisable to call 01392 412348 ahead of your visit to check. Admission is free but a donation towards running costs is appreciated.
Exeter’s Underground Passages are found in the Princesshay Shopping Centre but don't be fooled by its modern location. They boast a fascinating history encompassing wars, plague and sieges. Pipes were designed to bring clean water into the city from natural springs outside it. Just like pipes today, they sometimes leaked and had to be dug up, so vaults were built to access them and these are what you’re guided through.
The subterranean tours operate throughout the year, with opening times varying from June to September and October through to May. The passages sometimes have to be temporarily closed (presumably due to those leaks). Because of the changeable timetable and shifting circumstances, it’s advisable to check ahead of your visit that you will be able to descend into the passages by calling 01392 66588.
Let’s Rock Exeter
Royal Albert Museum
You can dance, eat, drink and explore a variety of wonders and crafts at Exeter’s many festivals throughout the year.
Let’s Rock Exeter is a retro pop music festival with a definite slant towards favouring the ’80s with some ’90s also thrown into the mix. It takes place every year at Powderham Castle, which isn’t a castle at all but a fortified manor house with its origins in the late 14th century. It has been the home of various Earls of Devon down the centuries and still is today, with extensive gardens, a pets’ corner and a kids’ play area.
Some big-name acts appearing at the festival include ABC, Sister Sledge, Heather Small (M People) and Atomic Kitten. Ticket prices vary and child tickets are free but are only available to book with paid-for adult tickets. Adult and child camping tickets can also be bought on top of your festival tickets.
The Exeter Festival of South West Food and Drink takes place in May every year, billing itself as the ‘ultimate foodie event’ – justifiably when one considers the incredible variety of food and drink you can sample while watching cookery demonstrations and enjoying drinks from the Festival Bar. It’s easy to get to, being held in the courtyard of Exeter Castle and Northernhay Gardens, right in the centre of the city. Live music is heavily featured as well, brought to you by local musicians and bands, with plenty of activities to keep the kids entertained.
Lost Weekend is curiously named, or maybe not when you consider how easy it is to lose yourself in the wonders of a three-day event showing off Exeter as home to world-class technological innovators and scientists. Supported by the local authority and the Met Office, it’s a new festival (the first was in October 2017) and truly one of a kind, featuring cutting-edge music, interactive media, playable art and a host of digital creative ideas turned into reality.
The festival is a multi-venue event hosted around the city centre, with venues including the Cavern Club, Exeter Phoenix and Exeter Cathedral, with two free stages as well, playing host to a variety of electronic and alternative bands. Talks, workshops and films will expand your imagination and present you with compelling, memorable new experiences you’ll be talking about for years to come.
Powderham Food Festival is a two-day event held at the start of October each year in the grounds of Powderham Castle. The spotlight is on healthy food for the whole family to enjoy. The festival has previously teamed up with Sugar Smart – the campaign run by Jamie Oliver, and Sustain, the alliance for better food and farming – to show how you can ditch processed and sugary foods in favour of healthier, fresh ingredients.
There are over 150 local food and drink producers and craft stalls, so you’ll have plenty to explore and appreciate, while the Clifton Chilli Club’s Great Chilli Challenge will make your eyes water and test your bravery (and tongue!). Exeter Cookery School has a stage at the festival too, hosting TV chefs, artisan sausage makers, Masterchef semi-finalists and more. Kids will love the Fun Kitchen, which provides the opportunity to get messy while making delicious food that’s good for them.
All told, a cauldron of gastronomic delights awaits you! Tickets are only a few pounds on the gate for adults, with infants aged three and under getting in for free. Alternatively, you can save money with a Family Ticket, which covers two adults with up to three children. Tickets can be bought in advance direct from the festival website.
Exeter Craft Festival is a free festival spanning three days at the start of July every year, on the Cathedral Green in the heart of the city. It’s been running for over 40 years, showcasing the talents of West Country artists and craftspeople with over a hundred stalls in a tented village.
The atmosphere at this event is always friendly and welcoming, with plenty of opportunities to talk to the creators of the beautiful ceramics, textiles, jewellery and metalwork you’re sure to fall in love with. Some of the artistic marvels will be crafted before your very eyes on-site at the festival, while children will be entertained by Punch and Judy, face painting and dancers. A strolling jazz band adds to the chilled vibe, perhaps while you enjoy a little food and drink from a variety of vendors.