With cosy pubs that date back centuries and up-to-date clubs soundtracked by the latest hits, Exeter has a nightlife option to suit everyone.
Nightlife in Exeter
Starting with the weird and wonderful bars, Board is the south-west’s first board game café and bar. Yes, you read that right – you can play pretty much every board game created. From classics like Monopoly to brand new games like Meteor Attack, there are dozens of games that will suit families, couples, kids and grown-up groups. The bar serves craft beers, a range of cocktails and their renowned fluffy milkshakes, while also offering a good range of food, including their slow-cooked pulled pork sandwich. It can get busy, so reserve your table online, with adult sessions costing a few pounds.
Just as intriguing is The Book Cover, a 1920s speakeasy that requires a password to enter (head to their site to find it). Once you’ve cracked the entry, you’ll find yourself in a den of iniquity, a jazz-filled basement where cocktails and dancing take precedence. The cocktails are strong and come with some spectacular names – a Lover’s Bane or Corpse Reviver, anyone?
If you’re mad about Harry Potter or the dark arts in general, then head to the Cauldron Inn near the Princesshay Shopping Centre. A novelty bar that houses floating paintings, ghostly candles and some truly magical cocktail concoctions, the food and drinks are decent but it’s the attention to detail that makes this a winner.
Inspired by the city’s rich Victorian history, Doctor Ink’s Curiosities gives the word quirky a new definition. Inspired by a fabulous and entirely fatuous backstory, the bar is a cocktail lover’s paradise. They brew and create a lot of their ingredients and mixers on-site, including their incredible ginger beer. The mixologists put real effort into the mixing and display – the cocktails might not be cheap at around a tenner a pop, but they’re delivered with real flair and are packed full of delicate flavours.
If cocktails are your thing, The Monkey Suit lounge bar excels with a vast array of cocktails, craft beers and comfy sofas that suck you in for the whole night. Opened in 2010, the bar is one of the most popular spots in the city and carefully straddles the line between bar and club, with a 2am licence on Saturday night.
If you’d like a view with your drink, then The Terrace is your spot. Located in the Guildhall Shopping Centre, the rooftop bar overlooks much of downtown Exeter, offering stunning sunset views in summer, while there’s indoor seating if the weather takes a turn. Enjoy the daily happy hour from 5-7pm, with the food offering excellent value. With guest DJs on rotation across the two-floor venue, including past guests Groove Armada, The Terrace is a great spot for some late-night dancing.
Set in the heart of Exeter, John Gandy’s is a two-floor bar and pub that’s packed every weekend. With live music every Friday and a regular Battle of the Bands competition, it’s home to some of the city’s best music and has a decent array of real ales, cocktails and weekly deals to keep students, regulars and tourists happy.
Doctor Ink's Curiosities
Mill on the Exe
With pubs as old as the Domesday Book, Exeter is awash with historical drinking spots. With dozens of beers available across the city and some pubs boasting stunning waterfront views, having a pint (or two) is one of the most pleasurable things to do in Exeter.
Start your session at The Bridge Inn in Topsham. With parts of the building dating back to 1086, this is one of the oldest pubs in the area and serves beers and ales from breweries across the region, making it a real beacon for beer drinkers. A family pub – it’s been handed down through the generations from 1897 – they have at least 10 ales available at one time, and boasts a log fire, pub garden and no TVs or background music. With views overlooking the River Clyst, you don’t even need to enter the pub – you can order and pay via a hatch in the window, leaving you free to drink in the views (and guest beers).
Almost as old is the Ley Arms, a beautiful twelfth-century thatched-roof country inn. Located a few miles south of the city centre, the pub sticks to the basics – good food, real ales and a lovely beer garden perfect for summer days (or a roaring log fire after a winter walk). The pub is dog-friendly, and make sure to leave room for dessert and a trip to the Orange Elephant Ice Cream counter – the locally made ice cream will linger long on your taste buds.
If you’d like a side order of waterside views with your real ale, then The Turf is the watering hole for you. Overlooking the Exe Estuary, a protected area of outstanding natural beauty, The Turf comes into its own in the summer months. The stunning terrace comes alive with BBQs – including two cook-your-own BBQs – and its very own bar. Oh, and there’s no parking on-site – if you want to get there, you have to walk, cycle or arrive via boat to their pontoon.
Rounding off our selection is Mill on the Exe, another waterside pub that’s a short stroll from our Exeter City Centre hotel. Comfortably spread over two floors including a sunlit riverside terrace, the venue was a working paper mill until the ’60s when it was converted into a pub – which explains the huge water wheel that adorns the pub garden. With a lively atmosphere and popular with after-work drinkers, the Mill on the Exe is one of Exeter’s best city centre pubs.
With a large student population and 45% of the population under 40, Exeter has plenty of late-night dancing dens.
Follow in Coldplay’s footsteps and get loose-limbed at The Cavern – when Chris Martin was growing up in the area, he was a regular on the dancefloor. Flying the flag for the city’s alternative music scene, the club holds some of the region’s best indie and drum and bass nights. A mainstay in the city’s club scene since 1991, it’s had some truly huge names through its doors, including Mumford & Sons, La Roux and, indeed, Coldplay. If alternative music with an up-for-it crowd is your thing, then this is your place. And just off Queen Street and Gandy Street, it’s right in the heart of the city’s nightlife action.
When much-loved Exeter club Arena closed, it didn’t take long for the venue to bounce back as new incarnation Unit 1. With one of the city’s biggest dancefloors and a truly booming sound system, the club comes alive at the weekends to a soundtrack of RnB, indie, dance and chart music – if it’s well known, it’s getting played. Tuesdays and Thursdays cater to their student fans, while weekends cater for a more up-market crowd, with global dance music brand Ministry of Sound regularly taking over on Saturday nights.
Spread over three floors, Timepiece is one of Exeter’s biggest clubs. With a large, covered beer garden, there are lots of spaces and bars to discover. The music is a mix-up throughout the week, with Latin, indie and even punk catered for across the different sound systems. And if it all gets a bit rowdy, head for their burger bar and sit down for some of the best late snacks in town. Timepiece really comes alive over bank holidays, with events like Worldbeat, Azuca and the Exeter Roots Festival celebrating a diverse range of music from across the world.