Exeter, England, in Beautiful Devon Southwest England

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Exeter, England: Tiny City, Big Adventures

By Oscar Davis

If you’ve been to England, you know there is no shortage of rich history, exciting sights, and incredible entertainment. From England’s nightlife scene to its breathtaking beaches, this country never ceases to surprise and delight vacationers and travel adventurers alike.

When most people conjure up images of England in their minds, their first thoughts might turn to the Queen’s Guard standing stoically in front of Buckingham Palace, or the London Bridge impressively expanding across the River Thames.  While London certainly has its fair share of enticing attractions, England is home to surprising little gems.  We’re talking about Exeter.

Remains of the medieval Exe Bridge, built around 1200. Aaron Bihari photo.
Remains of the medieval Exe Bridge, built around 1200. Aaron Bihari photo.

Where is Exeter and Why Is It Visit-Worthy?

Located along the River Exe, Exeter is in Devon England southwest of Bristol. With a population of under 200,000, it might seem like a sleepy town, but in truth, Exeter packs a wallop when it comes to cultural history, culinary delights, and incredibly beautiful scenery.

From hiking miles of countryside, sampling yummy local foods, exploring historical landmarks or soaking up the vibrant art scene, Exeter promises an unforgettable trip for solo travelers, couples and families alike. Here are a few highlights and must-do excursions you won’t want to miss during your trip to Exeter.

Where to Eat in Exeter

The old idea of England having bland food is shot to pieces when you visit Exeter. While this small city offers plenty of healthy options, it is also well-known for more hearty, gut-busting temptations and exotic fares.  So, you might want to take a food sensitivity test or pack the antacids before you go so you can fully savor all of Exeter’s incredible culinary delights. Here are some of Exeter’s dining spots on Gandy Street. The Cauldron Inn, Zizzi’s, Hatts, John Gandy’s, Bill’s, Boston Tea Party, Chococo, Devon Coffee, The Cavern, and Las Iguanas.

Pig and Pallet
Pig and Pallet bbq.

Take the meat-lovers Pig and Pallet restaurant for example. You’ll swear their smoked barbeque plate piled high with juicy pulled pork is just as good as you might find in the States.

Or order one of their Devon Dogs, like the Hot Dawg with loaded crispy onions barbeque sauce and jalapeños.  Not for the faint of heart, but the Pig and Pallet is serving up lip-smacking good grub in a rustic, inviting atmosphere.

For a lighter fare, try the Boston Tea Party for brunch.  From the light and healthy eggs Florentine with fresh greens and sourdough toast to their California bowl featuring fresh smoked salmon, avocado and scrambled eggs with tender stem broccoli – the Boston Tea Party has delicious eats in a clean, contemporary environment.

If you’re looking for fine dining in a romantic setting, don your nice duds and head out to the Rendezvous Wine Bar. It’s a local favorite for discerning wine lovers and foodies in the Southernhay Quarter. Try the succulent glazed duck breast and confit leg Ballantine served with a silky bean cassoulet. Finish your main off with their sensational orange blossom cherry cheesecake with poached cherries and orange syrup.  And don’t forget to select a perfect pairing wine to take this indulgent meal over the edge.

The Cathedral in Exeter, England.
The Cathedral in Exeter, England.

What to Do

The beauty of Exeter is that there’s always something to do, and it’s usually within walking distance.  The city is broken into distinct quarters, making your tour through shops and art galleries a breeze.  There are several maps of Exeter you might want to download or request, including a cycling map, walking guides and maps to the best shopping.

However, if you’re cool with “winging it” why not make your first stop at the breathtaking Exeter Cathedral. This marvelous example of gothic architecture started out as a Roman army camp back in 1050.  Also known as the Cathedral of St. Peter, it underwent renovations in 1290. It is home to the longest unbroken stretch of Gothic stone vaulting in the world and it features some of the most jaw-dropping examples of the woodwork from the 14th century.

If you’ve got kids, they might love to take a tour through Exeter’s Underground Passages.  These are the only subterranean pathways of their kind open to the public in Britain.  They were built during medieval times as a way to provide clean drinking water from springs outside the city walls to homes and businesses. The tour includes historical details of how the passageway was built, life in medieval times and artifacts that were uncovered in the tunnels are also on display.

Exeter’s Art and Museums

If art is your scene, you’ve got to visit the Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery.  Featuring 16 galleries and historical displays of pre-history and modern-day marvels, this is a must-see destination when you’re visiting Exeter.  From intricate glassware showcases to archeological findings from all over the world, the museum is a treat for artists and history buffs alike. Exhibitions change often, so check in with the museum before visiting.

If you want to invest in art during your trip to Exeter, then you should go to the best, family-owned art gallery, South Gate Gallery.  With an array of original, limited edition, and open edition art on display, you are bound to find something to accent your home.  South Gate also features pieces from local artists displaying exceptional paintings of the sweeping Devonshire countryside.

Exeter’s Gardens

Perhaps you’re more of a nature lover. If so, Exeter has you covered when you visit Northernhay Gardens, which appreciates the esteemed title of the oldest public garden in England. You’ll marvel over their stunning botanical displays with historical statues dotting the immaculate landscape. Speaking of history, the gardens encompass a lengthy stretch of the Roman wall as well as the Saxon town wall.

You might also want to tour the Rougemont Gardens. Hailed among famous Victorian writers as the “gem in the heart of Exeter,” Rougemont Gardens is one of the most stunning sites to view biodiversity. With its lush mature trees and epic floral arrangements, these gardens are sure to please.

The Last Word on Exeter

They say that big things come in small packages, and Exeter doesn’t disappoint. The locals are lovely and welcoming, and you’ll appreciate how the pedestrian-friendly layout of the city allows you to see amazing culture and discover hidden treasures on every block you walk. From superior dining experiences, enchanting views, and extraordinary history – everything you need to make a memorable vacation can be found in Exeter.

Exeter, England, in Beautiful Devon Southwest England 1

Oscar Davis is a freelance writer from Leeds, UK, a regular world traveler, and a GoNOMAD contributor.