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Things to do in Exeter, Devon

Exeter is one of Britain's oldest cities, the commercial and cultural centre of the south-west; the old county town of Devon.

Ferry across the river © Colin Jackson
Ferry across the river © Colin Jackson

Visitors to Exeter can enjoy the amenities of a modern city while exploring its historic past.

Set in beautiful verdant countryside, Exeter is a great base from which to explore Devon, with its picturesque villages, historic churches, quaint old inns; the county famed for cider-making and English cream teas.

Early History

Exeter's history began between the second and third centuries BC when a Celtic tribe called the Dumnonii established a trading settlement on the River Exe.

Around the year 200, the Romans extended the area and surrounded it with red stone walls, parts of which still remain.

View of Exeter © Colin Jackson
View of Exeter © Colin Jackson

Since these early beginnings, Exeter has prospered as a port and trading centre.

Exeter's main industry was the manufacture of cloth, until its decline in the late 18th century. Replaced in the 19th century by iron foundries, corn mills and breweries.

On May 4th 1942 Exeter suffered heavy bombing in World War II. Although much of the city centre was devastated, there still remain several fine historic buildings.


The Cathedral Church of St. Peter is Exeter's great glory, the two Norman towers are all that remain of the original, the Cathedral we see today was begun around 1270 and took almost a century to complete.

Interesting features are the famous west front with its fine carved figures, the Gothic fan vaulting, the longest in the world, the misericords, the minstrels' gallery, the bishops throne and the astronomical clock in the north tower.

Historic Buildings

Many of Exeter's historic buildings are close to the Cathedral, you won't miss the Guildhall with its Renaissance Stone Portico in the High Street, or Moll's Coffee House with its fine timbered gables dating from Elizabethan times, said to be visited by Francis Drake and Walter Raleigh.

Exeter Cathedral © Colin Jackson
Exeter Cathedral © Colin Jackson

The Royal Clarence Hotel an elegant building opposite the Cathedral, dates from the 14th century and refurbished in Georgian times, has been host to many distinguished guests including Lord Nelson.

St. Nicholas Priory is the surviving guest wing of a former Benedictine Priory, several rooms are now restored and open to the public. It is home to a permanent display by the Devonshire & Dorset Regiment.

Underground Passages

Unique to Exeter, are the Underground Passages created in medieval times, to bring fresh drinking water from natural springs lying outside the walled city.

You can take a guided tour and explore these ancient passages.

More Things to Do in Exeter

At Quay House Visitor Centre in Exeter's historic Quayside, you can enjoy a short audio-visual presentation of Exeter's history.

View of Exeter © Colin Jackson
View of Exeter © Colin Jackson

The old Quay area has been transformed and offers an interesting collection of shops, restaurants, cafes and old inns.

There are water sports, indoor entertainment, riverside walks, a leisure centre and nightclubs.

The Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery, has a wide and fascinating collection of Roman remains, mounted stuffed animals, silverware and a collection of West Country art.

Exeter is a lively place for the arts, there is an annual festival in July, which includes classical music, jazz, light entertainment, opera, ballet and comedy, also several other festivals throughout the year.

Exeter benefits from three theatres and several art galleries, with a programme of varied shows and exhibitions to suit all tastes.

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