Magnificent architecture lines the streets, from Roman ruins dotted around the city, to the archaeological wonders that run below street level. The real jewel in Exeter’s crown is the imposing gothic cathedral, which dates back to the 11th century – and is well worth a visit.
Home to a large student population, the city boasts an array of bustling watering holes for those seeking an intimate date setting, or a more lively night out.
If you’re looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city centre, head to the riverside that meanders around the perimeter of the city. Enjoy fresh air and luscious green spaces that feel a world away from the crowds, without having to travel far at all. This wonderful little city is bursting with offerings for those visiting, and we have whittled down the best things to do in Exeter, whatever the weather.
BEST THINGS TO DO IN EXETER, EVEN WHEN IT RAINS
Shop till you drop (or head to the pub!)
With all of the top high street and luxury brands within an arms’ reach, Exeter is consistently popular with shopaholics from across the South West. The city boasts two large shopping centres with all the firm brand favourites, Princesshay and Guildhall, placed conveniently at either end of the vibrant high street.
Should you wander off the beaten path, the Western Quarter is peppered with independent businesses, from family-run delicatessens to bespoke clothing boutiques. McCoy’s Arcade on Fore Street is a shining example of what the more unconventional side of Exeter has to offer; think an eclectic mix of vintage clothing, retro homewares, and indie coffee shops.
Explore Medieval underground passages
While the cobbled streets of Exeter are bustling with shoppers, tourists, and locals alike, many are oblivious to the 425 metre network of medieval tunnels etched below the city’s surface. Originally designed to bring in clean drinking water from naturally occurring springs outside of the then-walled city, these are the only tunnels of their kind in the country, making them a significant archaeological site steeped in history.
Step back in time with a guided interactive tour from one of the resident experts, which includes educational exhibits at the Passages Heritage Centre, it’s a truly immersive experience not to be missed.
TIP: With low ceilings throughout and the deepest sections at 6 metres below street level, please note this attraction may not be for everyone.
Be adventurous at Quay Climbing Centre
If tight spaces aren’t your thing but you have a head for heights, Quay Climbing Centre is the ultimate way to spend a rainy day. It’s the largest indoor climbing centre in the South West, with lead climbing, bouldering, and ‘Clip n’ Climb’ to choose from. Whether you’re a complete beginner or a seasoned pro, there is something for every ability, so get kitted up and get climbing!
WHERE TO EAT EXETER QUAY
Pop by Samuel Jones
Once you’ve made your descent and find yourself famished, you’re conveniently nestled right at the heart of Exeter Quays, which is just a short journey from the city centre. A hub of bars and eateries, soak up the river views with a post-climb pit-stop. We recommend the Samuel Jones, which is just a hop and a skip over the footbridge. Serving a relaxed menu from 12pm – 9pm, while away the hours on the terrace in fair weather or hide from the rain and soak up the atmosphere in the contemporary bar and dining space.
Extend your trip: Stay at the Mill on the Exe
If you’re looking to get more out of your escape to Exeter just a little further down the river is the Mill on the Exe. Rooms range from Standard Doubles to the King Attic Suite, with the some rooms overlooking the dramatic Blackaller Weir.
Only a few minutes from the bustle of city life, it’s a great base to explore Exeter, with all the necessary creature comforts in each room to make it feel like a home away from home. Unwind with a glasss of wine on the spacious terrace while watching the crescendo of water before you, or hunker down in a cosy corner with a pint of Tribute and browse some of the tempting food choices on offer.
THINGS TO DO NEAR EXETER
Jump on a train to Topsham
A gentle saunter along the river and you are back at Exeter St David’s. From here, jump on the train to Topsham, and in 20 minutes you’re free to explore this charming estuary town.
Bursting at the seams with unique architecture, the quaint 17th century Dutch-style houses dotted along The Strand ooze elegance and charm and are truly Instagramable. If getting lost amongst a sea of antiques is what floats your boat, then you may lose track of time in Topsham Quay Antiques Centre. Originally built as a post-war bomb-proof storage building, luckily its integrity was never put to the test and the 70 year-old building is home to some exquisite treasures. Venetian-style costume jewellery, Art Neuveau pine furniture and Bohemian glassware are just some of the delights spread over the antique centre’s three floors. You’ll be sure to find a real gem to claim as a souvenir, whether it’s a statement piece of furniture or a dainty collectable.
When you’ve finished browsing the town’s retail offerings, a short meander beside the estuary is the RSPB Bowling Green Marsh. A haven for wetland birds, it proves just as popular with nature enthusiasts, with many fascinating and rare wildlife species calling it home. So integral to the Topsham’s identify, the branch-line that runs from Exeter St David’s to Exmouth is named after the Avocet bird, as you may catch a glimpse of the petite-billed black and white bird while travelling along the estuary.
Finish your day with a visit to The Globe, this 16th Century coaching-inn is planted right in the heart of Topsham, blending traditional pub with a contemporary foodie twist - you’ll be spoilt for choice with the pub’s selection of award-winning beers and fine wine. Championing West Country produce, the menu boasts all of the favourite pub classics with exciting, modern alternatives. The Globe also boasts cosy rooms with river views, making it an idyllic place if you're looking for peaceful accommodation near Exeter.