Exeter, Devon is a cathedral city on the River Exe. It has a rich history, having been heavily influenced by the Romans, Tudors and Victorians. A prominent feature of the city is the Roman wall which was built around the city as a defence. Although today the wall is no longer complete, there are still existing parts that you can trace. Despite the fact that the city is much quieter compared with other cathedral cities in the South West like Bath or Bristol, there are still plenty of exciting things to do in Exeter.
Exeter’s Wool Trade
Although Exeter had different industries during the Industrial Revolution such as agriculture and water power, there was one industry which really thrived – the wool industry. Between the 16th and the 18th century, the city was involved in manufacturing and exporting woollen cloth. The broad landscape of south west Britain is ideal for sheep farming, and many families back then ran sheep farms. Woollen cloth was produced on the farms, and then sold in local markets. As the quality was so good, demand grew, and soon enough countries in Europe were purchasing Exeter’s woollen cloth. The cloth was loaded onto ships at Exeter Quay and exported to France, Spain, Holland and Portugal. Demand was so high that fleece was imported from Wales and Ireland. However, it didn’t last. The American Revolutionary War played a large part in the decline of the wool industry, as it disrupted the trading links between Exeter and continental Europe.
If you’re interested in learning more, the Exeter Woollen Trail is a self-guided walk that lets you discover locations in the city that played an important role during the wool trade.
Things to Do in Exeter
Red House Mysteries
Red House Mysteries offer escape room experiences for teams of 2-6 people. Combining immersive story lines with puzzles and interactive tasks, this makes a fantastic day out for families, friends, and groups. As it is an indoor attraction, it also makes a great choice for a day out if the weather is less than ideal.
If you’re in the mood to be inspired by nature, Canonteign Falls is a must. Home to Britain’s highest manmade waterfall as well as rich green woodland, this is a truly breathtaking place to visit. With outdoor adventure areas including a playground, zip wire, and assault course, there is also plenty to keep children happy – as well as a cafe serving high quality, handmade food and drink.
Opened in 1400, this Anglican cathedral is one of the country’s most beautiful cathedrals from Medieval times. Visitors are welcome, and you can take a guided or audio tour to learn about the history of the cathedral and the people who have influenced it. There are also special behind the scenes tours where you can climb into the roof void, into the south tower and into the Ringing Chamber. When making your way around, make sure you keep an eye out for the 15th century Astronomical Clock, the Minstrels’ Gallery and the collection of tombs. It’s also worth checking out the choir as well as the library, which is home to the famous ‘Exeter Book’ of Anglo-Saxon verse.
Beneath the streets of Exeter lies a unique and fascinating archaeological wonder. Spreading 425 metres across the city is a system of underground passages built in the medieval period. They were built to transport fresh water from natural springs that were located outside of the city’s walls. The tunnels were constantly altered and transformed throughout history, from being blocked off during the Civil War, to being redesigned during the cholera outbreak, to eventually being neglected when the railways were built. Exeter is the only city in the UK that has this sort of structure, and you can take guided tours which include a film presentation, an underground tour and admission to the exhibition.
Exeter Quayside is one of the prettiest parts of the city with a historically significant past. Old cellars, warehouses and historic buildings, such as the Customs House and Wharfinger’s House, are a reminder of the city’s wool trading past. The quayside is a bustling hub of activities, and is a centre for kayaking, boat tours and cycling. Wander round the cobbled streets and see what treasures you can find at the antique shops, or head to one of the many cafes and pubs and grab a table on the waterfront.
A trip to this fortified manor house is a great day out for all ages. Powderham Castle was first constructed around 1390 by Sir Philip Courtenay, and remains in the Courtenay Family to this day. The house is open to the public, and there are guided tours that lead you through secret doors and onto haunted landings. Discover the 18th century Marble Hall, or admire the Neoclassical Music Room. Outside, you’ll find an ancient deer park right next to the Exe estuary, filled with beautifully landscaped gardens.
Haldon Forest Park
Exeter has plenty of nature to immerse yourself in. Just 15 minutes from the city centre is the Haldon Forest Park. With 3,500 acres of woodland, there are so many activities to do here, from walking, Nordic Walking, cycling and mountain biking. You can even hire bikes and equipment from the Ranger’s Office. If you fancy a little adventure, why not have a go at the Go Ape Treetop Adventure and Go Segway. Kids will enjoy the Gruffalo Orienteering and the Shaun the Sheep Farmageddon Glow Trail. If you want to bring your own lunch, there are plenty of picnic areas in the park, as well as a cafe selling a range of drinks, snacks and meals.
Places to Stay
City Gate offers boutique accommodation in the heart of Exeter. The hotel also has a traditional pub and garden that serves seasonal British dishes made with local produce. City Gate is only a five minute walk from the High Street and Exeter Central station.
If you’d prefer to stay somewhere more rural, Weeke Barton is right on the edge of Dartmoor National Park, only a 20 minute drive from the city centre. The traditional, Grade 2 listed building has five cosy rooms, a bar, lounge, communal dining room and plenty of garden to relax in.
Queen’s Court Hotel
A 10 minute walk from the High Street is the Queen’s Court Hotel, a chicly converted townhouse. As well as stylish bedrooms, there is also a restaurant with 2 AA Rosette awards, serving British cuisine with a modern twist.
Places to Eat & Drink
The Welcome Cafe
Right on the banks of the River Exe, The Welcome Cafe is a friendly little spot that’s great for a healthy breakfast or a light lunch. They also serve a good range of homemade cakes and coffee.
For 25 years, Harry’s Restaurant has been a favourite in Exeter. As well as serving up high quality food sourced from local suppliers, the family run restaurant is also known for its warm ambience and relaxing atmosphere.
Al Farid Restaurant
Al Farid Restaurant offers authentic Moroccan cuisine in the centre of Exeter. From succulent grilled meats and tasty tagines, to traditional sweet treats and drinks, Al Farid is an excellent choice.
Also in Exeter
Red House Mysteries
Red House Mysteries, King Street Business Centre, King Street, Exeter, Devon, EX1 1BH