When you see how much there is to see and do in South Devon, it won’t be at all surprising that it has been one of the most popular holiday destinations since the Victorian era. If you’re thinking of Devon for your next getaway, here is the lowdown on South Devon.

South Devon is a huge area comprising countryside and coast, so is a good option for those who want to enjoy a bit of both. The region includes the famous English Riviera, the beautiful South Hams, the city of Plymouth and a host of quirky market towns, chocolate box villages and award-winning beaches. So, as you can imagine, there is always something to see and do but we’ve pulled a couple of ideas together to help you plan the perfect visit.

For the adrenaline junkies

In the summer months, head to the coast and take your pick from the array of watersports on offer. Whether you want to try your hand at surfing, paddle boarding, kayaking or jumping on a jet ski, you can in South Devon. In Dartmouth, the River Dart is a popular spot for paddleboarding and kayaking, while the English Riviera offers sailing and surfing opportunities and places like Noss Mayo, Salcombe and Hope Cove are loved by surfers and paddle boarders alike. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or want to challenge yourself to something new, you can find tuition, guided sessions and equipment hire all over the region during the summer, so you don’t even need to bring your own boards with you!

It isn’t all surfing and paddleboarding, if you want to get the heart pumping and take on some waves without jumping on a board, head to Splashdown Quaywest in Paignton, the UK’s largest outdoor water park. Whatever your age or ability, there are rides for everyone, including the Devil’s Drop which is only for the biggest thrill seekers!

Or for those of you who would rather stay dry, Devon’s largest family theme park can be found on the outskirts of Dartmouth. Woodlands Family Theme Park features rides, a zoo, falconry displays, workshops and a host of other activities, including additional themed ones for the school holidays.

two people on a ride
Image: Woodlands Family Theme Park

For a range of adventure activities, check out River Dart Country Park. Packed with outdoor fun for all ages, you can test your skills at everything from high ropes, archery, cycling and everything else you can think of all suited for a range of abilities and ages. Whether you want to take on an assault course, get out on the river or play in the purpose built play area.

Perhaps for you the best way to get the adrenaline flowing is by having a flutter on the horses, in which case, keep your eyes on the racing programme at Newton Abbot Racecourse.  This year, from April onwards, there will be 18 thrilling fixtures with races taking place over the weekend, during the week and in the evenings, so you can visit whenever fits during your break. There are even a selection of family friendly events too.

For the animal lovers

Not only is South Devon incredibly dog friendly, with a host of places you and your pets can stay and beaches that are happy for your dogs to join you (click here to find out more) it’s also a haven for those that love animals.

Of course, perhaps the most famous of the region’s animal attractions is Paignton Zoo which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. As you can imagine, there will be a whole host of additional things to help you celebrate. It won’t be any surprise to you that Paignton Zoo is known as one of Britain’s best zoos, there are loads of animal residents for you to befriend including red pandas, giraffes and more!

Alternatively, for those of you travelling nearer Dartmoor National Park, there is Dartmoor Zoo. Set in 33 acres of woodland and home to the biggest variety of big cats in the South West, as well as a wide range of exotic creatures you won’t learn about anywhere else!

Image: Otters and Butterflies

Or for something a little different, head to Buckfastleigh where you can get up close and personal with some adorable otters and some incredibly beautiful butterflies at Otters and Butterflies. This otter sanctuary and butterfly house allows you to experience a rainforest atmosphere and join in at feeding times for the otters, most of which have been rescued. You can even sponsor an otter – which makes a lovely gift for the animal lover in your life!

Younger children and those looking for a gentler day out must visit Pennywell Farm. This family friendly farm park has everything you could need for a day out, it’s the biggest activity farm in the South West and features over 150 animals, rides, activities and just about everything else you can think of. Hand-feed red deer, watch the world-famous mini pig racing, cuddle a guinea pig and more right here! If you visit during the school holidays, there are a host of additional things to do on site, including performances and trails to keep the whole family entertained.

For the history buffs

Did you know one of the oldest human fossils in Europe was found in Torquay? Or that one of the most haunted castles in England is in the region? Well, now you do! There is an abundance of history and heritage to explore in South Devon with everything from stone age caves to castles and steam trains.

Two of the best-known heritage attractions are Berry Pomeroy Castle (the aforementioned haunted castle) and Dartmouth Castle, which was the one-time home of the town’s mayor, who also happened to do a bit of privateering on the side. Perhaps the most famous of South Devon’s exports is the author Agatha Christie. Known as the queen of crime, she remains one of the most prolific female authors of all time. Not only can you follow the Agatha Christie mile around her home town of Torquay but also visit places like Torre Abbey,  where you will find a poison garden dedicated to the lady herself.

children in costumes
Image: Torre Abbey. 

That’s not the only reason to visit Torre Abbey – it is after all one of the oldest buildings in the town and is set within 18 acres of parkland. It is home to a wide selection of art and antiques and regularly hosts exhibitions among other events.  Another spot for Christie fans is her holiday home, Greenway House, which can be found on the outskirts of Brixham. During the annual Agatha Christie Festival, you can find screenings of some of the best loved Poirot adaptations and during the rest of the year, you can see the home as the family left it and of course, explore the beautiful gardens. It is now managed by the National Trust, so entry is free for members.

For something a bit different, head underground and discover the wonders of Kents Cavern. Spanning the Ice Age to the Victorians, there is plenty to unpack here, including the skulls of two stone age bears that once roamed the region. A 40,000-year-old human fossil was also discovered here – it’s a truly fascinating place. Not only that but at certain times of year you can enjoy special events, like film screenings, Easter egg hunts and more.

Or why not jump on board a steam train for a picturesque journey around South Devon? Head to Buckfastleigh and book a trip with South Devon Railway. It’s a fun and interesting way to experience the region’s beauty spots, all from a carriage of a heritage steam train!

For the shoppers

South Devon is full of lovely shopping centres and high streets where you can find a diverse mix of shops, from high street favourites to independent gems.

For the chance to grab some unique gifts, check out the Cider Press Centre, which is part of the Dartington Estate. Full of vibrant and eclectic local shops where you can find locally sourced products and even have a go at making your own gin at the Devon Gin School.  While you’re here, you can explore the whole of the Dartington Estate with its listed gardens and medieval manor house and of course, head into the Bohemian town of Totnes. With a castle, regular markets (including one where everyone is in period dress) and quirky shops, it is well worth a visit.

China Blue in Totnes is the place to go for those looking for a unique mix of shopping and creativity. Not only do you have the largest range of pottery in the South West to choose from but you also have the chance to create a truly unique gift by painting your own! That’s not all, you can also have a go at pot throwing or joining in other creative activities – there is something for the whole family here.

Another place to shop for unique gifts is House of Marbles – alongside their popular museum where you can learn more about the workings of Teign Valley Glass, you can also shop for toys, games and other gifts you won’t find elsewhere. Or for more traditional shopping experience, head to Torquay’s Fleet Walk Shopping. Full of high street fashion and eateries, not far from the famous harbour, a shopping trip here makes a lovely addition to stays in Torquay.

For those looking for something a bit different

If you’re looking for something different while on holiday, South Devon provides – it is home to Babbacombe Model Village which is famous for its miniature models of well-known places, including the Bake Off tent!

model village
Image: Babbacombe Model Village

Or why not experience the life of the rich and famous by chartering a yacht with Above Decks? You’re welcomed with a glass of bubbles and then the day is yours! If relaxation sounds good to you, you could always book a wellness retreat with the Sharpham Trust. They have a variety of mindfulness and wellness retreats across several venues all on the same site, so you can pick something that really helps you reinvigorate. 

There’s so much more we could tell you about South Devon, if you want to find out more about what there is to do in the region and book somewhere to stay for your staycation this year, click here.

See more South Devon

Full of activities and attractions, it’s the perfect place for romantic getaways, sightseeing or keeping the kids entertained. This area of Devon offers a beautiful coastline and expansive countryside giving you unspoilt greenery, gorgeous beaches and picturesque villages.

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