Family holidays to Devon

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Devon – Family holiday guide

This is the county for some of the world’s best surfing beaches.

It’s also where you’ll find the UK’s first Marine Conservation Zone round Lundy Island.

And if you were in any doubt about its seaside credentials, Devon’s home to the English Riviera too. Naturally, the cream teas are fantastic, especially after all the walking, cycling, swimming, sailing and exploring that’s all part of spending more than five minutes here.

And if your heart’s set on a country cottage, you’re in one of the best areas in the south of England for characterful self-catering – try historic Lundy Lighthouse Light Keeper’s cottage for starters.

Why go on holiday in Devon

  • National parks

    The county includes Exmoor National Park and Dartmoor National Park.

  • The English Riviera

    The English Riviera sits on the south east coast.

  • Surfing

    The north west coast has several of the UK’s best surfing beaches and award winning kids’ surf schools.

  • Lundy Island

    Lundy Island, 15km off the north west coast, is the UK’s first Marine Conservation Zone.

  • Family friendly activities

    Devon is one of the best counties in the south of England for family holiday parks and high quality camping and caravan sites.

  • Direct transportation

    There are several direct trains every day from London Paddington to Torquay and Ilfracombe.

  • Reasonable commutes

    It takes under four hours to reach Devon from London by road or rail.

Where to go and stay in Devon

North Devon and Exmoor

The north is Devon’s daring side. Exmoor National Park is here and beaches like Woolacombe, Croyde and Saunton string along the coast: big and safe for kids and some of the best in the world for surfing. Colourful seaside towns and wide-open countryside come packed with outdoor activity. And it’s not as busy here as the south, so families have a lot more freedom and space to enjoy the adventure.

  • Exmoor National Park is known for ponies, herds of red-deer and exciting nature, wildlife and heritage walking trails.
  • Lively Ilfracombe has art trails, theme-parks, castles and aquariums – perfect playground for kids and plenty of classic seaside charm.
  • Croyde Beach is one of the best surfing beaches in the world.
  • Saunton Sands sits on the edge of Braunton Burrows UNESCO biosphere and is known for excellent beginners’ surf.
  • Catch a ferry from Ilfracombe to Lundy Island for a day out or an entire holiday – the Landmark Trust has 23 family-friendly self-catering properties here.
  • North Devon is good for high-quality family camping and caravan parks with kids’ activities and access to the famous beaches.
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South Devon

From historic market towns like Exeter to its lovely beaches, big forests and pretty countryside, all of south Devon is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. But it’s not short on action for energetic kids. The water sports here are fantastic and have schools to match. You’ll find woodland wildernesses, incredible gardens and hundreds of coastal hikes all over the area. And if you want manmade thrills, the best theme parks in Devon live in the lovely south.

  • Don’t miss the circular coastal walks in south Devon, they’re magical even for younger kids.
  • Exeter is the capital of Devon and as quaint and charming a city as you’ll ever see. Visit the Quayside, Ancient Roman sites and impressive cathedral.
  • Several of Devon’s top ten beaches are on the south coast and they all operate a flag policy. So you always know when it’s safe – or not – for kids to be in the sea.
  • Self-catering is the best choice for families in south Devon and covers everything from cosy country cottages to award-winning holiday villages by the sea.
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Warm and West Country in the welcome, Plymouth has a bright, city atmosphere too. There’s a strong maritime influence and the legends of Sir Francis Drake, historic voyages and more recent seafaring exploits are all fun for kids to explore. And you can trade nautical fun for a grown-up wander round charming Barbican Harbour.

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The English Riviera

Torquay, Paignton and Brixham are as classically England by the sea as Victorian Pleasure Piers and beach huts. Today’s towns mix up funfairs and theme parks with seaside traditions but one thing that never changes is 35km of sandy beaches along this sunny coast.

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Dartmoor National Park

Dartmoor covers almost 600km² in the south of Devon. It’s an unruly and rugged landscape but just tame enough to have an almost limitless supply of outdoor activities. From hiking round prehistoric sites to rock-climbing, canoeing and cycling – Dartmoor has some of Devon’s best bike trails.

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What do and see with kids in Devon

  • The Milky Way Adventure Park, Clovelly

    Voted one of the best amusement parks in the UK, this is an all-weather, all-rounder with white knuckle rides for teens and scaled-down thrills for younger kids.

  • Ilfracombe Aquarium

    Get up close to sea creatures from north Devon’s unique marine environment at this award-winning, zoned aquarium.

  • Exmoor Zoo, Barnstaple

    This extraordinary zoo is about as hands-on as kids can safely be with the wildest of wild animals.

  • Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery, Exeter

    This recently refurbished little gem is one of the best small museums in the UK – fantastic kid’s event and activity programme too.

  • Becky Falls Woodland Park, nr. Bovey

    A WWF Amazing Day’s Out award winner, this wildlife and nature park is astonishing and great value for families.

  • Crealy Great Adventure Park, Exeter

    Rollercoasters, dinosaurs and just as much fun for winter themes as summer.

  • Clip ‘n’ Climb, Exeter

    One of south west England’s biggest indoor climbing walls at the Quay Climbing Centre.

  • Beesands and Hallsands Walking Trail

    An easy five kilometre stroll that takes kids past ‘the village that fell into the sea’.

  • 50 FREE things to do in Devon

    Tick Devon activity boxes from north to south and pay for nothing (or very little).

  • Teign Heritage Centre, Teignmouth

    Excellent kid’s activity and events programmes all year round and home to the Teignmouth & Shaldon Museum.

Educational value for kids

  • The East Prawle Culture Trail in south Devon is just one of dozens of well-mapped walks in the county. They’re marked for difficulty but most are easily managed by kids with a little patience.
  • First time surfers can learn from the best on one of the world’s best surfing beaches at Croyde Surf Academy – they take beginners from 5 to 85.
  • Families can pick up new skills and face all sorts of tough but amazing challenges at Skern Lodge Outdoor Activity Centre.
  • Follow the Ted Hughes Poetry Trail at Stover Country Park in Heathfield – the children’s section is a fascinating introduction to the Hughes’ poems illustrated by Raymond Biggs.
  • Ramble round Venford Reservoir on Dartmoor, it’s small enough to be manageable for kids and has an amazing collection of prehistoric hut circles, cairns and stone rows.
  • Download free Devon Cycle Maps and travel routes all over the county from the Exes Estuary to the Tarka Trail – several paths are flat, designed specially for bikes and almost car free.

Getting about with kids in Devon

Mix driving, cycling and walking to make the most of Devon. Good bus services connect most towns, villages and cities and there are daily trains from London Paddington to Torquay and Ilfracombe. The ferry to Lundy Island sails morning and afternoon from Ilfracombe and the crossing takes less than 2 hours.

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