If you’re planning a city break with your children this winter Exeter in Devon should be on your hit list. Natasha Harding and her daughter went for a weekend of shopping, exploring, eating, and more shopping.
Compact and lively Exeter packs a big punch
Although compact, Exeter packs a mighty punch of things to do, and the whole family will be charmed by this vibrant, accessible and historical city.
We stayed at Hotel Indigo Exeter, which started life as Colson’s department store in 1792: it was later bought by Dingles before becoming House of Fraser until 2019. Then, following a multi-million-pound restoration project, Hotel Indigo Exeter emerged to welcome its first guests in December 2022.
Lexi and I caught the train from Okehampton to Exeter Central and walked to the hotel in minutes. As there isn’t car parking on-site, this was the easiest – and cheapest – option for us.
Check in was effortless and we loved the super-speedy elevators, decorated with vintage Colson’s receipts.
Hotel Indigo celebrates its heritage with heaps of charm
The hotel offers 104 rooms which are designed around three themes: The House That Moved, Colson’s Department Store, and Cathedral Heritage.
We stayed in a Cathedral Heritage bedroom; wonderfully spacious, with a sumptuous bathroom including a roll top bath, and large beds dressed in the softest Egyptian cotton linen.
Once we’d unpacked and enjoyed the plate of delicious truffles, we hit the shops. If your kids have pennies to spend they will be delighted that several big name stores are so close to the hotel, along plenty of quirky individual shops.
We can highly recommend Colson’s Bar & Grill
That evening, we dined in Colson’s Bar & Grill at the hotel which is luxuriously furnished and very popular with residents and non-residents. The hotel’s pianist serenaded us with a variety of classic pop songs and Lexi and I made a game of guessing what he was playing.
The restaurant only uses ethical, sustainable producers and buys from as local an area as possible and you can tell by the quality of the delicious food. Although there isn’t a children’s menu, Lexi chose from the main menu and enjoyed soup and a beef and venison burger. I had the lightly spiced crab cake and pork belly.
After a wonderful night’s sleep in our super comfortable beds we ventured down to breakfast, which we’d pre-booked at check in. As we didn’t fancy a cooked breakfast, we took advantage of the buffet which included cereal, fruit and pastries. And while Lexi had a second bowl of coco-pops, I made my way through a cafetière of excellent coffee.
Best plan in Exeter? Shop for a little, tourist for a little
Then it was time to hit the city streets just as Exeter was waking up. Primark was on the list – of course – and after many, many minutes, we finally left and wandered along Fore Street, home to several independent shops and restaurants.
Don’t miss the underground tunnel tour
Our Exeter Underground Passages tour was booked for 11.30am and a bit shopped out, we arrived prompt and ready to be tourists. These medieval passages were originally designed to bring clean drinking water into the city from natural springs outside Exeter and guided tours have taken place here since the 1930s, only stopping during the war when the passages were used as bomb shelters.
It’s an absolutely fascinating experience and included in the entry price is the loan of a hard hat, a ten minute film presentation, a 25 minute tour underground and an opportunity to explore the super-interactive exhibition. If you decide to book, and you really should, you’ll need sturdy shoes, and not mind confined spaces. The tunnels are pretty tight and very, very low in places. They say the tour is suitable from age five, but that really depends on your five year old.
Exeter Cathedral is another must-see
We also visited Exeter Cathedral which has been at the heart of Devon for nearly 1000 years. It’s very beautiful inside and out making it worth the visit, and you can either book a guided tour or roam about at your own pace, which was our preference.
Al Farid, a Moroccan/Lebanese bar and restaurant, was our second night choice for dinner. Not least because it was minutes away from our hotel and housed in an historical building known as Three Gables in Cathedral Yard.
We ordered mezze and pitta bread, with hummus, meatballs, chicken wings, calamari, rice and beetroot salad to follow. And it was so good we would definitely have travelled further to eat here. The happy atmosphere and attentive service, along with the lovely, traditional decor, all added up to a wonderful Saturday night.
Leave time for the best Sunday roast in town
After another great sleep and superb breakfast, we checked out in time for a final visit to Primark and a Sunday roast at The Old Firehouse, recognised as one of the best ale and cider pubs in Exeter. We’d booked lunch for the first sitting at midday and all of the tables were reserved with groups of people arriving all the time.
The roast options were beef, pork or chicken and a range of veggie choices, all were served with heaps of vegetables, an outsize Yorkshire pudding and our very own jug of gravy. Everything was cooked beautifully and it was the perfect lunch before catching the train for home.
Although we’d only been in Exeter for a couple of nights, it felt almost like a wrench to leave. But our weekend of shopping, eating and being a bit touristy, certainly gave us a taste for more, so we’ll be back again soon.
How to plan a weekend in Exeter
How to get there
Trains from London Paddington to Exeter Central, from 2 hours, 4 minutes
Where to stay
Hotel Indigo Exeter, family rooms, B&B, from £125 per night
Good to know
Exeter Underground Passages Tour: adults, £7.50; children, £5.00
Exeter Cathedral: adults £7.50; free for under 18s in a family group