Whether your little ones are arty, animal-lovers, history fanatics or mini daredevils, there’s something to entertain all interests and ages, whatever the weather. It’s a stunning place to get outdoors and immersed in nature too, and there are plenty of walking trails, woodlands, nature reserves and coastlines to discover. To get you and your children inspired before your trip, we’ve compiled some of our favourite family-friendly activities and days out in this beautiful area of the UK.
Cycle on the Tarka Trail
Inspired by the novel Tarka the Otter, this figure-of-eight shaped trail in North Devon is around 180 miles long, traversing scenic countryside and coastline. The route is mostly smooth, flat and traffic-free, so it’s suitable for cyclists of all ages. The 32 mile stretch from Braunton to Meeth is particularly lovely, running alongside the area’s old railway lines, with a number of refreshment stops along the way. If you don’t have your own bikes (or don’t fancy bringing them on holiday with you) there are several places to hire near the trail. Take a look here.
Pet the residents at The Donkey Sanctuary
This free-to-visit, award-winning attraction and charity in Sidmouth is home to hundreds of rescue donkeys. During your visit, you’ll learn all about this fascinating species, with talks, interactive displays and donkey-grooming demonstrations. You’ll even be able to meet and stroke the friendly residents, who each have a unique character and story to discover. There’s also a maze and farm-themed play area, as well as walking trails and a restaurant to stop for lunch or a piece of cake - plenty to keep you entertained for hours.
Ride on the sea tractor at Burgh Island
Bigbury On Sea is a popular beach for families, so it’s a lovely place to spend an afternoon with a picnic and your bucket and spades. But this beach has an extra, one-of-a-kind experience that makes it even more exciting for children (and grown-ups too!). At high tide, for only £2 per person, you can jump aboard the Sea Tractor to be transported across the water to the historic Burgh Island. Whilst you can’t go into the famous art-deco Burgh Island Hotel unless you’re a guest, you can still explore the island on foot and wander back across the beach at low tide.
Have an outdoor adventure at Haldon Forest Park
Just 15 minutes from the city of Exeter, the beautiful Haldon Forest Park is made up of 3,500 acres of woodland. There are all sorts of exciting outdoor activities on offer here including walking trails, mountain biking, Segway, archery lessons and the well-loved treetop rope adventure, Go Ape! It’s perfect for active families looking to burn some energy out in the fresh air. Or, if you fancy something a little slower paced, try the new 1.5-mile ‘Superworm’ trail where you’ll get your own activity packs to help you discover the forest’s minibeasts.
Take a guided tour at Powderham Castle
In an ancient deer park beside the Exe estuary, you’ll find the picturesque Powderham Castle. Steeped in history and medieval intrigue, it’s well worth going on a guided tour to take you behind the scenes, where you’ll see the majestic rooms, discover secret tunnels and hear interesting stories about the castle’s past. Once you’ve finished your tour there’s plenty more for children to do and explore, including Pet’s Corner, the Deer Safari Park, and a Play Fort complete with a suspension bridge, climbing wall and zip wire.
Go rock pooling at Shoalstone Beach
With two wildlife-rich coastlines and over a hundred beaches, Devon is a great place to enjoy some rock pooling - and Shoalstone Beach (near Brixham) is an especially good spot for it. At low tide, you’ll find lots of rocky shoreline exposed, perfect for clambering over rocks and peering into pools to discover crabs, tiny sea snails and starfish. Just make sure you use a bucket rather than nets (to avoid harming small creatures), return any animals you find once you’ve observed them, wear sturdy footwear and be aware of incoming tides.
Read about more of Devon’s best beaches in our guide.
Decorate a pot at The Paint Hub in Dawlish Warren
The Paint Hub is a colourful pottery painting cafe in the seaside town of Dawlish Warren. Once you’ve chosen a plate, mug, pot, money box or another ceramic piece (starting at £7 per piece), settle into your seat and get creative with the paints and stencils. You can order a hot or cold drink whilst you paint too, so take your time and enjoy this relaxing and satisfying activity together. The team will glaze and fire your work after you’ve decorated it, making it ready to take home and use, so you’ll always have a special memory of your holiday.
Learn about conservation at Dartmoor Otter Sanctuary and Buckfast Butterfly Farm
This small wildlife centre in Buckfastleigh near Dartmoor is a captivating and educational attraction for animal lovers. During your visit, you’ll learn all about otters as an endangered species and the importance of conservation work helping to reintroduce them to the wild. To get the best chance of seeing the otters up and about, visit during feeding times! You’ll meet the knowledgeable keepers then as well, who can tell you stories about the residents and their backgrounds. There’s a tropical greenhouse filled with exotic butterflies here too, as well as a sanctuary for terrapins, rescued lizards and creepy crawlies. Wildlife enthusiasts will also love a visit to Wildwood Devon to see many rare and threatened species, including the beloved red squirrel.
Go on a day trip to Lundy Island
As the Atlantic meets the Bristol Channel off the coast of North Devon, Lundy Island is the last land before America. This unspoiled, car-free island is just three miles long and half a mile wide - but there’s plenty to explore and it’s a great place to connect with nature. Go birdwatching and look for puffins, see if you can spot seals and dolphins off the coast and if you’re feeling adventurous try snorkelling or diving around the shoreline. There’s an exciting letterbox trail too, where you’ll follow clues and collect stamps from ‘letterbox’ points around the island.
Surf at Croyde Bay
Devon has lots of great surfing beaches, and Croyde is one of its finest. There are several excellent local surf schools to choose from, so it’s the perfect place to don your wetsuit and book yourself a lesson. All of the surf schools offer family-friendly lessons and equipment, so even young children can give it a go - and if there are any non-surfers in the family, they’ll be sure to enjoy the beach and stunning scenery while you’re in the water. When you’ve worked up an appetite, head into the village for some well-deserved pub food at The Thatch.
Go on a Treasure Hunt Trail in Topsham
This downloadable treasure map will take you on an exciting tour of the historic port of Topsham with directions and clues to follow to take you to the loot! The route takes approximately 2 hours and guides you along the quayside and seafront, past a nature reserve and through the historic streets, giving you interesting facts and quirky stories along the way too. The story is centred around pirates and ships laden with treasure - so if you want to go all out, why not dress up in your best pirate costumes and get into character?
Eat a Hocking’s ice cream in North Devon
Hocking’s ice cream is famous in North Devon, so it would be remiss to visit without sampling a cone! The small, long-established, well-loved family business only sells from their own distinctive yellow and red ice cream vans - from March to October you can usually find them on Bideford Quay, Appledore Quay and Westward Ho! seafront, among a few other locations. Take a look at the full list on their website.
Discover the waterfalls at Becky Falls
Set in a breathtaking ancient valley, Dartmoor’s Becky Falls is an idyllic place to explore over 50 acres of woodland, waterfalls and wildlife. There are several different walking trails to choose from, but the Red Trail is where you’ll discover a dramatic 70 foot waterfall. There’s a boulder scramble to have a go at too, and if you enjoy that, carry on to the Purple Trail for stunning views of the lower falls and more rugged terrain. After your walk, relax and refuel at the Woodland Cafe or visit the Gift Shop to pick up a nature-themed souvenir.
Take a steam train to the seaside at Dartmouth Steam Railway
What better way to travel to the seaside than by a nostalgic steam train? Dartmouth Steam Railway offers one of the finest steam train trips in the country, along the south Devon coast and into the stunning Dart Valley to the family favourite resort of Paignton. Here you can explore the beachfront, wander the promenade and traditional pier, admire the colourful beach huts and grab a bite to eat before your return journey. And if the steam train journey alone isn’t enough, you can combine your train journey with a River Dart boat crossing too on the ‘Steam & Cruise’ ticket.
Meet the miniature pigs at Pennywell Farm
This multi-award winning attraction is a wonderful place for children to learn about farming and farm animals. It’s packed full of animals, activities, shows and displays, from goat milking and egg collecting to tractor rides and pig racing. One of the highlights of Pennywell is their world-famous Miniature Pigs - and you’ll be able to enjoy a ‘piggy cuddle’ with the adorable piglets on your lap. Aside from the animals, there are play areas, trampolines, an indoor play barn and more to keep children occupied for the whole day.
Eat fish & chips by the sea at The Start Bay Inn
Is there a better meal by the seaside than fish and chips? In the small coastal village of Torcross in South Devon, this 14th-century inn is the perfect place to enjoy some freshly caught seafood. There’s a family room and a children’s menu, and you can sit or takeaway. But as The Start Bay Inn stands on a thin piece of land surrounded by water, with views out to Slapton Sands from the front, you’ll be right beside the sea either way. Once your food’s gone down, take a walk along the picturesque beach, skim some stones or brave a dip in the sea.
Take a look at more family-friendly eateries in our guide to Devon’s best pubs.
Walk on the Southwest Coast Path
A visit to Devon wouldn’t be complete without a walk on Britain’s longest trail, the Southwest Coast Path. From well-trodden easy walks to steep and challenging climbs, there are lots of day walks to choose from with varying difficulty, but all have spectacular views of the coast. Family-friendly routes include Baggy Point in North Devon, a 2.8-mile walk where children will love the whale bones and old wreck post, and the 1.6 mile Dartmouth Town Trail with its swashbuckling history of adventurers, pirates, merchants, fishermen and kings.
Take a look at our Devon walking guide here.
Staying in Devon
If you are looking for somewhere truly special to stay with your family in Devon, take a look at our collection of family-friendly glamping hideaways. We have a great selection to choose from, including shepherd's huts and yurts with breathtaking countryside views! Browse the collection here.