This one day in Exeter itinerary is the perfect introduction to this charming city and is perfect for someone spending a day out in Exeter on coming to the city on a day trip!
Whether you are interested in history, culture, religion, or gastronomy, you’ll need to visit Exeter. Devon’s second-largest city has a range of attractions, a beautiful city centre, and a great food scene!
While I’d usually recommend spending at least a weekend in Exeter, or even longer if you want to visit more parts of East Devon (such as all of the attractions in Exmouth!), it’s possible to see a lot of Exeter’s highlights on a day trip.
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Exeter is a fascinating city in Great Britain that really doesn’t get enough credit. It started as an Iron age Celtic settlement but was taken over by the Romans in around 49 AD. Romans occupied the area for around 350 years and built a fort, a bathhouse that now lies under Cathedral Yard and the first city walls.
Exeter prospered in the Medieval period due to the Wool trade. There was an abundance of sheep in the nearby hills of Devon and the townspeople had a bountiful water supply on the River Exe, as well as a direct link to the sea for exportation, making the creation and selling of woollen cloth effortless. During this era, it was the fourth largest city in the UK.
The wool industry collapsed in the 18th century, but not long after, a rail link was established, which caused tourism to boom. Victorian tourists found the Medieval buildings charming, and many religious visitors came to the city for the 14th-century Cathedral.
The city was badly affected by the Blitz and around a third of the buildings were destroyed, including some of the most important examples of Georgian architecture. However, much of the historic centre remains, and it’s still an amazing place to visit.
There’s so much to learn about in Exeter, but it’s also a great spot to admire nature within a city, enjoy a vibrant food scene and sample various cocktail bars.
Here’s an itinerary for one day in Exeter!
Getting to Exeter
Exeter is easy to reach from London, Bristol, Birmingham, and Plymouth – you can take a direct train from any of these cities.
It will take you around two and a half hours to reach Exeter from London and Birmingham, an hour from Plymouth, and an hour and a half from Bristol. If you are travelling from other UK cities, you will usually need to change trains in Bristol, London or Birmingham.
You can also take coaches to Exeter. The National Express and Megabus both run to the city and are much cheaper than the trains. However, they tend to take longer – up to 4 hours from Birmingham and London, at least 2 hours from Bristol and over one hour from Plymouth.
It takes around 3 hours to drive to Exeter from London and Birmingham, 2 hours from Cardiff and Bath, 1 hour 30 from Bristol, and 1 hour from Plymouth.
If you are driving, I recommend parking in Haven Banks Car Park 2. To find this car park, type in ‘Haven Banks Car Park’ into your Sat Nav. Once you reach it, follow the road for a little longer until you reach a long-stay car park. You can purchase an all-day parking ticket for just £3.50 here, and it’s only a 10-minute walk to Exeter Quay!
Where to Stay in Exeter
If you will be staying here overnight during your United Kingdom journey, the Jury’s Inn Exeter is in a fabulous location and is well-reviewed by travelers. Located under a mile from St Davids Railway Station and near the historic quayside and Exeter Cathedral, you’ll be able to enjoy your full day in Exeter without a hitch!
See reviews and availability for the Jury’s Inn Exeter.
Your One Day in Exeter Itinerary
Get ready for a great day that you won’t ever forget seeing the best of what Exeter city has to offer!
If you have driven to Exeter and parked in Haven Banks, you’ll walk past the Quayside on your way to Cathedral Green. There are a few places here to grab a bite to eat.
If you want a full breakfast, check out Mangos Quayside, where you can have a full English. If you just want something small, the Boatyard Cafe and Bakery serves delicious coffee and pastries.
If you’re already in the city centre, you could head to Boston Tea Party, a famous South West chain located in Exeter’s historic post office. Make sure that you sit upstairs, where you can still see some of the features from its past.
Visit Exeter Cathedral
This one day in Exeter itinerary includes a walking tour at 11 am – so if you make it to Cathedral Green before 10:15 am, you’ll have time to pop into the Cathedral and Cathedral Close first. Even if you’re not all that into Cathedrals it’s worth seeing Exeter’s – it’s one of the best in the country and a magnificent example of gothic architecture.
Exeter Cathedral dates back to 1133 AD when a Norman Cathedral was on the site. However, only the two towers remain from this time – the body of the Cathedral was rebuilt in the 13th century. The original Norman Cathedral was very dark, as the walls needed to be thick with small windows to hold up the roof.
After Bishop Walter Bronescombe travelled to Salisbury in the 13th century and saw their magnificent Cathedral, he ordered that Exeter’s be rebuilt with flying buttresses. This new architectural style could hold up the roof and allow for bigger windows. So, the Cathedral was rebuilt – only 80 years after the original building opened!
Exeter Cathedral is the only one in the country that has two towers, and it also has the longest uninterrupted Medieval Gothic vaulting in the world.
Go for a Stroll on a Red Coat Walking Tour
Exeter is an incredibly historical city, and the best way to learn about it is by doing a walking tour. The Award-Winning Red Coat Tours are run by knowledgeable volunteer guides. At least one tour runs each day and they normally leave by the Richard Hooker Statue on Cathedral Green.
The most popular tours are:
Cathedral to Quay: this is a general walking tour of Exeter
Medieval Exeter: this is all about the Medieval period when the city thrived due to the woollen cloth trade.
Forgotten Exeter: this will take you around the interesting hidden areas of the city that you may otherwise miss.
Exeter Old and New: this tour discusses Exeter’s 2000 years of rich history by visiting various sites, and discusses the city today.
All of these walking tours are free, and the guides are all volunteers who do it because they want to encourage tourism to Exeter. The only thing they ask is to leave them a good review on TripAdvisor!
Enjoy Your Lunch: Tea on the Green or a Quayside Restaurant
Depending on the tour, you’ll either finish at the quayside or back at the Cathedral Green. If you’re at the Quayside, head to On the Waterfront for lunch – their pizzas are incredible! If you’re near the Cathedral, you could try Tea on the Green, a cafe that serves open sandwiches.
If you are at the Quayside, I’d recommend spending a little bit of time walking around the area. It’s a beautiful part of the city! If it’s open, it’s also worth going inside the Custom House. This was built in the latter 17th century to administer the imports and exports in the city properly. It is now the tourist information centre but it retains a lot of its original features, including an elaborate ceiling.
If you are in town and you are visiting on a Tuesday or Thursday, you can do a lunchtime tour around the Tuckers Hall. This tour will teach you about Exeter’s woollen cloth trade – which was the industry that made the city thrive. Tuckers Hall is only open from 10:30 am – 1 pm Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.
Tour the RAMM Museum or the Exeter Tunnels
If they are open and you can visit them, the Exeter Tunnels are a must-do. These tunnels transported water around the city during the Medieval period, and you can do a guided tour of them, hearing a few tales about Medieval Exeter as you go!
However, these underground passages aren’t suitable for everybody – if you have claustrophobia, mobility problems, or are travelling with small children, it’s best to avoid them. You also need to pre-book in advance, and they only have tours leaving at certain times.
If you can’t or don’t want to see the Exeter Tunnels, visit the Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery, or RAMM. This museum is the largest in Exeter and is over 150 years old – it was dedicated to Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband, and was constructed after his death.
This museum is definitely one of the best things to do in Devon in the rain for people of any age. There is a range of exhibitions, focusing on local history, local archaeology, international archaeology, and world cultures. It’s free entry (donations welcome), so it’s well worth visiting and seeing what you can find!
If you aren’t too tired yet, it’s also worth ticking off some more of Exeter’s attractions that you may not have seen in your walking tour.
See the Undervisited Priory
The Priory is a really significant building in Exeter, but it’s rarely visited on trips here. It is 900 years old, and after it was dissolved as a priory, it was a Tudor home. Nowadays, the interior still replicates what it looked like in the 16th century. If you are visiting Exeter on a Sunday it is open from 1 pm – 4 pm, but if not it’s still worth admiring the outside.
Marvel at Stepcote Hill and the House That Moved
This is one of the most interesting parts of Exeter. Stepcote Hill is named so because it is very steep, and at the bottom, there are some beautiful houses. One of them – The House That Moved – dates back to 1430, but hasn’t always been on this site.
It was moved to its current spot in 1961. This was because the main road was built in its original place, and the public protested about houses being demolished. The council’s response was to put it on rail tracks and move it to this position.
All very well, but something that people often forget is that there was a near-identical house in exactly the place that the House that Moved ended up – which had already been demolished!
Wonder at Tiny Parliament Street
Parliament Street is just off Exeter High Street and it is thought to be the narrowest street in the world. At first glance, it just seems like an alleyway. However, it is very much a street (albeit a pedestrian-only one) because there are two doorways along it which have the address ‘Parliament Street!’. It is 25 inches wide at its narrowest, widening to 45 inches.
Go Sightseeing at The City Walls
The City Walls were built in Roman times and have been adapted and expanded on throughout the years. They were originally made with trap from an ancient volcanic plug – you can find this ancient volcano in Northernhay Gardens. This stone hardened over the years, which is why the wall has lasted so long!
The walls were adapted over the years with different stones, including Heavitree Stone. Nowadays, they are a mishmash of different colours and stone types, and are officially known as ‘the city walls’ rather than ‘the Roman walls’. You can stand on the walls at various points in the city, including the bridge near the Cathedral and Quay car park and Northernhay Gardens.
Pay Your Respects at St. Catherine’s Chapel
One thing that you’ll notice as you walk around Exeter is that the architecture is either really old or in a uniform 1950s style. Exeter was one of the most historic cities in the United Kingdom – but a third of it was destroyed in the Exeter Blitz.
The Exeter Blitz happened because of its historical significance to the country. Hitler used a German guidebook called “the Baedeker Guide to England”, found five cities famed for their history and culture (Exeter, Bath, Canterbury, Norwich, and York), and bombed them, intending to undermine British spirit.
Many of the ruins were demolished and rebuilt upon in a uniform, no-nonsense style – the construction needed to be as quick as possible, and there was no time for unique designs or fancy buildings.
However, there are a few ruins that have remained as a poignant reminder of how much this city suffered in the Second World War. St Catherine’s Chapel is one of them. Here, you can walk around the ruins, and see some of the remains that were found in the rubble – everything from pieces of china to coke cans.
Enjoy Your Well-Earned Dinner
After a busy day of sightseeing, you’ve earned it! Exeter has an excellent food scene for a city of its size, so there are plenty of places to enjoy dinner.
Lloyds Lounge: this restaurant is located right by St Catherine’s Chapel and serves delicious mains and small plates. If there is a group of 4-6 of you, you can book one of their summer beach huts! If you aren’t driving you can enjoy the full cocktail menu.
Hub Box: dine here for burgers and other mains in a relaxed setting, with plenty of veggie and vegan options.
Puerto Lounge: this European-inspired restaurant serves mains and tapas-style meals and is located by the quayside.
Ganbei: this Asian restaurant is also by the quayside, and they have a huge menu with lots of different types of noodles, hotpot, and other Chinese-inspired dishes!
A Few More Things to Do in Exeter + Ideas for Day Trips from Exeter
Hopefully, this Exeter travel guide has given you everything you need to have a great day. If you find yourself with extra time while in the city, you can add one of these stops or day trips from Exeter.
If you want to do a bit of shopping, head to Gandy Street and Fore Street.
If you want to see the seaside and have more time, you can see the nearby seaside town of Topsham. If you want to enjoy an entire day on the English Riviera, towns that can be reached include Torquay and Paignton.
If you love to visit UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Jurassic Coast, England’s first natural World Heritage Site, is close by and can be seen fairly easily from Exeter. It stretches from Exmouth in East Devon to Studland Bay in Dorset.
An overlooked but fabulous day trip from Exeter is to head to Dartmoor National Park, where you can enjoy hiking along with some water sports.
The last trains are between 8:30 pm and 10:00 pm – make sure you check on National Rail. I’d advise always aiming for the second to last train of the day in case something goes wrong.
Coaches leave throughout the night – you might need to select a specific return time when you book your tickets.
If you have parked at Haven Banks Car Park 2, the car park is locked at 8:00 pm, so make sure that you get back in time!
While Exeter isn’t anywhere near as touristy as the likes of London, Bath, and Oxford, it is a wonderful city with loads of things to do. Add that to a fantastic food scene and a relaxed city atmosphere, and it’s easy to see why it’s worth spending a day in Exeter!
Claire is a South West England local. After blogging about international destinations for six years, she started her blog Go South West England to shine a light on her local area.
Here, she blogs about everything from where to visit and what to eat in the region to interesting stories about the area!
5 Things to Pack for Your Trip to England
If you’re headed to England, I have an entire packing list that goes over exactly what to bring with you. However, here are five items you don’t want to forget!
The Lonely Planet Great Britain guidebook for your trip. It can be kind of a pain to find the major guidebooks once you land, or you’ll find them overpriced. I always like to pick mine up ahead of time.
An Unlocked Cell Phone so that you can use a British sim card while here to help navigate public transportation.
Backup Charging Bank for your cell phone since you’ll be using it as a camera, GPS, and general travel genie.
A Great Day Bag so you can carry what you need with you (like your camera, snacks, water, sunscreen, cash, etc). My current favorite is the Pacsafe Citysafe, which is especially great for cities because it has many anti-theft features designed to deter pickpockets. It also transitions to a night bag more easily and won’t embarrass you if you go to dinner directly after sightseeing all day.
More England Travel Resources
If you’re interested in visiting UNESCO sites and historic places around London, check out my posts on the best London historic sites and free things to do in London, plus How to Visit the Tower of London, How to Visit Westminster Abbey, and How to Visit Westminster Abbey.
Love to listen while you plan your travels? I have episodes about London on both of my podcasts. You can check my podcast episode about the Roman Baths, Lindesfarne, The History of Windsor Castle, and Banqueting House.
Once you’re in England, check out these England quotes and England puns for your Instagram captions!
Don’t Forget About Travel Insurance!
Before you leave for England make sure you have a valid Travel Insurance Policy because accidents happen on the road. I pay for World Nomads, and I happily recommend them. It’s especially important to get travel insurance if you’ll be hanging out in cities where tourists can easily become the targets of pickpockets.