17 Free things to do in Devon
Days out with kids can be expensive – fact! That’s why we always try to take advantage of the many free things to do in Devon with children in between activities that are special treats.
PLEASE NOTE: due to COVID-19 not all attractions and activities are available yet. Those that are open will be operating a little differently. Booking may be necessary and social distancing measures will be in place. Please check with each business before you visit to avoid disappointment.
Here’s some inspiration for family days out in Devon that won’t break the bank:
1. Visit the beaches
There’s a dizzying number of beaches to choose from in Devon. From ones with amusements and piers, to sandy bays that stretch on for miles, and tiny, secluded coves that feel like they have been transplanted from somewhere in the Mediterranean.
If you are looking for somewhere to go rock pooling check out Hartland Quay in near Bideford in North and Oddicombe Bay near Torquay.
Fancy a traditional seaside day with plenty of kiss me quick charm, head to Dawlish, Torquay or Paignton.
If impossibly pretty is more your style then your eyes will be wowed by the beauty of Blackpool Sands near Dartmouth, Sidmouth Beach and Brancombe in East Devon.
And if sandcastle building is on your agenda then you’ll find loads of the golden stuff at Bantham Beach near Salcombe and Woolacombe Bay.
2. Geo caching on Dartmoor or Exmoor
Download a geo caching app and eat your heart out in Dartmoor and Exmoor National Parks. There are plenty of stashes to find around tors and kerns all over the Devon countryside.
Or why not have a go at Letter Boxing – an early forerunner to geo-caching with boxes to be found across the moors. When you find one of these unusually placed letter boxes you can record your find with a stamp that you’ll find inside.
Explore more things to do in Dartmoor with kids.
3. Try wild camping
This is not for the faint hearted, but Dartmoor in Devon is a designated wild camping area.
You can pitch your bivvy anywhere in the National Park for free as long as you take your litter home, use fires with care, and don’t disturb moorland wild life, flora and fauna. Basically, leave the National Park as you found it.
4. Visit these free attractions
There’s no such thing as a freebie, apart when you visit these brilliant Devon attractions:
The Donkey Sanctuary
This charity near Sidmouth is home to rescued donkeys. Meet them as they roam fields in this area of outstanding natural beauty have a go at the maze and find out about this important charity’s work.
The Royal Albert Memorial Museum
RAMM in Exeter is a museum of natural history, art and culture in the heart of the city. It’s easy to spend hours wandering its versus exhibitions. During the school holidays you’ll also find a programme of family-friendly events.
This Abbey recently celebrated its Millennium. But the abbey you see here today isn’t the original. That was flattened by Henry VIII.
Today the abbey is a working Benedictine Monastery and is a wonderfully peaceful place for a walk with children. They’ll enjoy walking around the lawns and meandering paths of the formal gardens.
Bring a picnic or visit the lovely restaurant for a Devon cream tea.
House of Marbles
This small attraction is home to some fascinating marble runs that will keep kids entertained while you can browse the Devon gifts, crafts and boutique clothing. They can also press a button to get the largest run working. It covers an enormous wall and is quite an eye-opener.
Read about our visit to The House of Marbles at Bovey Tracey.
You should also visit the restaurant which has all sorts of curiosities and animated animals around the walls.
Looking for a treat? Here’s more ideas for family days out in Devon.
5. Explore a harbour
Devon is a coastal county with plenty of historic and characterful harbours to explore. Just pay for parking and off you go. Here are some picturesque Devon harbours we can recommend:
- Hartland Quay
- The Quay at Exeter
- The Barbican
- Royal William Yard
6. Look out for free events in Devon
There’s a packed events calendar from Spring onwards and many are free to attend. Check out what’s on in Devon:
- The Brixham Pirate Festival – 2-4 May, 2020 – cancelled due to COVID-19
- Pirates Weekend, Plymouth – 9 – 10 May, 2020 – cancelled due to COVID-19
- Dart Music Festival, Dartmouth – 15-17 May 2020 – cancelled due to COVID-19
- Brixfest, Brixham – 23-25 May, 2020 – cancelled due to COVID-19
- Kingsbridge Food and Music Festival, Kingsbridge – 29-31 May 2020 – cancelled due to COVID-19
- Flavour Fest, Plymouth – 29 May – 31 May, 2020 – cancelled due to COVID-19
- English Riviera Airshow, Torbay – 6-7 June, 2020 – cancelled due to COVID-19
- Sidmouth Folk Festival, Sidmouth – 31 July-August, 2020 – cancelled due to COVID-19
- Salcombe Town Regatta, Salcombe – 1-8 August, 2020 – cancelled due to COVID-19
- Ocean City Blues ’n Jazz Festival, Plymouth
- Dartmouth Royal Regatta, Dartmouth – 27-29 August, 2020 – cancelled due to COVID-19
- Seafood Festival Plymouth – 12-13 September, 2020
- Dartmouth Food Festival, Dartmouth – 23-25 October, 2020 – cancelled due to COVID-19
Many of these events are reliant on donations from the public so please give generously if you are offered the opportunity.
7. Explore delightful Devon towns and villages
If you’re looking for free things to do in Devon with kids that involve a gentle wander, window shopping and maybe a cream tea, then there’s some gorgeous towns and villages to explore:
Totnes is the bohemian heart of South Devon – the perfect place to get away from the stresses of every day life, browse independent shops and wander its historic streets.
The general market takes place every Friday and Saturday in the Civic Square. There’s also some lovely walks along the River Dart from Totnes.
Cockington Village is a hidden gem of the English Riviera in South Devon. Entering the village is like stepping through the wardrobe in one of CS Lewis’ stories.
A short drive from urban Torquay you find thatched roof cottages, a forge and windmill surrounded by an extensive country park. There’s also craft studios, a tea room and gardens at Cockington Court, the old manor house.
The small village of Branscombe, just a couple of miles from Seaton, is one of Devon’s hidden gems. You get to it down some narrow and winding lanes from the A3052 – keep going, it’s worth it.
At the village’s heart there are three National Trust owned buildings: the old bakery, forge and mill. The forge is the county’s oldest thatched forge still worked by a blacksmith.
It doesn’t take long to look around the village so indulge yourself with a walk through the scenic valley to Branscombe Beach too.
8. Get some fresh Devon air with a walk
There’s 90 miles of coast path in Devon with sections suitable for the whole family and hundreds of tors on Dartmoor.
We’ve found there’s plenty close to moorland and coastal car parks so they’re not too difficult to reach even with little legs. There’s plenty for mini ramblers to explore, places to play hide and seek, and countryside with beautiful views for a picnic.
Here are some easy walks on Dartmoor to try with kids.
If cycling is more your family’s thing then check out the Tarka Trail or Tamar Trails.
9. Check out a Devon webcam
There are webcams, virtual tours and online activities available so you can enjoy Devon from the comfort of your own home.
10. Find a fun trail
There are lots of permanent and temporary trails to explore in Devon. In the summer of 2020 the Dartmoor Otters trail returns to Devon to celebrate this indigenous species. You’ll find 80 otter works of art in various locations across the National Park.
A permanent trail installed to mark the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower to America can be found in Dartmouth. Download the app for a historic walk through this Medieval town.
If you’re looking for more free things to do in Devon with an arty slant, go search of some of the county’s interesting sculptures and monuments, like Damien Hirst’s 66ft tall Verity at Ilfracombe, the Pilgrim in Dartmouth and the many military memorials on Plymouth Hoe.
11. Meet farm animals
Devon has a farm shops where you can meet animals as well as pick up delicious local produce:
12. Play parks and adventure playgrounds in Devon
There are plenty of play parks in Devon’s towns and some awesome adventure playgrounds.
Here’s my round up of the best adventure playgrounds across Devon.
13. Free tours
Explore Exeter with a Red Coat Guided Tour. There are several on offer lasting from 90 minutes to two hours.
14. Explore a country park
If outdoor pursuits are your thing then head to one of several Devon country parks for walks and cycling trails. Haldon Forest, Stover Country Park and Decoy Park Country Park have no entry fee. You’ll also find playgrounds, picnic areas and space to play ball games.
On selected dates in the low holiday season you can visit Dart Valley Country Park and pay parking only (check the website). The adventure playgrounds are awesome.
There’s also parkland in the Saltram estate near Plymouth and Buckland Abbey on Dartmoor. You can explore both for the price of parking in the National Trust car park.
Here are some more outdoor family attractions in Devon.
15. Go crabbing
There’s plenty of crabs to be caught in the tidal rivers and harbours around Devon. Bring your crab line and bait, or buy them from a local shop. Then find a spot along the quay or riverside. Keep kids under close supervision at all times.
Here’s where to find the best places to go crabbing in Devon.
16. Go wildlife spotting
If your kids are fascinated by wildlife here are some top places to see mini beasts, birds and rare species in Devon:
- Berry Head Nature Reserve
- Dawlish Nature Reserve
- Slapton Ley Nature Reserve
- Seaton Wetlands
17. Go fossil hunting
Devon’s Jurassic Coast is a World Heritage Site brimming with natural artefacts. Charmouth is said to be the best place to find fossils, but you have nearly 100 miles of coast to scour. Here’s some top tips for fossil hunting in Devon.
I appreciate there’s costs attached to any day out whether you are hopping on public transport or paying for parking. There’s also the obligatory ice cream to factor in with my kids whatever the time of year. However, these budget friendly things do in Devon shouldn’t hit your pocket hard.
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Check out more ideas for family days out in Devon.
Do you have any other ideas I can add to this post? What’s your favourite free things to do in Devon? Let me know.
If you are planning what to do with the kids at the weekend or during your holiday why not save this post about free things to do in Devon for later.