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17 free things to do in Devon

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. Here’s my guide to Devon days out on a budget:

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Get a while to stay? Check out my full guide to family holidays in Devon.

Here’s some inspiration for family days out in Devon that won’t break the bank:

1. Visit the beaches

View of North Sands bay at low tide
North Sands bay at low tide

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 Devon 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.

Here’s our guides to our favourite South Devon beaches and the best North Devon beaches.

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. Visit these free attractions in Devon

There’s no such thing as a freebie, apart when you visit the brilliant free Devon attractions below.

Top tip: each September you’ll find a whole host of cultural and historic places free to visit during Devon’s Heritage Open Days.

Free attractions in East Devon

Here’s were to find a lovely free day out in East Devon:

The Donkey Sanctuary

Donkeys in grassy field at The Donkey Sanctuary in Sidmouth Devon
The Donkey Sanctuary, Sidmouth

This charity near Sidmouth is home to rescued donkeys. Meet them as they roam fields in this area of outstanding natural beauty. You can also have a go at the maze and find out about this important charity’s work.

You’ll often find a themed children’s trail sheet to complete. There may be a small charge for this.

The Donkey Sanctuary is open seven days a week, all year round and has free parking.

Find out more about visiting The Donkey Sanctuary at Sidmouth.

Free attraction in Plymouth

Here’s where to visit for free in Plymouth:

The Box Plymouth

Wooly Mammoth at The Box Plymouth

The Box is an interactive arts and heritage museum in the heart of Plymouth. Far from being a stuffy museum, it is state of the art with interactive exhibits, digital displays and plenty to wow your kids.

It tells the story of the city’s natural history, culture and maritime heritage through a series of exhibitions including a life-sized recreation of a woolly mammoth, the UK’s largest media archive and exhibits that challenge the romantic legends behind some of history’s most historic voyages.

Find out more about the best bits at The Box for kids.

The Box is open Tuesday to Sunday all year round. You can reach it by public transport or there’s city car parks within walking distance.

Find out more about visiting The Box in Plymouth.

Free attraction in Exeter

Here’s where to visit for free in Exeter:

The Royal Albert Memorial Museum

Girl and snarling polar bear in display case

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. Some of these cost a few pounds and need to be booked in advance. Check the museum’s website for more information.

RAMM is open Tuesday to Sunday all year round. You can reach it by public transport or there’s city car parks within walking distance.

Find out more about visiting RAMM.

Take a look at my guide to more budget-friendly things to do in Exeter.

Free attractions in South Devon

Here’s some places in South Devon you can visit for free:

Buckfast Abbey

Buckfast Abbey in Buckfastleigh
Buckfast Abbey

This Abbey in Buckfastleigh, South Devon, 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. 

Find out more about visiting Buckfast Abbey.

House of Marbles

Snooker 2000 giant marble run at The House of Marbles in Bovey Tracey

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. Outside there’s a garden with games and a play area.

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.

The House of Marbles is open all year round and has free parking.

Find out more about visiting The House of Marbles.

Jolly Roger Life-sized Models

Life-sized models of animals in the Jolly Roger showroom
Jolly Roger – photo credit: Lauren Heath

The Jolly Roger in Bovey Tracey is the UK’s largest supplier of life-sized resin models and the showroom is free to visit.

Sidle up to Elvis, meet Big Foot or pose with an array of animals. There’s also a cafe serving snacks and ice creams to complete your visit.

Find out more about what there is to see at The Jolly Roger in Bovey Tracey.

Free places to visit in North Devon

Here’s somewhere free to visit in North Devon:

Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon

This free to visit museum and a greta place to visit on a wet day shares the story of North Devon’s people and places, demonstrating their part in shaping the UK’s culture.

Permanent exhibitions include displays about North Devon in the 20th Century, local pottery, the natural world and the role of the Royal Devon Yeomanry and Devonshire Regiment in World War I & II.

Visit during the school holidays for extra family-friendly activities.

Find out more about what’s on at the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon.

4. Explore a harbour

Fishing boats sit on the edge of River Exe at Topsham
Topsham on the River Exe

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: 

5. Look out for free events in Devon

Family entertainment at Dartmouth Regatta
Family entertainment at Dartmouth Regatta

There’s a packed events calendar from Spring onwards and many are free to attend. Check out my round up of family-friendly festivals as well as other events in Devon including free airshows, food festivals and regattas.

Come September there’s Heritage Open Days around the county, giving you access to historic and cultural places and events.

Many of these events are reliant on donations from the public, so please give generously if you are offered the opportunity.

6. Explore delightful Devon towns and villages

Totnes High Street - a pretty town to visit in Devon
Totnes High Street

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

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. 

Branscombe Village

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.

7. Get some fresh Devon air with a walk

Family high on a rocky outcrop in Dartmoor National Park, Devon
Climb a tor on Dartmoor

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.

Here’s some more places we can recommend for walks:

If cycling is more your family’s thing then check out the Tarka Trail or Tamar Trails.

8. 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.

9. Find a fun trail 

Two children dressed for cold weather running down leaf covered path in forest
Picture credit: Forestry England/Crown copyright

There are lots of free permanent and temporary trails to explore in Devon.

You’ll find the Gruffalo Trail at Haldon Forest near Exeter. There’s also plenty of walking trails on around Plymouth.

The latest is the Royal William Yard Geo Trail which takes you back through time to learn what Plymouth was like 380 million years ago. Pick up a free printed Geo Trail guide from the welcome suite at Royal William Yard’s Gatehouse.

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.

On the opposite side of the RIver Dart at Stoke Gabriel you’ll find a free nature trail at Sandridge Barton – the new home of Sharpham Wine.

Three children look at information sign in a field overlooking the Sandridge Barton vineyard estate
Picture credit: Sandridge Barton

Kids can scurry about searching for wildlife, while adults can learn why this rolling countryside is perfect for growing grapes.

The trail is 1.3 miles long and takes about 40 minutes to complete. After you can stop at Sandridge Barton for some well deserved refreshments. Well-behaved dogs are welcome too.

Damien Hirst's verity statue in Ilfracombe
Damien Hirst’s ‘Verity’ statue in Ilfracombe

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.

10. Visit a farm shop

Close up of boy holding a chicken in his hands.

Devon has loads of farm shops where you can meet animals, find play parks and other activities to entertain your kids for free.

Here’s my guide to where to find family-friendly farm shops in Devon.

11. Play parks and adventure playgrounds in Devon

Colourful feature showing periods of time at Geoplay Park in Paignton, Devon
Geoplay Park in Paignton

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.

12. Free tours

Explore Exeter with a Red Coat Guided Tour – they are fact filled and free. There are several on offer lasting from 90 minutes to two hours. Book your place in advance.

Find out more about Exeter’s Red Coat Tours.

13. Explore a country park

Child with scooter by lake at Decoy Park in Newton Abbot, Devon
You can walk, scoot or cycle around the lake in Decoy 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 entrance fee. You’ll also find playgrounds, picnic areas and space to play ball games.

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.

14. Go crabbing 

Child holding crab in South Devon

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.

Please keep kids under close supervision at all times. No one wants to end a fun day crabbing dripping wet.

Here’s where to find the best places to go crabbing in Devon.

15. Go wildlife spotting

View of blue sky and sea from the cliffs of Berry Head near Brixham in Devon

If your kids are fascinated by wildlife here are some top places to see mini beasts, birds and rare species in Devon:

16. Go fossil hunting 

An ammonite fossil on the beach close to Lyme Regis on Dorset's Jurassic Coast.

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.

17. Visit a library

Devon’s libraries are free to visit to browse books, join in a story time and take part in other family activities during the school holidays.

Find a library near you and discover what’s on.

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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Grab your copy of this guide to family-friendly things to do across the county, from coast to coast, in the cities, on the moors and whatever the weather.

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.

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