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Things to do in the South Hams

Things to do in the South Hams

Having lived in the South Hams for the past six years and now launching a colouring book based on this beautiful part of South Devon (eek!), I thought it was high time to dedicate a guide to it too. In this family-friendly round up to things to in the South Hams I’m sharing my top tips for places to visit, the best attractions, beaches and walks.

Buy The South Hams Colouring Book for Kids

The South Hams Colouring Book for Kids is a child-friendly guide and activity book to accompany your adventures in this lovely part of South Devon.

South Hams colouring book bing held up with an ice cream in front of River Dart view
South Hams Colouring Book for Kids

The book features Sammy the Seal who takes children on a tour of the best places to visit in the South Hams with plenty of fun facts along the way.

Why is it called the South Hams?

View of North Sands Beach in Salcombe Devon
Salcombe in the South Hams

Don’t you love quirky English place names?! I’ve heard a few explanations for this one including it being something to do with the pig-shaped coastline between Start Point and Salcombe (I can’t see it myself). There’s even an outcrop near the village of East Prawle called ‘Gammon Head’.

However, the most credible explanation for the name ‘South Hams’ is that Hams comes from the old English word ‘hamme’, meaning an enclosed or sheltered space.

Spend a bit of time here and you’ll understand the meaning better – it feels like it has its own delightful microclimate.

Quick hits: South Hams things to do

Before I get into the nitty gritty of all the wonderful places to visit in the South Hams, here’s a quick guide to the activities you simply must tick off your bucket list:

View of Dartmouth Lower Ferry on the River Dart with an ice cream in the foreground
Dartmouth ice cream
  • Enjoy an ice cream made in the South Hams – look out for Dartmouth, Salcombe and Surfing Cow Ice Cream. Each has its own ice cream shops and their top flavours can be found on sale all around the area
  • Go crabbing at Dartmouth, Stoke Gabriel, Dittisham, Kingsbridge Quay or South Pool
  • Paddle at a beach – there are oodles to choose from. Check out my list below
  • Conquer a Dartmoor Tor – Western Beacon is the closest
  • Walk the South West Coast Path – we love the sections between Little Dartmouth and Dartmouth Castle and Gara Rock and Mill Bay
  • Have a cream tea the Devon way – cream first, ALWAYS!
  • Take a boat trip or ferry across the River Dart – for an extra special voyage book The Fizz Boat
  • Climb the battlements of a castle – there’s great views from Totnes Castle and Dartmouth Castle
  • Discover local history at a museum – visit Dartmouth Museum, Totnes Museum or Cookworthy Museum in Kingsbridge.

You might also like to check out my town guides:

I’ll be adding more!

South Hams attractions

For a full day out, here’s the family attractions you’ll find within the South Hams area:

Pennywell Farm 

Girl cuddling duckling at Pennywell Farm

Introduce your little brood to the cute and cuddly animals at Pennywell Farm. Holding a miniature pig and feeding the lambs is a must if you visit in the Spring. 

As well as the animals you’ll find plenty of toddler-friendly indoor and outdoor play areas. 

There’s also a wonderful nativity at Pennywell Farm each Christmas with animals, tractor rides and Santa.

Find out more about visiting on the Pennywell Farm website.

Woodlands Family Theme Park

Colourful Watercoasters water slides at Woodlands

Woodlands aces indoor play with several areas dedicated to slides, soft play and ball pits. It’s one of my top adventure parks in Devon and things to do on wet days in Devon.

Outdoors my girls love the tractor ride, bumper boats, bouncy cushion and toboggan run.

If adrenaline rushes are more your family’s thing then check out these rides: the pirate galleon, three water coasters, the avalanche tray slides, and the Vertigo drop tower ride.

You’ll not find rollercoasters here but there’s plenty of rides to give you a thrill.

Here’s what you need to know about visiting Woodlands Family Theme Park.

Find out more on the Woodlands Family Theme Park website.

Dartmoor Zoo

This zoo was made famous world-wide by the American film ‘We Bought a Zoo’ and offers animal talks, encounters and displays across its 33 acre woodland park in Dartmoor National Park.

Find out more about visiting on the zoo’s website.

Dartmouth Steam Railway

Family looking out of a train carriage window at a view of boats on the River Dart
View of the River Dart from Dartmouth Steam Railway

Take a tour of South Devon on Dartmouth Steam Railway’s line between Paignton and Dartmouth.

You can extend your day by booking The Round Robin tour that gives you a ticket to travel a circular route by river boat, steam train and bus. You can start your trip in Dartmouth, Totnes or Paignton.

Visit in the winter and you can ride the Train of Lights. Booking in advance is essential.

Find out more on the Dartmouth Steam Railway website.

South Devon Railway

Steam train at South Devon Railway

Take a scenic train ride through seven miles of the Dart Valley. Make a day of it with a visit to Totnes Rare Breeds Farm and Buckfast Butterflies and Dartmoor Otters Sanctuary at either end of the line.

Find out more by visiting the South Devon Railway website.

Totnes Rare Breeds Farm

Child feeding Angora Goat at Totnes Rare Breeds Farm

We love this small farm where kids can get hands on feeding and petting the animals. There’s donkeys, wild fowl, goats and rabbits – all rare breeds which are being nurtured at this family-run charity.

Read about our visit to Totnes Rare Breeds Farm.

If you want to make a day of it you can combine the farm with a ride on the South Devon Railway and Dartmoor Otters and Butterflies Sanctuary at the other end of the steam train line.

Find out more on the Totnes Rare Breeds Farm website.

Devon Colouring Book for Kids cover with pencils fanned out below
£5.95 +P&P *Supporting Devon Air Ambulance Trust*

Places to visit

As well as attractions there are plenty of beautiful, historic and interesting places to visit in the South Hams.

Here’s some of the best along with you should seek them out:

Dartington Hall and Estate

Dartington Hall in Dartington Hall Estate

This community hub has more than one thousand years of history. It was once a private home but by the 1900s the Hall had fallen into ruin.

In 1925 it was bought by the Elmhirst family who restored it as place of creativity, learning and social enterprise. It now hosts a programme of events, festivals and courses as well as welcoming visitors to its hotel, cinema, restaurant and gardens.

The estate is great for scenic walks and it’s always worth checking Dartington Hall’s website to see if they have any events on.

Find out more on the Dartington website.

Greenway National Trust

Child reading book outside Greenway House

This fascinating house full of curious collectibles was once the holiday home of crime writer Agatha Christie.

Today you can explore rooms where she would regale her family with plot ideas, wander through the scenic riverside gardens and hit about some balls in the tennis court.

Fun ways to reach Greenway include catching a boat or steam train from Dartmouth.

Find out more in the Devon with Kids guide to visiting Greenway

Be aware that parking must be pre-booked. Find out more on the National Trust website.

Britannia Royal Naval College

Dartmouth is home to the Royal Navy’s officer training college, BRNC. It is steeped in history that you can discover by booking a guided tour with The Britannia Association. 

The College was originally located on HMS Hinderstan and HMS Britannia both moored on the River Dart but moved into a purpose built college on the hill above when recruits started to become ill in the cramped quarters on the ships.

If your kids are interested in a military career then this is an inspiring and impressive place to visit.

Find out more from the Britannia Association.

Berry Pomeroy Castle

Ruins of Berry Pomeroy Castle near Totnes

This 16th Century ruin is said to be one of Devon’s most haunted places.

There’s an audio tour that tells you all the ghostly tales – one for the teens in your family! You can also walk the woodlands and have a Devon cream tea in the nearby cafe.

Visiting is free for English Heritage members.

Find out more about visiting Berry Pomeroy.

Compton Castle

Girl on Easter egg hunt at Compton Castle National Trust in Devon

Explore one of the ancestral homes of the seafaring Gilbert family, which was built in the 14th Century. Among its Tudor residents was Sir Humphrey Gilbert who colonised Newfoundland in the name of Queen Elizabeth I in 1583. 

There’s a squirrel trail, dressing up and garden games for children. Visiting Compton Castle is free for National Trust members.

Compton Castle is not open all year round, so keep an eye on the National Trust website for opportunities to visit. 


Visit Overbecks and you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d been transported to a tropical paradise. The South Hams’ unique microclimate has allowed plants from all around the world to flourish here, making it a beautiful place to explore with children.

The house at Overbecks was built in 1913 and is now home to a collection of curiosities belonging to one of its former owners, Otto Overbeck. He was an eccentric inventor and collector. 

You can also find out about the house’s role as a convalescent home to courageous men and women that fought to keep spirits high during World War One.

Find out more about visiting Overbecks.

Dartmouth Castle

View of Dartmouth Castle from River Dart in Devon

Dartmouth Castle was built in the 14th Century to defend what was then a very significant port.

Today you can visit the ammunition stores, find out about the lifestyle of the small group of soldiers stationed here and climb up to the roof for fabulous views of the river, town and English Channel.

If you’re feeling peckish the cafe outside does awesome milkshakes and cream teas. You can walk to Dartmouth Castle from the town or catch a ferry from South Embankment.

Find out more about visiting Dartmouth Castle.

Totnes Castle

Drone view of Totnes Castle and Totnes in South Devon

This South Hams castle dates back to the 11th Century and was built by William the Conquerer. It started off as a timber construction but this was replaced with stone at the turn of the 14th Century.

It’s now one of the best preserved Norman motte and bailey castles in England.

Visiting this English Heritage site doesn’t take long but is a great additional to wandering around quirky Totnes. You can climb the motte, admire the views down the River Dart and picnic in the castle walls.

Find out more about Totnes Castle.

Coleton Fishacre

Child jumping down steps in front of Coleton Fishacre house
Coleton Fishacre

Coleton Fishacre was built by the D’Oyly Carte family which owned a London theatre company of the same name. Their Devon retreat is now looked after by the National Trust and is very different to some of the much older estates and castles you might have visited.

It feels like the residents have gone away for the weekend and left their art deco home open for show.

There are some lovely walks and sea views around the estate which is nestled in a sheltered valley. Make sure you have comfortable shoes on and have plenty of energy for getting back up the hill if you venture to the beach.

Take a look at our guide to visiting Coleton Fishacre with kids.

Find out more about Coleton Fishacre on the National Trust website.

Walks in the South Hams

Water cascading down the Avon Dam sluce
Avon Dam is an easy South Hams walk with kids

Fancy some fresh air? The South Hams offers lungfuls of the stuff.

Here are some of our favourite South Hams walks to do with our kids:

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

South Hams beaches

Craving a day beside the sea? The South Hams has some beautiful sandy and shingle beaches lapped by turquoise water you’d usually have to board a plane to enjoy.

Here’s our favourite beaches to visit in the South Hams, including what3word locations to help you find them:

Blackpool Sands

Children wearing buoyancy aids in the sea at Blackpool Sands beach in the South Hams
Blackpool Sands

Not only is Blackpool Sands one of Devon’s best beaches, it’s among England’s most loved too. But be warned, it’s not sandy!

The crystal clear waters of this shingle bay lap against a shelving shore line in a long cove surrounded by countryside. Can this really be England?!

In the summer months there’s RNLI lifeguards on the Blue Flag beach and you can hire water sports equipment. Dogs are allowed on the beach from November to April and the Venus Cafe is open all year round.

Check the website for full details, open dates and parking charges.

Find Blackpool Sands on what3words: ///outsize.lectures.clinking

Slapton Sands

Footsteps in the shingle on Slapton Sands beach looking towards Torcorss
Slaptons Sands looking towards Torcross

Slapton Sands – another beach that’s shingle rather than sand – sweeps across Start Bay between Strete Gate and Torcross. Not only is this two-mile shoreline ideal for water sports and beach fun, it is also steeped in history.

At the Torcross car park you can see a WWII tank that was part of the D-Day landing rehearsals here. Older children may be interested in finding out more about the history of Slapton Sands.

Close up of tank at Slapton Sands with blue sky background and Union Flag flying
The World War II tank at Slapton Sands

Dogs are allowed on the beach all year round but must be kept on a lead in the Slapton Ley Nature Reserve that backs on to the beach. Local parking charges apply in the car parks along the beach.

Please note that a barrier has been added to Slapton Memorial car park in the middle of the bay which restricts access for vehicles over 1.9m in height.

You’ll find pubs and cafes at Torcross and there’s often a van selling drinks, snacks and ices creams at Strete Gate.

Find Slapton Sands Memorial car park on what3words: ///undercuts.resides.caskets

Mattiscombe Sands

View of Mattiscombe Sands beach in the South Hams on a sunny day
Mattiscombe Sands Beach

Mattiscombe Sands just south of Start Point in the South Hams.

It’s a small sandy bay backed by boulders with rock pools revealed at low tide. You might even find sea glass. If you fancy a visit be prepared for a bit of a trek.

Park at the Start Point car park. Parking costs £4 for cars all day. In the summer season there’s a couple of portaloos in the car park and a horse box cafe.

You can walk to the lighthouse from the north east end of the car park but we headed to the south east end and down the valley. The beach is about a 2km walk away down a narrow path with a bit of a scramble down rocks at the end.

The path is not suitable for pushchairs so use a carrier for small kiddos.

Be aware some people who use this beach ‘forget’ to bring their swim suits.

There are no facilities at the beach and limited parking at Start Point, which is why this beach is quieter. Arrive early or late in the day to bag your parking spot in the summer season. Or if you’re feeling really adventurous you can pack a light beach bag and find it on the South West Coast Path from Torcross or East Prawle.

Find Start Point car park on what3words: ///conveying.scarred.mentions


Children swimming in lagoon pool at Bigbury on Sea

Bigbury is a great place for a family beach day with flat sand for playing games and building castles. At low tide there are rock pools and shallow lagoons. You can walk to Burgh Island.

RNLI Lifeguards are on duty here in the summer months and put a safe swim zone in place. 

At high tide the beach reduces to a more modest strip that butts up against low cliffs. If you want to visit Burgh Island at high tided you can ride there on the sea tractor.

Sea tractor parked in front of Burgh Island hotel
Burgh Island sea tractor

Bigbury, along with nearby Bantham, is popular with surfers and is the home to Discovery Surf School.

There are toilets and the Venus cafe above the beach, which is serves takeaway food and drinks as well as having a restaurant. Dogs are allowed on the east end of Bigbury Beach all year round.

Top tip: download the Ringo parking app for the long stay car park at Bigbury.

Find the car park on what3words: ///gymnasium.flux.admires


Family in wet suits on Bantham Beach in the South Hams
Bantham Beach

This Blue Flag surfer’s paradise is eye-wateringly beautiful. Grassy dunes roll into a golden sandy beach with cliffs to the East and the River Avon estuary in the West. You can find Bantham Surfing Academy on the beach and there’s a RNLI Lifeguard station here in the summer months.

The shallow water is ideal for paddling toddlers. There’s also rock pools to explore.

Dogs are not allowed on the main beach between May and September but can walk around the estuary. The Gastrobus can often be found selling hot and cold takeaway food in the car park. Pay for parking by card at the car park entrance.

Be aware that the road into Bantham is very narrow with passing places. On sunny days it will be busy, so prepare to reverse a lot!

Not far from Bantham you can also find Bigbury and Thurlestone beaches, which are also excellent South Hams beaches for families.

Find the Bantham Beach car park on what3words: ///equivocal.narrowest.plantings

Salcombe North Sands

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

If you visit Salcombe North Sands on a sunny day and you could be forgiven for thinking you were somewhere in the Mediterranean.

It’s set in a small cove with tree-lined cliffs rising up on either side. The view from this tidal, sandy beach stretches out into Salcombe Estuary and the sea beyond. 

The beach slopes slowly in to the water making it a good place for a paddle or swim with young children.

Definitely check what the tide is doing before you visit North Sands. Even when it’s not summer it can be difficult to find somewhere to sit at high tide. There’s also a large field next to the car park which is ideal for picnics, barbecues and ball games.

North Sands has a pay and display car park across the road. You’ll need the Ringo App to pay hands-free. Download this in advance and start the payment process five minutes before you arrive as there’s very little signal once you reach the beach. If you are arriving before 11am there is usually parking available.

North Sands is also where you’ll find The Winking Prawn cafe. It’s super family-friendly and sells beach toys should you have forgotten anything.

Dogs are allowed on North Sands all year around. There are public toilets a short walk away.

Find the North Sands car park on what3words: ///linen.conclude.modifies

Salcombe South Sands

South Sands Ferry in the bay of a beach
South Sands Ferry

South Sands is just around the corner from North Sands but tends to be the quieter of the two beaches because there’s only a small private car park opposite the hotel.

However you can walk from North Sands or visit it by the South Sands ferry that runs between here and Salcombe town between March and October.

At the beach you can pick up drinks and snacks from the Bos Beach Cafe, which you’ll find in an old life boat station that looks a little like a chapel. 

The water is shallow and perfect for toddlers and young children to splash about in. If you want to try out water sports you can hire equipment here from Sea Kayak Salcombe.  

Dogs are allowed on South Sands from November to March. There are toilets in the car park opposite the hotel.

If you are parking at North Sands don’t forget to download the Ringo app. You can also park at the National Trust car park at Overbecks, which is a five minute walk from South Sands.

Find Salcombe South Sands on what3words: ///cakewalk.slides.rainy

Mill Bay

Family on sandy beach at Mill Bay near Kingsbridge in South Devon
Mill Bay

Mill Bay is a hidden South Devon gem on the Kingsbridge Estuary opposite Salcombe.

This sandy beach is in a small cove that you access down a long country lane, but it’s worth seeking out. There’s plenty of sand and rock pools for children to explore and a great view of the comings and goings on the water.

The National Trust has a small car park here. Access to the beach is a bit bumpy so leave pushchairs in your car. Dogs are allowed all year round but must be kept on a lead a certain times.

Find the Mill Bay beach car park on what3words: ///developer.evenings.denim

South Milton / Thurlestone Sands

Paddle boarding at South Milton Beach in South Devon
South Milton Sands towards Thurlestone

For a day beside the sea with plenty opportunity to spot wildlife South Milton and Thurlestone Sands are ideal.

They are backed by wetlands in the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty that is home to wading birds and wild fowl. It’s also where you can admire the iconic arched sea stack Thurlestone Rock – an arched sea stack that you can paddle to through the rock pools at low tide.

At low tide there’s also a shallow protected lagoon behind the rocks where young children are safe to splash about. It was the perfect place to practice paddle boarding.

You can hire kayaks, body boards and paddle boards from Surfin’ Sam Watersports on the beach.

Parking is free for National Trust members. The car park is quite small so arrive early to get a space. There’s also a cafe and toilets.

This beach is dog-friendly throughout the year.

Find the South Milton beach car park on what3words: ///bearable.simulator.geologist

Hope Cove

Rocks exploded at low tide at Hope Cove
Low tide at Hope Cove

Hope Cove is a South Hams beach at the heart of this seaside village with the same name. There are plenty of cafes and shops where you can grab lunch, an ice cream and any seaside essentials you may have left at home.

You have two options for beach days here: go to the beach opposite the pay and display car park or head round to the sandy harbour. 

At low tide and there are lots of rock pools to explore and as the tide comes in you can body board – just we aware of the submerged rocks – this reduces the safe boarding area. There are also rip currents in this area.

Dogs aren’t allowed on Hope Cove beach from 1 May until 30 September but they are allowed on the harbour beach on a lead all year round.

Find the Hope Cove car park on what3words: ///resemble.moped.exotic

Wembury Beach

View of rock pools Wembury Beach in the South Hams
Wembury Beach

The shingle shoreline at Wembury is heaven for rock poolers. Visit at low tide for plenty of crevices to explore and find mini marine beasts.

If you want to find out more about the salty wildlife you find visit Wembury Marine Centre. This is beside the beach car park and is open from Easter to the end of September each year. The centre is free to visit.

The beach and car park are looked after by the National Trust. Dogs are allowed on this beach all year round. Wembury Old Mill Cafe is run by the National Trust. Check their website for opening information.

Find Wembury beach car park on what3words: ///puddles.brew.blesses

Map of South Hams Beaches

Here’s where to find these awesome South Hams beaches:

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