If the thought of visiting a city with your family makes your wallet shudder, I get it! The cost of days out, particularly in the school holidays, can soon mount up. So when Visit Exeter invited us to rediscover the city ahead of the summer I decided to share our top tips on what to do in Exeter without blowing your bank balance.

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Here’s what we got up to during a budget-friendly day exploring the free and cheap things to do in Exeter:

RAMM – the Royal Albert Memorial Museum

Gerald the giraffe at RAMM in Exeter
RAMM’s Gerald the giraffe

This is the place to visit if you want to take a deep dive into lives of Devon’s important people, landmark events and natural history. It’s also one of the great free things to do in Exeter and a top choice for rainy days. 

RAMM is packed full of exhibits. There’s fashions from across the centuries, masonry saved from churches demolished by order of Henry VIII and a snarling polar bear who my girls affectionately named Snowy. 

Girl and snarling polar bear in display case
RAMM’s fearsome polar bear

When you arrive, pick up a Treasures of the Museum map and follow the one-way system to find 16 of the museum’s most iconic objects. This includes family favourite Gerald the Giraffe. But, to be fair, you can’t miss him! 

When you discover the curious objects on the trail there’s a QR code that you can scan with a smartphone to find out more about each of them.

If you want to add to your museum experience there’s a programme of family events and activities over the summer months. These range from craft workshops to historical re-enactments. There are small extra charges for some activities. 

We spent an hour looking around RAMM before setting off to explore the rest of the city centre. Allow longer during events and as more of the interactive displays return.

RAMM is open 10am until 5pm Tuesday to Sunday. Find the Garden Entrance on Upper St Paul Street. There’s no need to book in advance.

Gandy Street

When you leave RAMM you’re perfectly positioned to take a wander down Gandy Street. Turn left out of the museum exit on Queen Street, take the first left, then right and you’ll see this pedestrian shopping street stretching out ahead of you.

Family walking down Gandy Street independent shopping area in Exeter
Gandy Street

Top fact for Harry Potter fans: it’s thought that J.K. Rowling used Gandy Street as inspiration for Diagon Alley. 

It’s lined with independent traders and criss-crossed with a string of pretty lanterns in pastel shades. If you fancy a pit stop, there’s plenty of delightful cafes along the way.

Sorry Gandy Street, but this time we were off to Cathedral Green to grab a bite to eat.

Cathedral Green

I love a city with a ‘green lung’ – somewhere to let the kids explore without having to keep hold of them the whole time. Cathedral Green is one of those spaces with the bonus of a perimeter featuring some of the city’s most historic buildings.

The centre piece is the gothic architecture of Exeter Cathedral. More on that and why you should visit with kids in a moment.

We arrived just before lunchtime and found a table outside Taste of South Street Exeter overlooking the Green.

Salads from Taste of South Street Exeter
Salads at Taste of South Street Exeter

Kids meals cost £5.50 and include a main dish, two sides and a drink. Main meals range from a very affordable £4.50 for Mac n’ Cheese with a small salad to £12.75 for large salads, speciality burgers with fries and sweet potato chilli.

Lunch was our biggest expense of the day, but at under £35.50 for freshly prepared meals in a stunning location, it was great value.

Exeter Cathedral

Once we were fully refuelled, our next stop was historic Exeter Cathedral. ‘But, with children?’ I hear you ask!

It’s true that a cathedral might not seem like the best place to take kids energised from their lunch. But there’s plenty to capture their imaginations even before you step inside.

Looking up at West Screen of Exeter Cathedral
The West Screen

Stand and admire the weathered figures of angels, knights and apostles who greet you at the western end of the Cathedral. Each is unique and was once painted in bright colours.

As soon as you step inside your eyes are drawn upwards to the ceiling.

The stone masons of the 14th Century knew a thing or two about vaulted roofs. Exeter has the longest continuous medieval stone vaulted roof in the world. Have a look for curious bosses including faces, animals and even a mermaid.

Vaulted ceiling of Exeter Cathedral
Exeter’s astonishing vaulted roof

As you wander through the Cathedral there’s thousands of intricate tombs, memorials and carvings to spot.

This summer children can also pick up a secret door trail sheet and find sculptures that are part of the Destiny & Light exhibition, which is on until 30 August 2021.

Children stood either side of a small decorative fairy door concealed in cathedral organ pipes
Secret doors are hidden all over Exeter Cathedral

Exeter Cathedral is open 9.30am until 4.30pm Monday to Saturday and from 11am until 3pm on Sundays. Entry costs £5 per adult. Kids can visit for free.

Exeter Quayside

A ten minute walk from the Cathedral is Exeter Quayside, which is the city’s historic river port. The old warehouses and arches are now home to waterside eateries and independent shops.

View across river to Exeter Quayside bars and shops
Exeter Quayside

If you want to find out about the history of the city’s woollen cloth industry then it’s free to visit the Exeter Custom House Visitor Centre here.

This is also the meeting point for the free Exeter Red Coat guided tours. These need to be booked in advance but sound super interesting with walks focussing on the city’s curiosities, ghost stories and legends. 

If you have a few more pennies to spend then buy a bag of swan food from one of the quayside shops. Or, if the kids have a bit of pocket money going spare you can hire a pedalo. These cost £8 for half an hour.

We opted to complete our visit with a treat from Styles Ice Cream.

All in all, we’d filled our day in Exeter for a grand total of £56.60 including attractions, lunch, parking and ice creams. Not bad for a city adventure on a budget.

Here’s a video from our day:

Want some more inspiration for places to see and things to do? Visit Exeter have plenty of ideas for things to do back in Exeter this summer.

Handy things to know

Here’s some more tips for visiting Exeter city centre with your family:

  • There’s lots of city centre parking. We used the Guildhall Shopping Centre car park, which is pay on exit. Mary Arches is also close by. Parking for six hours cost us £6.
  • Exeter is a very accessible city. There is a hill down towards the Quayside but this would be manageable with a pushchair. Some routes have shallow steps.
  • Bring 20p for the toilets in Catherine Square outside the Princesshay Shopping Centre and be aware that these are accessed via steps. The toilets on Exeter Quayside are free and there are free toilets in the Guildhall Shopping Centre.

If you enjoyed this guide to what to do in Exeter then you might also like my ideas for places to visit in East Devon.

Disclosure: we were invited back to Exeter by Visit Exeter and have been compensated for the time it’s taken to produce this guide.

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