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Devon family holidays and breaks

Boats in Devon
Devon landscape
Canoeing in Devon
Plymouth
Children on the beach in Devon

The southern county of Devon has all the ingredients for the perfect family holiday – one in which you can recapture those halcyon days of the past, spending hours idling in a boat à la Swallows and Amazons or lazily eating ice cream on a harbour wall, watching the world go by. 

The whole of Devon lends itself to outdoor adventures, with pristine sandy beaches and many a great pier for crabbing. There’s 138km of coastline including all the inlets and creeks any wannabe pirate could hope for, so plenty of activities are based in, on or around the water, from the simple toddler-friendly pleasures of shrimping and paddling to teen-pleasers such as boating, water-skiing, swimming, canoeing and wind-surfing.

Venturing inland, time slows down as you uncover beautiful winding lanes, green rolling fields, twee but thriving villages, castles, and National Trust properties. Explore animal centres, adventure parks, famous Dartmoor and its ponies, and the cosmopolitan and historic city of Exeter. 

 
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Things to do with kids in Devon

Hit the beaches. Some of our favourites for family holidays in Devon are Bigbury on Sea with its great surf school, Mattiscombe (worth the walk to get there) and Bantham. All are big, sandy and perfect for all ages. But there are plenty of other wonderful beaches all along the south and north coasts; most are very tidal and you’re advised to get a local tide timetable from a newsagent.

Roam around Dartmoor, one of England’s great untouched portions of wilderness, for hiking, canoeing on the River Dart, horse-riding, rock-climbing or just plain yomping. This is the kind of place where all thoughts of computer screens and TVs are banished and kids can work up an appetite through good old-fashioned exercise! The River Dart Adventure Park is a good place to start. You’re bound to spot ponies out in the open but there are even cuter ones to be seen at the Original Miniature Pony Centre. Dartmoor Prison can be used as a veiled threat for unruly kids, but while still functioning as a prison it also has a  museum of interest to all ages.  

Take kids impressed by the fact that real soldiers play on Dartmoor to Castle Drogo and Okehampton Castle. In Exeter, those with a head for heights will enjoy the Go Ape treetop adventure course.

Head for Plymouth to take a boat trip into the Plymouth Sound and up the River Tamar, past the Devonport Royal Dockyards, where you’ll see frigates and nuclear submarines. A trip to the National Marine Aquarium is also a must. 

Discover the south coast of Devon, dubbed the English Riviera and chock a block with beaches, cafés and restaurants. Though it’s busy in summer, it’s all the more fun for that – teens gravitate to each other on the piers and young children bond over buckets brimming with crabs. 

Savour countless villages and the many opportunities to step back into the past. See how the other half lived at Cockington Court & Country Park then let off steam in the gardens. At Brixham, step aboard a replica of Drake’s ‘The Golden Hinde' and visit the Heritage Museum. Paignton has some great beaches and also the country’s only outdoor waterpark. Paignton Zoo is brilliant, but you might also head to Woodlands Park for more animals, plus rides and other attractions. 

Pennywell Farm is another place to get up close and personal with animals, including ridiculously cute miniature pigs, while Devon Wildlife Centre and Hospital combines education with fun for a good day out. 

Take all ages on a guided canoeing trip in a Voyager 12-seat canoe between Totnes and Dartmouth with Canoe Adventures. Young kids might also like Digger Land, where they can drive real JCBs. Alternatively, Crealy Great Adventure Park has a seemingly endless array of rides. 

Don’t miss Dartmouth, a small but bustling town, packed with cafés and pleasant shops and a great place to get on the water – contact Dartmouth Boat Hire Centre, hop on the car or passenger ferry to the other side of the estuary, take sailing lessons or enjoy a cruise between Dartmouth and Totnes. 

Explore Salcombe, which has become trendy of late – a fact reflected in the prices  – and is a great place to amble around before taking the small ferry to East Portlemouth Beach facing the town. 

Catch a steam train ride: the South Devon Railway chugs along the River Dart between Totnes and Buckfastleigh. At beautiful Berry Pomeroy Castle, scare yourselves silly with ghost stories. Powderham Castle is also worth a visit.

Eat

Devon prides itself on its regional produce, such as seafood, home-made jams, locally reared meat (including ostrich) and organic veg. The county is also spiritual home to the cream tea, and has some fantastic locally made ice creams and yoghurts. 

In Exeter you’ll find the usual family-friendly chains that come in handy on family holidays, including Pizza Express, Café Rouge and Giraffe. The beaches at East Portlemouth and Bigbury on Sea have cafés with organic local produce  

By Rachelle Keyes

When to go to Devon

As with the rest of the UK, Devon is at its best for family holidays between Easter and October. July and August are busy but generally not unbearable, and there are always hidden corners to discover for yourself. 

Devon has a mild climate but can be wet. Generally, in the summer months the rain doesn't last for too long, but come prepared for wind and rain at any time of year.

Winter can be dramatic, especially on Dartmoor and along the coast.

How to get to Devon

It’s around 5hrs by car from London to south Devon, with the M5 a good, generally fast route. Within the country, roads are being improved all the time and pretty much everywhere is easily accessible.  

Devon is 2hrs 30mins–3hrs 30mins hours from London Paddington with First Great Western trains. Virgin Trains runs two routes into Devon from the north-west, north-east and Scotland. 

If you’re coming from far away or are very short of time, you might consider flying to Exeter and a set of wheels is the only really viable way to explore Devon in depth, especially on family holidays. 

Cost

Devon is a good-value place for a UK family holiday, with self-catering cottages available for about £200-700/wk depending on time of year, size of party and proximity to the coast. Beware of spending too much money on days out – on sunny days, the beach will keep you entertained for hours for free.

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Family friendly places to stay in Devon

Devon has a fantastic choice of family-friendly accommodation, from hotels (many offering family services such as baby-listening and kids’ clubs) and B&Bs to campsites, chalets, cottages and farmstays. We particularly recommend the family-run Soar Mill Cove near Salcombe, with both hotel rooms and self-catering properties.

Our partner Cottages4you lists more than 100 self-catering properties in south and north Devon, many of them characterful converted farmhouses full of character. TaketheFamily members get exclusive offers.

You might also go hyper-active on a PGL Family Active holiday in the region or glamp it up in on a farm-stay or in a Mongolian yurt. For more ideas see our features on Green Places to Stay in Europe, Quirky Family-friendly Places to Stay in the UK and Best UK Farm-stays.

Key:
Self-catering
Hotel
Editors favourite
Kids Club
  • Cottages in Devon, Devon

    Rural and coastal cottages, ideal for family holidays and breaks in Devon.

  • Feather Down Farms, Aller Farm, Devon

    350 acre dairy farm in Devon perfect for family glamping holidays, only 20mins from the beach and local towns just a few miles away.

  • Feather Down Farms, Billingsmoor Farm, Devon

    Traditional organic dairy farm with views of rolling countryside and further stretching views of the Devonshire coastline.

  • Woolacombe Bay Holiday Village, Devon

    A lively holiday park in Devon with kids club and lots of outdoor activities for all ages.

  • Twitchen House Holiday Village, Devon

    Set within a manor house grounds, this family holiday park in Devon has something to suit everyone.

  • Golden Coast Holiday Village, Devon

    A holiday park in Devon complete with plenty of family-friendly activities for active families.

  • Easewell Farm Holiday Park, Devon

    A quiet holiday park in Devon with easy access to both the beach and countryside.

  • Kingsmead Centre

    Kingsmead Centre, Devon

    Quirky caravan and Yurt in the Devonshire woodlands, ideally located for families to explore the outdoors.

  • PGL Barton Hall, Devon

    With an outdoor pool, dry ski slope and a lake on-site, this is a top choice for a family adventure and activity holiday in Devon.

  • Devon Hills Holiday Village, Devon

    With an abundance of activities (some free, some with an additional charge), including archery, fencing, seascooters and an activity programme for 3-7 year olds.

  • South Sands Hotel, Devon

    South Sands Hotel allows families to relax and enjoy an informal holiday or break in comfortable and stylish surroundings on the beachfront.

  • Gidleigh Park Hotel, Devon

    A truly luxurious hotel, offering the highest standards where the whole family are looked after from the moment you arrive until the minute you depart.

  • Soar Mill Cove Hotel, Devon

    A hidden gem on the coast of Devon, with wonderfully welcoming staff, excellent food and great leisure facilities.

  • Woolacombe Bay Hotel, Devon

    Many facilities on offer as well as the opportunity to spend quality family time together having a surf lesson or horse riding.

  • Ruda Holiday Park, Devon

    Packed with activities and close to glorious beaches, this holiday park in Devon is a sure fire hit for family holidays or breaks.

  • Ladram Bay Holiday Park, Devon

    First class entertainment, superb facilities, children's activities for all ages, private beach and much more await you at this holiday park in Devon.

  • Watermouth Lodges, Berrynarbor, Ilfracombe , Devon

    Family friendly park in Devon with excellent indoor and outdoor facilities - a must for taking your bicycles.

  • Finlake Lodges, Chudleigh, Newton Abbott , Devon

    An award winning park with a fabulous leisure complex and superb cuisine.

  • Haven Devon Cliffs, Devon

    Direct access to the beach, close to local amenties and a holiday park full of children's activities and a tranquil spa for parents.

  • Langstone Cliff Hotel, Devon

    The hotel has a swimming pool, children’s room and a huge lawn for children to play on, plus children’s teas, all making children feel welcome.  

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