By: Helen Earley
The Cathedral city of Exeter is the perfect base for a visit South West of England. With two mainline rail stations (Exeter Central and Exeter St. David’s) and a smaller regional station (Exeter St. Thomas), it’s an easy journey there – and a great launching pad for day or weekend trips to other parts of Devon and Cornwall.
Steeped in History…with a New Age Vibe
History buffs – you’re in your element. A walled city in medieval times, Exeter is most famous for its Gothic-style Cathedral which among other features has longest uninterrupted vaulted ceiling in England. The city also has a self-guided Medieval Trail for you to explore at your own pace. Look out for archaeologically restored ruins and information panels throughout the city.
Exeter’s location in the South West of England gives it a new age new-age festival vibe, totally unique from other major cities in the UK. On a short walk around the Cathedral Quarter, you’re likely to meet a few buskers and street-performers. During term time, you’re also bound to run into groups of students from the University of Exeter – one of the UK’s top ‘red brick’ institutions.
Activities in Exeter
Exeter’s Quayside offers a relaxing waterside getaway just outside the city. Rent a bike, kayak or stand up paddle board or eat, shop and stroll along the canal. This is a perfect activity for a sunny day. Don’t forget to stop in to the Quay House Visitor Centre.
For a waterside excursion along the River Exe and the Exe Estuary take the train! The 10 mile long Avocet Branch Line, which runs from Exeter St. David’s to the seaside resort of Exmout, stops at Topsham, where visitors will find places to ramble, cycle, shop and drink. Enjoy a sophisticated pub meal along river Exe and in the summer, try to catch the Topsham Food Festival.
Shopping in Exeter
Far from the hustle and bustle of London, but with all the same brands, Exeter is a great place to go shopping. Although the Princesshay district is the newest and most talked about shopping area, don’t miss Queen Street and the older Guildhall complex.
In the West Quarter of the city, discover a trove of vintage clothing and market-style shops and record stores like Rooster Records. In the West Quarter, everything seems small and twisty. That’s because the street plan of the City’s West Quarter remains much the same today as it did in medieval times.
Where to Eat in Exeter
Around the Cathedral, you’re spoiled for choice with several modern restaurants such as Pizza Express and ASK, as well as the historic Tea on the Green restaurant, housed in a 16th century building overlooking the Cathedral garden (try the Sunday roast!). For super-healthy, delicious organic Californian and Asian inspired fare order a combination plate at the popular Plant Café. You’ll be full for the rest of the day, and be back tomorrow to try their version of the local delicacy, Homity Pie.
Of course, if you’re on the run, there’s nothing better than a piping hot traditional Cornish pasty – a savoury pastry containing steak, swede and potato. With the neighbouring county of Cornwall just around the corner, there are take-away pasty shops on every corner in Exeter– a full meal on the go, for under £4.00!
Places to Stay in Exeter
In Exeter, there’s no need to break the bank for excellent accommodation. The Townhouse B&B, only a few steps away from St. David’s Station, offers family rooms and an intimate full breakfast in the morning. If you’re looking for a full service hotel, try the White Hart Inn, a masterpiece of a pub with clean, modern hotel rooms on top. Here, breakfast is included, and guests receive a discount on food served in the taproom or “secret garden”. For budget travellers, try the The Globe backpackers, or Exeter University, which offers dorm accommodation in the summertime and during the Easter break.
Exeter is easily accessible from most parts of the England. From London Paddington, take the Great Western Railway. The scenic journey is about 2-3 hours.. From Waterloo Station, Cross Country Trains offers a pleasant but slower service through Salisbury, also very beautiful, but which can take up to 4 hours.
Helen Earley is a freelance travel and lifestyle writer based in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She used the Britrail flexi-pass to explore the South West of England.