You can’t help but fall in love with these 15 must visit Devon villages
Exeter, Plymouth, Dartmoor, Barnstaple; there are many popular places that come to mind when we say ‘Devon’. But tucked away between the cities and towns, in the rolling hills of the countryside, lie a number of Devon villages that deserve more recognition than they get.
Some of these 15 must visit villages you may have heard of, some may have passed you by completely, but they’re all worth seeing to take in the essence of Devon and to fall in love with the area.
There are an array of Brend Hotels across Devon, waiting to provide luxury 3 and 4 star accommodation in between your trips to these beautiful Devon villages.
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On the Torridge district coast, North Devon
Coastal villages don’t come any more picturesque than Clovelly. Nestled in the hillside, it oozes charm with its cobbled streets and historical feel. No cars are allowed here, as the houses and narrow paths tumble down 400 feet to the harbour. Higgledy-piggledy cottages open up to reveal the stunning views and turquoise ocean.
Donkeys still live and thrive in the stables, making an appearance in the village during good weather. It’s a snapshot of a bygone era when they used to transport items through the village.
Visiting this private village does require a fee to get through the gates - but this entry price goes towards the upkeep of the village along with access to the visitor centre and the attractions. With plenty of activities and wonderful shops, this really is a place that needs to be seen. There are excellent choices for delicious, fresh, local food. Other notable sights are the Kingsley Museum and The Fisherman’s Cottage.
Timeless, picturesque and quintessentially Devon, Clovelly stands the test of time as a real hotspot of heritage and provides a great day out. You’ll want to take endless pictures of the fishing village to remember this completely unique place. Clovelly has a thriving community spirit and hosts several popular annual events through the year too.
Dartmoor, near Bovey Tracey and near Exeter
A classic and quiet picture postcard village that’s a secret gem in Dartmoor. Lustleigh Cleave is a steep-sided, tree-covered valley with the River Teign running along it that makes for wonderful walking territory, attracting hikers to paths that go along a ridge with spectacular views to Dartmoor and surrounding countryside.
The nearby village orchard is used as a venue for a variety of events throughout the year. In fact, it seems like the people of Lustleigh like to have fun as the village is home to the very popular and famous Lustleigh Show. They also thrive with May Day celebrations, featuring the rock pictured above. Inscribed on the rock are the names of the May Queens crowned each year since 1954. The throne dates from 2000 when it was cut from quarry stone.
There’s a beautiful old church in the village, worth seeing for the fabulous stained glass windows. You’ll also find The Cleave Public House offering food, wine and beer in a relaxed, friendly atmosphere. The Primrose Tea Rooms offers cakes, scones and lunches. Then there’s a pretty green, lots of thatched cottages and stunning summer gardens.
Near Ilfracombe on the North Devon coast
Lee is a tiny village tucked away on the famous North Devon coast, roughly two miles to the west of Ilfracombe. Bordered on three sides by rolling Devon countryside it opens up to the Bristol channel.
Some 100 properties make up the village, surrounding the narrow inland roads and country walkways. They’re situated in a deep valley which is heavily wooded in places, making a great place to walk and explore.
Yet it’s the small rocky cove that most people remember. Lee Bay is a refreshing change to beaches as it remains untouched by the hand of time. At low water in the height of the summer it remains a tranquil spot with many rock pools and small sandy beach.
For the hikers, a multitude of splendid walks stem from Lee village. Most are well signposted and vary in type and length. A rewarding way of experiencing the natural outstanding beauty of the area.
Near Braunton, North Devon
Croyde beach is a surfers and sun-bathers paradise. Yet the village itself is also a treat, and needs to be embedded into a visit. Come for the beach, fall in love with the village.
This popular Devon attraction surrounds the beach and is visited by many tourists in the summer. In the centre of it lies the much loved The Thatch pub along with a range of other shops and restaurants. If a classic beach vibe is what you’re after then the people and the shops of Croyde will provide this. Expect ice-creams, surfboards and drinks in the sun.
Croyde hosts GoldCoast Oceanfest every June when the village gets at its busiest and liveliest, and in the summer locals and tourists come together with happy vibes. If the crowds aren't for you, visit outside the main summer months to enjoy the quiet village and the surrounding countryside.
Near Bideford in North Devon
A small village on the bank of an estuary, where the rivers Torridge and Taw run into Bideford Bay, Instow is a popular holiday destination all year round for its beach.
Whether it’s a quiet day out, an active family outing, a bird watching retreat, a romantic walk or a place to sit with a picnic, Instow has just want you need. Don’t let some rain ruin your visit, call into the Waterside Gallery to see works by some of North Devon’s finest artists, potters and craftspeople.
The estuary beach is ideal for everyone as sandbars protect it from the dangerous swells of the Bristol channel. The Tarka Trail comes through Instow, offering easy access to other nearby and inspiring views. For those looking to relax, there are three pubs from which to admire sunsets as the sun drops below Appledore on the opposite bank, casting shadows on the anchored boats.
Instow is ideal for watching the world go by as boats journey along the estuary.
Near Bideford in North Devon
As mentioned above, the village of Appledore sits opposite Instow, with just the tidal waters between them. Whilst Instow has the beach, Appledore is bigger, has regular events throughout the year and has a rich history of fishing.
Characterised by its winding narrow streets and colourful houses, Appledore is built on a tradition of fishing and boat building which still continues today.
The Appledore Book Festival takes place every September, drawing visitors from across the country and featuring acclaimed international authors. The Appledore Instow Regatta is an opportunity to cheer on the gig boats as they race along the quay. Or even take part in crabbing and beach tug-of-war competitions! Appledore is a great place to find a range of boat and fishing trips too.
The Quay is at the heart of life here, where a small number of shops and restaurants sit. There’s even the famous Hocking’s Ice Cream van.
Close to Torquay and Paignton on the South Devon coast
For those who wish to feel like a Hobbit in the shire, Cockington is the place to visit. Take the opportunity to walk back in time along the narrow lanes. They are lined with thatched houses and come with a quiet charm that is quintessentially English.
You’ll discover the water mill and forge hidden away from the rest of the world, and the Cockington cricket pitch was once a medieval deer park. So there’s plenty of history on display.
The village was first documented in the 10th century but is thought to be founded 2500 years ago in the Iron Age, due to the two hill forts on both sides of the Cockington Valley. The country park is a beautiful and relaxing place to walk and see the history of the area.
Just a stone’s throw from the English Riviera, Cockington is a quiet retreat away from the main crowds and attractions of Torquay and Paignton. Ideal for those who want to escape and forget the world.
On the North Devon coast
The famous Woolacombe! But not just a beach, Woolacombe is also a thriving village that has a lot to offer those visiting the coastal retreat.
Yes the beach here is spectacular. It won Trip Advisors best beach in the UK two years in a row. There’s three miles of golden sands, open blue seas for swimming and surfing, awesome views and lots of walking routes.
Yet it’s the village itself that makes a visit here worthwhile. There’s a community spirit and the locals are friendly and welcoming. Plus the shops range from local and specialised to national brands.
Woolacombe is a stereotypical tourist seaside place, expect buckets and spades, crazy golf, ice cream stands, fish and chips and lots of surfers. There are lovely places to dine, some with sea views.
Although busy during the prime summer season, Woolacombe is definitely small and quaint, even when simply grabbing an ice cream before heading back onto the sand.
The heart of Dartmoor
Widecombe-In-The-Moor’s name literally gives away its location. Set in the heart of Dartmoor, as deep in the moors as you can get, the village lies in Widecombe Valley.
There are less than 200 households here but the village is still well known and a must visit for those looking to explore Dartmoor. Widecombe-In-The-Moor has an annual extravaganza Fair and throughout the year there are tea rooms, shops, pubs and a gorgeous setting where wild ponies, sheep and cattle visit the village green!
The scenery surrounding the village is stunning, especially when driving down the very steep hill. It’s just enchanting.
This is a walkers and sightseers paradise. There are many artefacts around the village that the locals will help you hunt down. Then there are the moors on the doorstep. It’s probably best to pick a direction and simply stroll to see the sights. For those looking for something unique, take a Dartmoor Llama Walk to be shown the area with the llamas and a guide by your side.
The most north-westerly settlement in North Devon
Hartland is the general name given to the headland near the North Devon and Cornwall border. Hartland Point is on a heritage coast, popular for its jagged and dramatic cliffed shoreline. Imagine big waves crashing into the rocks, spraying water into the air. Imagine dramatic walks and sharp drops to the sea. A historic lighthouse overlooks a site where a boat crashed into the rocks below. Hartland Point is a sightseers and nature lovers paradise.
But there is also Hartland village to explore. It’s remote but has charm and many craft shops and potteries alongside cafés and restaurants. There’s a long main street, with classic cottages, leading to the town square and the church of St John.
Not far away is Hartland Quay, commissioned in 1586. It became a busy port shipping coal, granite and various farm produce until the end of the 19th century. Sadly nothing of the original quay remains but there is a museum and a shop. For hikers, start from the Quay and follow the coastal paths to reach waterfalls tumbling into the sea.
Finally, the nearby Hartland Abbey was built in 1157 and is also well worth a visit.
Close to Seaton, the most south-eastern area of South Devon
A much loved and popular destination on the south coast, this Devon village is a picturesque fishing spot with a family friendly shingle beach, all surrounded by limestone cliffs.
Close to the town of Seaton, there’s something special about Beer; it’s got that seaside feel without being overwhelming. Once a smuggler's haven, today specially designed boats are launched from the beach by skilled fishermen and visitors can take mackerel fishing trips.
There are popular coastal walks around the area along the South West Coast Path and along to Dorset and the East Devon World Heritage Coast.
A little way out are the Beer Quarry Caves. Here regular tours take you through the caves and underground caverns to see artefacts and history. Their mighty halls of vaulted roofs and pillars of Beer Stone have been compared to a vast underground cathedral.
If being underground is too much, then simply spending time on the beach and in the sea on a sunny day is a wonderful pleasure at Beer.
On the River Teign, opposite Teignmouth, South Devon
Shaldon is an unspoilt village that is loved by visitors because of its beauty and its thriving community. Like with many places in Devon, many Shaldon families are still linked to the fishing industry, so the village is an array of bright boats with a great beach and easy access to calm waters.
Plus, with a great range of local shops and attractions, Shaldon is an ideal place for a relaxing day out. It’s not as commercial as other locations but is perfect for experiencing real Devon life firsthand.
The beach is blissfully ideal for swimming, sailing, rowing, paddling and rock pool exploring. For something away from the beach, travel to Teignmouth on the oldest passenger ferry in England, where there are places to eat and drink alongside traditional seaside entertainment. But for most, a quiet picnic in Shaldon itself is a great way to waste away the day.
Shaldon is on the South West Coast Path so there are many walks from the village to other beautiful spots with views of the coastline. There’s also a Botanical Garden, a golf course with sea views and a Zoo for the whole family. Shaldon Zoo is small but has a wide range of primates along with small mammals and birds.
The South Hams district of Dartmouth, South Devon
Dittisham is considered by many to be one of the most attractive villages on the south coast of Devon. It’s small, unspoilt and sits on the banks of the River Dart, often overlooked as it lies just two miles from Dartmouth.
Referred to locally as Ditsum, the village is a delight to see but the river views are truly memorable and atmospheric. The surrounding countryside is glorious with numerous walks.
A passenger ferry will take you down to Dartmouth if required but only if you can pull yourself away from Dittisham itself.
Near Barnstaple, North Devon
Once considered the biggest village in England, locals still cling on to this idea and state it proudly even if it’s not true. If the nearby town of Barnstaple is considered the capital of North Devon then Braunton must be it’s heart, acting as a gateway to the key beaches and attractions.
The village itself has a thriving centre with Squires, an award-winning fish and chips restaurant, in the middle. There are stone baked pizzas, other tasty places to dine, surf shops, charity shops to grab a bargain, a bakery and many more shops.
From the centre there is an abundance of walks and hikes to enjoy. Take the famous Tarka Trail on foot or by bike to enjoy the scenery. Then by car it’s just a short journey to the 4 mile stretch of golden beach and surf hotspot at Saunton Sands. Drive a bit further to reach the previously mentioned Woolacombe, Croyde and Lee.
Also, don’t forget Braunton Burrows, a Nature Reserve consisting of rolling sand dunes that seem to stretch for as far as the eye can see. Wildlife thrives here, plus there’s a golf course before the burrows open up onto the beach.
The north east edge of Dartmoor near Exeter
Another sweet little Dartmoor village, this time on the north east edge in the centre of Devon. As with anywhere on the moors, Dunsford is in gorgeous rolling countryside and is well known for its pretty thatch, cob and moorstone cottages.
The village sits on top of the Teign Valley, on the side of a wooded hill which slopes down to the river for lovely views. Dunsford is fairly quiet, which is a wonderful reason to visit for those looking to embrace the remoteness of Dartmoor. There’s a school, pub, a swimming pool, a few shops and a sports field.
But a visit here is all about seeing the nature of Dartmoor. Nearby Dunsford Nature Reserve is worth exploring, especially in the spring when the bright yellow daffodils command the scenery.