Millions of people have recollections of holidays as a child in Devon, from sunshine on a sandy beach to ancient woodlands with a magical atmosphere that makes the tales of King Arthur seem possible. The county is incredibly child friendly no matter what the weather. Here are some of the best family days out in Devon.
While all of Devon’s beaches are beautiful, some are more family friendly than others. Here is a selection by region.
- North Devon: Woolacombe Bay is three miles of soft sand so you will have loads of space to set up for the day. The water is clean with smallish waves to make it safe for novice surfers and young swimmers and a lifeguard is on duty during the summer. There is a café, toilets and a park nearby, while the beach has rock pools to explore. The beach has level access but the soft sand makes it difficult for wheelchairs and buggies.
- Mid Devon: Blackpool Sands in South Hams near Dartmouth has, like Woolacombe Bay, been awarded Blue Flag status for the cleanliness of its waters. The facilities include a lifeguard during the summer, sand pits, bathing raft and a café. There are toilets with disabled facilities and showers, and the beach itself is also wheelchair and buggy accessible. The shop sells beach toys and rents surfboards, body boards and kayaks. Despite its name, Blackpool Sands is a shingle beach.
- South Devon: Paignton is perfect for families – especially if the weather is looking a little iffy. As well as a long stretch of sheltered beach, try crabbing in the harbour, walk along the fantastic Victorian Pier, or watch the kids go nuts in the excellent park on the beach front. The town has the usual amusement arcades as well as a jaw-dropping ice cream parlour selling more than sixty delicious flavours. There is ramp access at the south end.
Bellever Forest is near Newton Abbot in Dartmoor. It has four marked walking trails ranging from easy to hard, allowing you to enjoy the beauty of the landscape with the Bellever Tor, ancient ruins, grazing ponies and natural wildlife. A short (240 metre) trail with disabled access leads to the East Dart River from the car park. It’s dog friendly, and while it doesn’t have a shop or café there is a popular picnic site. Entry is free and parking is very reasonable at currently £2 for two or more hours (£4 for minibuses).
Bicton Park Botanical Gardens
Bicton Park is more than a collection of plants. Gardeners will love the Grade I listed venue for its centuries of horticultural history, while kids will love the well planned indoor and outdoor play areas, Bicton Woodland Railway and nature trail. The museum is full of engines, tools and other facets of the countryside, and a vintage car and motorcycle collection. The four glasshouses provide a welcome respite on chilly days, or you could escape into the Orangery and enjoy a cake and a cup of tea. Most of the gardens and buildings are wheelchair and buggy accessible. It’s open daily from 10am.
National Marine Aquarium
Not far from Tavistock is the historic city of Plymouth where you will find, among other attractions, the National Marine Aquarium. It’s the largest aquarium in Britain and boats the deepest tank in Europe. You’ll see everything from tiny tropical fish to turtles and sharks. There is a lot to take in but your ticket allows you entry for up to 12 months so you can come back for free. There is an outdoor picnic area with two cafes. It has excellent disabled facilities including lifts and free wheelchair hire.
Torquay’s Dinosaur World is a fearsomely fun all-weather attraction. The displays are very realistic and there are plenty of opportunities for kids to touch and interact with them. The Dinosaur Trail features life sized models showing just how impressive the beasts were. Education has never been so exciting! It’s not a full day out – only an hour or two – but the excellent Torquay Museum is nearby with more interesting exhibits. Torquay is a great wet weather town.
Dingles Fairground Heritage Centre
There’s nowhere like the Dingles Fairground Heritage Centre anywhere else in the UK. It’s a museum devoted to the magic of the fun fair, with working rides of the kind your parents and grandparents would remember from their childhood. You can show your kids that it doesn’t have to be high tech to be fun! Dingles has free parking, picnic tables, a café, a shop, and wheelchair access to all areas.
Tiverton Museum of Mid Devon Life and Devon Railway Centre
The Tiverton Museum of Mid Devon Life is an award winning attraction showcasing local history. There is a lot to see and it offers good value for money (children go free), but make sure you check the opening hours before you visit as they vary throughout the year. It will take an hour or two to go around the museum and it’s better suited for older children rather than toddlers. Tiverton is also home to the Devon Railway Centre – heaven for any child mad about Thomas the Tank Engine, and pretty interesting even for those who aren’t.
Free Activities for Kids
Family holidays can be expensive but as well as going to the beach you have the option of plenty of free family activities in Devon.
- Geocaching started in Dartmoor as letterboxing. It’s part walk, part treasure hunt, and can take as little or as long as you like.
- Once a small medieval village, Hound Tor is now a deserted hamlet with the ruins of four homes. It’s a good place to explore and is dog friendly. Grimspound is a few miles away with ruins dating back to the Bronze Age.
- Buckfast Abbey is in Buckfastleigh and one of the few buildings of its kind to escape the fist of King Henry VIII’s reformation. As well as stunning architecture, it has beautiful gardens, an award winning café and shop and wheelchair access to most parts. While in Buckfastleigh you can visit Holy Trinity Church which inspired Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Hound of the Baskervilles” and is rumoured to be haunted by Squire Richard Cabell.
Devon isn’t simply a nice place for a family holiday, it’s a fantastic chance to give your children happy memories they’ll carry for life.