Many of my own childhood memories come courtesy of Devon and it’s one of the UK counties that my daughter has visited most – not surprising given just how much there is still for us to explore in Devon with kids!
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So inspired by my list of the best things to do in Cornwall with kids, I’ve compiled a similar list for its family-friendly neighbour, including suggestions for rainy days in Devon, free family days out as well as sun on the beach.
Without further ado, here are my top things to do in Devon with kids of all ages from animal attractions to theme parks, castles, museums and historic spots to endless glorious Devon beaches.
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Devon with kids: Animal attractions
Exmoor Zoo, Barnstaple
At Exmoor Zoo, you can get much closer to the animals than most zoos, with a string of special animal experiences – and there are some larger animals to spot, including the star black leopard (firmly inside its enclosure!)
There are also some great talks and chances to see the animals being fed, as well as animal encounters running throughout the day. If that’s not enough family friendly fun to keep everyone entertained, there’s usually a stamp trail for kids to follow as well.
Right on the edge of Exmoor national park, it’s a fun option to combine with a day exploring outdoors too.
National Marine Aquarium, Plymouth
The National Marine Aquarium is the UK’s largest aquarium, with a series of tanks and viewing points to take you across the world’s oceans, from the shores of Plymouth to the coral reefs of the tropics.
The Great Barrier Reef exhibit has over 70 species of fish alone, with sharks, turtles and rays along with jellyfish and anenomes to discover, plus there are some great trails for kids to follow through the four main zones.
Check out my tips from our day out at the National Marine Aquarium
Occombe Farm, Paignton
It’s easy to spend hours at this working farm, which has a nature trail, farm animals and gardens to explore.
Whatever the weather, Occombe Farm has indoor and outdoor play areas, with the indoor play inspired by forest and the sea so there’s lots to spark kids’ imaginations rather than your usual soft play. There is a separate area for under-twos if you’re looking for soft play too though.
Outdoors there’s a straw bale maze, mud kitchen, messy kitchen, water play and balance challenges around the animal paddocks trail.
In the animal encounters barn, you could cuddle a bunny or a guinea pig, as well as meeting goats, ponies and other farmyard animals. Plus the café is stocked with produce grown on the site – think crab cakes before a cream tea. Yum.
Donkey Sanctuary, Sidmouth
Hug, stroke and pet the 500 residents for free at the lovely Donkey Sanctuary in Sidmouth, with mules as well as donkeys looked after by the charity in charge.
There are also nature trails through the fields to wander, and regular family activities – such as a Top Trumps trail dotted around the sanctuary or a spring trail highlighting some of the nature to spot.
There’s no need to prebook, and there’s a great cafe on site with a children’s menu, as well as some tempting food for adults.
For more ideas of free days out in Devon with kids, I’ve got 9 ideas that won’t cost you a penny.
The Butterfly Farm and Otter Sanctuary, Buckfastleigh
The lovely Butterfly Farm and Otter Sanctuary is a perfect day out for kids who love animals, especially if you’re visiting Devon with younger kids.
Three species of otter live here, including native British ones, playful Asian short clawed and show-off North American river otters – you’ll have the best chance of seeing them all at feeding times, at 11.30am, 2pm and 4pm.
You can even book special child-friendly otter encounters if you’d like to get a bit closer.
A specially designed habitat houses the tropical butterflies, with dozens of different species showing off their brightly coloured wings – although do bear in mind that if you visit in winter, only a rare few are likely to be fluttering around.
Totnes Rare Breeds Farm
Another fabulous attraction in Devon with kids, you can cuddle a guinea pig or smooth the feathers of an Eagle Owl as you explore the Totnes Rare Breeds farm.
Set near the South Devon Steam Railway, it’s another perfect day out with toddlers, with the chance to spy a whole series of farm animals, as well as the beautiful owls.
There were previously normally joint tickets available to the farm, and the butterflies and otters at the Buckfastleigh sanctuary but these are currently unavailable. Do check directions on the website before visiting too, as sat navs often send you to the wrong address.
Pennywell Farm, Buckfastleigh
There’s more to discover at Pennywell Farm than just the animals – with a different activity taking place every 30 minutes, you could enjoy anything from watching pig racing to tractor rides.
Just listen for the bell every half-hour as something new starts, with everything on the daily timetable included in your ticket.
But the farm is also home to over 150 animals, including the miniature pigs (save some time for a cuddle), miniature donkeys, alpacas, hedgehogs, plenty of other farmyard favourites and a host of small fluffy creatures too.
Add in play areas, a bouncy castle, a small railway and cafe, and it’s a great Devon day out with kids – plus Dartmoor National Park is on the doorstep too.
Devon with kids: Amusement and theme parks
The Big Sheep, Bideford
A sheep-themed family amusement park? Sounds quirky but at The Big Sheep you can bet on sheep racing (using ewe-ros obviously), watch sheep shearing, try lamb feeding, and there are farm safaris and a soft play barn, Ewetopia, perfect for a rainy day.
There’s a whole string of family-friendly rides as well, including gentle options like a train ride, as well as the Twister chair swings, plus more daring options such as Rampage, North Devon’s biggest, highest and fastest rollercoaster.
Crealy Theme Park
Regularly voted the best day out in Devon, Crealy Theme Park and resort is the biggest in the county, with over 60 rides and attractions spread over 100 acres.
With a massive 75,000ft of undercover play and outdoor adventure areas as well as the classic coasters and rides, there are also more than 200 animals to meet so there’s something for all ages, whatever the weatherwatermNot far from Exeter and just off the M5, it’s a great one to combine with a break in the city or Dartmoor.
(While the sister site in Cornwall has been closed to be replaced by Camel Creek, the Devon theme park is very much still open)
For more ideas of things to do in Exeter with kids, check out this post
Watermouth Castle, Ilfracombe
Not an actual castle, but a theme park based around a 19th century castle-style house, you’ll find an underground fountain show and a dungeon labyrinth to explore at Watermouth Castle, one of Devon’s top tourist attractions.
As well as the rides and attractions, there’s a dungeon labyrinth with its hall of mirrors and an underground fountain show with 1,000 jets of water and choreographed lights.
Add in vintage amusement machines in the Great Hall and some rooms set up as they would have been in Victorian times, and it’s unqestionnably unique!
Watermouth Castle has been sold to new owners this year, with plans to develop and improve the site, so it’s worth checking the latest changes before you visit
The Milky Way, Clovelly
If you’re looking for a theme park that’s great with smaller kids, The Milky Way is ideal – and as well as some great attractions for preschoolers, there’s plenty for the whole family whether it’s sunny or rainy.
As well as rides suitable for little ones and more daring older siblings, there’s 110 square feet of indoor fun, including soft play sections for different ages as well as adventure slides (big enough for adults too).
Save some time to watch the birds of prey show, as well as some of the interactive games.
Woodlands Leisure Park, Totnes
For another of the best theme parks in Devon, Woodlands Leisure Park has its own impressive range of things to do, including a whopping 60 acres of rides and attractions.
Split into nine main zones, there’s a toddler area, rides including watercoasters, along with a zoo and falconry centre, farm rides and more – not forgetting the chance to paint pottery.
Woodlands also ahs one of the largest indoor play areas in the South West, in case you’re visiting Devon in the rain, plus plenty of themed events throughout the year, especially at Halloween and Christmas.
Devon with kids: Attractions
Golden Hind, Brixham
This replica of Sir Francis Drake’s famous ship has plenty for history fans, including an audio tour, but whether you choose that or not, the Golden Hind is also great for kids to scramble around and explore.
There are some steep steps if you’re visiting with babies, but even pre-schoolers will love turning the wheel and child-friendly trails which have included hunting for hidden rats and mice. You can also learn to tie knots, take on quizzes and challenges, and discover more about Drake’s exploits.
And if a daytime visit isn’t enough, there’s even chance to sleep on board the Golden Hind.
Kents Cavern, Torquay
Walk through a labyrinth of caverns, past ancient rocks, and discover the home of ancient humans in caves which date back 2.5 million years for a fascinating glimpse into how people once lived.
As well as the tours through the caves at Kents Cavern, there are family activities too: digging for fossils, ammonites and shark’s teeth in the sand, creating a tribal caveman face, chalk cave painting on the wall, and leaving a hand print on the wall of hands.
Discover what we thought when we visited Kents Cavern
There’s also an activity trail, plus outdoor trails if you fancy hunting for ice age animals. The caves are suitable for toddlers too, although buggies can be limited at busy times – this does include during bad weather, but it is a great family day out for a rainy day too.
For more ideas on what to do in Devon in the rain with kids, check out these suggestions to avoid the worst of the weather
Burgh Island sea tractors
The sands of Bigbury-on-Sea beach are perfect for families, but at high tide, the sea tractor ride on the 1930s machine to Burgh Island is even more thrilling for kids.
Although you can’t visit the gorgeous art deco hotel unless you’re actually staying there, you can explore the island and wander back on foot at low tide – there’s a £2 charge for visitors who can join guests in crossing to and fro.
For more days on the sand, check out my pick of the best beaches in Devon with kids
South Devon Railway, Buckfastleigh to Totnes
With seven miles of railway running along the River Dart valley, the South Devon Railway takes you between Buckfastleigh and Totnes so you can enjoy the Devon countryside without any effort as your steam train puffs and chuffs along.
There are often special themed events, including Thomas the Tank Engine days and Christmas Santa specials
Although you can’t currently buy combined tickets to the Totnes Rare Breeds Farm and the Butterfly Farm and Otter Sanctuary in Buckfastleigh, it’s easy to visit them at either end of your train ride to make a full fun day out.
Dartmouth Steam Railway
The Dartmouth Steam railway has its own vintage trains running between Paignton and Kingswear for a rather different way to get to the seaside.
Travelling along the English Riviera Geopark coast line, the route passes a string of pretty stations including Goodrington, Churston and Greenway Halt (for Agatha Christie’s holiday home) – although you can only get off at Paignton or Kingswear.
As well as soaking up the coast and countryside, there’s a free foot passenger ferry included with your train ticket to sail over from pretty Dartmouth, as well as round trip options which include an open-topped bus, or with an extra circular cruise on the River Dart.
For more of the best things to do in Dartmouth with kids, check out my top picks
The House of Marbles, Bovey Tracey
The working glass and games factory has a collection containing one of every marble made over the years, and you can see five different marble runs in action as well as picking up souvenirs in every colour.
It’s not just marbles though, despite the name. The House of Marbles also has a collection of different games dating back as far as the 1600s, along with glassblowing and information on the 4,000-year-old history of glass and a pottery museum.
There are even brass rubbing trails to try – including an indoor option for rainy days – plus the games garden, with a climbing frame, giant games and (no surprise!) a chance to take on your family at marbles.
Check out this post for more ideas of things to do on Dartmoor with kids, if you’re visiting Bovey Tracey
Devon with kids: Castles and heritage
You’ll find more family-friendly stately homes in Devon than fortified castles, but there’s still plenty for fans of knights and princesses.
Powderham Castle, Exeter
Just outside Exeter on the banks of the Exe estuary, you can find the home of the Earl and Countess of Devon at Powderham Castle – and along with the chance to join a guided tour inside, there’s a huge amount to entertain in the grounds.
Take a tractor ride to spot the herd in the deer park, be king of your own castle in the wooden fort of the play area (inspired by the centuries of history inside the ancient home of the Courtenay family), spot the farm animals, wander through gardens galore and join in the regular family activities, including trails and crafts.
There’s a new Shaun the Sheep AR trail for 2023 as well to help you explore the grounds as well, and if you miss one of the first come first served places for the castle tour, you can head in to look around on the open house sessions. Make sure you get there early though, as last entry to the castle is at 2.30pm.
See what we got up to on a visit to Powderham Castle with kids
Explore Exeter’s medieval history
After looking around the interpretation centre, with interactive displays including a talking figure of a medieval man and a video fly-through of the passages, you head underground for a 25-minute chance to explore and hear stories of war, sieges, plague and pestilence…
Then head to the medieval cathedral to keep the history theme going – there’s always something extra to capture kids’ attention too, everything from a Lego model of the historic building to exhibitions like 2022’s Museum of the Moon, as well as trails and activities during school holidays.
For more things to do in Exeter with kids, check out my top picks, including canoeing on the river Exe
Even if you’re not an Agatha Christie fan, there’s plenty to discover at her former home, Greenway, left frozen in time as it would have been in the 1950s.
There’s a trail for kids to follow around the house, spotting crocodiles along the way, as well as a changing display in the Cabinet of Curiosities. Visit at Christmas, and the house gets an extra festive makeover too.
Or head into the gardens to check out the Travelling Trees trail, and tick some activities off the 50 things to do before you’re 11 ¾ list, as well as spotting boats on the river and pretending to fire the cannon.
It’s worth prebooking parking if you want to visit Greenway during the summer or in school holidays: there’s a ferry from Dartmouth or Dittisham (with a walk at the end), otherwise visiting by public transport is possible but not easy.
Buckland Abbey, near Plymouth
This former monastery is probably best known as the home of Sir Francis Drake, but the piratical explorer’s ownership is only part of the eight centuries of history to discover at Buckland Abbey since it was first built in 1278 as a Cistercian Abbey.
Converted to a home after the Dissolution of the monasteries, you can still see evidence of the old church, including secret doorways and stairs which no longer lead anywhere, as well as being able to walk through time as you wander from Tudor chambers to a Georgian dining room.
Along the way there’s Drake’s drum, which is said to beat if England is in danger, a portrait of Rembrandt (back from loan in The Hague), Tudor dressing up and the chance to learn about life on board Drake’s ship.
Coleton Fishacre, Kingswear
Stepping into this art deco house (built by the D’Oyly Carte family of West End theatre fame) is wonderful at any time of year, but if you’re visiting Devon during the run-up to Christmas, Coleton Fishacre is even more special.
The house is decorated for a 1920s Christmas, with traditional games and dressing up (plus the Coleton Aglow illuminations: must be booked in advance) – there are spotter trails to follow inside the house year-round though.
The rest of the year, there are free garden trails to discover the grounds and a fun design trail to help kids enjoy the house’s architecture.
Saltram House, Plymouth
This elegant Georgian house was owned by the Parker family from 1712 for almost 250 years, and you can still see much of the original collection.
Kids are likely to be more interested in the fact there are regularly new trails to help explore, plus opportunities to dress up and try activities inside, with extra seasonal events aimed at families during school holidays.
The gardens and grounds are lovely to explore too, with easy walking and cycling trails that are perfect for families.
According to legend, Killerton is home to a sleeping dragon, who snoozes on a hill nearby – perfect to get kids out exploring the grounds.
The estate is huge – 10 square miles, with trails galore plus gardens and woodland as well as a lovely little play area, even if you don’t spot so much as a scaly wing. Look out for the bear’s hut too, which was actually once home to the family’s pet bear.
And that’s all before you even get indoors. The house includes a historic fashion collection, which is surprisingly engaging even for younger kids, plus a trail to help you explore.
Check out what we thought of a day at Killerton with kids
Devon with kids: Museums
The Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery, to give RAMM its full name is a treasure trove of discovery for kids – and great if you’re looking for free days out in Devon.
As well as displays telling the history of Devon from the prehistoric to the present, plus natural history and an Egyptian tomb, not to mention a bull elephant, suspended whale and Gerald the giraffe.
There are also quizzes, plus a string of interactive exhibits from dressing up in Roman clothing and making a mosaic to examining microscopic slides, building a bird and checking out a miniature medieval longhouse.
For another quirky museum day out in Devon with kids, check out the Museum of British Surfing in Braunton, with a variety of early boards
The Box, Plymouth
This arts and cultural hub, which opened in 2020, has a great mix of permanent galleries and temporary exhibitions – and even better, there’s no entry charge to The Box so it’s another fantastic free day out in Devon with kids.
The displays have links to Plymouth’s past – everything from a model woolly mammoth to the figureheads from ships, along with a whole host of information about the city’s seafaring past, including interactive screen and images showing some of the most famous journeys which started in Plymouth.
Kids can pick up free trails to follow as they explore, designed for all ages, with half a dozen different topics, or step in front of a green screen to try their hand as a TV presenter.
For more things to do in Plymouth with kids, check out my top picks
Devon with kids: Getting outdoors
Devon’s two coasts are great for finding rock pools – Shoalstone beach is fantastic for clambering over rocks to discover crabs, tiny sea snails and the occasional minnow as well as a big sea water pool for swimming. It’s also dog friendly.
Check out our review of a morning clambering among the rock pools with a toddler
Or Wembury Bay is a lovely National Trust site with an education centre as well as lots to find on the rocky shore.
For more of the best beaches in Devon with kids, check out my top picks, including more ideas for Devon’s best rockpools
Berry Head Nature Reserve
This gorgeous clifftop reserve on the southern half of Tor Bar is one of the gateways to the English Riviera global geopark, with some fabulous views out to the sea on a sunny day.
While you’re at Berry Head Nature Reserve, you can also explore the fortifications from the Napoleonic War, gaze out to try to spot seals and sharks in the waves, or venture onto one of the walking trails.
Check out our review of an afternoon at Berry Head Nature Reserve
South West Coast Path
The section in Devon stretches the length of the English Riviera with miles of coastal walks whether you’re looking for a short amble or a longer hike.
Or you could discover Devon’s slice of the Jurassic coast, where east Devon meets Dorset, including some easy family walks.
Letterboxing on Dartmoor
The original geo-caching, letterboxing mixes treasure hunting and puzzle solving with orienteering as you track down over 100 letterboxes dotted around Dartmoor.
When you’ve found them, use the stamp to mark a notebook or postcard, then sign your name or leave your own stamp in their notebook, until you get the set.
If your kids love a treasure trail, there are several to try across Devon – we tried the Topsham treasure trail as a fun way to explore this little town near Exeter
Hit the beach
Where to start? You’ll never be far from a gorgeous stretch of sand in Devon as my pick of the best beaches in Devon with kids proves.
To highlight just a few, Blackpool Sands Beach is a Blue Flag family beach that could easily be confused with the Mediterranean, and has some great shallow water for younger kids.
Elsewhere, the three miles of sand at Woolacombe are regularly ranked as one of Britain’s best beaches – it’s also dog-friendly year-round (although restricted to certain areas during summer).
Bantham Beach is shallow enough for younger swimmers to enjoy too, while a smugglers’ tunnel takes you to the red cliffed rugged Ness Cove at Shaldon.
Geoplay Park, Paignton
There are four sections aimed at different ages within this fun play park on Paignton seafront, so it’s great fun whether you’re travelling with toddlers or teens.
Themed around the area’s geological history, you could try discovering the Devonian period with toddlers, riding on a trilobite and swinging over the sea which would have then covered Torbay.
Inspired by the novel Tarka the Otter, the Tarka Trail runs for around 180 miles, but one of the loveliest stretches is between Braunton and Meeth along the area’s old railway lines.
You might struggle to spot an otter – especially if you’re exploring it with kids! – but there’s still plenty to enjoy as you cycle or walk.
The longest, continuous cycle path in the UK, parts run along the coast or you can head off into Devon’s lovely countryside, with routes covering a large chunk of the county between Exmoor and Dartmoor.
As the Atlantic meets the Bristol Channel, Lundy Island is the last land before you hit the US – the only way to reach it is by boat, so you can choose between cruises around the island or the ferry over to explore.
Perfect for nature lovers, this car-free island has letterboxing to help you explore, you can spot seabirds and possibly dolphins on the ferry crossing as well as puffins on the island itself.
The sea crossing isn’t always smooth, so better with older kids (or during calmer summer weather).
For a car-free destination in Devon which doesn’t involve a boat, head to pretty Clovelly – the streets are steep but it’s a lovely day out for families
Lydford Gorge, near Tavistock
The deepest gorge in the south west, Lydford Gorge is home to a spectacular 30m waterfall known as the White Lady, with some gorgeous scenery to tempt everyone out on a walk.
The river and wildlife are beautiful whether you’re visiting with spring flowers in bloom or autumn leaves on the trees and different trails lead you past some of the highlights, including the bubbling Devil’s Cauldron. Not buggy-friendly, although you can borrow carriers and there are tearooms.
Haldon Forest Park, Exeter
There’s mountain biking for older adventurers and a gentler 1 ½ mile Discovery Trail for families, among others walking routes, plus Go Ape and archery lessons.
There’s currently the Zog Activity trail for kids as well, plus a cafe if you fancy a drink and slice of cake after your walk.
The Bear Trail, Cullompton
Whether it’s sunny or rainy, The Bear Trail is perfect for getting hilariously muddy with its 27 obstacles to “climb, slip, slide, run and swing in, under, over and through” as they describe it.
This fun obstacle course also has a cubs’ corner designed for children under one metre, but they can also join in leaping over muddy bear pits, whizzing down zip wires and crawling through tunnels (plus a path alongside if any obstacles defeat some of the baby bears).
Toddlers are welcome or teens can also challenge themselves to the 3m and 5m bag jumps. Then there’s an outdoor wash point (bring a change of clothes!) plus wood-fired pizzas in the cafe.
*First published 2015, last updated 2023*
PIN FOR LATER: 38 THINGS TO DO IN DEVON WITH KIDS
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Images: Beach photo/donkey/bird/amusement park/sand toys courtesy of Depositphotos; RAMM courtesy of Visit Exeter, Golden Hinde/Powderham/Berry Head copyright MummyTravelsLIKED THIS? SIGN UP FOR MY EMAIL NEWSLETTER