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Exeter – A Vibrant Mixture of the Old and New
Exeter, the county town of Devon, is a historic city with one of the finest universities in England. It’s known for its beautiful period buildings such as the stunning Exeter Cathedral and Exeter Guildhall and also offers lovely, traditional hotels. This rich history is mixed with the youthful vigour of the student population, making Exeter a great destination for tourists seeking culture and entertainment. It’s also very easy to get here: Exeter features an airport and a centrally located mainline railway station near many of the city’s famous attractions.
Exeter Cathedral and Red Coat Guided Tours
Exeter city centre of has a lot to offer tourists. As well as a great selection of shops, it also has traditional hotels and historic attractions to enjoy. The most iconic landmark in Exeter is the Cathedral (Cathedral Church of Saint Peter at Exeter). Its construction was completed in 1400 and is a magnificent example of Gothic architecture. The West Front features numerous figures carved from limestone and the surrounding Cathedral Green is a popular picnic spot and site of the Christmas Market. Upon paying an entrance fee, visitors can marvel at the Cathedral’s interior decorations and the longest stretch of Gothic vaulting anywhere. It’s even possible to go onto the roof which offers fantastic views over the city! A fun way to see some of the other attractions in Exeter is to take a Red Coat Guided Tour. Departing from the West Front every day, apart from Christmas Day and Boxing Day, it is free of charge and last around 90 minutes.
Shopping and Other Historic Buildings in Exeter
Close to the Cathedral is the attractive Exeter Guildhall, reportedly the oldest civic building still in use in the country. It also lends its name to the Guildhall Shopping Centre which features a selection of high street shops and restaurants as well as the historic St. Pancras Church at its centre. A short walk away, more shops can be found in Princesshay Shopping Centre. Also located in this area is Exeter Underground Passages: these 14th-century vaulted tunnels were built to accommodate water pipes connected to springs outside the city’s walls. The tour takes around 20 minutes and there’s also a museum with videos explaining how the tunnels were built. Another interesting historic landmark to visit is Exeter Castle, also known as ‘Rougemont Castle’. Built by William the Conqueror on the highest point of the city, it was constructed from red stone found in the local hills. While little of the original building remains, it still offers a pleasant walk and views over the city.
Offering free entry, the Royal Albert Memorial Museum on Queen Street houses one of the best collections outside London. Known as RAMM, it was founded in 1868 as a memorial to Prince Albert. The building itself was designed by local architect John Hayward in the Gothic Revival style. Inside, RAMM’s extensive collection features costumes and textiles, natural history specimens and over 7000 pieces of art by the likes of Gainsborough, and Joshua Reynolds. There’s also an on-site café with free Wi-Fi. For another museum on a smaller scale, take a trip to Topsham Museum. It’s located in the picturesque village of Topsham along the River Exe; although now part of Exeter, it still retains its own identity. The museum itself is housed in a 17th-century three-storied residence and focuses on the village’s maritime history and Vivien Leigh memorabilia. They also sell delicious cream teas, a real taste of Devon! Nearby, for traditional hotel accommodation, the 16th-century Globe is a great choice.
The University and Night Life
Exeter University has two campuses: the smaller St Luke’s Campus just to the south of the city centre and the main Streatham Campus to the north which features several galleries and the fascinating Bill Douglas Cinema Museum. Also there is the ‘Sculpture Walk’ which visits works by Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth and the University’s Holland Hall offers b&b rooms for those seeking a change from standard hotel chains. Back in the city centre, Exeter Quay along the River Exe features cafés and pubs and the cobbled Gandy Street is a popular night-time haunt with a selection of cocktail bars, nightclubs and restaurants to choose from. Further up the street is Exeter Phoenix, a film, music and arts venue. The Bike Shed Theatre on Fore Street is the place to catch a play and Exeter Picturehouse on Bartholomew Street West shows mainstream and art-house films.
Day Trips from Exeter
As well as its own sights and attractions, Exeter is also a great base from which to explore the county of Devon. A 20-minute drive from Exeter, Clyston Mill is a fascinating working Victorian flour mill which is open on Sundays and near the mouth of the River Exe, Powderham Castle is packed with tapestries and antiques. A trip to Devon isn’t complete without a visit to Plymouth; it’s only an hour away by train and features landmarks such as Smeaton’s Tower and the Hoe, where Sir Francis Drake is said to have been playing bowls when the Spanish Armada attacked. The wild beauty of Dartmoor is also easily reached by car and offers epic hiking routes through the rugged landscape. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Jurassic Coast begins at Orcombe Point at the mouth of the River Exe and stretches past the Devon towns Sidmouth and Seaton. The coast is famous for the amazing dinosaur fossils found in the rocks there.