Exeter, best known for its magnificent cathedral, is a city of cobblestone, castle ruins, and cozy shops.
9:30 AM Princesshay Walk & Breakfast on the Green
There’s parking all over, but try to get a spot under Southernhay or nearby and make your way through the center of Princesshay. If you’re a shopper, scope out the retail scene as you walk through the covered mall towards the Cathedral center. Start the day early on by admiring the gorgeous Exeter Cathedral from underneath a parasol on the patio at Tea on the Green. At this Exeter institution, the breakfast is great and the view is even better. You might have to queue for a table outside, but it is certainly worth the wait to enjoy your fry-up or morning cuppa across the green from one of the most beautiful buildings in England. You’ll be nestled right in the corner of Cathedral Yard and Cathedral Close, so perfect for people-watching as well.
11:00 AM Exploring Exeter Cathedral
Cost of admission: 7.50 GBP (adult) // 6 GBP (student) // 6 GBP (seniors)
Exeter Cathedral is massive and the kind of beautiful that makes you go quiet for several minutes. Construction of this architectural masterpiece was completed around the year 1400, so it is very very old. It is difficult to pinpoint what about the cathedral makes it so uniquely mesmerizing. The amazingly detailed bodies across the facade seem to watch you as you enter the nave. Inside, the minstrels’ gallery and the ancient misericords are intriguing and impressive, but the ceiling is what will really leave you at a loss for words. At approximately 315 feet long, it is the longest uninterrupted vaulted medieval ceiling in the entire world. Tours are included with admission, and they’re certainly worthwhile. The Cathedral is open Monday through Saturday as early as 7:30 AM, but on Sundays it is not open to visitors until 11:30 AM. When you’re finished touring, make sure to walk around the exterior and visit the gardens if they’re open.
12:00 PM The Royal Albert Memorial Museum
Also known as the RAMM, the Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery refers to itself as a “home to a million thoughts.” The museum welcomes you with its vibrant pink-walled foyer from which you can venture to Egyptian tomb exhibits, the World Cultures galleries featuring artwork and other pieces of interest from around the world, the wonderfully preserved Sladen’s Study, and more. Admission to the museum is free but do note that it is closed on Mondays.
2:00 PM Exeter Red Coat Tour: Exeter Old & New
The city of Exeter offers multiple free informational tours of the city every day. The Exeter Old & New tour is a good choice because it is not too long but takes you all throughout the city center, pointing out medieval ruins and previous sites of beauty that no longer exist as a result of WWII. Guides even bring along photos of what the city looked like previously at certain stops along the tour. The tour begins by the wall along the Cathedral Green, just across from Tea on the Green (shown above), and ends on High Street right in the center of some of the city’s best shops.
Tour highlights vary from historical monuments to medieval castle ruins to university buildings to notable rows of shops. One of the tour stops is Parliament Street (above left), a continually narrowing street (complete with streetlamp) with towering brick walls on either side. It is the narrowest street in the country and while Exeter claims it is the most narrow street in the world, some googling proved that there is one that beats it in Germany. Still, definitely would not recommend this bit to anyone claustrophobic. Another favorite is Gandy Street (above right), a windy little cobblestone road lined with vintage shops which served as JK Rowling’s inspiration for Diagon Alley.
3:30 PM Late Lunch & Lounging in Catherine Square
Once you’re done shopping around High Street, follow the sound of jazz to Catherine Square and head straight to my favorite restaurant in all of Exeter, Lloyd’s Kitchen. This place is absolutely perfect. The staff matches this restaurant’s aesthetic interior, and despite the constant business of this place, the service is good too. The menu offers a range of classics like fish and chips and a roast as well as other modern twists on comfort food. The drinks are superb and the desserts are fantastic. Don’t leave without trying the Eton mess.
When you’re done with dinner, shop around for a while. Make sure to check out anything you might have missed over on High Street and wander all through the big names scattered about Princesshay. When you need a pick-me-up, which I’m sure you will, you’ll have to make a choice: Devon Coffee certainly has the best brews, but the bookcase walls and cozy armchairs of Exeter’s Coffee#1 certainly make for a great place to put your feet up for a while. Starbucks lovers, Exeter has you covered, too. Even if you don’t make it to Coffee#1, definitely walk by and scope out the cafe and take a picture against the wall on Roman Walk.
7:00 PM Fore Street and the Medieval Exe Bridge
Now that you’ve purchased caffeine and plenty of things that you don’t need, take a stroll down Fore Street from the Cathedral Green and head towards the river. From the bottom of the road, you will be able to see the ruins of the Medieval Exe Bridge. If the cathedral, Exeter Castle, the Guildhouse, and the rest of the historical stops along your tour earlier in the day don’t make you feel as though you’ve been transported back in time, the moss-covered arches of the Exe Bridge will surely do the trick.
8:00 PM Dinner by the Quay
Finish your day in Exeter over at the Quay–pronounced like “key,” which is something I learned on my fourth or so visit to the city–at a pub along the water with a Pimm’s cup or a pint or whatever suits your fancy. Go to Mango’s for some great plates and very decent Pimm’s. Try to get a table closer to the waterside. Talk to strangers, make conversation. Everyone here is relaxed, even the Uni newbies in their ridiculously tight jeans. When you get bored, walk across the bridges, watch the birds from the bridge, maybe treat yourself to an ice cream cone across the water.