Barnstaple and Exeter

If you’re working in one of the Royal Devon’s two acute hospitals in Exeter or Barnstaple, here’s the low-down on local cultural and shopping opportunities.



Exeter is a small city with a lot to offer, consistently rated among the best places to live in the UK. The city is the county’s administrative capital and, most would say, its cultural capital too. A thriving, forward-looking city, Exeter is home to the world-leading Met Office, boasts the UK’s first leisure centre built to ultra-energy-efficient Passivhaus standard and has one of the top 20 universities in the country.

Exeter’s Sandy Park Stadium, just off the M5, is home to the Exeter Chiefs, one of the country’s top rugby clubs and winner of the European Champions Cup in 2020.

At the very heart of the city is Exeter Cathedral, an architectural gem surrounded by cobbled streets and beautiful old buildings, many of them shops and eateries. A stunning building inside and out, it vaunts the longest unbroken Gothic vaulted ceiling in the world.

The main shopping area provides a wide range of leading High Street brands alongside an eclectic mix of independent shops, many to be found in the narrow thoroughfares off Cathedral Close and the High Street. Nearby Fore Street is a haven for all things vintage and retro. Topsham, on the boundary of Exeter, offers lots of other possibilities for shopping and eating out. The distinctive Dutch-style facades on many of Topsham’s handsome houses date from its days as a bustling port on the River Exe.

You’re never far from reminders of Exeter’s long history. In the compact city centre, you can stroll alongside parts of the ancient Roman wall, visit the remains of Rougemont Castle or explore the depths of Exeter’s historic Underground Passages. Exeter Phoenix Arts Centre and the Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM), a striking Victorian building with an ultra-modern extension, add to the cultural mix. Performance venues include the Northcott Theatre, on the main university campus, and the Barnfield Theatre and Corn Exchange close to the city centre.

Exeter also has a historic quayside, a great spot to sit and watch the world go by at one of the many cafes and restaurants with al fresco dining. There are also waterside footpaths and cycleways and places to hire boats and pedalos. Haven Banks Watersports Centre offers courses and hire facilities and you can go up in the world at the indoor climbing centre.



The ancient river port of Barnstaple, thought to be the oldest borough in the UK, is the largest town in North Devon. Once a major trading port, it’s a friendly town with many fine old buildings and a traditional covered Pannier Market. Butcher’s Row - once a meat lover's paradise - today offers up more varied fare through an interesting mix of independent shops and eateries.

Barnstaple town centre is partly pedestrianised. A network of narrow streets radiates off from the main shopping thoroughfare where you’ll find popular High Street brands as well as small indie shops.

In the oldest part of the town centre, remnants of the original Norman castle wall can still be seen. There’s also the ornate Queen Anne’s Walk and the 13th-century Long Bridge. Close by is the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon, which offers free entry for both permanent and changing exhibitions. Barnstaple’s Queens Theatre and The Landmark Theatre on the coast in Ilfracombe provide a varied programme of shows and performances.

Barnstaple is a good base for exploring North Devon’s brilliant beaches and the 180-mile Tarka Trail. The train ride to Exeter on the scenic Tarka Line is pretty too.

Last updated: May 04, 2023.