The Prettiest Towns and Villages in Devon, UK

Clovelly in North Devon has been the inspiration for many artists over the years, including JMW Turner
Clovelly in North Devon has been the inspiration for many artists over the years, including JMW Turner | © RolfSt / Getty
Finola Robinson

The natural beauty of Dartmouth, the varied landscape of Dunsford, the coastline of Cockington – just a few reasons why Devon is considered one of the most attractive counties in the UK. Ready to explore? Here are the most picturesque communities in Devon.

If you’re on a mission to visit the most charming towns and villages in Devon, let us take you there on our six-day tour of the region – packed with coastal walks, wild swimming and other outdoor activities.

1. Clovelly

Natural Feature

A visit to the village of Clovelly in North Devon is like stepping back in time, with a steep and narrow cobbled high street flanked by 16th-century whitewashed houses adorned with colourful blooms. As you wander down the high street towards Bideford Bay, the views are magnificent and it’s little wonder many artists, including JMW Turner, sought inspiration here. Clovelly is unusual in that it’s been privately owned by just three families for nearly 800 years. Conservation has remained a high priority and traffic is banned on the high street, so park at the top and walk down. At one time, donkeys were deployed to transport deliveries but they’ve since been retired and sledges are now used instead.

2. Dittisham

Historical Landmark

Small, unspoilt Dittisham in South Hams sits on the banks of the River Dart, just 2mi (3km) upstream from Dartmouth. The village, known locally as Ditsum, is a delightful sight, but the river views in the changing light are equally magnificent and atmospheric. The countryside here is also glorious and there are numerous walks you can take. Dittisham is served by a passenger ferry, which will take you the short distance to Dartmouth, and across to Greenway Quay if you want to visit Agatha Christie’s former holiday home, Greenway House – highly recommended.

3. Cockington

Historical Landmark

Rose Cottage is one of the most picturesque houses in the charming village of Cockington in Devon, England
© johnrochaphoto/England / Alamy

Though just a stone’s throw from Torquay in South Devon, Cockington – with 22mi (35km) of glorious coastline and pretty villages – still stands out from the crowd. You don’t get more quintessentially English and idyllic than this, with the narrow lanes, thatched houses, watermill, forge, and a cricket pitch that was a deer park in the medieval era. The village was first officially documented in the 10th century, but is believed to have been founded 2,500 years ago during the Iron Age, due to the existence of two hill forts on either side of Cockington Valley.

4. Ashburton

Natural Feature

Perfectly positioned for Dartmoor, Ashburton is a delightful, thriving market town with a picturesque backdrop. It has a strong, environmentally focused, nature-loving community with lots of galleries, cafes and restaurants, plus shops selling books, antiques and arty knick-knacks. Treat yourself to a ride on the steam railway from nearby Buckfastleigh – it’s a great way to see the countryside.

5. Dunsford

Historical Landmark

This sweet little village, in glorious countryside on the northeast edge of Dartmoor, is known for having pretty thatch, cob and moorstone cottages. It sits at the top of the Teign Valley on a wooded hill, which slopes down to the River Teign. Dunsford itself is fairly quiet; there’s a school, a pub, a swimming pool and sports field and a few shops for amenities. Being here is about soaking up the atmosphere of the town and enjoying nature. Nearby Dunsford Nature Reserve is worth exploring, especially in the spring, when you can walk among bright yellow wild daffodils.

6. Dartmouth

Historical Landmark

Dartmouth, UK - zach-pickering-3z2TwuyqtBk-unsplash
Photo by Zach Pickering on Unsplash

Dartmouth is set on the western bank of the River Dart estuary within the South Devon Area of Outstanding Beauty, with access to the South West Coast Path and Dartmoor National Park a few miles away. The busy harbour is a great place to watch boats, especially from one of the many cafes and restaurants. Dartmouth Castle and Dartmouth Museum both offer a glimpse into the town’s more distant past, while the house at Coleton Fishacre transports you back to the stylish 1920s.

7. Totnes

Natural Feature

25 May 2018: Totnes, Devon, UK - Shoppers and tourists in the High Street.
© travellinglight / Alamy

Blessed by a fantastic location in the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and surrounded by woodlands and rivers, Totnes is a thriving hub with character, colour and a long history. It dates back to 907CE and by the 12th century had established itself as an important market town. Such an extensive history is evident throughout – it’s said to have more listed buildings per head than any other town.

These days, it’s a draw for those who enjoy the arts, music, natural health and more alternative views on life with a progressive, bohemian vibe – a charming contrast to such an old town. It’s foodie-friendly and markets are still a big feature. There are markets every Friday and Saturday throughout the year, and there’s an Elizabethan market every Tuesday from May to September.

Totnes is one of several charming towns you’ll visit on Culture Trip’s exclusive six-day tour of Devon, led by a local insider.

8. Woolacombe

Natural Feature

If you want to explore the fabulous North Devon coastline and fantastic sweeping beaches, award-winning Woolacombe is a delightful seaside resort that attracts surfers and family holidaymakers in droves, alongside nearby Croyde. It’s in the North Devon Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the 3mi (5km) beach lies between Baggy Point and Morte Point, flanked by rolling dunes.

9. Brixham

Natural Feature

© eye35.pix / Alamy Stock Photo

It’s hard to leave Brixham as it has a captivating buzz. Located in the district of Torbay, across the bay from Torquay in South Devon, Brixham is one of the busiest fishing ports in the UK and has the largest working harbour. That adds to the character and energy here, creating a town that has vibrant arts, crafts and food scenes. You’ll see maritime and nautical imagery in lots of places, such as in the art and gifts on sale; of course, delicious fresh fish and seafood are widely available. Historically, William of Orange landed first in Brixham during the Glorious Revolution. There’s also a full-size replica of Sir Francis Drake’s galleon the Golden Hinde, which is fun to visit.

10. Ilfracombe

Architectural Landmark

A popular resort since Victorian times, Ilfracombe in North Devon is a visually striking place with whitewashed houses that seem to tumble down the hillsides towards the harbour. The starting point for our exclusive small-group tour in Devon, the town sits on the coast close to Exmoor National Park, and is home to several sandy surfing beaches. Ilfracombe also has an interesting history dating back to the Iron Age: there’s a rolling grassy hilltop called Hillsborough Hill that was once a fortified Iron Age settlement and is now a nature reserve, known locally as the Sleeping Elephant.

British artist Damien Hirst resides in Ilfracombe and is invested in its development, although his sculpture of a flayed pregnant woman called Verity prompts mixed reactions.

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