Trace the north Devon coast and you’ll find the seaside town of Ilfracombe overlooking the Bristol Channel. The seagulls, fishing harbour and coastal hikes may fulfil British beach traditions, but there’s plenty more to do and see here.
Whether you’re looking for proper British fish and chips or a top swimming beach, head to Ilfracombe. The quaint seaside town is the meeting point for Culture Trip’s six-day tour of Devon and comes alive during the summer months with tourists seeking ice cream, art galleries and wildlife sea safaris. It’s also home to wild swimming coves and Damien Hirst’s Verity statue, plus it’s a launching point for boat trips to the island of Lundy. Hungry for more? Here are the best things to do in Ilfracombe.
The starting point for Culture Trip’s action-packed trip to Devon, Ilfracombe Beach sits right next to Ilfracombe Harbour, so you just have to walk past the slipway and onto the sand to access it. Wander past the moored boats, stroll across to Ilfracombe Lifeboat Station or simply find a spot on the sand to eat your obligatory fish and chips. Just watch out for the seagulls. As a bonus, several boat trip experiences can be booked from here.
Just as with any seaside town worth its salt, there are plenty of good pubs in Ilfracombe, and the George and Dragon is certainly one of them. It dates to 1360, making it the oldest establishment in Ilfracombe, as evidenced by the wooden beams that nod to yesteryear. There’s a strong selection of local ales, a small but creative food menu, and darts, dominoes and playing cards available by request.
The Verity statue was designed by resident Damien Hirst in 2012; it towers 66ft (20m) over Ilfracombe Harbour. The statue depicts a pregnant woman raising a sword in one hand and carrying the scales of justice in the other. It’s not an image you’re likely to forget in a hurry, and visitors often travel to Ilfracombe just to see this magnificent statue.
The idea of going to a beach to swim in a pool might seem unusual, but Tunnel Beach is odd in many ways. The name comes from the fact that you have to walk through tunnels dug by the Victorians to reach the beach itself. On arrival, you can either swim in the sea proper or a specially sectioned off sea-water pool, which is a great option for choppy days.
If you join the Culture Trip tour of Devon – a six-day outdoor adventure along the south and north Devon coasts and through the wilds of Dartmoor – you’ll swim in the Tunnels Beach Lido on your very first day.
On a good day, it’s possible to spot wildlife from the harbour or Tunnels Beach, but for the real deal, the Ilfracombe SeaSafari is the way to go. The company runs a number of boat trips around the area, but the star of the show is the trip to Lundy island, where you can spot dolphins, porpoises, grey seals and even the occasional whale. It’s a four-hour round trip – advance planning is essential – but well worth it for the photos and memories you’ll bring home.
Rain stopped play? Catch a film at the Embassy, the Ilfracombe cinema. Far from being a corporate box, the Embassy is a piece of history, built as a church in 1939 and converted to a cinema in 1948. Much of the original architecture is still visible. It has three screens showing classics alongside box-office newcomers, plus it has a reputation for impeccable customer service.
Few things are more rewarding than hiking the coastal path. The route from Ilfracombe Harbour to Watermouth Cove is between 3mi and 8mi (5km to 13km), depending on which option you take, and offers astounding scenery over the Bristol Channel along the way. On arrival, you can enjoy a number of activities, including jet-skiing, paddleboarding, coasteering and the giant party SUP – a huge stand-up paddleboard large enough for six adults.
Many seaside towns in the UK have thriving art scenes, and Ilfracombe is no exception. The Ilfracombe Art and Craft Society germinated in the 1960s, and since then has evolved into one of the most popular exhibitions in Devon, perched on the promenade looking out at Capstone Hill. You can buy prints and sculptures by local artists, as well as more extravagant items such as handmade violins and pottery.
Although there are plenty of upmarket places to eat in Ilfracombe, no seaside trip would be complete without a visit to a traditional chippy. The Ilfracombe Fryer serves the best local fish around, whether you’re in the mood for the classic cod and chips, wholetail scampi or even the indulgent but oh-so-tempting battered sausage.
The Landmark Theatre is impossible to miss – a pair of domes resembling nuclear plant cooling towers (or Madonna’s Bra as it’s nicknamed) nestled between Tunnels Beach and Widemouth Beach. It hosts plays, gigs, talks and musicals, and the quirky and somewhat intimate setting makes for a great audience experience.
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