The Best Things to Do in Ilfracombe, Devon

Find the traditional British seaside experience and more in the Victorian resort town of Ilfracombe, Devon
Find the traditional British seaside experience and more in the Victorian resort town of Ilfracombe, Devon | © Adrian Seal / Alamy Stock Photo
Callum Davies

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.

1. Visit Ilfracombe Beach

Natural Feature

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.

2. Pop in for a pint at the George and Dragon pub

Pub, Pub Grub

The George & Dragon. Ilfracombe.. Image shot 2010. Exact date unknown.
© Tony French / Alamy Stock Photo

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.

4. Swim in the Tunnels Beach Lido

Natural Feature

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.

5. Climb aboard Ilfracombe SeaSafari

Natural Feature, Sports Center, Store

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.

6. Catch a film at the Ilfracombe cinema


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.

7. Hike to Watermouth Cove

Natural Feature, Hiking Trail

Stunning coastal scenery overlooking Watermouth Cove North Devon England UK
© ian woolcock / Alamy Stock Photo

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.

8. Buy a local print from Ilfracombe Art and Craft Society

Amusement Park, Art Gallery, Shop

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.

9. Get fish and chips from the Ilfracombe Fryer

Fish and Chip Shop, Seafood

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.

10. Watch a show at the Landmark Theatre


The Landmark Theatre in Ilfracombe, North Devon, England, UK
© Chris Harris / Alamy Stock Photo

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.

landscape with balloons floating in the air


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