Barnstaple is a small town in North Devon situated on the River Taw. It has been an important trading post and river port since at least the 14th Century and retains much of its old charm.
Today Barnstaple is a thriving market town popular with locals and holidaymakers alike. With so many fantastic things to do in Barnstaple, it should definitely be a stop on any Devon itinerary.
With a great selection of outdoor activities from hiking to sculpture gardens, museums, stately homes, and even a vineyard, you won’t be left wondering what to do upon paying a visit to this historic west country town.
In this article, we will discover the best Barnstaple attractions including things to do nearby. So let’s get stuck in!
Getting to Barnstaple
By Car: Barnstaple is approximately 212 miles from London and can be driven in just over four hours. Take the M4, M5 and A361. A more scenic route (which takes in Stonehenge) is to take the A30 and A303.
By Train: there is a train every hour from London Paddington to Barnstaple with a change at Exeter St. David’s. The journey time is 3h20m and costs from £31.70 one-way if booked in advance. Book your train tickets on the Trainline here.
By Bus: there are direct coaches from London Victoria Coach Station to Barnstaple every day. The journey time is around six hours. Tickets from £24.00 if booked in advance. See all bus timetables and book bus tickets on Omio here.
By Plane: The nearest international airport is Bristol which is just under 90 miles away. There are trains and buses from Bristol direct to Barnstaple. Check flight prices in Kiwi here.
Places to Stay in Barnstaple
There are so many fantastic hotels in Barnstaple. Because you are a bit further from the beach than the other popular Devon holiday spots, you can get serious value for money here.
- The Royal and Fortescue Hotel is inside a Georgian Mansion with period decor and feels entirely indulgent. Yet you can get a room for as little as £110 per night. Book a stay at the Royal and Fortescue hotel here.
- The Imperial Hotel is absolutely stunning with modern rooms, a cute little pub that does seriously incredible food, and all located within easy walking distance to all of the best things to do in Barnstaple. Rooms start at £120 per night. Book a stay at the Imperial Hotel here.
- The Barnstaple Hotel has an outdoor pool perfect for the summer holidays. It is located just on the edge of Barnstaple and has both a restaurant and bar onsite. Rooms start at £90 per night. Book a stay at the Barnstaple Hotel here.
Barnstaple has a temperate climate as with the rest of the UK. Summers are warm and pleasant with temperatures reaching around 30 degrees Celcius.
Winters are long, damp and cold with temperatures plummeting down to around zero. As it lies inland slightly, the Barnstaple weather is milder than on the north Atlantic coast.
The shoulder seasons of spring and autumn can be a great time to visit, and you may even be able to venture into the sea on hot days.
Top Things to do in Barnstaple
Barnstaple is such a beautiful Devon town and well worth spending some time as you explore this coastline. If you plan to spend more time in the region, be sure to check out all of the best things to do in Devon.
1. See the Town’s Albert Clock
Like a miniature version of Big Ben, the centre of town is dominated by the Albert Clock, a memorial to Queen Victoria’s faithful husband Prince Albert. This grade II listed tower was constructed in 1862 using local limestone and marble.
The tower wasn’t originally meant to have a clock on it.
It was simply going to be a tower to honor Prince Albert, but many of the town counsillors noted that there was no clocktower elsewhere in the town, so the clock was added to the original design to give us the Albert Clock that we see standing there today.
The clock is situated in the main town square next to the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon, right on the riverside.
2. Visit the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon
Situated in the main town square, the Museum of Barnstaple is home to a host of interesting exhibits and displays charting the history of the town and surrounding areas.
You can see selections of fine art from local artists such as Wilfred Avery, archaeology from the paleolithic times to the 18th century, pottery, geology and minerals, and more.
The museum hosts a range of activities throughout the year, so check the website to see what’s on. There is also a gift shop and tea rooms on site.
There is no admission charge, so visiting the museum is one of the best free things to do in Barnstaple! The museum is open from Monday to Saturday 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.
3. Take an Estuary Walk on the South West Coast Path
This easy three-mile walk takes you out along the Taw Estuary from the town. As you follow the river, you will see salt marshes and mudflats with plenty of wading birds and other wildlife such as seals and otters.
The walk will take you up to the largest system of sand dunes in the UK at Braunton Burrows. A walk along the Taw Estuary is definitely one of the best things to do in Barnstaple if you want to experience the area’s wonderful nature.
4. Cycle Part of the Tarka Trail
The Tarka Trail is a 180-mile figure-of-eight path that is based on the route taken by Tarka the otter; a fictional character from a Henry Williamson novel.
The route crosses over at Barnstaple and you can choose either of the four intersections. The trail takes in some of Britain’s most unspoiled views as it winds its way along rivers, across sand dunes, and along the coast.
5. Visit the Arlington Court National Trust Carriage Museum
The slate-grey Arlington Court is a regency house built in 1823 under the direction of the Chichester family. Arlington court houses the National Trust Carriage Museum which is home to the largest collection of horse-drawn carriages in the UK.
The house is set within acres of beautiful parkland with a Victorian garden and kitchen garden that you can also explore. Fruits grown in the kitchen garden are turned into jams and chutneys which can be purchased in the onsite shop.
There are different activities available all year from nature walks to outdoor theatre so check the website to see what’s currently going on.
If you are feeling peckish be sure to village the Old Kitchen Tea Room for that Devon favourite; a cream tea. There is also the takeaway Vine Café so you can enjoy something to eat out in the beautiful gardens.
Tickets cost £13.00 for adults and £6.50 for children. The house and gardens are open from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm.
6. See the Ruins of Barnstaple Castle
Lovers of all things archaeology should head to the ruins of Barnstaple Castle in the centre of town. The castle was constructed around the 11th or 12th Century but fell into disrepair as few as 200 years later
The site was excavated in 1975 and all finds were shipped off to museums. Today all that remains is the motte (raised earthworks), but it is still worth a visit for those interested in history.
7. Visit Barnstaple Heritage Centre
The Barnstaple Heritage Centre offers a fun day out for all the family. The centre houses a host of different exhibitions and displays, many of them “hands-on”. Discover Barnstaple in different eras from the Saxons to the Tudors and up to Victorian times.
Admission is £4.00 for adults and £3.00 for children. The centre is open from 09:30 to 16:30 Tuesday to Saturday.
8. See a Show at Queens Theatre
What to do in Barnstaple at night? How about a night at the theatre! Queens Theatre is a great option for evening entertainment.
From glitzy musicals to fun fairy tales and classical theatre from Shakespeare to more contemporary performances, you are sure to find something of interest at Queens.
Check the website to see what’s on now. The theatre has an on-site bar so you can enjoy a tipple before your show!
9. Marvel at the Broomhill Sculpture Garden
One of the more interesting things to do in Barnstaple is to visit the Broomhill Sculpture Gardens, part of the Broomhill country estate.
There are two gardens of exhibits; the first features a permanent display and the second host’s entries from the annual National Sculpture Prize. You can marvel at over 150 different installations and sculptures from established artists and newcomers alike.
Entrance to the exhibitions is £5.00 for all (no concessions). The gardens are open from 10:00 am to 9:00 pm from July to September, and 10:00 am to 5:00 pm the rest of the year.
Broomhill is also an “Art Hotel” and has an onsite restaurant, so if you are looking for a little pampering combined with fine dining, then consider it a great place to stay in Barnstaple.
10. Visit a Vineyard
Quance Wines are a wine producer based in Barnstaple North Devon. The vineyard covers an area of just two hectares, however, produces some of the most exquisite wines from the UK.
This boutique vineyard was first planted back in 1999 and Quance has been producing wines there since 2013.
11. Isley Marsh Nature Reserve
Isley Marsh is a salt marsh and mudflats on the River Taw estuary. It’s an important habitat for ducks and wading birds.
The reserve has many footpaths from which to view the estuary and wildlife and is also reachable via the Tarka Trail.
Things to do in Barnstaple in the Rain
The town is packed with everything you would expect of a large settlement so there is plenty to do in Barnstaple in the rain. The Tarka Leisure Centre has an indoor pool, gym, dance classes and more.
The Scott Cinema has showings of all the latest Hollywood Blockbusters and other genres. The Green Lanes or Queen’s Walk shopping centres offer plenty of retail therapy and dining options.
Things to do near Barnstaple
If you are visiting for several days, be sure not to miss some of the best things to do near Barnstaple in neighboring towns around the coast.
12. Visit Woolacombe
As Barnstaple is too far up river to have any beaches, there are plenty just a short drive or bus ride away. Woolacombe Sands is one of the closest just 13 miles to the west.
This beautiful stretch of golden sands is perfect for a day trip if you are looking for a day at the beach. Here you can sunbathe, splash around in the rock pools, go swimming, surfing, sea kayaking and more.
What’s more, the town of Woolacombe is packed with great pubs, cafes and restaurants and makes for a great day out.
13. Visit Exmoor National Park
Barnstaple lies just 10 miles south of the Exmoor National Park. This beautiful moorland stretches up the coast and offers stunning views of the coastline, rolling hills, rivers, waterfalls and pristine nature.
There is plenty to do on Exmoor from hiking, picnicking, and visiting one of the many pubs and tea rooms for a pint or a cream tea, to more adventurous pursuits such as kayaking, horse riding, fishing and more.
Check out the Exmoor National Park Visitor Centre website to see what’s on right now!
14. Visit Lundy Island
Lundy is a small island off the north Devon coast famed for its rugged way of life and wildlife. The island is reachable only by ferry from nearby Ilfracombe and at just two hours, it’s possible to visit Lundy as a day trip from Barnstaple.
So, is Barnstaple worth Visiting?
Hopefully, we’ve answered your questions about what to do in Barnstaple. With so many great attractions on its doorstep, this charming north Devon town is well worth a visit for its picturesque estuary views, plenty of historical attractions and more.