Must visit spots in the city of Exeter

5 August 2022

Let’s face it, twenty years ago Exeter had a reputation of being a bit, well, uninspring. Best known as Devon’s capital city and for its Roman history, there wasn’t much else to get excited about.  However, in part due to its thriving student population and central pedestrianisation planning, Exeter is well worth a visit.  Tons of pubs, lovely open spaces, boutique stores, theatre and live events and a busy riverside community, there’s now plenty to see and do, with everything central within walking distance.

The Exploding Bakery

Arriving in the city by train, and dying for food and coffee? The Exploding Bakery has got you covered.  Situated inside Exeter Central train station, this bakery is a cool café serving excellent coffee, baked goods, and lunches. The bakery’s cakes deserve a mention all of their own, with the available selection changing daily. Licenced, serving decent wines and beers for lunch. Open from 8AM until 4PM every day except Sunday.

Exeter Cathedral

No self-respecting county capital is complete without a cathedral, and Exeter’s is a doozy.  Founded in Norman times, the first stones were laid in 1121, and the building has been through a number of alterations over the years (including suffering direct bombing hits during the Second World War).  Famed for its incredible architecture and social history, the cathedral also puts on art exhibitions, concerts, and a lively Christmas market. Open Monday to Saturday, 9AM – 5PM, and from 11.30AM until 4PM on Sundays. 

Northcott Theatre

Part of the University of Exeter campus (but open to all), the Northcott Theatre is noted regionally for its exciting programming that covers touring productions, family-friendly shows, stand-up comedy, live streams, and homegrown productions. The space is also home to a café and bar that’s open during performance times serving drinks and light snacks.  The Northcott has a future-facing attitude, and is particularly well designed for disabled users, with ramped access, dedicated wheelchair spaces in the auditorium and lifts to public levels.

Exeter Phoenix

Bang in the centre of the city, Exeter Phoenix is a multi-use arts centre that houses a theatre, cinema, art galleries and a recording studio. The Phoenix’s cinema - Studio 74 - is of particular note as it’s partly powered by solar energy, and prides itself in showing the best in arthouse film.  There’s a café bar onsite too, with its own outdoor space and menu that features breakfasts (served from 10AM until midday), big bowls (served from 11AM until 5PM) and small plates (served from 11AM until 7PM) with plenty of veggie and vegan options. There is wheelchair access to the building, and relaxed and signed performances are part of the centre’s programming.

Royal Albert Memorial Museum

Another stalwart showcasing Exeter’s historic past, the Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery is a doughty slab of Victorian architecture about a ten-minute walk from the cathedral.  As with Exeter itself, the Royal Albert has managed to update its image and move away from the traditional, slightly dusty, characteristics that can stick to municipal establishments, now rebranded as ‘home to a million thoughts’.  The space hosts a revolving programme of art exhibitions (contemporary and historical - the ’Brick By Brick: A LEGO Brick History of Exeter’ exhibit being particularly clever), lectures, workshops, and tours. There are also permanent exhibitions of local and regional historical artefacts and documentation. Extra points to the Royal Albert’s café for stocking cakes from The Exploding Bakery. The Royal Albert is open Tuesday until Sunday, 10AM to 5.00PM and entry is free.

The Conservatory

Handily located within a short walk from the Royal Albert Museum, The Conservatory restaurant is an Exeter institution. Very good, lovingly prepared lunches and evening meals at sensible prices are the order of the day here, although there’s not a huge choice for vegetarians. Open for lunch and dinner and known for its good service, The Conservatory also champions Devonian wines. As with quite a few restaurants in the city, it’s closed on Sundays and Mondays.


A full-on vegetarian and vegan restaurant, again within shouting distance of the Royal Albert Museum, Herbies also serves a decent selection of gluten free (and gluten sensitive) dishes. Amongst the nut burgers and veggie lasagnes there are interesting plates like their Kari Sayur, a funky Malaysian curry, and the TLT ciabatta, a riff on the BLT but served with tofu, rather than bacon. Open for lunch and dinner, closed on Mondays.

The House That Moved

Located between the cathedral and the River Exe is an Exeter oddity that’s worth a look, not least because, as an original 14th-century Tudor dwelling, it’s very beautiful.  It’s known as The House That Moved because, in 1961, the local council needed to build a new thoroughfare that would have required its demolition, but no-one had the heart to knock it down.  Instead, a series of rails and pneumatic machines lifted it up and carried it to its current spot. 

Exeter Quayside

Along with the likes of Bristol, Liverpool and Plymouth, Exeter has realised that some of its best assets are alongside the water. Once a site for the unloading and transport of goods along the River Exe, Exeter Quayside is now a buzzy mix of shops, restaurants and bars. In terms of food and drink, it’s good to see that the area hasn’t been overtaken by chains and big names, offering instead a bunch of local business who know their stuff. Highlights include microbrewery and taproom Topsham Brewery, the Exeter Cookery School and the Quay Presents gift shop. Feeling adventurous? No problem. The Quayside’s Saddles and Paddles business offers bikes and kayaks for hire on an hourly basis.