Last Updated on June 12, 2020 by Sophie Nadeau
As the capital city of Devon (and one of only two cities in the county), there’s definitely no shortage of attractions and activities when it comes to Exeter. However, with its immense year ’round popularity comes a slightly higher price tag than some other destinations in South West England. As such, if you’re looking to enjoy your time in Devon on a budget and want to cut costs, here’s a guide to the best of free things to do in Exeter!
Visit RAMM (Royal Albert Memorial Museum)
One of the best things to do on a rainy day in Exeter is to head to the museum. Set over two floors and renovated just a few short years ago, the museum is laid out in a fun way and is perfect for all ages. From exhibits about the history of the city (from Roman times right up until the present day) to displays regarding the natural world, there’s something for everyone at Exeter museum.
Best of all, the museum is completely free to visit (though some special exhibits require an entrance fee and, of course, donations are always appreciated). Whenever I visit the museum, I always find that I discover something new and am always pleasantly surprised at just how large the museum is for a regional site!
Relax along Exeter Quay
Of all the free things to do in Exeter, one of the best ways to while away an afternoon would be to stroll alongside Exeter Quay, which is lined with independent coffee shops and eateries. Perfect to walk along during a sunny day when the weather is warm and the cool sea breeze is just what you want to cool you down, the Quay is also one of the most photogenic spots the city has to offer.
Visit one of Exeter’s many churches
Though the main ecclesiastical building in Exeter is the very same one that designates the settlement as a city, the entrance fee is pretty steep and is not very budget-friendly, particularly when there are several adults in your party. Luckily, there are a myriad of other historic churches dotted across the city, including in the most unlikely of places. Personal favourites include the ever so historic St Martin’s Church, which sits to the corner of the Cathedral Green, and St Pancras Church, which is a strange sight to spy in the heart of the fairly modern Guildhall shopping centre.
Relax on Exeter Cathedral Green
Though you have to pay to visit Exeter Cathedral, one of the best free things to do in the Devonian city is to hang out on the Cathedral Green, which is so-called because of its position directly in front of the ecclesiastical monolith. What many visitors to the city don’t realise is that underneath the Green, there’s one of the most complex sets of Roman bath remains anywhere in Britain.
Today, the Green is the perfect place to enjoy a picnic among friends or simply sit, relax, and watch the world go by. Situated in the very heart of the city and surrounded by pedestrian only lanes, the fringe of the Green is home to a wide array of shops; everything from hotels to eateries to bookstores can be found within steps of the grassy lawn.
Escape to nature in Haldon Forest
One of the best things about Exeter is the fact that, despite its status as a county capital city, it couldn’t be easier to escape to nature. For example, there are many day trips from Exeter which will transport you straight to the seaside in under a half hour train ride.
But for those looking to indulge in a little bit of nature, there is perhaps no denser forest quite so close as that of Haldon Forest. And one of the best walks to take once there is toward the Haldon Obelisk, which was originally constructed as an aid to sailors navigating up and down the Exe Estuary, but is now completely obscured by large trees.
Take a free Red Coat walking tour
Last but not least, for the history buffs out there, Exeter City Council offer free guided walking tours of the city on select days of the week. Run by experienced volunteers, the tours take place on various days of the week and each follows a different theme. Check out this guide to learn more about the red coat tours.
The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum
One of the better-kept secrets when it comes to free things to do in Exeter is that of the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum. Situated within the Old Library in the University of Exeter, on the fringes of the city, the museum comprises of a vast array of visual exhibitions displaying things like toys, images, and other artefacts from the 17th-century and right up until the present day.
Download a free self-guided walking tour
If you would prefer to enjoy a walking tour at your own pace, then there are several free guides you can download online which will take you around the city. These so-called ‘heritage trails’ will take you through some of the most historic parts of the city, such as taking you along the route of the former city wall. Check out the heritage guides here.