A picturesque trip through history: things to do and see in Exeter

The ancient city of Exeter offers so many fascinating ways to fill a day. Here are some of our favourites.

Dating back to Roman times, the city of Exeter is steeped in an illustrious past that sits comfortably alongside its contemporary present. Cutting edge gastronomy rubs shoulders with independent boutiques and Gothic architecture. It’s a city of juxtapositions – relaxed and vibrant, ancient and forward-looking – and filled to the rooftops with mesmerising things to do and see. Here are some of our highlights of things to do while you’re in Exeter.
Exeter Cathedral
This imposing structure sits incongruously in the middle of Cathedral Green like a giant ancient ship, stranded amongst its more recent neighbours. This has been a religious site for around 1600 years, but the building itself was started by the Normans in the 12th Century. It was added to and expanded over the next 400 years, the current towers the main holdover from its original incarnation. The once-brightly coloured façade and sculptures date back to the 1400s, while the famous astronomical clock dates back to the 16th Century. For maximum impact, climb the tower to look out over Exeter (tours run Tuesdays and Fridays for over-8s only. Booking recommended) and then catch a choral rendition of Evensong in the cathedral at 5.30pm on weekdays.
Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery
Wandering down Queen Street, you pass the usual assortment of bars and shops that would dot any similar street. Standing out impressively in the middle of all this is the 19th Century redbrick Gothic revival building that houses the Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery, or RAMM for short. The museum hosts exhibits across a wide range of areas, from zoology and fine art, to anthropology and archaeology, ensuring that there’s something to pique everyone’s interest. There are artefacts from Exeter’s Roman past, textiles and clothing from all over the globe, one of the world’s most important collections of invertebrates and a compelling collection of Egyptian archaeology that includes the mummy and sarcophagus of Shep En-Mut. And that’s only a small taste of what’s on offer in this award-winning museum and gallery.
Exeter Quay
Soaking up all that architecture and history can be thirsty work so take yourself down to the quayside to recharge. Home to some of Exeter’s best independent bars, restaurants and cafes, it’s no surprise that this is one of the top spots for socialising and indulging (the other being around Cathedral Square, although this tends towards the more touristy end of the spectrum). The quay hosts regular events throughout the year, including races on the water and street feasts around it. Outside of these special events, there’s an almost overwhelming choice of food and drink, with The Prospect Inn, On The Waterfront and Samuel Jones Smoke & Ale House being incredibly popular. If you need to work off your lunch, you can go climbing, caving or hire canoes and bikes all around the quay.
Northernhay Gardens
Just off the High Street and about 500 metres from Exeter Cathedral lie Northernhay Gardens, the oldest public open spaces in England – laid out in 1612 as somewhere for Exeter’s residents to casually stroll and relax. They still serve that function today and act as a welcome place to step back from the town and enjoy some tranquillity amidst the manicured gardens. In the early 20th Century, Northernhay House was demolished, allowing the gardens to be connected to neighbouring Rougemont Gardens and Rougemont Castle, also known by locals as Exeter Castle. In the summer, the gardens host cinema nights and food festivals.
Bill Douglas Cinema Museum

Scottish writer and director Bill Douglas was a critically acclaimed voice in British cinema through the 70s and 80s, most notably making a renowned trilogy about his difficult childhood. When he wasn’t making films, he and his friend Peter Jewell spent their time amassing an enormous collection of film memorabilia, which was then donated to the University of Exeter. This collection became the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, which consists of 75,000 artefacts dating as far back as 1796. This should be top of the list of things to do in Exeter for any lover of film.

The Mercure Rougemont Hotel in Exeter is perfectly located for all the city’s attractions as well as being an excellent wedding venue.

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