48 hours in Exeter with South Western Railway

48 hours in Exeter

14 October 2021

If you’re searching for city break ideas in the UK, then look no further than the ancient city of Exeter. It might be small, but it certainly packs a punch: it’s bursting with history and awe-inspiring architecture, surrounded by stunning countryside, a stone’s throw from the coast and filled with a wide range of culinary delights – what more could you want from a weekend away?

What’s more, it’s super easy to get to with South Western Railway. Whether you’re travelling with your partner, your friends or your kids, we’ve compiled some of the most fun things to do in Exeter and some of the best places to eat to help you get the most out of your weekend break. Read on for our top tips on how to spend 48 hours in this incredible city.

Day 1: Your first day in Exeter

Visit Exeter Cathedral

Start your weekend at the spiritual heart of the city: Exeter Cathedral. This magnificent gothic cathedral dates back to the twelfth century and is full to the brim with treasures, from gilded ceilings and carved statues to a fifteenth century astronomical clock and a seventeenth century edition of Shakespeare’s plays. Whether you’re an architecture enthusiast, a history buff or just love exploring, you’re sure to be wowed by the beauty and grandeur of the city’s focal point.

Geometric design of Exeter Cathedral's nave

Have lunch at Red Panda

Ranked as number one in various ‘best places to eat in Exeter’ lists, and with a five-star rating on Trip Advisor and Google, there’s no better place to get lunch on your first day than Red Panda. Sample some tasty Asian street food, including Taiwanese bao, Malaysian satay chicken, Japanese teriyaki tofu and Szechuan spicy tofu. It’s takeaway only, so head back to the cathedral green or stroll along to Northernhay Gardens to enjoy your food al fresco.

Food on offer from Red Panda Exeter

Pay a visit to the Royal Albert Memorial Museum

Now you’ve refuelled, head just around the corner to the Royal Albert Memorial Museum. The museum is home to more than a million extraordinary objects from all over the globe, from taxidermy and Iron Age coins to sixteenth century paintings and Ancient Egyptian mummies! There’s also a collection focused on local history, so you can learn a bit more about Exeter and the surrounding area while you’re here. The best bit? It’s free to visit – perfect if you’re looking for things to do in Exeter with kids.

Exhibits at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum

Go for a pre-dinner stroll around Exeter Quay

Continue your day of soaking in the history of Exeter with a stroll down to the Quay, which is steeped in maritime history. If you have an appetite for adventure, you could take a boat trip or try out some water sports, or you can simply admire the quayside and its various boutiques. Why not enjoy a drink at one of the pubs or bars – try the Topsham Brewery & Taproom, On the Waterfront or Mango’s for a pre-dinner tipple in a scenic setting.

Sunset on Exeter Quays

Sit down for dinner at The Conservatory

Ranked as one of the best restaurants in Exeter, and just a short walk from the Quay, The Conservatory uses seasonal produce from the surrounding countryside to create imaginative English dishes with a Mediterranean twist. Sit back and relax in the bright and beautiful dining room – part of a building that dates back to 1600. Bookings are recommended as this a popular spot, especially since it’s fairly budget friendly, with two courses for £25 and three courses for £30!

Day 2: Your second day in Exeter 

Explore the Underground Passages 

After a good night’s sleep, it’s time to continue exploring. And this morning, we’re going underground. Beneath the streets of Exeter are a hidden network of underground passages that were originally built to carry clean drinking water into the medieval city. Pull on a helmet and join a guided tour through the tunnels, which stretch 425 metres across the city centre. This is a truly unique opportunity as these are the only passages of this kind open to the public in Britain! Suitable for families and couples alike, this is an adventure not to be missed.

People exploring Exeter's underground tunnels

Grab a bite to eat at Eat on The Green

No trip to Devon is complete without a cream tea, and there’s no better setting for it than Eat on the Green. As the name suggests, it’s right on the cathedral green, so you can enjoy majestic views as you tuck into a Devonshire high tea (make sure you layer your scones with cream and then jam while in Devon!). The café also serves up burgers, salads and all-day breakfasts, and caters to a range of dietary requirements.

Spend an afternoon at Powderham Castle

Stomachs full, now it’s time to hop on an 11-minute train from Exeter St David’s to Starcross and pay a visit to Powderham Castle. The 600-year-old castle lies in a beautiful deer park on the banks of the River Exe, and is the perfect place to spend a relaxing afternoon. Embark on a guided tour inside the castle and explore the acres of surrounding land, keeping an eye out for resident deer. Families with young children can make the most of the Walled Garden Play Area and Pets Corner, home to friendly animals and an adventure play castle. There are also lots of events that take place throughout the year, so check what’s on before you visit!

Castle Pomeroy view from above

Enjoy dinner at Harry’s Restaurant

Set off back to the city centre and head for dinner at Harry’s Restaurant – a local favourite and frequently rated as one of the best places to eat in Exeter. It was founded in 1993 by the Pounds family, and almost 30 years on, it’s still family-run. This is reflected in the warm and welcoming atmosphere that makes it such a popular spot. They specialise in locally reared steak, but there are veggie options too, as well as a mouth-watering array of desserts to round off your meal.

Grab a drink (or two) at The Fat Pig

Finish up your 48 hours in Exeter with a nightcap at The Fat Pig, a friendly backstreet pub known for its home-brewed beers, global wines and premium spirits. It’s a local gem with a homely feel to it, perfect for winding down, relaxing and reminiscing about your weekend in this exciting city.

So what are you waiting for? Book your train tickets to Exeter St David’s or Exeter Central and get set for a weekend filled with history, scenic sights and delicious local grub. Explore our flexible range of ticket types to find the best one for your journey, and check out our available Railcards for discounted fares.