The top 10 National Trust attractions to visit in Devon

Beaches, Coastal, Days out, Family, Rural, Activity, Walking, Educational, Nature

Posted by Kate A on 21st February 2020

National Trust Coleton Fishacre in Devon
National Trust Coleton Fishacre

 

As one of the most enchanting corners of the UK, home to golden sandy beaches, breathtaking gardens and an abundance of historical sites, it’s no wonder that the National Trust in Devon has so many beauty spots to explore.

We have chosen some of the top National Trust attractions to visit in Devon, including stately homes, castles, waterfalls and beaches. Many feature shops, tearooms and play areas for children, and several allow dogs to enjoy the scenery too. And if you’re a National Trust member, you may even be able to enter the sites for free.

Why not click the button below to browse our collection of cottages in Devon?

Devon cottages

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🍁 Arlington Court, Barnstaple

🍁 Lydford Gorge, Tavistock

🍁 Buckland Abbey, Yelverton

🍁 Coleton Fishacre, Kingswear

🍁 Compton Castle, Paignton

🍁 South Milton Sands, Hope Cove

🍁 Greenway, Brixham

🍁 Lundy Island, Bideford

🍁 Killerton, Exeter

🍁 Baggy Point, Croyde

1. Arlington Court, Barnstaple

  • Visit the Carriage Museum in the stables with over 40 impressive vehicles
  • Watch a colony of horseshoe bats who live in the cellars live from the Bat Cam Room
  • Indulge in a Devonshire cream tea in the tearoom – cream before the jam!

National Trust Arlington Court

Nestled into a historic wooded estate on the edge of Exmoor and held by the Chichester family for over 500 years, Arlington Court is one of the top National Trust properties in Devon. This intriguing Regency house boasts a treasure trove of antiques and collections within an elegant 19th-century Greek revival-style interior.

A wander around the ornate yet homely residence reveals all manner of fascinating objects including model ships, shells, pewter and costumes, whilst outside there are 2,700 acres of beautiful gardens and landscaped grounds to explore where peacocks roam free.

Postcode: EX31 4LP

Facilities: Shop, toilets, baby-changing facilities, children’s play areas and activity workshops during the school holidays. Dogs on leads welcome in the gardens and carriage museum.

Stay nearby at: Betty's Cottage, sleeps 5

Barnstaple cottages

2. Lydford Gorge, Tavistock

  • Look out for woodland sculptures hidden in the undergrowth
  • Spot a variety of birds including dippers and wagtails from the bird hide
  • Discover the thrilling whirlpool known as the Devil’s Cauldron
National Trust Lydford Gorge
Lydford Gorge credit: Instagram @lydford.gorge.nt

 

Home to the deepest river gorge in the South West with a dramatic 30-metre-high waterfall, Lydford Gorge on the edge of the Dartmoor National Park is definitely one of the National Trust places in Devon not to be missed! There are a variety of exhilarating woodland walking trails which will take you to the falls, alongside the rippling River Lyd which meanders through the twists and turns of the ravine.

In spring and summer, the woodland is carpeted in bluebells and aromatic wild garlic, while autumn brings a kaleidoscope of colour as the oak leaves turn from green to gold. After passing a series of tranquil pools, gentle rapids and abundant wildlife, you will eventually reach the thundering cascade of White Lady Waterfall – so-called as local legend says it is home to a ghostly lady who to this day, is occasionally spotted in a long white gown.

Postcode: EX20 4BL

Facilities: Shop, tearoom, toilets and baby-changing facilities (available when tearoom open), children’s play area. Dogs welcome on leads. The paths in the gorge are uneven and slippery, so sturdy footwear is essential.

Stay nearby at: Heron Lake Barn, sleeps 6

Tavistock cottages

3. Buckland Abbey, Yelverton

  • Find Drake’s Drum – legend has it that if ever England is in danger then the drum will be heard to beat…
  • Play a game of hide and seek in the abbey’s secret walled garden
  • Marvel at the magnificence of the untouched Great Barn and its cider press

National Trust Buckland Abbey

Step back in time at Buckland Abbey, an ancient gem in the Tavy Valley, surrounded by meadows, orchards and woodlands. Once home to such famous seafarers as Sir Richard Grenville and Sir Francis Drake, the 700-year-old abbey is an Aladdin’s cave of treasures. Beginning life as a tranquil Cistercian monastery in 1278, Buckland was remodelled and converted into a house by Grenville after 1576. 

The interior features spectacular Elizabethan plasterwork in the hall, oak panelling, and a Georgian staircase rising through four storeys of interactive museum galleries. And outside, there are some of the best National Trust gardens in Devon to explore - find a seat under the shade of a tree, surrounded by colourful borders, stunning views and the blissful sound of bird song.

Postcode: PL20 6EY

Facilities: Restaurant, toilets, baby-changing and feeding facilities, children’s quiz/trail and family activities. Dogs welcome on some estate walks.

Stay nearby at: The Moray, sleeps 4

Yelverton cottages

4. Coleton Fishacre, Kingswear

  • Head out on the South West Coast Path through the gate at the bottom of the garden
  • Stop at the Pudcombe Cove viewpoint to see the tidal swimming pool built for the original residents
  • Enjoy a picnic amongst the scented roses, rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias
National Trust Coleton Fishacre
Coleton Fishacre credit: Instagram @laurajbishop_

 

Coleton Fishacre near Kingswear is one of the most evocative National Trust houses in Devon, where you can experience the glitz and glamour of the Jazz Age. Built in the Arts and Crafts style in 1926 for Rupert and Dorothy D'Oyly Carte, this unique county retreat has an air of Art Deco decadence. Immerse yourself in the eccentric lifestyles of the original residents by trying on clothing and hats from this roaring decade, listening to jazz music and even playing the Blüthner.

Outside, the ostentatious gardens accredited by the RHS are full of exotic plants that thrive in the milder climate of the English Riviera. Viewpoints give enticing glimpses out to sea and meandering paths weave their way through 30 acres of ponds, streams and fragrant flora.

Postcode: TQ6 0EQ

Facilities: Café, shop, toilets, baby-changing facilities, free family trail, children’s play area. Dogs on short leads are welcome in the garden.

Stay nearby at: Milber Cottage, sleeps 6

Kingswear cottages

5. Compton Castle, Paignton

  • Play a traditional game of croquet or quoits on the lawn
  • Look out for a topiary squirrel, inspired by Sir Humphrey’s ship, the Squirrel
  • Let the kids have fun dressing up in medieval costumes

National Trust Compton Castle

Tucked away amongst rolling hills and orchards, the dramatic fortress of Compton Castle is a bewitching mixture of romance and history. Owned by the National Trust in South Devon, this rare surviving example of a medieval fortified manor house has been home to the Gilbert family for nearly 600 years, including Sir Humphrey Gilbert - half-brother to Sir Walter Raleigh. With its lofty curtain walls, imposing towers and portcullis, it is a magnificent spectacle and has been the backdrop to several notable films including the adaptation of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility.

Take a tour to explore the remarkable interior, featuring a medieval kitchen, Great Hall, two private living rooms, a chapel, and intriguing spiral staircases. You can also see a model of Sir Humphrey Gilbert's ship, the Squirrel - which he used in 1583 to colonise Newfoundland. Outside in the enchanting castle grounds, you can explore the scented rose garden, take a seat in the ancient orchard and wander the formal knot and herb garden.

Postcode: TQ3 1TA

Facilities: Refreshments are available at Castle Barton restaurant (not National Trust), toilets, children’s squirrel trail. Dogs on leads welcome outside in the orchard and car park.

Stay nearby at: Palace Retreat, sleeps 4

Paignton cottages

6. South Milton Sands, Hope Cove

  • See if you can spot a starfish in the rock pools dotted along the shore at low tide
  • Go diving or snorkelling and discover reefs and shipwrecks home to local sea life
  • Hire a kayak or canoe and navigate through the rock arch in the sea

National Trust South Milton Sands

The sweep of golden sand that makes up South Milton Sands is one of the most iconic National Trust beaches in Devon. Lapped by crystal-clear waters and instantly recognisable by the spectacular Thurlestone Rock archway which sits just offshore, this is a popular choice for a family day out. The beach is set within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is a haven for wildlife, home to migratory birds, dolphins, seals, basking sharks and even the occasional whale. Just behind the beach, you can discover wetlands home to rare butterflies too.

The clear calm waters are ideal for swimming, windsurfing, paddleboarding and kayaking, and the beach is lifeguard patrolled during the summer holidays. After fun in the surf, you can warm up with a hot chocolate and tuck into a fresh crab sandwich in the funky Beachouse café just behind the rolling sand dunes.

Postcode: TQ7 3JY

Facilities: Beach café, council-run toilets, RNLI lifeguards during the summer holidays. Dogs are welcome year-round.

Stay nearby at: Bay Anchorage, sleeps 4

Hope Cove cottages

7. Greenway, Brixham

  • Look out for the Boathouse, scene of the crime in Dead Man’s Folly
  • In spring and summer, take part in an informative daily garden walk
  • Play croquet or tennis on the lawn, or complete a nature trail
National Trust Greenway
Greenway credit: Instagram @ntenglishriviera

 

Famously coined by the acclaimed crime author Agatha Christie, as ‘the loveliest place in the world,’ Greenway provides an extraordinary glimpse into the novelist’s private English Riviera family  holiday home. Now owned by the Devon National Trust, this atmospheric house is set in the 1950s and is filled with happy family memories, from the portraits on top of the Steinway piano to the journals and finds from archaeological digs belonging to the Queen of Crime’s husband in the sitting room. The house is just as the family left it as if they had stepped out for a walk.

Outside, the Greenway gardens are just as beguiling, featuring a romantic woodland garden, with a restored vinery and peach house, monkey puzzle trees, camellias and rhododendrons, which drift down the hillside towards the sparkling Dart estuary. Relax in a deckchair and soak up the views before delighting in a spot of tea and cake in the Barn Café. There are many different ways to travel to Greenway, including ferry and steam train.

Postcode: TQ5 0ES

Facilities: Café, shop, toilets, baby-changing facilities, garden games, and free family trail. Dogs are welcome in the gardens on a short lead.

Stay nearby at: Sea Salt – Brixham, sleeps 4

Brixham cottages

8. Lundy Island, Bideford

  • Climb to the highest lighthouse in Britain for incredible views
  • Snorkelling will give you the opportunity of seeing grey seals, dolphins and basking sharks
  • Watch out for the pretty Lundy cabbage which grows nowhere else in the world

National Trust Lundy Island

Managed by the Landmark Trust on behalf of the National Trust in North Devon, Lundy Island is a unique granite rock formation rising 400 feet from the sea, with skies full of birds, a coastline filled with pirate haunts and rugged scenery home to rare wildlife. Lying around 12 miles off the North Devon coast, this wild and unspoilt 3.5-mile-long island was England's first Marine Conservation Zone and is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, owing to the rich array of sea life and coral beds.

A world away from the hustle and bustle of modern life and undisturbed by cars, this isolated natural haven is a walker’s paradise and a wildlife watcher’s dream. As well as puffins, falcons, and razorbills, there are birds so rare here that they bring birdwatchers to Lundy from all over Britain. There are 42 scheduled monuments and a clutch of listed buildings to discover including an 18th-century man-made cave which housed smuggled bounty and convicts, the remains of a World War II German Heinkel bomber, a Victorian church and the 13th-century Marisco Castle.

Postcode: EX39 2LY (bookings office)

Facilities: Tavern serving food and drinks, shop, toilets, baby-changing facilities, an education centre with hands-on activities.

Stay nearby at: Boathouse Cottage, sleeps 2

Bideford cottages

9. Killerton, Exeter

  • Climb an extinct volcano in the grounds
  • Discover a mysterious Iron Age hill fort
  • Try on replica dresses from the fashion collection
National Trust Killerton
Killerton credit: Instagram @ntkillerton

 

Once owned by the notable local Acland family, the Killerton Estate was given to the National Trust in Devon in 1944. Set within 6,400 acres of stunning parkland, working farmland and orchards, the 18th-century house is renowned for its historical costume collection and runs a full programme of events throughout the year. As well as the house, there are more gems to discover in the estate including the working watermill Clyston Mill, a medieval house steeped in history known as Marker’s (separate admission), and a 1950s post office with a charming cottage garden.

Created by John Veitch, the glorious gardens are a highlight of the estate, full of champion trees, formal lawns and beautiful shrubs offering a rich display of year-round colour. Explore by foot or by bike, following a myriad of winding paths and trails, and admire the inspiring views towards Dartmoor.

Postcode: EX5 3LE

Facilities: Two cafes, restaurant, shop, plant centre, toilets, baby-changing facilities, children’s play area, picnic spots. Dogs welcome around the park (to be kept on leads around livestock).

Stay nearby at: Home Barn Bickleigh, sleeps 6

Exeter cottages

10. Baggy Point, Croyde

  • Spot seals basking on the rocks below
  • In autumn look out for merlins, peregrines and hen harriers
  • Hop on your bike and enjoy the Baggy Point to Barnstaple cycle trail

National Trust Baggy Point

If you’re looking for a National Trust walk in Devon with some of the most exceptional views in the county, a visit to Baggy Point is a must. This towering headland is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest for its interesting geological features. You’ll find some of the most memorable vistas on the South West Coast Path here, overlooking the famous Croyde Beach, Saunton Sands, Bideford Bay and Lundy.

Baggy’s easy-access path means walkers of all ages and ability can enjoy this beauty spot, and there are even opportunities to climb, surf and coasteer. Plus, the walk is dog-friendly too, so you can bring your four-legged family member along to soak up the views. If you’re bringing the kids, pick up one of the free activity packs from the National Trust car park hut.

Postcode: EX33 1PA

Facilities: Toilets, outdoor shower, snack kiosk. Dogs welcome on leads.

Stay nearby at: Lane Head, sleeps 6

Croyde cottages

Which one of these popular National Trust sites in Devon will you choose to visit on your next holiday? If you’re ready to book a memorable getaway and make the most of these historical and beautiful places, click the button below to browse our holiday cottages in Devon.

Devon cottages

Looking for more ways to spend your time in the area? Check out these top 10 things to do in Devon, discover our favourite walks in Devon, or have a read of our guide to exploring the beautiful Devon coast.

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.