Old English Escanceaster
Too many years have passed since the first and last time I’ve visited Exeter. Distant memories yet I could remember quite well how beautiful this city is. It felt however as coming for the very first time, with a clear difference; now I was paying way much more attention to its architecture and sights and not how I was doing many years ago when it was just a simple visit with plenty friends on our day off when we were on a working and learning English program during the summer months while at University, working at Butlins Minehead, not far from Exeter.
Not every weekend trip is going to be abroad after all. This country has so much to offer but truth is that I’ve been to majority of the places and cities. Unfortunately for most of them a long time ago and therefore will not add a travel guide for them until I come back again so can have recent inputs, and not vague memories and ideas from 10 years back or so.
Exeter is one of the oldest cities in the UK, the most south western post in Britain from the Roman Empire and despite the small size, there is a lot to do and see with a thriving nightlife at the weekends and great large shopping areas. Being until WWII second to Bath for it’s beauty, the damages after the war left the city with half of its historic core and thus, not becoming a major tourist destination after all.
This city its the perfect gateway starting point for continuing southwest on what is commonly nicknamed the English Riviera. Term that officially refers only to the area of Torbay, just 24 miles from Exeter, but “unofficially” extended all the way from Torbay to Penzance, the last city on the south west of England along the Cornwall Peninsula. This was our main highlight for this weekend, visiting the majority of this region down to Saint Austell in order to finally get to see the Eden Project.
Since Exeter is that small, do not plan any longer than a day. A day after all, is still too long as you will visit everything is just few hours. Complete your day by coupling the visit to Torquay and Paignton too for example, the main cities in Torbay (aka the English Riviera). Either way if you have a rental car or not, trains are very frequent and take no longer than 25 minutes between each other, allowing you plenty of time to easily see both places in one day without having to rush. It is also possible to continue a bit farther to include Dartmouth, or like we did (and mainly because we had a rental car with us that saved us lots of time) was reaching Plymouth as the farthest destination on this same day. We had enough time for Exeter, Torquay, Paignton, Dartmouth and Plymouth; places added into a separate travel guide called The English Riviera where you can get expanded information and pictures.
For more information about Exeter check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. The United Kingdom’s currency is the British Pound (£). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Exeter
- Cathedral Close The very center of the city since Roman times. The area was entirely walled in the 13th century AD yet few remains today.
-Cathedral Founded in 1050 and completed in the 14th century, it has the longest uninterrupted vaulted ceiling in England. Although the starting style was Norman, was later changed for Gothic yet the massive square towers were kept in Norman as were built. It has a 15th century astronomical clock at one facade.
-Guildhouse Build in the medieval times with the beautiful elaborate Italian facade added in 1590. It is the oldest municipal building in England to be still in use. Not exactly inside the Cathedral Close but meters to the north, in High Street.
-Statue of Richard Hooker Located in the center of the square, was an Anglican theologian born in Exeter in the 16th century.
-Mol’s Coffee House This timber framed house dates from 1596 and is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the city. Said to be the oldest coffee house in England, but not confirmed as it’s supposed to be the Grand Cafe in Oxford.
-Parliament Street Is the 2nd narrowest street in the world, dating from the 14th century. Links the Cathedral Close to the High Street.
-Saint Petrock’s Church The current structure is from the medieval times.
-Saint Martin’s Church Built in the 15th century, now a redundant church, is next door to the Mol’s Coffee House.
- North of the Cathedral Close Just few streets to the north of the Cathedral it is where the remains of the Roman and Saxon walls can be seen along the nice gardens.
-Rougemont Castle Meaning red hill, also known as Exeter Castle, was built in the 12th century attached to the Roman city walls. Only one outer ward is what is left standing today.
-Northernhay Gardens Is the oldest public open space in England. Those beautiful landscaped gardens incorporated part of the Roman wall, and also the only surviving Saxon wall to be seen in England.
-Exeter Central railway station Built in 1860, services the main line Exeter to London Waterloo.
-Underground Tunnels You can take 1 hour tour on the original 14th century medieval vaulted water tunnels. Tickets cost £4.90.
- West of the Cathedral Close Following the main street that crosses this part of the city, Fore Street, from the Cathedral compound towards the River Exe.
-Saint Nicholas Priory Benedictine monastery founded in 1087, converted into an Elizabethan town house in 1602. The current museum within is decorated as it was during the Elizabethan period and thus, the Tudor lifestyle.
-Synagogue The 3rd oldest in Britain dating from 1763.
-The House that Moved This small 14th century Tudor house earned its well deserved importance after being moved in one piece inch by inch to the current location in 1961 to make way for a new road at the former site.
-Saint Davids train station Dating from 1844 originally connecting Exeter to Bristol, was designed by famous British architect and engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel. If you want to reach this place quick, you can take a train from Exeter Central.
- South of the Cathedral Close The area towards the River Exe.
-Historic Quay Area The city grew in importance thanks to the easy access to the sea, becoming at some point the city where more trade was happening than the combination of the rest of England together.
-Custom House Built in 1680 at the time the city was one of the most important trading posts in the country.
-Quay House Also build in 1680 is a former warehouse, now the Quay House Interpretation Center.
Exeter is served by an expanding international airport with a good variety of flights through Europe although majority of those are summer holiday destinations in Spain specially during summer months. Flights within the UK are mainly served by BA, Flybe and Easyjet. Connecting the airport with the city center are buses costing £3 for a single ticket.
If reaching the city from elsewhere within the UK, the fastest and most comfortable way is by train. Exeter lies in the western mainline for what frequent trains run daily towards London with even more frequent trains bound for Bristol and the north.
The same applies if travelling by bus, pretty much from everywhere within Britain are services calling in Exeter, or might involve one interchange along the way.
Within the city it is out of question there is absolutely no need to take any public transport to move around. Walking distances are very short and for majority of the sights is the only way of reaching them.
Because of its location at the doorstep from the English Riviera with the famous sandy beaches, it is a main gateway and thus the amount and choice of hotels fairly big.
Considering the high fare of hotels, we were still “lucky” with the price we payed for our stay, just days from the beginning of the high season. Even so, our hotel was not in the city center but on the outskirts. After all, we did not need to stay right in the city center since we had a rental car with us to move around. A good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.
We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express, at Guardian Road, Exeter Business Park. Located to the east of the city, near the M5 motorway. Was not something special out of the common, but a nice, comfortable and quiet place to stay. Clean, with all the facilities needed and caring, friendly and welcoming staff. A nice continental breakfast was also included in the rate.