[Updated April 2021]
Are you looking for a weekend away on a budget, or you have a week-long holiday booked and need some free and cheap things to do in North Devon? I hope this might give you some ideas and I’ve also included a review of the hotel that we stayed at in Barnstaple as this was ideally situated for several locations.
Bear in mind there may be local and national restrictions in place so always check before travelling.
I came here for many years as a child when it was a bit of a hidden gem, and then again as an adult for scooter rallies and music festivals. It has now turned into a popular British seaside resort without losing any of its old-fashioned charms. Woolacombe has a few shops, pubs, and eateries but is most renowned for its huge sandy beach with tall dunes and rock pools. It is great for walking, beach play, paddling, surfing, and exploring the pools. Parking on road is £1 an hour or in the seafront car park £6 a day. You can get tasty cooked meals and puddings served pretty quickly in the Red Barn. I recommend the steak and lasagne especially. (Unfortunately, the weather was horrible during our visit but you can still appreciate its’ natural beauty.)
Croyde Bay is very similar to Woolacombe. Here you will find another perfect sandy beach with rock pools and dunes but on a smaller scale. The area is surrounded by fields with walking trails to Woolacombe if you fancy a five-mile trek (there were lots of lambs in residence last April). Parking costs just £3 a day right on the seafront. There are a couple of shops selling snacks and supplies, surf lessons are available, and there are free toilets which are becoming a rarity at the British seaside resort.
Croyde is a tiny seaside village with a couple of shops selling ice creams, fudge, and snacks, and is situated about half a mile inland from the beach. There are two or three eateries here and we opted for The Thatch pub which I highly recommend. We had their home cooked steak and ale pie served with steamed veg, and the biggest burger I’ve ever seen. All the meat and cheese were locally sourced and meals were served quickly. They do have a small car park for patrons, but it does get busy.
There was a Farmer’s Market in the village hall when we visited which runs throughout most of the summer selling local arts, crafts, and foodstuff which was interesting to browse. Parking costs around £1 an hour although you could walk from the beach car park which is about half a mile away.
Broomhill Sculpture Gardens
Slightly further inland is the Sculpture Gardens. Tickets are priced at only £5 each, and you can spend at least 1.5 hours walking through the woodland trails admiring a vast array of sculptures. I believe there are around 300 on display. There is something here to suit all tastes. A babbling stream weaves its way through the lower gardens making it the perfect place for meditation or just a bit of time out.
The gardens are set in the hotel grounds, but all facilities are open to non-residents. They have a gallery of wall art and more sculptures inside their new restaurant, which you can still view although I’d advise checking them out early before customers are seated unless you are intending to eat there too.
Of course, the ultimate activity for free and cheap things to do in North Devon is just driving and walking around the local areas. Seeing such beautiful English countryside and cliff top sea views, quaint thatched cottage villages, and an abundance of wildlife is such a wonderful experience. We saw kestrels, hares, partridges, farm animals, etc., on our trip.
Where to Stay in North Devon
We stayed at The Premier Inn in Barnstaple as we had a wedding to go to inland and this was the best central location for the town and the beach.
We had a large bright room with a double bed, additional sofa bed, dressing table and hanging space that are standard in most chain hotels. There was heating and a free-standing pedestal fan so they were obviously geared up for all eventualities of the English Summer. There was a kettle, Twinings tea, and Kenco coffee aplenty. The reception staff were happy to refresh tea and coffee supplies as it doesn’t appear they service rooms needlessly each day. (There is also a cold drink and snack vending machine in the foyer.)
The en-suite bathroom has plenty of towels and wall dispensers for soap, shampoo, and shower gel. Much as we all like miniature toiletry bottles, these are far more environmentally friendly.
Breakfast is available at the Table Table pub restaurant next door and can be booked with your hotel stay or paid for on the day. You help yourself to fruit, cereals, yogurts, pastries, toast, juice, tea, coffee, etc., and also have the option of a large freshly cooked breakfast that took about 10 mins.
It has a large free car park situated opposite a Tesco superstore with Lidl and McDonald’s down the road and of course the main town centre of Barnstable a little further on.
If you’re staying at a weekend there is a car boot sale in Tesco Car Park on Sunday mornings from 10 am.
This hotel offers the usual high standard of cleanliness that you get from Premier Inn and has polite friendly staff. I am happy to recommend this hotel and restaurant and would visit again.
Tip: Wherever you stay, make your hotel bookings with booking.com or hotels.com, but do it through Topcashback or Quidco as you will then get cashback too.
Have you visited North Devon before?
Any favourite free and cheap attractions you’d like to share?