Totnes in Devon is very much a town history did not forget.
Rumoured to have been founded by Brutus of Troy, then conquered by the Normans, the town then developed over the centuries to become one of the wealthiest in the UK.
Thanks for it position along the River Dart, right up until the 17th century, Totnes operated as a key trading and market town famous for its wool and tin exports.
Always ahead of the curve, if we fast forward to more recent times, Totnes then become the world’s first Transition Town in 2006 – a grassroots network that now covers the globe.
The enduringly progressive and entrepreneurial community of this town has meant that, despite its size, Totnes has always remained strongly on the UK map.
Indeed it now holds its own as one of top UK staycation spots – beloved for its independent businesses and distinctive atmosphere.
And this is all the more impressive because Totnes sits within a fairly pastoral and provincial part of England.
Located in the South Hams area of Devon, it’s realistically about 3 hours away from London, but honestly feels much further in terms of the relaxed and rural ambience.
Heading to Totnes truly feels like unplugging from the city.
And this, of course, makes it the perfect recipe for a great UK getaway!
So if you’re looking to explore this historic and quirky town, here’s my list of the top things to do in Totnes.
From night kayaks to cocktail cinemas, organic pubs to 1000 year old history, there’s so much to explore here, it really is best if we get cracking!
- The Bull Inn, Totnes: Reviewed
- 50 Bucket List Things to Do in the UK
- 21 Best Places to Visit in Dorset
My trip to the Bull Inn in Totnes was gifted but, as always, all views are my own.
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#1 Eat and Stay at the Bull Inn
In at number one on this list of top things to do in Totnes, I couldn’t not put the fantastic Bull Inn!
Yes, this was where I was wonderfully gifted bed and board during my time in Totnes, but all bias aside, I absolutely recommend either eating or staying (or preferably both) here during your time in this gorgeous town.
Set at the top of the historic Narrows, the pub originally dates back to at least 1898 and was recently taken over by a group of forward-thinking and passionate local residents.
Now a fully organic pub and guesthouse, this award-winning spot boasts beautifully decorated rooms, delicious food and an incredibly warm welcome.
With ethical and sustainable values at its heart, everything they serve here is organic and traded along a stringent set of environmental credentials.
This means that from the bedsheets you’ll sleep in, to the wine you’ll drink and the food you can devour at either breakfast, lunch or dinner, your conscience will rest easy at the Bull Inn knowing that each one of their products and services has been carefully selected for its top ethical alignment.
My stunning room with large bath, views over Totnes and heritage fireplace were the perfect place to return to after striding walks in the surrounding countryside and my nightly indulgences in their downstairs restaurant.
A real treat of a place, without any unnecessary pretence, the Bull Inn is a must when you visit Totnes.
Read my full review of the place here.
#2 Catch a Film at the Totnes Cinema
And after a delicious dinner at the Bull Inn, there’s no better place to head for than the wonderful independent Totnes Cinema.
Located just down the High Street – a 5 minute walk away from the Bull Inn – this crowd-funded, locally run cinema offers daily screenings of the latest arthouse and cultural films.
With screenings usually kicking off around 8pm, I highly recommend getting here at least 30 minutes early however, not only to grab a good seat (choose from cabaret style downstairs or traditional, plush cinema seats upstairs), but so you can order one of their delicious cocktails to accompany the film.
Visiting in late October, I opted for the Hazelnut Autumn Sour and it was divine!
Cocktails are priced £10 and cinema tickets are equally affordable – book via their website, in advance, because they often sell out.
#3 Climb to Totnes Castle
But now we turn our attention to the top things to do in Totnes during the day.
And in first here, it has to be visiting the iconic Totnes Castle.
Run and managed by English Heritage, members can get in free, otherwise it costs £7.50 for adults.
After buying your ticket – it’s time to begin your climb up to the castle which looms up the hill in front of you.
Dating back to Norman times, the castle’s elevated position gave amazing views of any invaders coming up the River Dart, and also conveniently overlooked the town of Totnes too – a good way to keep the local, rebellious population in check!
Now largely a ruin, albeit a well-maintained ruin, Totnes Castle is a good hour long visit, and gives beautiful views over the surrounding countryside, river and town, as well as a useful introduction to the history of this area.
You’ve just got to scale the 89 steps to get up there!
#4 Check out the Totnes Museum
And sticking with the history theme, we now head to the wonderfully quirky Totnes Museum, which is located on the High Street.
Free to enter (although do make a donation if you can to support the museum), the exhibitions here are housed in a beautifully restored Elizabethan house.
Head in via the main door and you’ll be given a laminated handy guide you can use to navigate the exhibitions by one of the friendly volunteer team.
The museum is then laid out in a looped route, so that each room of the house you pass through has a different theme and exhibition.
From learning about how the town grew to be so prosperous back in the 16th century, through to one of the town’s most famous residents, Charles Babbage (an incredible mathematician who originated the concept of a digital programmable computer), this is a great way to spend an hour or so learning more about Totnes’ history.
A top options for families especially, the Totnes Museum is open 10am-4pm Monday to Saturday.
Learn more about the museum via its website.
#5 Wander Inside St Mary’s Church
Now no trip to Totnes would be complete without wandering in and around the lovely St Mary’s Church.
Dating back to 1450, this Grade I Listed building can be spotted from across town thanks to its iconic red tower, and it’s believed that, before the current building, there has been a church on this spot for over 1000 years.
Admire St Mary’s from the outside – you can either enter by the front gate off the High Street, or via the back steps near the historic Totnes Guildhall – before wandering inside, which is free.
Don’t miss the stained glass window or the 15th century stone screen once you do.
There’s also lovely photo spots all around the church (especially when I visited in Autumn and the colours of the trees were on full display), as well as from the Tones Guildhall just at the back, which is around 1000 years!
Originally the priory building, until the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII, the Guildhall then became the town jail, the magistrates court and finally a boy’s school before finding its current use today as the chambers for the Totnes Town Council!
#6 Take a Guided Tour
But as always, if you really want to get the lowdown on a place, the best option is to take a guided tour… and Totnes is no different.
Wonderfully, you can either enjoy a self-guided option (thanks to the large number of permanent signs around the town full with information and handy QR codes) and navigate yourself between all the key spots in Totnes in just 1 hour.
Otherwise, during the main tourist season, you can also use a local guide to get some human interaction and a real sense of personal experience.
Informal, morning tours around Totnes with local history experts run every Thursdays from April through October.
Meet at 10.30am outside the Visit Totnes Office on the Market Square to join in.
Prices start from £8 per adult and £4 for under 16s.
#7 Hit the Shops
And now for something a little more leisurely!
After all, there’s no way you can come to Totnes and not enjoy some of the amazing independent shops they have here.
The key place to head for is The Narrows, which can be found at the top of the High Street.
Essentially, this is the best part of town in my opinion and things only seem to improve the higher you climb!
The Narrows is filled with an incredible 50 independent businesses and many (you’ll be unsurprised to learn) boast strong eco and ethical credentials.
From organic clothes stores to biodynamic wine shops, lovely cafes that do a side trade in shamanic cocoa and trendy vintage clothes outlets – this is a retail paradise!
Special shoutouts go to the Hairy Barista, Albatross Bakery, Buttersworth’s Vintage Co and Wine and Greene Wine Shop, but it really is all about heading here yourself and discovering your own favs!
There’s also a local market in Totnes every Friday and Saturday.
Found in the appropriately named Market Square, the town also has loads of art galleries and exhibition spaces for you to discover too.
#8 Stroll Vire Island and River Area
But after all that sightseeing and shopping, I reckon it’s time for a bit of fresh air!
And what better place to grab it than down along the River Dart.
Simply walk down Totnes High Street, under the arch gate, and then continue on to the bridge.
Here you can either cross to explore the other bank of the river, or take the short detour to your right to explore Vire Island.
A lovely quiet park, with riverside benches, it’s the ideal place to escape with a coffee and let the world drift by!
#9 Enjoy a Kayak or Boat Tour
Also down by the river are some amazing choices for water-based activities – definitely one of the top things to do in Totnes in my opinion!
Hop on a boat tour with Dartmouth River Cruises, or enjoy the round robin boat and railway trip care of Dartmouth Steam Railway and River Boat Company.
Both start from Totnes Steamer Quay and allow you to enjoy some good commentary as you head past Sharpham, Dittisham and the National Trust’s Greenway.
Or, for something a little different, why not enjoy a kayak on the River Dart?
There’s a few companies to choose from in Totnes, but I rather like Wild Wise.
Select from their kayak rental offering, or join one of the guided tours – the nighttime paddle one is a hoot!
#10 Eat, Drink and Soak It All In!
And finally, you cannot come to Totnes and not indulge!
With an amazing foodie scene, not to mention loads of bars to enjoy a drink and some fab live music, this is definitely a huge part of the Totnes experience – after all, you are in Devon, a famous farming county!
The newly opened Canteen in the Mansion Courtyard gets a special mention for lunch, as does the Wild Fig Deli, while the Barrel House is a top option for evening gigs.
And of course, who can forget breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner at the amazing Bull Inn?
Spoiler: not me!
I really am hoping you come home full, because eating, drinking and relaxing is certainly my fav Totnes thing to do!
Things to Do Around Totnes
- Day trip to Berry Pomeroy Castle – meant to be one of the most haunted castles in the UK! Run by English Heritage, members here can get in for free. There’s a good audio guide to accompany your visit.
- Eat and enjoy at Dartington Taproom – renowned its live music, community feels, good beer and great pizza! There’s a playground here too, which means it’s a good option for families.
- Head to Dartington Hall – enjoy the farmers market and the grounds. Going through a period of transition, I found this wasn’t as great a choice as other blogs I’d read made out, but it’s worth a look if you have a spare day. Walk there in an hour along the river or grab the 165 bus from Totnes.
- Be charmed by Ashprington village – only 3 miles away from Totnes, this makes a lovely walk… especially when you discover there’s an excellent pub there called The Durant Arms!
- Enjoy the Antique Trail at Ashburtion – if it’s antique you’re looking for, rather than pubs, then it’s hard to beat Ashburton, which another great day out from Totnes. Located further inland, there’s actually a whole antiques trail (made of 10+ shops), so you can really go to town!
- Get your nature fix at Sharpham Estate – if it’s nature you’re after, then lovely views back towards Totnes, with a snaking river foreground, can be enjoyed from Sharpham Estate. Just follow the river walk south towards Ashprington for around 90 minutes from Totnes to reach it.
- Why not wine taste? – the former Sharpham vineyard has now moved downriver to a Stoke Gabriel Vineyard and has become Sandridge Barton Wines. Tours and tastings can be booked via their website.
- Hit the beach – if you want your coastal fix from Totnes, then the nearest beach – Paignton – is just a 15 minute drive away. Larger Torquay is about 20 mins away.
Top Travel Tips for Devon
When to Visit?
I love visiting Devon during the spring and autumn months – with ideal hiking conditions, as well as cosy fireside and red wine combinations, theses months also help you dodge the summer crowds!
How to Travel There?
Use Trainline to find the best train prices from across the UK to Totnes.
Totnes has its own train station, which is just a 10 minute walk from the Bull Inn.
How Long to Spend There?
3 days in Totnes makes the perfect getaway.
If you want to explore Devon more broadly, then consider a week for walking, beaches and more.
Where to Stay in Devon?
Needless to say, I recommend basing yourself in Totnes when you visit Devon.
And there’s no better place to stay in my opinion than the award-winning Bull Inn.
How to Get Around Devon?
While you can use the train and local buses to get around Devon, it really makes sense to have a car to give you more freedom and ability to explore.
For UK car hire, I always recommend Discover Cars.
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So there you have it, my full guide to the best things to do in Totnes, Devon.
Have you visited this quirky English town?
What was your fav things to do there?
Tell me all in the comments box below…