Views over the Wildersmouth Beach from Ilfracombe Promenade
One of North Devon’s most visited seaside town, Ilfracombe oozes laid-back charm, with tea rooms, fish and chip shops and gorgeous cliff-top views over the Atlantic coast, and not forgetting the stretches of beautiful sandy beaches which Ilfracombe is most known for.
The area around Ilfracombe and neighbouring Woolacombe is popular with families looking for a British seaside holiday, but there's also lots of things to see and do in Ilfracombe for couples wanting a quiet coastal getaway (particularly if you visit outside of the school holidays), and it’s a great place to base yourself whilst exploring what North Devon has to offer.
Having spent a blissful few days in Ilfracombe a couple of summers ago, I've put this post together as a handy guide for the best things to see and do in and around Ilfracombe in North Devon and why Ilfracombe is definitely worth visiting for your summer getaway.
Looking for more ideas for a British getaway? Why not visit Pembrokeshire, in Wales for more stunning coastal walks? The Cotswolds are also a beautiful place for a day trip or short break. If you are wanting something a bit more lively, then head to Bath for a great weekend away.
Best things to do in Ilfracombe for couples
1. Walk the North Devon South West Coastal path from Ilfracombe to Woolacombe
The South West Coast Path is England’s longest way marked long-distance footpath and a National Trail, stretching a massive 630 miles along the South West Coast.
There are so many great things to do outdoors in North Devon, but in my opinion, this is without a doubt the best activity in Ilfracombe. The walk along the coastline is absolutely beautiful, and starting from Ilfracombe, you can walk all the way to Woolacombe with stunning views out to sea the entire way. The route is well signposted and once you reach Woolacombe you can get a bus back to Ilfracombe, which is really convenient. For full details of the walk, see my post, here.
The South West Coastal Path
2. Visit the National Trust Heddon Valley, near Ilfracombe
Located in West Exmoor National Park, Heddon Valley is just a 30 minute drive from Ilfracombe and offers beautiful woodland and coastal walks, with trails suitable for most abilities. And if you don’t fancy too much walking, there’s a cafe and a pub-restaurant to indulge in afterwards!
The most popular trail at Heddon Valley is the short 2 mile circular walk from the car park to Heddon’s Mouth. The trail follows a river valley, winding through deep woodland before arriving at Heddon’s Mouth beach – the point where River Heddon meets the sea.
The path down to Heddon’s Mouth
Listening to the waves on the Pebble Beach at Heddon’s Mouth
If a longer walk is more your thing, follow the sign-posted South West Coastal Path from Heddon Valley car park to Woody Bay. This route follows a historic 19th century carriageway and is one of the highest points of the South West Coastal Path, offering dramatic views over the rugged cliffs.
This is a great day out if you are staying in Ilfracombe and definitely worth a visit. For full route details, check out Heddon Valley on the National Trust website
Views from the Heddon Valley to Woody Bay circular walk
3. Walk up Capstone hill for the best sunset views in Ilfracombe
One of the best things to do in Ilfracombe town is to walk up Capstone Hill. The large rocky outcrop is situated between Ilfracombe harbour and the Landmark Theatre in the centre of the town. It’s a steep but short climb to the top and the views over the town and along the coast are beautiful, particularly at sunset.
Enjoying the sunset from Capstone Hill
4. Take a stroll around Ilfracombe's harbour
Ilfracombe's small, quaint harbour is the focal point of town and it's a lovely stroll around the harbour's edge. Starting at the Chapel of St. Nicolas – a tiny historic chapel, perched on a steep hill – walk down to the harbour and follow the water's edge, past St James’ Park. From here you can pick up the South West Coastal Path until you reach Rapparee Cove. At the foot of a cliff with steep stairs to access it, the secluded cove is the site of a famous shipwreck which happened in 1796 and has a small beach.
This is a lovely way to spend a couple of hours in Ilfracombe, particularly on a sunny, stopping at a coffee shop along the way.
Ilfracombe harbour and the Chapel of St. Nicholas perched on the hill
5. Visit Ilfracombe's famous Tunnels beaches
Hand carved in the 1820’s to provide sheltered and separate swimming pools for Victorian bathers, the outdoor bathing pools were seen as a health benefit for visitors. Ladies and Gentlemen had separate bathing pools and there was a watchman on duty who would raise an alarm if any man tried to spy on the ladies! If caught, the men would be arrested, imagine that now!
Now, the Tunnels beaches is a popular wedding venue, however you can pay a small fee to access the Ladies beach.
One of the hand-carved tunnels and the former ladies beach, which is open to the public
6. Visit Exmoor National Park
Ilfracombe is located on the edge of Exmoor National Park and has an abundance of walking trails, pretty villages, rural pubs and family attractions. Drive 30 minutes West of Ilfracombe to the villages of Lynton and Lynmouth, and take the famous cliff railway which links the two villages.
Fancy a ride on the Cliff Railway? Think i’ll pass…!
7. Go Surfing
There are some great surfing spots around the North Devon coastline and if you love being in the water, surfing - and body-boarding are definitely some of the best activities to do around Ilfracombe.
One of the best spots for surfing is Woolacombe Bay, where both experienced surfers and beginners can ride enjoy waves along the expansive beach. There are many shops where you can hire or buy surfing equipment around Woolacombe as well as several surf schools you can join.
8. Visit Woolacombe
Woolacombe is a busy tourist town, particularly with families and it has many activities such as crazy golf, arcade games and tennis courts.
If you are looking for somewhere a bit livelier, then a visit to Woolacombe is a great option as there are several cafes, restaurants and shops here. You can easily get to Woolacombe by bus if you don't have your own car, or you can follow the South West Coast Path and walk there from Ilfracombe.
There’s so much to see and do in North Devon, particularly if you love walking and being outdoors, like me. And the good thing is, you don’t have to hike for miles to get stunning coastal views! Personally, I think Ilfracombe is a great place to visit for couples. It's quieter than the neighbouring Woolacombe, which tends to attract more families, yet it still has enough restaurants, cafes and nearby attractions to keep you occupied.
What is there to do in Ilfracombe at night?
Ilfracombe is a small seaside town and although there are several cafes, pubs and restaurants it is not a very lively town at night, so don't expect trendy cocktail bars and fancy restaurants. As Ilfracombe is a town where most activities are very outdoor-focused, you'll find that most of the options in the evening are cosy pubs, with good, hearty food to enjoy after a day of walking, swimming or just being out in the fresh air.
Tip: The popular restaurants in Ilfracombe can get very busy in the peak summer months, so if you want to secure a table, book ahead.
Is Ilfracombe expensive?
There are lots of great value guest houses in Ilfracombe, so you can definitely stay here on a budget. In fact, most of the best things to do in Ilfracombe are free, as there's so many beautiful places to walk round. If you are really looking to look after your pennies, there's several bakeries in Ilfracombe where you can get a sandwich made, or pick up a fresh pastry and take them with you for a picnic on your walk. In the evening, another great things to do in Ilfracombe is to get fish and chips and enjoy them at the top of Capstone hill. There's also a wetherspoons for a lost cost option in the evening, but this does get very busy!
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