Devon is a fantastic place to take the kids on holiday. Stunning coastline on both north and south coasts provides endless opportunities for walking, crabbing, sandcastle-building, swimming and rockpooling. The National Parks of Exmoor and Dartmoor are spectacular wild areas of natural beauty, with a variety of walking, dabbling, pond dipping and pony-spotting opportunities.
Apart from the abundance of natural beauty, there are also lots of very toddler-friendly visitor attractions for more organized fun – here are just a few suggestions:
1. DEVON RAILWAY CENTRE
Devon Railway Centre is a wonderful attraction for toddlers and the under 5’s. This popular Devon tourist attraction offers a unique railway experience and boasts a host of attractions in one location. The miniature railways give unlimited train rides around the centre and opportunities for you to become involved! Children can clip the tickets and wave the flag to start the trains. The Indoor Play Coaches provide hours of fun whatever the weather. Children can also enjoy spending time in the ball pool and large indoor sandpit or playing with the wooden railways.
Devon Railway Centre, Bickleigh. Photo copyright of Chris Allen, and licenced for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
2. EXMOOR ZOO
Set in the beautiful North Devon Countryside, Exmoor Zoo is an excellent, family-run zoo where you can get up close and personal with some of the animals. There is a daily timetable, which includes talks, feeding and petting some of the animals. Watch out for the Exmoor Beast! The zoo playground is also free to anyone who visits. The playground is close to a covered eating area, a picnic area and snack shack.
Greet the family's favourite animals at Exmoor Zoo in Barnstaple.
3. KNIGHTSHAYES HOUSE AND GARDENS
The National Trust owned Knightshayes is a large, gorgeous gothic house is surrounded by acres of parkland and gardens for you and your family to explore. Buggy friendly paths and tracks will take you from the car park to the house, shop and restaurant and there’s even a miniature tram if you prefer not to walk. Look out for Impey woods and the Four Oaks children’s activity area. Also, not to be missed, the children’s play area near the kitchen garden. Baby changing facilities and high chairs are available in the café/restaurant. Dogs are also welcome in the grounds and the outside seating area of the restaurant.
Explore the House and its glorious gardens before the children enjoy in the play area. Photo copyright of Derek Voller and licenced for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
4. PENNYWELL FARM
The animals at Pennywell Farm at Buckfastleigh are rather less exotic than those at Exmoor Zoo, but they’re just as engaging. They have hundreds of friendly animals, four free rides, and a different activity every half hour, but are most famous for their cuddly micro-pigs – there is even a special room devoted to piggy cuddles! Get busy down on the farm, with pig racing, pond dipping, egg collecting, bottle feeding, ferret racing, pets teatime and pot planting.
5. THE NATIONAL MARINE AQUARIUM
On the harbourside at Plymouth is The National Marine Aquarium - the nation’s largest aquarium. The big draw is the Atlantic Ocean tank (the deepest in the United Kingdom), which is home to several species of sharks and rays. Equally captivating are the jellyfish and the displays of local marine life. There are exciting talks and shows throughout the day that are designed to be fun and give more information about the fascinating animals. The Aquarium runs ‘Toddler Tuesday’ sessions throughout the school term for children 2-4 years. Sessions change weekly and include activities such as puppet shows, stories and possibly a meeting with the friendly mermaid Marina!
Immerse yourself in local marine life at the nation's largest aquarium.
6. WOOLACOMBE BEACH
Woolacombe is one of Devon’s best loved beaches. A golden sandy beach, (several miles long), located in the North Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It is renowned for its cleanliness, water quality and facilities. Lifeguards ensure safe family swimming during the summer. An ideal place for beach games, dunes for hide and seek, and rock pools for marine life. Woolacombe itself is a lively village with great pubs and restaurants. Access is easy and three large car parks are available with space for 3000 cars, including disabled parking. In the immediate vicinity, there are toilets with disabled access and baby changing facilities.
Admire the beauty of Woolacombe's golden sands and clear sea during an afternoon stroll.
7. TARKA TRAIL CYCLE HIRE
The Tarka Trail is named after Henry Williamson’s famous novel, “Tarka The Otter”. The story is based around many of the locations along the disused railway line between Braunton and Meeth. You can hire bikes and trailers for babies/toddlers in Barnstaple (next to the railway station). There are over 130 models to choose from so everyone is catered for. Once you have your bikes you can enjoy up to 21 miles of safe, level and traffic-free cycling fun. There are opportunities for picnics and refreshments on the trail.
8. THE BIG SHEEP
The Big Sheep is a great family attraction and fun for all the family. The big attraction here for toddlers and the younger children is the Ewetopia Indoor Playground. There is a safe and secure soft play area for toddlers away from the hustle and bustle of the older children. Within the indoor play area, you will find Bo Peeps café serving hot and cold refreshments. There are lots of other attractions to keep you entertained such as The Eweston Train Ride around the lake, vintage pony carousel, duck racing trails and much much more!
Treat the kids to the gifts of feeding the lambs at The Big Sheep, Bideford. Photo copyright of Lindy Zubairy, and licenced for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
9. THE GRAND WESTERN CANAL AND COUNTRY PARK
The Grand Western Canal is a wonderfully relaxing place to enjoy a flat and easy walk in the Devon Countryside. The Canal Basin is well signposted and provides ample car parking, a visitor centre, gift shop and toilets. This is also the home of the much-loved horse-drawn barge, which takes passengers for trips along the canal. The towpath is suitable for buggies, and children on scooters or trikes. Four-legged friends are also welcome but must be kept under control. After your walk, you may be tempted to stop for a Devon cream tea at The Ducks Ditty Floating Café Bar or The Canal Tea Rooms.
Horse Drawn Barge on The Grand Western Canal.
10. THE MILKY WAY
The Milky Way is a fabulous all-weather attraction located in North Devon. For parents with little children, head straight for ‘Little Stars’. Little Stars is a play centre specifically designed for babies and young children (0-6yrs). It has a multi-level soft play area, a sensory room for babies, a dressing up area and even a pretend car wash! Of course, there are slides, a ball pool, soft bricks and tunnels to explore. Parents are not forgotten, and you can enjoy a coffee and cake overlooking the lake.
11. QUINCE HONEY FARM
Quince Honey Farm is a fantastic place to visit come rain or shine. Located just 20 minutes away in the charming market town of South Molton. (Market days are Saturday and Thursday mornings). The main attraction for the younger children is the large indoor play area with scramble nets, soft play and slides. Throughout the year there is honey tasting, bee demonstrations, talks and the opportunity to roll your wax candle. The café serves a great range of hot and cold drinks plus homemade cakes. Outside you will find a fun-packed outdoor play area and picnic area.
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All words by Jonquil Boyes of the lovely South Coombe Country Cottages, Tiverton, Devon.