As far as UK holidays go, Dartmouth and the surrounding area is one of the prettiest, most family-friendly and tastiest places to go. For several years now we’ve been holidaying in Kingswear on the Dart Estuary and it’s never grown old. Miles of stunning coastal walks, beaches, boat rides, steam train rides, fabulous sea food, jaw-dropping views, picturesque towns and stunning countryside mean it’s a joy to re-visit old favourites, but there’s always something new to do each time.
Here are my top family-friendly things to do near Dartmouth:
Travel back in time to 1950’s England and the golden age of steam travel. A proper choo choo, classic train carriages and Brunel’s engineering delights little ones and Grandpas alike. The train leaves regularly from Kingswear and chugs along a scenic route to Paignton, although you can get out at stops along the way. I highly recommend going all the way to Paignton, then hopping off at Greenway Halt on the return journey to visit Agatha Christie’s former holiday home – a short walk from the platform. Shell out an extra £2 to sit in the ‘Devon Belle‘ – an observation carriage with wall to wall glass – to make the most of the views.
Described as a ‘coastal zoo’ and aquarium this is a great day out for families rain or shine. Penguins waddle at your feet in Penguin Beach – a habitat designed to replicate the birds’ South African colonies (and with the view of the English channel just behind, it does a sterling job). Other highlights include Fur Seal Cove with its underwater viewing windows, Mysterious Mangroves – a dark, neon-lit underworld – and fantastic interactive displays. Crawl under a tank of starfish, boulder along a wall, brave a sunken ship and its lurking inhabitant and tons more. There’s also a restaurant (whose staff will happily heat up your baby food) with lovely views and a great gift shop underneath.
If it rains during your visit to Pennywell, you can return for FREE within 7 days. You almost want it to as there is so much to see and do. The farm is a total delight, you can cuddle and feed practically everything there – guinea pigs, miniature pigs, rabbits and big pigs. A miniature train skirts around a small track, a look out tower gazes over stunning views, there’s a great toddler play area, complete with a miniature classic Devonian house, tons of tractors, a soft play area, bouncy castle, horse-rides (which you need to book), tractor-rides, ferret racing, shire horses, Go Karts and more…fun fun fun.
4. Catch a Ferry
Go on a transport adventure and travel by steam, boat and bus on a Round Robin ticket from Dartmouth Steam Railway and River Boat Company. Cruise the River Dart to Totnes for a spot of lunch, ride a Double Decker bus to Paignton before hopping aboard a steam train to Kingswear. Perfect for little vehicle-lovers.
For shorter journeys, boats also buzz up and down the river to Dartmouth Castle, Dittisham and Greenway – a highly exciting venture for a little’un and a convenient way of getting from A to B, especially if you’ve walked one way and want to get back a bit quicker.
Passenger and car ferries also cross the estuary regularly between Kingswear and Dartmouth. If you are planning to use these a lot, buy a book of tickets – it’s much cheaper.
5. Head to the park
The best thing about the play areas dotted around the area are the gorgeous views. My favourite park is located next to grassy Coronation Square, just a stone’s throw from the pretty seafront in Dartmouth. A giant sandpit complete with digger, swings and so many slides, plus a great view of the boats tinkling in the estuary and the steam train choo-ing back and forth. You’ll also find picnic tables and a refreshment hut – perfect for snaffling an ice cream or bacon sarnie afterwards.
6. Hit the beach
If the weather is fine, there are some beautiful beaches around. Four miles away, you’ll find one of the UK’s most beautiful beaches, Blackpool Sands, a sheltered shingle beach with Mediterranean vibes, lifeguards, plenty of water activities, sand pits and a café right on the beach. Sugary Cove, at the mouth of the river Dart is a bit more hidden away, just along from Dartmouth Castle and down quite a few steps – pack a picnic or pick up a treat from the Castle Tea Rooms before you descend and enjoy this little nook of joy. The family-friendly Goodrington Sands near Paignton has rock pools, a long stretch of sandy beach and quaint coloured beach huts giving it a lovely dose of quintessential Victorian England. Dartmouth Steam Railwayrunning alongside does nothing to detract from this (extra bonus – Goodrington Sands is one of the stops). Lovely Salcombe (with its own gin distillery!), the extraordinarily picturesque Slapton Sands and Scabbacome Sands are all nearby and there’s plenty more coastal exploring to do…
If you can still fit your little one in a sling or backpack of some sort, there are some fantastic coastal walks around. You might need to do a little training beforehand however, as I wouldn’t say they were particularly flat – we don’t call it Cardiac Hill (on the walk back from Dittisham) for nothing you know…Following this particular incline I had to drag my husband up the hill from the lower Kingswear ferry after he carried a stone and a half of toddler (plus her milk, books, water and food…which he might not have known about) for two hours along the coast path. Not for the faint-hearted! However, the jaw-dropping views over multi-coloured houses and bottle-green battenburg-esque hills tumbling down to sparkling cobalt waters are totally worth it.
If you’re National Trust members I highly recommend a visit here. And if you’re not, definitely fork out for the entrance fee as the setting is quite incredible. Oh to be the current owner of this house! The house inside is interesting, fairly austere in its decoration with strong Art Deco influences. One room is dedicated to dressing up which is great for kids, but just watch them on the antiquey pots! It is the gardens that are truly special though – all 24 acres of them. From the house they drop down all the way to Pudcombe Cove where a tidal sea water pool awaits. Vivid flowers brighten walkways, bamboo thickets tower, trees loom, plants boom and a stream is guided artfully to the ocean through ponds and pools. Beautiful.
Agatha Christie’s beloved holiday estate, now property of the National Trust is one helluva country pad. Tucked away on the Dart Estuary amidst woodland and vivid springtime blooms, it’s little wonder Christie felt inspired here. The house is well worth a peek for its trinkets and treasures and beautiful views and the well-tended gardens are great for exploring. Plants are cultivated in old-fashioned greenhouses, pathways lead down to the water’s edge and there’s even a pet graveyard in memoriam of long gone doggies. As with most National Trust places the facilities are excellent and very family-friendly.
Afterwards, if you come out of the estate and drop down to the water’s edge you’ll find a quintessentially English thatched cottage, that’s pretty as a picture. It sits behind a cafe with a ‘make your own Mr Whippy’ machine – happiness in mechanical form! From here you can cross the river by boat to Dittisham – just ring the bell to grab the Captain’s attention if he’s on the other side. There you’ll the yummiest seafood restaurant on the water’s edge, The Anchorstone, which I highly recommend you factor into your trip.
10. Vintage Bus
If you’re little ones are fans of the bus, give them a journey with lashings of nostalgia and step back in time to Agatha Christie’s England. ‘Jiggle jerk’ your way to Greenway House on Barnaby the green vintage bus. The service runs from Torquay, Paignton, Churston Farm Shop and Brixham Quayside. You can book ahead online.
If you’re headed to South Devon over the May Day Bank holiday then don your most swashbuckler-ish outfit, summon your inner sea dog and head for Brixham’s annual pirate festival. Sea shanties, pirate rock, street performers and pirate ships fill the town over the course of the three-day event as well as historical re-enactments and lots of other events. Savvy?
12. Dartmouth Castle
On the river mouth, looking out to sea, this impressive fortress has guarded Dartmouth Harbour for over 600 years. Now looked after by English Heritage, you can walk or boat right up to the castle. Pay the entrance fee and delve further into the castle – there are passageways, guns and cannons to explore. Have a nosy around nearby St Petrox Church or stop into the neighbouring Castle Tea Rooms for a Devonshire cream tea.
Waterfalls, magical woodland and animals await at this lovely park, a short drive away in Dartmoor. Keep your eyes peeled on the journey there as Dartmoor ponies wander freely and often aren’t afraid to get up close and personal! Get little legs walking with a fun stamp card trail around the ancient woodland, cross stepping stones at the bottom of the waterfall before bouldering back up hill. There’s also a nature-themed arts and crafts room plus a whole host of furry, feathered and scaly creatures to say hello to. Take a picnic or grab something from the onsite cafe.
What are your favourite things to do in and around Dartmouth? I’d love to hear!