Are you planning a trip to Devon but wondering what to do in Dartmouth? Don’t worry; I have it covered! In this post, I highlight the best things to do in Dartmouth, where to eat, historical sights to see, plus other places near Dartmouth you might want to visit.
Nestled on the stunning Devon coastline in England, Dartmouth is a picturesque harbour town that offers a perfect blend of natural beauty, maritime history, and charming architecture.
Whether you’re a history buff, an outdoor enthusiast, or simply looking for a relaxing getaway, Dartmouth offers a treasure trove of delights waiting to be explored.
This travel guide will help you make the most of your time in Dartmouth and covers the town’s best activities, attractions, and dining options.
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A Brief History of Dartmouth
Founded in the 12th century as a trading port, Dartmouth quickly flourished as a hub for the wool and wine trade.
Its strategic location on the River Dart, along England’s south west coast, made it an ideal maritime centre. It also played a crucial role during the Hundred Years’ War, supplying ships and sailors to the King.
The town’s historical significance deepened with the establishment of Dartmouth Naval College in 1863, cementing its association with the Royal Navy.
The Royal Naval College, the only one of its kind in the UK, can be seen perched high on the headland as you enter Dartmouth and is a formidable sight.
Dartmouth’s maritime legacy can also be seen in its historic waterfront buildings, including the iconic Dartmouth Castle, which guarded the entrance to the river for centuries.
During the Elizabethan era, Dartmouth witnessed the departure of the Mayflower in 1620, carrying pilgrims to the New World. This event remains a pivotal part of American history. Information boards by Dartmouth Castle tell the story of the journey.
Over the years, Dartmouth has become a sought-after destination for tourists drawn to its maritime charm, cultural events, and vibrant local arts scene.
The Dartmouth Royal Regatta is a sailing and rowing event held each August. The annual event dates back to 1822 and continues to captivate locals and visitors alike.
And the Dartmouth Food Festival, held each year in Autumn, is a culinary highlight of the southwest of England.
Today, Dartmouth weaves its historical past, maritime traditions, and architectural treasures with the 21st century.
The town’s narrow streets and medieval buildings evoke a sense of timelessness and give a glimpse into its past, while its modern-day amenities make Dartmouth the perfect day out for all ages.
Getting Around Dartmouth
Dartmouth is a walkable town; however, it does have gentle hill inclines in places. Consider this if you intend to walk up to the headland for views across the town and the Dartmouth River.
Dartmouth has plenty of car parking spaces, so arriving by car is not a problem.
One word of warning is to NOT try and explore the narrow lanes that lead up from Dartmouth town centre and take you to Dartmouth Castle by car, especially if you have a large/long vehicle.
Despite my husband’s superb manoeuvring skills and my careful guiding (the car only had about 10 inches spare on either side), we got stuck on a 90-degree bend close to the castle and had to reverse back along a large section of the road!
These medieval lanes were designed with horse and cart in mind rather than 21st-century vehicles!
Best Things to Do in Dartmouth in One Day
Wander around Dartmouth Harbour and enjoy a hearty breakfast
Dartmouth is known as the Jewell of the South Hams, and as you begin your adventure at the heart of this ancient coastal town, it is not hard to see why.
Stroll along the waterfront, where colourful boats sway gently in the breeze, take a look at Royal Avenue Gardens with its pretty flower borders and Victorian fountain centrepiece and take in the picturesque harbour lined with buildings dating back to a bygone era.
To find out what’s going on in Dartmouth while you are visiting, the Dartmouth Tourist Information office is located by the gardens.
Fill up with a hearty breakfast at one of Dartmouth’s friendly local cafes. Or enjoy a cup of artisanal coffee while gazing at the tranquil waters, a great start to your Dartmouth day trip.
The Old Market Square and Foss Street are great areas to explore for food options, from traditional English fare to artisanal pastries and freshly brewed coffee.
Visit the National Trust Greenway House
If you’re a fan of Agatha Christie, visiting the National Trust Greenway House is a must.
The former holiday home of the famous crime-busting author is beautifully preserved. It offers guided tours of the house, gardens and even a glimpse into Christie’s life.
If you are coming by car, you must pre-book a parking space at Greenway House.
Another way of coming to Greenway House is by using the ferry services from Dartmouth and Dittisham to Greenway Quay, making it the perfect way to travel to Agatha Christie’s holiday home.
Ferry services run from March to October and depart daily on the hour from Dartmouth Harbour and from Greenway Quay on the half hour.
From Dittisham, the water taxi runs daily on demand. Just ring the ferry bell on the jetty, and your tiny boat will arrive. How cute is that!
For more information on tickets, times and prices, visit the Greenway Ferry Company website.
Relax on a River Dart Cruise
Embark on a scenic River Dart cruise that offers a unique perspective of Dartmouth’s stunning waterfront and lush landscapes.
Several operators offer guided boat tours of the River Dart that sail from one end of Dartmouth to the other, passing Dartmouth’s colourful hillside houses and historic buildings.
I enjoyed the return one-hour circle river cruise from Greenway Quay to Dartmouth with The Greenway Ferry Company.
You can’t get off the boat, but it offers fantastic coastal views of Dartmouth and is cheaply priced (£7.50 – 2023 pricing).
You can combine it with a visit to Agatha Christie’s House to make your trip memorable.
Parking for the river cruise is on a first-come-first-served basis on the Greenaway Quay.
As you cruise along the River Dart, look out for some of the naval craft that use the harbour as a base when in Dartmouth.
Lunch by the Waterfront
Enjoy a delightful lunch at one of the waterfront restaurants or pubs.
Fresh seafood is a highlight, with dishes like local fish and chips, crab sandwiches, and seafood platters. Try The Wheelhouse for the best fish and chips in town.
Discover Hidden Treasures in Dartmouth Museum
Unearth Dartmouth’s intriguing history and heritage at the Dartmouth Museum, housed in a historic 17th-century merchant’s house on Duke Street.
Learn about Dartmouth’s maritime history, its role in World War II, and its connection to the Pilgrim Fathers.
You can pick up a Mayflower Heritage Town Trail from tourist information and follow the Mayflower markers around Dartmouth.
Wander Around Craft Shops and Art Galleries
Discover Dartmouth’s vibrant arts and crafts scene by exploring the numerous boutiques and galleries that line the streets.
You’ll find a range of locally made jewellery, ceramics, paintings, and unique souvenirs.
Stroll Along Bayards Cove
Take a leisurely walk along Bayards Cove, a historic area with cobbled streets, 16th-century buildings, and a picturesque harbour.
The cove was a stopping point for the Mayflower before it set sail for America. The ship carried about 100 settlers, known as the Pilgrim Fathers, for a new life in North America.
On its way to Plymouth, the ship paused briefly in Dartmouth before tackling the nine-week Atlantic ocean crossing.
When the Pilgrim Fathers arrived in the new lands, they called their first town Plymouth and their second town Dartmouth. Both were coastal towns in what became the area known as New England.
Step inside Bayard’s Cove Fort
Step inside Bayard’s Cove Fort and uncover the history of this 16th-century Tudor fort, built to house heavy guns to protect the prosperous harbour town from attack.
See the small wall openings where the guns would have been placed to fire cannonballs at oncoming invaders.
Discover the rich history of Dartmouth Castle
Head to Dartmouth Castle, a historic fortress dating back to the 14th century, situated at the mouth of the River Dart, where it converges with the English Channel.
The castle was built in 1388 during the Hundred Years War to protect Dartmouth’s town and harbour against coastal raids from the French.
In the 15th century, its military presence was reinforced with a gun tower, Britain’s first purpose-built coastal artillery fort.
This rare building also secured one end of a huge iron chain that stretched across the River Dart to Kingswear Castle on the opposite bank to stop enemy ships from entering Dartmouth Harbour. So ingenious!
Explore the castle’s battlements, tunnels, and exhibition rooms while enjoying panoramic views of the estuary and coastline.
Plenty of information boards will help you learn about the castle’s important role in defending England’s shores.
After you have explored the castle, take a moment to step inside St Petrox church and see if you can find the tomb with the skull and crossbones.
It’s not a mark of a pirate; as in the late Middle Ages, it was the symbol of death and was seen on many tombstones.
Only later, in the Elizabethan period, were the skull and crossbones used by pirates on their flags to spread fear and dread amongst all that encountered the pirate.
Entry to Dartmouth Castle is free for English Heritage Members.
Overseas visitors planning to visit English Heritage properties can buy a discounted English Heritage Pass to enter over 100 historic landmarks, including Dartmouth Castle.
Ride on the Dartmouth Steam Railway
If you want to end your day trip on a nostalgic note, take a ride on the Dartmouth Steam Railway. The 6.7-mile heritage railway runs between Paignton and Kingswear.
Enjoy a scenic journey aboard a steam train through the beautiful South Devon countryside, offering stunning views of the River Dart and surrounding landscapes.
Buy tickets online from the Dartmouth Steam Railway and Boat Tour Company.
Enjoy a beer in the 14th-century Cherub pub
Finish your afternoon with a drink in the medieval 14th-century Cherub Pub, one of the oldest houses in southeast England. Its black and white timbered exterior and historic interior is a must-see in Dartmouth.
Dine at a Gastro-Pub or Seafood Restaurant
For dinner, indulge in a memorable dining experience at one of Dartmouth’s gourmet restaurants or traditional pubs.
Try the historic 14th-century Bayards Cove Inn, a restaurant, bar, hotel and cafe!
And at the end of your visit, if Dartmouth has got under your skin and you want to stay overnight, plenty of hotels and guest houses will have a comfortable bed and cheery banter to offer you.
Things To Do Near Dartmouth
If you fancy some time by the sea, the wide shingle beach and turquoise waters of the Blue Flag Blackpool Sands are a ten-minute drive from the town centre. Parking is chargeable.
Want to go wine tasting in Devon? Head to Sandridge Barton and book one of their wine flight tastings.
It’s a fun activity to do as a couple or with friends, and you can accompany your wine tasting with delicious nibbles or a full-blown meal at Circa restaurant.
Sandridge Barton is a 35-minute drive from Dartmouth.
Ready to explore the south west coast path that runs through Dartmouth?
Don your walking boots and discover Devon’s stunning coastline, including staggering cliff faces and small secluded coves, which are hard to reach unless on foot.
Totnes is another one of Devon’s beautiful towns to explore. Like Dartmouth, it has cobbled streets, quirky shops and a castle atop the hill. And let’s not forget its lovely riverside views.
Driving time from Dartmouth is 30 minutes.
Finally, if you are travelling with children, visiting Woodlands Family Theme Park will keep them entertained. It’s a short 15-minute drive from town and features rides, a farm zoo and falconry displays.
A day trip to Dartmouth promises a fun-filled day, from exploring historical sites to enjoying the natural beauty of the river and coastline.
With its rich maritime history, charming architecture, and delightful culinary offerings, Dartmouth is a destination that will leave you with lasting memories of your trip to Devon.
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