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10 of the best family days out in Devon

From Devon theme parks to zoos, adventure centres to natural playgrounds, we’ve visited some of the South West’s favourite attractions for the best family day trips

Thumbnail Image for Devon article showing children at Ultimate Adventure Centre
Published: September 4, 2022 at 7:04 pm

Devon is renowned for its stunning beaches and glorious countryside –not to mention those legendary cream teas (cream first, in case you’re wondering.)

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With 2 National Parks and 2 separate coastlines, this sprawling county in the South West of England is a firm favourite for family holidays and activities. And rightly so.

But, as a parent and journalist who lives in Devon, I can confirm it’s not all sand, sea and surf, there are heaps of family-friendly attractions to discover too, including plenty of indoor options for when the weather misbehaves.

With theme parks, animal sanctuaries and activity centres galore, we’ve scoured the county to find something for everyone, especially families with young children. Please remember that tickets are often cheaper when bought online, in advance.

Best family days out in Devon at a glance

  • Best for families with children of different ages: The Big Sheep, Bideford - Buy tickets
  • Best budget day out: The Donkey Sanctuary, Sidmouth - The Donkey Sanctuary
  • Best for a nature day out: RHS Rosemoor, Great Torrington - Buy tickets
  • Best for active families: The Ultimate Adventure Centre, Bideford - Buy tickets
  • Best for history lovers: Lynton & Lynmouth Cliff Railway - Lynton & Lynmouth Cliff Railway
  • Best theme park for preschool-aged children: The Milky Way, Clovelly - Buy tickets
  • Best intimate zoo: Exmoor Zoo, South Stowford - Buy tickets
  • Best ecological animal attraction: Paignton Zoo Environmental Park - Buy tickets
  • Best for rainy days: National Marine Aquarium, Plymouth - Buy tickets
  • Best interactive day out: Diggerland, Cullompton - Buy tickets

1. The Big Sheep, Bideford

— Best for families with children of different ages

The Big Sheep
Picture: The Big Sheep

Tickets from £12.95 | Best for all ages | Best in good weather| Parking free onsite | Dog kennels free onsite | Nearest station Barnstaple 11 miles | Indoor play November - January only

The Big Sheep is a fun-packed, laughter-filled day out for the whole family – feed the lambs, take a tractor safari, ride the rollercoaster, wallow in cuteness in the animal barn or bounce around in the Ewetopia soft play zone.There are rides, outdoor play areas, a menagerie of animals for little ones to coo over and a lake with swan-shaped pedalos, plus regular live shows. These include the ‘Sheepy Show’ – like a catwalk for sheep, in which different breeds of rams appear on stage, each with its own theme tune. It’s surprisingly informative and all done keeping sheep welfare in mind.

One of the best entertainment events is watching the resident sheepdog put a herd of Indian runner ducks through their paces round an obstacle course. Younger children (and their parents) can also bottle feed the lambs. Child tester Anya, age 8, says: “Feeding the lambs was my favourite bit. They’re sooo cute especially when they don’t want to let go of the bottle.”

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As the day draws to a close, your kids get the chance to cheer on their favourites in the Sheep Race – like the Grand National, only with sheep instead of horses. To up the excitement, you can place bets on the race, with a free mug for the winning bet. It's predictably wacky, and little ones will love watching the woolly contestants charge along a track with knitted jockeys strapped to their backs. Who knew sheep could be so entertaining?

Pros: Lots to do, activities for all ages

Cons: A bit pricey

Read the MFM The Big Sheep family days out review

Tickets from: The Big Sheep and Picniq

2. The Donkey Sanctuary, Sidmouth

Best budget day out

The Donkey Sanctuary
Picture: The Donkey Sanctuary

Free entry but donations welcome | Best for 4-10 year olds | Best in good weather | Parking free onsite and EV charging points | Nearest station Exeter St David’s 18 miles

A peaceful corner of Devon and a haven for hundreds of donkeys that have been rescued from neglect and abuse. Children will love getting up close with these real life Eeyores, many of whom are happy to be petted. Just remind your little animal lovers to watch their fingers!

The huge Sanctuary is set in beautiful countryside and there are loads of easy-to-navigate walking trails. Wander around at your own pace and meet these endearing creatures. And if your child gets tired there are plenty of benches for a rest or a snack. From the Sanctuary you can also walk down to the beach, although it is a bit of a climb back up so could be a struggle for very young children.

There are some really informative talks about the charity’s international work, plus grooming demos and an exhibition barn with interactive displays. Plus there's a maze, a farm-themed play area and a nature centre. Or stretch young minds with a trail quiz – the sheet costs £5 but there’s a prize upon completion. The Sanctuary is also home to an award-winning restaurant.

And finally, why not adopt a donkey for that upcoming birthday? Your child will receive their own official adoption certificate, plus regular updates and photos in the post to let them know how their donkey is getting on and what they’ve been up to. Grandparent tester Gill, 74, says: “Seeing the joy on my granddaughter Holly’s face when she met ‘her’ donkey, Timothy, at the sanctuary was the highlight of the day.”

Pros: It’s free (donations welcome)

Cons: Anyone hoping to ride a donkey will be disappointed

Read the MFM Donkey Sanctuary family days out review

Tickets from: The Donkey Sanctuary

3. RHS Rosemoor, Great Torrington

Best for a nature day out

RHS Rosemoor
Picture: RHS Rosemoor, Jason Ingram

Family ticket from £32.25 | Best for 4-10 year olds | Best in good weather | Parking free onsite | Nearest station Barnstaple 13 miles

Don’t be put off by the idea of a ‘formal garden’ – Chelsea Flower Show this isn’t. Rosemoor is a brilliant place to let the kids burn off energy while surrounded by nature. Just don’t let them pick the plants! And while your little explorers run wild, you can soak up some green vibes and dream about your future garden.

There are formal planting areas, fruit and veg patches, large open spaces, some easy woodland trails and no shortage of trees if you need to shelter from the sun – or rain. Mini Monty Dons will love finding out about different plants and wildlife and there are often trails to follow. There’s also an education room where children can have a go at different crafts and activities.

Families who pack a picnic can head to one of the natural playgrounds for an al fresco feast (or there are cafes if you want to splash out). The playgrounds contain a wealth of things to tire younger kids out and fire their imagination at the same time – including a sand pit, an obstacle course, a pirate ship, an assortment of giant metal insects, a giant wooden seesaw and large magnifying tubes where they can examine all their ‘treasures’ close-up. Look out for the bird feeders too, which are always inundated with a fascinating array of chirruping visitors.

Pros: Safe, relaxing, refreshingly tech-free, suitable for buggies and wheelchair users.

Cons: Can be expensive for non-members (membership is worth it if you’ll go again)

Tickets from: RHS Rosemoor and Picniq

4. The Ultimate Adventure Centre, Bideford

Best for active families

The Ultimate Adventure Centre
Picture: The Ultimate Adventure Centre

Tickets from £29.95 | Best for ages 5+ | Best in good weather | Parking free onsite | Nearest station Barnstaple 11 miles

This activity centre is both terrifying and exhilarating, depending on your fear factor. Adventurous kids will love proving they are braver than their parents on the (very) high ropes course and the climbing wall. There’s also archery, shooting and mountain boarding (like snowboarding but on grass).

There’s even a Total Wipeout style ‘Ultimate Assault’ course. Set over water, it includes those famous ‘Big Balls’ as well as slides, monkey bars and other slippery obstacles to try and conquer. Your kids will find it hilarious when they fall in – don’t worry, buoyancy aids are included.

You can pick and choose your activities, or do them all. It’s pretty full on and a lot of the activities are quite physically challenging or nerve-wracking. This definitely isn’t soft play! However, the staff are super-encouraging and brilliant with nervous customers – of all ages. Watching your child scale a 12-foot wall can be a little unsettling, but it’s worth it to see them beam with pride at the top. So if you’ve got active, adventurous kids, or just want to help them build resilience while having fun, then The Ultimate Adventure Centre is a top day out.

Child tester Daisy, age 11, says: “The high ropes course was awesome, it’s like being in the clouds. I loved the wobbly bridges.”

Pros: Ideal for adventurous kids, great for family bonding, camping and glamping also available

Cons: Unsuitable for pre-schoolers or very nervous kids, expensive as a family day out

Tickets from: The Ultimate Adventure Centre and Picniq

5. Lynton and Lynmouth Cliff Railway

Best for history lovers

Lynton and Lynmouth Cliff Railway
Picture: Lynton and Lynmouth Cliff Railway

Adults from £3.30, child £2.20 | Best for all ages | Best in good weather | Runs every 10 minutes | Parking at Lyndale Cross 0.3 miles | Nearest station Barnstaple 17 miles

The Lynton and Lynmouth Cliff Railway is one of those delightfully quirky Devon bucket-list experiences. Young transport enthusiasts will be amazed when they see the world’s highest and steepest water-powered railway. It’s less Network Rail, and more like a cross between Thomas the Tank Engine and a cable car. And there’s lots for curious minds to take on board too.

Dating back to Victorian times, the railway links the historic towns of Lynton and Lynmouth – which is lucky, because it’s an extremely steep walk. The two carriages are connected by a cable and pulley system. Essentially, one goes up while the other goes down, using nothing more than gravity and water from the local river*, so it’s completely eco-friendly too. (*It’s probably not quite that simple, but you get the gist.)

Engineering aside, the railway is set within the most beautiful surroundings, in an area known as England’s Little Switzerland due to its lush, rolling green hills. From the ‘top’ station in Lynton it’s a 500ft descent down the cliff into Lynmouth. You can start at either end but on afternoons during the peak season, the bottom station of Lynmouth can get a bit chocca, so unless you’re planning to walk back up, you might want to plan your day the other way round (but don’t tell everyone!)

Although the actual ride only lasts a few minutes, it’s worth it for the views alone. Afterwards, you could grab a cream tea, or if your kids need to let off steam of their own, there are children’s playgrounds in both Lynton and Lynmouth.

The nearby Valley of the Rocks is truly spectacular. It’s a 40-minute walk from Lynmouth, but if you’d rather drive there’s plenty of parking. Do take care with small children on cliffside paths as there are no barriers, or choose the lower routes away from the edges. Kids will also be delighted to discover the adorable population of wild goats.

Pros: Unusual, interesting, informative

Cons: Pushchairs need to be folded on the railway

Read the MFM Lynton and Lynmouth Cliff Railway family days out review

Tickets from: Lynton & Lynmouth Cliff Railway and Picniq

6. The Milky Way Adventure Park, Clovelly

Best theme park for preschool-aged children

The Milky Way Adventure Park
Picture: The Milky Way Adventure Park

Tickets from £15.95, toddlers £7.95 | Best for 2 years+ | Best in good weather | Indoor play Available | Parking free onsite | Nearest station Barnstaple 18 miles

The Milky Way was ranked #1 in TripAdvisor’s Best UK Amusement Parks list in 2022. It was even placed #4 in Europe and #5 in the world - no mean achievement for a small, family-run theme park in a quiet corner of Devon. However, don’t be fooled: as lovely as it is, The Milky Way isn’t Thorpe Park or Alton Towers. This is more of a ‘chilled’ theme park, with mainly low-key rides, so it’s super-accessible for younger children.

Tiny thrill-seekers can take their seats on the Cosmic Caterpillar – a rollercoaster designed especially for pre-schoolers, while older children can test their vocal cords on the faster Cosmic Typhoon. Mine loved whizzing down the ‘Gravity Rider’ slide in inflatable donuts. There’s also a railway, bouncing pillows and a maze.

Indoors, toddlers can avoid getting trampled in the soft play area, as there’s a separate ‘Little Stars’ and ‘Toddler Town’ for the youngest visitors. The dodgems are great fun for kids of all sizes and there are separate time slots for different age groups, with ‘no bumping’ during the teenage sessions.

Space fans will love Ziggy's Blast Quest – an interactive ride where children can climb on board a 'Cyber Scooter' complete with a laser shooter for blasting incoming asteroids and meteors as they journey through the galaxies. It feels like a ‘grown-up’ ride without being fast or scary.

At the end of a full day, give the kids a chance to rest their weary legs by watching one of the live shows. The Falconry Show is just brilliant; informative, mesmerising and not to be missed. Then head indoors to see Merlin (of Britain’s Got Talent fame) with his mix of juggling, magic and laughter to round off a great day.

Pros: Loads for young children, hardly any queuing

Cons: Limited number of rides for older children

Read the MFM The Milky Way Adventure Park family days out review

Tickets from: The Milky Way Adventure Park and Picniq

7. Exmoor Zoo, South Stowford

Best intimate zoo

Adults from £15.95, child £11.95 | Best for all ages | Best in all weathers | Parking free onsite | Nearest station Barnstaple 11 miles

From meerkats to marmosets, armadillos to alpacas, Exmoor Zoo is full of weird and wonderful creatures. As zoos go, it’s fairly small, however it’s probably better for it. You won’t find elephants or giraffes, but you will find all sorts of other fascinating animals, including the only pair of black leopards in the UK.

The relatively compact site makes it perfect for young legs, without being overwhelming. And the zoo trail, with its winding paths and vegetation, gives it a really natural feel. Your own mini-beasts will feel like little explorers as they make their way past the different enclosures.

There’s a big focus on education with talks and demonstrations throughout the day. Budding zoologists will be able to see the cheetahs close up (from behind the fence), learn about the behaviour of wolves and hunting dogs and discover the secret of the ‘Exmoor Beast’. If you’ve got a would-be zoo-keeper on your hands, you could even book a ‘Keeper For A Day’ experience, or a meet-and-greet session with the meerkats, lemurs, or another favourite animal (extra charges apply).

Finally, before going home you can let your kids bounce around like wallabies on the trampolines. There’s also a playground, café, gift shop and various picnic areas to help you make the most of your day.

Pros: Friendly, intimate, natural

Cons: Fairly small site, mainly smaller animals

Read the full MFM Exmoor Zoo family days out review

Tickets from: Exmoor Zoo and Picniq

8. Paignton Zoo Environmental Park

Best ecological attraction

Paignton Zoo

Adults from £18.55, child £13.90 |Best for all ages | Best in all weathers | Parking free onsite | Nearest station Paignton 1.2 miles

Popular with locals and visitors alike, Paignton Zoo Environmental Park is a wild day out for kids of all ages. Your kids will be in animal heaven as they come face to face with more than 2,000 mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. From Yali, the Asiatic lion, to Taru, Leila, Tamali and Lia the mountain zebras, families will need a whole day to see them all.

The creatures live in naturalistic enclosures, which is reassuring to see – but this does give them the opportunity to hide from view. Although the animals are in captivity, there’s a big emphasis on conservation and the zoo is a registered charity that supports a variety of projects in the UK and overseas to protect rare and endangered species.

Kids will love pretending they’re on safari as they look out for tigers, giraffes, rhinos and more. The zoo is also home to hundreds of striking birds including flamingos, pelicans and cranes, and even some free-range peacocks. Be prepared for young ones to engage you in endless ‘what’s your favourite ….’ conversations.

With more than 80 acres of beautiful grounds, there’s plenty of space for children to roam, including a woodland nature trail (although this isn’t suitable for pushchairs). If your little monkeys still have energy to burn at the end of the day, you can take them to the discovery centre to have a go on the interactive exhibits, or let them jump around in the indoor and outdoor play areas. At least they’ll sleep on the way home.

Pros: Good size, wide range of animals

Cons: Natural enclosures mean some animals may be hiding

Read the full MFM Paignton Zoo Environmental Park family days out review

Tickets from: Paignton Zoo Environmental Park and Picniq

9. National Marine Aquarium, Plymouth

— Best for rainy days

National Marine Aquarium
Picture: National Marine Aquarium

Adults from £20.50, child from £10.25 | Free to return for 12 months | Best for 3 years+ | Best in all weathers | Parking Harbour Car Park 0.2 miles | Nearest station Plymouth 1.4 miles

Take your younger kids on an underwater adventure (without getting wet) at the UK’s largest aquarium. This jawsome aquatic attraction is teeming with incredible sea life, from sharks and stingrays, to turtles, seahorses and jellyfish.

Budding marine biologists can immerse themselves (not literally) in a number of different zones, from the Atlantic Ocean to The Great Barrier Reef. Each zone takes children further around the world, instilling them with a sense of wonder as they encounter some of the planet’s most bizarre, colourful and unique fish. The huge tanks are really accessible, so even tots will be able to peer inside.

While entry isn’t cheap, the National Marine Aquarium is run by the Ocean Conservation Trust, a charity dedicated to connecting people with the ocean. And every ticket comes with a year’s free pass. Organisers recommend allowing 3 hours for your visit, however if you want to make a day of it, there is plenty more for kids to see and do in Plymouth. Afterwards, why not take them for picnic (or even fish and chips!) on The Hoe, or a play in West Hoe Park where’s there’s an adventure playground, miniature train, trampolines and crazy golf.

Pros: Pre-school friendly, not weather dependent

Cons: Expensive (although return visits are free for a year)

Read the full MFM National Marine Aquarium family days out review

Tickets from: National Marine Aquarium and Picniq

10. Diggerland, Verbeer Manor, Cullompton

Best interactive day out

Diggerland Spindizzy Ride

Tickets from £25.95 | Best for 5yrs+ | Best in good weather | Parking free onsite and EV charging points | Nearest station Tiverton Parkway 5 miles

If your little (or not so little) one has ever wanted to get behind the controls of a real-life digger, look no further than Diggerland. As the name suggests, this is where construction workers of the future can have their first taste of operating an actual digger – and we’re talking proper, full-sized beasts, not toys! Although don’t worry, it’s all good, safe fun.

When they’re done with excavating, children can take their seats on the dodgems and the digger-themed rides. There are also indoor and outdoor play areas, coin-operated rides, plus the obligatory shop. However, it’s worth grabbing a tape measure before you book to make sure your child is taller than 90cm – the minimum height needed for most of the rides. A few rides are suitable for children over 80cm but any less than that and it might be worth delaying your visit until you can get your money’s worth.

Pros: Hands on, interactive

Cons: Expensive, smaller children not allowed on rides

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Tickets from: Diggerland and Picniq

How we tested

Our 10 of the best lists are compiled by qualified and experienced parenting journalists. When testing the best family attractions in Devon, our journalist Becky used her own experience of visiting a wealth of attractions in Devon, plus we sourced and assessed feedback from parents, including our MadeForMums reviewers. Our list is not ranked in order from 1-10, instead it is a carefully selected group of tried and tested attractions designed to meet different families’ interests. We test each attraction for value for money, age suitability, accessibility and the fun factor. 

About the author

Becky Dickinson is a journalist, author and mum-of-three. She lives in North Devon and has hauled her brood, aged 9, 12 and 15, on countless ‘adventures’ and days out around Devon and beyond, in an attempt to tire them out. She’s still working on that one.

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