If you’re looking to explore the beautiful coast that lines the south-west of the United Kingdom, visiting the city of Exeter is a must. It is the perfect city in which to ground yourself before heading to more rural surrounding areas. Be warned – this part of the country can be expensive. However, there are many ways to avoid the posh areas and really focus on the authentic Devon experience. Do you want to go to Exeter on a budget and looking for a more down to earth scene? This article is a guide, based on local knowledge and personal experience, leading you to individual moments – unique to Exeter and ultimately priceless.

Exeter Cathedral

The Exeter Cathedral is justifiably the main attraction of the city. A key feature of thirteenth-century Gothic architecture, it stands impressively in the center of the city. Unfortunately, you have to pay to look around inside. But, unless you’re an avid history fan, it is enough to stand at the entrance and soak up the atmosphere. Simply ask to sit at the back for free. Face the expansive open space and appreciate the depth of detail surrounding you – look up for the best view. Beyond religious sentiments, no one could deny the epic beauty of this building. You can even donate a pound to a project working to build a giant Lego replica inside. In all, this cathedral is not at all overrated. Trust what you hear, it is definitely worth a visit.

Cathedral Exeter

Exeter Cathedral is complimented by the old, timbered buildings that surround it. There is a humming energy to this outside area created by the busy cafes, restaurants, shops, and hotels that line the Cathedral green. Keep it cheap – grab a takeaway Cornish pasty and join those who scatter on the grass to enjoy a sunny day. People sit here reading, chilling, playing guitar, eating lunch or even settling into a good position from which to spend the afternoon painting. I honestly saw a woman walking a rabbit here once. Sit and just observe on a lazy afternoon, watch events randomly unfold and get a feel for the people of Exeter. 

The Quay

The quay acts as a place to relax in beautiful surroundings away from the bustle of the high street. The Devonshire hills can be seen in the distance and serve as the perfect backdrop for the cobbled streets and flowing river of the quayside. Although away from the busyness of town, there is still a happy buzz to the area. Many cute independent shops are built into old cellars in the walls. They sell handmade crafts and unique gifts. There are also lots of fun and freeways in which to explore. Window shop, read or simply sit – dangle your legs over the riverside and watch the rowers practice on the water.

If you do have extra cash, it really is worth renting a bike or kayak to take you down the river. Yet an evening walk is good enough. Remember to bring a camera to catch the light that shimmers on the water during sunset. You can walk down to the suspension bridge, which provides a perfect view of the quay from a distance. Join the dog walkers, cyclists, and joggers that take this route. This simple, beautiful walk gives a peaceful balance to the daily routine, showing the gentle quality of life that Exeter has to offer.

exeter quay

Fairly randomly, but often on a Sunday evening, a man will come with a fold-up chair and sit down by the river. The birds that swim on the river – swans, geese, and ducks – head towards him and he spends the following hour feeding them. A random piece of local knowledge; no guidebook will tell you how nice it is to watch a while simply from the bridge. In the fast pace of a city, these particular moments of slowness are really great to appreciate while traveling – individual and grounding.

Food and Drink

Like any city, Exeter has many places to eat and drink. Like any city, these can be expensive. If you’re in Exeter on a budget but reserving one meal out for yourself, there are those that are cheaper than others and well worth the money. Exeter is, after all, a student city and there are hidden pubs to grab a beer and a burger for a fiver.

Along the river and close to campus, there is a bar converted from an old hotel. Looking like a mansion, this old, historic building has high ceilings filled with chatting voices and cheap real ales. Or, follow the students to a crooked and rickety old building in the center of town. It’s a pub selling cheap bottles of wine and famously delicious giant pizzas. Open later than anywhere in Exeter, this is the place to sit outside, surrounded by fairy lights and candles meet new people and talk them all night.

You’ll find numerous cafes spread around Exeter. Most of these are independent and cater for vegetarians and vegans. Some are filled with multi-colored paintings on the walls. Others sell local art and host open mic gigs in the evenings. All of them have strong and independent atmospheres. Find one where you can sit outside and watch the world on a sunny day. Or, grab a good book and stay in from the cold.


Save your money for a coffee by visiting the cheapest bookshop in town. Based on donations, the Book Cycle sells second-hand books in return for honest and loyal customers. Pay what you can afford and spend some time exploring this amazing, rugged building. Head up to the attic for an old style, earlier versions of the classics.

Culture and Arts

As the cultural heart of the UK’s South West, Exeter has a passionate, independent arts scene. Be sure to ask students about any upcoming university plays – cheap tickets for high quality, original performances. The Bike Shed Theatre gives underground performance space to rising companies, writers and productions providing new content and alternative theatre. If you’re in Exeter for a while, consider offering to volunteer at box offices to see performances for free!

Don’t pay ahead for concerts, just wander the evening streets and you’re likely to hear music coming from somewhere. Head inside and check it out as it is usually an open mic or local gig. If it is, you won’t pay much for entry. The Exeter music scene offers everything from reggae punk bands to acapella choirs so you’ll most certainly find something that you like.

One of the most rewarding ways to spend the day is by visiting the museum. It is free entry and full of historical and local knowledge, giving a deep and meaningful context to the city you’re exploring. Inspired by the local arts scene? Embrace the creative spirit – sit in the quiet of the museum and draw, or write about, the artifacts around you: free, priceless. 

exeter museum

You can have many priceless moments in Exeter. With its student population and creative flare of culture, the city offers various free and fun activities. Yet most of these moments are found in individual experiences of slowness and stability inspired by the natural beauty and relaxed atmosphere of the city. In the end, this makes it entirely possible to explore Exeter on a budget.


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