Arriving in Exeter, a southern England city, counting almost 2000 years of history, the first thing a curious visitor needs to do on a crisp winter’s morning is find a coffee shop and defrost those fingertips…
And she is in luck.
It turns out Exeter has a bustling cafe scene, whether you prefer coffee made by one of the numerous franchise cafes or want to explore what the independents have to offer.
This curious visitor finds that it’s too cold to be wandering around in an unknown city, looking for a proper coffee, so she dashes into the very first place on her way…
It turns out she ends up in a small independent place March Coffee brewing excellent coffee and serving some wickedly delicious doughnuts…
…the frozen visitor ends up having a doughnut (!) after many years of not even looking the direction of this type of food…
With doughnut filling varieties that change every week, plus some healthy cake and savoury dish choices on the menu, March Coffee seems to attract a motley crowd of coffee+cake types as well as healthy food enthusiasts.
Another independent coffee house you might find yourself going back to is a tiny little place called ‘Devon Coffee‘, squeezed between a jeweller’s and a tailor’s.
Like their colleagues in March Coffee, this crowd serves delicious, well-prepared coffee and some cakes to die for…
…their banana and peanut butter bread will keep calling your name for a long time after the first taste…
Warmed up and fingers defrosted, the next stop on the agenda is Exeter’s main attraction, the jewel in the city’s crown – Exeter Cathedral.
It certainly is a must-see place, not only because of its architectural significance but also because the origins of Exeter city truly lie in this area.
Built and rebuilt a number of times, Exeter Cathedral has features dating back to the 11th century while the facade and the interior are some of the finest examples of the Decorated Gothic style in the country.
Did you know that the cathedral vault (or ceiling) is approx 96 metres long, which makes it the longest continuous Medieval stone vault in the world?
Exeter Cathedral had its own cat whose job was to prevent mice from eating through bell ropes. Here’s an ancient door with a cat hole. The cat was paid for the job he did.
While from the outside Exeter Cathedral looks beautiful with numerous ornaments carved out from sandy coloured stone, it turns out this is not how it used to look.
Much like in the ancient Greece or Rome, the sculptures adorning the facade of Exeter cathedral were painted in various colours, so the effect must have been even more spectacular for those who came to visit Exeter’s holy place.
If you have time, don’t miss the guided tour of Exeter Cathedral. The tour is free to attend, although the entrance to the cathedral is paid, whether you take the tour or not.
The Cathedral and the surrounding area are the true historic heart of the city – there used to be a place of worship in this location even in Roman times.
FREE Red Coat Guided Tours
If you are one of those people who love exploring places they visit thoroughly – history, architecture, and all, then before you plan your trip to Exeter, check out City Council website HERE
You’ll find that there are FREE daily tours of the city run by Red Coat Volunteers focusing on different aspects of Exeter’s history and life.
All tours start at the front door of Exeter’s cathedral and are a truly great way to get acquainted with this fascinating Devon city.
For example, on one of the tours, this curious visitor found out that Exeter used to be a hugely important centre for wool making industry for a long long time. And the majority of city dwellers were employed in the industry.
Did you know that visitors in those days could smell the city before they saw it?
The red coat guide told us, the strongest impression a visitor used to come away with was the smell of…
…wait for it…
Apparently, urine was used in wool production process and the industry needed huge quantities of this bodily fluid every day.
Hence the smell in the city.
But where did they get it from?
It turns out Exeter wool merchants ran a morning service of urine collection, where a cart (known as ‘piss cart’) used to go around to people’s houses collecting their urine for a small weekly fee. For some of the poorest of Exeter citizens, this money was the only regular source of income, and that’s where the phrase ‘piss poor’ comes from.
This and other interesting facts about the city life and its wool industry can be discovered in Tucker’s Hall , the historic guild of Exeter’s cloth trade.
Another location connected to the city’s historic cloth trade, and a beautiful place to visit on a sunny afternoon, is Exeter’s Quayside.
Exeter sits on the bank of the river Exe which had much to do with the city’s historic significance and its wealth.
If you visit the quayside, you’ll see the remnants of the fulling mills and warehouses as well as old pubs continuing to tell the story of the city’s golden cloth trading age and the life of its citizens.
But more importantly for the 21st-century visitor, Exeter’s Quayside is also a location to have lots of fun.
There are numerous independent shops and workshops along the quay, plus cafes, pubs and restaurants.
On a warm and sunny day, the quayside seems to be the main attraction for the locals and visitors alike.
So whether you are a fan of history, shopping or dining and wining, the quayside is your place in Exeter.
The House that Moved.
When on your way to or from the quayside, don’t miss another of Exeter’s attractions – the House That Moved.
This 15th century building, one of the oldest buildings in Exeter, is called this way because it was actually moved from its original location about 70m away when the new road was being built in the 1960s.
The house was marked for demolition to make way for the new road, but luckily Exeter’s archaeologists managed to put enough pressure on the authorities just in time to prevent the loss of yet another historic building.
The House That Moved is part of a very interesting historic corner in Exeter with Stepcote Hill, the main route into Exeter since Roman Times, and a couple of other buildings dating back to the 16th century…
…which obviously means that your social media followers will be impressed with the pictures!
Did you know that today The House That Moved is also a bridal shop?
So visit not only for history, visit for shopping too!
Narrowest Street in the World.
Did you know that Exeter claims to have the narrowest street in the world?
But why is this dark, narrow alley is even considered to be a street?
Apparently, for it to be registered as a ‘street’, it has to have doors coming out onto it and a street light. This one has both.
So here it is, it’s very narrow, very dark, but still considered a street, Parliament street 🙂
The first impression that a visitor to this small but lively city comes away with is a brilliant combination between old and new, where every corner seems to be marked by hundreds of years of history and yet is adapted to the needs and pace of a 21st-century city.
Visit Exeter, enjoy your life!
Want to Explore Devon and its towns? Take this 5-day Tour from London. Check it out HERE
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