9 things to do on England's South-West coast with children

From Torquay to Brixham, the stunning English coast is packed with fun things for families to do. Angharad Paull nominates her favourites...

6 mins

Ferry boats that tinkle in the harbour, a proper train that billows steam along the banks of the estuary, and one of the best play parks I have ever been to: the 'English Riviera' is arguably the perfect place to travel with young children...

View from the steam train (Angharad Paull)

1. Steam train from Kingswear to Paignton

This short steam train ride takes you back in time to quintessential 1950s England – from the vintage platform setting to the train conductors. Classic booths inside the carriages and good old engineering delights little ones and Grandpas alike. The train leaves regularly from Kingswear and choos its way along the scenic route to Paignton, although you can get out at stops along the way. 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.

I'd also recommend taking the train all the way to Paignton then getting out at Greenway on the return journey and visiting Agatha Christie’s former holiday home – a short walk from the platform.

Living Coasts Sealife Centre(Angharad Paull)

2. Living Coasts Sealife Centre, Torquay

This ‘coastal aquarium' 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 the 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 lots more. There’s also a restaurant (who’ll happily heat up your baby food) with lovely views and a great gift shop underneath.

Pennywell Farm (Angharad Paull)

3. Pennywell Farm

If it rains during your visit 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 practically everything there – guinea pigs, miniature pigs, rabbits, big pigs and the keepers… well maybe not the last one. I guess you could ask their permission first should you feel the urge though. Feed is sold at reception to offer to the bigger animals. 

A miniature train toddles around a small track, a lookout tower ponders stunning views, a toddler play area complete with a classic Devonian house (in perfect miniature), lots of tractors, a soft play area with merry-go-round, bouncy castle, horse rides (which you need to book), tractor-rides, ferret racing, shire horses, Go Karts and more… fun fun family fun.

Fun on the water (Angharad Paull)

4. Catch a ferry

Passenger and car ferries cross regularly from Kingswear to Dartmouth, if these are the ones you use the most buy a book of tickets, it’s much cheaper. In addition to those, boats leave for Totnes, Dittisham and Greenway to name a few. A highly exciting venture for a little’un and a useful way of getting from A to B especially if you’ve walked one way and want to get back a bit quicker.

A play park in Devon (Angharad Paull)

5. Head to the park

There are a number of play areas dotted around – at the top of the hill in Kingswear, another lies a short walk along the beach (when the tide’s out) in Dittisham. But my favourite is located just a stone’s throw from the pretty seafront in Dartmouth. Plonked next to a big green square – Coronation Park, picnic tables and refreshment hut, it’s a great place to wear the kids out and snaffle an ice cream afterwards.

A Dartmouth beach (Angharad Paull)

6. Hit the beach

If the weather is fine, there are some beautiful beaches around. Award-winning Blackpool sands is a sheltered sand shingle beach, lifeguards and plenty of water activities. Good if you’re planning on spending the day as there’s a cafe right on the beach. Sugary Cove is another fave, a bit more hidden away along from Dartmouth Castle and down quite a few steps – pack a picnic, rockpool and enjoy this little nook of joy. Choose from a whole list of lovely beaches here.

Top of the hill (Angharad Paull)

7. Walk

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’ve actually nicknamed one hill on the walk back from Dittisham, “Cardiac Hill” thanks to its sheer steepness and I had to drag my husband from the lower Kingswear ferry up to the top of the hill after he carried a stone and a half of toddler (and her milk, books, water and food) for two hours. Not for the faint hearted.

Coleton Fishacre National Trust (Angharad Paull)

8. Coleton Fishacre, National Trust

If you’re National Trust members I highly recommend a visit here. And if you’re not, maybe fork out for the entrance fee as the setting is quite incredible. Oh to be the current owner of this house! The house is interesting, fairly austere in its decoration with strong art deco influences. 

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, trees loom, plants boom, a stream is guided artfully to the ocean through ponds and pools, bamboo thickets tower. Beautiful.

Brixham Pirate Festival (Angharad Paull)

9. Brixham Pirate Festival

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, 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?

Angharad Paull is a writer, mother and traveller. You'll find more tips and inspiration for families who love to travel on her website, Mama Travels Earth.

Main image: Child running on holiday in England (Shutterstock)

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