8 top things to do in Ilfracombe  holiday cottages

8 top things to do in Ilfracombe

Ellen Drowne 24 November 2023

The seaside resort of Ilfracombe has been a popular tourist destination for many years, with its Victorian heyday seeing visitors flock to the town for its stunning scenery and variety of attractions.

These days, the town still has lots to recommend to anyone planning a visit to North Devon. Head to Tunnels Beaches for the day, visit the bustling harbour, take in a show at The Landmark or even take a boat trip to Lundy.

When you’ve read our handy guide to 8 top things to do in Ilfracombe, book a stay at one of our wonderful Ilfracombe holiday cottages and let the countdown to your next coastal break begin!

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1. Explore Ilfracombe Harbour

View of Ilfracombe harbour from hills above. Blue sky and sea and boats leaving the harbour

The harbour area of Ilfracombe is a busy hub with plenty of things to see and do. You can grab some fish and chips and an ice cream thanks to the variety of restaurants and takeaways available, then stroll around the lovely shops and pick up a souvenir or two to take home. 

Damien Hirst’s statue Verity stands proudly at the end of the harbour car park and is well worth a closer look. From here, you can take a boat ride over to Lundy or enjoy a coastal cruise – be sure to keep an eye out for dolphins, porpoises, and seals.

2. Experience Damien Hirst's Verity

Verity statue and harbour wall - the statue of a woman is holding a sword aloft

Standing an impressive 20 metres high, this stainless steel and bronze statue depicting a pregnant woman gazes out over the Bristol Channel towards South Wales. Erected in 2012 and on loan to the town for 20 years, Verity holds a sword aloft while carrying the scales of justice as she stands on a pile of law books. 

On one side, her internal organs and the foetus are exposed. Damien Hirst’s creation has long divided opinion, being described variously as ‘grotesque’ and ‘beautiful’. Decide for yourself by visiting Hirst’s “modern allegory of truth and justice”.

3. Visit St Nicholas Chapel

St Nicholas Chapel stands against a blue sky with Ilfracombe harbour visible in the background

Perched above the harbour on Lantern Hill is the iconic St Nicholas Chapel, which dates back to the 14th century. Named after the patron saint of sailors, it was a place of worship for seafarers in the town until it ceased being a chapel during the dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th century. Its other job was as a lighthouse for those entering the harbour, which continues to this day. 

The Grade I-listed building’s modern history began in 1962 when it was restored by Ilfracombe Rotarians and opened to the public. Visitors are welcome between Easter and the end of September.  

4. Spend the day at Tunnels Beaches

Tunnels Beaches - side-by-side images, one is the tunnel leading to the beach, the other is looking down on the beach, tidal pool and sea as the sun sets

For a unique coastal experience, head to Tunnels Beaches. Four tunnels, hand carved in the 1820s, lead to wonderful, sheltered beaches and a Victorian tidal pool. It helped Ilfracombe blossom into a popular seaside resort and to this day, Tunnels is one of the town’s top tourist attractions. Relax on the beach taking in the gorgeous coastal vista or explore the fabulous rock pools. 

Sounds perfect for a day at the beach in Ilfracombe, right? Well, there’s more! Tunnels is also a spectacular wedding venue, with people travelling from all over the world to celebrate their big day in a truly breathtaking environment.

5. Go on a boat trip to Lundy

A highland cow (ginger with horns) grazes in front of a ruined building on Lundy

Lundy offers a memorable day trip and the boat trip from Ilfracombe Harbour is an adventure in itself. The 3-mile by half-a-mile island is a tranquil, rugged haven where you can visit scheduled monuments and listed buildings and spot the wildlife that calls Lundy home. 

From pygmy shrews to Highland cattle, pipistrelle bats to puffins (the cute seabird from which Lundy derives its name), there is plenty to keep nature fans enthralled. Enjoy a bite to eat at the Marisco Tavern then send a postcard home via Lundy’s own postal service (the Lundy stamp charge is known as puffinage)!

Meet marine life at Ilfracombe Aquarium

A brown-haired white girl with plaited pigtails in pink dungarees and a spotted white and pink top has her hand on the glass of a tank with a fish in it

When it comes to family-friendly things to do in Ilfracombe, you can’t go wrong with a trip to Ilfracombe Aquarium. Located in the old lifeboat house on the pier at Ilfracombe Harbour, it’s a great place to visit come rain or shine. Among the 75 local species that live at the aquarium are the lesser octopus and the hermit crab. 

The knowledgeable and friendly staff are on hand to answer any questions and feeding demonstrations take place daily. As well as educational and informative exhibits, there are free kids’ quiz trails, a café and a gift shop.  

7. Step back in time at Ilfracombe Museum

A girl and woman look into a museum display case

Ever since it opened in 1932, Ilfracombe Museum has been a treasure trove of eclectic and intriguing items that captivate visitors young and old. From the area’s maritime history to all manner of scientific collections, including fossils, butterflies, insects – and a two-headed kitten! – there is no end of artefacts to arouse curiosity and fire the imagination. 

You can explore a Victorian kitchen and laundry and learn more about the town’s history in the Ilfracombe Gallery. The Faces of War exhibition is particularly poignant, dedicated to the men and women from the Ilfracombe area who served in the First World War.

8. Take in a show or a film

The cones of The Landmark theatre are backed by the buildings of Ilfracombe

Ilfracombe is well-served for arts and entertainment. Not only can you catch the latest blockbusters at Embassy Cinema on the town’s high street, but The Landmark Theatre on the seafront has a packed programme to suit all tastes. 

From the outside, the multi-purpose arts complex, built in 1997, has a striking ‘double cone’ appearance, while inside there is an auditorium, a function room called the Pavilion and a bar/bistro area with wonderful coastal views. Comedy, dance and shows produced by Ilfracombe’s very own Small Pond Productions sit alongside National Theatre Live and Royal Opera House screenings – take your pick!

Stay in Ilfracombe

This is just a small sample of things to do in Ilfracombe – an appetiser, if you will. To sample the full ‘menu’, consider booking one of our welcoming holiday cottages in Ilfracombe and explore this delightful coastal destination for yourself.

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.

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