There’s a certain quality to the North Devon coast that makes it special – a blend of clear light, unique topography and glistening water.

So it’s no surprise that Ilfracombe attracts many visitors in search of sun, sea and sand, all in an idyllic setting.

A traditional fishing village in Devon, Ilfracombe became a trading town by virtue of its harbour, a refuge from the tides of the Bristol Channel; however, by the mid-20th century, the key industry was tourism.

Visitors are drawn to the harbour and the famous Tunnel beaches, carved out in the 1820s to allow access to the beach and two tidal pools, which enabled Victorian men and women to swim in segregated modesty.

Ilfracombe Harbour
Ilfracombe Harbour

Today there’s a thriving arts and restaurant scene, and access to nearby surf beaches and the South West Coast Path.

Where to stay in Ilfracombe

If you’re thinking of heading to this stunning region, our best motorhome site in Devon guide will help, where we reveal the campsites that made it into our Top 100 Sites Guide 2023.

For a tour to Ilfracombe, you could stay at Sunnymead Farm – this well-placed site between Woolacombe and Ilfracombe welcomes families and pets, and offers a choice of touring and static pitches. Another option is Hele Valley Holiday Park. This wildlife-friendly campsite is not far from beautiful Hele Bay, with a variety of pitches and accommodation options.

You could also consider Ilfracombe CAMC Campsite, a peaceful location three miles inland in a beautiful rural setting. Note there is no toilet block at the site.

What to do in Ilfracombe on Day 1

9am – Head to the harbour

Grab a delicious snack at the Pasty Bakehouse and wander down to Ilfracombe Harbour, where you can watch the boats – there’s been a port here since the 12th century.

Ilfracombe Harbour
Image: Stephen Ring / Alamy Stock Photo – pause to watch the fishing boats at busy Ilfracombe Harbourfh

A number of wildlife cruises leave from here, as well as boats for beautiful Lundy Island, owned by the National Trust.

Full day trips to Lundy are available on MS Oldenburg, but for a shorter outing, the Ilfracombe Princess provides one- and two-hour cave or wildlife cruises from £14.

While you’re spending time at the harbour, pause to view Verity, Damien Hirst’s 20.25m stainless steel and bronze statue depicting a pregnant woman brandishing a sword.

Verity by Damian Hirst
Image: eye35 / Alamy Stock Photo – you can’t miss Verity, the huge stainless steel and bronze statue by Damien Hirst

1pm – Lunch Thyme!

Treat yourself to a tasty lunch at the Take Thyme restaurant in nearby Fore Street, which specialises in locally caught fish with dishes such as pan-seared scallops, River Fowey mussels and Lundy dressed crab.

Take Thyme restaurant
Enjoy a delicious lunch at Take Thyme restaurant

2.30pm – Take a stroll to the Nature Reserve

Walk off that luxurious lunch by heading east along the South West Coast Path for a couple of miles to Hillsborough Nature Reserve, where you can see the remains of an Iron Age fort. On the way, you pass Rapparee Cove, a popular bathing beach in Victorian days. Take in the views before pausing for a paddle in Hele Bay.

4pm – Afternoon tea

Combine a trip to the historic 16th-century Hele Corn Mill with a delicious Devonshire cream tea. It’s free to see the mill, which dates back to 1525 and was used to mill flour until the 1930s. Now restored, it has the bonus of being home to the award-winning tearoom, serving traditional cakes and cream teas.

7pm – Sunset views

After all that fine food, why not forgo a big dinner? Instead, you can revel in the glorious sunset views from Capstone Hill, half a mile west of the harbour.


9am – To the lighthouse

Just by Ilfracombe Harbour, you’ll find Lantern Hill, home to St Nicholas Chapel, named after the patron saint of sailors and dating all the way back to 1321. A beacon has been set here since the 15th century and it is still a working lighthouse today.

10.30am – Into the Tunnels

Arguably Ilfracombe’s most famous attraction, these four hand-carved tunnels, created in the 1820s, provide access to sheltered bathing areas, a Victorian tidal bathing pool and a café/bar. There’s a £3 charge for adults and note that at times, the ‘Gentlemen’s’ beach is closed for private wedding functions.

The Tunnels
Getty Images/iStockphoto – stroll through the hand-carved Tunnels, which date back to the 1820s, to reach the famous beaches

1pm – Buon appétito!

Head back into town to enjoy old-school Italian classics at Giovanni & Luca restaurant. Expect a packed menu of pizza, pasta and rice dishes, along with meat and fish. All authentically Italian, too, right down to the smart gingham tablecloths!

3pm – Local history

Poke around in the past with a wander through some of the curiosities and collectables to be found in the fascinating Ilfracombe museum, which gives a unique insight into the town’s history, combining military memorabilia with newspaper archives and collections of natural history.

6pm – Sunset surf

This part of the world is famous for its surfing, so before you leave, take a 20-minute drive west to the three-mile beach at Woolacombe, for a glorious sunset surf. Beginners can sign up for lessons at Woolacombe Surf Centre – a half-day is £35.

Lead image: Getty Images

Wondering where else you can head to for a weekend getaway? Then head to our Best of British: Weekends Away section, for more great ideas!

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