Christmas lights twinkling around you, a mince pie in your hand, loved ones rosy-cheeked and merry… Christmas is indeed a magical time of year, especially in Devon where Christmas markets, incredible light displays and festive feasts combine to make a holiday you won’t forget.
Late-night events make Christmas shopping a cool breeze, while the kids will love meeting Santa, whether it’s in his grotto or on a magical train heading right to the North Pole. It’s not all about colourful lights and big events though as Christmas in Devon can be whatever you want it to be, which means cosy evenings in a country pub, long walks through across the hills, and perhaps even a dip in the sea to really celebrate Christmas Day.
Ready to get into the festive spirit? Here’s our complete guide to Christmas in Devon…
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If we had it our way, late-night shopping and Christmas markets would be available all year round – you just can’t beat browsing stalls under a shower of stars with a cup of mulled wine in hand. Alas, they come but once a year, which does make them all the more special. Christmas markets in Devon are something of a marvel with Christmas lights leading the way and the nostalgic sounds of carollers filling the air with all the festive hits.
Claiming the title of Devon’s biggest Christmas market, Exeter certainly knows how to host an epic shopping spree. Over 100 traders fill Cathedral Green, offering wide-eyed shoppers the chance to pick up everything from handmade jewellery to artisan cheeses. Running between the 17th of November and the 17th of December, you’ll have plenty of time to fill up the shopping bags with trinkets, treats, and yes, a hearty amount of mince pies. The market is filled with the smell of mulled wine and German sausages thanks to the epic street food vendors that lie between the stalls, providing the perfect excuse to rest, dine, and dig through your festive haul.
Down on Devon’s south coast, you’ll find a rather special market taking place on Friday the 24th of November… The Lanterns, Lights, ‘Luminations event has become a Christmas staple in Brixham, with a merry assortment of entertainment that includes a fabulously festive market. Alongside the magical lantern parade, you’ll find a swathe of stalls providing endless Christmas shopping opportunities, as well as street performers, live music, and even fireworks to really finish the evening off with a bang!
The South Molton Pannier Market might be known far and wide as a one-stop shopping destination throughout the year, but Christmas takes this Devonshire favourite to a whole new level. Hosting the likes of South Molton Winter Wonderland in recent years and South Molton Festival of Festive Food and Drink in 2023 (Sunday the 26th of November), you can expect a wide array of Christmas stalls teeming with unique gifts, alongside food and drink stands that draw you in with wafting aromas and the promise of something tasty. Family entertainment, live music, and fairground rides keep the whole brood entertained, while previous years have enjoyed Christmas Tree Festivals in St Mary Magdalene Church, providing onlookers with a scene worthy of a Christmas card.
There’s just something so pure about doing your Christmas shopping at a market full of local vendors. For one, you can actually see the wonderful impact your sale has on the maker, and two, you get to take home a unique keepsake from your time in Devon. Nowhere is this more true than the magical Devonmade Christmas Market, where makers and creators from all over Devon gather to provide a glorious alternative to online shopping. Held at The Palace Theatre between Saturday the 25th and Sunday the 26th of November, you can browse the very best arts, crafts, and gifts, all while soaking up the bustling festive atmosphere. You can even create your own Yuletide trinkets with one of the Christmas Workshops, which vary from Christmas cards to hand-painted ceramic baubles – mine pies included!
Whether you want to step back in time or get crafty with cake decorating, Christmas in Devon is utterly enchanting and full of magical events to send shivers up the spine and get you in the jolliest of Christmas spirits.
It’s not often you get the chance to step into the world of a beloved author, but with Tavistock’s enchanting Dickensian Evening you get to do just that! Bask in the scent of chestnuts roasting as you chat with the jovial shopkeepers (who dress for the occasion in their finest traditional garb) and browse the many intriguing gift stalls for that special something. Adding even more festive frivolity to the evening (Friday the 1st of December), street performers can be seen lighting up faces throughout the bedecked streets, including a juggler, stilt walkers, and a curious Christmas tree…
Feeling crafty? Alongside their usual slew of Christmas events, Devon’s famous House of Marbles holds a seasonal selection of craft and dine workshops where you can whip up some uber-unique decorations, from wreaths to cake decorations, alongside a tasty two-course meal – what a combo! They’ll also be hosting a series of late-night shopping events, as well as Santa’s Grotto where the little ones (and the little four-legged ones) can meet Santa and Santa Paws.
When it comes to unique Christmas experiences, nowhere does it quite like Kents Cavern. Delving into the deep, Santa in the Caves takes children on an epic adventure through Santa’s workshop as they hunt for Santa's Magic Key. Interactive pantomime performances bring the experience to life as the kids work their way to Santa’s Grotto, where a special Christmas present is waiting. Don’t worry, grown-ups, mulled wine and mince pies wait for you! This spectacular experience runs between the 2nd and 24th of December, offering you plenty of opportunities to meet Santa.
Do you have a trainspotter in the family? Or perhaps someone whose favourite Christmas film happens to be Polar Express? Well, the many fabulous train stations in Devon have you utterly covered with their magical Christmas experiences. In East Devon, the Seaton Tramway is holding its annual Polar Express Tram Ride to the North Pole, while those staying in South Devon can head to the South Devon Railway for their epic take on the animated classic, The Polar Express (complete with The Conductor, caribou, and Father Christmas).
Can we let you into a little secret? We love winter evenings! The chill in the air that makes your favourite coat that much cosier, the sip of hot chocolate that warms you to the core, and the blanket of night that makes the many beautiful Christmas lights shine all the brighter. Oh yes, this is indeed a magical time of year.
If you love walking through streets decked to the nines in twinkling lights and epic displays, then North Devon’s carless village Clovelly is a Christmassy must. The sloping cobbled streets are enchanting throughout the year, but at Christmas when the dazzling displays light up the cottages (from the 3rd of December), it becomes a classic scene of Yuletide celebration that we just can’t get enough of.
Equally star-studded are the festive decorations around Exeter (from the 18th of November) and Brixham Harbour (from the 24th of November) – not to mention the utterly enchanting display at Babbacombe Model Village, which while on a smaller scale, is totally transfixing.
RHS Garden Rosemoor
It's not just towns and villages that are dressing up in their Christmas best, oh no… Devon’s much-loved attractions are also upping the festive ante with their awe-inspiring displays. RHS Garden Rosemoor is back again with its annual shine-athon, Glow, which sees the Devonshire gardens light up with festive colours as giant stars shine bright alongside enchanting woodlands and a dazzling lake surrounded by colour.
Another Devonshire favourite attempting to be seen from space is the historic Powderham Castle, which dedicates the whole of December to the festive season. Christmas lights and kaleidoscopic spotlights turn the grounds into a festival of colour, perfect for a mind-bogglingly beautiful evening stroll. This year, visitors can enjoy the spectacle with reduced noise on Mondays between 4pm and 5pm, when quiet hour offers a quieter (both in noise and numbers) experience.
The Christmas Train of Lights
We’ve covered trains to the North Pole, but did you know there is another steam-powered delight taking Devon by storm throughout December? That’s right, Dartmouth Steam Railway is back with its multi-award-winning Christmas experience, The Christmas Train of Lights. This jaw-dropping locomotive of colour will be zipping across the county leaving trails of wide-eyed glee in its wake. Climb on board to experience the steam-clad adventure first-hand or wait along the route to see the lights in all their glory (we recommend stopping at the Bay of Lights near Torquay, where a myriad of festive lights will make an appearance throughout the season).
Is there a better way to celebrate Christmas Day than swapping your cosy new pyjamas for a swimsuit and the Atlantic? We didn’t think so! Luckily, there are lots of community Christmas and Boxing Day swims around Devon, giving you plenty of refreshing choices. Exmouth’s annual Christmas Day swim always sees hundreds of people donning their costumes for a celebratory dip in the sea. The best part? If you don’t fancy the swim yourself, you can always watch from the warmth of a Stuart Line Cruise (with a glass of mulled wine to really sweeten the deal).
Other bracing festive traditions include Budleigh Salterton’s Christmas Day dip, Sidmouth’s Boxing Day splash, and the always-popular Westward Ho! New Year’s Day swim, which has to be the ultimate way to kick start 2024!
When it comes to Christmas, there is one thing we can all agree on… Christmas food is simply the best. Whether you’re a chocoholic that can’t wait for the Celebrations to come out or a festive feaster who’s ready for piles of pigs and blankets and a veritable swimming pool of gravy, this season has some seriously mouth-watering traditions… and we love it!
Cooking at home from home
For those who love to stay in on Christmas Day, a host of welcoming farm shops and independent food shops are waiting to stock your cupboards for the big day. Devon’s many wonderful vineyards are here to ensure the bubbly is always flowing, farm shops like Greendale and Ben’s make sure you have Christmas with all the trimmings, and chocolatiers like Lloyd and James and here to add that touch of sweetness to your holiday with their uber-festive Christmas collection.
Eating out on Christmas Day
Fancy a break from cooking? Devon’s pubs and restaurants have you totally covered, whether you want a special get together in the lead up to Christmas or you’re dreaming of a Christmas Day without dishes. Treat yourself to a Michelin-star Christmas experience at Lympstone Manor, where you can enjoy a festive lunch or afternoon tea as well as an indulgent Christmas dinner created by Chef Patron, Michael Caines.
If you’re looking for somewhere to head with the whole family in tow, then The Saint George and Dragon pub in Exeter is one for you. Not only do you get that cosy, country pub experience but a button-popping three-course Christmas lunch that’ll have you snoozing by the fire in no time. Bonus: the kids will love having their very own menu to choose from.
Ready to walk off that epic Christmas lunch? Devon is jam-packed with stunning walks that are all the more beautiful for a wintery backdrop – especially when you have a flask of mulled wine in your backpack. While busy in the summer months, Devon’s coastline becomes an oasis of tranquillity in the winter, making it a perfect destination for a windy walk. Head to Saunton Sands for miles of golden sand (which is also totally dog-friendly) or Westward Ho! for a leisurely stroll (that can easily end with a fish and chips along the prom.
Inland, your wintery walks can follow tree-lined rivers or take you across rolling hills – either way, we recommend packing your boots and a woolly jumper! When your cheeks are nice and rosy and tired feet and paws could do with a rest, simply point your boots in the direction of a dog-friendly pub for the cosiest of refuels – a festive tipple isn’t mandatory but is oh-so welcome.
Feeling festive? Take a look through our cosy collection of holiday cottages perfect for a Christmas break and experience Devon at this most magical time of year.