Ilfracombe, Exmoor National Park

Ilfracombe, Exmoor National Park
  • Major Westcountry seaside town in the North Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty just west of Combe Martin and the western border of Exmoor National Park
  • Essential visiting if you want to take a boat trip along the Exmoor coast or out to Lundy Island
  • See Damien Hirst's 'Verity' situated on the north side of Ilfracombe Harbour
  • Walk the South West Cost Path east of Ilfracombe past Watermouth Cove and Combe Martin to Great Hangman (National Trust) which is the highest sea cliff in England
  • Relax at the superb Tunnels Beaches. Enjoy fish and chips and ice cream at Ilfracombe Harbour
  • Main photo: the view from the South West Coast Path across Ilfracombe Harbour to Damien Hirst's 'Verity'


Where is Ilfracombe in relation to Exmoor National Park?

Combe Martin sits on the border of Exmoor National Park and the North Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Ilfracombe is just west of Combe Martin.

Ilfracombe is a great base from which to explore Exmoor, North Devon and visit Lundy Island.


Directions to Ilfracombe from Exmoor National Park

Follow the A39 to Blackmoor Gate on the western side of Exmoor and then drive the A399 to Combe Martin and then Ilfracombe.

We've positioned Ilfracombe on Google maps. Zoom in on the 'Satellite' setting to see its location.


Parking in Ilfracombe

There's a car park by Ilfracombe Harbour and Damien Hirst’s Verity. Ilfracombe is a popular seaside resort so it can be difficult to find a space by the harbour in summer.

Also use the car parking areas on the eastern side of town below Hillsborough. It's a short walk around Ilfracombe Harbour to get to town. The views are great.


Why holiday or weekend break in Ilfracombe?

To help you choose Ilfracombe, we've listed some of the local attractions below.


Ilfracombe Harbour

The focal point is Ilfracombe Harbour. Beautiful place. See Damien Hirst’s Verity and enjoy a boat trip.

‘By the 1300’s Ilfracombe harbour was well established.  In medieval times it was used as an embarkation point for the wars in Ireland.  Both men and ships were sent from Ilfracombe to fight against the Spanish Armada.  Until the mid 1800’s it was a small naval port and there are many recorded actions off Ilfracombe in the wars with France.  It then became a fashionable Victorian seaside resort and paddle steamers visited from Bristol and South Wales.  Ilfracombe still offers anchorage to fishing boats and pleasure craft.  Occasionally larger passenger ships visit the port including the Lundy Island vessel MS Oldenburg and the steamers Waverley and Balmoral.’  (Information board on site)


Damien Hirst’s Verity

‘Verity stands at 20.25 metres (66.43 feet) tall, and weighs 25 tonnes.  She is on long-term loan to North Devon Council as a gift from the London and Devon based artist Damien Hirst.  The sculpture is an allegory for truth and justice.  Her stance is taken from Edgar Degas’s ‘Little Dancer of Fourteen Years’ (c. 1881).  An anatomical cross-section of her head and torso reveal her skull and the developing foetus inside her womb.  Standing on a base of scattered legal books, Verity holds the traditional symbols of Justice – a sword and scales.  Representing truth, her scales are hidden and off-balance behind her back, whilst her sword is held confidently in her upstretched arm.’  (Information board situated around Ilfracombe Harbour)


Boat trips

Ilfracombe Sea Safari. 'The most exciting way to explore the stunning North Devon coastline and Lundy Island.' Ilfracombe Sea Safari runs a number of trips using two RIBs. These include a 1 Hour Sea Safari, 2 Hour Waterfall & Exmoor Safari to Lynmouth and Lundy Explorer.

Bristol Channel Charters/Ilfracombe Sea Safari. Ilfracombe Sea Safari also run Bristol Channel Charters. 'Our boat can be booked for diving, fishing, sightseeing and private charter from Ilfracombe between April and October.'

Lundy Island. The MS Oldenburg leaves from either Ilfracombe or Bideford. Depending on the weather, it takes roughly two hours to reach the island. Most people visit on a day trip from mainland Devon. Once you're there, we'd suggest you walk around the island.

Ilfracombe Princess. 'Spectacular wildlife and coastal cruises aboard 'Ilfracombe Princess' one of the most technologically advanced passenger vessels in the UK.' Trips include Seals Cruise and Exmoor Bird Cruise.

Paddle Steamer Waverley. 'Pleasure Steamers have cruised on the Bristol Channel since Victorian days and Waverley carries on this great tradition.' Special trips in the Bristol Channel. They publish sailing times on their websites.

MV Balmoral Excursions. 'Originally built in 1949 and now for over 65 years, the MV Balmoral has been welcoming passengers on board and taking them on spectacular cruises around the great British coastline.' Special trips in the Bristol Channel. Again, they publish sailing times on their websites.


Ilfracombe Beaches

Tunnels Beaches. Private beach is an amazing location. You walk through tunnels to access the beaches and coastline. A small charge applies. There's a tidal bathing pool and cafe/restaurant.

Wildersmouth Beach. This rock and sand beach is in the centre of town between Capstone Hill and The Landmark Theatre.

Ilfracombe Harbour Beach. There's a small, sandy beach at the western end of Ilfracombe Harbour.

Rapparee Cove.  ‘In 1796 a transport ship named the London was wrecked at Rapparee with great loss of life, including many locals who had tried to help.  It was carrying French prisoners of war from the West Indies as well as gold and silver.  During Victorian times it was a ladies bathing beach and in 1878 it was the scene of a famous ‘battle’ between local boy Alfred Price and the Crown Prince of Germany (the future Kaiser Wilhelm II) who was staying at the Ilfracombe Hotel.’  (Information board on site)

Hele Bay Beach. Just east of Ilfracombe on the other side of Hillsborough.

Watermouth Cove Beach. Continue east and you come to the glorious Watermouth Cove Beach.

Broadsands Beach. One of the best beaches in the Westcountry, Broadsands Beach is essential visiting. On a sunny day, it's like being in Thailand. Highly recommended.

Lee Beach. Travel west of Ilfracombe and you come to the stunning Lee Bay and its beaches. Great place to get away from the crowds.

Woolacombe Beach. For surfing, head to the huge sand beaches that line the North Devon coast. Woolacombe Beach is one of the most famous and popular.

Putsborough Beach. Woolacombe Beach is the northern end of a big strip of sand. Putsborough Beach is the quieter southern end.

Croyde Beach. Famous surfing beach backing onto dunes and the pretty Croyde village.

Saunton Sands. Huge low tide sand beach. Head for the big car park at the northern end of the beach. There's a restaurant, cafe, shop and public toilets. The beach is very popular with surfers. It backs onto Braunton Burrows which is part of the North Devon UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Note that the beach is flat and when the tides retreats it leaves a film of water acting as a mirror. Amazing experience at sunset or in moody weather. Take a camera or smartphone.


Beauty spots and views

Hillsborough Local Nature Reserve.  Follows the paths to the viewpoints at the top of the hill.  ‘In 1895 the site was ‘saved from the Builders Hands’ when it was purchased by Ilfracombe Urban District Council to prevent it from being built upon and to provide quiet informal recreation.  The main pathways were laid out at the end of the 1800’s.  It is one of the earliest examples of countryside conservation in the country.’  (Information board on site)

‘Hillsborough offers fine views of the North Devon Coast AONB and the town of Ilfracombe.  The furthest point that can be seen is Bull Point, with the distinctive island of Lundy in the distance.  On a clear day, looking north you can see the coast of Wales, including the distinctive headland of Worms Head.  Behind you to the east is the coastline of the Exmoor National Park.  Rising above Combe Martin, these cliffs are the highest in England.’  (Information board on site)

St Nicholas Chapel.  ‘The chapel stands on Lantern Hill at the entrance to Ilfracombe harbour.  It was built around 1300 and was used as a lighthouse in the time of Henry VIII.  St Nicholas is said to be the patron saint of sailors.’  (Information board on site)

Capstone Hill.  Local legend states that in 1797 the ladies of Ilfracombe, in order to suggest to an invading French fleet that the town was garrisoned, paraded on Capstone in red petticoats.  The paths on Capstone, which includes today’s Coast Path, were created during the 1840’s by unemployed labourers.’  (Information board on site)


Walking the South West Coast Path at Ilfracombe

Follow the South West Coast Path east to Watermouth Cove and Combe Martin before crossing into Exmoor National Park.

Walk west to Lee Bay and Bull Point.


Food and drink

We'd recommend the restaurants and cafes on The Quay by Ilfracombe Harbour. Great place for fish and chips.



Head to Fore Street and High Street for lots of independent shops.



The Landmark Theatre.  ‘This distinctive building was built in 1997 on the site of the Old Ilfracombe Hotel.  It replaced the original Pavilion Theatre that stood at the base of Capstone Hill.  The site includes the Theatre, Tourist Information Centre and Ilfracombe Museum, the latter located in the old Laundry House of the Ilfracombe Hotel.’  (Information board on site)


Ilfracombe Museum

‘Formerly the laundry of the Ilfracombe Hotel that was once on the site where the Landmark Theatre now stands, Ilfracombe Museum is overflowing with curiosities and memorabilia.  This historic building houses finds from a shrunken head to pickled bats.  First opened in August 1932, the original curator was Mervyn G Palmer who started the museum following his explorations in South America collecting butterflies for the British Museum.’  (Information board on site)


Ilfracombe Aquarium

‘The Old Lifeboat House below Lantern Hill is home to the Ilfracombe Aquarium.  The Aquarium provides a fascinating insight into the wonders of aquatic life found around north Devon.  Its exhibits are carefully recreated natural habitats providing home to over 75 species.  Visitors follow a zoned journey from the source of an Exmoor stream, down river to an estuary, local rockpool, the harbour, coast and out to Lundy and its Marine Reserve.’  (Information board on site)


Ilfracombe watersports

Try sea kayaking, stand up paddleboarding and coasteering at Ilfracombe.

For surfing, we'd recommend heading west to the big sand beaches that line the North Devon coast. Try Saunton Sands, Croyde Beach, Putsborough Beach and Woolacombe Beach.

Suppliers include:

Active Escape based in Watermouth Cove Holiday Park near Combe Martin.

Jet Ski Safari also operate from the Watermouth Cove Holiday Park area near Combe Martin.

Surfside Kayak Hire in Combe Martin.


Visiting Lundy Island from Ilfracombe

The MS Oldenburg leaves from either Ilfracombe or Bideford. Depending on the weather, it takes roughly two hours to reach the island. Most people visit on a day trip from mainland Devon. Once you're there, we'd suggest you walk around the island.