A bit of mild haggling is acceptable at flea markets and antique shops, but everywhere else you're expected to pay the advertised price.
Dangers & Annoyances
Compared to the world’s trouble spots, England’s southwest is a particularly safe place. But of course, crime can happen anywhere and you do still need to take care.
- Town centres can be rowdy on Friday and Saturday nights when the pubs and clubs are emptying.
- It's always wise to keep money, valuables and important documents out of sight in cars, and not just in city centres – remote moorland and coastal beauty spots are sometimes targeted by thieves.
- If you’re in hostels, it's a good idea to take a padlock for the lockers and keep stuff packed away.
The lifesaving charity, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI; www.rnli.org.uk), has to rescue hundreds of people each year in the West Country and offers the following safety advice:
- Use beaches that have lifeguards.
- Read and obey safety signs.
- Never swim alone.
- Swim between red-and-yellow flags, and surf in water marked by black-and-white chequered flags.
Coastguards also advise parents not let children use inflatables – if they do, an adult should attach a line and hold onto it.
Some of the biggest tidal ranges in the world occur in the southwest, and the sandy route out of that secluded cove can soon disappear under feet of water – people regularly have to be rescued after getting cut off. Less dramatically, kit left on the sand when you go in to surf can be a soggy, scattered mess when you get back.
Times of high and low water are often outlined at popular beaches, as well as on local BBC TV and radio, and in newspapers. Small yellow booklets of tide times are available from newsagents and local shops (£1.40).
In recent decades, campaigners – particularly Cornwall-based Surfers Against Sewage (www.sas.org.uk) – have battled (and in part succeeded) to improve water quality. ‘Blue Flags’ are awarded to beaches with high water-quality standards, and good safety and environmental records; see the latest list at www.blueflag.org. But note, some of Devon and Cornwall’s best beaches don’t qualify for the award, not because water quality is bad, but because they don’t have specific features (such as toilets, bins and drinking water).
While stunning to hike, the region’s moors are also remote, so prepare for upland weather conditions. Warm, waterproof clothing, hats, water and sunscreen are essential. Parts of Dartmoor are used by the military for live-firing ranges.
Like the rest of Britain, the southwest’s coastline is subject to erosion and occasionally rockfalls cause injury or even death. Unstable sections of the coastline are often fenced off and coastguards urge beach-users and walkers to obey warning signs.
There are no region-wide, non-transport discount cards for visitors, but sometimes two or more attractions team up with joint tickets that allow entry to both.
Devon and Cornwall have a superb sprinkling of historic buildings and if you're visiting more than four or five properties it's usually worth joining a heritage organisation for a year. The National Trust (NT; www.nationaltrust.co.uk) has an excellent range of properties region-wide; members can park for free at their car parks, too. Annual membership is from £63 for an adult, £105 for two and £111 for families.
English Heritage (EH; www.english-heritage.org.uk) also has a good selection of properties in the southwest. Annual adult membership costs £52 (£44 for over 60s) and allows up to six children free entry; joint adult membership costs £93 (joint senior £76).
Emergency & Important Numbers
|England (and UK) country code||44|
|International access code||00|
|Emergency (police, fire, ambulance, moorland rescue or coastguard)||112 or 999|
Entry & Exit Formalities
Visas to enter the UK are generally not needed for stays of up to six months. The country is not a member of the Schengen Zone.
Britain has a two-tier customs system: one for goods bought duty-free outside the EU; the other for goods bought for personal use in another EU country where tax and duty is paid. For more details, go to www.gov.uk and search for 'Bringing goods into the UK'.
If travelling from within the UK, there are no restrictions on what you can bring into or take out of Devon and Cornwall.
- Manners The English have a reputation for being polite, and good manners are considered important in most situations. When asking directions, ‘Excuse me, can you tell me the way to…’ is better than ‘Hey, where’s…’.
- Queues In England, queuing (‘standing in line’) is sacrosanct, whether to board a bus, buy tickets at a kiosk or enter the gates of an attraction. Any attempt to 'jump the queue' will result in an outburst of tut-tutting and hard stares.
- Rounds When out for the night, groups of friends will often stand a 'round' in the pub: buying the people they're with a drink. The expectation is that by the end of the night, everyone will have bought for everyone else. If the group is huge, the time spent out short, or there's miminal chance of returning the favour, it's best to offer to pay for your own drink.
Gay & Lesbian Travellers
The southwest generally mirrors the UK’s relatively tolerant attitude to lesbians and gay men. That said, you’ll still find pockets of homophobic hostility in some areas. Gay (and gay-friendly) clubs and bars can be found in the cities and bigger towns (such as Exeter, Torquay, Truro and Plymouth), although there's often not a huge choice.
Gay accommodation based in Devon and Cornwall crops up in Gay Times (www.gaytimes.co.uk) and Diva (www.divamag.co.uk). The Intercom Trust (0800 612 3010; www.intercomtrust.org.uk) profiles the southwest's LGBT groups, and runs a regional helpline (9am to 4pm Monday to Friday).
- Both 3G and 4G mobile broadband coverage is good in large population centres, but limited or nonexistent in rural areas. However, beware high charges for data roaming – check with your mobile/cell-phone provider before travelling.
- Many hotels, B&Bs, hostels, stations and coffee shops (even some trains and buses) have wi-fi access, charging anything from nothing to £6 per hour.
- Internet cafes are surprisingly rare in England, especially away from big cities and tourist spots. Most charge from £1.50 per hour; it could be as high as £6 per hour.
- Public libraries often have computers with free internet access, but only for 30-minute slots, and demand can be high.
- Police have the power to detain, for up to six hours, anyone suspected of having committed an offence punishable by imprisonment (including drugs offences). Police have the right to search anyone they suspect of possessing drugs.
- Illegal drugs are available, especially in clubs. Cannabis possession is a criminal offence; punishment for carrying a small amount may be a warning, a fine or imprisonment. Dealers face stiffer penalties, as do people caught with other drugs.
- On buses and trains, people without a valid ticket can be fined on the spot or asked to pay a full fare.
ATMs are widely available; Visa and MasterCard credit cards are widely accepted, but other credit cards less so.
The currency is the pound sterling (£). Paper money comes in £5, £10, £20 and £50 denominations. Other currencies are very rarely accepted.
Banks and post offices in cities and larger towns will change money; exchange rates tend to be reasonable.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
Pubs and bars Not expected if you order drinks (or food) and pay at the bar; usually 10% if you order at the table and your meal is brought to you.
Restaurants Around 10% in restaurants and teahouses with table service, 15% at smarter restaurants. Tips may be added to your bill as a 'service charge' – it's discretionary.
Taxis Usually 10%, or rounded up to the nearest pound.
Opening hours vary throughout the year, especially in rural and coastal areas where some places have shorter hours, or close completely, from October to March.
Banks 9.30am to 4pm or 5pm Monday to Friday; some open 9.30am to 1pm Saturday.
Pubs and bars Noon to 11pm Monday to Saturday (some till midnight or 1am Friday and Saturday), 12.30pm to 11pm Sunday.
Restaurants Lunch is noon to 3pm, dinner 6pm to 9pm or 10pm.
Shops 9am to 5.30pm or 6pm Monday to Saturday, and often 11am to 5pm Sunday.
The region's postal service is generally efficient and reliable. Information on post-office locations and postage rates can be found at www.postoffice.co.uk.
Devon and Cornwall's public holidays are in line with the rest of Britain:
New Year's Day 1 January
Easter March/April (Good Friday to Easter Monday inclusive)
May Day First Monday in May
Spring Bank Holiday Last Monday in May
Summer Bank Holiday Last Monday in August
Christmas Day 25 December
Boxing Day 26 December
Most businesses and banks close on official public holidays; some small attractions and shops close, but many have their busiest times.
- Smoking Forbidden in all enclosed public places in England. Most pubs have a smoking area outside.
Mobile-phone coverage in the region’s towns and cities is good, as are signals in many, but not all, rural and coastal areas. Geography also means different networks have different zones where they provide poor or no reception. Payphones are common in urban areas.
The UK uses the GSM 900/1800 network, which covers the rest of Europe, Australia and New Zealand, but isn't compatible with the North American GSM 1900. Most modern mobiles can function on both networks, but check before you leave home.
Dialling to the UK Dial your country's international access code then 44 (the UK country code), then the area code (dropping the first 0) followed by the telephone number.
Dialling from the UK The international access code is 00; dial this, then add the code of the country you wish to dial.
Mobile phones Codes usually begin with 07.
Free calls Numbers starting with 0800 or 0808 are free.
Call charges Details here: www.gov.uk/call-charges
National operator 100
International operator 155
- Public toilets are generally clean and fairly modern. Public-spending cuts mean some have closed. Some charge (20p).
- Regional railway station toilets rarely charge.
- Pubs and restaurants stipulate toilets are for customers only.
Region-wide, tourist offices stock free town maps and have informed, helpful staff. Smaller offices have shorter opening hours. Some information centres are also run by national parks. Some sell walking maps and local books and can help book accommodation. Staff fluent in other languages aren’t that common; French and, to a lesser extent, Spanish are the most likely specialities.
The official visitor websites for the region:
Visit Cornwall (www.visitcornwall.com)
Visit Devon (www.visitdevon.co.uk)
Travel with Children
It’s good to know in our digital, virtual world that channelling incoming tides around sandcastles still provides great joy. And wrap-around beaches aren’t Devon and Cornwall’s only child-friendly assets. Rafts of activities and bucketloads of attractions ensure they’re an absolute delight for kids, and adults re-connecting with child-like joys.
Best Regions For Kids
- Newquay & the North Coast
This water-sports magnet has beaches galore, an aquarium, farm attraction and puffing steam trains. Investigate Bude, Perranporth and St Agnes, too.
- Torquay & South Devon
Torquay offers oodles of beaches plus an eco-zoo, giant cliffside aviary, prehistoric caves and a model village. South Devon serves up surfing beaches and river trips.
- South Cornwall
Head here for the Eden Project, a shipwreck museum, child-friendly maritime museum, and incredibly cute seal and monkey sanctuaries.
- Exmoor & North Devon
North Devon dishes up superb surfing, huge dune-backed beaches, and the mega-attraction, the Big Sheep. Exmoor offers deer-watching and wildlife discovery days.
Devon & Cornwall for Kids
A plethora of child-focused attractions and activities ensure the southwest delivers fantastic family holidays. Attractions are well attuned to the needs of parents and children: displays are targeted at young minds, cafes feature kid-friendly meals, and baby-changing rooms are common. Many hotels, pubs and restaurants cater well for kids, but it pays to check. As elsewhere, some people will frown on breast-feeding, while others will barely notice.
The beaches of Cornwall and Devon are glorious, but do present safety issues; sadly fatalities are not unknown. Most of the key tourist beaches have lifeguards; head for one that does, then follow the lifeguards’ advice. Be especially wary of rip currents and fast-rising tides. Lifeguard cover is seasonal (often Easter to September) and tends to finish at 5pm or 6pm. The RNLI Lifeboats website (www.rnli.org) lists which beaches it covers and when.
Some sections of the Devon and Cornwall coast are prone to cliff-falls; keep an eye out for warning signs.
- Paignton Zoo, Torquay Innovative 32-hectare, multi-habitat eco-zoo.
- Flambards, Helston Theme park with heritage-themed features plus rollercoaster and log flume.
- Camel Creek, Padstow Some 60 rides and attractions set in 40 hectares.
- The Big Sheep (www.thebigsheep.co.uk) All-weather theme park near Bideford, with an agricultural feel.
- Eden Project, South East Cornwall A heated eco-attraction with a playful feel.
- National Marine Aquarium, Plymouth Underwater walkways reveal sharks, octopuses and huge rays.
- Kents Cavern, Torquay Cavemen, a devil’s toenail and Stone Age handprints.
- National Maritime Museum, Falmouth Superb displays; crammed with hands-on activities.
- Underground Passages, Exeter Ancient tunnels and stories of ghosts and cholera.
Kid-Friendly Heritage Sites
- Arlington Court, North Devon Country estate with horse carriages, peacocks and bats.
- Pendennis Castle, Falmouth An atmospheric Tudor Gun Room, and hands-on exhibits.
- RAMM, Exeter Fun, child-friendly museum displays in a slick, modern setting.
- Geevor Tin Mine, Pendeen Underground tour and an opportunity to pan for minerals at this iconic Cornish mine.
- Castle Drogo, Dartmoor Crenellations and playhouses at the last castle to be built in England.
- Porthcurno Telegraph Museum, Porthcurno Secret war-time tunnels and a whirring telegraphy kit.
When to Go
School holidays see accommodation demand, and prices, spike. But summer, Easter and half-term also see attractions extend their opening hours, often putting on special family-friendly events.
Families fare well for sleep spots in Devon and Cornwall. Some accommodation providers can provide put-me-up beds.
Self-catering and camping offer great flexibility. Look out for the new breed of ‘comfy camping’ options, where Romany caravans and safari-style tents come with their own fire pits.
All over Cornwall and Devon, organisations run superb child-focused events. Pirate parades, rock-pool rambles, night-time hikes and archery days – these family experiences can define your trip.
Cornwall Wildlife Trust (www.cornwallwildlifetrust.org.uk)
Dartmoor National Park Authority (DNPA; www.dartmoor.gov.uk)
National Trust (NT; www.nationaltrust.org.uk)
English Heritage (EH; www.english-heritage.org.uk)
Exmoor National Park Authority (ENPA; www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk)
South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB; www.southdevonaonb.org.uk)
Torbay Coast & Countryside (www.countryside-trust.org.uk)
For all-round information and advice, check out Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children.
Cornwall Beach Guide (www.cornwallbeachguide.co.uk) Detailed guide to Cornwall's beaches.
Day out with the Kids (www.dayoutwiththekids.co.uk) Activity directory, searchable by region.
Visit Cornwall (www.visitcornwall.com) Filters attractions by age-range.
Visit Devon (www.visitdevon.co.uk) Has sub-sections on family-friendly attractions and free days out.
Travellers with Disabilities
New buildings have wheelchair access, and even hotels in grand old country houses often have lifts, ramps and other facilities. Hotels and B&Bs in historic buildings are often harder to adapt, so you'll have less choice here.
For long-distance travel, coaches can present problems, though staff will help where possible. On trains there’s often more room and better facilities; in some modern carriages all the signs are repeated in Braille. There's normally a phone and a sign detailing how to request help.
Modern city buses tend to have low floors for easier access. Bigger taxi firms will have vehicles that can take wheelchairs.
Exploring the region’s wilder spaces can present challenges, but efforts have been made. These include on the South West Coast Path (www.southwestcoastpath.com) where some more remote parts have been made more accessible – check the website's Easy Access Walks tab.
The Dartmoor National Park Authority (www.dartmoor.gov.uk) produces the Easy Going Dartmoor booklet for less-mobile visitors (available online). This outlines facilities and has a good range of accessible routes to explore.
Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guide from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.