Exeter Quay

About this route

Exeter’s Quayside situated next to the River Exe and the Exeter Ship Canal is a popular destination for locals and tourists alike.  Despite the redevelopments over the years and the recreational attractions on offer, the quay still retains much of its historic character.  The splendour of the 17th century buildings, which include the former Custom House, Quay House and the former Wharfinger’s house and office, give a real sense of history and reflect that Exeter was once a lucrative trading centre and one of England’s leading ports.

The  Quay, and the river alongside, appears so permanent  it is easy to forget that until the late 16th century, obstructions and an unnavigable river made access to Exeter very difficult, apart from using very small craft.  The construction of Exeter canal and Exeter Quay in the late 1560s realised the potential of Exeter becoming a successful port.  Indeed, within ten years trade grew and the Quay was extended.  The wattle revetment which held back reclamation deposits was replaced by a more substantial stone wall made from local Heavitree stone supported on rows of oak piles.  Various improvements were made over the years and in 1680 the quay was redesigned and included the construction of the Custom House and associated buildings. In 1701 the canal was deepened to take ships and boats with a greater draught, indicating a real boom in import and export.  The quay wall was realigned to its present position and the quay lengthened to the south of this in the late 18th century.  In the 1820s-30s and coinciding with the construction of the canal basin on the opposite bank of the river, Kings Wharf and nos 6-11 Warehouse Vaults were constructed and further development to the south introduced 14-25 Quay Vaults, which were tunnelled into the cliff for the storage of goods.  The open-sided fish market is dated 1838 and its adjoining enclosed building (currently the Quay Antiques Centre) is shown on the late 19th century Ordnance Survey map.

Many of the 19th century warehouses which line the pedestrianised walkways on the quay have been converted into offices, restaurants, pubs, antique and gifts shops.  During the summer months particularly, this part of Exeter buzzes with many visitors, mirroring in part the busy atmosphere and activity that began here 500 years ago.


Interreg Atlantic Area and TIDE logo

Getting Around

By car: The nearest major road is the M5.  Along Topsham road towards city centre, at Southgate turn left along inner bypass, take first left and park at Quay and Cathedral car park. A short walk from this car park will take you to the Quayside.

By bus: A regular bus service runs from the city centre to the Historic Quayside.

Exeter Quayside offers restaurants, bars, antique and gift shops and indoor and outdoor activities.
Some areas of the quay have cobbled surfaces.

OS Maps

OS Explorer 114 Exeter and the Exe Valley
Landranger 192 Exeter and Sidmouth

For More Information

More information on Exeter Quay can be found at Devon Historic Environment Record.