East Devon has some beautiful landscapes and coastlines to enjoy. But it does sometimes rain and spending hours outside is not an option. However, there are plenty of cultural activities to enjoy in the region with a host of museums and art galleries. And many are free to enter.
There’s a mixture of permanent collections and specific exhibitions at different venues, with many picking up on particular anniversaries or historical milestones each year.
Some of these places are open for specific months during the year, usually March to the end of October, or are open all year round. Do check individual websites before you plan your trip.
10 Museums and galleries in East Devon to check out in 2023
1. Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery (RAMM), Exeter
2. Axminster Heritage Centre, Axminster
3. Lyme Regis Museum, Lyme Regis
4. The Thelma Hulbert Gallery, Honiton
5. Custom House Visitor Centre, Exeter
6. Topsham Museum, Topsham
7. Exmouth Museum, Exmouth
8. Fairlynch Museum, Budleigh Salterton
9. Sidmouth Museum, Sidmouth
10. Allhallows Museum of Lace and Local Antiquities, Honiton
Open all year round
Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery (RAMM), Exeter
Open: Tuesday – Sunday: 10.00-17.00
You can find a diverse collection of objects and specimens from all over the world at RAMM. These cover items of local, national and international importance, many of historical or cultural significance. Collections are broken down into antiquities, costume and textiles, decorative art, ethnography, fine art, natural sciences, and social history.
A number of free and paid-for exhibitions run throughout the year at the museum. It also runs special events, some geared towards families and children, workshops, talks, and lectures. Check out the museum’s events page to find out what’s on.
Axminster Heritage Centre, Axminster
Open: Up to 2 April: Tuesdays and Thursday 10.00-16.00; Saturdays 10.00-13.00 (Times may change during the summer months)
Find out more about the town that’s famous for its carpets and so much more. The Heritage Centre houses a fully working 1930s loom and has a special focus on the carpet industry founded by Thomas Whitty.
You can also find out about the story of Axminster and surrounding villages throughout different historical periods from Roman times onwards. The town was also an important brush-making centre, noted for making toothbrushes.
Different events run throughout the year and the centre holds extensive local history records.
Check the Axminster Heritage Centre website for up-to-date information.
Lyme Regis Museum, Lyme Regis
Open: Wednesday to Sunday: 10.00-16.00
Located along the Jurassic coastline the Lyme Bay Museum recognises and celebrates local history. Lyme Regis was home to fossil hunter Mary Anning and attracted artists and writers such as Jane Austen, JMcNeill Whistler, John Fowles and more recently Tracy Chevalier.
Within the museum, you can learn about stories surrounding the Monmouth Rebellion, the history of the Cobb (made famous by Meryl Streep in the film The French Lieutenant’s Woman, written by John Fowles) and find out about the life of Mary Anning and her fossil collecting.
Different exhibitions run throughout the year and the museum also organises fossil walks along the coastline.
Check the Lyme Regis Museum website for more details.
The Thelma Hulbert Gallery, Honiton
Open: Wednesday to Saturday: 10.00-17.00
This public art gallery features a programme of contemporary art and craft exhibitions. The gallery operates as a cultural hub with a variety of events and workshops targeted at all age groups.
Custom House Visitor Centre, Exeter
Open: up to March Saturday & Sunday: 11.00-16.00 (Times may change during the summer months)
Located along Exeter’s quayside, the Custom House Visitor Centre is housed in one of the historic buildings on the waterfront. Within the building, you learn about the history of Exeter and the quay through displays, illustrations and artefacts.
Seasonal opening times
Topsham Museum, Topsham
Famous for its maritime history the Topsham Museum is housed in a 17th century Merchant’s House overlooking the Exe Estuary. Displays detail the town’s history with a focus on its role as a trade port and shipbuilding centre.
The house’s last resident was Dorothy Holman, whose sister-in-law was the film actor Vivien Leigh, and you’ll be able to see various pieces of memorabilia from the film star within the museum.
There’s also a tea room and garden where you can enjoy homemade cakes or a Devon cream tea.
Exmouth Museum, Exmouth
Learn about Exmouth throughout the ages from Victorian times through to World War II and beyond. The museum is housed in a 19th-century building, previously the council stables and an adjoining foreman’s cottage. Exhibits include a 1940s sitting room, Victorian kitchen, antique lace and commemorative china.
Fairlynch Museum, Budleigh Salterton
The museum houses a varied collection of artefacts and displays. These include local geology, archaeology and nature, local history, genealogy and railways, costumes, lace and toys.
In addition, the museum holds different exhibitions each year.
Sidmouth Museum, Sidmouth
The Sidmouth Museum highlights the local history of the town and has an extensive collection of fossils, minerals and rocks, found along the local coastline. Other collections include Sidmouth’s royal connections, paintings and prints and the 1971 Holcombe Roman Villa artefacts.
Allhallows Museum of Lace and Local Antiquities, Honiton
Monday to Friday: 09.30-16.30; Saturday: 09.30-13.00
Honiton is famous for lace-making and this museum holds a comprehensive collection of the town’s lace. Two galleries feature examples dating between the 17th century and the 21st century. In addition, there are also displays of Honiton pottery, children’s toys, war memorabilia and mementoes from the Allhallows School and borough of Honiton.