On the English Riviera in Devon, Torquay has had a lofty reputation since it came into fashion with high society at the start of the 1800s.
The resort is at the north end of Tor Bay, amid sharp hills and cliffs made up of red breccia and sandstone.
There are enticing beaches under these cliffs where you can walk in winter or bathe in the gentle sea on warm summer days.
And in the town itself, you’ll be greeted by an elegant harbour teeming with yachts, and with quays traced by local shops, cafes and restaurants.
For families there’s inspiration for days out all around Torquay and Torbay, while a cocktail of history and contemporary culture awaits at Torre Abbey and Cockington Country Park.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Torquay:
1. Kents Cavern
Up there with the most significant Stone Age sites in Europe, Kents Cavern has revealed signs of human habitation going back 45,000 years.
This labyrinthine system of chambers has a constant temperature of 14°C and would have been used by prehistoric humans to escape the Ice Age winters.
On the tour you’ll be confronted by some of the oldest tools discovered in the UK and the bones and teeth of prehistoric animals like mammoths and scimitar-toothed cat.
The guide will also explain the geology of Kents Cavern, and how it was created 2.5 million years ago, and how stalagmites growing from the floor helped to hide evidence of prehistoric occupation from the first explorers.
The Rockies chamber has the most remarkable concretions, while the Great Chamber recounts the 15-year survey of the Cavern in the 1860s and 70s.
2. Babbacombe Model Village
Exactly the kind of light, family diversion you associate with Devon, Babbacombe Model Village has more than 400 miniature buildings in four acres.
The village has as many as 13,160 figures on its lanes, and has expertly crafted models of some of the country’s most famous landmarks.
You can see London’s Shard, Piccadilly Circus and Stonehenge, while there’s a model train track, three hundred metres long weaving past the buildings.
The village has been designed with lots of wit, and you have to go slow to make sure you don’t miss any of the humorous signs or figures in funny predicaments.
There’s also a 4D cinema, showing immersive 3D movies, and on Thursday evenings in summer the village is illuminated with thousands of miniature lights.
3. Torre Abbey
The best preserved monastic site in Devon and Cornwall can be found in Torquay and dates from the end of the 12th century.
No sooner was Torre Abbey suppressed in the 16th century, it became a stately home, and although large portions of the church were torn down, the south and west cloisters were adapted into the house.
The tithe barn, gatehouse, abbot’s tower and undercrofts all came through unscathed.
Torre Abbey is a multifaceted attraction, boasting historic architecture from the Medieval and Georgian periods, but also one of the strongest art collections in the county.
Among the 600 pieces are works by William Blake and Pre-Raphaelites like Edward Burne-Jones and William Holman Hunt.
You can also peruse the contents of the studio of Victorian sculptor William Thrupp, and catch exhibitions of contemporary art (Damien Hirst and Anthony Gormley have both featured in the last decade).
4. Cockington Country Park
On Torquay’s western boundary is the lovable village of Cockington, with lovely thatched cottages and a manor house, Cockington Court, all in 450 acres of parkland.
The Country Park, which envelops the whole of the village, has a mosaic of manicured gardens, ornamental lakes, rolling countryside and woodland.
Cockington Court, established in the 16th century and last altered in 1820, houses a craft centre and studios for potters and glassblowers.
In the village you can take a look around Cockington Church, which was consecrated in the 11th century, seek out a water mill, have high tea at the weaver’s cottage and visit a forge that has been on the same site for five centuries.
Near the Model Village in Babbacombe, Bygones is a nostalgic journey through time, from the Victorian period to the middle of the 20th century.
The attraction’s showpiece is a cobblestone street scene at the end of the 19th century, where there’s more than a dozen stores like a sweet shop, apothecary and haberdashery, along with themed Victorian rooms like a parlour, kitchen, bedroom and bathroom.
From there you can find out about steam rail travel and see a 27-ton engine, experience a First World War trench, and try your luck and all sorts of vintage seaside amusements.
Finally there’s a replica shopping arcade full of clothing, jewellery, gadgets, food containers and furniture from the 50s and 60s.
6. Living Coasts
Heralded as Britain’s only coastal zoo, Living Coasts has a wealth of birds, sea life and aquatic mammals in a series of smartly designed marine environments.
These are all set on the west flank of Beacon Hill, looking over Tor bay.
The award-winning enclosure here is the free-flying seabird aviary, which is 51,000 cubic metres and gets up to 19 metres in height.
This is the first aviary in the country to breed tufted puffins, and common and pigeon guillemots, and also has auks, redshanks, red-legged kittihawks and many more species.
Elsewhere you’ll find habitats like the “Mysterious Mangrove”, which has archer fish and rays, “Penguin Beach”, “Octopus Odyssey”, “Otter Rapids”, and a crawl tank where little ones can see what starfish look like underwater.
7. Oddicombe Beach
The pick of Torquay’s beaches is Oddicombe Beach, which lies at the bottom of lofty red breccia cliffs.
You can get down there on a serpentine road or catch the Babbacombe Cliff Railway, which we’ll talk about next.
Facing east, the beach has gentle waters lapping its reddish sand, which is flecked with pebbles.
In the summer season you can rent deck chairs, and there’s a cafe and beach shop up the steps behind.
The water is also calm enough that you can hire a pedalo or kayak to take a tour of the beach’s small bay.
High above the beach on Babbacombe Downs is a scenic promenade with benches and telescopes and edged by a lawn with a row of cherry trees.
8. Babbacombe Cliff Railway
The energy-saving to reach Oddicombe Beach from Babbacombe Downs is to catch the funicular, which has been shuttling beachgoers up and down the breccia cliffs since 1926. The Babbacombe Cliff Railway is open in the high season and shuts down in winter for maintenance.
It runs from 09:30 to 16:30 and rings a bell 15 and 30 minutes before the final journey of the day.
On the 220-metre journey you can rest your gaze on the sea through the parting in the woodland lining the track.
9. Inner Harbour
Of all the places to watch the town go by, the Inner Harbour may be the prettiest.
At the head of the harbour opposite Debenhams there’s a line of benches in the shade of plane trees and next to swaying palms.
There you can look over the forest of masts in the water, while along the sides of the harbour are tea rooms, galleries, souvenir shops and restaurants with outdoor seating.
One of the appealing things about the inner harbour is that it is enclosed within a tidal cill, which keeps the water in at low tide so the water level stays high at all times.
And art the southern end you can cross the Millennium Bridge to appreciate the town and its steep topography.
10. Torquay Museum
On Babbacombe Road, the Torquay Museum dates back to 1844 and in the spirit of Victorian times has a very diverse collection to sift through.
There are lots of enthralling Stone Age tools, and human and animal remains from Kents Cavern and other sites around Devon.
You can see scores of Ancient Egyptian objects like amulets, shabti figures, a mummified hand and the complete mummy of a boy from the 18th Dynasty (around 600 BC). Torquay was also the birthplace and childhood home of the crime writer Agatha Christie and there’s authentic memorabilia for fans of her work to investigate.
You can sample everyday life in a 19th-century Devon farmhouse, view a multitude of zoological specimens, check out an immense ethnographic collection and admire high-quality antique ceramics from all of England’s main potteries.
11. Meadfoot Beach
Facing southeast at the top of Tor Bay, Meadfoot Beach has a photogenic location, at the foot of cliffs coated with vegetation.
The beach is shingle and is trimmed by a long platform that has sweet little beach chalets painted shades of blue.
The water is safe for youngsters and non-swimmers as Meadfoot Beach points away from the currents.
There’s a cafe behind with a terrace where you can mull over vistas that take in the craggy islet, Thatcher’s Rock at the north end of Tor Bay.
In the distance to the south is the unmistakeable outline of Berry Head.
12. Princess Gardens
West of the Inner Harbour is an open space for a walk next to the columns of yachts in the marina.
The Princess Gardens have a promenade hemmed by well-tended flowerbeds, clipped lawns and a dainty water fountain.
The gardens are named after Princess Louise, fourth daughter of Queen Victoria, who was here to lay the foundation stone in 1890. In the centre is the Princess Theatre, Torquay’s top performing arts venue, and just beside this is the English Riviera Wheel, 60 metres high and offering a complete panorama of the harbour from its 42 gondolas.
13. Babbacombe Theatre
A cultural mainstay of Torquay, the Babbacombe Theatre has been in business since 1939 and has the longest summer season in the UK, lasting nine months.
The auditorium was refitted in 2009 and seats 600 people, hosting touring cover acts, stand-up comics and musicals.
All through the summer there’s a twice-weekly variety show produced since 1986 by the theatre’s director, Colin Matthews.
This has a mix of dancers, singers and well-known comedians from British television.
14. Dinosaur World
If you’re holidaying with children going through their dinosaur phase there’s an ideal attraction in a lovely Art Deco building in the Inner Harbour.
Dinosaur World is inhabited by models of dinosaurs, both life-sized and to scale, and all in lifelike tableaux.
Kids can play the role of an anthropologist, excavating dinosaur bones and can test their knowledge of the different dinosaur species with a quiz.
There are lots of opportunities for interaction, by grabbing a triceratops by the horns or try sticking your head in the jaws of a full-size T-rex skull.
15. South West Coast Path
There are lots of walks around Torquay, but the one that inspires a sense of awe is the South West Coast Path, a National Trail 630 miles long from Minehead in Somerset to Poole Harbour in Dorset, taking in Devon and Cornwall along the way.
You can take on a few miles of the path and stay local by heading from Torquay Harbour up onto the cliffs to the east at Daddyhole Plain.
On the way you’ll see Beacon Cove where Agatha Christie bathed in her youth.
From Daddyhole Plain you can view the entirety of Tor Bay.
Berry Head at the south end of the bay is achievable in a day, and then from Churston it’s just two stops back to Torquay on the train.