A Guide to the South Hams, Devon

A Guide to the South Hams, Devon

The South Hams in South Devon encompasses countryside, moorland and coast. Extending all the way from Dartmoor to the coast between Plymouth and Torbay, it boasts many acclaimed Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and a fascinating heritage shaped by maritime and rural culture.

The South Hams is a truly unique place. Spread out across much of South Devon’s tranquil underbelly, it is home to some of the most glorious countryside, leafy vineyards and picturesque beaches in the UK. Thanks to its fertile soils and rich seas, it is also famed for having some of the best local food and wine going. In essence, it has plenty of reasons for you to visit. 

So you can find out more about this beautiful part of the world, we’ve put together a guide to the South Hams, filled with all the best insider tips and must-see attractions. 


The history of the South Hams has its roots in Anglo Saxon times, when communities made themselves at home within the area’s temperate climes. In fact, the name South Hams actually derives from the old English word for “sheltered place” – hammes. As time went on, many of the region’s villages were involved in the production of wool, with its ports flourishing as part of the lucrative trade of local products. With the ports playing such an important role in the prosperity of the South Hams, the presence of the Royal Navy has consequently been a consistent feature of many of its coastal towns.

Towns and Villages

A picturesque town nestled within a countryside valley of the South Hams

If you are looking for a luxury holiday in the South Hams, you can choose from a plethora of attractive towns and villages peppered across the region. Some of the area’s highlights include the coastal town of Salcombe, known for its polished streets, crab festival and award-winning Salcombe ice cream, and the riverside town of Dartmouth, famous for its nautical history, annual food festival and historical buildings. The largest towns in the South Hams are Ivybridge, Totnes and Kingsbridge, each offering an idyllic base for holidays in South Devon. For exploring the coast, choose Bigbury-on-Sea or Slapton, or for access to Dartmoor National Park, Buckfastleigh is a wonderful option. Here, you can also visit the Benedictine Buckfast Abbey, the former home of Sir Francis Drake, which is the source of some pretty curious tales and legends.


Bigbury Beach in the South Hams overlooking Burgh Island

If you are hoping to enjoy a beach holiday, look no further than the South Hams. With over 30 beaches to choose from – many of which are the holders of national cleanliness awards – you’d struggle to find somewhere nicer. Particularly popular are Bigbury Beach, which enjoys views across to the famous Burgh Island, and neighbouring Bantham Beach, one of the best beaches for surfing in South Devon. Blackpool Sands is regularly hailed as one of the most stunning beaches in the whole country, while the long South Milton Sands Beach is perfect for slow-paced walks along the shore. Best of all, South Milton Sands, along with North Sands, East Portlemouth, East Prawle, Beesands and more are dog-friendly all year round, so floppy eared pals can join in on the fun too. 


A rolling Dartmoor scene topped with wild heath and grassland, craggy tors and sheep

Whether you’re an avid hiker or relaxed rambler, the South Hams is one of the best places in the UK for walking thanks to its varied array of landscapes. From the unbroken weave of the South West Coast Path to the numerous riverside trails to the labyrinth of paths across Dartmoor, there is something for every ability and every mood. Some of the best walks in Devon, we particularly recommend the Dart Valley Trail and the walk around Start Point.


Needless to say, if you love exploring, then you’ll love the South Hams. A haven for outdoor enthusiasts of all ages, it simply begs for long hours in the Great Outdoors, from moorland to river valleys to countryside to coast. Whether you want to spend your time discovering the area on foot, bike, canoe or more, you’ll be spoilt for choice. For watery adventures, you can sea kayak from Dartmouth, surf on Bantham, paddle board along the River Dart, and sail from Salcombe. Or to keep your feet on solid ground, you can cycle the Exe Valley Trail or the Plym Valley Trail, wildlife watch at Slapton Ley wildlife reserve, wander one of the many beaches or simply sit back and relax at your luxury South Hams retreat.


The historic Dartmouth Castle next to the waterside in Dartmouth

One of the most well-known attractions in the South Hams is Burgh Island, which you can access via a fun ride from the beach’s iconic sea tractor. Famous for its links with Agatha Christie, the island is full of drama and atmosphere. For history-lovers, Dartmouth Castle, Totnes Castle and Berry Pomeroy Castle are all fantastic places to visit in the South Hams, while for literary enthusiasts, Greenway, the former home of Agathie Christie, is a must. To enjoy a different perspective of the South Hams, the South Devon Railway provides memorable journeys between Buckfastleigh and Totnes, while the Dartmouth Steam Railway and riverboat offers rides along the South Devon coastline. To start your day off in the best way, there are some gorgeous sunrise spots in the South Hams to watch the sun’s rays burst over the horizon, while evenings can be spent wining and dining in on the many restaurants and pubs. 

Feeling inspired? Have a look at our luxury retreats in the South Hams here.

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