By | 16th January 2018

Do you need a car in Exeter?

Do you need a car in Exeter > Should you rent a car in Exeter UK > Exeter ( EXT ) Do you need a car in Exeter? Is it worth hiring a car in Exeter? Should you rent a car in Exeter?

Exeter Car hire summary

Overall drive rating

Based on a weighted score across all cost and quality factors. [Full notes - drive rating]


  • Price alone isn't the only factor in determining whether or not it's worth hiring a car in Exeter but clearly it's an important one. See our "why" section for more figures.
  • Cost factors include - price of car hire (peak and off peak season), car hire extras, fuel, tolls and parking costs.
  • Quality factors include - scenic drives, road quality and upkeep, general safety and congestion levels.
  • A complete index of all 10 factors will be uploaded shortly.

Cheapest rate for one week

Based on cheapest economy car hire deal with no added extras. [full notes - basic costs]



  • This is the very lowest price we could find for a one week car rental period in Exeter during the quiet season.
  • You will almost always end up paying more than this figure, but any extra costs or supplementary charges are usually determined by the renter, so we cannot easily compare like with like.
  • In many cases, rental companies will offer a cheap rental and then expect you to take out expensive insurance waivers. There are always ways to avoid this!

How much should I expect to pay in the peak season?

Based on cheapest deal during the summer holiday season. (Unless otherwise noted) [full notes - seasonal variations]



  • During the peak holiday season, public transport is often better value, as many train and bus fares are fixed throughout the year. See our "why not" section for more suggestions.
  • For most featured destinations, the peak season will be during the summer, typically July and August for northern hemisphere destinations. However, peak demand might occur at different times, for example in some ski resorts or winter sun destinations etc.

Free parking score

Based on the number of hotels which offer free parking. Total 93 - of which 59 have free parking. [full notes - parking]



  • Free hotel parking is very useful to have when you are hiring a car, and it's always worth checking ahead beforehand.
  • If free hotel parking is not available, you might want to consider renting a car for a single day, rather than for your whole trip.
  • The availability (or lack of) free hotel parking can be a really important factor in determining whether or not it's worth hiring a car in Exeter, as it can be a significant extra daily cost which you won't usually be paying at home!
  • Parking costs play a very major part in our consideration of whether or not it's worth hiring a car in each destination.
  • By using public transport, walking or hiring a bicycle, you can avoid having to worry about parking charges altogether! See our "why not" section for more suggestions.

Exeter public transport quick facts

Train score

Higher scores go to the systems which don't just take you to the most amazing places, but also to the ones which are easy to use, fast, reliable and frequent. A good train system on its own is usually enough to determine that you don't need to hire a car in many destinations.


  • [full notes trains]
  • Trains include all kinds of urban rail system from trams up to metro and suburban networks.
  • Trains also include mountain railways and cable cars.
  • Generally, places with a good rail network will automatically mean that you don't "need" to hire a car, but you can still might find that on balance you are better off by having one.

Water travel score

This is a general rating for all types of water travel, including scheduled ferries, sea / rivers cruises and excursions in Exeter


  • [full notes - water score]
  • The water score looks at means of transport on water - it does not consider water based activities like surfing or kayaking.

Overall public transport score

This is a more practical rating based on bus and rail travel, and also including ferries and other boat services, where they are part of the public transport network.


  • [full notes - overall transit] buses | trams | metro | local & regional rail | national rail
  • Is public transport in Exeter good value, or is it worth hiring a car just because it is cheaper overall?
  • Even if public transport is cheap and reliable, you might still feel that you should hire a car in Exeter because it will still give you more flexibility to reach out-of-the-way places, especially in rural areas.

Walking and Cycling Overview

Active travel score

This overall rating considers walking and cycling in and around Exeter. It includes factors such as the quality of the street environment, and whether you are likely to feel safe walking or cycling, together with the availability of bicycle hire and the ease of linking walking or cycling routes with public transport.


  • [full notes - active score] walking (city) | hiking | cycling (city /  country).
  • A high active travel score means that you might not need a car in Exeter, because you can see everything you need to see using a combination of your own two feet and the public transport system.

Car rental in - Exeter Need v worth & should!

Whether you have come here asking "do I need a car in Exeter", "is it worth hiring a car in Exeter", or whether or not you "should" hire a car here, these are all slight variations on a similar theme. Here we break each one down according to the criteria we use for each question. This is a weighted score based on the values above. These are explained further in the text which follows - [#why] [#whynot]. Do you need a car in Exeter?

Do you need a car in Exeter?

This is essentially based on whether or not public transport and other "non car" options are good enough to get around and beyond the city. For the lowest "need" score, the destination should have a combination of excellent all-round public transport, great opportunities for walking and cycling, together with poor value car hire or generally poor quality roads. 
  • In destinations where both public transport and car hire options are excellent, the verdict for "do I need a car in  Exeter " will swing towards a strong no, because you can do absolutely fine without one).
Is it worth hiring a car in Exeter?

Is it worth hiring a car in Exeter?

Is car hire good value, especially during the peak season? How does this compare with transit fares? This question mainly looks at issues of cost and practicality.
  • In destinations where both public transport and car hire options are excellent, the verdict for "is it worth hiring a car in  Exeter" will swing towards whichever option offers the lowest overall cost for a group of 2-4 people travelling together.
Should you rent a car in Exeter?

Should you rent a car in Exeter?

Weighing up the above questions, if you are here for the first time AND asking about hiring a car, is it a good idea?
  • The final "carometer" swing is much more opinion based, and it takes into account which options will give you the truly best travel experience (n our humble opinion of course). Where a destination offers an excellent score with or without a car, the swing will go towards whichever option we feel gives the most truly unforgettable experience.
  • Ultimately, it's your choice whether or not you rent a car here. We're trying to give you something that's sufficiently far enough away from a "maybe" to help you make that choice. Ultimately, people only come to us because they are uncertain, but we don't really know what each person's preferences are. Whether we say you should or you shouldn't rent a car in  Exeter, you might also want to look up some of our other cities to see how  Exeter compares with other destinations in  UK or  Europe.
  • By using public transport, walking or hiring a bicycle, you can avoid having to worry about parking charges altogether! See our "why not" section for more suggestions.

What does everyone else do?

Do most people hire a car in Exeter?

This is based on our observations of (a) car rental facilities and (b) what we think most people will do here. It's not an exact figure, just an estimate of how likely people are to get hold of a rental car here.
  • his is based on the percentage of people "in the market" who we think are likely to hire a car. This includes anyone arriving on holiday here who would usually hire a car on their travels, so it doesn't include people who don't usually drive (or don't drive), people staying with friends etc.


Visitors per year (million)

  • Cities with more visitors are more likely to have more complex airport car rental arrangements, and generally they will also have better public transport, but this is not always the case, especially in North America.


  • [full notes - do as everyone else does?]
  • You may wish to go with the flow, or you might prefer to avoid doing the most popular or obvious option. This will vary according to the range of choice available. This tends to be much higher in destinations which are closer to the middle of the car or no car scale.

Who is travelling?

Your group size and travel budget has a major impact on whether or not getting a rental car is good value compared to using public transport as your main means of getting around. Ultimately, these are all "worth" questions:

Is it worth renting a car in Exeter if I am a solo / budget traveller?

Generally, hiring a car is not good value for solo travellers for multiple reasons, especially as most of the costs of renting apply to the car, not the occupants. With public transport, the reverse is usually true! However, there are always some places where you will need a car, simply because they are almost impossible to reach using public transport.

Is it worth renting a car in Exeter for 2 people travelling together?

A rental car can be good value for couples or for friends travelling together, but since most cars come with at least four seats, it's often still better value to use public transport. However, if you prefer to keep yourselves to yourselves, then you might still want to rent.

Is it worth renting a car in Exeter for families?

Families of groups of 3-4 people travelling together will always get the best value from a rental car. However, you may also be burdened with extra costs for car seat hire, and you well also prefer to use local trains and buses, if they are quicker than getting stuck in heavy traffic.

Where are you staying?

The place you are staying, together with the sort of places you want to see, will have a large impact on whether or not you "need" to rent a car:

Do you need a car in Exeter if we are staying in the city centre / main resort area?

Most large towns or purpose built holiday resorts will have some kind of public transport, whereas parking provision will vary greatly from one place to the next. 

Do you need a car in Exeter if we are staying on the edge of the urban area?

Typically you may be staying in an apartment or hmall house on the edge of a resort or urban area. These places usually have some level of public transport, but not as much as city / resort centres.

Do you need a car in Exeter if we are staying in a rural area?

Rural proprties might include larger villas or apartments, but they can still be within a short walk of a bus stop or local railway station, and the opportunities for hiking and cycling might also be substantial, depending on the destination.

What is your attitude towards driving?

We can give you suggestions based on whatever we consider to be a "typical" visitor to Exeter, but ultimately your decision is also going to be influenced by whether or not you ususally prefer to hire a car in the first place.

Should I hire a car in Exeter if I prefer not to drive?

This is especially the case when there is only one main driver in the group, and it's based on the attitude of the driver rather than their passengers! The main driver may also simply prefer to use public transport, or they may prefer to take scenic train journeys where available.

Should we rent a car in Exeter if we are easy either way?

This is more aimed at the typical visitor who isn't that bothered about how they get around, as long as it is the most convenient / best value option.

Should I rent a car in Exeter if I prefer to drive?

For people who usually prefer the freedom and flexibility of having a hire car. Is it still best to rent a car in Exeter, or are there good reasons not to?

Much of this advice assumes you are heading west towards Cornwall. It is essentially aimed at people flying into Exeter airport. It could equally apply to people taking the train out of London or other parts of the UK.

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Why should you rent a car in Exeter?

What are the main reasons for hiring a car here? Do you just want to drive locally? Do you want to go further afield, or should you even look at taking a road trip? In terms of factors like the cost of the hire itself, fuel costs, road tolls and parking charges, is it worth hiring a car in Exeter?
  • For the usual reasons of flexibility. Looking west, train services between Exeter and Plymouth are extremely good. However, once you move away from this central artery, public transport options are limited.
  • There are numerous delightful villages in Devon and Cornwal. Travelling around these places by bus is slow and inconvenient.
  • There are two large national parks close to Exeter: Exmoor and Dartmoor. It is much easier to get around these areas with a car.
  • Looking back up towards Bristol, a car is ideal for exploring places like Cheddar Gorge and Wookey Hole.
  • The scenic rail routes in this part of the world are fine if you enjoy the journey as much is getting to the destination, but if you actually want to move at any pace, then you will need to drive. For example, the routes between Plymouth and Gunnislake and between Liskeard and Looe both have manually operated switchbacks which add to the journey time – rail buffs love it, but it slows the journey down.
  • If you are driving as far as Land’s End, you will certainly be better off in a car, as the bus takes the best part of an hour to get here from Penzance.

Why not? Visiting Exeter without a car

What is public transport like in Exeter? What about local conditions for walking or cycling? Can you rely on public transport and maybe a few taxis for most or all of your trip? Are there some times of year when it's easier to get by without a car than others? When should you rent a car in 4?
  • Devon and Cornwall have some of the most scenic train lines in the UK. The main line between Exeter and Plymouth, which hugs the coast for much of the route is a strong personal favourite — the area around Dawlish Warren is famous for having the waves crashing against the railway line in rough seas.
  • Trains provide easy connections down to the English Riviera of Torbay, or through Plymouth and into Cornwall. Once in Cornwall, a huge selection of scenic branch lines is on offer, and these are a must for anyone, whether rail buff or not.
  • This part of the country has a number of heritage railway lines, with the route down to Kingswear on the Dartmouth Steam Railway being particularly famous.
  • Sometimes there are extra hidden costs of taking a car — for example arriving at the Eden project by bus, by bike or on foot will get you a discount, whereas honeypot tourist villages like Mevagissey charge a small fortune for parking.
  • Devon and Cornwall are natural magnets for cyclists, with a small number of off road cycle paths also being available.
  • The Camel Trail – this is arguably the most scenic cycle route in the UK, and since it follows the route of an oldrailway, it’s almost entirely off road. From Exeter, you can take a train to Bodmin Parkway, followed by a local bus to Bodmin, or other points on the route, where cycle hire facilities are widely available,
  • A number of excellent value travel passes are available from First Great Western, who operate most of the trains in the Devon and Cornwall area, as well as a number of bus services. Tickets usually give and limited travel in Devon and all Cornwall for a fixed period of time, and are valid on all trains and buses, whether operated by First great Western or not. For example a day ranger covering anywhere in Devon costs just £10, whereas a ticket covering 4 days travel (in any 8) in Devon and Cornwall is £40.
  • There are a number of large estuaries in Devon and Cornwall, with ferry services providing a crossing between the two sides. The majority of these ferries are for foot passengers only.
  • The city of Exeter itself has plenty of bus services, and the centre is compact and walkable.
  • The same can also be said of Plymouth, whose 1960s tree-lined Armada Way precinct development is surprisingly pleasant, considering when it was built.
  • Most of the other towns in Devon and Cornwall are relatively small, so they are easy to walk around, although some coastal towns such as Penzance can sprawl for several miles along the seafront.
  • The Scilly Isles are a popular excursion by sea or helicopter from Penzance, or by air from a number of different regional airports in the south-west. Passenger ferry services offer no facility to take cars to the Scilly Isles, nor are there any car rental facilities on the islands.


Our slider ratings range from 0 (it isn't even possible to hire a car, e.g. Hong Kong) through to 10 (you really must rent a car here, e.g. Phoenix, Tampa). However, most places are somewhere inbetween these extremes, and this is where it gets more interesting! Further ratings breakdowns, including a much more detailed public transport rating, are currently being added. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below.


What is our final score for Exeter on the Carornocar scale?

Remember, this isn't so much a rating of the road network, or a score for what we think of the buses or trains, but it's simply a scale showing the swing between whether or not we think a rental car is a good idea here.


As with anywhere, a car can give a lot more flexibility, especially as there are many parts of the South West which are extremely rural. However, many of the most impressive destinations in Cornwall in particular are connected to the central spine of the London to Penzance Great Western Railway, and as so many of these routes are scenic, we think the best way to enjoy this part of the world is to do so by train.

Would you hire a car in Exeter?

Have you driven in Exeter? Do you agree with our advice on whether or not it's worth hiring a car in Exeter}? Do you need a car in Exeter? For some or all of the time? Tell us what you think using the comments section below:

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