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 )
Car: Do you need a car in 4? No car: Is it worth hiring a car in 4? Slider: Should you rent a car in 4? Should you rent a car in 4?

Exeter car hire quick facts

Cheapest rate for one week Based on cheapest economy car hire deal with no added extras. [full notes - basic costs]



  • 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.
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 "whynot" section for more suggestions.
Free parking score Based on the number of hotels which offer free parking.Total 93 - of which 59 have free parking. [full notes - parking]




  • During the peak holiday season, public transport is often better value, as many train and bus fares are fixed throughout the year. See our "whynot" section for more suggestions.

Exeter public transport quick facts

"Top trumps" train score

Higher scores go to the systems which take you to the most amazing places.



  • [full notes - top trumps trains]
  • A good rail system doesn't mean you shouldn't hire a car, but it often means you have a decent range of options.

Overall public transport score {coming shortly}

This is a more practical rating based on bus and rail travel.



  • [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?

Walking and Cycling Overview

Active travel score {coming shortly}

This overall rating considers walking and cycling in and around Exeter



Need, 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:

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.

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?

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?

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.

Do you need a car in Exeter? Introduction

When someone asks "Do you need a car in Exeter?", this often breaks down to two key questions:

  1. Can you actually get around using public transport, or is a car all but essential?
  2. Is it worth hiring a car in Exeter? Is it good value for money, compared with non-car options?

Over the next few sections, we wil look at the pros and cons of driving in Exeter as a tourist, and ultimately weigh these up, so we can answer the key question of Should you rent a car in Exeter?

Why? Why not? Ratings Comments

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 Exeter?

  • 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.

Do you need a car in Exeter? Verdict: 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.



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.

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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