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Europe > United Kingdom > Exeter

See: Why rent a car in Exeter ? | Why not? | Ratings | Summary | Comments

(All of these pages will look a lot nicer when they are tidied up later in the spring)

Your key questions for any destination:

Do I need a car in Exeter?

Strictly speaking, there are very few travel destinations anywhere in the world where it's absolutely essential to rent a car in order to see the main points of interest.

That's why we give you loads of ratings scales from 1 to 10, rather than just yes or no answers!

  • The need question is generally answered by looking at public transport (transit) options. Is it good enough for visitors who are happy to consider using it?
  • How many public transport routes are there, and are they mainly rail or road (bus) based?
  • Is public transport fast, frequent, safe, reliable and cheap?
  • Does public transport actually take you to the places you'll probably want to see?

Is it worth hiring a car in Exeter?

This question is usually more about value for money. For this, we look at Exeter car hire options, and consider how rental costs compare with using transit.

How far are you likely to drive anyway, and how much might you expect to spend on fuel, road tolls, parking and any other charges. We compare Exeter with other destinations locally and around the world.

This is obviously much more of an issue if you are planning a longer road trip than it is on a small island.

Should I rent a car in Exeter? 

This is basically a merging of the two questions. Everything else might be about giving certain facts about the costs of car rental or using public transport in Exeter, but answering this question is very much a matter of opinion.

Please note that is currently being revised and updated in preparation for the Summer 2022 (northern hemisphere) tourist season. 

We do not intent to include detailed covid information, nor do we intend to suggest hiring a car, just because public transport might still have a mask requirement. Our advice will be based on the same criteria we've always used, ie whether or not you can get a better travel experience, or at least a better value one, by choosing not to hire a car.

Quick Ratings

Price band

Exeter is in car rental price band: 4/10 (1 = cheapest car rental location)

General comment - based on price alone, is it worth renting a car in Exeter? 

Sometimes. Car rental is slightly cheaper than global averages.


Can you expect big swings in car rental prices in Exeter between the peak and the off peak season?

5/10 (0 = stable prices)

Driving score: 6/10

Non car score:8/10

Balance: 3

(0 = car hire not advised / 10 = rental car essential)

General comment -


Why? Visiting Exeter using a hire car

Why do you need a car in Exeter ?

  1. For the usual reasons of flexibility. Looking west, train services between Exeter and Plymouth are extremely good, just as they are between Exeter and London , where two routes are available, or between Exeter and Bristol. However, once you move away from these central arteries, public transport options are limited.
  2. There are numerous delightful villages in Devon and Cornwal, but travelling around these places by bus is slow and inconvenient.
  3. There are two large national parks close to Exeter — Exmoor and Dartmoor, and it is much easier to get around these areas with a car.
  4. Looking back up towards Bristol, a car is ideal for exploring places like Cheddar Gorge and Wookey Hole.
  5. 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.
  6. 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

Why don't you need a car in Exeter ?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Devon and Cornwall are natural magnets for cyclists, with a small number of off road cycle paths also being available.
  6. 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,
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. The city of Exeter itself has plenty of bus services, and the centre is compact and walkable.
  10. The same can also be said of Plymouth, whose 1960s tree-lined Armada Way precinct development is surprisingly pleasant, considering when it was built.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.

Ratings: How does Exeter compare?

Is it worth hiring a car in Exeter? TBC

This is based on a rough consideration of the costs of renting a car in Exeter, and how this compares with the costs of using public transport. The answer to this varies hugely from one destination to the next, based on a wide range of factors. It's based on renting a car at the airport (TBC), and driving for an average of 2-3 hours on open roads on most days.

How does this compare if:

You are travelling:

Solo / As couple / small family / larger family / senior couple etc

Does car rental make sense on different budgets?



Do you need to hire a car in Exeter? TBC

This is based strictly on whether or no we think it's possible to visit Exeter (and the surrounding area) without using a car. Of the three key questions, this one is the most likely to be a "no".

Should you rent a car in Exeter? TBC

This is a balance of all factors. Remember this is an answer to the question for people who are already asking it. That's why the answer might still be a "yes", even when public transport is good. 

See global comparisons

Hiring | Driving | Parking

Trains | Buses | Local travel


Car hire basics:


Public transportation basics:


Regular bus services: YES

Coach (inter-city): YES

Tram: NO

Metro: NO

Commuter Rail:

High Speed Rail:

Rail type (end stub / through / junction / hub):


As you start ....

Does Exeter airport have a direct rail link?

(Yes - within terminal / adjacent / short walk) (Yes - bus transfer / other) No






Has our advice for Exeter car rental changed over time, or has it been pretty constant?

2017 - 4

2019 - 3

2021 - 3

Average score - 3



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.



Do you or don't you need a car in Exeter ?

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