Devon is a very appealing place to move to, with some stunning locations and (relatively) affordable property. One of the best places to move to in Devon is, without a doubt, Exeter. This beautiful Cathedral city is home to the prestigious University, is a stones throw from Dartmoor, Exmoor and the Jurassic Coast and hosts some great shopping and cultural activities.
To add to Exeter’s appeal, the city is also well connected, with a fast train line to London, the M5 motorway and Devon’s only international airport.
So if you’re choosing Exeter, you might wondering where are the best and worst areas to live? And what is it really like to live in Exeter. Well, our guide will help you pick the nicest places to live in Devon’s county seat.
A short walk from the city centre of Exeter, Heavitree is one of the more desirable places to live in the city for many. Although your property is unlikely to be hugely spacious, you’ll probably have a decent sized garden or courtyard, and most likely be in a terraced housing type setup. Heavitree is also popular with students, thanks to it’s close proximity to the centre of town and the short commute to uni.
It’s also close to both the Met Office and the hospital, and there are a number of conveniences such as the small supermarkets, Heavitree pleasure ground (park) and some decent takeaway options on the high street. All in all, if you’re looking for a pleasant place to live in the city, Heavitree will likely be high on the list.
Between Heavitree and the city centre, you’ll find Newtown. This cluser of terraced houses is very much student land, but don’t let that put you off. The area is quite vibrant and very convenient for town. You’ve also got Waitrose and the driving range on your doorstep here, plus you can pretty much walk to all of the cultural offerings the city has to offer.
It’s slightly more down-at-heel than neighbouring Heavitree, which is definitely the ‘posher’ neighbourhood. Also, chances are you’ll be listening to drunk students and late night parties more often. But it’s also a good spot to buy an investment property, especially student let style property, if that’s what you’re thinking of doing…
East of the river, St Thomas is a nicely located suburban spot, somewhere between inner-city living (if you can call it that in Exeter) and close to the more rural elements of the city. There are a cluster of retail and industrial parks on this side of town, plus you’re close to the shops of Cowick Street as well as St Thomas railway station – handy for a quick escape to Paignton on a sunny day.
Although some residents turn their nose up at St Thomas as being ‘the wrong side of the river’, there are a number of great reasons to call this area home. For starters, it’s slightly less studenty than some more central areas, it’s relatively flat compared to the other side of town, and you still get that inner city vibe without being in the centre.
What makes St Thomas one of the best areas of Exeter is the close proximity to the river, including the Quay which is great for dining, riverside walks and people watching on a hot day (even a spot of paddle boarding). It’s also just a short link to the city centre and there is plenty of local shopping.
In terms of property, it’s mostly terraced houses with some good sized options, often including nice sized gardens. Demographic wise, it’s a mixed bag, but mostly families with a smattering of students.
Alphington & Marsh Barton
Sitting to the south west of the city centre, Alphington is a bit of a mixed bag. In some senses, you’ve got a pleasant village atmosphere a short walk from rolling green hills. On the other hand the houses can be a bit ‘estate-y’, which is fine if you’re looking for a value property in the area. Think new-ish build bungalows and cul de sacs…
Marsh Barton is pretty much a big industrial estate, which is fine if you want a new car or if you work in the area – it could be a very short commute.
The area is pretty quiet though, so if you’re looking for that buzzing community, this probably isn’t it.
A bit of a mixed bag, but in general, Exwick offers a suburban and peaceful locale within Exeter’s urban area. That being said, Farm Hill is often looked at as the ‘rough end’ of Exeter – although that’s pretty much subjective. Most people who come from outside would think it was a pretty inoffensive housing estate, albeit a bit modern and boring.
But Exwick in general is actually very well located. You’re only a short walk from the river, plus the University can be reached on foot in a matter of minutes.
You don’t have much in the way of shopping, but there are some nice pubs, and there are some quaint thatched houses in the area (if you like that kind of thing).
The North East (Pinhoe, Whipton and Monkerton)
This cluster of former villages, now suburbs, are an attractive option for people looking for the best places in Exeter to buy relative bargain properties. You get that village vibe, but with some decent shopping and other convenient trappings of city life.
There is even a train station in Pinhoe connecting the area to the city and running all the way to London Waterloo, making Pinhoe and the area a great spot for ex-Londoner who can’t quite make the break. Pinhoe is also a short hop from the motorway, and Whipton and Monkton also offer some good parks, retail estates and also Exeter hospital on your doorstep.
Where to avoid living in Exeter?
Let’s be honest here. What is seen as ‘down and out’ or ‘rough’ in Exeter is pretty much prime real estate in parts of East London or Manchester. And if you’re moving from somewhere like Luton, Sheffield or Swansea, these ‘rough’ areas will seem pretty tame.
Locals will tell you to avoid Farm Hill in Exwick, Countess Wear or even Wonford. But frankly, if you’re moving from a bigger city, I wouldn’t really rule anywhere out. The inner city areas such as St David’s and Mount Pleasant can be very studenty, which might put you off if you don’t like drunken shouting in the middle of a Tuesday night.
That said… Exeter is a student town, and pretty much anywhere in the city centre will have some kind of student presence. And again, it’s all relative to where you’re coming from.
What is Exeter like to live in?
Exeter is quite an affluent and likeable town, with many of the trappings of city living in a compact area. It’s kind of like Bath or York, but with a fraction of the tourism, but just as much of the quaint.
As a city, Exeter is compact and relatively small, which makes getting around pretty easy. There is even an efficient branch train line connecting the city to many of the villages and suburbs in the area. Although Exeter isn’t on the coast, you can be on the beach by train in a matter of minutes (it’s about 15 minutes by train to Paignton, or stop at Teignmouth or Dawlish en route).
You’ve also got the wilds of Dartmoor and Exmoor just a stones throw from the city, and the Jurassic coast starts around Lyme Regis, which is about a 20-30 minute drive.
Oh, and Exeter also has Devon’s only airport, with regular connections to London, the UK and even some international flights.
Demographics and data
In terms of average income, Exeter ranks high. With the median wage in Exeter being around £31,800, which compares very strongly against Plymouth (£26,300), Torquay (£28,500) and the UK average which is £42,000.
Exeter University is one of the UK’s best ranked unis and attracts over 22,000 students. Considering Exeter itself has a population of 130,000, this makes around 16% of the population students. And with the size of the city, it can be hard to avoid student life which is no bad thing. The city has an average age of 35 years, which is well under the Devon average of 44 – so Exeter is a very youthful city compared to most places in Devon.
Being a student town, there is a decent amount of culture. Well known bands play pretty regularly, and there are plenty of small festivals, places to eat and events throughout the year. It isn’t Shoreditch or Camden. But if you’re looking for a less stabby city vibe, Exeter will be right up your street.
Talking of crime, Exeter is obviously not crime free, and there are pockets of deprivation. But on the whole, Exeter is a relatively low crime area. It has 68 crimes per 1000 people, making it much safer than Plymouth with 88.6 crimes per 1000 people. (Check out our area guide to Plymouth)
Much of the crime in Exeter is antisocial behaviour (drunken fights and sexual assaults in the high street and Little Castle areas).
How much is property in Exeter?
You can pick up a 2 or 3 bedroom property in Exeter under the £200,000 mark. There are even some bargains around £170,000 in the city centre (July 2022 prices).
Want a house with a garden? You’re looking at £180,000, realistically.
With prices coming down at the end of 2022, it might be a great time to grab a (relative) bargain property in Exeter.
Want to buy somewhere close to Exeter? Take a look at Paignton, Torquay or Newton Abbott for some bargains in the area.