Car free holidays – visiting Torbay without a car

Car-free Torbay

Travelling to and getting around Torbay without a car couldn’t be easier. We have two train stations just minutes from our most popular sandy beaches, as well as regular coaches from London, to Torquay and Paignton.

Both Paignton beach and Torquay beach are safe, family-friendly beaches with nearby loos, restaurants and entertainment. If you prefer somewhere a bit quieter, we have over 20 beaches to choose from and great bus routes all along the seafront.

Have you bought your train tickets yet?

Why holiday without the car?

Sustainable tourism is really important but when we’re thinking about holiday ideas, we all have different reasons to consider a car free holiday. Do any of the below sound like you?

  • I’m a nervous driver
  • I want to try a different type of holiday
  • I don’t own a car
  • I’m fed up with M5 traffic queues
  • My family love going on the train
  • I hate paying for parking
  • I’m trying to be more eco-friendly
  • I’m looking for interesting holiday ideas

If they do, then Torbay in Devon may well be the UK holiday destination you’re looking for. With a great train network, as well as National Express coaches, going car-free in the UK is easier than you think.

And where better to start than the English Riviera?

Eco tip: If you want to work out the sustainable difference your train trip will make compared to travelling by car, check out ‘I came by train‘ which will let you add your journey and make the comparison. On average, taking the train is 67% less polluting than driving.

Why visit Torbay?

Corbyn Beach, Torquay, Fi Darby

Riviera: a coastal holiday destination, usually with a mild climate

Did you know Torbay was first called the English Riviera by the Victorians, who loved coming on holiday here (mostly by train). They called it that because the Bay’s sunny weather and blue waters reminded them of holidays in southern France.

We still have a mild climate today.

In fact, last summer (2023) Torquay was the third sunniest location in the UK with an an average of 7 hours of sunshine a day. That’s plenty of beach time but Torbay (the three towns of Torquay, Paignton and Brixham) and Tor Bay (their beautiful sheltered waters) have so much more to offer visitors.

Especially visitors who want to leave the car at home.

Why not take a short walk from Torquay train station to the picturesque thatched village of Cockington? Or take the open-top bus to the Model Village at Babbacombe? Or you could even catch a ride round to award-winning Paignton Zoo.

Or do something really different and explore Torbay by boat.

However you want your car free holiday to look, I’m here to help. I’ve lived in Torbay for 25 years now, and know my way around by train, foot, boat and bus. I don’t cycle but my husband does (delivering his sourdough bread as he goes).

Between us we know a fair bit about getting to and around Torbay without a car.

Getting to Torbay without a car

Torquay train station, Fi Darby

Unless you happen to own a superyacht, by far the most satisfying way to arrive in Torbay is by train. The Riviera Line from Exeter has to be one of the UK’s most scenic train lines with views first of the Exe Estuary then, as you round the corner at Dawlish Warren, of Lyme Bay.

Local tip: For the best sea views, sit on the left side of the train as you leave Exeter

Torre, Torquay and Paignton train stations are on their own branch line so you may have to change at Newton Abbot but there are a few direct trains to and from London.

Even at busy Newton Abbot, the Devon air will smell different to that you left behind.

How long does the train to Torquay take?

With either one change or a direct route from London Paddington to Torbay stations, you might not be surprised to hear you could find yourself on a Torbay beach in around three hours. We have three main line train stations.

Torre station: 22 minutes to the sea but handy for some of our seaside hotels.

Torquay station: 3 minutes to the sea and right next to the iconic Grand Hotel Torquay.

Paignton station: 12 minutes to Paignton Pier

If you’re visiting the English Riviera by train from Bristol, things are even quicker with the trip to Torquay station taking just two hours.

And when you get here, it’s just a short stroll to the beach.

Now that’s what I call responsible travel!

Eco tip: According to ‘I came by train’, if you travel from London Paddington to Torquay by train instead of car, you’ll save 22kg of CO2.

How long does the coach to Torbay take?

Both Paignton and Torquay have coach stations. From Torquay coach station it’s just a 20-minute walk to popular Torre Abbey Sands beach. And from Paignton coach station you only have to stroll for 12 minutes before you can order your chips on Paignton Pier and have paddle on the town’s lovely long beach.

Not surprisingly the coach journey to Torbay takes a bit longer than the train trip but we don’t think six hours from central London to Torquay coach station is at all bad, and you have four coaches a day to choose from.

Local tip: Catch the 501 coach from London Victoria coach station.

There are also two coaches a day from Bristol to Torbay. The trip from Bristol bus and coach station to Torquay coach station takes just under three hours.

Local tip: Catch the 102 coach from Bristol bus and coach station.

Can I get to Brixham by train?

Brixham is a beautiful fishing harbour town with plenty of boats but it doesn’t have its own train station.

That isn’t a problem though because Stagecoach’s number 12 bus runs all day and into the night, all the way into Brixham town. It picks up right next to Newton Abbot train station, near Torre train station, opposite the Grand Hotel (for Torquay train station) and at Paignton bus station (opposite Paignton train station).

If you’ve travelled to Torbay by coach, the number 12 bus also calls at Torquay Library (just along the road from Torquay coach station) and Paignton bus station (right next to the coach drop off in Great Western Road).

Can I get to Dartmouth by train?

Note: The Dartmouth Steam Railway only operates between mid June and the end of October.

Dartmouth isn’t in Torbay but its riverside restaurants, walks and shops are popular with visitors to the area. It’s a beautiful town and a joy to visit but parking spaces are limited.

In the summer it’s easier to get to Dartmouth without a car than it is with one.

Especially if you like steam trains!

Just across the platform from Paignton train station, you’ll find the Dartmouth Steam Railway. Hop on board and you’ll find yourself flying over the viaduct at Broadsands, steaming alongside the river Dart, then disembarking at Kingswear for a passenger ferry ride to Dartmouth.

Proving that green tourism can also be fun tourism!

Local tip:  You can purchase a direct train ticket from your local train station to Kingswear (for Dartmouth) via the GWR app.

Can I get to Torquay, Paignton and Brixham by boat?

Brixham harbour, Torbay, Fi Darby

This might be one of my best holiday ideas yet!

You might not associate car free Devon with boats but with so much water, here in Torbay it’s easy and great fun to travel where you want to go by boat and ferry. There are plenty of options; I’ve listed a few favourites below.

The Western Lady Ferry

Note: The Western Lady Ferry does not operate during the winter months.

On a clear day, by far the best way to view Torbay is from the sea, and one of the easiest ways to do that is to travel from Torquay to Brixham on the Western Lady Ferry. Departure point from Torquay is on Beacon Quay in the Outer Harbour, right next to the Harvester pub (the main booking office is opposite Offshore Restaurant in the Inner Harbour). The trip takes around 35 minutes.

Paignton Pleasure Cruises

Note: Available between April 1st and October 31st only.

Paignton Pleasure Cruises run ferry trips between Paignton, Brixham and Torquay, as well as coastal, fishing and sunset cruises. Boarding at Beacon Quay in Torquay, Paignton harbour, Paignton beach, and Brixham harbour.

The South Devon Round Robin

This has to be the car free adventure of the year. Much more than a boat trip, the Round Robin is a Devon tour that takes you from Paignton to Kingswear (steam train),  to Dartmouth (ferry), to Totnes (river boat) and back to Paignton (bus). I can thoroughly recommend it for day out without the car.

Which is the best walking route to Torbay?

Teignmouth, SW Coast Path, Fi Darby

Walking to Torbay might seem like an unusual idea but it is part of the Southwest Coast Path. Just a word of warning, although our main seafront road is relatively flat, the hills to the north (towards Teignmouth) and south (towards Kingswear) are steep.

But possible to access using public transport.

In Torbay itself, some of our seafront sections are along the road but the walk to Torbay from Teignmouth is beautiful, almost traffic-free, and includes an estuary bridge (amazing views), a tempting smugglers’ tunnel and even a couple of swimmable beaches.

Even better than that, Teignmouth has a railway station.

For a longer walk, you could always start with a station to station walk along the seawall from Dawlish Warren to Teignmouth.

Shaldon estuary, Templer Way, Fi Darby

For another great station to station walk, at lower tides, you can also walk on the estuary foreshore between Teignmouth and Newton Abbot. This is part of the Templer Way, which goes all the way up to Haytor on Dartmoor.

Newton Abbot of course, also has a railway station.

It’s a short walk between Torquay and Paignton train stations if you follow the seafront road but there’s a much prettier station to station route through Cockington Village (it’s one of my favourite walks).

Things to do in Torbay without a car

Because we have such great public transport options, and so many fabulous visitor attractions this has the potential to be a long list. In other words, even without a car, you’re never going to be short of things to do in Torbay.

Which is good news for all of us who would like to see a more car-free Devon and Cornwall.

How to get to Torbay’s beaches without a car

Paignton beach, Torbay, Fi Darby

Here in Torbay we have over 20 wonderful beaches to choose from and many of them are right next to public transport stops. We’ve listed a few of the best beaches in Torbay and how to get to them below.

Local tip: Torbay’s car parking fees are expensive. Often more expensive than the £2 it currently costs to get the bus. You won’t just be saving the planet when you take public transport in Torbay, you’ll be saving your pocket as well.

Beaches near Torquay train station

Beaches near Paignton train station

Goodrington beach, Torbay, Fi Darby

Check out our family walk between Goodrington Beach and Paignton (we’ve even made you a downloadable child-friendly map to encourage the young ones.)

Local tip: Whilst our bigger beaches have public toilets, some of the less used ones don’t. We recommend going at the station. Find out more about Torbay’s public toilets.

Beaches by bus in Torbay

Torbay’s number 12 bus is operated by Stagecoach and goes around most of the Torbay seafront between Newton Abbot and Brixham, giving you access to beaches in Torquay, Paignton and Brixham. For some of these you’ll need to walk as well, but who minds walking when the scenery’s so fantastic?

If walking isn’t for you, the following Torbay beaches are right next to the number 12 bus route:

Torre Abbey beach, Livermead beach, Hollicombe beach, Preston beach, Paignton beach.

We have plenty of other beaches that are just an enjoyable walk away from their nearest bus stop. Torbay has many beach/bus/walk combinations. We’ve picked two favourites below.

The Stagecoach number 22 bus is another really useful seafront route. Especially if you want to visit Babbacombe or Oddicombe beach (see our ‘Bus to Babbacombe beach’ section below).

If you get off the number 22 bus at Wellwood and walk down the road past the shops and Kent’s Cavern, you’ll be able to access our family walk at Bishops Walk and Anstey’s Cove (downloadable child-friendly map available).

Anstey’s Cove family walk, Fi Darby

Torbay’s open top bus

For a real treat (summer season only), why not opt for the Torbay’s fabulous 122 open top bus between Babbacombe, St Marychurch, Torquay Harbour, Paignton and Hoborne Devon Bay in Goodrington. It’s great fun and a good way to see the Bay from a new angle.

Local tip: The first time I rode the open top bus it was raining. I recommend a sunny day if you want to stay dry. The views are amazing whatever the weather.

Bus to Broad Sands beach Torbay

Take the number 12 bus to Cherry Brook Drive, walk downhill for 12 minutes.

Broad Sands is a sandy beach with shallow waters and is perfect for families and sandcastles. Nearby Elberry Cove is a shingle beach with some water sport activity.

Elberry Cove Torbay

You can walk from Broadsands beach over to the beautiful shingle beach at Elberry Cove then along the South West Coast Path and the John Musgrave Trail  to catch the number 12 bus again at Churston Village.

Copyright Ordnance Survey, 2024

Bus to Oddicombe Beach Torbay

Take the number 22 bus to Babbacombe shops, walk to Babbacombe Downs.

Babbacombe Downs, Fi Darby

Babbacombe Downs is a beautiful green space high on the cliffs above Oddicombe and Babbacombe beaches. Near to some of my favourite cafes and chip shops, it’s a great place to sit and relax.

But the Downs are also a great starting point for a coast walk to nearby Oddicombe and Babbacombe beaches.

You can either walk down the road to Oddicombe beach or take an exciting ride on the Babbacombe Cliff Railway (summer season). There will be a few cars on the road but during the summer months there isn’t any car parking at the bottom.

The walk between Oddicombe and Babbacombe beaches is full of views and you may even spot seals. Once you’ve explored both, head up the path onto Walls Hill to enjoy even more views before you find your way back to your Babbacombe bus stop.

Copyright Ordnance Survey, 2024

Car-free days out in Torbay

Cockington, Torbay, Fi Darby

When my family was growing up I loved living in Torbay because I could always find ways to entertain them. Like many people, we were on a restricted budget, which meant I was always looking for things to do in Devon for free. The beach was the first obvious answer but Torbay has so much more to offer, especially if you’re travelling car free.

I’ve listed below a mix of some of the paid and free Torbay activities you can do without a car, as well as how to get there on public transport. (Prices are for Feb 2024).

Ideas for car free things to do in Torbay

  • Paignton Zoo – Adult £22.50 – Stagecoach Gold and 22 buses
  • Kents Cavern – Adult £16.00 – Stagecoach 22 bus
  • Babbacombe Model Village – Adult £17.75 – Stagecoach 22 bus
  • Wave swim at the Riviera International Centre – Adult £6.70 – short walk from Torquay train station

Ideas for FREE things to do in Torbay without a car

Pirate, Brixham, Fi Darby
  • Visit Cockington Village – thatched cottages and a park to explore – it’s a lovely 35 minute walk from Torquay train station or catch the 62 bus from Torquay Harbour
  • Have a seawater swim at Brixham’s Shoalstone Pool – lifeguarded (summer months) outdoor pool – voluntary donations please – Stagecoach 12 bus into Brixham harbour then follow the seafront walkway
  • Enjoy Paignton’s fabulous Geoplay Park with zones for everyone – Paignton seafront – just down the road from Paignton train and bus stations
  • Join the fun at Brixham’s Pirate Festival – early May bank holiday – voluntary donations please – live music, street theatre, re-enactments – to suit the watery theme, why not travel over from Torquay on one of the Brixham ferries (see above)

The best local restaurants to enjoy in Torbay without a car

If you’re keen on sustainability, you’ll be pleased to hear that, as well as all the usual (and slightly boring) chains, we have some fabulous local businesses here in Torbay, that pride themselves on serving Devon visitors and locals alike.

There are many to choose from; I’ve listed a few easily car free favourites below:

  • Cantina Goodrington – kitchen and bar right next to the beach – dog friendly and an amazing vibe – food with a difference at competitive prices – a pleasant walk from Paignton train or bus station
  • Drakes Fish and Chips – not the only fish and chip shop in Babbacombe but definitely a favourite with our family – eat in or take away – either way you’ll get delicious food – hop off the Stagecoach 22 bus in Babbacombe and follow your nose
  • Pier Point Restaurant and Bar – these guys do everything, and they do it well – eat in for a varied menu with plenty of fish – or visit their takeaway bar by Torquay pier- just a short walk from Torquay train station and great for pre-show theatre dining
  • The Guardhouse Cafe – if you’re walking the South West Coast Path, don’t miss out on this treat – the Guardhouse Cafe is set on the cliff top inside a Napoleonic fort – with everything from cream teas to homemade soup, it’ll be worth the 30 minute walk from Brixham harbour

Car-free holidays in Devon

If you’ve never tried a car-free holiday, I hope this article has inspired you. Torbay, with all its great public transport connections is a great place to start your eco adventure. If you’re a veteran sustainable traveller, you’ll know how much better you can get to know a place when you visit it without a car.

Whatever your reason for travel. I hope we’ll be welcoming you to Torbay soon. Do please let me know how your visit goes, I’d love to hear from you over on Instagram or in the comments.

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