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Previously a well-used port on the Bristol Channel, now one of the most popular tourist destinations in the south-east

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Ilfracombe used to be a well-used port on the Bristol Channel - but over the years, it became one of the most popular tourist destinations in the south-east. This popularity, however, hasn't affected the town's quiet charm. Its old buildings, historic port, and grassy cliffs make for a nostalgic, beautiful place. The atmosphere is boosted by the hundreds of flowers, planted all over Ilfracombe - helping the town to regularly do well in the "Britain In Bloom" contests.

The view over Ilfracombe
Photo me'nthedogs
The harbour in particular is a striking sight, with dozens of boat masts, above twinkling waters. If it gives you the urge to become a sailor yourself, you're well served with a variety of options. Boats are available for private hire, and there are a multitude of different coastal cruises and sea safaris, taking you up and down the beautiful surrounding coast - or giving you the chance to see seals, sea birds, and other native creatures.
Within Ilfracombe itself, you'll be struck by the amount of Victorian buildings which are still standing, and still in use. This is a big part of the town's character. In the past, as the place got bigger, several big-name shops began to open branches here. But this never overshadowed the independent local retailers, and it didn't affect the traditional Victorian atmosphere.

Victorian buildings in Ilfracombe
Photo daveyll
This heritage is celebrated every June at one of Ilfracombe's many festivals and celebrations. The locals dress up in traditional Victorian costumes and parade through the streets. The town also hosts walking festivals, street carnivals, and an unusual "Birdman" competition, in which a series of very ambitious people try and achieve flight, by flinging themselves off the pier in a variety of low-budget, handmade vehicles.
More unusual entertainment can be had at the Ilfracombe Museum, which is housed in what used to be a hotel's laundry room. The exhibits on display, which come from all over the world, can often be baffling - including a two-headed kitten, and several pickled bats. There are several other local museums, including the Aquarium, which focuses on creatures living in the local area, and "Walkers Chocolate Emporium", which teaches you about the process of chocolate making - and also has an extensive shop.
The town's main landmark, however, is probably the aptly named "Landmark Theatre", which is well known for its unusual design, featuring two large cones on its roof. Some people like the building, and some people don't - but everyone seems to appreciate the extensive range of plays, musicals, and other performances throughout the year.

The unusual Landmark Theatre
Photo daveyll
Another must-see location in Ilfracombe is known as the "Tunnels Beaches". It dates from the 1820s, when a group of miners excavated the tunnels, straight through the cliffs. These lead to a gorgeous, secluded beach, which is nearly impossible to reach by any other route.

Ilfracombe Tunnel Beach
Photo Rankin Miss
If you find yourself appreciating the peace and quiet, then you'd probably also enjoy a trip out the nearby Lundy Island. This tiny, unspoiled place, only 5 kilometres long, looks like it shouldn't exist in the modern age. It features no cars, no streetlights, and no distractions. People come here to take a break from everything, and spend hours wandering along the rocky cliffs, watching the seabirds. Both the island, and Ilfracombe itself, feel like places from a day gone by - making for a perfect getaway.

Lundy Island
Photo Le Scribbler
Visitor Information
Ilfracombe Tourist Information Centre, The Landmark, The Seafront, Ilfracombe, EX34 9BX. Tel: 01271 863001
Tunnels Beaches is open from Easter to October from 10am to 6pm (reduced days in October). Entry costs around £2 for adults, £1.50 for children. Bath Place, Ilfracombe, EX34 8AN. Tel: 01271 879 123

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