The Custom House was built in 1680 at the height of Exeter's woollen cloth industry. Today it is a fascinating visitor centre and the meeting point for Exeter Red Coat Guided Tours.
Exeter has had a quay since Roman times. During the 13th and 14th centuries, rival merchants built weirs across the river near Topsham to prevent cargoes reaching Exeter. Between 1564 and 1566 John Trew built the first stretch of the Exeter Canal to enable delivery of cargo closer to the city. The increase in trade led to the construction of the Custom House in 1680. Renowned for its sweeping staircase and ornate plaster ceilings, this beautiful building now houses a fascinating visitor centre.
It houses lively displays, illustrations and artefacts will bring the history and development of Exeter’s Quayside to life. As well as models and items from the cloth industry such as "tenter hooks and tillet blocks", an exciting audiovisual presentation "Exeter, 2000 years of history" highlights Exeter’s history from Roman times until today.
Throughout the year the Custom House hosts a variety of arts and cultural events and activities including temporary exhibitions. Since 2019, the centre has been a literature hub for Quay Words, with an exciting programme that explores stories and writing. To find out more visit
This September visit the 'Recalibration' exhibition of artworks by Marcus Vergette celebrating the interdependence of species. A playful provocation to re-evaluate our relationship with the natural world.
This exhibition has been curated by the environmental arts organisation Honeyscribe, who are one of our cultural partners.
The Custom House is also the starting point for the 'Exeter Historic Quay' tour by Exeter’s famous Red Coat Guides. To find out more about the tours visit Exeter Red Coat Guided Tours - Walking Tour in Exeter, Exeter.
At the Custom House Visitor Centre information is primarily focused on the Quayside, the river Exe and the Historic Ship Canal. Information is also available for the wider city area to help make your visit to Exeter as enjoyable as possible. The Centre stocks information on where to visit, activities and events in the local area.
The centre stocks interesting souvenirs of Exeter, including replica maps, local pottery and a selection of heritage books.
We are currently limiting numbers to 15 people at any one time. Please observe our clearly displayed Covid-safe guidance while visiting us.
April - October
Daily: 11.00am to 4.00pm
November - March
Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday: 11.00am to 4.00pm
Group visits welcomed by prior arrangement.
You can find out more about Exeter's Historic Quayside in our information leaflet.
The Custom House Visitor Centre is supported by Exeter Canal & Quay Trust.