Welcoming visitors for over 800 years…
Torre Abbey is Torbay's most historic building, an ancient scheduled monument dating back to 1196 and set within 18 acres of garden and parkland. It’s also a multi-award-winning visitor attraction housing an impressive art collection boasting over 600 incredible works of art from the 18th century to the present day. Meanwhile, our 800 Years Gallery uses state-of-the-art technology to tell the abbey’s fascinating story through videos, talking portraits and interactive displays.
This Torbay Council-owned museum and gardens is also a centre for creativity and culture, offering events and workshops as well as hosting world class exhibitions alongside creative work from the cream of local talent. We also pride ourselves on being family friendly with a range of activities available for youngsters, both inside the historic buildings and outside in our stunning gardens as well.
Torre Abbey is an archaeological site of national importance. Founded in 1196, it became the wealthiest English monastery of the order of Premonstratensian canons. The extent of its survival makes Torre Abbey the best-preserved medieval abbey in Devon and Cornwall. After King Henry VIII closed the monastery in 1539, two of its former ranges were adapted for use as a private house. From 1662, this house became the home of the Cary family, who lived here for nearly 300 years.
Art and Culture
The local council acquired Torre Abbey in 1930 and adapted it for use as an art gallery and the Mayor’s Parlour. Today the abbey provides an ideal setting for Torbay’s collection of paintings and antiques, most of which have been donated by local people. Several times a year, Torre Abbey welcomes visiting art exhibitions from partners including the V&A, the Tate and the Arts Council Collection. We organise a programme of activities to complement these dynamic and varied exhibitions.
Based over four floors, your visit will begin by exploring the Medieval Undercrofts before visiting our 800 Years Gallery to explore the history of the abbey using the latest technology. You’ll then want to explore our various art galleries, with our permanent collection featuring works by William Holman Hunt, William Blake and Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones. Leave plenty of time to visit our stunning interior gardens, romantic ruins and our palm and cacti houses.
Family Friendly Activities
We recognise that children are the museum visitors of tomorrow, so we want them to have the best experience possible. With this in mind, we have interactive displays, dressing up areas, brass rubbing and an area called The Hidden House for youngsters to explore. We also have free activity sheets that you can pick up at the main desk. We also organise regular treasure hunts and other workshops and activities which tie-in with our visiting exhibitions.
Our award-winning gardens are the pride of Torbay and a real oasis of calm away from the busy seafront. With a wealth of exotic and exciting plants, the gardens are a tranquil haven of beauty and pleasure and the perfect setting in which to relax, stroll or picnic. Exuberant plantings of herbaceous perennials, roses and dahlias sit in the formal 19th century landscape around the abbey ruins.
The heated glasshouses, containing tropical and desert plants, are a treat for the senses whatever the season. A new medieval children’s garden is a garden within a garden and has been lovingly created to entice people, of all ages, into the fascinating world of medieval plants and their uses. Turf seats, willow tunnels, sensory planting and a fountain offer the opportunity to explore, look, touch, and taste.
Exterior Grounds and The Spanish Barn
The grounds surrounding Torre Abbey are popular with dog walkers, cyclists, families and anyone fancying some fresh air against a stunning backdrop. They are free to use throughout the year and make a lovely place for a stroll or somewhere to sit down when you are exploring the seafront area of Torquay.
The Spanish Barn, adjacent to the house, is so named because it played an important role housing 397 prisoners from the Spanish Armada. The prisoners were taken from the only galleon captured during the conflict - the Nuestra Senora del Rosario. Today this former tithe barn is opened for special events and is popular for weddings, art exhibitions, theatre and music.
Our gift shop is open during abbey opening hours, selling unique gifts that you are unlikely to find on the high street. Free to visit without purchasing museum entry, the shop sells everything from locally produced wine, beers and gin to preserves, confectionery, books and artworks. You’ll also find traditional toys, gardening accessories, cards, books and other souvenirs. You can also purchase Torre Abbey Guidebooks and Annual Memberships.
Our Learning Lab provides impressive on-site educational facilities and offers a wide variety of regular and one-off workshops. These include everything from forest school, memory café and mindfulness workshops, to drama, art, music and craft sessions for both children and adults alike. Keep an eye on our events page for up-coming workshops.
Torre Abbey Tearooms
Unfortunately, our tearooms are currently closed, but will be back soon, offering delicious refreshments in a beautiful location. Watch this space.
Torre Abbey offers an impressive year-round events programme that includes our Open Air Cinema Festival in August, the International Agatha Christie Festival in September, and our Winter Fest craft fair every Christmas. We also organise a unique programme of events to complement our visiting art exhibitions. We also welcome a number of external events taking in everything from classic car shows to music festivals and wedding fairs to chocolate festivals.