The English city of Plymouth, on the south coast of Devon, stands tall in Britain’s maritime history, being the home to Sir Francis Drake and the place where Captain James Cook set off from when he discovered my homeland, Australia! But Plymouth is not only an interesting place for travellers interested in ships and exploration, and is reinventing itself at the moment with new restaurants and bars; it is now trying to rectify the not-so-beautiful concrete construction era from the rebuilding after the bombings in World War Two. I’ve put together this list of tips for things to do in Plymouth to help guide your trip to this seaside city.
Plymouth Hoe by Wolfiewolf
Podcast on Things to Do in Plymouth
Maritime Sights in Plymouth
Even for those not particularly historically-minded, the story of Sir Francis Drake finishing a game of lawn bowls before heading off to fight the Spanish Armada tends to stick in the mind, and the Plymouth Hoe is the very place where this game of bowls was played.
Next to the Plymouth Hoe, standing some 70 feet tall so it’s impossible to miss, you’ll find Smeaton’s Tower. This lighthouse was actually originally built out on a reef but was moved to its current location (brick by brick!) in the 1880s. Today it includes exhibits on previous lighthouse keepers and you can also climb it for views over Plymouth and the sea.
The Plymouth Hoe and Smeaton’s Tower by Visentico/Sento
You can also take a boat tour around Plymouth’s impressive harbour. Most tours leave from the Mayflower Steps in the Barbican and you can see sights such as the dockyard used by the Royal Navy and Brunel’s Bridge, as well as having a unique view back over Plymouth.
Plymouth harbour by Lawrie Cate
Speaking of the Navy, the largest naval base in western Europe is located in Plymouth and you can sometimes visit the Royal William Yard naval base when it opens to the public on Naval Days.
Royal William Yard by didbygraham
Museums in Plymouth
The Plymouth Mayflower exhibition starts with views over the Barbican from the top floor, and then includes three floors of interactive displays detailing the maritime and military history of Plymouth, with Sir Francis Drake’s circumnavigation and the epic Pilgrim Fathers voyage to the New Word aboard the Mayflower obviously getting top billing.
The City Museum and Gallery of Plymouth includes touring exhibitions as well as some permanent ones on Darwin’s big voyage (he, too, left from Plymouth) and natural history galleries. Be aware that it’s usually closed on Sundays and Mondays.
Plymouth City Museum via Wikimedia
The Merchant’s House, dating back to the early 1600s, houses a museum of social history and includes replicas of old shops and a Victorian-era school room. It’s also one of the best examples of 17th century architecture in Plymouth, so go for the building as well as what’s inside.
Other Sights in Plymouth
The Tinside Lido is an art deco swimming pool beneath Plymouth Hoe, dating back to 1935. It was closed for some time but was renovated and heritage listed in the 1990s and you can now swim there between May and September.
Tinside Lido by yellow book
The Plymouth Dry Gin distillery is the oldest working distillery in England, reason enough to visit, I say! It supplied gin to the Royal Navy way back in the early 1800s. Today you can take a tour through the production area, get some samples and then drink a little more in the bar.
Door of the Plymouth Dry Gin Distillery by SixteenEighteen
Opposite the Barbican, the National Marine Aquarium is a little different from other aquariums as it’s a not-for-profit entity with a little more focus on education than others – but still in an entertaining way. It is also the deepest aquarium in Europe and is considered by many to be Britain’s finest.
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