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Plymouth City 101

Map of Plymouth, England
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With a rich maritime history, sweeping ocean views and a growing food scene, Plymouth sure packs a punch. Situated on England’s South West coast, Devon’s largest city has served as a launchpad for history-making pioneers, swashbuckling pirates and famous explorers such as Sir Francis Drake – and is home to the biggest naval base in Western Europe.

Plymouth is a resilient city. Having suffered severe damage during the Second World War, the city centre was completely rebuilt and is now one of the finest examples of post-war architecture in the UK. Several new multimillion pound regeneration projects are now underway, set to transform the city centre once again for the 21st century.

Plymouth, view from the sky

Plymouth view from the sky

Credit: Trevor Burrows

Historic sites in Plymouth

On 16 September 1620 the Mayflower Pilgrims – many of whom were fleeing religious persecution – set sail from Plymouth to the New World, where they established Plymouth Colony, Massachusetts. Numerous landmarks commemorate their epic journey, most notably the Mayflower Steps, which were built close to the site where the Pilgrims boarded the ship. 

Mayflower Steps, Plymouth

The Mayflower Steps, Plymouth

Credit: Tourist Board, Andy Fox

Prior to their departure, many of the Pilgrims lodged at what is now known as Island House, where today visitors can find a complete list of the Mayflower’s 102 passengers; learn more at the Mayflower Museum through interactive displays and exhibitions. 

Plymouth’s other historic buildings include The Elizabethan House (currently under restoration, reopening in 2020), which provides insight into what living quarters were like in Drake’s day; Prysten House (which houses The Greedy Goose Restaurant), where visitors can find a memorial to American sailors killed in the War of 1812; Plymouth Synagogue, the oldest Ashkenazi Synagogue in the English speaking world; and the Royal Citadel, a dramatic 17th century fortress that was once England’s most important defence and which is still in use by the British Army today.

Due to open in 2020, The Box will bring Plymouth’s naval history and ancestral archives to life in its permanent galleries and ever-changing exhibitions, the first of which, titled ‘Legend and Legacy’, will mark the Mayflower anniversary. Many commemorations and events are happening in 2020 to mark 400 years since the ship’s voyage.

Things to do in Plymouth

Had your fill of history? The National Marine Aquarium - the UK’s largest - will enthrall wildlife lovers, while souvenir hunters will find plenty of independent shops and galleries to explore along the Barbican’s Southside Street. 

National Marine Aquarium – the largest aquarium in the United Kingdom

The grassy slopes of Plymouth Hoe offer unbeatable views across Plymouth Sound, as well as opportunities to climb former lighthouse Smeaton’s Tower, or take a dip at Tinside Lido – a semi-circular, art deco pool open in the summer months. Water babies might also like to SUP (stand-up paddle board), sail or kayak around the bay, or join a boat trip. 

Smeaton's Tower, Plymouth

Smeaton's Tower, Plymouth

Credit: Trevor Burrows

Tinside Lido swimming pool

Tinside Lido swimming pool at sunset

Credit: Andy Fox

If dry land is more your style, follow the family-friendly Plym Valley Cycle Path, an off-road route that takes cyclists from the city to the edge of Dartmoor National Park. Plymouth also serves as a great base from which to explore the beaches of Devon and neighbouring county Cornwall.

Best Restaurants in Plymouth

Plymouth is home to the oldest working gin distillery in England. Established on the site of an ancient monastery in 1793, today’s visitors can tour Plymouth Gin Distillery (where the Mayflower Pilgrims are said to have spent their last night) and enjoy a tipple in the adjoining Refectory Cocktail Bar. 

The Barbican, Gin Distillery, Plymouth

The Barbican and Plymouth Gin Distillery

Credit: Visit Plymouth

Sustainable seafood is king in this coastal city. Sample some of the best at New England-style restaurant Rock Fish; The Boathouse Cafe; and Platters, the oldest seafood restaurant in Plymouth – or opt for a classic British takeaway at the award-winning Harbourside fish and chip shop. Want more? See the catch come in at Plymouth Fisheries, or plan your visit around the annual Plymouth Seafood Festival in September.

Royal William Yard – Formerly the major victualling depot for the Royal Navy. Now a beautiful leisure area with shops, boat trips, restaurants and accommodation

How much do you know about Plymouth ?

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