Plymouth, Britain’s Ocean City, is a seaside civic of great historical significance. Its wartime importance as a port made it a serious target during the Blitz of WWII. No less than 59 bombings left the majority of the centre in rubble. Plymouth is the only city to have its entire centre rebuilt. With only the budget as a constraint and no existing infrastructure to interfere with plans, a modern city was born, forever marked by its intense history.
Navigation is of particular relevance to the city, with many historical voyages leaving from here. Examples include the Mayflower in 1620, the first voyage of James Cook in 1768, and HMS Beagle’s second voyage carrying Charles Darwin.
There is plenty to do in and around the city for all ages. Many also use it as a base to visit other areas of Devon and Cornwall.
1. Charles Church Roundabout
A standing reminder of how Plymouth withstood and rebuilt after the war. The shelled out remains of Charles Church after the bombings of March 1941 were made into a memorial that now serves as one the inner city’s roundabouts.
Standing just outside the main shopping centre, Drake Circus, the open air church, which still occasionally holds events, is lit-up at night and welcomes visitors who enter the city from the east.
2. The Barbican
For a classic slice of a British seaside town, head down to the Barbican to browse the , art galleries and pubs on its cobbled streets and indulge in some fresh fish and chips alongside Sutton Harbour.
As one of the only surviving areas after the Blitz bombings, there are some notable old buildings and points of interest such as the gin distillery and the Mayflower Steps from where the voyage of 1620 left with the first English settlers of North America.
3. Plymouth Hoe
Plymouth’s beloved Hoe is a large public space that hosts multiple events. It lies just west of the Barbican, with fabulous views of Plymouth Sound and Drake Island. There is much to see and do here. Examples include:
- The 17th Century Royal Citadel.
- The statue of Sir Frances Drake for his role in defeating the Spanish Armada.
- Tinside outdoor swimming pool, built beside the rocks.
Among several cafes and restaurants in this area you will find the ever popular which stands in a little hut near the lighthouse serving delicious local ice creams.
4. Smeaton’s Tower
The iconic lighthouse designed by John Smeaton. This is now a memorial to the man himself, and was a breakthrough in design. Using a rediscovered Roman technique to set concrete underwater, the lighthouse was originally constructed at Eddystone Rocks but was later dismantled and rebuilt, currently standing proudly on the Hoe.
You can visit and climb to the top of Smeaton’s Tower to take in the wonderful views.
5. The Gin Distillery
Gin lover or not, while in Plymouth you mustn’t pass up the chance to visit England’s oldest functioning distillery. You’ll learn all about the popular spirit and brand in particular that has used the same recipe since 1793. The building itself dates back to the 1400’s giving it a few ghost stories.
to taste a selection of gins and try the distilling technique yourself or skip straight to the Refectory bar for drinks or dinner, but you must for a table.
6. Mount Edgcumbe
Just across the bay, a trip to Mount Edgcumbe involves a 10-minute ride on the that lands you officially in Cornwall. between 7am and 10pm, therefore little planning is required.
Whilst wondering the grounds you will find the gardens, the orangery & cafe, a quaint shopping village, coastal paths and . Grab a drink or meal at the Edgcumbe Arms before heading back to Plymouth.
7. National Aquarium
is the UK’s largest aquarium, home to 70 species of shark among other exhibits from across the world’s oceans. With lots to learn, the aquarium aims to form a stronger connection between its visitors and the ocean, achieving this most effectively perhaps with the “Sleeping with Sharks” overnight events for children!
8. University of Plymouth
The University of Plymouth has a flair for all things marine and maritime. It’s a fine example of the encasement of history within modern structures that seems so representative of the city. Back in 1862 it began life as Plymouth School of Navigation, eventually transforming into the modern day University of Plymouth.
The city centre campus is very compact and its buildings display an interesting variety of contemporary architecture. The public are free to cut through the campus, or better yet, when its bustling with excitement and extra guidance or information.
9. Royal William Yard
This ex-naval yard was lovingly renovated between 1999 and 2008. As a result, it became a buzzing hub community with apartments, shops and restaurants. There are often taking place, however gastronomy is the favourite pastime here with collection of superb eateries within the grade I and II listed buildings. You can arrive by taxi, bus or boat.
10. Visit Dartmoor National Park
Part of Plymouth’s allure is its coastal city setting right in the middle of the countryside. Within half an hour you can be out of the centre and on one of many trails that take you across the moors alongside the Dartmoor ponies.
Full of history, there are within the national park close enough to Plymouth that are worth a visit. Examples include Burrator Reservoir, Cadover Bride, Wistman’s woods and Dartmoor Prison Museum.
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