Have you ever been to Plymouth? If not after reading our article about things to do in Plymouth, for sure you will organize a trip. At the head of Plymouth Sound, one of the world’s great natural harbors, Plymouth is a city with a rich maritime past. Plymouth is one of Britain’s largest seaports and naval bases and ranks as the most historically important. It offers tourists some of the best places to visit during the holiday.
For hundreds of years it has been a naval base, and the cliffs along the harbor are armed with coastal forts and batteries from the 17th century until World War II. You can stand on the Hoe, atop the low limestone cliffs, to watch the comings and goings of the Sound, and make pottery along the cobbled streets of the Barbican, where the Mayflower sailed for America in 1620. The distillery is located here Britain’s oldest gin, producing English national spirit for over 225 years, while the former Victualling Dockyard is a lively seaside neighborhood with venerable 18th-century naval buildings. Let’s discover together things to do in Plymouth:
1. Plymouth Hoe
The best views of Plymouth and Plymouth Sound are from The Hoe, a spacious park that opened in 1817. Bisected by the promenade, it stretches past Drake’s Island to Eddystone Rock Lighthouse, 14 miles away. It is also where you will find the Monument to the Armada , erected in 1888 and decorated with the shields of the cities that helped in the fight against the Spanish. It is worth visiting the Naval War Memorial, which is located very close, as well as the statue of Sir Francis Drake.
2. Royal Citadel
The Royal Citadel was built in 1566 and stood as England’s most important coastal defense for over 100 years. The structure encompasses the site of an earlier fort built in the time of Sir Francis Drake. It is still used by the military, so be sure to check the availability of the attraction. The highlight is the Chapel Royal of St. Katherine-on-the-Hoe, originally licensed for services in 1371 but rebuilt over the centuries. A path runs around the citadel, offering excellent views.
3. Smeaton’s Tower
Taking its name from its designer, Georgian civil engineer John Smeaton, this tower is a former lighthouse that was relocated to Plymouth Hoe in the 1880s. The original pioneer tower was established on Eddystone Reef between 1759 and 1877 until it had to be torn down due to erosion. In its early days, its signal was provided by 24 candles, each weighing just under a kilogram. The tower had become such a landmark that at the end of its useful life it was rebuilt as a monument and has been painstakingly restored inside and out to its 18th century design. You can fight the 93 steps and stairs up to the Lantern Room, over 20 meters high to look out over Plymouth Sound. A visit to Smeaton’s Tower is one of the things to do in Plymouth.
The Barbican, on the north and west sides of Sutton Harbour, is a chic, historic, and cosmopolitan area in which to lose yourself for an hour or two. One of the few neighborhoods in the city to escape extensive damage during the World War II bombing raid of Plymouth, it has narrow alleyways lined with Tudor, Jacobean, and Georgian properties from the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. There are over 100 listed buildings in this maze of cobbled streets, and the parade is a lovely place to stroll alongside Sutton Harbor at night. The Barbican also has a very international selection of places to eat, as well as galleries, unique independent shops, pubs, cafes, and attractions such as the Plymouth Distillery.
5. National Marine Aquarium
Plymouth has the UK’s largest aquarium, which opened on reclaimed land in Sutton Harbor in 1998. The National Marine Aquarium has habitats for 4,000 individual animals, from 400 species, across four main zones. You’ll begin with a look at the life found around Plymouth Sound, including sharks and rays, as well as the crustaceans and echinoderms that inhabit its pools. Eddystone Reef showcases marine life around Britain, from conger eels, lobsters, and haddock, to flatfish and hound sharks. The exhibition in the Atlantic Ocean was refreshed in 2009 with the largest shipment of live fish to the UK and has a tarpon, barracuda, upside-down jellyfish, and sand tiger sharks.
Just to the east of the town is Saltram House, a Georgian manor house on 500 acres of farmland comprising woodland, fen, farmland, and the Plym estuary. The house was planned by the famous Scottish architect Robert Adam, adapting a previous Tudor property. Several generations of the wealthy Parker family lived here, and the neoclassical residence still houses a collection of paintings by prominent Georgian artists such as Joshua Reynolds. There are also valuable textiles, ceramics, and clocks, and you will be able to see the refined drawing room, the library with Chinoiserie decoration, and a kitchen with an antique stove and copper cookware.
7. Plymouth Naval Memorial
The monument is one of three monuments, here and at the Royal Navy bases in Portsmouth and Chatham. It bears the names of 7,251 missing sailors from World War I and 15,933 from World War II. Opened in 1924, the monument was designed by Scottish architect Henry Lorimer, and its lions, Royal Navy shield, and globe above the obelisk were carved by Henry Poole. In 2016, on the centenary of the Battle of Jutland, the monument was raised to Grade I status.
8. Royal William Yard
The majestic Royal William Victualling Yard is a former Royal Navy property that was liberated by the Ministry of Defense in 1992. Until then it had been used for ‘victualling’, supplying food and drink to navy ships. It features a collection of distinguished buildings from the 1820s and 1830s designed by Sir John Rennie, comprising an old bakery, slaughterhouse, brewhouse, old and new cooperages, warehouses, and residences. Since the 1990s this has all become a chic seaside neighborhood, with yachts docked in the water and a mix of restaurants, shops, bars, and residential properties. It happens in the summer and there are many public events, such as open-air theater, craft markets, and open-air cinema screenings.
9. The Mayflower Steps
While a big draw for tourists from the United States, the Mayflower Museum is also worth a visit for those interested in Britain’s rich naval history. Located in the Barbican area and focusing on the remarkable voyage of America’s Founding Fathers aboard the Mayflower, this world-class museum commemorates Plymouth’s important part in the Pilgrims’ epic journey to the New World. Highlights include the chance to try on period costumes, numerous fun interactive games, along with a model of the famous ship. Afterward, be sure to snap a photo of the Mayflower Steps, a historic gateway built in memory of the Pilgrim Fathers.
10. Plymouth City Center
Plymouth city center occupies the area around two broad avenues, Armada Way and Royal Parade, which adjoin Hoe Park to the north. Close to St Andrew’s Church is the 15th-century Prysten House, the 16th-century Merchant’s House, a Tudor building that houses a museum of social history, and the Town Hall with its pretty towers. It is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Plymouth.
The 10 Best Things to Do in Plymouth (England)
- Plymouth Hoe
- Royal Citadel
- Smeaton’s Tower
- National Marine Aquarium
- Plymouth Naval Memorial
- Royal William Yard
- The Mayflower Steps
- Plymouth City Center