Sparkling in the Devon sun, on the south coast of England, is the port city of Plymouth. Famous for being the location the Mayflower departed from, with just 102 pilgrims onboard bound for America in 1620, Plymouth is a 3-hour train journey from London or 4 hours by car.
Many people visit the city by the sea because of its historical importance, but Plymouth is also a beautiful and serene city with a lot to see and do. The atmosphere by the sea is almost spiritual; there’s something so peaceful about it. It’s a quiet and modest city, but it has something for everyone. Here’s my pick of the best things to see and do in this historic coastal city.
Relax At Plymouth Hoe
Plymouth Hoe is the focal point of the entire city. This area of lush green grass with spectacular views out over the ocean is the perfect place to take a picnic or to wander and enjoy the scenery. The iconic lighthouse, Smeaton’s Tower, appears in just about every collection of photos from Plymouth, and it’s what the city is best known for. This 72-foot-high tower is the beacon it was always meant to be, just for different reasons these days. There are plenty of benches along the hoe for visitors to sit and ponder the views, and the grass lawn is well kept and perfect for sunbathing!
Visit The National Marine Aquarium
Situated on Rope Walk, Coxside, the Aquarium can be seen from the harbor and appears as if it’s sitting on its own island. The walkway across to the Aquarium gives you some idea of how popular this attraction is and queues of half an hour are common. Once inside, this is a fascinating display of life under the water, and there are over 5,000 ocean animals to see. When you’ve spent a few hours gazing at sharks and crabs and some weird and wonderful sea life, there’s a cafe and gift shop on site. Alternatively, enjoy the grounds of the Aquarium and pick up some fish and chips outside. It’s a beautiful spot to sit and eat lunch in the sun.
Enjoy Plymouth Gin Distillery
The oldest working distillery in England, Plymouth Gin has been made at this very location since 1793. The building itself dates back to the 1400s and was originally a monastery for the Black Friars. The distillery runs three different tours, The Plymouth Gin Distillery Tour, The Master’s Distillery Tour, and The Gin Connoisseur’s Tour. I took the Plymouth Gin Distillery Tour, which included a tour around the distillery and a tasting room where we were able to not only taste the gin itself, but we also tasted and smelled the various ingredients that go into making this historic drink. There’s time after to buy a bottle to take home with you, or enjoy a drink up in the Refectory Bar.
Take A Dip In Tinside Pool
Arching out into the ocean from the rocky shore of Plymouth Hoe is the beautiful Tinside Lido. This open-air swimming pool was constructed in 1935 and is a stunning representation of art deco design. Tinside really is one of a kind. It’s rare enough to find outdoor pools in Britain at all, but one as architecturally beautiful as this is really something. It’s so unusual and of such importance historically, the Lido is Grade II listed. This is a saltwater pool, so be aware it’s only open in the summer months. There’s also a sundeck for sunbathing and a cafe on site. The lido is ticketed, so you need to pay the entry fee even if you don’t want to swim.
Go Antiques Shopping
Maybe it’s the history everywhere in Plymouth, or maybe it’s the clientele, I don’t know, but there’s an unusually high number of antique shops in the city. So, if you like browsing for trinkets or investments, there are plenty of shops to visit. Parade Antiques, New Street Antiques, and Barbican Antiques are the most central, located in the authentic Barbican area. A little further out you’ll find Black Sam Bellamy’s, Grosvenor Chambers, and Sloggett and Sons.
Experience The Mayflower Marina
Take a stroll along the Mayflower Marina and spend some time gazing out at all the beautiful boats and yachts berthed there. The marina is famous for hosting a range of regattas and the area surrounding the marina brings sailors from far and wide to experience the beauty of the coastline. Sit and watch the sleek sailing boats shining in the sun, and you might even catch some of the in-shore racing the marina hosts.
Eat Out By the Ocean
The city by the sea offers international cuisine, and you can just about go around the world in food! Fitting for a port city. While fish is always high up on any menu here, there are some unusual and niche restaurants.
The Greedy Goose
Housed in an incredible old building, Grade I listed and the oldest building in Plymouth, yes, the oldest building in the city, the Greedy Goose is a very special setting for a very special dining experience. This restaurant prides itself on sourcing local, west country, seasonal produce to create sumptuous dishes. The menu features tasting options, Sunday lunch, and a three-course set meal menu.
If you’re vegetarian or vegan you’ll love Veggie Perrins, and if you’re not, you can still appreciate this incredible and unique restaurant. Veggie Perrins has an amazing meat-free menu, using traditional cuisine from Gujurati in the west of India, Gandhi’s birthplace. There’s an impressive a la carte menu and a take-away menu with some unique dishes. It’s so refreshing to find so much variety in vegetarian and vegan food, and if you like Indian food, this one is a hit.
Positano’s is a traditional Italian restaurant with a fantastic story. Two Italians from Positano on the Amalfi Coast, Italy, traveled to Plymouth, intending to stay for six months to improve their English. Thirty-eight years later, they are still here, running this authentic Italian restaurant that has become a fixture in the city. The menu is traditional Italian cuisine, from all areas of Italy.
Rockfish seafood restaurant enjoys a prized location overlooking the ocean. This is a no-frills fish restaurant that lets the food do all the talking. If you love fish, Rockfish gives you that straight-from-the-sea experience you just can’t get if the waves aren’t right on your doorstep.
Stay By The Sea Or In The Country
Plymouth has a wide range of places to stay, from cozy B and Bs to country manor houses and everything in between. Book into a Vrbo or one of the many chain hotels, or choose something a little different. Here are three hotels, from a B and B to a manor house.
Residence One, Rooms By Bistrot Pierre
Residence One is a boutique B and B with 14 rooms, situated in historic Royal William’s Yard. The building is Grade II listed and was once home to a Royal Navy Admiral. The rooms are all individually decorated, making your stay unique, and all have some incredible original features, like cast iron fireplaces and window shutters.
A moment’s walk from the beautiful Plymouth Hoe, The Invicta Hotel offers comfort and ease in a choice of rooms: double, twin, or family rooms. Also a Grade II-listed building, the Invicta has period charm, though be aware the building’s age means there is no lift access, so ask for ground floor accommodation if there are any mobility issues.
For something really special, head out of town to Boringdon Hall, which has existed on this site as a manor house since 956! You can’t really get more historic than this! The hotel has 42 incredible rooms, and a walk through the hotel is truly like stepping back in time … while still having every luxury and modern comfort you could want. The rooms range in size, including suits, and some include four-poster beds. The grounds are also stunning, and just gazing at the exterior of the building is quite awe-inspiring.
If you’re traveling to Plymouth by train, it’s not immediately obvious how to get to the city center when you leave the station. You can, of course, follow a map, but the people in Plymouth are especially nice and eager to help, so simply ask a passer-by for directions. It’s also a great way to feel immediately welcomed and to mingle with locals!