At the head of Plymouth Sound, one of the largest natural ports in the world, Plymouth is a city with a rich past.
For centuries it was a naval base, and the cliffs along the harbor are armed with coastal forts and embankments from the 17th century until World War II.
You can stand on the Hoe, at the top of low limestone cliffs, to watch what comes and goes on the sound, and wander the cobbled streets of the Barbican, where Mayflower sailed to America in 1620. The oldest gin distillery in Britain is here, producing the English national spirit for More than 225 years, while the old Victoaling courtyard is a dynamic waterfront neighborhood with respectable 18th-century marine structures.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Plymouth:
Plymouth Hoe, a south-facing limestone rise, has served as a vantage point to survey the sound and western end of the Manasseh Canal since time immemorial.
Standing here you can see all of Plymouth Sound, as well as Mount Edgcombe in Cornwall and Drake Island.
The story goes that Sir Francis Drake played a bowl game here after the first sails of the Spanish Armada were observed in 1588. Some of the attractions on this list are located on the Hoe, such as the Royal Fortress and the Samaton Tower.
Down on the water is Tinside Lido, a semi-circular outdoor pool with Art Deco-style décor.
2. The Samton Tower
Taking the name of its designer, civil engineer George John Samton, this tower is a former lighthouse that was moved to Plymouth Hoe in the 1980s.
The original trail-breaking tower was erected on the Ediston Reef between 1759 and 1877, until it had to be demolished due to erosion.
In its early days its signal was provided by 24 candles, each weighing a little less than a kilogram.
The tower became such a landmark that at the end of its life it was rebuilt as a memorial and carefully restored inside and out for its 18th-century design.
You can fight up the 93 steps and ladders to the headlight room, at a height of more than 20 feet to turn your gaze towards Plymouth Sound.
Standing on the Hot, you can take a few minutes to look at this vast natural harbor, spot Royal Navy ships and watch the water flow.
A neat way to see this huge body of water is from the east side between Mount Batten Point and Andurn Point.
The geology of the cliffs and outcrops is also fascinating, changing from red and green sandstone in the south around Andurn Point, to slate, alluvial stones and darker sandstone as you head north towards the city.
Along the way you will see huge rock faults caused by tectonic pressures up to 330 million years ago.
The route is littered with coastal forts that were built in different periods, such as the round artillery fortress at the top of Mount Batten, which dates to 1652 and a site where there was a fortress from the Bronze Age.
The Barbican on the north and west sides of Sutton Harbor is a stylish, historic and cosmopolitan area where you can get lost for an hour or two.
It is one of the few districts of the city that escaped great damage during the Blitz Plymouth in World War II and has adjacent alleys next to which are 16th, 17th and 18th century Tudor, Jacobi and Georgian properties.
There are more than 100 buildings listed in this maze of stone paths, and the parade is a charming place to wander alongside Sutton Harbor in the evening.
Barbican also has a very international selection of places to eat, as well as galleries, unique independent shops, pubs, cafes and attractions like the Plymouth Distillery.
5. National Marine Aquarium
Plymouth has the largest aquarium in the UK, which opened on fortified land in Sutton Harbor in 1998. The National Marine Aquarium has habitats for 4,000 individual animals, from 400 species, across four main areas.
Start with a glimpse of the life that surrounds Plymouth Sound, like sharks and rays, as well as the crabs and skin arteries that inhabit its rock pools.
The Ediston Reef features marine life around the UK, from eels, lobsters and pollock, to flatfish and smooth dog sharks.
The Atlantic Ocean Exhibition refreshed in 2009 with the largest ever shipment of live fish to the UK, featuring tarpon, barracudas, inverted jellyfish and sand tiger sharks.
Finally the blue star reveals the amazing biodiversity of the oceans in the world, the home of the Great Barrier Reef container with 70 different species in one environment.
Just east of the city is Saltram House, a Georgian estate on an area of 500 dunams of agricultural land that includes woods, swamps, agricultural land and a estuary.
The house was designed by the famous Scottish architect Robert Adam, who adapted a former property of Tudor.
Several generations of the wealthy Parker family lived here, and the neoclassical residence is still furnished with their collection of paintings by leading Georgian artists such as Joshua Reynolds.
There are also valuable textiles, ceramics and clocks, and you will get to see the refined living room, the library with Chinoiserie decoration and a kitchen with antique range and copper cookware.
Outside you can stroll in the meadows among the grazing cattle, have a picnic and look at the waterfalls and follow the folly of the Parker family’s 18th century amphitheater.
7. The Royal Fortress
On the east side of Plymouth Ho stands the Royal Fortress, built in 1600 during the Dutch Wars during the reign of King Charles II. It was designed by Dutch military engineer Bernard de Gomez in an unconventional configuration, using local limestone.
The Royal Fortress is still a military base controlled by the British Army, but two-hour guided tours can be reached on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays from April to September.
You can go up to the batteries, still armed with cannons, to look across the Plymouth Sound.
You will receive a thorough explanation of the history of the fort’s past, and its role as a training center in the 19th century.
Some architectural highlights are the English Baroque Gate, and the Royal Chapel, dating to 1371.
8. Plymouth Naval Memorial
In the center of Plymouth Ho is a war memorial to British sailors and the Commonwealth of Independent States who lost their lives in world wars and have no known burial place.
The monument is one of three monuments, here, and at the Royal Navy bases at Portsmouth and Chatham.
This bears are the names of 7,251 missing sailors from World War I and 15,933 from World War II.
The monument, unveiled in 1924, was designed by Scottish architect Henry Lorimer, and its lions, the Royal Navy emblem and the ball on the obelisk were hewn by Henry Paul.
In 2016, on the centenary of the Battle of Jutland, the monument was raised to first-class registered status.
9. Gene Plymouth Distillery
Plymouth has the oldest gin distillery operating in England, the home of Gene Plymouth since 1793, and was once launched around the world by the Royal Navy.
The Black Friars Distillery is housed in a building with much older architecture, in the refectory, which dates back to 1431 and is now a bar and tasting area with a magnificent wooden roof.
The building was a merchant’s house, and later a prison and a community center before it received its present purpose.
The distillery continues to produce Plymouth Gin, which has a sweeter palate than the dry London gin, and invites you for guided tours and then for a test session at the refinery.
It is believed that the pilgrims in Mayflower spent last night on English soil in this hall in 1620.
10. The Royal Drink Courtyard William
The magnificent Royal Victoaling Yard is a former property of the Royal Navy released by the Ministry of Defense in 1992. Until that time it was used for “Victorualing”, supplying naval vessels with food and drink.
It has an ensemble of respectable buildings from the 1920s and 1930s designed by Sir John Rani, consisting of a former bakery, slaughterhouse, brewery, old and new breweries, warehouses and residences.
Since the 1990s it has all become an upscale waterfront neighborhood, with yachts moored on the water, and a mix of restaurants, shops, bars and residential properties.
Come visit in the summer and there are plenty of public events, such as outdoor theater, arts and crafts markets and open-air cinema screenings.
Plymouth is 15 minutes from the South Devon area of exceptional natural beauty to the southeast, and on the beach lies the small village of Wembouri.
It is surrounded by stunning rolling scenery, maintained by the National Foundation, and with high cliffs on the beach.
With a field of bottom Devon reefs exposed at low tide, Wembouri Beach is one of the best in the country for rock surfing, and you can go down with kids looking for starfish, crabs, scorpions, anemones and aphids.
There are also consistent waves of up to two meters or more for skiers, and walks on top of a cliff on the southwest coast trail with a view of the Great Mew Stone, an islet painted by JMW Turner.
12. Flimbridge Woods
You can follow the Flemish River up the river to the northeastern end of the city, where you will reach a large part of a grove managed by the National Fund in a landscape of abandoned quarries.
The forest is intertwined with hiking and biking trails, the length of which varies but none of them is particularly challenging in this easy area.
You can follow the river through a mossy oak forest and perhaps spot woody deer, migratory falcons and fish.
Spring is truly special, with the forest floor studded with wildflowers like bells, wild garlic, cyclamen and tree anemones.
13. Devonport Naval Heritage Center
When you are in a city with the largest naval base in Western Europe, it is only natural to be curious about its military history.
HMNB Devonport has a visitor center that can be checked by prior arrangement.
This attraction documents the warehouse’s growth over the centuries and Plymouth’s role in naval warfare since the 14th century.
The galleries have models of ships, parts of military royalty, money, tableware and historical figures.
The disrupted nuclear submarine HMS Courageous is also part of the tour.
Depending on your security and schedule, you can also contact the Heritage Center to take a tour of one of the modern amphibious ships at the base, such as the HMS Bulwark assault ship and the HMS Ocean helicopter carrier.
14. Dartmore Zoo
Less than ten miles from Plymouth on the southern border of Dartmore National Park, Dartmore Zoo is a day trip that will suit younger family members.
The park was the inspiration for the 2011 film “We Bought a Zoo,” starring Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson, based on the mishaps suffered by the current owners who purchased the attraction in 2006. Among the 72 mammal species are amorous tigers, African lions, jaguars, lanes, organ and gray wolves, short-fingered otters, zebras and wolves.
The zoo also has a variety of owls, tarantulas, leaf insects, snakes and the oldest inhabitants, the resentment, the dorsal turtle, which now pushes 60 years old.
15. Caramel ferry
From Admiral’s Hard in Stonehouse you can cross into Cornwall over the Tamar River on a route that has been active since the beginning of the 13th century.
The Carmill ferry departs from Plymouth at 3, 30 and 45 pm and takes eight minutes to reach the small coastal village of Carmill.
Aboard the Plymouth Belle you can survey Plymouth Sound, Royal William Yard and Mount EdgeComba, climbing behind Caramel at the eastern end of the Rai Peninsula.
Bring a bike, which costs an extra 75p over the £ 1.50 rate, and you can ride around a beautiful heritage beach, a nature reserve with beautiful views back to Plymouth and the remains of Victorian Coast and World War II coastal defenses.
Where to stay: Best hotels in Plymouth, England
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