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Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

Plymouth [1], largest city on England's south coast and the most extensive naval base in western Europe.

Fishing Boats at Plymouth Barbican
Fishing Boats at Plymouth Barbican
Evening Sunset over Plymouth Sound, one of the worlds most impressive natural harbors
Evening Sunset over Plymouth Sound, one of the worlds most impressive natural harbors

The city is located between the mouths of the rivers Tamar and Plym in what is widely regarded as one of the world's most impressive natural harbours. Plymouth is a unitary authority responsible for its own decision-making within the historic county of Devon. The area was first recorded in the Domesday book as "Sudtone" (1086; later Sutton) and together with the towns of Devonport and Stonehouse amalgamated in 1914 to form the modern Plymouth which was granted city status in 1928.

In 1588, the English Navy, which was led in part by Sir Francis Drake, set sail from Plymouth to defeat the Spanish Armada. With its dramatic coastal setting, the surrounding landscape is quite striking. Plymouth is by turns rugged and hilly, or green and rolling. Famous Dartmoor was designated a National Park in 1951. Popular sites include Smeatons Tower a lighthouse resited on the Hoe, Mount Batten Peninsula, the National Marine Aquarium, and Buckland Abbey, which was Drake's former home.

The Royal Dockyard was built in the area, on the banks of the River Tamar, in 1690. Plymouth has a long and historic seafaring tradition.. It was in 1620 that the Pilgrim Fathers finally left Plymouth after repairs on their escape from religious persecution to the New World, eventually setting up Plymouth Colony, Massachusetts.

Tourism is an important aspect of Plymouth's economy. Nearly 12 million people visit Plymouth every year. As well as all the attractions of a modern city, Plymouth is a popular launchpad to other notable areas including the beaches and footpaths of the Devon and Cornwall coastline and the brooding landscape of nearby Dartmoor.



The city of Plymouth covers multiple rock types, the Hoe, in the south of the city is composed of Devonian Limestone, which was also used for building a fairly high proportion of the city (most of the older houses and buildings are at least fronted with the stone). the area around the Station is formed of mudstone, which too is Devonian. The outer areas of the city are increasingly higher grades of metamorphosed mudstone, with the occasional pillow lava on hills. Dartmoor is a massive batholith (big lump) of granite, while Cawsand and Kingsand (reachable by ferry from the Barbican) contain various igneous structures.


Plymouth is currently undergoing massive regeneration, which has been described as on a par with the post war reconstruction, thus many of the 'eyesores' which litter Plymouth will be (hopefully) demolished in the near future, the city is looking to undergo a 'rebirth' in which tourism will be a core aspect of. there may be traffic problems or construction works during your visit.

Get in

Plymouth Airport [2] a small 1920s airfield on the northern side of the city and known affectionately to Plymothians as the 'Jannerdrome' offers domestic flights as well as flights to Dublin, Cork , London - both city and Gatwick, Bristol, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, Glasgow, The Channel Islands and seasonally Grenoble the online airline that operates is Air South West [3]. The flights are useful but beware frequent fog problems that can divert flights to Newquay or Exeter.If you wish to access central London beware that security procedures and the on travel time Gatwick/Victoria can make the flying no quicker than the train.

Plymouth's principal access route is the A38 dual carriageway (The Devon Expressway)which connects to the M5 at Exeter, and into the heart of Cornwall to the west. The A386 connects Plymouth to Tavistock, Okehampton, the A30, and North Devon.

Plymouth is on a main line rail route connecting to London (from 3hrs), Bristol (around 2hrs), the Midlands (Birmingham 3hrs 40) and the North of England (ages). The railway also goes here from Cornwall. If visiting from outside the West Country by rail, the train will take you along one of the most scenic railways in Britain (between Exeter and Newton Abbot). Plymouth is also served by the 'Night Rivera [4]' sleeper service to Penzance, which leaves London at around midnight every weeknight and Sunday, arrives in Plymouth at 5.30 and departs at 6.30; wake up calls are available. To get from the main Plymouth Station into the town; follow the road to the right, turn left and head into the city down the central avenue Armada Way which leads directly through the retail area up to the landmark naval war memorial on the Hoe.

Brittany Ferries [5] operate a service to Plymouth, from Santander (22 hours) and Roscoff (6 during the day, 8 during the night). Other Routes are present within the UK. The Ferry Terminal is to the west of the City Centre, about 1/2 a mile walk from the Hoe and Central shopping precinct. The very cheap out of season 'Booze cruises' are very popular and convenient.

There is also 3 main Park and Ride sites servicing the city, [6]

  • A regular bus service covers most of Plymouth, however, the town center is quite compact, and the waterfront (the Barbican and the Hoe) are within easy walking range from the center. to get around some of the waterside there are some water taxi's and boats, operating normally thought the summer only.
Smeaton's Tower on Plymouth Hoe
Smeaton's Tower on Plymouth Hoe
  • The National Marine Aquarium [7] is Britain's foremost aquarium and the deepest in Europe. You'll find it located near the historical Barbican area, which includes Britain's oldest bakery (Jacka's), and the Mayflower Steps from where the Pilgrim Fathers left for the New World in 1621.
  • Plymouth Hoe, the scene of Sir Francis Drake's apocryphal game of bowls prior to his taking on the Spanish Armada in 1588.
  • Saltram House, as seen in the beginning of 'Sense and Sensibility'; (Ang Lee, 1999)the artist Sir Joshua Reynolds's Patrons the Parker Family lived here, and the house has design elements by Robert Adams.
  • The Barbican, where some more of Sense and Sensibility was filmed, also one of the most old areas of Plymouth.
  • The Royal William Yard, once the place from which the British Navy was provisioned. The naval presence in Plymouth is immense: the city is home to the largest naval base in western Europe, which is open to the public on Naval Days.
  • Plymouth Theatre Royal is the largest provincial producing theatre in the UK and one of the best attended. They have produced and co-produced West End plays in London and on Broadway, New York, as well as in Plymouth itself. It also plays host to the occasional Royal Shakespeare Company production and has seen Shakespeare productions from acclaimed Japanese director Yukio Ninagawa.
Plymouth city Museum
Plymouth city Museum
  • Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery [8] Has recently re-openned with a special exhibit on Darwin's Voyage of Discovery (the Great Scientist Left from Plymouth) plus Natural History Galleries and collections of China and Pottery. The museum is opposite the university on Drake Circus
  • The Royal Citadel Built following the English Civil War, this was England's principal fortress featuring outstanding examples of 17th-century baroque architecture. To keep guard over Plymouth Sound and harbour this fort is open only on Tuesdays for guided tours at 2.30. The citadel is up on the Hoe.
  • Plymouth Dome Perched up on the Hoe this information centre provided interactive and hands-on displays, where visitors could sail aboard the Mayflower, explore an Elizabethan Street and stand at the edge of Plymouth Sound. This is currently closed. The future use of the site is not clarified.
  • Plymouth Synagogue Plymouth's synagogue is the oldest remaining Ashkenazi house of worship in an English-speaking country.

Opening Hours

    • Tuesday to Friday - 10AM to 5.30PM
    • Saturday and Bank Holiday Mondays - 10AM to 5PM
  • Smeaton’s Tower [9] high on the Hoe, this landmark of Plymouth was constructed on Eddystone reef in 1759 at a cost of £40,000, but was taken down in the early 1880s when it was discovered that the sea was undermining the rock it was standing on. It was then moved to Plymouth Hoe, it is openly yearly and entrance fee is £2 for adults and £1 for concessions.
  • Elizabethan House on the the Barbican for more information [10]
  • Merchant's House [11] A historic building tucked away down one of the city's oldest streets - the Merchant's House is Plymouth’s finest surviving example of a 16th/17th century residence. During the 17th century it was home to three Plymouth mayors including privateer William Parker, a friend of Sir Francis Drake.
Mayflower Steps
Mayflower Steps

The Mayflower Steps is a twentieth century commemorative feature built close to the site where the Pilgrim Fathers left aboard the repaired Mayflower, before crossing the Atlantic Ocean to live in North America. Today boat trips leave from there for tours of Plymouth Sound, although the original site is believed to be where the Admiral McBride public house now stands. (Although the Mayflower Steps still are where tourists stand and look)

Visit the historic Plymouth Gin distillery on the Barbican, from where Plymouth Gin has been shipped all over the world.

  • Plym valley cycle path, accessible from the North East of the city this path follows the Plym valley firstly alongside an old railway line and then on it through beautiful countryside all the way to Tavistock; there is little infastructure along the path, so any food or drink should be picked up before leaving Plymouth (there is a large supermarket nearby). [12] on the first large viaduct out of Plymouth peregrine falcons can often be seen in summer in the nearby quarry, this makes the path popular with bird watchers.
  • Plymouth Pavilions [13] known simply as the Pavilions this earmarked to be demolished entertainment centre hosts big bands time to time, ten pin bowling, laser games, ice skating and the Pavillions funpool containing flume rides, jacuzzi, wave machine and even an indoor beach. The centre is to the west of the city centre on Union Street.
  • Take a boat tour Plymouth boasts one of the best natural harbours in Europe and maybe even the world, taking to the water can give you a new view on the city. most boats leave from the Barbican, often on the 'Mayflower Steps' a variety of boat trips are available, lasting between 1-3 hours, taking in the Navy dockyard, Brunel's Bridge and the Hoe foreshore but various different destinations are available. Sound Cruising [14] run most trips
  • Sport Plymouth has two professional sports teams - Plymouth Argyle football club and Plymouth Albion rugby union club, both of which play in their respective sports' second tier. Both are (relatively speaking) cheap to get into and are good family days out, although you may wish to exercise caution if Argyle's local rivals Exeter, Bristol City or Cardiff are in town. Trouble is unlikely due to a high police prescence and if you use your common sense you are likely to be safe. Be sure to check the fixture lists before setting out.


Plymouth is home to nearly a third of all state schools in Devon, some of which are counted among the best in the country - for example, Hele's School [15], which may also be the source of your visit due to the remarkable amount of foreigners this secondary school receives. For those of university age, Plymouth University is well known for its marine biology, computer science and surfing courses, and is consistently ranked as one of the top 3 amongst the ex-polytechnics.


Plymouth's city centre shopping area includes three department stores in close proximity to each other (Debenhams, House of Fraser, Derry's) as well as a new 1980's style covered shopping centre, which opened in October 2006. It is called Drake's Circus, includes Marks and Spencer and Boots, fashion chain Zara, shoe shop Sole Trader, and youth fashion brand Bershka. There is a vast Primark and the west country's largest branch of Spud U Like. There is no branch of John Lewis Waitrose or Ikea in the city.

Plymouth is the home of Plymouth Gin, and if you like English Gin you may want to pick some up from the city it was distilled in even if the business is now owned by Pernod.

The 'Independent Quarter', to the West, contains smaller shops including a French-family owned bakery opposite a specialist beer shop (More and Moor Beer) which sells beers from around the world and has a huge range of beers, ciders and perrys from Devon and Cornwall.


For a city of its size, Plymouth does not have many fine restaurants, though it is home to the Tanners Restaurant run by brothers James and Chris Tanner. James is a well-known chef on British television. There are many good restaurants in the wider area. Among them: The Horn of Plenty at Gulworthy (20 miles), near Tavistock; the New Carved Angel at Dartmouth (35 miles) which was recently voted the top restaurant in Britain; and the Gidleigh Park Hotel at Chagford.

The Barbican has a number of restaurants and bars lined up along the quayside. As with any major city, there are plenty of takeaway and fast food retailers within easy distance of most parts of Plymouth. Buying a takeaway in Plymouth can prove a cost effective alternative to a restaurant, with as many different food choices. Naturally, any visitor to the Westcountry should try a traditional pasty, a meat and potato mix wrapped in pastry. Try Ivor Dewdney's pasties to eat like the locals have done for over seventy years, or try the wonderfully entitled Oggy Oggy Pasty Company.

  • Tanners Restaurant, Prysten House, Finewell Street, Tel 01752 252001, [16]. Probably the most expensive restaurant in Plymouth. The Tanner Brothers also own a secondary (more reasonable) restaurant, The Barbican Kitchen [17] is open 7 days a week for both Lunch and Dinner, it is in the historic Gin distillery on the Barbican (as the name suggests!)
  • Lantern Restaurant on Cornwall Street (city centre) Cypriot and Greek Fare
  • Cafe India in Stoke Village is a highly regarded Indian restaurant in Plymouth.
  • Platters on the Barbican Very reliable seafood dishes, try the scallops as a starter, and if you have room the large fish and chips.
  • Capt' Jaspers, [18]. 'World Famous for Fine Food' a great value eating place on the Barbican.
  • Plymouth of course has all the usual fast food fare you could want (or not want); overall don't expect many great surprises.

Plymouth city Council supply a list of all food establishments here [19]

  • The Dolphin public house on the Plymouth Barbican, perfectly kept Bass drawn straight from the barrel and the last traditional drinkers' pub.
  • The Millbridge Inn in Millbridge, Plymouth,a Ferkin pub this usually has live music on a Friday and Saturday night.
  • The China House at Coxside, this has great views over the harbour to the Barbican.
  • The Lord Louis in Plympton is a suburban steak house.
  • Pubs, clubs and bars due to the massive student population Plymouth has pretty much every national chain and plenty of local talent, good drinking areas include the Barbican, the area around the University, Mutley and Union Street especially on Friday or Saturday nights.
  • There is suddenly a surplus of medium to low price hotel or travelodge style accommodation in the very centre of the city where deals are always to be had and which provide better value and convenience than traditional bed and breakfast hotels although dozens of these are working hard to up their game.
  • For luxury holiday cottages and apartments in the Plymouth area, please visit [20]. Telephone 01803 855282. There is a variety of holiday cottages and apartments located within the city and overlooking the marina. A good base for touring the nearby local area of the South Hams, South Devon and Cornwall.
  • There is an Ibis [21] and Novotel [22] in Marsh Mills (to the north west of the city - directly off the Devon Expressway)
  • Copthorn Hotel [23] have a hotel right in the centre of Plymouth
  • The Holiday Inn [24] is known for having the best view of the Sound in Plymouth from its bar
  • there are a camp-sites also in Marsh Mills (Riverside Camp-site) [25]it is well signposted from both the city center and the road to and from Exeter, Plymouth Sound Caravan Club [26], Brixton Caravan & Camping Park [27] and many more [28] in the surrounding area.
  • As with any decent sized city there are plenty of accommodation options, the Plymouth Tourist Information Centre [29](01752 306330) will be able to provide more assistance
  • Plymouth Backpackers Hotel in the city center, on the Hoe, about 10 minutes from the barbican and true center for more information visit [30]
  • Avalon Guest House, 167 Citadel Road The Hoe Plymouth PL1 2HU, 01752 668127, [31]. checkin: 1PM; checkout: 10AM. Friendly relaxed and comfortable family run guest house bed and breakfast situated on Plymouth Hoe in the heart of Plymouth.  edit
View into Devon from Cornwall, the two Tamar Bridges viewed from the train
View into Devon from Cornwall, the two Tamar Bridges viewed from the train
  • For somewhere really scenic try Noss Mayo (30 min drive from Plymouth), a plutocratic ex-fishing village with a couple of well-sited up-market foody pubs by the river.
  • Try taking a boat from the Barbican in Plymouth to Cawsand, a small village in Cornwall (30 minutes). Cawsand has a small stony beach and nice pubs and cafes. From there you can walk through the beautiful Mount Edgcombe country park (about 3-4 miles) and take the Cremyl ferry back to Plymouth. A fantastic day out on a nice day.
  • Take a bus to Wembury and walk back into Plymouth along the South West Coastal Path.
  • Try the beautiful coastal walk from Polperro to Looe (or vice versa).
  • The cathedral cities of Truro, in Cornwall (1hr 30 drive, from 1hr train - from £8.00 adult return), and Exeter (40 min drive/ 1hr train - £7.00 adult return or 'fast' bus from Plymouth taking around 1hr 20) are worth a visit.
  • About a 20 minute drive North will take you into Dartmoor National Park, where some fantastic views and walks are to be had. A good first stop would be in Princetown where the tourist information office will give you details on some recommended walks close by.
  • Tavistock is a nearby quiet town and is a good place to set as a hub for visiting Dartmoor. It can be reached by taking the 83,84 or 86 bus. It also has an amazingly good cheese shop, [32].
  • Dartmouth a scenic town
This is a usable article. It has information for getting in as well as some complete entries for restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!


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