Great Things to Do in Plymouth: A Local Guide
From handsome estates to half-decent beaches, here's our expert guide to Plymouth.
Narrow cobbled alleys wind their way through the historical centre of a city known for the Mayflower Steps, the site where the Pilgrim Fathers (great name for a band) set sail for the New World in 1620. The area is replete with fascinating historic attractions as well as museums and majestic old-world estates, where once important people lived. Hey, you’re important, right? You’ll feel right at home at some of these attractions.
It’s a port city, of course, so a lot of the best things to do in Plymouth are a bit... fishy. But once you've seen the port, harbour and aquarium, there are also some lovely gardens, beaches and stately manors to explore.
Without further ado, here's our expert list of things to do in Plymouth. Oh, sorry, one more thing: if you're looking to stay in Plymouth, we at Plum Guide have scrutinised every rental property around, listing only the top 3% of homes that meet our exacting standards. You're welcome.
There are plenty of top-notch beaches to visit in Devon, and while Plymouth doesn't boast the best of the bunch, its golden strands may surprise you. Grab your suncream and swimming trunks, and head on down to Bovisand and Wembury, which are each about 15 minutes from the city centre by car. Go for a dip in the cool water and relax in the rock pools at the latter. The former has a large area of sand that is ideal for games and pretending you’re lost in the desert with your family. Take a boat trip to the old pirate bays of Cawsand and Kingsand and explore the secluded villages.
If you decide to stick it out in the lovely city centre of Plymouth (a few hours drive south-west of London) you can still sunbathe and take a break in its gorgeous gardens and parks. The Elizabethan Gardens makes for a scenic setting where you can sit and read a book. Study the colourful floral displays and charming little hedge labyrinths. You can also enjoy a picnic in the Hoe (stop sniggering), where you’ll spot the Smeaton’s Tower. Your kids will love the play area, miniature railway and trampolines.
The Barbican & Sutton Harbour
The Elizabethan Gardens are actually right in the middle of the Barbican & Sutton Harbour, which is adorned with some of the oldest and quaintest buildings in Plymouth. Lose yourself in the enchanting cobbled lanes and check out the boutiques, galleries and pubs. The area has become known as an eclectic culinary hub, where you can find all kinds of grub, from Italian and Turkish to Chinese and Himalayan. If you’re looking to get to the heart of the local culture, though, try the fish and chips and a Cornish pasty from just across the county border. The Devon locals will be livid the Cornish prefix caught on. Step on the iconic Mayflower Steps, down which the Pilgrim Fathers – that famous folk band we made up – walked in the early 1600s before embarking on a voyage to the New World.
‘What if it rains?’ – the motto of the English holiday. Not to fear: if you're looking for things to do in Plymouth on a rainy day, the city is packed with cultural highlights, with the aquarium right at the top of the list. So, let’s take a closer look: the National Marine Aquarium is the largest in the UK and has more than 40 sharks. That’s like a small army of sharks, so tread carefully. The aquarium has all sorts of weird and wonderful programs, even organising boat trips and allowing you to catch a fish, and teaching you how to prepare it. It’s great for everyone... except the fish.
Aside from the aquarium, there are plenty of rainy day activities. Walk around the Plymouth Gin Distillery to appreciate the 15th-century architecture of a complex that housed a monastery of Black Friar Monks. Try the Plymouth Gin that has been sold here since the late 18th century, making this the oldest working gin distillery in England. A guided tour will give you an insight into how it’s made, giving you something to show off about at dinner parties. What's more, you’ll be spoilt for choice with shops in the nearby Drake Circus shopping mall in the city centre.
The region surrounding Plymouth provides an insight into the pomp and affluence of the old-world bourgeoisie. Explore the park and estate of the Mount Edgcumbe House & Country Park and check out the formal gardens and the National Camellia Collection. Head to the estate of Saltram and admire the period décor and collection of antiques (try not to nick any of them), before meandering the surrounding meadows, woodland and farmland. Or escape it all with a trip to the Burrator Reservoir and enjoy a picnic in the woods.