Plymouth is a city in South West England. It has been dubbed “Britain’s Ocean City” by the city’s top decision makers, but it means so much more than that to me. I grew up here and have ended up working from this great city. Here are ten eleven (I couldn’t help adding one more!) great reasons to visit the city:
As a naval city, Plymouth is steeped in history. Sir Francis Drake is said to have been playing bowls on Plymouth Hoe shortly before sailing off to fight the Spanish Armada in 1588. Napoleon Bonaparte was held on HMS Bellerophon in Plymouth Sound in 1815. It is said that the Royal Navy daren’t let him on land, but this didn’t stop him from becoming a top attraction as Plymothians jumped in boats and sailed out to catch a glimpse of him. And let’s not forget the Pilgrim Fathers who set sail from the Mayflower Steps in Plymouth for America. Plans are currently in place to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s departure in 2020.
Proximity to the sea & beaches
Plymouth is a seaside town, although the city’s “beach” underneath the Terrace café leaves a lot to be desired. It’s much better to jump in a car and travel to a nearby beach. Whitsand Bay, Kingsand and Cawsand (all in Cornwall) are some of my favourites, with underrated Devon beaches such as Bigbury, Exmouth or Dawlish Warren fairly close by, too.
Granted, Plymouth isn’t the first place that comes to mind when you picture good food. Yet a trip to the city’s own Rock Salt, rated a “Top Pick” by Lonely Planet, is sure to change your mind. I recommend the black pudding Scotch egg – it sounds absolutely vile, but I promise you it is the best thing I have ever tasted. Plymouth is also home to the Tanner brothers, who opened the Barbican Kitchen in 2006. You can also visit Plymouth Dome for Rhodes @ The Dome. When I visited, the service left a great deal to be desired but the food was amazing.
SPORTS, EVENTS AND ACTIVITIES
Whether you love fishing, diving, paddleboarding or sailing, Plymouth has something for you. The Mountbatten Watersports and Activities Centre offers a whole host of watersports activities, while Plymouth Life Centre caters for all of your swimming and diving needs. Being so close to the sea also makes Plymouth a paradise for fishermen who can be seen casting their rods into the sea at Devil’s Point and across various parts of the Plymouth coast come rain or shine.
With Dartmoor on Plymouth’s doorstep, locals and visitors have a whole playground in which to hike, climb, walk the dog, have a traditional pub lunch or even go on a picnic.
If that doesn’t take your fancy, how does a summer swim in Tinside Lido sound? Built in 1935, this lido has barely changed in its 80 years of existence (well, apart from the price). I recommend a trip on a sunny day before the summer holidays start: it is perfect staycation bliss! If winter sports are your thing, then the Plymouth Ski Slope & Snowboard Centre is well worth a visit. In addition to skiing and snowboarding lessons and sessions, they also have a toboggan run and sno-tubing (hurtling down a slope in a rubber ring, what’s not to love?!). The latter must be booked in advance to avoid disappointment.
Plymouth City Council have got their work cut out hosting and organising the city’s annual events: the British Firework Championships, the Ocean City Festival, the Lord Mayor’s Festival, Flavour Fest, Armed Forces Day and now MTV Crashes. The city also features an outdoor ice rink over the Christmas period and hosts a wide range of other events, including the Transat race from Plymouth to New York which is set to return to Plymouth in 2016. To stay up to date, keep an eye out for the information on the back of the big screen in the city centre.
PLACES OF INTEREST
Plymouth Gin Distillery
Nestled in Southside Street, Plymouth Gin Distillery is a must for gin and cocktail lovers. Visitors can take various tours of the distillery, including a tour with gin tasting and a tour that allows you to create and distil your own gin. If this sounds like fun, visit the Distillery’s website for more information. Advanced bookings are required. If you want to taste the gin rather than learn about the distillery, then go straight to the Refectory Bar. I recommend booking a table for groups of more than 4; visiting at the weekend requires one of your party to have membership.
National Marine Aquarium
The UK’s largest aquarium is located in Plymouth. In addition to housing a wide range of sea creatures, it is also home to Snorkel the Loggerhead Turtle. The aquarium hosts a wide range of evening events (called “Lates”) and also offers the opportunity to have a sleepover with sharks. I recommend visiting during term time because the aquarium gets very busy during school holidays, especially in summer.
AREAS OF INTEREST
Royal William Yard
Once a naval victualling yard, Royal William Yard is now open to the public and is home to a number of restaurants and a rather swanky wine bar. On the first Sunday of every month it also holds a farmer’s market selling fresh baked goods, hearty hot food, sausages, olives, beer… I could go on, but you get the picture. The Yard also organises and hosts a wide range of events, from open-air cinema to theatre productions to Christmas markets. Visit the Urban Splash website for up-to-date information on the latest events.
Plymouth Hoe & Barbican
Where else in the world would you find a place called the Hoe? Why, Plymouth, of course! This wide stretch of grass with glorious sea views is perfect for a summer barbecue. Take a trip up Smeaton’s Tower for an extra special touch. If you are interested in military history, take a stroll along Madeira Road down to the Barbican. Here you can see the outer walls of the citadel and some of the canons facing out to the sea. The Barbican features a number of bars and restaurants, some of which are hidden in plain sight. A personal favourite is the B-Bar on Castle Street, which holds poetry nights, comedy nights, acoustic nights and a weekly Salsa party. The B-Bar is also my favourite Thai food place in Plymouth. It’s to die for! It also has a theatre upstairs with great performances by groups such as Le Navet Bête.
Not technically part of Plymouth, Mount Edgcumbe is a short ferry trip away from the city. It offers something for everybody with Mount Edgcumbe House, the deer park and the Segway centre. If visiting in winter, I highly recommend a lunch by the fire in the Mount Edgcumbe Arms, one of my favourite pubs in the local area.
What’s your favourite part about Plymouth? Post in the comments below.