10 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Plymouth
Plymouth is one of Britain's largest seaports and naval bases and ranks as the most historically important. It was just off Plymouth that the British defeated the Spanish Armada, marking the beginning of the country's rise as a world power. At the mouth of the River Tamar, the boundary between Devon and Cornwall, Plymouth is now a sizable city that includes Stonehouse and Devonport, all of which boast many fun things to do.
Bordered by a wide beach, Plymouth lies between hills that reach down to the adjoining bays. Surrounding woodlands and meadows combine with extensive parks and gardens to give the city an open and attractive look. Famous names connected with British maritime history, such as Sir Francis Drake and the Mayflower, are closely associated with this historic port.
See also: Where to Stay in Plymouth
1 Plymouth Hoe
The finest views of Plymouth and Plymouth Sound are from the Hoe, a spacious park opened in 1817. Traversed by the Promenade, it extends past Drake's Island as far as the lighthouse on Eddystone Rock, 14 miles away. It's also where you'll find the Armada Monument, erected in 1888 and decorated with the coats of arms of the towns that helped in the struggle against the Spanish. The nearby massive Naval War Memorial is worth a look, as is the Sir Francis Drake Statue. Also in Hoe, the upper part of Smeaton Lighthouse (1756) is open as a viewing tower. Be prepared to tackle the 93 steps, including steep ladders, to the lantern room for the lovely views.
Address: Plymouth Mayflower, 3-5 The Barbican, Plymouth
2 Royal Citadel
The Royal Citadel was built in 1566 and remained the most important coastal defense in England for more than 100 years. The structure encompasses the site of an earlier fort built in the time of Sir Francis Drake. It's still used by the military, so be sure to check tour availability for the attraction. A highlight is the Royal Chapel of St. Katherine-upon-the-Hoe, originally licensed for services in 1371 but rebuilt over the centuries. A road runs around the citadel, affording excellent views.
Location: The Hoe, Plymouth
3 National Marine Aquarium
The National Marine Aquarium is the UK's largest aquarium and offers superb educational programs and displays. Exhibits cover the world's oceans, from the shores of England to Pacific coral reefs. More than 70 sharks from 10 different species are housed here, including small dogfish and large sand tiger sharks. All feature in an excellent interactive dive show. On-site restaurants offer views of exhibits or across Plymouth Sound.
Location: Rope Walk Coxside, Plymouth
4 Saltram House
Saltram House, just three miles east of Plymouth, was begun by John Parker in 1750 and is notable for its 14 paintings by Joshua Reynolds, who lived in nearby Plympton. The artist liked staying at Saltram and painted portraits of the lord of the house and his family. The portrait of the artist himself (1767) that hangs on the stairway is the work of Angelika Kaufmann. Also of interest are works by Rubens, Stubbs, American presidential painter Gilbert Stuart, and superb collections of porcelain. After visiting the home's beautiful interior, be sure to spend time exploring its magnificent grounds, including the unspoiled woodlands and tranquil gardens.
Location: Plympton, Plymouth
5 The Barbican
In the narrow streets of The Barbican historic quarter of Plymouth, you can see an excellent example of 16th-century architecture in the Elizabethan House on New Street. Fitted out exactly as it would have been in Tudor times, it's a delight to explore, as are the neighboring Elizabethan Gardens. Also worth a visit in nearby Southside Street are the remains of a 14th-century Dominican monastery.
At Sutton Pool, pleasure ships offer excursions around the harbor and Plymouth Sound. Of particular interest to American tourists is the Mayflower Museum covering the fascinating history of this famous vessel's voyage to the New World. A short distance away is a memorial commemorating the arrival of British aviators Alcock and Brown who, in 1919, became the first people to cross the Atlantic in a seaplane. Other Barbican highlights include the National Marine Aquarium, the Barbican Theatre, and the Plymouth Arts Centre.
6 The Mayflower Museum and Steps
While a big draw for tourists from the United States, the Mayflower Museum is also well worth a visit for those with an interest in Britain's rich naval history. Located in the Barbican area and focusing on the remarkable journey made by America's founding fathers aboard the Mayflower, this first-rate museum commemorates Plymouth's important part in the epic journey undertaken by the Pilgrims to the New World. Highlights include the chance to try out period costumes, numerous fun interactive games, along with a scale model of the famous ship. Afterwards, be sure to snap a photo of the Mayflower Steps, a historic gateway built in memory of the Pilgrim Fathers.
Location: 3-5 The Barbican, Plymouth
7 Plymouth City Center
Plymouth city center occupies the area around two broad avenues, Armada Way and Royal Parade, which adjoin Hoe Park to the north. Near St. Andrew's Church are the 15th-century Prysten House, the 16th-century Merchant's House, a Tudor building housing a museum of social history, and the Guildhall with its pretty little towers.
Opposite St. Andrew's is the Civic Centre, worth visiting for the viewing platform on the 14th floor with its breathtaking views of the city (in clear weather you can see as far as distant Dartmoor). On Derry's Cross is the famous Theatre Royal, with the Athenaeum Theatre next door. You can find things to do at the Plymouth Pavilions, a conference and leisure center with a swimming pool, wave-machine, and ice rink. Finally, a little northwest of the city center is the Drake Circus Centre, a pedestrian zone with passageways of shops and restaurants.
Location: St Andrews St, Plymouth
8 Historic Devonport
To the west of Plymouth city center, Devonport has many fine old Georgian and Regency houses. The Royal Dockyard, established in 1691 by William III, contains a memorial to polar explorer Robert Falcon Scott. Born in Devonport in 1868, Scott died in 1912 on an expedition to the South Pole with his ship Discovery, now on display in Dundee. Gun Wharf, built in 1718, is also architecturally interesting.
The Devonport Heritage Trail is a great way to explore the area (particularly for hikers), while the more sedate Waterfront Walkway offers good sightseeing for all ages and abilities.Be sure to also visit the excellent Devonport Naval Heritage Site and Visitor Centre, with its displays and exhibits relating to the city's historic dockyards. Highlights include the Naval Heritage Centre, a former Royal Navy submarine, as well as the opportunity to tour the still operational naval base.
9 Crownhill Fort
Crownhill Fort is the largest and best preserved of Plymouth's ring of Victorian Forts. There are cannon and underground tunnels to explore as well as ramparts and a massive dry moat, and you can take in numerous historic reenactments throughout the year. For an unforgettable experience, look into booking one of the Fort's unique overnight stays. Offered in the former Officers' Quarters, these fully-furnished luxury suites contain separate bedrooms and full kitchens.
Location: Crownhill Fort Rd, Plymouth
10 Mount Edgcumbe House
From Plymouth there's a ferry service to Cremyll in Cornwall and the mansion of Mount Edgcumbe. More than 400 years old, the house is a fine example of English 18th-century interior design and was featured in the Oscar award-winning film Sense and Sensibility. Highlights include a large collection of period furniture and numerous fine paintings (including examples by Joshua Reynolds), rare Chinese and English porcelain, as well as a unique collection of Bronze Age horns originating from Ireland. Be sure to spend time in the colorfully landscaped park, noted for its many European and exotic plant varieties.
Location: Cremyll, Torpoint, Cornwall
Where to Stay in Plymouth for Sightseeing
We recommend these delightful hotels near top sights like Plymouth Hoe and the Barbican historic quarter:
- Boringdon Hall Hotel and Spa: luxury manor house hotel, countryside setting, indoor heated pool, wellness spa.
- Invicta Hotel: mid-range pricing, family-run hotel, convenient location, friendly staff.
- The Grosvenor Plymouth: affordable rates, steps to Plymouth Hoe, modern decor, delicious free breakfast.
- Premier Inn Plymouth City Centre (Sutton Harbour) Hotel: budget hotel, near the National Marine Aquarium, tea and coffeemakers, family rooms.