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Plymouth's most important visitor attractions

Updated: May 31, 2019

Plymouth is well-known for may things, most of which have some connection with the waterfront.


Plymouth has a rich maritime heritage and has played an important role in some of Britain’s most famous events. Walking through some on Plymouth's streets you can delve into history and be enchanted, from 11th Century trade routes to Elizabethan merchants, Naval prowess to Art Deco decadence and Georgian elegance to 1950’s post war optimism.

Take a stroll along the cobbled streets of the Barbican and see yourself transported back in time, to some of history's transforming moments, such as Sir Francis Drake's victory over the Spanish Armada, the initial departure of the Mayflower carrying the Pilgrim Fathers in search of the New World, imagine explorers Scott of the Antarctic, Captain James Cook and Charles Darwin setting sail to find new adventures, all departing from Plymouth.

We've always had a strong bond with the armed forces and much of British naval history is directly tied to Plymouth. The best example of that is the Royal William Yard , a showcase of the city’s military prowess and the largest collection of listed Naval buildings in Europe. Its past as a victualing yard and stores is reflected in its present use as home to some of the city’s best restaurants, including the River Cottage Canteen. There is so much to discover, you might get lost in Plymouth’s history – just remember to take time to enjoy everything that’s going on here and now!


Plymouth Gin Distillery

What better way to start your Plymouth tour than with a taste of the authentic spirit drink made on the Barbican since 1793! The Gin Distillery offers a range of unique tours for food and drink enthusiasts, tailored to everyone's taste and needs.


Plymouth's Gin Distillery on Southside Street, in the historic Barbican (Image credit tripadvisor.com)

The National Marine Aquarium

The UK's largest Aquarium, located on the eastern side of Sutton Harbour, is a charity dedicated to raising awareness of the oceans and the challenges they face. Their exhibits will transport you across the worlds oceans, from Plymouth Sound to the coral reefs of the tropics.


The National Marine Aquarium is a very popular attraction for children and young adults

Smeaton's Tower

Probably pictured in 90% of all Plymouth-related photos, Smeaton's Tower is one of the most prominent landmarks in the city. This historic building and the Hoe Foreshore it's situated on is an absolute must-see.

The lighthouse was originally built out on the notorious Eddystone Reef in 1759. It was taken down in 1887, due to erosion of the ledge it was built on. Now standing at 72 feet high, it offers brilliant views of Plymouth Sound and beyond. Visitors can climb to the top courtesy of a series of stairs and some of the original 18th century ladders.



Plymouth Mayflower Museum

The Mayflower museum displays many artifacts and historical notes with regard to the good ship Mayflower which left Plymouth for the new world in 1620. There is much to see here and much to learn about the people who were on that voyage. There are replicas of the Mayflower here that are quite detailed and there are many stories to discover. Anyone with a taste for history - especially American history - will be fascinated by this unique museum that tells the story of the Pilgrims and their travels between England, the Netherlands and the New World.


A scale replica of the original Mayflower ship (Image credit: tripadvisor.com)

The Royal Citadel

The Royal Citadel dominates the eastern end of Plymouth Hoe, and overlooks Plymouth Sound. It was built in the 1660s after a design by Sir Bernard de Gomme, and incorporates an earlier fort that was built at the time of Sir Francis Drake. The fort was funded by an ingenious tax on every hogshead of pilchards exported from Plymouth, and was designed as the main defence of Plymouth, as it dominates the approaches to Sutton Harbour.

During the Dutch Wars of 1164-67 the fort was further expanded during the reign of King Charles II. The Citadel is built of local limestone, while the English Baroque gateway is of Portland stone. This gate was originally approached by a drawbridge over a moat, but this was removed in the 1880s. The Citadel continued to be used as a military base and for centuries was considered one of the most important defence installations in Britain. Today it is still a military base under the control of the 29th Commando Regiment, Royal Artillery. As The Citadel is still an operational installation, guided tours are by appointment only.


Aerial view of the Royal Citadel, from the Sutton Harbour side (Image credit: Pinterest.com)

Devonport Guildhall

Devonport Guildhall was once the heart of the thriving and bustling town of Devonport which was reckoned to be busier than the neighbouring centre of Plymouth. It is commonly thought that what the Nazi bombers failed to destroy was swept away by the city planners. Quite recently, the Guildhall has opened to the public. The main hall is an impressive room, suitable for a wide variety of functions with a painting by Robert Lenkiewicz at one end. On the floor below is the former police station with cells and a small coffee shop.

Devonport Guildhall and the adjacent Devonport Column are also about midway in the Devonport Heritage Trail which can be accessed online. Discover Devonport Guildhalls history, its spooky cells and deadly secrets. Climb Devonport Column for unrivalled views across the city.


Devonport Guildhall at night (Image credit: tripadvisor.com)

Royal William Victualling Yard

The Royal William Yard was originally the major victualling depot of the Royal Navy and an important adjunct of Devonport Dockyard. It was designed by the architect Sir John Rennie and was named after King William IV. It was built between 1826 and 1835, and occupies a site of approximately 16 acres (65,000 m2) being half of Western Kings, north of Devil's Point.

The Yard was released from the Ministry of Defence (MOD) in 1992 and is now home to many restaurants and shop, with a hotel and spa to be built in the very near future.

Here is a stunning video from ViewHear Plymouth.



Mount Edgecumbe House and Country Park

Mount Edgecumbe is a hidden gem, tucked away on the far side of Plymouth Sound; it seems a long drive round from the main route through Cornwall/Devon but is relatively easily reached via the Torpoint ferry. It's a favourite destination for dog walkers, the house has a cafe and small museum as part of it. Great views across the River Tamar.


Mount Edcumbe House in a beautiful setting (Image credit: visitplymouth.co.uk)

National Trust Sites

There are a number of magnificent National Trust properties easily accessible from Plymouth, Saltram House , a Georgian Manor set in historic Parkland along the River Plym. Buckland Abbey, the former home of Sir Francis Drake and Cotehele, a Tudor mansion on the banks of the River Tamar.

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