Proudly bearing the reputation of ‘Britain’s Ocean City’, Plymouth is the largest city in Devon. It’s not the most popular city in the UK for domestic or international tourists, but it does still have a lot to offer guests! Plymouth has a rich history, with heritage from Medieval times and its long history as a naval base.
I’ve wrote a weekend in Plymouth itinerary that ties all of these attractions together, but if you want a list of the best things to do in Plymouth with a bit more detail, here it is!
Let’s take a look at all of the best things to do in Plymouth!
Best things to do in Plymouth
Tour around the gin distillery
Unsurprisingly (I love gin) this was one of my favourite things to do in Plymouth. The Plymouth Gin Distillery is the longest-running one in the country, and tours run daily. The friendly guides detail the history and the processes of gin making, and a gin tasting is included! Starting at just 11, it’s a great value thing to do in the city and learn a bit more about gin too! See my full post about the Plymouth Gin Distillery for more details.
Chill out at the Barbican
The Barbican is one of the best places to visit in Plymouth. With boats floating in a harbour, and pathways lined with restaurants, cafes and bars, it’s the perfect place to enjoy a meal or hang out while the sun sets.
Go to the Mayflower Steps and Museum
The Mayflower Steps are at the far end of the Barbican, and there is a small plaque here noting that it was where the Mayflower sailed from. Opposite is the Mayflower Museum, an enterprise that details the journey of these people to ‘The New World’ (of course, it wasn’t a new world to the native populations of the continent).
The Mayflower transported a group of mainly pilgrims. They had fallen slightly out of favour in the UK due to their extreme views, and spent a while in the Netherlands but struggled with the difference in culture. Therefore, many jumped at the chance to move to what is now the USA.
Plymouth was the last destination in the UK – the pilgrims actually ended up spending two months here while the Mayflower’s sister boat was being repaired, before leaving on the 16th September 1420. Therefore, they influenced day to day Plymouth life substantially, and of course when they reached their final destination, they completely changed the course of history in this part of the world.
The Mayflower Museum is an immersive exhibition that discusses the pilgrims and their journey, and also about the tremendous impact that it had on forming the USA today, especially for Native American populations.
It’s a really great museum, and costs only £3.50 to enter.
Do a sightseeing Tamar cruise
The Tamar separates Cornwall and Devon, so it’s been a crucial river for centuries. It’s also been focal for Plymouth’s position as a Naval port.
A guided tour up and down the Tamar will tell you all about Plymouth’s Naval history and show you some points of interest as you travel. It’s definitely one of the best things to do in Plymouth to learn about its history!
Check out Plymouth Hoe
Plymouth Hoe is a grassy bank right next to the sea. It’s a pleasant place for a walk, and there are also some points of interest:
- Tinside Lido, which dates back from 1935 and is decorated in Art Deco style.
- A statue of Sir Francis Drake – he was playing bowls in this very spot when he spotted the ships from the Spanish Armada back in 1588. However, he’s not someone who I would consider statue worthy due to his connections with the slave trade.
- The Beatles Bums – an iconic photo was taken of the Beatles when they were in town filming the Magical Mystery Tour. You can now sit in the exact position they were in and recreate the photo, thanks to the Beatles bums, which mark out where to sit!
- Smeatons Lighthouse, a historic monument that was constructed in 1757. It is no longer functional but stands to celebrate the engineer John Smeaton.
The Royal Citadel
This is Plymouth’s military fortress. It was built in the 17th century and used to defend Plymouth from any maritime attack. It is still occupied by the military to this day, but can be visited for tourism. The English Heritage run tours there at set times – click here to book one.
Enjoy a drink in Royal William Yard
This is an ex-victualling depot, adjacent to Devonport dockyard. The shell of the building remains, but it is now used as a dining and drinking complex. It’s worth visiting to check out the architecture, and also to grab a drink or dinner.
There are a few chain restaurants here, like Wagamamas and Prezzo, but also independent restaurants and bars such as The Hook and Line and Bistrot Pierre.
Get educated at the Box Museum
As I’ve said throughout this post, Plymouth is a fascinating city. The Box Museum will tell you more about the Ocean City’s culture and history, and it’s one of the best things to do in Plymouth to learn about local culture.
The Box Museum opened in 2020, and it has some great exhibitions about the Mayflower Museum, Plymouth’s strategic position on the coast, and the nature surrounding the Plymouth area. Entry is free but you should reserve your time slot before going.
Go to the country’s biggest aquarium
This is one of the best things to do in Plymouth with kids. The National Aquarium is the country’s biggest, and has all sorts of sea animals from surrounding areas, and further afield.
I don’t personally go to aquariums, but I can see the argument for going to the National Aquarium as it is run by the Ocean Conservation Trust – money spent here goes towards protecting the oceans, and provides valuable education on the importance of conserving the seas.
Hang out at the Mount Batten beaches
To get to the nearest of Plymouth’s beaches, you can take a small boat from the Barbican over to Mount Batten. This area of Plymouth is great for beaches; Jennycliff Beach and Mount Batten Beach are both lovely. They’re great for a coastal walk close to the city, or you can enjoy one of the bars or restaurants near the marina. I love The Bridge.
Day Trips from Plymouth
There are plenty of things to do around Plymouth. I’ll be writing a full day trips from Plymouth post soon, but here are some ideas…
The Eden Project
Located just over the Cornish border, The Eden Project consists of two giant biomes, each with a different climate. There’s the rainforest biome, which has tropical plants and the Mediterranean biome. There are also gardens with typical Cornish and British plants. The project aims to teach guests about the natural world and the importance of conserving it through its eco-friendly initiatives.
Dartmoor National Park
This Devonshire park is a huge moor, home to lots of hiking trails and Dartmoor ponies! It’s a great place to get lost in nature and enjoy moorland and woodland. For first time visitors, I highly recommend going to Becky Falls and the surrounding area.
The English Riviera
If you want to check out some beautiful coastal towns, head a bit further east. Torquay, Paignton, Babbacombe and Brixham all make up ‘The English Riviera’ – one of the most exotic parts of the country. These four towns are all lovely coastal settlements with their own character, and there’s plenty to do here – from watersports to cultural attractions!
Exeter and Exmouth
Exeter is Devon’s other city. It’s a fun place to spend a weekend in, but a day trip there is feasible. Don’t miss the cathedral and the Medieval tunnels under the city! Exmouth is a seaside town about half an hour from the city. It sits at the meeting point of the Exe Estuary and the Jurassic Coast, making it an ideal place for walks and hikes!
When to visit Plymouth
Being an ocean city, Plymouth is best when the sun’s shining! If you can, I would recommend visiting in the spring or summer months – you can get some nice days any time between April and September.
How long to spend in Plymouth
You can see all of these Plymouth attractions in just one weekend. Click here for my weekend in Plymouth travel guide. If you want to do some day trips, then you’ll need a few more days – you could base yourself in Plymouth for a week and spend the rest of the time exploring Devon and east Cornwall. Check out my Cornwall itinerary for inspiration!
Where to eat in Plymouth
- I was a big fan of The Harbour near the Barbican. It’s a seafood restaurant, but they do a delicious vegan fish and chips with banana blossom. It was unreal! Fish wise, they offer your usual sea food as well as shrimp tacos and fish burgers. My boyfriend loved the seafood offerings too!
- As I mentioned, The Bridge does great food and drinks in Mount Batten.
- There’s also a restaurant in the Plymouth Gin bar – I’m not sure what the food and prices are like but it looked very nice!
- Boston Tea Party is a great place to grab coffee/ breakfast. It’s a west country chain (started on Park Street in Bristol!) and it’s a cafe/ breakfast restaurant, with great veggie and vegan offerings.
- I also loved The Pier Master’s House. This is a good spot for drinks, but they also have a really extensive food menu at reasonable prices, given the location. There is lots of veggie and vegan stuff here too!
Where to stay in Plymouth
Hostel: Plymouth Backpackers Hostel is great for those on a budget. It has dorms and private rooms, and prides itself on being family friendly. You’ll be able to enjoy a kitchen, dining room, and lounge while you’re here. Click here to read more.
Budget Hotel: I recommend Jurys Inn Plymouth. It’s a modern space and is fantastic value for money. Jurys Inn has clean, well-appointed rooms that are great value. While you’re here, you’ll be able to enjoy comfy beds, watch shows on a flat screen TV, and have a well-equipped en suite! Click here for more information.
Mid Range Hotel: The Duke of Cornwall Hotel is a great mid-ranger. It has boutique rooms, all individually styled, and features period decor throughout. On-site, there’s a restaurant and bar. Click here for more information.
Luxury Hotel: Drive a little far out of Plymouth, towards Dartmoor, to be in the lap of luxury at Boringdon Hall Hotel and Spa. If you want to pamper yourself, this is the place! The hotel has a famous spa, a fine restaurant, and spacious, luxurious rooms with modern and lavish features. Click here for more information.
Plymouth Travel Guide
I hope that this Plymouth travel guide has been helpful! Let me know if you have any questions and I’ll try my best to help out 🙂