Sitting on the south coast of England, Plymouth is the largest city in Devon. It’s quite out of the way for most of the country – it sits right on the border of Cornwall – but it’s worth the drive!
During a weekend in Plymouth, you can learn about the fascinating history of the city – all based around its oceanfront location, eat delicious local food, enjoy the epic coastal views, and even get out onto the water yourself!
I’ve been to Plymouth a few times in my life – my parents actually lived there before I was born and if my dad hadn’t got a job in London I might have ended up growing up there.
But I returned to Plymouth for a week’s holiday in September this year, and spent the time gathering information about how to have the best weekend in Plymouth. Now, I’m going to share it all with you!
You don’t need a full week to see the city – 2 days in Plymouth is enough – but spending a whole weekend here is a good idea to soak in the beautiful atmosphere of the ocean city.
Plymouth has been a settlement since the Bronze Age – although the first area that was settled was Mount Batten, an area over the River Plym. Mount Batten grew in size due to its fishing and trading industries, until the area that is now Plymouth centre (which was called Sutton) grew bigger and became the main area of the city.
When Britain decided to colonise everywhere possible, Plymouth was in a strategic position to reach the US, then so-called ‘The New World’ (of course, it wasn’t a new world to the populations of indigenous peoples who already lived in North America). Plymouth is famed for being the last stop on The Mayflower Voyage when the Pilgrim Fathers departed to create their second English colony.
Plymouth has had a navy base since 1691, so it was affected by both World Wars. In World War Two, Plymouth was heavily bombed by the Luftwaffe – over 3700 houses and lots of public buildings were destroyed, and over 1000 civilians perished.
Post-war, Plymouth has developed substantially; and has became a popular tourist hub for the many visitors to Devon and Cornwall. It’s somewhere where you can enjoy both city life and beautiful ocean vistas.
How to get to Plymouth
Plymouth is well connected to London via road and rail. You can either take the M5 to Exeter and then the A38 to Plymouth. Follow signs to Plymouth City Centre from the A road.
There are coaches and trains available from London, Bristol, Exeter, and other cities.
Read my post on how to get to Devon for more information.
Where to stay in Plymouth
Hostel: Plymouth Backpackers Hostel is a budget-friendly place to stay, with bright, friendly rooms – choose from dorms or private rooms. It’s a family-friendly hotel, with a kitchen, dining area, and lounge. Click here to read more.
Budget Hotel: Located in the city centre, Jurys Inn Plymouth is a modern hotel that’s great value for money. The clean rooms are kitted out with everything you’ll need – comfy beds, a flat screen TV, and bright decor. Click here to read more.
Mid Range Hotel: Duke of Cornwall Hotel has individually styled, boutique rooms and historic decor throughout the property. Guests can enjoy a restaurant and bar on site. Click here to read more.
Luxury Hotel: Boringdon Hall Hotel and Spa is the place to stay if you want some pampering. Located a short drive out of the city on the rural edge of Dartmoor, the hotel has large, atmospheric rooms, some with roll top baths, and world-class spa facilities. Click here to read more.
How to get around Plymouth
Buses connect Plymouth with the surrounding suburbs and other areas – although the city itself is very walkable. There are also plenty of taxis – local taxi company Need A Cab has an app that works exactly like Uber.
Weekend in Plymouth Day One
Mayflower Steps and Museum
First, go to the Mayflower Steps, which replicates where the Pilgrims left to North America (google maps location here). Just opposite is the Mayflower Museum (it’s above the tourist information centre), which tells the story of the Pilgrims from Plymouth to North America.
The Mayflower was the name of the ship that, along with the Speedwell, it transported pilgrims who originally came from the UK. These pilgrims had stayed for a while in the Netherlands, but finding their religion contested too much here, quickly opted to be transported to North America.
After the Speedwell encountered leaks near Lands End, it pulled into Plymouth with The Mayflower. There was a month delay, so the Pilgrims ended up spending this time living in Plymouth, and their last memory of the country was this ocean city.
The museum will tell you lot more – it costs £3.50 for an adult ticket, and takes around 60-90 minutes to walk around.
Boat cruise along the Tamar
By taking a boat cruise down the River Tamar, you’ll be able to learn a little more about Plymouth’s past – especially its Naval history – and admire rural Cornwall on the other side of the river! Tours leave frequently – click here for more information and to purchase tickets.
Lunch at The Harbour
I loved the Harbour Seafood Restaurant and Takeaway. I don’t eat fish, so I had their vegetarian fake fish using banana blossom leaves and seaweed for the fishy flavour – it was delicious!
My boyfriend loved the fish – they have lots of delicious dishes like shrimp tacos and fish burgers as well as your standard fish and chips.
If you don’t fancy a full meal, there are plenty of pasty shops around the area. You might be tempted to call these Cornish pasties rather than pasties, but you’re actually not meant to. Pasties sold here are like Cornish pasties, but with one key difference – they aren’t made in Cornwall!
Stroll around the Barbican
The Barbican is the harbour area close to the Mayflower Museum and aquarium. It’s a laid back marina, with a nice atmosphere – it’s wonderful on a sunny day – and lots of cafes, bars or restaurants. Whether you decide to grab a drink here or just walk around the area, it’s definitely a must-visit on your weekend in Plymouth.
From the Barbican, you can walk up to Plymouth Hoe. This is a grassy area that overlooks the coastline. There are several points of interest on Plymouth Hoe:
- Tinside Lido, an Art Deco Lido on the sea edge. It’s one of the country’s best – take a dip if it’s a sunny day!
- Smeaton’s Tower, the iconic lighthouse of Plymouth.
- A statue of Sir Francis Drake. He will never be a statue-worthy hero of mine due to the fact that, before his exploring, he was a slave-trader. It is worth knowing, however, that it was here where he saw the approaching ships of the Spanish Armada, while playing a game of bowls.
- Beatle Bums, which is the exact point where an iconic photo was taken of the Beatles, while they were filming their Magical Mystery Tour video in Plymouth. The photo became popular and people visited the spot to recreate it; now it’s easier than ever thanks to four iron ‘bum prints’ on the grass!
I also recommend stopping off at The Terrace bar, which is built into a cliff and looks out over the sweeping bay. They serve delicious gin cocktails and beer, as well as wonderful sour dough pizzas!
The Royal Citadel
At the end of Plymouth Hoe is The Royal Citadel. This is a 17th century fortress that was used to defend England from frequent naval attack. It is still in military occupation, but you can book an English Heritage Tour (times vary, more information here).
Royal William Yard
From Plymouth Hoe, you can take a bus, taxi, or walk (around half an hour) to Royal William Yard. This is an ex-naval storage complex, and has been lovingly restored, now home to shops, bars, and restaurants. It overlooks the sea (of course) and it’s the perfect place to enjoy some drinks and dinner to toast to your weekend in Plymouth!
There are a few chains here, like Wildwood, Wagamamas, and Prezzo. But you could also enjoy seafood at The Hook and Line, dine on French food at Bistrot Pierre, and sample some of the independent wine bar Le Vignoble’s best beverages.
Weekend in Plymouth Day Two
Breakfast at Boston Tea Party
Boston Tea Party is a west country brand – the first was established on Bristol’s Park Street in 1995, and since, cafes have been created all over South West England and beyond. It serves up great coffee and breakfasts.
If you want a takeaway coffee from here, you’ll have to bring your own cup – they have a great scheme where you can buy or rent cups rather than using disposable options!
The Box Museum
The Box in Plymouth is a brand new museum that details the story of Britain’s Ocean City. With exhibitions about the Mayflower, Plymouth in photos, and the port of Plymouth – among other permanent and temporary galleries – it’s a great spot to learn a little more about the city and county. It’s free to enter – you can reserve your time slot here.
The Plymouth Gin Distillery is the oldest working gin distillery in the country. The distillery is a historic building from Medieval times – you can still see the old exterior wall that used to look out onto a Medieval street. It was a monastery, then a jail, then the location where the Mayflowers stayed before leaving Plymouth!
Eventually, gin started to be made here, and it subsequently soared in popularity due to the presence of the Royal Navy and their need for alcohol on the boats! Plymouth Gin has gone up and down in popularity over the years, but while it’s not a household gin name, it’s doing well at the moment.
A tour of the distillery entails learning about the history and the gin processes in the factory, and then heading to the upstairs bar and sampling some gin. A complimentary drink is included in the end – and tours only cost £11!
You can book your tour by clicking here or by calling 01752 665292.
Lunch at The Pier Master’s House
Grab lunch at The Pier Master’s House. As the name suggests, there is a large outdoors ‘pier’ which juts out into the city. It’s the perfect place on a sunny day!
You might have noticed a theme with Plymouth’s attractions – as an ocean city, most of them are based around its water! The Plymouth Aquarium is the country’s biggest.
Although I don’t personally visit aquariums, it is run by the Ocean Conservation Trust, and money spent there does go back into protecting the oceans – so I can see the argument for visiting.
If you do want to visit an aquarium, this is the best in the country. If you do, try to donate some extra money to Ocean Conservation Trust (if you’re able to) as well!
While the sea is everywhere in Plymouth, there aren’t any beaches right in the city centre. To get there, you’ll want to take a boat across the River Plym to Mount Batten. Here, there’s Mount Batten Beach, Mount Batten point with some beautiful views over the city, and lots of bars and restaurants.
Dinner at Mount Batten
The Bridge is a contemporary restaurant and a lovely place to sit and enjoy the view of the marina, while trying some Plymouth Gin and delicious food. It’s a great place to reflect on your wonderful 2 days in Plymouth!
Day trips from Plymouth
With all of Cornwall and Devon at your fingertips, there are plenty of day trips that you can take from Plymouth – so if you’ve got some extra days, or if you fancy doing something different on your weekend in Plymouth, check these out!
I’ll be writing a full list with all of my ideas soon, but here are some for starters:
- The Eden Project in Cornwall, which features two eco-systems in large greenhouses. Here you can walk through a rainforest and through the Mediterranean climate, as well as learn more about the flora of Cornwall and Britain!
- The Cornish fishing towns of Looe and Fowey
- Exmouth, a beautiful seaside town on the end of the Jurassic Coast, also at the end of the Exe Estuary.
- The historic city of Exeter
- The English Riviera, consisting of four towns: Brixham, Babbacombe, Paignton and Torquay.
- The beautiful Dartmoor National Park – the nearest parts are just a fifteen minute drive from Plymouth!
Where to go from Plymouth
If you’re venturing west, there’s so much to do in beautiful Cornwall. Check out my Cornwall itinerary which will take you around the entire county!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this Plymouth itinerary and have found it useful for your explorations of the city. If you have any questions, let me know and I’ll try my best to answer them 🙂