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Surrounded by idyllic Devonshire countryside, Plymouth is a cultural city with a strong sense of its own identity.
An important royal port, Plymouth has a rich naval history, arguably going back as far as 700BC. It was a base for royally-appointed pirate Sir Francis Drake in the 16th century and was the point from which the Pilgrims travelled to settle North America in 1620.
Plymouth’s Barbican is packed with history, but is also a great draw for revellers with its lively restaurant and bar scene.
Jutting out into the sea, this well-maintained art-deco lido, dating from 1935, has incredible views of the harbour. Tinside Lido’s salt water gives extra buoyancy without that tell-tale chlorine smell – meaning that it’s like swimming in the sea minus waves, tide and seaweed. Little wonder that it’s consistently listed as one of the UK’s top lidos by The Guardian and The Telegraph newspapers.
Dip your toe into quintessentially British seaside charm.
Plymouth’s dramatic coastal fortress was built in the 17th century to watch out for the Dutch. Its secondary use was to keep an eye on rebellious locals, so you might spot that its ancient cannons can be turned to face the city too.
Because the Citadel is still an active base, it’s a good idea to visit their website before you visit, as tour times can be limited. Highlights include St Catherine’s Chapel and the old cannons captured at Waterloo and The Crimea which can be found on the parade ground. Even if history isn’t your thing, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better view of Plymouth Sound than from the Citadel walls.
While Plymouth Sound offers aquatic activities from kayaking to power boating (head to the Mountbatten Centre if any of this floats your boat) those who fancy a more leisurely day out should just find a spot on the grass on The Hoe overlooking Plymouth Sound and drink it all in.
Royal Navy ships, sail boats, ferries and fishing boats number a few of the vessels in this busy harbour. On a nice day, you’ll also get a good view of the Cornish coast. Take a ferry over to the beaches at Cawsand and the restaurants and boutique shopping of Royal William Yard.
For a city that was so damaged during WW2 and radically redeveloped after, The Barbican provides an important physical link to Plymouth’s fascinating nautical past. Think Jacobean buildings, cobbled streets, moored sailing boats, ancient inns, art shops, tea rooms, restaurants and bars.
The Mayflower Steps mark the approximate point where the Pilgrim Fathers boarded The Mayflower, and the original passenger list can be seen on the side of Island House.
This was also an area which welcomed the likes of Sir Francis Drake, Sir Walter Raleigh and Captain Cook. Night owls should hang around until later when the grog starts to flow and The Barbican lives up to its raucous naval reputation.
Established in 1793, Plymouth Gin Distillery has had over 200 years to get their recipe right – but you’ll have to be the judge of that. The tour includes an introduction to the distillation process and tasting of various types of Plymouth Gin.
The Black Friars distillery building dates back to the 1400s, and has previously been a monastery, a debtor’s prison and a billet for French Hugenot refugees. The Pilgrim Fathers even spent their last night in the building before leaving on the Mayflower, though presumably no gin was consumed.
Home to the biggest fish tanks in Britain, Plymouth’s National Marine Aquarium is a cut above the rest. Separated into four distinct zones, aquatic ecosystems cover everything from the local Plymouth Sound to The Great Barrier Reef. There’s an impressive collection including a 2.5 metre Lemon Shark, huge rays and a graceful Green Turtle – many of which have featured in natural history documentaries.
There are some surprises too: a life-size replica of a WW2 Walrus Seaplane is a star attraction. You can also visit the aquarium’s Laboratory to see the breeding of new generations of aquarium inhabitants.
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