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Plymouth, UK: Devon’s City Beside the Sea

Updated on May 23, 2020
Stella Kaye profile image

Stella has published a selection of travel articles and destination guides, accompanied by a wealth of photographs.

Smeaton's Tower on Plymouth Hoe

This lighthouse used to be the top part of the Eddystone lighthouse
This lighthouse used to be the top part of the Eddystone lighthouse | Source

A visitor's Guide to Plymouth

The city of Plymouth in Devon, UK is one of the few English cities by the sea, built like ancient Rome on seven hills; it nestles between The River Plym and the River Tamar. With the English Channel on one side and a rural landscape on the other it is easy to see how it is a popular destination for tourists from all over the globe.

The Tamar forms a natural boundary between the most south westerly counties of Devon and Cornwall. Plymouth lies between the sea and the Dartmoor National Park, an area of outstanding natural beauty. It is possible to enjoy a holiday that offers a wide range of activities for all ages and tastes. From pony trekking and camping holidays on Dartmoor to luxury hotels in the heart of the city there is every activity available for the discerning tourist.

Plymouth is the pride of the West Country, and the gateway to Cornwall. The Royal Albert Bridge built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel in 1859, still carries the Great Western Railway over the River Tamar and stands next to its more recent companion; a suspension road bridge of the 1960s,

it is unlikely that any trip to the South West of England will not include Plymouth. The civic centre is modern and easily accessible by road and rail links. Hotels and guest houses to suit all budgets are located well within walking distance of the main attractions.

One of the most bombed cities in Europe during World War II, Plymouth City Centre was practically rebuilt during the 1950s. The Latin inscription on St. Andrew's Church just about sums it up: ‘Resurgam’: 'I shall rise again.' The indomitable spirit of the people of Plymouth meant that the ruins of their city were speedily replaced by one of the most modern cities of the twentieth century. In the city centre, the bombed out remains of Charles Church still stand as a lasting memorial to all those who lost their lives in the Blitz. The bombing left several historical buildings unscathed and for those who wish to discover these fine attractions, they are located mainly on the Plymouth's Barbican area. There is the Prysten House near St Andrew’s Church and the Elizabethan house on New Street. Also of note is the Plymouth Gin distillery.

Tinside Pool Overlooking Plymouth Sound

The refurbished Tinside pool was re-opened in 2003
The refurbished Tinside pool was re-opened in 2003 | Source

The Hoe and Seafront

Summer 2003 marked the re-opening of the huge round pool known as Tinside pool on Plymouth Hoe; derelict for ten years it has now been completely re-furbished at a cost of 4,000,000.GB pounds; it is now a main attraction whether you wish to swim there or just admire the architecture.

Plymouth Hoe is where Sir Francis Drake reputedly played a game of bowls before defeating the Spanish Armada. Here you can watch the daily ferries depart for Santander in Northern Spain. All it takes is a journey of twenty four hours and the English can now succumb to all things Spanish by their own free will, whatever Drake managed to prevent back in 1588.

You will easily spot Smeaton's Tower (the red and white painted lighthouse as in the first picture) and the more modern ‘Dome’ on Plymouth Hoe. Perhaps on a clear day you might even catch a glimpse of the Eddystone lighthouse out on the rocks beyond The Breakwater in Plymouth Sound.

The Barbican

The Barbican is a short walk from Plymouth Hoe
The Barbican is a short walk from Plymouth Hoe | Source

Sea Trips

A visit to Plymouth would be incomplete without a sea trip to view the dockyard and warships. The naval dockyard is no longer as busy as it once was but there is still many an interesting sight to see. Merchant ships still dock from all over the world. From the 'Mayflower Steps' a boat will take you out into Plymouth Sound and past Drake's Island or it is easy to book a journey up the River Tamar to Calstock, passing delightful scenery along the way, including the Tamar bridges and the quaint town of Saltash on the Cornish side of the river.

Plymouth proudly boasts the National Marine Aquarium on the Barbican within walking distance of the famous 'Mayflower Steps.' You can learn about all things aquatic and even imagine swimming amongst the denizens of the deep.

The Tamar Bridges Between Devon and Cornwall

The Royal Albert Bridge carries the railway into Cornwall and the Tamar Bridge is a road bridge.
The Royal Albert Bridge carries the railway into Cornwall and the Tamar Bridge is a road bridge. | Source

Discover Plymouth's Diverse Maritime History

The city has a rich past steeped in maritime history; as well as Sir Francis Drake, other renowned explorers such as Sir Robert Falcon Scott and Frank Bickerton have lived here and of course it is visited by many an American citizen purely because Plymouth is where in 1620 the Pilgrim Fathers left for the New World and established Plymouth Colony - the second English colony in America. Tourists from the USA visit in their droves each year in order to trace their roots. This is where Cook left on his journey to find Australia, and where Darwin set sail for the Galapagos Islands. The sea has always beckoned to Plymothians and in both times of war and peace they have developed a profound love and respect for it.

The Civic Centre of Plymouth

The city centre is unique in that it was totally rebuilt after World War II
The city centre is unique in that it was totally rebuilt after World War II | Source

A Great Guide to England's West Country

In and Around Plymouth

If it is shopping and night-life you are searching for then Plymouth offers both. There is also the Theatre Royal and several modern swimming pools if the British weather demands an indoor attraction. In the centre are a wide range of department stores along Plymouth's Royal Parade and several modern enclosed precincts offering designer goods.

And for those who want to experience real Devon produce and hospitality there is the indoor pannier market where Cornish pasties, clotted cream fudge and saffron cakes can be purchased along with anything from clothes to home grown fruit and vegetables and bric-a-brac.

Whether you are in the locality for a few days or a few weeks, Plymouth offers a wealth of attractions. It also serves as a base for those wishing to travel further north to explore Dartmoor or west to discover the beaches of Cornwall. Whatever your expectations of the place it will not disappoint.

A brief Introduction to Plymouth, Devon, UK

The Story of the Pilgrim Fathers - of Interest to All Americans of UK Ancestry

Getting There

A visit to Plymouth is worth it for the train Journey alone. From London's Paddington Station take the London to Penzance route which will carry you through the heart of England's South West. Once the line leaves Exeter it follows the course of the River Exe as it flows down to the sea. Here you can see a flotilla of pleasure craft as the estuary broadens. The railway line then runs parallel to the coast, tunnelling through red sandstone cliffs. This is arguably one of the finest rail journeys in the country, marred only by the speed of today's trains. Passing Dawlish Warren with its array of caravan sites and seaside amusements the train eventually arrives in Teignmouth. Between these resorts the coastal path wends its way alongside the line where waves often crash against the sea wall. When the sea is particularly rough the waves spill over onto the tracks sometimes causing power failure and even significant damage. From Teignmouth the line follows the course of the river Teign inland again towards Newton Abbot, Totnes and eventually Plymouth.

The nearest international airport is Exeter and then Bristol. Alternatively Plymouth can be reached via road and of course sea; Brittany Ferries run daily sailings via France and Spain for those arriving from Europe.

Allow yourself a little more time when arriving by road, especially during the height of the tourist season since there are no motorways further south west than Exeter. The roads are excellent but the sheer volume of traffic can sometimes cause delays.

Plymouth, Devon, UK

© 2015 Stella Kaye


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