If you are planning a trip to Devon, and have some leisure time to spend in the county, then a visit to Plymouth should be on your list of places to visit. Often seen as Exeter’s poor relation and blighted by industry and 1950s social housing, Plymouth does have some redeeming features. From the Hoe to Home Park, there is something for everyone.
Most visitors to Plymouth want to see the historical side of the city. A good place to start is the Barbican area, below the Royal Citadel. This collection of winding streets and alleyways (known as Opes) is almost all that remains of the Elizabethan Plymouth that Sir Frances Drake would have known.
On the Barbican there are numerous small shops selling antiques, prints and trinkets, as well as tea shops and eating establishments of all kinds. You can visit the Mayflower steps, where in 1620 the Pilgrim fathers began their journey to the New World. There is a plaque on the outside wall of one of the shops listing the names of those who sailed out of Plymouth Sound on the first ships towards the New World.
Above the Barbican is Plymouth Hoe, home to Smeaton’s Tower lighthouse, a bowling club, and the city memorials to the fallen in wartime. It is a green public space and is well-used by locals and visitors alike. In the summer, the UK Firework Display Championships are held over 3 consecutive evenings here, with thousands of people gathered on the Hoe to watch the display over the Sound.
Plymouth Sound itself deserves a mention, as the stretch of calm water directly off the Plymouth shore stretching out to Drake’s Island. Numerous sailing vessels can be seen here and in the marinas to the east of the Barbican.
You may also see the occasional battleship moving to or from the Devonport Dockyard to the west of the Hoe, and also the cross-channel ferries that sail between Plymouth and Roscoff in France, and Plymouth and Santander in Spain.
Between the Barbican and the main shopping area in Plymouth stands three old buildings of note. The first is the Elizabethan House. Owned by Plymouth City Council, this is one of the few intact buildings in the city dating from the Elizabethan age. It contains period furniture and is a must for those who wish to really experience the history of the city.
The second building is St Andrew’s Church Minster, which sits on Royal Parade. There has been a place of worship on this site for almost 1200 years. During World War 2, in 1941 Plymouth sustained heavy bombing and the city centre was all but destroyed. St Andrew’s Church was burnt out and left roofless. The Church today is a testament to the commitment of the congregation and the generosity of the people of Plymouth.
On the opposite site of Bretonside Bus Station to St Andrew’s stands the remains of another church burnt out in the Blitz. Charles Church sits now in the centre of a traffic intersection, as a monument to the lives lost in the city on the nights of March 21 and 22, 1941.
Plymouth city centre now boasts a brand new shopping centre: Drake Circus. This opened officially in October 2006 although work has continued on the surrounding area and is still not completed. It is an indoor Mall with most of the well-known high street stores in residence.
Leading west from Drake Circus, Plymouth has an extensive pedestrianised shopping area with New George Street and Cornwall Street running parallel to each other as far as Drake Circus. There is also the covered city market, and a number of smaller shops at Drake Circus, known as the Independent Quarter.
Getting to Plymouth is relatively simple and modern traffic control has eased some of the congestion for commuters and visitors to the city. However, when Plymouth Argyle football club has a home match, as well as during the summer months, road traffic can be a problem particularly if approaching through Derriford.
Train links to the city are good, with the railway station being just outside the centre and journey times to London are around 4 hours. The city is very well served with local buses, and also has excellent National Express coach links between up-the-line (as natives tend to think of anywhere east of Devon) and further west into Cornwall.
A visit to Plymouth makes a great day out, or a long weekend if you want to take in even more of the atmosphere and attractions the city has to offer.