The top things to do in Plymouth

Situated on Devon’s gorgeous south coast, Plymouth is home to some of the U.K.’s most stunning and remarkable attractions, both human-made and naturally occurring. From the beaches and hidden caves, sculpted by Mother Nature herself, to Dartmoor, one of the largest national parks in Britain, as well as providing nightlife such as theatres for the arts and casinos for poker lovers, it’s not hard to see why Plymouth has become one of the United Kingdom’s most visited tourist cities. Some visitors come for the history. After all, it was here that the pilgrims set sail for the U.S. onboard the famous Mayflower in the 15th century. Others come for the ancient milestones and coastal marinas filled with places to eat and other attractions all designed to provide its visitors with an authentic coastal holiday experience. So, whether you live here, or you’re just visiting, there is plenty to do and see in the second largest city in South West England.

National Marine Aquarium

The National Marine Aquarium is the biggest aquarium in the U.K., and you can find it on the east side of Sutton Harbour. It’s an educational centre as well as a registered charity, and a visit here promises to transport its day-trippers across the oceans from Plymouth to the coral reefs of the Australian tropics. Home to more than 70 sharks selected from over 10 different species, including sand tiger sharks and catfish, visitors are also encouraged to take in the Atlantic Ocean exhibit, the deepest tank in the U.K., which helps towards making the aquarium the perfect venue for a visit.

Royal Citadel

Built in the 17th century to protect against the invading Dutch, this citadel fortress isn’t technically open to the public, but instead, English Heritage runs tours run regularly, and if you get the chance, you should go and see it. If you do, you will find yourself escorted around by a guide for about the two hours that it takes to see everything. Be warned: tours are subject to cancellation as this is still used as a working military base to a regiment of Commando Gunners and as such, comes with security restrictions. Also, due to this, photography is not permitted inside the citadel. You can, however, take photographs of the views across Plymouth Hoe while the tour alone makes the visit worthwhile.

Smeaton's Tower

See the panoramic views from Smeaton’s Tower.

Smeaton’s Tower is one of the South West’s most well-known landmarks, and at costs of £4 entry for adults and £2 for under 16’s, it's also an excellent value day out for anyone in town for the day. It’s a rebuilding of the original tower, a lighthouse, that was in use between 1759 and 1877. The first tower, mostly dismantled, was rebuilt on Plymouth Hoe and is named after its designer, John Smeaton, a civil engineer from Yorkshire. The tower was relocated brick by brick after the strong current of the English Channel threatened the rock it stood on some years ago. These days, this is a premier site for sightseeing. It’s no wonder either, as the monument reaches 72 feet, allowing for panoramic views across the sea and town, which make it a must-see attraction when in town.

One of Two Casinos

Plymouth has a choice of two casinos, both of which offer the usual array of slots, baccarat and blackjack. Or why not play a quick hand of No Limit Texas Hold ‘em or Omaha Hi-Lo in the bustling poker rooms.

Indeed, if poker is your thing, there are seven tables in total over the two venues where you can take part in leagues, tournaments and stops of the national poker tour. Both casinos have a late bar, which offers a full food menu so that you don’t need to worry about filling up before you enter. For those whose interests lie elsewhere, you could always satisfy yourself with feeding a few pennies into the many slots machines Plymouth has to offer or jump into any number of other table games that go towards making up a top night out of your favourite poker game.

Plymouth Gin Distillery

Plymouth Gin Distillery (CC BY 2.0) by Chris Sampson

Visit the oldest gin distillery in England

Since 1793, the Plymouth Gin Distillery has crafted gin for 200 years and as such, is the oldest producer of gin in England still working today. The building’s official title is the Black Friars Distillery, and today, the owners open its doors and run between four and six tours per day. The building itself goes back to the early 1400s and houses a medieval hall known as the Refectory, built in 1431, but even so, most visitors are here for one thing: the gin! Enjoy a guided tour and learn all about the distilling process, try a few samples, maybe buy some for yourself or friends back home and relax in the Refectory itself where the Pilgrim Fathers spent their last few hours in England before setting off to the New World in the Mayflower.

Mayflower Museum and Steps

The Mayflower Museum is a child-friendly centre intent on telling of the story of the Pilgrim Fathers sailing to America aboard the Mayflower on 6 September 1620. Set over three floors, this centre uses fun, interactive features to tell their story. Your tour begins by setting foot on the top-floor balcony where you can witness fantastic panoramic views of the city’s Barbican. From here, you move on to the gallery and an 1:11-inch scale model of the Mayflower Ship. See also the Mayflower Steps, which mark the final U.K. departure point of the same 102 pilgrims who would later go on to found New England’s first permanent colony at Plymouth in Massachusetts in the same year. Please note, the original steps are no longer in place, as this is, instead, a touching tribute and flag-flanked monument to their role in history and the creation of the modern-day USA.