Discover Plymouth: Britain’s Ocean City

PUBLISHED: 12:42 19 February 2014 | UPDATED: 12:43 19 February 2014

A bird's eye view of the city

A bird's eye view of the city


In the latest of our series partnering with Visit Devon, this month we take a look at a city on the up and up

Secret Plymouth: Royal William Yard

Royal William Yard is a former Royal Navy base and the largest group of Grade 1 listed military buildings in Europe which is steadily transforming the once great naval city of Plymouth. Originally built between 1825 and 1831, Royal William Yard underwent a multi-million pound regeneration project which was unveiled a decade ago.

The vision of Barcelona-based architect David Mackay, Royal William Yard is now home to art galleries, cafés, bars and restaurants. Highlights include Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Canteen & Deli and the Royal William Bakery, a café, shop and baking school where visitors can relax and enjoy the delicious treats on offer.

Royal William Yard can be reached by road or water taxi from the Barbican and a recently opened tunnel also connects Royal William Yard with Devils Point, offering dramatic views of Plymouth Sound and Drake Island.

Renowned for its rich maritime history Britain’s Ocean City is packed with attractions both on and off the water from the iconic Mayflower Steps and the historic Sutton Harbour to Blackfriars Gin Distillery and the National Marine Aquarium.

The city boasts a lively waterfront community home to picturesque marinas, alfresco cafés, fine dining restaurants, traditional waterfront pubs and visitor attractions as well as a bustling city filled with historical architecture, art galleries, museums and theatres.

In 2020 the city will celebrate 400 years since the Mayflower set sail from its shores carrying the Pilgrim Fathers to the New World. This historic event is etched in the paving stones of Plymouth’s harbour side where the Mayflower Steps mark the departure point.

Visitors can learn more about this famous voyage at Plymouth’s Mayflower Museum which chronicles the pilgrims’ journey to America, as well as Plymouth’s own journey from a small port town to the thriving city that exists today.

Smeaton's TowerSmeaton's Tower

Located just a few metres away from the Mayflower Steps is the UK’s largest aquarium, the National Marine Aquarium. The aquarium is home to an impressive range of sea life including sharks, jellyfish and stingrays and an interactive dive show takes place daily. Displays take visitors across the world’s oceans from Plymouth Sound to the centrepiece exhibit, Eddystone Reef, featuring a typical offshore reef in British coastal waters.

No trip to Plymouth would be complete without climbing Smeaton’s Tower, Plymouth’s iconic lighthouse built in 1759 which was moved stone by stone when the sea eroded its foundations, and rebuilt on the Hoe in 1882 where it proudly stands today. Take a trip to the top of the 72-foot tower for stunning views of Plymouth Sound and the city from its lantern room.

The city’s maritime history is still prominent today and visitors can enjoy Plymouth from the water with daily boat tours of Plymouth Sound available to book in the harbour including the Boathouse Café’s ‘Cook Your Catch’ experience.

Hop on a boat to Mount Batten, the beautiful parklands of Mount Edgcumbe, or to Royal William Yard to walk its cobbled pavements and explore the cafés, galleries and restaurants on offer.

Rays at the National Marine AquariumRays at the National Marine Aquarium

Water sports fans will also be spoilt for choice in Plymouth. The sheltered waters of the Sound and the nearby rivers and estuaries are perfect for wakeboarding, coasteering and kayaking while local dive centres offer trips out to wreck sites such as the HMS Scylla.

Plymouth’s gastronomy scene continues to thrive with harbour side seafood cafes to stylish eateries serving modern British cuisine where visitors can taste the finest flavours of the region. The city’s waterfront area is popular with celebrity chefs Gary Rhodes, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, the Tanner brothers and Mitch Tonks, all of whom have opened restaurants here.

Finish off a visit to Plymouth at the oldest working gin distillery in England, Black Friars Distillery, which opened in 1793 and is said to be where the Pilgrim Fathers spent their last night before setting sail on their Mayflower voyage.

The distillery features an exhibition on the history of Plymouth Gin and offers a range of guided tours to learn the art of gin-making, sample the distillery’s wares and make their own gin.

Plymouth plays host to many cultural events and festivals throughout the year including Flavour Fest and the British Firework Championships in August and the Ocean City Festival in September, and with the city now set to host the prestigious Solitaire du Figaro 2014 sailing race in June, there is plenty for visitors to discover in Britain’s Ocean City this year.

For more information on Plymouth visit: or contact the Plymouth Tourist Information Centre located at 3-5 The Barbican, Plymouth on: 01752 306330.

Visit Devon is the voice of tourism for Devon, working with the local authorities, the Local Enterprise Partnership and Visit England. Throughout 2014 Devon Life has teamed up with visit Devon in a joint initative to promote the county.

Latest from the Devon Life