Lifestyle Travel

Local Guides: Sarah’s Plymouth

“Plymouth: Britain’s Ocean City”, according to the sign on the motorway. Located in Devon (the only county with two coastlines), and right next to picturesque Cornwall, Plymouth is ideally situated whilst being a must-see destination in its own right. Local rival Exeter may have nicer shops, a big cathedral etc etc, but good old Plymouth is no push over. With a diverse landscape of city and sea as well as nearby moorland, there is endless scenery and history to take in.

Plymouth is a major naval base, a port that has witnessed many a scene of historical importance. Charles Darwin’s Beagle and Captain Cook’s Endeavour set sail from Plymouth, and after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, he was briefly held prisoner on a ship off Plymouth’s coast. The Pilgrim Fathers set sail from Plymouth to America in 1620 on the Mayflower, and Robert Falcon Scott, born in Plymouth, led an ill-fated race to Antarctica in 1910. His team had the misfortune of reaching the pole second, only five weeks after the Norway expedition, he and his crew perishing on the journey home.  

Most memorably for locals, in 1580, Sir Francis Drake returned to Plymouth as the first British captain to circumnavigate the globe. In 1588 Sir Francis Drake defeated the Spanish Armada in the service of Queen Elizabeth I. Legend has it that he insisted on finishing his game of bowls on Plymouth Hoe before sailing out to meet the army.

But what is ‘Plymouth Hoe’ I hear you ask. Non-locals often find ‘the Hoe’ humorously named, when it is in fact a serious and lovely seaside spot. The Hoe is a large open public space where people can walk along the sea front, viewing Smeaton’s Tower – the iconic red and white lighthouse – and visit the area’s imposing War Memorials. Always a good spot for an ice cream or a tea break, The Hoe is also the site of the annual National Firework Championships, where every year crowds gather to view (for free) the mind boggling firework displays set off over the water.

Away from the sea front, Plymouth City Centre offers a wide range of shops within and around the respectable shopping centre – named Drake Circus after good old Sir Francis. Further down town there’s the indoor market – I can honestly say that without its (grisly) independent butchers and fishmongers, I would not be the vegetarian I am today.

There’s also an impressive theatre; the Theatre Royal ‘being the largest and best attended regional producing theatre in the UK’, according to its website. Other entertainment options include the National Marine Aquarium, the UK’s biggest, which carries out vital conservation work as well as being a great place to visit.

Theatre Royal

Plymouth is also a student city, with the University of Plymouth offering some of the best marine biology courses in the country. The student population also encourages the city’s commendable night life, where Fever isn’t even the best club. There are multiple Spoons and a decent smattering of independent pubs as well as a good selection of restaurants. The recently opened cinema and eatery complex in the city centre, nicknamed ‘The Barcode’ provides the city’s newest dining experience. Local delicacies include Plymouth Gin, and the traditional Plymouth pasty – rivalled only by the infamous Cornish version.

Plymouth also boasts its fair share of celebrities. Actor Charles Dance attended Plymouth College of Art, Dawn French went to school here, and Olympic diver Tom Daley is a born and raised Plymouthian – I saw him once in Primark.

At the expense of sounding like a representative of Visit Plymouth, I hope I have conveyed just how special Plymouth is. This is a city with culture and vitality, both past and present, whilst remaining a home I’m always happy to come back to.

Sarah Lewis

Sarah is a non-fiction contributor, primarily writing about film, TV and music. When she's not writing she enjoys spending time on the Cornish coast, and working on her poetry.