Plymouth, England, is rich in history, famous for its long maritime past and with the 2020 anniversary to celebrate 400 years when the Mayflower left Plymouth and sailed to New England, USA, the city will became centre of attention in the coming years. You might want though to avoid the crowds of 2020 and visit sooner and follow some points on the historical path and route to see some of the attractions below. This route is a simple one to navigate and and can be walked.
The natural starting point is the Barbican area of the city, an area which is located on the waterfront and is the location of one of Plymouth’s most popular and important historical locations, the Mayflower Steps. Blink and you might walk past the steps because the signs are not easy to see. Expect this to change in the lead-up to 2020, given that these steps will become the focal point of celebrations which are expected to involve the arrival of the U.S. President to this spot.
The steps themselves have great significance, especially for American visitors to the city. These steps mark the general area from which, in 1620, the Pilgrim Fathers set sail in order to discover new lands but also for religious freedom, away from the religious intolerance by James the first. Others had already left for Holland but the move proved problematic and this led to the search for new lands and the birth of what is now ‘New England’ in Massachusetts, USA.
Directly opposite the Mayflower Steps, you have the Mayflower Museum (3-5 The Barbican) and this is a good option for learning more about the heritage and history which connects Plymouth, England with Plymouth, USA.
Just around the corner from the Mayflower museum, you can also find, hidden in a back street, the Liberty Tudor House, if you would like to experience a traditional Tudor property. This often ignored attraction is a hidden secret and worth taking half an hour to tour.
From the Barbican, you can take a 10 minute walk up Plymouth Hoe and you will come across a much less commonly known attraction and which is partly managed by the English Heritage Society, the Royal Citadel. This is a military base and one which officially is still in use, but which you can take a guided tour through. Tours only take place at certain times on certain days so, if you can, I would recommend to pre-book. The tour generally takes around 90 minutes and, even if you are not normally into military history, it is hard not to enjoy this specific tour. The grounds and views are worth the tour alone and, having been inside, I can highly recommend this tour. This fort was never conquered, even in the English Civil war!
Within a few hundred metres of the Citadel, Smeaton’s Tower on the Hoe, provides a unique, fun and yet very interesting experience for those of you visiting Plymouth. Originally called the Eddystone Lighthouse but later changed to highlight its designer John Smeaton, it used to sit out in Plymouth Sound, but, after deterioration of the foundations, the lighthouse was disassembled. The lighthouse was in active use for over 100 years, from the the 1750s through to 1877 and, 5 years later, the lighthouse took pride of place on the Hoe as a a protected Grade One building, sat in the position which you can now, yourself, view and experience.
One of the great things about the lighthouse is that you can go up inside it in most months of the year, with the lighthouse open to the general public. (You can check the lighthouse opening times from here). The experience of climbing up through the lighthouse is only a part of the experience, with the views of Plymouth Sounds, the Cornish and Devon coastlines, stunning on a clear and sunny day, from the top of the tower.
Another excellent historical attraction and one which you can jump on the boat from at the Barbican, is Morwellham Quay. Morwellham Quay is a historical port and mining area which used to be the home of a copper mine and which is now a popular tourist attraction. Together with a boat trip along the River Tamar and past Devonport Dockyard and between the Devon and Cornish coasts, this boat-trip and then the trip to Morwellham are a great combination.
Now a registered and protected heritage site, Morwellham Quay gives you a great insight into the past and the industrial heritage and the experience normally includes a trip on a miniature train down into the old copper mines. Official website: Morwellham Quay.
Plymouth, as you will most likely already know, boasts a proud naval history. One way to get to see a little of the past and a feel of the naval attachment this city has, is to take one of the boats. Several boat and ferry companies based on the Barbican offer boat trips along the Tamar River to see the warships and dockyard.