Visit Plymouth in Devon

The history of the city of Plymouth extends back to the Bronze Age when the first settlement grew up around the area now known as Mount Batten, a peninsula jutting into Plymouth Sound.

It remained both a fishing and continental tin trading port through the Iron Age and into the early medieval period.

The more prosperous Saxon settlement of Sutton surpassed it, becoming the centre for trade and habitation. The name Sutton, or Sudtone, means south town and the Domesday Book (1086) records the manor of Sutton as being held by the king.

Trade centered around the larger and more prosperous town of Plympton and the granting of the manor of Sutton by King Henry I to the landowners commenced an association between the two towns.

Plympton, named after the River Plym, achieved municipal independence in 1439, becoming the first town to be incorporated by Act of Parliament.
The gradual silting up of the upper reaches of the river, required that trading vessels had to use moorings at Cattewater, thus moving trade downriver towards Sutton, which slowly became known as Plym Mouth and eventually Plymouth.

The name Sutton still remains in use with Sutton Harbour beside the Barbican and the parliamentary division of Plymouth Sutton.

The Barbican

The most historic area in the city has to be the Barbican which borders Sutton Harbour and is a treasure trove of quirky architecture.

Despite the destruction of large areas of Plymouth by bombing raids during the Second World War, a lot of the Barbican remained unscathed and the Medieval streets and Tudor houses can still be seen.

The Pilgrim Fathers set sail on the Mayflower from the Barbican on the 16th. of September 1620 under the command of Myles Standish, reaching America in November. They had been blown off their intended course and landed near Cape Cod, which they renamed Plymouth Rock, before proceeding with the establishment of the Plymouth Colony.

The Mayflower Memorial marks the point on the Barbican close to which the Pilgrim Fathers embarked on their epic journey.

Plymouth has been the point of departure for a number of voyages of exploration. Captain James Cook sailed from the city on three of his voyages, the first departing in 1768 and his final voyage to the Hawaiian Islands where he was killed in 1779. Charles Darwin sailed on HMS Beagle to the Galapagos Islands in 1831.​​

The Tolpuddle Martyrs sailed for their transportation to Australia in 1834. Captain Robert Falcon Scott sailed on his fateful expedition to the South Pole in 1910.

New Street

New Street is one of the original streets on the Barbican where Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Francis Drake, Standish, Frobisher and Hawkins will all have strolled. There is an Elizabethan sea captains house, built in 1548, that has been restored and still has the original windows and a spiral staircase that winds around an old ships mast.

The nearby Elizabethan Gardens have also been fully restored.​​

Plymouth Gin

The Plymouth Gin distillery on Southside Street has been in operation since 1793. Guided tours are available on a year round basis.

National Marine Aquarium

The largest aquarium in Great Britain stands on the edge of Sutton Harbour and since its opening in 1998 has proved to be a major tourist attraction and is well worth a visit.

Plymouth Hoe

This wide open public space affords superb views across Plymouth Sound to Drakes Island, Mount Batten, Mount Edgecumbe and to the Eddystone Lighthouse. It was the famous location of Sir Francis Drake’s game of bowls which he refused to curtail, despite the approach of the Spanish Armada.

Smeaton’s Tower

Smeaton’s Tower on the Hoe was a lighthouse, originally built in 1759, as the fourth Eddystone Lighthouse. Structural problems dictated that after 120 years of service, it had to be replaced. It was so beloved by local residents it was dismantled and rebuilt on the Hoe in 1882, where it remains to this day.

Royal Citadel

Covering the site of the original fort, constructed at the request of Sir Francis Drake in 1596, the Royal Citadel in the more modern form was built during the reign of King Charles II.

This great edifice with walls 70 feet high betrays Plymouth’s support for Oliver Cromwell and the Parliamentarians, having guns pointing both inland and out to sea! It is currently the base for 29 Commando, Royal Artillery, attached to the Royal Marines.

Royal Dockyard

Plymouth’s naval history is deeply entrenched in the city with the Royal Dockyard having been built on the banks of the River Tamar at Devonport and opened in 1690. Further docks were added in 1727, 1762 and 1793 forming a naval complex which was given added protection by the building of a mile long breakwater across Plymouth Sound in 1812.

Some of the dockyard remains in use for the servicing of nuclear submarines and surface vessels. The old King William Yard has been redeveloped as a residential area whilst retaining all the original architectural features.

Visit the city of Plymouth

We hope that the information here gives our readers a flavour of the wealth of history and areas of interest to be seen in the city of Plymouth, not least of which is the variety of hostelries and eating establishments around The Barbican.

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