Despite a reputation as a bit of a backwater, our home city, Plymouth has plenty of things to offer the visitor. Got 48 hours in Plymouth? Even if you’re staying longer, we take a real insiders look at the best things to do in Plymouth, England.
You never really think your own backyard is quite as exotic as some far flung destination. I mean, whenever you’re looking for a fun city break or long weekend, you tend to look to some foreign city at the expense of a staycation. Well, I’ve come to realise that my hometown, Plymouth, makes a great destination for a 48 hour trip.
Both myself and Mike (this site’s owner) were bought up a stones throw from Plymouth and we’ve both lived there for a sizeable chunk of time. Having returned to the city this summer for an extended stay, it was great getting re-acquainted with all the incredible things to see and do in Plymouth.
Some facts about Plymouth for you…
The largest city in Devon, Plymouth is home to over 250,000 people, colloquially known as ‘janners’.
Plymouth is perhaps best known as the last port of call for the Mayflower, the ship that sailed to America with the Pilgrim Fathers on board. The Mayflower steps in the city are one of the main attractions, despite being quite extensively renovated since the founding father days.
Another slice of maritime history is that Plymouth was also where Sir Francis Drake set sail to fight the Spanish Armada. The Hoe (you at the back, stop laughing) is where he famously enjoyed a game of bowls, before setting out to sink a few battleships.
So thems the facts, what do you do for 48 hours in Plymouth (or more)….?
Getting your bearings
Plymouth is made up of two old towns, Devonport and Plymouth itself. The ‘old town’, that is the original city, is based around the Barbican. This is easily the most picturesque part of the city and probably where any tourist would spend the most of their time. You shouldn’t need to go to Devonport – and if you do, turn around and go the other way. It’s pretty rough…
From the Barbican, taking a leisurely stroll along the waterfront to the Hoe taking in the incredible views across the Plymouth Sound is what the locals do. Visitors will often make jokes about being in Plymouth, Hoe! Yeah, it’s still funny.
The city centre of Plymouth has been in decline for a few years, which is evident by the number of empty shops and slightly tired look. There isn’t much here for tourists, although there are a couple of things that could bring you to the area which we’ll cover shortly.
Slightly further across town is Royal William Yard. Formerly a naval depot, today it’s a gentrified spot for enjoying some food and even some water sports.
The best things to do with 48 hours in Plymouth
One of the things about Plymouth is that it has what they call a ‘maritime climate’. In short, this means the weather can changeable at times. Think wind, rain and misty foggy fun. As such, I’m going to cover the things you can do for a weekend in Plymouth for both eventualities. It’s highly possible that over 48 hours in Plymouth you’ll probably get whacked by some wind and rain and then blazing sunshine the next day. It happens!
As mentioned, the old town area of the Barbican is easily the most picturesque and interesting part of the city. Most visitors will spend the bulk of their time here, for good reason. The main cobbled street is home to a plethora of boutique shops, and the harbour side is lined with al-fresco dining options and pubs.
When on the Barbican, you’ll likely want to check out…
Plymouth Gin: the world’s oldest gin distillery offers tours, tastings and a shop where you can grab some of the tasty tipple. Fans of gin should definitely make a stop. Prices start from £10 – and all include a tasting.
If you’re not the tour type, the bar upstairs is a great place to enjoy an expertly crafted cocktail. And, the Barbican Kitchen restaurant, attached, is probably the best place to eat in town.
The Mayflower Steps: The site of the departure of the Mayflower to the Americas in 1620. Well, it’s more an approximation as the actual site is supposedly opposite the Admiral MacBride pub just across the road. Still, its close enough.
The National Marine Aquarium: A good one for the rainy days this. It’s the largest aquarium in the UK, with lots of exhibits of local sealife. And, if you’re a local (or perhaps returning) your ticket is valid for a whole year! Entry is £16.95 for adults.
Boat trips: There are quite a few options for boat trips from just in front of the Mayflower Steps. The cheapest and most frequent is the Mount Batten ferry, which crosses to the other side of the River Plym estuary. More on Mount Batten shortly…
The are also boat trips to:
- The River Yealm
- Devonport Dockyards
- Calstock and Morwellham Quay
- Mount Edgecumbe/Royal William Yard
These are all pretty good options, but the River Yealm tour might shade it. Taking you up out through Plymouth Sound to the estuary of the River Yealm past some stunning Devonshire coastal scenery.
According to Wikipedia, a Hoe is an anglo-saxon word for a flat ridge like an inverted foot or heel. Which makes sense. Basically, Plymouth Hoe is a plateau above the sea with an incredible view of the big natural harbour.
With Smeaton’s Tower (the lighthouse), the renovated Tinside Lido and the small beach below the Terrace Cafe, the Hoe is easily the highlight of Plymouth, rain or shine. On a good day, the view is truly breathtaking. The walk to or from the Barbican is also a highlight with lots of opportunity to take in the view, grab an ice-cream or watch local kids jumping off dangerously high cliffs into the water (known as tombstoning) – don’t try it yourself.
Smeaton’s Tower: Standing proud as the icon of Plymouth, this red and white striped lighthouse is a must visit when in town. It’s only £4 to go up, and there are some interesting facts about the life of a lighthouse keeper and the new Eddystone lighthouse, as well as great views. It gets a bit tight in some places, and you will need to climb a ladder at one point.
The Terrace Cafe: Great spot to sit and take in the view. Reasonable prices, and they have recently started putting on music on weekends too.
Tinside Lido: Tacked onto the foreshore, the lido is open in the summer and makes a great place to hang out, sunbathe and swim, especially if you’re not keen on sea swimming. Its £6 to get in for the day, but they also host events like outside cinemas in the summer.
‘Plymouth Beach’: I don’t actually know what this little spot is called, but just between the Lido and the Terrace cafe, there is a small beach which is used by local swimmers and sunbathers. This is one of probably only 3 or 4 beaches in town, but it’s my favourite. On a sunny day, take your swimmers…
Royal William Yard
This imposing granite built complex was once a naval facility, but is now a re-purposed neighbourhood for leisure, residences and work. The main reasons locals come here is to dine at one of the chain restaurants, but there is also a boutique hotel and several work spaces.
You can reach the Royal William Yard by ferry service from the Barbican, with the ferry also stopping in Mount Edgecumbe. If you’re in Plymouth for 48 hours or so, we recommend popping by to check out one of these activities.
South West SUP: Stand up paddle boarding is all the rage, especially in Plymouth. Most days you’ll see people out in the water paddling, and South West SUP are one of the best places to get to grips with this fun sport.
Plymouth sound offers lots of variety and opportunity to explore by SUP, so if you’ve got good weather, this is one of the best things to do in Plymouth. You could even get to Drakes Island out in the middle of the bay. Prices start from around £20-30.
Walk the coast path: There is a small section of coast path here that makes for a pleasant walk. Devils Point, as its called, is also home to a couple of seals who you might spot if you’re lucky.
The tidal baths: Another good spot on a sunny day, the tidal baths are found just outside the yard. This small beach has a man made pool that is popular with the kids. It can be quite rowdy down here on a nice day, with locals playing music and generally enjoying themselves.
Mount Batten and Mount Edgecumbe
Both of these idyllic spots need a ferry to get to, but both are well worth the excursion if you’re in Plymouth for a short break. Which is which?
Mount Batten is on the Devon side, and is reached by ferry from the Barbican. The ferry runs pretty much in all weathers, and costs £1.50 (cash only) one way. You’re deposited in front of the Mount Batten pub (decent food, quite cheap, huge portions) – but wander along to the Mountbatten breakwater for some great views of the sound and the city.
The actual Mount Batten itself is topped with a small tower, which makes a good start for a coastal walk. Follow the paths to Jenny Cliffe and Bovisand if you’re up for a bracing sea walk.
Mount Edgecumbe is on the Cornwall side of the river, and is reached by ferry from both the Barbican and the Royal William Yard as well as the smaller Cremyll landing, a short walk from RWY. Prices for the ferry start from £1.50, depending where you’re departing from.
The landing is in front of the Edgecumbe Arms pub, also reasonably priced and with good views back to the city. They also do a good Sunday roast…
Walk into the Mount Edgecumbe Park, which is free to enter, and enjoy the beautiful gardens and fountains. If you follow the paths along the coast you’ll also come to several lookout points and beaches which are glorious on a sunny day. The Orangery is the cafe in the park grounds, which is the perfect spot to enjoy a cream tea (scones, jam and cream with a proper cuppa) or an ice cream.
The park is also home to a very nice looking stately home, which you can go in and look around. I’ve never been in, but entry to the house is £7.50.
If you’re up for a walk, you can follow the coast path all the way to Kingsand/Cawsand and get the ferry back to Plymouth (cost £5 one way). The walk will take you a couple of hours but it is a great excursion, and the villages at the end are lovely, with some beach side pubs for refreshments.
The city centre
Plymouth city centre is not the nicest place in the world, being mostly home to chain stores and charity shops. However, if you do need some new threads, it isn’t the worst high street in Britain.
As of 2019, the finishing touches are being put on a new entertainment complex which will be home to a huge cinema and a plethora of chain restaurants. Work is also underway to renovate the city in accordance with the MacKay vision, which was promised to ‘Barcelona-ise‘ or Bilbao-ise this old naval city.
How this affects the city remains to be seen, but currently, the city centre is already home to some decent eateries.
The Pannier Market: At the bottom end of town, the Pannier Market is the centre of what has been branded ‘the Independent Quarter’. This covered market houses a selection of intriguing stalls selling knick-knacks, clothes, vintage items and local produce. It’s worth a visit to visit some of the gentrified food offerings, including a decent Vietnamese and a pizza place.
Developments at time of writing also include, ‘The Box’, which will be a new arts centre in the middle of the student hub of North Hill.
Any 48 hours in Plymouth are likely to take you through the city centre at some point, either to eat, shop or when you arrive at the bus or train station. Don’t let it put you off…
Eating and nightlife
48 hours in Plymouth to find the best food in town? Actually, that’s pretty easy…
Fish and chips? On the Barbican, choose from either Rocksalt, just in front of the Aquarium, or the Harbourside, in the, er, harbour side… Both do excellent fish and chips with bottomless chips. Expect to pay around £12 per head without drinks. You can get takeout from both…
For high end fare, we love the Barbican Kitchen, housed in the Plymouth gin distillery. The Greedy Goose is also a good option for haute style dining. Oh, and as a bonus, it’s in one of the city’s oldest buildings…
Want a meal with an incredible view, and decent food? The Waterfront Pub at the western end of the Hoe is a choice spot.
Looking for more down to earth eats? We like Hubbox in the city centre for burgers, The Stable pizzeria (a bit expensive but good views, also lots of cider) and The Greek, which is a small street food shack on the harbour. Excellent souvlakis, but watch out for seagulls…
For nightlife, student haunt North Hill is pretty buzzing every weekend. Although if you’re under 25 you might feel quite out of place. Grown ups stick to the Barbican’s bars, or head to Revolutions in the city centre, or Annabel’s on the Barbican.
Where to stay in Plymouth
If you’re looking for budget digs, your best bet is probably Airbnb. There is also a Jurys Inn and a Premier Inn, which are the budget hotel options, both of which are pretty central. For premium digs, check out Rooms by Bistrot Pierre in the Royal William Yard.
There are also lots of family run b&b’s on the Hoe and around the North Hill area which can be a good option.
Plymouth’s public transport is almost entirely bus based. However, if you’re only in town for a day or two, you’ll find taxis cheap and efficient. Most journeys around town won’t cost more than £6-7 at most. No Uber here, but call TaxiFast (01752 222222) or Plymouth Taxis (01752 606060).
If you’re staying centrally, you probably won’t even need to use public transport as the city is very walkable. Oh, be warned, it is pretty hilly though.
Getting to Plymouth
Plymouth’s nearest airport is Exeter, which is around an hour away by bus or train (you’ll need to go into Exeter St Davids to get the train too). Or it’s 2 hours from Bristol airport by bus (longer by train with a transfer).
There is a train service to London Paddington and Edinburgh/Glasgow, which stops at many major UK cities. It’s around 3.5-4 hours on the train from London Paddington, or around 5 hours by coach from London Victoria.
Coming from Europe? There are ferry crossings with Brittany Ferries direct to Plymouth from Roscoff in northern France, and Santander in Spain.
Got any suggestions or advice about how to enjoy 48 hours in Plymouth? Share your thoughts below… And don’t forget to share!