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Take a walk through history on the Plymouth Barbican

Plymouth is a great city to visit as a tourist! Behind the  modern designs of the centre, Plymouth is steeped in maritime history, centred on the Barbican.
Visitors to Plymouth city centre will find a modern city well-laid out in a tidy grid pattern, centred around the impressive and the contemporary . Yet behind the slick modern architecture, Plymouth is steeped in maritime history as the city of Drake, Raleigh and the Pilgrim Fathers on the historic .

A great place for visitors

is a great city to live and work in, but it is even better to visit as a tourist! With time on your hands and a good guide book, you can easily step back in time to the Golden Age of Exploration. Here’s a quick guide to what to look out for, and some great attractions and local haunts to explore.

If you park at the new Drake’s Shopping Centre, the entrance to the Barbican is an easy 8-minute walk away. Once you turn into the winding cobbled lane of Southside Street the whole atmosphere changes, for this is the heart of the historic Barbican. Slow your pace, for every building here has a history to tell and every shop window is worth a cursory browse at least. One of the first places of interest you will pass is the on the right. The double doors and small-paned windows have looked down on centuries of drunken sailors in their time! Take a tour of this small but productive distillery and learn the history behind the Black Friars Distillery and its long and loyal connection with the Royal Navy.

Just across the road is the extraordinary , a craft arcade with many small stalls inside selling local crafts and antiques. Until recently, the building was fronted with the huge mural painted by local artist, the late , which was entitled the Last Judgement. It created a huge controversy when it was mounted in 1985 as it featured 88 nude figures, which on closer inspection were familiar city faces including Barbican shopowners, restaurateurs and doctors!

Boutique shopping on a walk through history on the Plymouth Barbican

The road bends around past three-storey mediaeval buildings housing boutiques, gift shops, cafés, newsagents, pubs, art galleries and antique shops to reach the restored Victorian fish market area, now occupied by the . This is a great place to browse for classy but relatively inexpensive gifts that are ideal for the person who has everything! At one end you can watch glassblowers demonstrating their centuries-old craft.

Step out of the back of the building and you are overlooking the inner harbour and marina which always has a variety of working and pleasure boats lined up along their moorings. If you want a mug of tea, or a tasty brunch, follow your nose along the waterfront to the former public loos – now painted to look like a pirate’s ship and home to one of the local landmarks – !

Dining at at the captains table

Now run by the Captain’s daughter, Georgie, this open-sided café originally served hungry fishermen and locals. It became known for serving up Half a Yard of Hot Dog, and Big J’s (a whole fried breakfast served up in a French baguette!) along with a mug of tea at working men’s prices. It still does. Order yourself a great tasty snack, cooked while you wait, for around three quid, and add a mug of tea for 60p. Then sit at the chain-link tables overlooking the marina and enjoy this delicious cholesterol splurge.

You’ll need your strength to continue your walk which should also take in the and the formally planted Elizabethan Knot Garden which is up a tiny passageway off Southside Street. The Mayflower Steps are nearby, consisting of a plaque, an archway and a flight of steps, of course. This marks where the pilgrims departed the UK in 1620 in the tiny Mayflower ship to eventually arrive in Massachusetts, New England. They founded a colony there and called the place Plymouth.

Many people take photographs of the landmark, but miss the list of passengers. Look across the street at the newsagents / gift shop and on the wall a board is mounted detailing the names and professions of those early pilgrim settlers. It makes fascinating reading and is another great memory to take home. Just across the pedestrian bridge from the steps is the splendid which claims to be the biggest, and arguably the best, in the UK.

So you’ve read about just some of the pubs and attractions on the Barbican. Where would you recommend as a must-see for the first-time visitor? Share you tips for a great day in Plymouth below…

About Gillian Birch

Born in Cheshire, Gillian Birch moved to Cornwall at her earliest opportunity and never looked back. After 20 years, her ongoing discovery of popular attractions, quiet footpaths and local eateries has made her a fount of knowledge as she entertains readers with her informative articles on the hidden gems of Devon & Cornwall from a local point-of-view.

Find Gillian on Google+, and Twitter.

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