29 MAY 2019: It seems odd that a historic city like Plymouth is considered an “up and comer” on the UK tourism scene, but with the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower to North America on the horizon next year, the southwestern city is readying for a moment in the spotlight that will give the world a chance to see a city that is clearly on the rise.

Always known for its stunning location between the sea and moody Dartmoor National Park, Plymouth boasts a Maritime heritage that reflects England’s history as a naval powerhouse, including launching a fleet under Sir Francis Drake to oppose an invasion by the Spanish armada in 1588, and being the final stop for the Mayflower before its historic journey to take pilgrims to the new world on Sept. 16, 1620.

However, in recent years, including enduring significant destruction from World War II, Plymouth has fallen behind other UK cities in terms of reputation and appeal, admits Alison Bartlett of Destination Plymouth, who adds that it was the forthcoming Mayflower milestone that was largely responsible for providing a “bit of a shock” to the city to boost its tourism and infrastructure game – particularly when seeing the significant plans being implemented for the occasion on the other side of the Atlantic in namesake Plymouth, Mass.

“In the last 20 to 30 years Plymouth really needed some investment, and we’re starting to see that now,” adds local guide Julia Morris, who  points to the impressive Royal William Yard in Plymouth as the “embodiment” of the initiative, with the massive former naval yard having been converted into a multi-purpose commercial venue that includes pubs, restaurants, galleries, bakeries, marina and more.

Other must-see sites in the city include the Plymouth Hoe, a park and promenade overlooking the majestic Sound; picturesque Sutton Harbour – home of the Mayflower Steps (currently being renovated ahead of next year’s anniversary); and the Barbican, which boasts the highest concentration of cobbled streets in England – not to mention a bevy of tea shops in which to sample a mandatory Devon cream tea.

Other points of interest include the largest aquarium in the country, the Plymouth Gin distillery and local fish market.

Meanwhile, visitors with energy to spare will find no shortage of activities, from watersports to fishing (Plymouth Boat Trips will bring back guests’ catches and cook it up at their sister restaurant), wreck diving, hiking the South West Coast path or exploring the rolling moors and small villages of nearby Dartmoor.

Plymouth’s rise to prominence dovetails with a desire from visitors to discover new destinations in England beyond mainstays like Windsor, Stonehenge and Bath, says Bartlett.

Indeed, such is the rising reputation of the city that the cruise industry continues to discover the port with Disney Cruises scheduled to call for the first time in 2020, joining a growing list of cruise companies like Holland America, Seabourn, Azamara and Fred. Olson Cruises that offer shore excursions there.

Jonathan Sargeant, sales manager of Richmond Hill, Ont.-based Royal Irish Tours, who recently visited Plymouth as part of a Canadian trade delegation to southwest England, believes that the destination has been somewhat “under the radar,” but believes the “lovely seaside resort city” would definitely be of interest to Canadians, not least for its maritime and war history.

Goway VP of Europe Craig Canvin says he was surprised “in a very positive way” by Plymouth, citing a great walking city where visitors will delight in getting lost in the cobblestone streets and tea rooms.

“And from a foodie perspective, the idea of going out and catching your own lunch is fantastic,” he adds.

Both Sargeant and Canvin believe the Mayflower celebrations will only enhance the city’s allure, with the latter suggesting the 2020 milestone will be certainly be a “bucket list item and reason to go” for some clients.

To that end, Plymouth is planning a year-long program (starting in November this year) throughout 2020, including festivals, exhibitions, tours, art, entertainment and education, and will see the opening of a flagship museum, The Box, which will house archives and display Mayflower memorabilia.

Events will also be held along the Mayflower Trail across England, with the Mayflower 400 project designed to “share the values of migration, tolerance, freedom and democracy and tell the story of a ship and its passengers – a group of people that a remarkable 30 million-plus US citizens have descended from.”

Plymouth can be reached by train from London in about 3-1/2 hours. Add a couple of hours more by car. Set on the border of Devon and Cornwall, the city is also a great base to easily explore England’s southwestern-most counties.


PLYMOUTH
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Michael Baginski

Editor, Mike Baginski is well known and well respected within the industry across Canada, the US, in the Caribbean, Mexico and numerous other destinations outside North America.

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