As you might expect from somewhere with such a rich maritime history, Plymouth’s culture offers some wonderful museums that dive into its Royal Navy heritage, as well as explaining the story of the Pilgrim Fathers and their voyage to the New World. This is a wonderfully creative city too, with a range of galleries and a nationally renowned arts centre for you to visit. Explore the Plymouth arts scene by visiting exhibits, watching an arthouse film, buying a piece of work, or supporting a local artist. So, with all this on offer, let’s get started with our guide to Plymouth culture.
Culture in Plymouth
45 Southside Gallery is championing the contemporary craftware coming out of Cornwall and Devon. The team has set up shop in the Barbican, where you can discover the work of local makers. 45 Southside primarily showcases ceramic, glass and metal works but with ever-changing exhibitions, that’s not to say you won’t find original creations of textile, paper, wood and whatever else too.
The cultural hotspot of the Barbican is home to Plymouth Arts Centre. A nationally revered independent venue for contemporary art and cinema, it first opened its doors way back in 1947. Today, you’ll find exhibits from a mix of nationally and internationally renowned contemporary artists in the gallery. You can follow up your visit with a film in the cosy cinema, which is completely independent, so the films are handpicked to provide a programme ranging from arthouse to blockbusters. Plymouth Arts Centre also runs creative learning events for children, talks for adults, and outdoor cinema events around the city.
Peninsula Arts Gallery is the largest contemporary gallery in Plymouth and one of the city’s most important cultural centres. Housed in the Levinsky Building of Plymouth University’s main campus, all year round this wonderful, vast venue runs an exciting programme of art exhibitions, live music, films, public lectures, theatre and dance performances. If you’re staying at our Sutton Harbour hotel, it’s less than a mile away – so come down and see what’s on.
Plymouth Arts Centre
Peninsula Arts Gallery
One of the most popular museums in Plymouth is the Devonport Naval Heritage Centre. This is, in part, because it is where you can book a tour around HMS Courageous, a decommissioned nuclear submarine from the Cold War era. Now, it’s not exactly every day you get the chance to do that is it? Make sure you take a look at the control room which contains a mind boggling number of dials and gauges. It’s tricky business keeping a sub underwater for months on end, after all.
Back on terra firma, inside the Devonport Naval Heritage Centre, you can find out about the history of The Dockyard and its contributions to the Royal Navy, as well as how Plymouth has paid an important role in naval conflicts since 1300.
Due to Her Majesty’s Naval Base Devonport, Plymouth’s relationship with the sea tends to focus on the city’s Royal Navy heritage. But let’s not forget about another piece of maritime history that was created in Britain’s Ocean City – Plymouth is home to the Mayflower Steps, from where the Pilgrim Fathers are said to have set sail for the New World in 1620. Near that very site, the Mayflower Museum celebrates the epic journey through interactive exhibits, stories and a scale replica of the Mayflower ship itself.
If you’re interested in the wider history of the area, the South West Image Bank Archive & Gallery is the custodian of more than 200 individual photographic archives. Dating back to the 19th century, it offers snapshots of the city, its people, and maritime industry. Some might consider it more of an attraction for locals, but you don’t have to have lived here to appreciate the fascinating transformation that has taken place in Plymouth.
It’s hard to believe now, but the Devonport Guildhall and Column were derelict a decade ago. Built in the 1820s, it’s a miracle both buildings survived the ‘Plymouth Blitz’ bombings. They did, but with the cost of maintaining such grand structures high – especially when they didn’t really serve a purpose – they fell into disrepair. That is, until 2007 when they were bought by a social enterprise company with ambitions to restore them to their former glory.
In 2010, the Devonport Guildhall opened its doors once more to the public and has been hosting weddings, conferences, exhibitions, music concerts, fairs and more ever since. Entry’s free, so you can take a look around the main hall to see if there’s an exhibit on in the historic cells, or take in the best views of Plymouth from the top of the Devonport Column. What’s more, you can even bring back an artisan loaf from the award winning Column Bakehouse and its café.