Plymouth Barbican Waterfront is the jewel in the crown of the city’s tourism industry. Located on the picturesque seafront, it is home to many of Plymouth’s famous tourist attractions – there’s something for all the family!

Dating back to when the brave pilgrims set sail on The Mayflower in 1620 to start their new life in North America, the Barbican area has a long and fascinating history. Today, there are plenty of reminders of the areas interesting past, enthralling visitors who enjoy soaking up the rich heritage.

 

Barbican history

The name ‘Barbican’ is believed to derive from the Castle Barbican – an entrance to Plymouth Castle, the medieval fortress that guarded the city before the Royal Citadel was constructed.

Almost 400 years ago, a group of pilgrims left England on 6th September 1620, to begin their hazardous journey across the Atlantic Ocean to North America. The Mayflower Steps commemorating their journey are located in the Barbican area, where a granite block bears the ship’s name.

The passengers left England to seek religious freedom and prior to sailing, they stayed in local accommodation that is now the Island House on the Quay and the Plymouth Gin Distillery in Southside Street.

Built in 1934 with Doric columns of Portland stone and a platform over the water, the steps feature steel rails, bronze artwork and information on the history of their voyage. Historians say the actual site where the Mayflower cast off is now the location of a Victorian public house called the Admiral MacBride.

Today, boat trips sail from the Mayflower Steps and take visitors for trips up the Tamar and around the Sound.

Other key events in the Barbican’s history are chronicled by commemorative plaques, such as the return of four Tolpuddle Martyrs in 1838 after exile in Australia. The martyrs were a group of Dorset agricultural labourers who were arrested and deported to the penal colonies in 1834. Their “crime” was swearing an oath as members of the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers.

In 1839, the pioneer ship, The Tory, departed from the waterfront and set off to colonise New Zealand. In 1919, the American seaplane, the Curtiss NC-4, made the first transatlantic flight across the Atlantic Ocean, arriving at the Barbican waterfront area.

 

Modern history

The Barbican area has Britain’s highest concentration of cobbled streets and even Luftwaffe bombs during the Second World War couldn’t destroy its 100 listed buildings. Thanks to the work of local preservationists in the Plymouth Barbican Association, the area has retained its historic charm but with a modern revamp.

The association formed in 1957 and was active in the redevelopment of the area into a modern tourist attraction, without losing sight of its heritage.

Many attractions have been developed, such as the National Marine Aquarium, where the deepest fish tank in Europe is located. You can also visit the famous Plymouth Gin Distillery. The Barbican Leisure Park promises a day full of fun for all the family. Stunning architecture can be enjoyed from every vantage point and there is a wide selection of places to eat and drink.

Every type of food imaginable is available at the Barbican’s range of restaurants – such a seafood at the Rockfish, authentic Nepalese and Indian cuisine at Himalayan Spice, predominantly British food at Quay 33 and the self-explanatory Barbican Pasta Bar, to name but a few.

There’s also a large selection of independent shops and art galleries, while the Mayflower Museum charts the famous pilgrims’ journey to North America. The quaint local shops include the Old Quay House Tuck Shop, Pilgrim’s Ice Cream, Mayflower Arts and the Chocaccino Chocolate Shop.

The Barbican Theatre hosts many events and celebrations, and there are even Plymouth Ghost Walks which invite visitors to delve into the city’s spooky past to find out more about the historic port’s supernatural phenomena.

The Barbican Shops

 

Annual events

A number of annual events take place at the Plymouth Barbican Waterfront. Pirates Weekend every May is a family fun weekend held at the Barbican, West Hoe and Sutton Harbour. Participants can take part in a bumper weekend of pirate-themed activities, including looking around two tall ships, The Phoenix and The Greyhound, taking part in pirate craft-making, re-enactments of historic pirate scenes, cannon-firing and muskets! There’s also pirate storytelling, pirate trails, face painting and fancy dress competitions.

The annual Seafood Fest returns for its seventh year at the Barbican and Sutton Harbour on 15th and 16th September, while the 15th annual Flavour Fest runs from 1st to 3rd June – featuring 100 outdoor food and drink stalls, it is south-west England’s biggest free food and drink festival.

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