Summer in the city

Summer in the city

Top 10 things to do in Plymouth to turn your Open Day into a summer holiday

Open days aren’t just about getting to know a course, a campus or even the best student night-spots. According to Which? University, at least 40 per cent of graduates end up staying in the place where they study. In other words, Plymouth could be where you’re still living, working and playing five years from now. With that in mind, why not turn your open day into a holiday and see what it has to offer? From literary heroes to the Beatles’ bums, lidos, lobsters and lions, there’s plenty of culture and coast to keep you entertained while the sun shines… 

1. Bigbury-on-Sea beach   

For novelty factor (an island you can visit by sea-tractor), watersports and ‘get-away-from-it-all’ tranquillity, this beach scores highly – 4.5 in fact on TripAdvisor. It’s also a favourite with geological and earth sciences graduate, Will Batho. “Bigbury-on-Sea is just half an hour’s drive away from Plymouth, and is really popular with surfers,” says Will. “However on a paddleboard you can get away from other surfers and get your own break.”

You can hire stand-up paddleboards, kayaks and surfboards on the beach, which is lifeguarded over the summer, eat at the café or walk/tractor out to Burgh Island at low tide.

2. Open water swimming

You might think ‘wild swimming’ is a recent craze, but locals have been bathing among Plymouth’s lidos since the 1930s. With Plymouth’s Art Deco lido ranked as one of the best in Europe, and a dozen other spots to get your bathers wet, the city is leading the way in open water swimming. University Vice President of Sport, Matthew Dark, is a big fan of Tinside Lido.

“It’s a fantastic little place to swim. The water temperature is exactly the same as the sea but it’s nice and refreshing on a lovely summer’s day, and a great place for family and friends, even where only some want to swim.”

3. The Barbican    

Feeling peckish? If you’re after Italian, Greek, Himalayan, Mexican… in fact pretty much any ethnic cuisine, head for the historic Barbican and Sutton Harbour, where in the summer you’ll find plenty of places to sit outside and watch the world go by. Spend a few hours browsing the quirky independent shops on the narrow, cobbled streets of the Barbican, where you’ll find everything from vintage clothes to Plymouth Rock.

Stroll around the harbour and check out the aquarium. Then stop for a latté and a piece of homemade cake at one of the local coffee shops.

4. Kayaking on the River Dart

The River Dart is the most famous kayaking river in Devon, and with boulder fields, slide-type rapids and reassuringly named stretches such as ‘Euthanasia Falls’ and the ‘Mad Mile’, it’s no wonder. Actually, though, the Dart is suitable for beginners, too, and in the summer only the gentle lower reaches are open to the public. You can explore the tidal section between Dartmouth and Totnes, and depending on the tide moor up at one of the riverside pubs such as the Ferryboat Inn at Dittisham or the Maltsters at Stoke Gabriel.

“The roads can get really congested at this time of the year,” says Tom Morris of Totnes Kayaks, “but the river is the perfect way to get around. It’s peaceful with stunning scenery and plenty of picnic spots.”

5. Boat trips

If you haven’t got sea-legs before starting at University of Plymouth, you sure will by the time you graduate. Computer systems student Joel Figov is a member of the Sailing and Powerboating club and loves taking students out on the water.

“You can head up the River Plym towards Saltram House or you can go the opposite way towards the Tamar bridge where you can see the dockyards,” he says. “However, if you just fancy a blast around the Sound, once you get outside of the Mountbatten area you can go as fast as your boat can take you.”

Experience the Sound for yourself on a skippered RIB charter starting at £300 for a half-day. Or, for an extra adrenaline hit, try catching a 70lb conger eel, porbeagle or blue shark when deep-sea fishing with Plymouth Fishing Charters.

6. The Hoe  

Four very famous bottoms are celebrated on Plymouth Hoe, belonging to none other than the Beatles. Unveiled last winter, the cheeky copper casts mark the spot where the foursome posed for a photograph in 1967 whilst filming the Magical Mystery Tour. Obviously, balancing your butt on such an iconic seat (and tweeting the picture with #beatlebums) is reason enough to visit, but if you need more convincing, University of Plymouth recently ran a student’s choice of Top 10 spots, and the Hoe – with its stunning views of the Sound – came top of the list.

7. Dartmoor Zoo   

Dartmoor Zoological Park is the real-life inspiration behind the Hollywood film We Bought a Zoo, starring Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson. It’s popular with University of Plymouth's Zoological Society, as well as students on the BSc (Hons) Animal Behaviour and Welfare course.

“We did many trips to different zoological parks for research,” says graduate Matthew Dark. “Dartmoor zoo is small but fascinating. It’s great for a day out with the family, or even just to relax and get away from the stress of day-to-day life.”

Hidden on the borders of Dartmoor National Park, the 33-acre woodland zoo has a wide range of exotic and native animals, including the biggest variety of big cats in the South West.

8. Royal William Yard     

This chic, urban peninsula of shops, eateries and loft-style apartments was once a victualling yard for the Royal Navy. The best way to appreciate the formidable granite buildings of Royal William Yard is to catch the ferry from the Barbican, and walk around the perimeter via the new section of South West Coast Path before exploring the streets.

“The outdoor space is amazing,” says University of Plymouth graduate, Bethan Llewellyn-Hall, who works at the Yard. “From Firestone Arch you can see Drakes Island, Mount Edgcumbe and the breakwater.”

On the first Sunday of every month you can also feast to your heart’s content at the Good Food Market, and work it all off afterwards by hiring bikes or paddleboards.

9. Mount Edgcumbe

The house may be over 500 years old, but the activities on offer in the 865-acre country park of Mount Edgcumbe are definitely 21st Century. If walking is a little tame, try tackling balance beams, bunny hills and ski-style hill descents on a Segway Safari, or get lethal with a frisbee on Devon and Cornwall’s only Disc Golf course.

This pretty Cornish estate also has all the traditional attractions. The flower garden and cafés are popular, says Lewis Tate-Williamson from the University’s Adventure & Expo club. Latin Society member, Chris Roel Ferreira adds that the Cremyll ferry is a good way to get there on a sunny day. You can catch it from Admirals Hard in Stonehouse.

10. British Firework Championships

'Beautiful but not visceral', having 'strong audio beats' and a sense of intent'... we’re not talking Brit Award winners or a West End Musical, though you’d think so from the judge’s comments. Nope, it’s something much more spectacular: the winning display of last year’s British Fireworks Championships.

With viewing spots right across the harbour, Plymouth is the perfect natural amphitheatre for watching the kings of the fireworks world battle it out in colour, symmetry and sound. The festival takes place on 16 and 17 August. It includes a fun fair, food stalls and live music from Heart FM. The displays are fired from the Mountbatten breakwater and are designed to be seen from the Citadel and The Hoe. You can also catch them from the Queen Anne’s Battery area, the Mountbatten pub, and Jennycliff.