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Best Plymouth Museums and Galleries

mayflower museum in barbican plymouth

Explore history at the best Plymouth Museums and Galleries

Whether you’re a local looking to explore your own backyard or a visitor seeking to immerse yourself in the area’s heritage, these Plymouth museums and galleries offer something for everyone.

From world-class art exhibitions to fascinating glimpses into the region’s maritime past, these cultural institutions provide a captivating window into Devon’s story. Prepare to be wowed by exceptional collections, cutting-edge displays, and thoughtfully curated experiences that bring history to life.

This guide will take you on a journey through Plymouth’s must-visit museums and galleries, uncovering hidden gems and renowned institutions alike. Immerse yourself in the city’s narrative as you admire prehistoric artifacts, marvel at contemporary artworks, and gain insights into the events that shaped this iconic English destination. Get ready to embark on an unforgettable cultural adventure!

You should note that all of the places listed here are brillilant and they are not included in any specific order of preference!.

The Box

the box plymouth

The Box is Plymouth’s newest and most ambitious cultural attraction. This state-of-the-art museum, gallery, and archive opened in 2020 after a £47 million redevelopment. The striking contemporary building combines Plymouth’s former museum collections into one incredible immersive experience.

Visitors are wowed from the moment they step inside and are greeted by the awe-inspiring Celestial Sphere installation of 14 monumental ships’ figureheads suspended in the soaring atrium. The Box’s nine exhibition galleries take you on a mind-expanding journey through 500 years of Plymouth’s history and global connections.

A whole gallery commemorates the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s pioneering voyage, with interactive displays that bring this pivotal journey vividly to life. Other standout galleries explore Plymouth’s rich maritime heritage, the city’s role in World War II, and its ancient origins through rare archaeological artifacts.

Art lovers can admire the extensive fine art and decorative art collections spanning centuries, including masterpieces by renowned painters like Sir Joshua Reynolds. The Box seamlessly blends traditional exhibits with cutting-edge digital experiences to create a truly world-class museum for the 21st century visitor.

Mayflower Museum

mayflower museum plymouth

One of the standout highlights of the Plymouth museum scene is the incredible Mayflower Museum commemorating the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims’ pioneering voyage to America. This groundbreaking place immerses visitors in the Mayflower’s historic journey like never before.

As you enter the museum, you’re transported back to 1620 with atmospheric lighting, soundscapes, and projected imagery recreating the Pilgrims’ experience. Get a sense of shipboard life through interactive displays and exquisitely rendered models of the Mayflower and its cramped quarters below deck.

See rare surviving artifacts from the era including cooking utensils, furniture, and other personal belongings. Hear the real voices and stories of the Mayflower passengers through immersive audio experiences. You can even try on replica Pilgrim clothing to imagine traversing the ocean in those difficult conditions.

The gallery culminates with the dramatic “Wampanoag Home” installation, recreating in meticulous detail the scene of the First Encounter between the Wampanoag tribe and English settlers. It offers a powerful perspective from the Native viewpoint on this pivotal moment of first contact.

This comprehensive Mayflower museum represents years of research and innovation, allowing visitors to gain new insights into this seminal event that shaped America.

plymouth museums

Housed in a magnificent Victorian building dating back to 1897, the Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery has been a cultural cornerstone for over a century. This museum immerses visitors in the rich heritage and artistic legacy of Plymouth and the surrounding region.

The museum’s 17 galleries take you on a captivating journey through over 500 million years of Plymouth’s history. Admire the area’s prehistoric roots through rare archaeological finds like the nationally-importantUnders Croft collection of Bronze Age artifacts. Trace the city’s maritime story with outstanding displays of figurehead carvings, model ships, and naval ephemera.

See what life was like for Plymothians in centuries past through meticulously recreated period rooms and domestic galleries. The museum’s World Cultures galleries house an impressive ethnographic collection amassed from around the globe.

Art enthusiasts will be wowed by the adjoining art gallery’s collection spanning over 500 years. Feast your eyes on the renowned Cottonian Collection of paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts. Other highlights include 20th century modern works and the celebrated Beryl Cook collection capturing British culture with humor and vibrance.

With such diverse exhibitions combined with interactive experiences, the Plymouth City Museum genuinely offers something for all ages and interests.

Devonport Naval Heritage Centre

devonport naval heritage centre

Situated in the historic Devonport district, the Devonport Naval Heritage Museum offers a fascinating glimpse into Plymouth’s rich maritime and naval legacy. Housed within the impressive Georgian Stratton House building, the museum brings centuries of naval history vividly to life.

Visitors can explore an outstanding collection of artifacts, models, paintings, and personal effects that tell the story of the Royal Navy’s long relationship with Plymouth and Devonport. See intricate scale models of famous ships like HMS Victory and the modern Type 23 frigate. Admire beautiful maritime paintings capturing pivotal naval battles and daily life at sea.

Learn about the crucial role Devonport’s dockyards played in shipbuilding, repair, and supplying the Royal Navy, especially during the two World Wars. Personal artifacts on display like uniforms, weapons, and letters shed light on the human experiences of serving in the Navy over time.

The museum also highlights the impact of the naval presence on local communities and businesses in Plymouth over the generations. Multimedia exhibits and veteran interviews make this naval history engaging for all ages. Whether you have family connections to the Royal Navy or simply love maritime heritage, the Devonport Naval Heritage Museum is a must-visit.

Plymouth Gin Distillery

gin distillery

The Plymouth Gin Distillery, stands as a testament to centuries of distilling tradition and craftsmanship. Established in 1793, it holds the distinction of being one of the oldest operational gin distilleries in the world. Steeped in history, the distillery’s origins trace back to the city’s maritime heyday, where its gin found favor among sailors and explorers alike.

At the heart of the distillery lies a commitment to quality and heritage. Using a unique blend of botanicals including juniper berries, coriander, and angelica root, the distillery creates its signature Plymouth Gin, renowned for its smoothness and depth of flavor. Each batch is meticulously crafted in traditional copper pot stills, ensuring a consistent and exceptional product with every bottle.

Visitors to the distillery are treated to an immersive experience, where they can explore the historic premises, learn about the art of distillation, and even sample the distinct flavors of Plymouth Gin firsthand. From the atmospheric gin laboratory to the atmospheric aging rooms, every corner of the distillery tells a story of innovation and dedication to the craft.

Beyond its storied past, the Plymouth Gin Distillery continues to play a vital role in the world of spirits, with its products winning numerous awards and accolades. Whether sipped neat, mixed in a classic cocktail, or savored in a contemporary creation, Plymouth Gin remains a timeless symbol of quality and tradition in the world of gin distillation.

Dartmoor Prison Museum

outside of dartmoor prison museum

Not strictly in Plymouth (about 30 minutes north actually), but unusual and interesting enough to warrant a mention in this list of Plymouth museums is Dartmoor Prison Museum.

You’ll find a fascinating museum offering a glimpse into the harsh realities of life at one of Britain’s longest-running prisons. Opened in 1809, Dartmoor Prison was constructed to house French prisoners of war and American POWs during the War of 1812. Its remote location in the heart of Dartmoor National Park aimed to deter escape attempts.

Today, the Dartmoor Prison Museum brings the prison’s 200-year history to life through an amazing collection of artifacts, prisoner possessions, documents, and multimedia exhibits. See the tiny 7×5 foot cells that up to 10 men were once crammed into, with just a single window and basic amenities. Chilling prisoner artworks and craftwork provide insights into their daily experiences.

Learn about daring escape attempts, infamous notorious inmates like Frank Mitchell “The Incredible Hulk”, and the strict routine and discipline that governed every aspect of prisoners’ lives. Interactive displays let you experience the claustrophobia of solitary confinement and the smells of the prison bakehouse.

While no longer an active jail, the Dartmoor Prison Museum offers a transfixing look at the harsh punishments of the Victorian penal system and the resilience of those incarcerated within these granite-clad walls. It’s both an educational and unsettling experience.

southside gallery plymouth

Located in the heart of Plymouth’s coastal quarter, the Southside Gallery is a contemporary art space championing emerging and established artists from across the South West region. This vibrant gallery aims to make modern and cutting-edge art more accessible to the local community.

The bright, airy exhibition space hosts a constantly rotating program of innovative shows and installations from a diverse array of multi-disciplinary artists. Visitors can expect to see everything from thought-provoking paintings and photography to mixed media sculptures and video art installations.

In addition to its gallery exhibitions, Southside hosts artist talks, workshops, film screenings and other engaging events. This allows art enthusiasts to gain deeper insights into the inspirations and processes behind the works on display.

A particular emphasis is placed on nurturing up-and-coming local talent from the region’s vibrant creative community. Southside offers mentorship programs, studio spaces and opportunities for young artists to showcase their work.

The gallery’s lively cafe and courtyard also make it a community hub, drawing in crowds with live music, poetry readings and a selection of locally-sourced food and drinks. Whether you’re an art aficionado or a curious newcomer, Southside Gallery provides a refreshing dose of Plymouth’s thriving contemporary arts scene.

Plymouth Arts Centre

plymouth arts centre

The Plymouth Arts Centre and Cinema is a thriving contemporary arts hub located in the city’s historic Looe Street area. This multidisciplinary venue acts as a cultural catalyst, showcasing innovative visual arts, theater, dance, film, and music from cutting-edge artists.

The Arts Centre’s galleries feature a rotating calendar of thought-provoking exhibitions from both emerging and established artists. Expect to see bold, experimental works across mediums like painting, photography, sculpture, installation, and digital art. Many of the shows grapple with relevant themes and push boundaries.

In addition to the visual arts program, the Arts Centre hosts an eclectic mix of live performances throughout the year. The intimate theater frequently stages avant-garde plays, immersive dance works, spoken word events, and productions that blur the lines between genres. International touring companies often stop here.

The cinema screens a diverse selection of independent, foreign, and classic films you won’t find at your typical multiplex. From director retrospectives to cult favorites, it’s a cinephile’s dream.

More than just an arts space, the Plymouth Arts Centre strives to be an open, inclusive community hub. It offers workshops, courses, artist residencies, and opportunities for the public to get hands-on with creative practices. With its cutting-edge programming, it ensures the city remains a dynamic place for artistic expression to thrive.

Plymouth College of Art

plymouth college of art

Established in 1856, the Plymouth College of Art is one of the last remaining independent art schools in the UK. This prestigious institution has been nurturing creative talent and shaping the South West’s vibrant arts scene for over 160 years.

Located in the heart of Plymouth’s cultural quarter, the College provides an innovative and dynamic environment for students to develop their artistic skills across a variety of disciplines. Painting, drawing, sculpture, printmaking, photography, filmmaking, and more are all offered through the College’s comprehensive range of programs.

In addition to its degree courses, the College hosts a continuous program of public exhibitions, workshops, artist talks and community programs. The on-site Gallery encourages public engagement with the works of students, faculty and renowned visiting artists through cutting-edge displays.

The College’s unique heritage is evident in its flagship building, a striking 19th century Grade II listed terracotta millstone structure. However, state-of-the-art facilities like photography studios, mac suites, and an innovative FabLab with 3D printing ensure students learn using the latest technology.

Many of the region’s most celebrated artists got their start at the Plymouth College of Art, and its commitment to fostering new generations of talent endures. Whether studying, exhibiting or just visiting, the College provides an inspiring portal into the creative energy driving Plymouth’s cultural renaissance.

It is worth noting that this gallery is also known as the Arts University of Plymouth.

Some other amazing art galleries in Devon and Cornwall

We are lucky to have loads of great galleries in this region, including:

  • Thelma Hulbert Gallery (Honiton, Devon) – An award-winning public gallery showcasing national touring exhibitions alongside works by emerging and established artists from the South West.
  • Newlyn Art Gallery (Newlyn, Cornwall) – One of the leading venues for contemporary art in the region, with a focus on artists inspired by the Celtic traditions and unique landscapes of Cornwall. 
  • Burton Art Gallery (Bideford, Devon) – Set in beautiful Victorian gardens, this gallery hosts an impressive collection of ceramics, sculptures and the famous Westcountry Realists paintings.
  • Exeter RAMM (Exeter, Devon) – The Royal Albert Memorial Museum houses acclaimed collections of antiquities alongside its Permanent Gallery featuring modern British art.
  • Penlee House (Penzance, Cornwall) – Home to an outstanding collection of paintings and sculptures by celebrated Newlyn School artists from the late 19th/early 20th centuries. 
  • The Exchange (Penzance, Cornwall) – This contemporary gallery champions Cornish artists working in diverse media from painting and sculpture to installation and new media. 
  • Artizan Gallery (Torquay, Devon) – An artist-led cooperative gallery showcasing an eclectic range of works by local and international artists in an historic building.
  • Jackson Foundation (St Just, Cornwall) – Set in beautiful gardens, this gallery exhibits an intriguing collection amassed by artists Wilfred and Katharine Lamb.
  • Tate St Ives (St Ives, Cornwall) – One of only four Tate galleries in the world, showcasing British art from 1500 to the present day with a special focus on modern St Ives artists.

plymouth from old photographs

Plymouth in Old Photographs” by Derek Tait is a captivating visual journey through Plymouth’s history, featuring a collection of vintage photographs that offer a nostalgic glimpse into the city’s past. With expert commentary accompanying each image, this book is a must-have for anyone interested in Plymouth’s rich heritage.

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Once you have seen some of these great Plymouth museums and galleries, have a look at other things to do in the city or check out some of the best places to eat in Plymouth.

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