Living for the city – exploring central Plymouth

Plymouth is a historic, maritime city that is now the South West’s entertainment, nightlife and shopping capital . It is surprisingly compact…Within a circle one mile in diameter lie almost all of Plymouth’s must see places â?? the entertainment district, Sutton Harbour, the Barbican, the shopping centre , Hoe Park, Plymouth Sound and all the places where you can hop on a ferry to explore even further.

All of this is at your bid and call once you’ve checked in to the Rainbow Lodge. We are between the city and the sea – in the perfect place for sightseers, walkers, theatregoers, shoppers, historians, sailors, course delegates, gourmets and everybody else to settle.

A Guest House that’s close to everything in Plymouth

The Rainbow Lodge is very close to everything in Plymouth that most people want to see and do. Just look at the “magic circle” on the map to see how close everything is to our guest house.

Our location is:

  • A minute’s walk from Hoe Park, the spiritual centre of the city with its panoramic view over the beautiful waters of Plymouth Sound
  • Just West of the historic Barbican, now Plymouth’s centre of fun and relaxation, Sutton Marina and the National Aquarium
  • Right next to Plymouth’s Entertainment district, featuring the World Class Theatre Royal and the stadium of Plymouth Pavilions
  • Just to the South of Devon’s best shopping centre and Plymouth University
  • A stone’s throw from the Brittany Ferry terminal linking Plymouth with France and Spain, and a little further from the Torpoint and Cremyll ferries linking Plymouth with Cornwall

All Plymouth’s top places are within a few minutes’ walk of our front door.

Plymouth Hoe, Sutton Harbour and the Barbican

Hoe Park is literally a minute’s walk from the Rainbow Lodge and the view over Plymouth Sound from here is simply sublime. We are both sure that Plymouth’s soul lies here, which is why huge crowds gather here for events like welcoming the Olympic torch, going to the Armed Forces Day or the National Fireworks Championships. And now the University has its degree celebrations there.

The Hoe’s waterfront contains growing number of interesting places to eat and drink: the Wet Wok, one of Plymouth’s best Chinese restaurants, the Terrace Cafe Bar and the Coffee Shack, Martimos tapas bar and now Gary Rhodes new restaurant, Rhodes at the Dome.

Passing the Terrace, you are well on the way to Sutton Harbour and the Barbican. Here there are the historic buildings and streets of â??fun Plymouth’ alongside one of the South West’s busiest marinas . The Barbican offers a huge choice of restaurants and pubs, and it’s all within easy walking distance of the Rainbow Lodge.

The entertainment and shopping districts

The Theatre Royal is a top class venue for plays, drama, musicals and comedy, whilst the Pavilions is the South West’s leading arena for rock concerts, musicals, celebrity comedians and also large scale events like. Even moving at a snail’s pace, these are just minutes from Rainbow Lodge.

Just to the East of the Theatre Royal lies Plymouth’s substantial shopping centre. Plymouth has always offered plenty to satisfy the serious shopper. But since late 2006 it has a huge new retail hub called Drake Circus to add to the 500 shops already trading in the city’s pedestrianised centre.

And if big names like M&S, Primark, House of Fraser and Debenhams are too “brand driven” for you, head for the Barbican with Southside and New Streets being particularly well known for shops the trade in items like jewellery, antiques, clocks, nautical items, used books, old silver, toys, china, paintings and porcelain.

The University of Plymouth

The University of Plymouth’s campus lies about 8-10 minutes’ walk from Rainbow Lodge.

A distinct marine current runs through its “DNA”, reflecting the city’s heritage and is now expressed by Europe’s largest Marine Institute which forms part of the University itself.

But it would be quite wrong to think that the University of Plymouth only has the “marine string to its bow”. The University of Plymouth has also:

  • Set out to be “the enterprise university” instilling growth and development in everything it teaches and how it’s taught
  • Developed Its total curriculum in many new core areas backed by a research capability in these that is recognised as world class
  • Become a major centre of health education

The University of Plymouth now holds 30,000 students and these people and the visits their families generate are a major source of wealth for the city, not least for guest houses like ours.

Transport and other services

Plymouth’s railway, coach, bus and ferry terminals are all within walking distance of the Rainbow Lodge, and cash tills, convenience shops and a public phone are all very close by.

The public transport system is a key asset and makes it possible for you to enjoy a variety of wonderful day trips without a car. Here is just a small selection…

Tamar Valley

An amazing mixture of natural beauty and the historic remains of the once thriving copper and tin mining industry characterise the Tamar Valley.

At one time, almost 100% of the world’s supplies of copper ore came from here, and it was shipped from places like Morwellham Quay and Calstock.Though many of the industrial scars have healed, the scale of mining activity can still be grasped by visitors today.

The natural beauty of the tidal river and its surrounding forests now reigns supreme, added to by some superb railway age viaducts.

Please ask well in advance if you are interested in river cruises – departures are very limited due to the Tamar’s tidal range.


This beautiful, wild moorland is yours to explore and it’s just a short drive from Rainbow Lodge . Once a royal hunting reserve, Dartmoor has hundreds of walks to offer hikers within its 368 square miles. The higher ground on Dartmoor is frequently capped by the area’s famous “tors”, sometimes giving the landscape the look of the surface of the Moon or Mars.

These granite outcrops, which vary widely in shape and size, make fantastic vantage points with Haytor and Hound Tor being among the largest, so your walk can include fantastic panoramic views of the Devon countryside.

Although we both favour the use of public transport wherever possible, Dartmoor is not well served by buses and trains, particularly outside the June – September period. A car is therefore very useful for getting you to your walk or just touring around.(during Summer, the transport companies have combined to offer a Dartmoor Sunday Rover ticket which may be worth investigating if this limited offer happens to suit you).

Rivers and lakes are as much a part of the scene as moorlands and tors.

For example, there is the whole set that flows South starting with the Plym (Plymouth), ending with the Dart (Dartmouth) and including the Yealm, Erme, Avon and Dart. Beautiful old stone bridges cross many of these rivers.

There are also many lakes and reservoirs including Burrator with its almost alpine feel. This reservoir was developed by Sir Francis Drake as a source of water supply to Plymouth where he was once Mayor. Drake’s wonderful home of Buckland Abbey is also on Dartmoor, as are interesting market towns like Tavistock (excellent pannier market) and Bovey Tracey (good craft centre).

There is also the beautiful village of Widecombe in the Moor, the forbidding structure of Dartmoor Prison at Princeton, and the superb valleys of rivers like the Dart and of course the famous Dartmoor ponies to enjoy.

We will be please to advise you on what to do, where to go and how to get there, and can also lend you maps and walking books.

Taking in the whole South West from Plymouth

Plymouth is well positioned for reaching most of the South West’s key places. All of the following have been visited by our guests on trips of one day:

  • Eden Project:
    The South West’s leading attraction including the largest indoor rainforest in the world. Book online using our free WiFi and this destination is accessible by road or rail
  • Land’s End:
    The most westerly point in the British Isles. Wild coastline and Atlantic rollers make this a must for many visitors. Accessible by road and free of charge to enter – but you pay for car parking.
  • Newquay:
    Cornwall’s leading surfing centre with the most consistent swell. Accessible by road
  • Padstow:
    Attractive harbour that includes three Rick Stein eateries and many other excellent restaurants and cafes. Accessible by road.
  • Truro:
    Superb Cornish city with much to see and do including a wonderful cathedral. Accessible by rail or road.
  • Penzance and Marazion:
    Westerly port that’s at the end of the railway line. Marazion is where St Michael’s Mount and its monastery rise from the sea. Accessible by rail or road.
  • Exeter:
    Major cathedral city second only to Plymouth in terms of population. Historic features and good shopping centre.
  • North Devon:
    Barnstaple, Bideford and Appledore form an attractive destination for tourists that is a bit off the beaten track. Accessible by road.
  • Bristol:
    Major city and port with extensive collection of old ships and other vessels along its waterways including the marvellous SS Great Britain. Accessible by rail or road.
  • Torquay:
    Regarded as the centre of the “English Riviera”, an attractive seaside resort on a pleasant bay. Accessible by road or rail.

Look no car! Day Trips around Plymouth just using public transport

Plymouth is surrounded by Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It also has a very good public transport system featuring buses, ferries and water taxis so you can combine the two to make an almost limitless number of Day Trips. Here are a just three suggestions.

In all cases we advise you to plan your trip to make sure it can be completed in time and to take information like train and bus times with you. We can help you do this.

Trip One: the Cornish Coast to Cawsand and Rame Head

Cawsand is a very picturesque and friendly Cornish village. Its beach fronts Plymouth Sound and Cawsand is joined to its twin village Kingsand by a narrow street. Both places have interesting shops, pubs and other places to eat. This is a fascinating place for a wander taking in the varying perspectives of the village and the sea with the Great Mew Stone looming in the distance across the waves.

The deepwater of Cawsand Bay was once the anchorage for giant transatlantic liners on their way to Southampton and sometimes a modern vessel drops anchor in exactly the same place as they did. The liners stopped here to give their VIP’s an express journey to London using the Great Western Railway, cutting several hours from this last part of the journey.

The best way to get to Cawsand from Rainbow Lodge is to stroll down to the Barbican Landing Stage and catch the Cawsand Ferry. Then enjoy a superb 30 minute crossing of Plymouth Sound in a ferry made from one of the SS Canberra’s lifeboats.

The ferry operates 4 times a day from Easter to October and at other times the trip can easily be done by bus instead.

At the southern edge of Cawsand the South West Coast Path climbs past houses and into a wood, emerging into the open at Penlee Point, which “guards” the western entrance to Plymouth Sound. Here is Queen Adelaide’s Folly, a remarkable little building with arched windows carved from the outcrop of stone.

At Penlee you can look along the coast to beautiful Rame Head with the remains of a centuries old Chapel on top of it. The walk there is quite easy and takes about 30-40 minutes. Climbing to the Chapel and standing inside it is a magical experience and you are also rewarded for the walk by views of the impressive coastal scenery of Whitsand Bay and Southern Cornwall.

Return by the same route or if you are still feeling energetic walk on past Cawsand on the Coastal Path to reach Mt Edgcumbe Park and take the Cremyll Ferry home.

Trip Two: Totnes and the South Devon Steam Railway

The South Devon Railway is one of the region’s best steam railways featuring beautifully maintained Great Western locomotives and carriages in a delightful country setting.

Start your trip by making the short walk from Rainbow Lodge to Plymouth Rail Station and catch an Eastbound train which has Totnes as its first (or second) stop.

The Totnes end of the South Devon Railway starts nearby but we recommend exploring Totnes first with its rising High Street of independent shops and absolutely superb castle.

After a short walk back towards the station you easily find Totnes Littlehempston, the start of the South Devon railway. Your magical steam train journey takes half an hour in either direction and you should plan to stay a while at Buckfastleigh, the other end of the line, which features a fascinating and usually busy locomotive engineering shed at, a model shop and a butterfly farm.

Return to Rainbow Lodge by rail via Totnes.

Trip Three – the Cornish Coast to Looe and Polperro

Visit a thriving Cornish seaside resort and a traditional fishing village all in one day trip!

Once again start at Plymouth Rail Station but this time catch a Westbound train which will take you across the River Tamar on Brunel’s famous “double coat-hanger”, the Royal Albert Bridge.

Get off at Liskeard and follow the signs for trains to Looe. You’ll travel along the beautiful Looe Valley Line. At Looe catch the 573 bus to Polperro, a really wonderful fishing village that is about as unspoilt as you can get today. It’s full of interest and surrounded by vantage points to get superb views of the harbour.

There may be a chance to travel back to Looe by sea on a local fishing boat. If so you will get a fantastic introduction to it by sailing right into its midst.

Looe is split into East and West joined together by a bridge. Its striking harbour is surrounded by steep slopes and East Looe has a substantial shopping centre and a fish market.

Return to Rainbow Lodge by rail via Liskeard.