Plymouth Dome is a collection of themed galleries that take you on a walk through time, retelling the history of the city and its intimate relationship with the sea. A series of bright and breezy galleries ranges from entertaining mock-ups of the bridge of an ocean liner to more studious, science-based displays looking in detail at the ocean currents that flow around the city. The two-storey building has a wonderful location, just below Smeaton's Tower, Plymouth's red-and-white-striped landmark lighthouse. It is snugly built into the natural contours of Plymouth Hoe, the coastal strip that runs along the southern edge of the city, overlooking Plymouth Sound and surrounded by monuments testifying to this seafaring history, from Drake to the Falklands. The dome (on a much smaller scale than its benighted London namesake) covers the foyer.
Something for children
Kids will probably linger longest over the foyer and the first exhibits. In the former is a computer-based virtual tour of Plymouth with fixed cameras giving live pictures of the waters around the city. Then take them to the first gallery, a mock-up of a street from the docks in Elizabethan times. It's dark, dingy and smelly and one display involves a 16th-century servant emptying a chamber pot on to the street below. There are also plenty of waxwork figures of famous seafarers that should shiver the timbers of the little ones. They will find plenty of buttons to push on the satellite and radar monitoring observation deck, which has current images of weather and harbour activity.
Something for adults
Head for the observation gallery, which gives panoramic views over Plymouth Sound, with Devon to your left, Cornwall on your right, Drake's Island in the foreground and, on a clear day, Eddystone lighthouse 14 miles distant on the horizon. The gallery is full of detail about the extraordinary voyages that began from Plymouth, including Drake's on the Golden Hind, Darwin's aboard the Beagle, Cook's on the Endeavour and the Pilgrim Fathers'. You can learn more from a series of short films about the voyages shown in a cinema built in the shape of a 17th-century galleon. There is also a gripping film on Plymouth's ordeal during the Blitz.
The Dolphin café offers pasties, cakes and rather tired-looking sandwiches. You can eat in the foyer, where there are some pleasant tables overlooking Plymouth Sound. On a sunny day you can probably do better by heading along the Hoe and choosing one of the outdoor cafés, which have a good range of food, from cheesy chips to tiger-prawn stir-fries and lattes.
Inevitably, you can buy a set of Drake's bowls (£14.99). There are also plenty of pens and stationery on a fishy theme, clotted-cream biscuits (this is Devon) and good local history books.
Admission and access
Plymouth Dome attracts 60,000 visitors a year, with large numbers during the summer holidays.
Open daily, 10am to 5pm.
Admission: Adults £4.75; children over five £3.25; family ticket (two adults, two children) £13. Smeaton's Tower is an extra £2.25 for adults, £1.25 for children. The museum is fully accessible for wheelchair users, and there is disabled parking outside the entrance.
How to get there
Plymouth Dome, The Hoe, Plymouth PL1 2NZ (01752 603300; www.plymouthdome.info).
Take the M5 to Exeter then the A38 to the south of Dartmoor. As you enter Plymouth, follow signs for the Hoe. There is on-street parking near the museum.
There are frequent daily train services to Plymouth from London, the Midlands and the North. For details, call 08457-48 49 50. The train station is a 20-minute walk from the Dome. Or take bus 25 from the city centre.