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Top places to visit in Bristol

Find places to visit and things to do in Bristol

From Maisie Williams to Massive Attack, the lively city of Bristol is the birthplace of tons of artists and creatives, including the city’s most famous son, Banksy. Watched over by rows of brightly painted houses, this laid-back cultural metropolis in the south west is awash with history, lively local areas and a shed-load of impressive street art.

Whether it’s the sophisticated Georgian streets of Clifton Village, a stay in a rooftop caravan or the wild waters at The Wave, there are plenty of reasons why Bristol is a must for your next city break.

1

Attractions in Bristol: Board a ship that changed the world

Great Western Dockyard, Bristol

Brunel's SS Great Britain docked in Bristol

Embark on a journey into Bristol’s maritime heritage aboard the SS Great Britain, a Victorian passenger boat – and the world’s first great ocean line – that dominates Bristol’s historic harbour. As well as learning about the life and legacy of the ship’s designer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel (one of the greatest engineers of the 19th century, don’t you know) you’ll be able to experience the sights, sounds and smells of life on board with a snoop around the ship itself. See the first-class cabins and the top deck, all the way down to the steerage before taking a look at the underside of the boat from beneath the ‘glass sea’.

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Want to go back even further in time? Well, how about booking a trip on The Matthew of Bristol? It’s a full-size replica of the original ship that John Cabot sailed across the Atlantic to discover North America back in 1497. You can explore the decks for free or nab a ticket for a sail along the Avon Gorge or around the Bristol Harbour. Back on dry land, you can explore the story of Bristol’s Floating Harbour at Underfall Boatyard. Kids and adults alike will love the hands-on displays and magnetic games that give you an insight into hydraulic power and how the water level and silt in the harbour is managed.

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2

Things to do in Bristol: Glimpse world-class street art

Bristol

Artist Louis Masai with a can working on an artwork at Upfest, Europe's largest Street Art and Graffiti Festival, Bristol, England.

From fiercely protected murals on shop shutters to graffiti-covered skate parks, Bristol City is a huge open-air gallery alive with ornately-sprayed masterpieces. With a camera in hand, see the city’s best bits with Where the Wall. On this two-hour walking tour, you’ll spot several of mysterious Bristolian Banksy’s most recognisable (and somewhat controversial) works that shine a light on social and political issues, as well as world-class graffiti from artists that showcase Bristol’s creative culture. If you fancy giving graffing a go, the company also host Street Art Spray sessions where you’ll turn your hand to stencil art, that you can hang proudly on your wall when you get home.  

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Bristol is home to Europe’s largest street art and graffiti festival. Upfest, which typically takes place every year in July, sees artists from around the world taking part in a huge live painting session on surfaces across the city. Live music adds to the vibe and there are workshops for aspiring artists of all ages. If you’re more of a gallery person, make for cutting-edge Arnolfini on the harbourside. This modern art gallery showcases boundary-pushing performance and visual-art installations that gets people talking.

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3

Activities in Bristol: Visit England’s first inland surfing venue

Easter Compton, Bristol

Two people surfing at dusk at The Wave

Although not technically a coast city, Bristol has plenty of water-based activities up its sleeve. Just 10 miles from Bristol’s city centre you’ll find The Wave – the first inland surfing destination of its kind, where water babies of all abilities can tussle with the waves. The 200-metre-long lake uses ground-breaking technology to create up to 1,000 waves an hour. Newbies can learn the basics in the shallows on a beginner’s lesson, while surf extraordinaires can tackle the advanced waves. There are special sessions for little ones too, where they can splash about in the bay to build up their water confidence. And if you want to stay longer, you can stay in one of the spacious safari-style tents at The Camp, just metres away from the lake. Surfs up, dude!

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For a more laidback adventure, slip on a wetsuit and go paddle boarding in the city centre with SUP Bristol. Get to grips with the basics of paddling kneeling down and standing up before venturing out onto Bristol’s waterways to see the sights from the water. If you’d rather take it easy, book some all-important ‘me time’ at Bristol Lido. This stylish outdoor pool, tucked away down a residential street in Clifton, dates back to the Victorian period. Enjoy a few laps in the elements, indulge in a spa treatment, feel the heat in the sauna and finish with a slap-up lunch overlooking the pool.

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4

Restaurants in Bristol: Chow down on guilt-free grub

Jamaica Street, Bristol

Bristol’s melting pot of cultures mean its food offering is as diverse and creative as its people. Award-winning restaurants are dotted all over the place too, one being Poco, an ethical and sustainable tapas bar serving up seasonal set menus that are a treat for the taste buds. From Forest of Dean wild boar to Cornish fish, lots of its ingredients come from the UK, with most of its veg sourced from community farms in Bristol. On top of that, Poco is hot on being zero waste, meaning almost 100% of its rubbish is composted and recycled and ingredients are ordered daily to curb an excess of produce. Sounds right up our street!

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How about some vegan junk food? Whether you fancy a spicy sausage Hell Dog, a Mac and Cheese Burrito, or even a Biscoff freakshake, VX Bristol has got you covered. For the meat eaters there’s The Ox, an intimate date night-quality restaurant tucked away in a basement on Corn Street. Alongside its wood-panelled walls and low lighting, this seductive steakhouse is famous for its ox-cured meat board and triple cooked chips. And when you’re just craving something sweet, Mrs Potts Chocolate House is the place to go. With its contemporary take on the once-popular chocolate houses, you’ll go weak at the knees for the melted chocolate pots accompanied by all sorts of yummy fruits and confections for dipping.

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5

Camping in Bristol: Stay in a rooftop caravan

Brooks Guesthouse, Bristol

Two retro caravans on top of hotel roof

When it’s time to bed down for the night, head to the top of boutique Brooks Guesthouse and keep going until you reach the rooftop Astroturf garden. Up here you’ll find a small collection of metallic rocket caravans huddled together overlooking the rooftops of Bristol’s Old City. These classic trailers are the city’s take on glamping, each with double beds, eco-heating and LED mood lighting to help you wind down. The views are something else, too. If being out in the elements isn’t your thing, Brooks Guesthouse also has a choice of cosy double and twin rooms to rest your head in.

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Wine lovers should check in to Hotel du Vin, a hotel housed in a converted 18th-century sugar warehouse, where every bedroom is named after a wine or vineyard. High ceilings and chic décor add to the hotel’s sophisticated feel, while the Egyptian linen, roll-top baths and quality toiletries add a touch of luxury. Looking for camping in Bristol? Well, look no further than Brook Lodge Camping & Caravan Park, just outside Bristol, snuggled beneath the Mendip Hills. Away from the bustle of the city and sheltered by an abundance of wildlife, the bell tents at this campsite are the perfect place to get some well-earned rest.

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6

Free things to do: Take in iconic views unique to Bristol

Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol

hot air balloons lifting off in the air above the Clifton Suspension Bridge and the Avon Gorge, Bristol, England.

City views don’t have to be all skyscrapers and spires. One of the best viewpoints in Bristol is actually of a bridge, in particular Brunel’s mighty Clifton Suspension Bridge. Spanning the cliffs of the Avon Gorge, this stunner is a Bristol icon, drawing in tons of visitors to stroll or drive across for views of the gorge, Clifton Downs and the magnificent city beyond. The Grade I-listed bridge opened back in 1864 and is said to be Brunel’s greatest work. If you want to appreciate his engineering at its finest, grab a spot on the surrounding grass or at The White Lion Bar to see the bridge (and the gorge) in all its glory. It’s also lovely at night when it’s all lit up!

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If you’re visiting Bristol for the first time, a great place to find your bearings is in Brandon Hill Park, at the top of Cabot Tower. Climb the spiral staircase (there are 109 steps, so prepare for sore thighs) to the top of this neo-gothic beaut for views across the city and Somerset countryside. Another great place to soak up the views is The Downs, known as the lungs of the city. This huge green space is popular with Sunday sports teams, afternoon picnickers and summer sunbathers. Or why not take in the city from a bird’s eye view on a hot air balloon ride? Sadly this one isn’t free but these floating baskets are synonymous with Bristol thanks to the International Balloon Fiesta, and there are a handful of companies that offer unforgettable flights.

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7

Pubs and bars in Bristol: Drink cocktails at a secret(ish) bar

The Milk Thistle, Bristol

Bartender shaking up cocktails

Pop on something fancy and make the most of Bristol’s vibrant nightlife. The first stop on your list has to be The Milk Thistle – if you can find it, that is. You don’t need a password to get into this clandestine cocktail bar, but you will need to ring a doorbell. Once you’re in, order one of the exceptional gin or whisky-based cocktails from the stained glass-flanked bar and sink into one of the armchairs to soak up the demure vibes. We can guarantee you’ll want to stay for another. And remember to book in advance to avoid disappointment.

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Beer drinkers, listen up! Strawberry Thief is a Belgian-style bar stocking upwards of 50 Belgian beers. Despite its drink choice, the bar has a bit of a crush on William Morris – his prints decorate the walls and the bar itself is named after one of his designs. If you’re after the Bristolian drink of choice, cider, head to The Apple. As its name suggests, this floating bar on the Welsh Back is famous for its menu consisting (almost exclusively) of cider. Or combine tasty tipples with retro consoles at Kongs of King Street. This one-stop shop filled with vintage arcade games, table football and ping pong tables is perfect for some friendly competition with mates.

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8

Family attractions in Bristol: Visit a museum-come-laboratory

We The Curious, Bristol

Two children exploring Project What If

Got children who love to ask abstract, out-there questions you don’t have the answers to? We The Curious has your back. This museum-come laboratory is all about asking questions and finding creative ways to test things out. Inside this harbourside venue, you and the kids can interact with all sorts of different exhibits and take part in experiments. Go summer stargazing in the Planetarium, chat recipes with a robot, walk through a tornado and draw your own animations in the Aardman Animations area. Who said learning had to be boring?

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Keep a lookout for the furry residents of Bristol Zoo Gardens, the fifth oldest zoo in the world. With meerkats, gorillas and penguins, as well as elusive red pandas and sea life, you’ll get to see animals from all corners of the Earth. Budding engineers will love Aerospace Bristol, full of supersonic family fun, interactive trails and larger-than-life airplanes (including the very last Concorde to soar the skies), while Clifton Observatory – comprising a museum, just one of three of the UK’s working Camera Obscuras and Giant’s Cave (home of Bristol’s infamous giants, Goram and Ghyston) – will be a firm favourite with aspiring adventurers.

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9

Shopping in Bristol: Check out Clifton Village

Clifton Village, Bristol

A 15-minute walk from the city centre brings you to a very sophisticated pocket of Bristol, Clifton Village. Sweeping Georgian facades, green spaces galore and cute cafes give this area a distinct village feel. Coveted for its wide selection of independent stores, Clifton Village is the most beautiful shopping quarter in Bristol. Invest in a new watch or pair of earrings from one of the goldsmiths along The Mall or stroll down Clifton Arcade for a peep into 17 unique shops, selling everything from vintage clothing to framed art to rare antiques.

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Over in Wapping Wharf you’ll find Cargo, a collection of high-end dining options and independent shops housed in converted shipping containers. Each one holds its own kind of treasures, so one minute you’ll be browsing kitchenware, the next unwinding with an affordable massage. Or browse a maze of quirky stalls at St Nicholas Indoor Market, located inside the 18th century Exchange Building in the city centre (it’s the only structure in the area that wasn’t destroyed in the Second World War). Open every Monday to Saturday, this market is Bristol’s largest, its wares ranging from hand-crafted accessories to Bristol-inspired gifts.

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04 Oct 2021(last updated)

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  • 1

    Great Western Dockyard, Bristol

  • 2

    Bristol

  • 3

    Easter Compton, Bristol

  • 4

    Jamaica Street, Bristol

  • 5

    Brooks Guesthouse, Bristol

  • 6

    Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol

  • 7

    The Milk Thistle, Bristol

  • 8

    We The Curious, Bristol

  • 9

    Clifton Village, Bristol

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