Bristol’s a tale of two cities. It’s grand and understated; vibrant and unassuming. Echoes of Britain’s imperial past exist in tandem with a fierce left-wing political scene. Traditional conservative overtones rub shoulders with a counterculture that celebrates various liberal “isms”, such as activism…and veganism. Enormous, elegant Georgian terraces house grunge-loving and dreadlocked alternatives…
I could go on! Ultimately, though, Bristol’s a lively, cosmopolitan, eclectic, and colorful English city that’s charming and intoxicating in equal measure. So, above and beyond anything else, it makes for an amazing place to visit.
Are you planning a local trip to this wonderful part of the UK? Do you want some help picking and choosing between the endless sights and attractions here? Well, having been lucky enough to live there not so long ago, I thought I’d dive into the memory books and highlight a selection of the best things to do in Bristol. Enjoy!
The Best Things To Do In Bristol
Walk Across the Clifton Suspension Bridge
One of Bristol’s most infamous attractions is the mightily impressive Clifton Suspension Bridge. Something of a “must do Bristol activity”, this iconic wrought-iron structure dates all the way back to 1864 and provides amazing panoramic views over the Avon Gorge and surrounding area.
At 330ft above the Avon River below, walking from one side to the other definitely requires a head for heights! Likewise, although you can walk across the bridge for free, vehicles have to pay a £1 ($1.40 USD) toll for the privilege.
While you’re in this part of Bristol, make sure you pay a visit to the 18th Century Clifton Observatory as well. Located right next to the bridge, this historic building has a Camera Obscura, museum, cave system, and a cool circular café all in the same compact space! Oh, and to top it all off, you’ll find the best photo opportunities of the Suspension Bridge in town here too.
Stretch Your Legs Beyond the Bridge
Most tourists who visit the Clifton Suspension Bridge fail to take advantage of the amazing walking trails on the other side of it. They walk to the middle, marvel at the view, take the obligatory Instagram snaps and then promptly walk back the way they came! Feel free to do the same if you’re short on time.
However, if you want to escape the hustle and bustle and go somewhere green, then there are few better places to do so than here. With your back to the bridge, you have the lovely Leigh Woods on your right and Ashton Court Estate on your left!
Peaceful and verdant, you can spend hours just strolling along the tracks, thinking about nothing, enjoying the beautiful views and forgetting, if only for a moment, that you’re actually in one of the biggest cities in the UK. Oh, and if you’re in this neck of the woods and fancy a spot of golf, then you should check out the Ashton Court Golf Course!
Check Out St Nicholas Market
One of the coolest (and busiest) places in Bristol is called St Nicholas Market (or “St Nicks”, for short). A firm favorite with tourists and locals alike, people flock here to get lost amongst the innumerable thrift store stalls and independent retailers, to indulge in the delicious local and international food here, and immerse themselves in the general atmosphere.
Located right next door to the Old Corn Exchange, these markets have been running since way back in 1743 and have won numerous accolades in that time. Swing by from Monday to Saturday (between 9:30 am and 5:00 pm) for the Indoor Market and on Tuesday or Friday (between 11:00 am and 2:30 pm) for the ever-popular Street Food Market. Oh, and there’s a Farmers’ Market that runs every two weeks as well.
Grab a Drink on the Cobbled King Street
If you’re looking for the coolest place in Bristol to grab a drink or a bite to eat, then I highly recommend the 17th-century King Street. Cobbled, atmospheric, and lined with pubs, microbreweries, and eateries, it won’t let you down! The good vibes extend out into the street itself thanks to the benches that get laid out here too.
And with its central location next to the river and amazing historic buildings on all sides, King Street really is another awesome place to go in Bristol.
Fancy a craft beer at the end of a long day exploring? The King Street Brew House would be a great bet. Want to dance and drink the night away with the students? Try Kongs Bar. And for awesome live music that plays late into the evening? The Old Duke is definitely the place to go.
Visit the SS Great Britain
Marketed as Bristol’s number one attraction (a contentious claim if you ask me, even though it’s definitely worth seeing), the illustrious SS Great Britain was once the longest passenger ship in the world! It sailed all over the world between 1845 and 1886 and now rests in the dry dock at Bristol’s beautiful harbor.
You can’t miss it. 322ft long and with a 50ft beam, the SS Great Britain cuts a grand and impressive sight. The best part? It’s been turned into a museum, which means you can get on board and explore this fascinating slice of British maritime history for yourself. There’s also a dockyard museum that’ll tell you all about its background.
Traveling with a young family? Kids under 4 go free! Otherwise, you can get a family ticket (for 2 adults and 2-3 children) for £48 ($66.40 USD). Standard adult tickets cost £18 ($25 USD), unless you’re a student (don’t forget your student ID!), who only pay £15 ($20.75 USD).
Spend Time at the Harbor
It feels wrong to mention the SS Great Britain without talking more about Bristol Harbour itself! A focal point of the city, it’s a hotbed of activity at all times. There are endless bars and restaurants complete with outdoor seating options (make sure you check out The Stable for insanely good pizza, pies, and cider!), pretty little house boats to imagine yourself living on, and a few significant tourist attractions, such as the M Shed Museum and the Watershed Media Centre.
If you ask me, though, it’s the general atmosphere here that holds the greatest allure- especially on a warm and sunny day. Bristol Harbour’s lively yet relaxed, picturesque and packed full of people having a good time. It’s the perfect place to pack a picnic and some drinks, sit next to the water’s edge, and hang out with new friends after a busy day.
Take a Day Trip to Bath
Lots of people who come to Bristol (for more than 1-2 days) decide to take the short journey over to its neighbouring city, Bath. An attractive, historic, and popular place, Bath’s roots stretch way back to Ancient Rome!
Indeed, its main attraction is “The Roman Baths”, a 2000-year old site (now a museum) that was used by the Romans for, you guessed it, bathing. You can also unwind in the thermal pools at the Thermae Bath Spa, indulge in some retail therapy on the busy Bath high-street, or delight in the myriad dining opportunities. Oh, and if you love Jane Austen novels, you’ll be interested to know that she once lived here! Head on over to the Jane Austen Center to learn more about her.
Like the sound of getting some exercise at the same time? Check out the 13-mile long Bristol and Bath Railway Path that connects these two popular British cities. Whether you walk it, run it, or hire a bicycle to cycle along it, this cool track provides easy access to Bath and allows you to get some fresh air at the same time!
Alternatively, trains go here regularly too (and only take 12 minutes), or you can hop in a car and take the 35-minute journey by road.
For guided day trips to Bath departing from Bristol, click here.
Immerse Yourself in Art
You don’t have to spend long in Bristol to realize it’s an arty city. The first giveaway? Its buildings and walls are covered in incredible street art (including some from the infamous and elusive artist who was born here, Banksy)! On that note, there’s even a self-guided Banksy walking tour that takes you through the city and past a selection of their works.
If you’re a fan of urban art and want to explore some of what Bristol has to offer, then you’ll love Nelson Street, Stokes Croft, and Bedminster. FYI, each of these parts of the city are worth a visit in their own right!
Looking for a more formal insight into Bristol’s art scene? Venture over to the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery. Alongside exhibits of bona fide Egyptian mummies, you’ll see an array of art from many well-known names.
Climb Up Cabot Tower
Want to see some amazing views over the city? Go to Brandon Hill Park. A lovely place to hang out anyway, this oasis in the centre of the city is also where you’ll find the iconic Cabot Tower. 105ft tall and left open to the public, you can climb up the steep spiral staircase inside until you reach a viewing platform that delivers unimpeded views all the way to the horizon.
Built in 1897, Cabot Tower’s no spring chicken. However, it sits on the site of a 16th Century windmill. And before that, there was a Middle Aged chapel. Clearly, people have been appreciating the views from this hilltop forever and a day.
A quick word of warning, though. This tall sandstone tower has over 100 steps and very limited space inside. So, make sure your legs are up for the challenge and prepare for a tricky time of things if someone starts coming the other way!
Walk and Gawk
Honestly, one of my favorite things to do in Bristol is simply to walk around the city, exploring this age-old place on foot. There’s something genuinely fascinating to see up every hill (of which there are many!) and around every corner, from fabulous architecture and impressive street art to evidence of its proud maritime past.
If you have the luxury of time, then I strongly suggest you do something similar. Set off in the morning with no set plan. Venture into the center and stroll whimsically from one place to the next, embracing whatever crosses your path along the way.
Want to take your tour of Bristol to the next level and witness a whole new side of it altogether? Try one of the “Haunted and Hidden” ghost walk tours that run on Friday evenings throughout the year! Fun and informal affairs, you’re led around some of Bristol’s supposedly haunted hotspots, learning all about the history as you go.
Tickets cost £7 ($9.70) for adults, £5 ($7) for concessions, and £4 ($5.50) for children. You can book your tour here.
Bonus: Ascend the Christmas Steps!
Last but not least, I thoroughly recommend you seize the opportunity to walk up one of the oldest and most famous streets in Bristol. Called “the Christmas Steps”, this cute, cobbled, and atmospheric stretch of the city dates back hundreds of years (at least to the 16th Century).
Don’t expect anything grand or fancy though! It’s simply a set of steep, slanted steps, with old independent stores on either side, which transport you from one level of the city to another (and back in time in the process). The magic’s in knowing just how many people have walked the same way over the preceding centuries!
Enjoy These Things to Do in Bristol
There you have it then: 11 of the best things to do in Bristol! As you can tell, this all-popular place in the UK is packed to the rafters with compelling sights and attractions. With any luck, the insights in this post have shed some useful light on the best of the bunch! Pick and choose from the Bristol itinerary ideas on this list and you’re sure to stay entertained for days.
Now we’d love to hear from you. Do you have any questions or thoughts on planning your upcoming trip to Bristol? Leave a comment below and we’ll do our best to help.
This post was contributed by Danny Newman, of What’s Danny Doing. He is currently writing and traveling his way around the world in a bid to figure out exactly what he’s doing with his life. He’d love you to follow along with his journey over at What’s Danny Doing and on his Facebook page.
Traveling to the United Kingdom? Make sure to read my other posts!
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