I recently moved back to Bristol, where I spent my university years, and the only place that I can really call home. I love this city; I love the beautiful river, I love the diverse suburbs, and I love the immense array of food that is always on offer.
Bristol’s a place with many layers, not all of them good – as has been shown recently, when Black Lives Matter protests reminded us all that ‘Bristol was built on slavery’. There is bad history lurking in Bristol; but the city now is multicultural, vibrant, and ready to stand up to any type of social justice – shown by the fact that Edward Colston’s statue was toppled there. And that’s why I love it.
Whether you’re in Bristol for a weekend, a year, or a lifetime, I hope you find this list of the best things to do in Bristol useful!
Snap a Photo of the Clifton Suspension Bridge
Few scenes are as iconic of Bristol than its Clifton Suspension Bridge. Opened in 1864, the bridge has a foremostly practical region; to connect the City of Bristol to the North Somerset region on the opposite side of the Avon, however, it has attracted many tourists around the world due to its architectural uniqueness and its story; it was designed my Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who also designed the SS Great Britain (also in Bristol) and won a competition to design the Suspension Bridge. Take a stroll over the bridge and enjoy the museum at the end, which will teach you all about the construction of Bristol’s favourite landmark.
You can enjoy the Clifton Suspension Bridge from a distance as well; check out the White Lion Bar for a Bristolian cider while looking out over the bridge, or climb up to the Observatory for a vista.
See Stokes Croft’s Street Art
Stokes Croft is home to many things; cool bars, a non-conformist attitude, and lots and lots of street art. Street art adorns the walls of many a building in Bristol – the city is where Banksy was from, after all – but Stokes Croft possibly has the highest concentration.
Learn About the City’s Story at M Shed
A fantastic museum that is completely free to enter, M Shed tells the tale of Bristol. Through exhibitions detailing each Bristol neighbourhood and its history, Bristolian culture and the people who have shaped the city – as well as props like an entire double decker bus – this free museum is an absolute must to get to grips with the South West’s biggest metropolis.
You could easily spend 2 hours in the museum. It is open from 10am to 5pm Tuesday to Sunday.
Explore the Bear Pit
It might be odd to have a roundabout listed on here, but it’s covered in graffiti. That probably still doesn’t make sense to those of you who have never been to Bristol. The city is the home of Banksy (the world’s most talented graffiti artist) and wall art isn’t just not frowned upon, but actually encouraged. A tour of the city’s graffiti is definitely one of the quirkier things to see in Bristol!
The city has produced beautiful works of art over the years, and while the open air art gallery is in fact all over the city, The Bear Pit provides some of the best examples. Along with revolutionary slogans and steel drum bands, the bear pit also has various food stalls and occasionally market stalls, seemingly set up on a whim to sell whatever they have that day.
Walk Around Ashton Court
Just two miles from the city centre, technically in North Somerset yet merely a stones’ throw from Clifton, is the grand Ashton Court house and estate.
The extensive history of Ashton Court spans back to before the 11th century, when a fortified manor house stood on the plot of land; believed to have been given to Geoffrey de Montbray by William the Conqueror. It passed through various noble owners throughout the centuries.
The house was extensively remodeled by both Sir John Smyth in the 1700s and Sir Greville Smyth in the latter half of the 19th century; it is still noticeable today which alterations took place and when.
You can’t go in the house, but there are beautiful gardens and a cafe there. And, there’s the rest of the estate – which is home to deer parks, mountain bike trails, woodland and sports grounds. It’s definitely one of the best places for walks in Bristol.
Learn About Nautical History at the SS Great Britain
Often a waterfront is the most beautiful part of a city, and Bristol’s is certainly up there. The SS Great Britain is right at the top of any tourist’s ‘things to see in Bristol’ lists. The world’s first luxury cruise liner, she now stands majestically in a dry port on the River Avon. She was the first iron steamer to cross the Atlantic in 1845, which she did in 14 days, and was the largest sea vessel in the country at the time. Along with the suspension bridge, she was designed by Brunel.
Enjoy the Harbourside
The dock is where ships would set sail and was once a bustling trading area for those sailing. Nowadays, the waterfront area is equally busy with artisan markets, atmospheric bars, and tasty restaurants. There’s always loads of boats to admire, and the area is the perfect place to enjoy the sunset. As well as the Clifton Suspension Bridge, it is one of the most distinguishable areas in Bristol; so make sure that you spend some time checking it out while in town!
Shop on Gloucester Road
Gloucester Road, the home of non-conformity, has Europe’s longest length of independent retailers (fact check). This makes it the most interesting place in Bristol, and possibly in the UK, to go shopping.
From antiques to vegetables, you can get anything you want on this street – apart from TESCO own products. The shopkeepers are cheery, the Bristol Pound (yes, Bristol has its own currency) is accepted, and there is a really lovely old-timely atmosphere.
Drink at a Historic Pub in the Old City
Close to Bristol’s harbourside is the Old City, which still maintains its medieval layout. Many of the pubs are nearly as historic, and have some fascinating stories behind them. Particular ones to check out include:
- The Llandoger Trow, in a building dating in 1664, which was said to inspire Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe.
- The Old Duke, which was named after the American jazz musician Duke Ellington, and has ties with New Orleans jazz.
Enjoy Bristol’s Food Scene
Bristol is undoubtedly a foodie city. There eateries from every corner of the world, as well as everything from traditional British restaurants to quirky modern eateries. Definitely spend some time eating at some of the best restaurants in Bristol while you’re here.
Some of my favourites include:
- Atomic Burger – absolutely amazing burgers with delicious toppings
- Turtle Bay – this is a chain, but I LOVE the cocktails and Caribbean style food here
- Taka Taka – this is a takeaway but does delicious pittas
- Pieminster – Bristolian chain serving up amazing pies
Admire the Historic University Buildings
Even though I went to UWE, I do have to admit that UoB has better buildings. It was a Merchant Venture’s School back in 1595, and is spread out all over the city. The most famous building is the Wills Memorial Building, which is known as one of the nation’s last great Gothic buildings. It sticks out from the top of Park Street, and can be admired from the bottom of the hill and the top equally.
Catch the View from Cabot Tower and Climb Up Brandon Hill
One of Bristol’s famous viewpoints, Brandon Hill is the oldest part of Bristol and looks out onto the Harbourside. Cabot Tower is located in the park, and was built in 1897 to commemorate Cabot’s journey to North America. Cabot Tower stands out on the skyline of Bristol; and it’s possible to climb up the inside to marvel at the view below.
See the Colston Statue Plinth – where history was made
The statue of Edward Colston, who was a slave trader, was torn down on the 7th June 2020; protestors pushed him into the Avon. The plinth remains; and acts as a symbol of the Black Lives Matter movement.
There is now a figure of a Black person and the words ‘Black Lives Matter’ at the bottom, and the plinth has been edited to say ‘rejected by citizens of Bristol’ rather than ‘erected by citizens of Bristol’ as it once did.
Visiting Colston’s statue plinth is really important for anyone wanting to learn about Bristol’s Black history – and its oppressors. It’s a really moving monument.
Experience Bristolian Nightlife
There’s something for everyone in Bristol when it comes to nightlife. There are plenty of chilled out pubs dotted around Clifton, Gloucester Road, the Harbourside and every residential area.
There are also your standard bars and clubs; dress-up places in the centre and more grungy type dance joints in the Stokes Croft area. Fancy an all night rave? Bristol’s got you covered (post COVID-19 of course, let’s stay safe).
There are also plenty of places to enjoy an al fresco drink in the summer, whether that be looking out over the Avon or in a beer garden. I said it when I was a 19 year old uni student and I’ll say it now when I’m a 27 year old young professional – there’ something for everyone in Bristol.
Museum Hop Around the City
If bar hopping isn’t your thing, what about museum hopping? Start off at M Shed, which has exhibitions about the entire history of Bristol. Then visit the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, home to natural and sociological history exhibits (many which are temporary). We The Curious has science and arts exhibits, and the Georgian House Museum, the Blaise Museum and the Red Lodge Museum all depict Bristol through the ages.
Catch a Show – or a tour – in the Bristol Old Vic
Fancy seeing a show at the oldest continuously working theatre in the English speaking world? The Bristol Old Vic is just that, being housed in the Theatre Royal which was built between 1764 and 1766. There are still plenty of shows to see at the Bristol Old Vic, and it’s possible to take tours around the theatre itself on specific days.
Go For a Dip at the Clifton Lido
The Clifton Lido is an outdoor swimming pool in the heart of Clifton, with an attached spa and restaurant. It’s a great place to cool off in the summer heat, and spa packages are available for special occasions.
Cycle to Bath
The Bath-Bristol cycle path traverses the Avon and connects the two cities. It’s about 13 miles between each place, so it’s a pretty easy cycle; you could even cycle further to Bradford on Avon if you desired!
Once in Bath, check out the cathedral, the Roman Baths, the Georgian architecture and the many museums of the city.
Of course, if you don’t fancy cycling, you can easy get to Bath in other ways. It’s a 40 minute drive or a 10 minute train ride from Bristol Temple Meads.
Picnic on the Bristol Downs
The Bristol Downs stretch out from the top of Clifton to Whiteladies Road, and this huge grassy area is perfect for picnicking and chilling out. On a sunny day, there’s no place better to dine alfresco and have a stroll.
Try a Bristolian Cider
If yer in Bristol, yer’ll drink cider. The West Country is famous for the stuff, and it’s delicious here. None of that Strongbow nonsense, this is proper, pressed cider. Most pubs here have a local on tap, but some places that I specifically recommend are The Apple, which is a cider boat with a range of options, The Stable which has 60+ cider options and great pizza, and the Cori Tap, which has a disgustingly strong cider that will have you drunk after a glass. That’s Bristol for you…
I hope this list of the best Bristol attractions helps you when planning your trip to this amazing city! As you might have guessed, I absolutely love this city, and I really want to encourage more people to visit. Be sure to check back for more visiting Bristol tips and updates!