Often overlooked by tourists and travellers in favour of more well-known cities such as London, Oxford and its nearby neighbour Bath, Bristol is well-known in the UK for being one of the country’s most vibrant cities. With a thriving arts scene, rich history, a vast array of attractions, great shopping opportunities and a hip culinary scene and nightlife, Bristol has plenty to offer visitors.
Best Time to Visit
Bristol is a great place to be whatever time of year – the city has plenty of indoor attractions if the weather turns against you – but if you want to be there when the sun is shining, late spring to summer are the best months. Summer is also the time when a lot of major festivals happen, making Bristol an exciting place to be at this time. September and October are also good times to visit; the weather is usually still pretty good and you will also miss the summer crowds.
How to Get Around
Most of central Bristol is easily navigable on foot, especially the Old City and Harbourside areas. Getting from Bristol Temple Meads station to the centre on foot takes around 15 minutes. Cycling is also a good way of getting around as the city has many bike paths and routes.
If you are staying outside of the city centre, Bristol has an extensive bus system operated by First Bus. Those staying in Clifton will find buses 8 and 9 the most useful. A variety of tickets are available and you can purchase these either online or onboard the bus from the driver. There are also open-top tourist buses which run from February to December; the route takes in the most popular and important sights and attractions.
Depending on where you are staying in Bristol, it is also possible to get around by train, with various neighbourhoods having their own stations. If you want to see Bristol from the water, Bristol Ferry Boats and Number Seven Boats operate regular ferry services between the waterfront attractions.
Bringing your car may seem like a convenient way of getting around Bristol and it certainly is if you are planning on visiting places in the wider Bristol area. However, driving in the centre of Bristol comes with the same problems as driving in any major city in the UK; you may encounter busy traffic at many times during the day and although there is on-street parking as well as multi-storey car parks, the city gets very busy and you may find it difficult to secure a space. An alternative to driving into the city is using the one of the three park and ride schemes.
Taxis are an extremely expensive way of getting around so they are only really recommended in extreme circumstances.
How Many Days in Bristol?
It is recommended that you spend at least two days in Bristol, depending on what you want to see and do. Two full days is just enough to see all the major attractions and fit in some shopping. If you want more time to do your shopping and sightseeing at an easier pace, consider staying in Bristol for three or four days.
Attractions and Things to Do
Bristol has a whole host of interesting attractions to visit. Here are some of the highlights that you should definitely check out while in the city.
Clifton Suspension Bridge: one of Bristol’s most iconic landmarks, this 19th-century bridge, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, is an astounding feat of engineering. Spanning the Avon Gorge and River Avon at a height of 75 metres, it is free to walk across. However, the best views of the bridge are from the hill on Clifton Downs where the Clifton Observatory is located. The observatory is also worth checking out while you are here; an old windmill, it houses the Camera Obscura and the entrance to the Giant’s Cave.
We The Curious Science Centre: a fantastic interactive museum with lots of displays and exhibits connected with science. A whole section is devoted to animation in honour of Bristol’s biggest animated characters, Wallace and Gromit, and Morph. There is also a planetarium and live shows to enjoy.
SS Great Britain: designed by Brunel, this passenger ship was the first built with an iron hull and screw propeller, and at the time of construction in the 1840s was the longest passenger ship in the world. Originally built as a transatlantic ship, it was used in a number of guises before being abandoned off the coast of the Falklands. Since being brought back to Bristol it has been restored and is now a museum detailing its fascinating history.
Bristol Museum and Art Gallery: the city’s main museum, here there are many exhibitions covering a wide range of subjects, from palaeontology and Ancient Egypt to European Old Masters andBansky artwork. Best of all, it is free to enter.
M Shed: focusing on Bristol as a city, M Shed houses exhibitions on different aspects of Bristol life, such as places, people, and work. Outside the building are working exhibits which come to life at weekends, including cranes and boats.
Bristol Zoo Gardens: the fifth oldest zoo in the world, Bristol Zoo Gardens is home to over 400 species of animal, including Asiatic lions, meerkats, African penguins and ring-tailed lemurs. There are also some cool activities, including the ZooRopia, an adventure rope course which gives you the unique opportunity to walk amongst some of the zoo’s residents like the gibbon and gorilla, Monkey Jungle, and an adventure playground. The zoo hosts a number of events every day, such as feeding times.
Bristol Aquarium: located close to We The Curious, Bristol Aquarium has over 40 themed areas housing many different marine creatures, from colourful fish and seahorses to sharks and rays. Their main displays include the underwater tunnel, the sunken ship, and the mighty Amazon.
Aside from attractions, Bristol is made up of many districts, each with their own distinct character and atmosphere. The Old City is where Bristol originated and grew from, and as you explore this district you will discover the original traces of the old medieval city, including the walls and gates. Just outside the border of the Old City is College Green, where the University of Bristol and Bristol Cathedral are located. The Harbourside is set on a floating harbour and is Bristol’s crowning jewel; most of the city’s attractions can be found here. Clifton is one of the city’s upmarket areas that has many interesting sights as well as being a very lively place due to it being where most of Bristol’s student population live. Eastside offers a completely different side to the city, being made up of a number of multicultural neighbourhoods, such as Stokes Croft, St Pauls and Easton.
If you are interested in the history and culture of the city, there are a number of walking tours you can do. As the home of infamous street artist Bansky, Bristol Street Art Walking Tours and BanksyBristol Trail explore some of his iconic works which are dotted around the city as well as other street art which changes frequently. If you would prefer to do a self-guided tour, you can download the Banksy Walking Tour. Other tours include the Mythical Bristol Giants Walking Tour, the Bristol Pirate Walk and the Bristol Highlights Walk.
Bristol is a great place to do some shopping. If it is the big high-street brands you are looking for, head to Broadmead and Cabot Circus. Cabot Circus is the newer of the two and is a covered shopping centre housing over 120 shops. Broadmead is part of Bristol’s shopping quarter and has hundreds of shops, from independent boutiques to department stores. If you prefer to get your retail fix in smaller shopping districts, Bristol does not disappoint. Clifton Village is full of high-end boutiques as well as a number of lovely cafes and restaurants. Stokes Croft and Gloucester Road is one long continuous road filled with independent shops and is a great place to go if you are into retro and vintage items. The city also has lots of markets, such as St Nicholas Market, the Nails Market, and the street food market.
Eating Out in Bristol
Bristol offers a wide variety of restaurants, pubs and cafes where you can grab a bite to eat, whether you are looking for something cheap and cheerful or fine dining. You will find all the standard chains as well as a huge number of independent eateries serving all kinds of international fare. You will find a lot of places around the main shopping district and the harbourside, but do not be afraid to try out some of the restaurants in some of the outer districts, as the quality can be much higher than that of those in the centre.
Accommodation in Bristol
Bristol has an abundance of accommodation options to suit all tastes and budgets. For those who are happy staying in backpacker hostel dorms, you can get nightly rates from around £20. Other accommodation options include hotels, guest houses, B&Bs and self-contained apartments. AirBnB is highly recommended if you are looking for a private room or apartment, whereas Booking.com usually has the best deals on hostels, hotels and guest houses.
Holidaying with Children
Bristol is a fantastic place to take children on a short break. Kids will love the majority of the attractions here, such as the Bristol Zoo Gardens, We The Curious, the SS Great Britain, Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, and Bristol Aquarium. Many of the city’s restaurants, pubs and cafes are also kid-friendly, meaning you will have no problem finding somewhere to eat.
Bristol is essentially a very safe city to visit – crime here is lower than the national UK average – but like with every major city it is advisable to exercise caution when out and about, especially at night. Here are some tips to make sure you keep safe in Bristol.
After dark, stick to well-lit areas.
Be careful around the river area. Bristol is a riverside city, and there are areas which do not have fencing or railings, so be careful not to fall in.
Only use official taxis and car-share apps like Uber.
Don’t carry unnecessary valuables with you, and don’t flash your wallet and electronics when you are out and about; this could attract would-be thieves.
Tips for Travelling in Bristol
To make the most of your Bristol trip, follow these dos and don’ts.
Book accommodation and, where possible, transport tickets in advance in order to get the best prices.
Visit the Clifton Suspension Bridge.
Take a stroll along the river.
Learn about Bristol’s industrial past through its attractions.
Indulge in some retail therapy.
Forget to sample some of the great restaurants and pubs.
Miss Bristol’s excellent street art.
Arrive too late – aim to arrive early in the day to maximise your time in Bristol.
Avoid the organised walking tours – they will take you to some of the best hidden spots.
Be afraid to leave the car at home and use the city’s comprehensive public transport.