Indulge in art, history, and culture
If you’re looking for an upbeat and friendly weekend away, then visiting Bristol for your next UK mini-break should undoubtedly be high on your wish list.
The fascinating city of Bristol, located in the southwest of England, has such an energetic vibrancy about it. Yet, you feel it hasn’t lost its deep-rooted connection with its thought-provoking past.
There are plenty of things to do in Bristol to keep you entertained for a few days, and if you’re anything like us, you’ll wish you had stayed longer at the end of your visit to Bristol.
Bristol is compact enough for you to leisurely explore the central sights on foot. Still, equally, there are ample of intriguing discoveries to be made just by ambling amongst its colourful lanes.
Visit Bristol’s bustling harbourside and wend your way around its stunning graffitied streets, then head to Bristol’s captivating museums to truly understand its poignant history.
Here are our top ten things to discover in Bristol, and below I share our memories of the city with you.
Where is Bristol?
How to get to Bristol
- By Train
The nearest mainline railway station is Bristol Temple Meads. Hop-off here and explore the city at your leisure.
- By Car
Bristol is served by the M4/M5 & M32 motorways. The most exciting way to arrive is via the A369 from the west and cross the Clifton Suspension Bridge (A small toll is levied) into the Clifton district of the city.
Visiting SS Great Britain
Ahhh, the magnificent steamship, SS Great Britain. In my opinion, a visit to Bristol isn’t complete without a tour of the museum ship, SS Great Britain.
This incredible luxury ocean-going cruise liner was the creation of the innovative engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
SS Great Britain was launched in 1843 from the same dry dock which she returned to in 1970 after she was abandoned at Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands.
This beautiful ship has had an unusual past from its initial role as a luxury liner cruising the Atlantic Ocean to New York, from carrying emigrants to Australia, a spell in transporting troops to fight in the Crimean War and then she went on to become a cargo ship.
Oh, how the mighty had fallen.
Her final voyage was in 1886, and while transporting coal to the Americas, a fire took hold, and she was left abandoned in the Falklands for decades.
Thankfully SS Great Britain wasn’t forgotten, and a salvage operation was undertaken to bring her home.
Today the beautiful ship has been completely restored, and you can circumnavigate her from the hull at the base of the dry dock to the polished wooden upper deck.
What I especially loved about the self-guided tour of SS Great Britain was the thoughtful immersive details introduced. As you stroll around the ship, voices and sounds are played out depending on which rooms you are in. There are voices of families chattering in the living quarters, and you can hear a band playing in the elegant dining saloon.
The other point of detail was the smells throughout the ship, from the herbs and spices in the pantry to the aroma of freshly baked bread from the ovens.
SS Great Britain was undoubtedly a highlight of our visit to Bristol.
Exploring Bristol’s historic streets
There’s no better way to discover a town or city than just slipping on a pair of comfy shoes and exploring the local streets; Bristol is no exception.
I just love wandering off with no specific agenda to see where it leads us. Our philosophy is always to take a different route when leaving or returning to your accommodation; you’ll be amazed at what you discover.
And, of course, keep looking up; usually, I would mention this for the stunning architecture that can be found or quirky features. However, in Bristol, it’s also advisable to look skywards for the striking street art and graffiti you’ll spot emblazoned upon the unlikeliest of places.
While wending your way around Bristol’s streets, you’ll stumble upon some grand, elegant homes, particularly around Queen Square, where the Bristol Riots took place in 1831. You’ll discover intriguing inns and taverns along the cobblestoned lanes of Welsh Back and Kings Street, which date from the 1600s; I can imagine they have one or two sailors’ yarns to tell.
If you head along Corn Street to the Corn Exchange, you’ll see some stunning Georgian architecture, and just down All Saints Lane, you’ll see Bristol’s covered market within a Georgian Arcade.
Another of Bristol’s familiar streets is Redcliffe Parade sitting high above the canal overlooking the city. The striking vibrant façades undoubtedly add another splash of colour to the city.
Whete to stay in Bristol
Clifton Suspension Bridge
Another standout memory from our city break in Bristol was visiting Clifton Suspension Bridge, which straddles high above the River Avon.
Another of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s staggering feats of engineering. Clifton Suspension Bridge was built in 1864, two decades after SS Great Britain. Unfortunately, Brunel died in 1859 before the bridge’s construction was completed.
The magnificent bridge defies belief; it wouldn’t be easy erecting a bridge across a gorge of that size today, let alone in the mid-1800s. The bridge is 1,352 ft (412m) in length and is suspended 245ft (75m) above the high-water level below.
We drove across Bristol Suspension Bridge and paid the £1 toll, which was undoubtedly worth it. However, I urge you to walk across it; it’s astonishing; you’ll come face to face with the 162 vertical wrought-iron rods which suspend the bridge.
Bristol Street Art tour
If you know anything about Bristol, I can almost guarantee you’ll understand that Bristol is bursting with vibrant and eclectic urban street art.
I especially love street art, so as we strolled around the lanes of Bristol, it was such a pleasure admiring the urban art, from the tiniest pieces hidden in a doorway to the ostentatious artwork emblazoned across an old tower block. There is something for everyone.
The ‘Where the Wall’ tour will activate two devices and enable you to explore Bristol’s street art for 24 hours. The tour is fully narrated and gives a fascinating insight into 30 years of graffiti art history.
You’ll be guided through Bristol’s colourful streets to seek out those hidden Banksy’s and will also give you an insight into other pieces of work dotted around the city by Banksy’s equals.
Bristol Harbourside Walk
If there’s water to be found, then I’m there and strolling amongst winding waterways and around harbours is my idea of heaven.
Luckily Bristol’s heritage has relied on its waterways for centuries, and now there are bustling harboursides and charming boatyards and marinas to be explored.
One walk we ventured off on was the Harbourside Trail; it led us all along the peaceful riverside walk by SS Great Britain and then onto Underfall Yard. Underfall Yard is a working boatyard, and during its opening hours, you can wander through and watch the local boatbuilders tending to their craft; it’s fascinating.
Returning to Bristol city centre, you can enjoy sitting along the bustling quayside and just soak up the friendly atmosphere.
Visiting Clifton Town
There are some stylish houses amongst the intriguing lanes of Clifton, particularly the tall, elegant Georgian homes adorned with ornate wrought-iron balconies. However, what needs to be remembered is that although we stand and admire Georgian architecture, many of these buildings were built on the proceeds of slave trading and cannot go unmentioned.
There are some delightful boutiques and eateries along Princess Victoria Street; however, wander along Boyce’s Avenue, and you’ll spot Clifton Arcade, a charming Victorian shopping arcade established in 1878.
Bristol Museum & Art Gallery
Bristol Museum & Art Gallery is located east of Bristol city centre along Queens Road just by the eye-catching Wills Memorial Building Tower.
Gary and I love visiting museums and art galleries, especially ones that are more intimate in size.
Immediately when you step through the museum entrance your eyes are guided skyward to the Bristol Boxkite biplane soaring above. Bristol Museum is housed within a beautiful building with galleried upper floors, so you can admire the biplane from eye level.
The permanent art gallery within the museum has art from around the world and displays pottery and ceramics; keep an eye out for the local Bristol Blue Glass.
Bristol Museum & Art Gallery also holds some incredible temporary art exhibitions throughout the year, so ensure you pre-book your free ticket.
You may also notice one of Banksy’s pieces of work in the main hall, the ‘Paint Pot Angel’, which was commissioned by Banksy for the Banksy vs Bristol Museum in 2009.
If you're intrigued to visit the historic cities of Bath and Bristol, then why not check out Lonely Planet's pocket travel guide. Full of helpful advice, interesting facts and time-saving tips.
You can pick it up for your Kindle or in good old paperback.
Banksy and his contemporaries
Bristol’s street art is not all about Banksy, although his distinctive and individual work certainly lures us in.
It brings pleasure to me to admire street art regardless of the artist. There are some magnificent pieces in Bristol from artists worldwide, some known and some unknown.
Annually Bristol holds the UPFEST Festival and welcomes over 400 artists from near and far; it is Europe’s largest graffiti festival.
It’s just amazing ambling your way around Bristol’s winding streets and lanes; you just don’t know what you will find around the next corner on what image will be clambering over the grey wall.
I especially liked Connor Harrington’s piece of artwork in Broad Street, “The Duel of Bristol’. Also ‘Let it Bloom’ by Jody, which is along Charlotte Street, Jody was a significant presence in the graffiti art scene in Bristol during the late 1980s and was creating stencils 10 years prior to Banksy’s arrival.
Which particular pieces of street art do you admire in Bristol?
Bristol’s history and the M Shed Museum
If you want to gain a captivating insight into Bristol’s local history, past and present, then you must visit M Shed Museum, it is fascinating and free.
I honestly felt the M Shed Museum was a wonderful tribute to Bristol's unique city and its people and heritage.
There are dramatic stories and photos throughout the museum of Bristolian’s lives, the impact they have had on their surroundings and beyond and of course the dark days of the slave trading.
It’s within the M Shed Museum that the toppled statue of Edward Colston lies, after being salvaged from the depths of Bristol Harbour after the momentous Black Lives Matter protests.
You won’t miss the M Shed; it resides behind the four iconic harbour cranes.
Visiting a Bristol inn or two
There are some lovely old inns and pubs in Bristol, all with their own unique feel. We visited a few over the three days that we were in the city, it would have been rude not to, and you’ve got to give those weary legs a rest.
One inn we particularly enjoyed was The Ostrich located on the bankside of Redcliffe off Lower Guinea Street. The Ostrich was built around 1745 and was regularly used by sailors and dockers who worked in the Port of Bristol.
The Ostrich served beers from the local Bristol brewer Butcombe Brewing Co.
A little wander up Guinea Street, and you’ll reach the early 18th-century Golden Guinea pub; it has now been fully refurbished. However, it is the last surviving pub around the dockside with connections to Royal Africa Company.
If you fancy visiting a historic pub with ghostly connections, head to the 17th-century Llandoger Trow pub along King Street, it also has literary links with Robert Louis Stephenson’s Treasure Island. Let us know if you see any ghouls.
One for next time
I think when we visit Bristol next time, we’ll stay in August, during the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta. Over 100 hot air balloons take to the skies at dawn and dusk.
The festival is held over four days at the Ashton Court Estate, and it is free; what could be better?
Allow more time
I know it’s often a cliché, but we could easily have spent another day exploring Bristol city centre and a little further afield.
By venturing further, we may have even heard more of the distinctive Bristolian accent; I love all our regional differences.
A perfect UK mini-break
If you love visiting the vibrant city of Bristol but are craving a city break with a more sedate pace of life, I highly recommend heading 13 miles (21 km) east to the beautiful historic city of Bath. Bath is gorgeous and, like Bristol, has its own unique character.
Or even better, visit both Bristol and Bath in one trip.
Escape for a few days
Are you in search of a tranquil hideaway to relax and unwind in, while you discover the beautiful British countryside?
Browse through the handpicked properties and unique retreats at Holiday Cottages.
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