The English port city of Bristol has long forged its place on the national and international stage. Once the main gateway to the Atlantic and the rest of the world, thousands of ships once set out from Bristol to explore the ‘New World’. This seafaring reputation and triangle trade turned the city from humble town into an international powerhouse.
Throughout the 20th century, Bristol became an epicentre for all things musical. The ‘Bristol Sound’ and Trip-Hop genres slapped Bristol on the music map and the city still remains a mecca for all electronic music lovers.
This unbeatable combination of art and history makes Bristol a city of many layers, and subsequently, it offers a plethora of experiences. The following 15 things to do in Bristol are a mere snapshot of the breadth of what this famous city has to offer.
1. Clifton Suspension Bridge
The iconic Clifton Suspension Bridge is much more than just a way to cross the Avon Gorge; it is a symbol of the city itself. Opened in 1864, the now nationally famous bridge was designed by the just as renowned civil engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Although Brunel died before the bridge was completed, it stands as a testament to the man and his contribution to British engineering.
Not only can you enjoy breathtaking panoramic views from the top of the bridge, but you can also find all there is to know about the bridge from the Clifton Bridge visitors centre, found on the Somerset side.
2. Bristol Zoo
Opened in 1836, Bristol Zoo is one of the oldest provincial zoos in the entire world and is unmissable when visiting the city. Although considered small by modern standards, there is no shortage of fantastic animals and insects to see here, making it a fantastic day out for both young and old alike.
One of the zoo’s top features is its gorilla enclosure. Reinforced glass covers a vast area, including above your head, allowing the great apes to be seen from every angle. Alongside mammals, Bristol zoo is home to an extensive marine life section and ‘Bug World’, a home to thousands of different insects and spiders.
With so much to see, Bristol Zoo is a must for those who are lovers of the natural world.
3. SS Great Britain
Once a huge steam-powered passenger ship, the SS Great Britain now lies in Bristols dry dock, and has been transformed into one of the city’s best museums. Launched in 1843, the SS Great Britain was the longest passenger ship in the world during the mid-19th-century. Scuttled in the 1930s, the SS Great Britain was raised from the sea bed and went into a period of restoration.
Today, the ship stands preserved as one of the many vessels in the historic fleet. When you visit the SS Great Britain, you can explore the ins and outs of the mighty ship, see the working steam engine and even climb the rigging when the weather is good. A visit here brings the bustling world of Britain’s maritime history to life.
4. Cabot Circus
When it comes to getting your dose of retail therapy, there is nowhere better than Bristol’s Cabot Circus. Opened in 2008, the revamped shopping centre is a giant in all proportions. Home to shops, restaurants, offices, a cinema, hotels and 250 apartments, the Cabot Circus is an easy place to while away a whole day.
With hundreds of well-known brands and a few more independent ones, you are sure to find what you need here. The open design and the inclined levels create a space that is pleasing to the eye, something that many other major city shopping centres struggle to get right. This is truly one of modern Bristol’s shining projects, putting it squarely in the national map.
5. Bristol Museum and Art Gallery
The Bristol Museum and Art Gallery is a bustling institution full to the brim with artefacts. Jam-packed with exhibitions showcasing anything from paintings by the old Dutch and Italian masters, to modern contemporary art from local Bristolians, there is something for everyone. The museum itself is home to extraordinary pieces such as Alfred -the stuffed gorilla, Egyptian artefacts and Jurassic fossils.
This treasure trove of art, natural history and Edwardian design makes Bristol Museum and Art Gallery a must-visit for anyone with an interest in the delights of art and the past. The museum and gallery continually present new exhibitions throughout the year, so keep an eye out next time you’re in the city.
6. Blaise Castle Estate
Blaise Castle and its surrounding estate is located in the Henbury area of Bristol and classed as a Grade II building. This early 18th-century Gothic-styled folly is surrounded by acres of lush green gardens, making it an ideal place to visit on a warm Bristol day. Don’t worry too much if the rain starts though, inside is just as worth seeing as the castle grounds.
Whether its the museum of social history oddities – from toys to toilets – or the vast collection of art housed within its walls, this is not your typical historic estate. The collection of 18th and 19th-century clothes is a special highlight, showing you in elaborate detail the fashion of yesteryear.
7. Wookey Hole Caves
Only a fifty-minute drive south from the city of Bristol is one of Somerset’s most intriguing natural phenomenons. Wookey Hole Caves, as they are known as, is a series of limestone caves that have caused a stir for thousands of years. You can delve deep into these well-lit caves and feel yourself entering a different world.
Admire the range of artefacts found within the caves, including butchered animal bones and other evidence of prehistoric man’s occupation of Wookey Hole. Alongside the history, Wookey Hole plays host to events throughout the year, including Halloween and a Winter Wonderland around Christmas.
8. We The Curious
This Bristol-based science and arts centre has built up its reputation as a must-visit destination when in the city. We The Curious is on a mission to inspire curiosity in all that walk through its door, and has done so for the past twenty years. The range of exhibits on show here is outstanding, from the planetarium, the UK’s first 3D planetarium, to the Real Brain, giving visitors an understanding of medical science research.
This is a great place to open up the minds of children to the wonders of humanity and the wider universe. The learn-through-play approach will mean the little ones can enjoy themselves in the museum and leave with a new found knowledge for all things science.
9. Bristol Harbour
From swashbuckling pirates and worldwide traders to modern holiday seekers, Bristol Harbour has been at the epicentre of Bristol life for centuries. And, it is that which gives the city its identity. Although the historic ships are no longer mooring here, no visit to Bristol would be complete without a trip along the Bristol Harbour.
Numerous cafes and restaurants pepper the harbour’s edge, giving it an elegant and bustling feel. Stop for a bite to eat or simply enjoy the seascape scenes that make up the harbour. The harbourside is also a great place to watch a Bristolian sunset, an awe-inspiring view across the water.
10. Bristol Old Vic
Constructed in 1766, the Bristol Old Vic Theatre is the oldest continuously working theatre in the English-speaking world and a building of immense Bristolian pride. Stop by and watch one of the many plays, musicals or art shows that are regularly performed throughout the year. Many famous actors and actresses have trodden the boards here, attesting to the theatres growing fame.
Set in the heart of the city, why not combine an evening with a pre-theatre meal and post-theatre tipple at the many bars and restaurants that can be found in the inner city area.
11. University of Bristol Botanical Garden
The University of Bristol’s botanical garden has been a focal point for garden lovers for nearly a century now. Moving locations many times, the botanical garden now resides in Stoke Bishop, just north of the city, giving an even more idyllic charm to its surroundings. Home to 640 square metres of greenhouses and 4500 variety of plants, this is a haven for plant lovers and horticulturalists everywhere.
The botanical garden is also home to an array of rare and usual plants, both from the local area and abroad. This, along with the garden’s floating ballast-seed garden on an old barge, makes it a one of a kind botanical garden and a must-visit.
12. Ashton Gate Stadium
Home to Bristol City Football Club and the Bristol Bears Rugby Union team, Ashton Gate is arguably Bristol’s premier sporting venue. Fans of the football club and the game itself will be delighted to take a tour of the stadium and its many faces. Although not one of the most high-flying clubs in the professional game, Bristol City have none the less continued to carve their place in the game for over a century.
Stadium tours include a look at the backrooms, changing rooms and even a chance to get down to the pitch level to see things from the players’ perspective.
13. Bristol Cathedral
Founded in the late 12th century, Bristol Cathedral has been an iconic symbol of the city for just under a millennium. When visiting the cathedral, it is not uncommon to feel a sense of awe, completely unrelated to religion or liturgy. The sheer size and architectural design are outstanding and a testament to medieval construction techniques.
The stained glass windows are beautiful stand-alone art pieces within themselves, especially those that date back as far back as the 14th century. You can arrange a guided tour around the cathedral, which will help you to under its fascinating history.
14. Chance & Counters
Chance and Counters is the perfect place to go if you are a lover of all things board games. This board game cafe has reinvented the way you spend you coffee-sipping afternoons in Bristol. Choose from a long list of classic and modern board games and get those competitive juices flowing.
Though numerous board game cafes have sprung up all over the country, Chance and Counters is leading the movement when it comes to style and the vast variety of games on offer.
15. Bulrush Restaurant
When it comes to fine dining in Bristol, there is no better place than the Bulrush Restaurant in the north of the city. This Michelin starred restaurant has won over hearts, and stomachs, all over the country.
The restaurant combines fine dining and top-quality ingredients with a cosy and suburban restaurant feel. Though the proud owner of a Michelin star, the status has not skyrocketed the prices, making it an affordable visit for many of us.