Bristol has been at the top of my places to visit in the UK since returning from our overseas adventures. I’ve been mesmerized by photos of colourful houses and waterways for months now and just had to see it for it myself. However there is more to Bristol than its notable rainbow-coloured houses. I soon learned that Bristol is the home of three brilliant men; Brunel, Banksy and the pirate Blackbeard. Read on to find out more about the largest city in the UK’s West Country!
How to get there:
Trains from London run from Paddington Station to Bristol Temple Meads. You can also fly to Bristol Airport. We took the train and it took just under 2 hrs from London.
Where to stay:
Bristol is a small city so anywhere central would be worthwhile. We stayed at the Mercure Bristol Holland House in Redcliffe. The hotel was nice, clean and the beds comfy. It was a touch on the loud side at night though from other guests. All the staff were friendly but I can’t say they were overly helpful. Although we had a quick check in, none offered information on the city or how to get around. However, the location was excellent as it was only a 13 min walk from Bristol Temple Meads and we could get to most landmarks in the city with a 10-15min walk.
Bristol is a compact city and very easily walkable. We didn’t use public transport at all when we were there and only jumped in taxi /uber when it was pouring down or to get from one end of the city the other side at night. If you did want to use buses they do take contactless payment. Information on ticket types can be found here.
What to see:
Harbourside is a relaxing part of the city with plenty to do for everyone. The harbour has existed since the 13th century previously overloaded with sailors coming in and out of the busy docks. It was also the favourite hang out of many a pirate including the famous Blackbeard. In the 19th century it was transformed to its current form by a system of locks gates installed to control the tides from the River Avon. It is often called the ‘Floating Harbour’ for this reason, as the harbour is unaffected by the tides of the river now. A local taxi driver told us that Napoleonic prisoners were used to build the lock gates.
Today Harbourside is a unique space in the city with plenty of spots to enjoy the water. Shipping containers serve as cafes and restaurants. Cultural venues like M Shed museum and Arnolfini art gallery are also at Harbourside. Following the pathway on the southside of the harbour will lead you to resting place of Brunel’s SS Great Britain, the first iron-hulled, propeller-driven ocean liner in the world. Built in 1843 for a transatlantic journey from Bristol to New York, she was the first steamship to cross the Atlantic, taking 14 days.
And of course it would be wrong not to mention the Banksy near Bristol Marina. Check out google maps to see exactly where it is located. But the easiest way I can describe it is if you standing where the boats are at Bristol Marina, facing the river, near the car park, turn around and there she will be on an inset wall.
Harbourside was probably one of my favourite parts of town as there was so much to see and do. And unlike London there are countless, uncrowded spots to enjoy the visit. My favourites were seeing people kayaking, paddle boarding and rowing on the the harbour!
Clifton is the quiet suburb that sits on top of the Hotwells. Known for its display of beautiful Georgian architecture, most notably the Royal York Crescent. It is said that profits from the tobacco and slave trade built the affluent area. Today it is a pretty, residential area with boutique shops in the Clifton Village area. There are plenty of pubs and restaurants in the neighbourhood to enjoy. Be sure to visit The Coronation Tap for their cider. For us, it felt like time stood still in Clifton village. Children played ball in the park and gentlemen gathered at the pub where they were recognised by many. There is a community here and it’s lovely.
It is also home to the Clifton Suspension Bridge, a Grade 1 listed building. Designed by Brunel, the original building works started in 1831. However, construction of the bridge was suspended due to the Bristol riots. The finished suspension bridge was built in 1864. That was five years after Brunel’s death. Visit the White Lion bar, part of the Avon Gorge hotel for beautiful views of the bridge on the terrace. It’s not the only spot for that view (there is a small viewpoint further along) but what could be nicer than enjoying a Somerset cider whilst looking out to the Avon Gorge?(Click here for the five best pubs in Bristol!).
Check out a video of the views from the bridge here Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol .
Cabot Tower and Brandon Hill
Sitting in the centre of the city of Bristol is Brandon Hill. Atop it is Cabot Tower, a Grade 2 listed building. The tower stands 105 ft tall. It was built in 1897 to commemorate the journey made by John Cabot to North America in 1497. Cabot sailed on ‘The Matthew’ ( a replica of which can be found in Harbourside ) and discovered Newfoundland in Canada.
Getting to the top
The park is open to the public and the tower is free to climb. It is all uphill to get to the tower. The tower itself has tight, steep steps, allowing for only one person to pass at a time. The first leg of the climb is probably the hardest as there isn’t a break until the first landing spot. Following that, there are few more steps to climb to get to the top. I wouldn’t recommend this climb for those with health conditions or with small children. There is a children’s park for small children though which looked like tons of fun. If you are to make the climb, take breaks up the hill in the park and before climbing the tower.
The view at the top is worth it though. Although our visit was on an overcast day, we could still see much of the city and the rolling hills of Somerset’s countryside beyond.
During the 12th Century, Bristol Cathedral was built. The building that exists today was built over time and suffered through Henry VIII’s convictions against Catholicism. However, what exists today is an exquisite, vast church with gorgeous vaulted ceilings. I’m not very good at conveying religious history or architecture so for those that are interested I’ll re-direct you to the cathedral’s history page . For me, cathedrals are a wonderful space to collect yourself, away from the chaos of the outside world
St Mary’s Redcliffe
This Gothic church is 800 years old and another Grade 1 listed building in the city. It is considered to be one of the first churches built in the city. The original quayside used to sit across from the church grounds during Saxon times. Again, I won’t try and summarise the history of this church either, but if you are fan of Gothic architecture then this is not one to miss!
St Nicholas Market
Located on Corn St, St Nicholas Market has been in business since 1743. The market is an indoors and consists of three main parts, the exchange hall, the glass arcade and the covered market. A range of products from food to clothing, are available, all from local vendors.There is even a vegan section! The market was named Britain’s best large indoor market in 2016. Be sure to check opening times on the website.
If you look on google maps for Bristol you will see a large squared area sectioned out and named ‘the shopping quarter’. Coming from London and the many ‘shopping quarters’ we have here I was expecting something similar, yet smaller. Well I can happily say I completely underestimated the term ‘shopping quarter’! This area of town is indeed the shopping part of town. With a number roads bowing out with many recognisable high street shops, the shopping experience culminates at Cabot Circus. An open-aired shopping mall with layers of levels and a balcony eatery section.
You can find Department stores like Debenhams, House of Fraser and Marks and Spencer in the shopping quarter. In addition top brands like Hobbs, Michael Kors and Hugo Boss are also present alongside regulars on the high street like H & M, JD sports and New Look. There is also the country’s largest Primark which is really only for the brave shoppers, let’s be honest! Be prepared to shop when you come to this area. Patience, stamina and upper body strength (for carrying all those bags!) are needed. The best bit about this part of town (especially for this little Londoner), the crowds were manageable.
Street Art in Stokes Croft
Stokes Croft is like the Camden meets Soho neighbourhood of Bristol. Music is bustling through open windows of flats and eatery establishments. But you’re wrong for thinking it will be the usual top 40 tunes. We spent the morning in Stokes Croft for a late breakfast and I heard nothing but British classics and lesser known artists. This is an area that truly celebrates artists. It is evident from the street art wallpapering every possible spot of blank canvas to the local artisan vendors.
You can find a Banksy in this neighbourhood as well.
In addition to celebrating the artists, the neighbourhood was more recently known for protesting the arrival of a Tesco Express. And what started out as a peaceful demonstration to support local businesses ended up in a riot. Today, locals still boycott the Tescos and prefer to support local vendors.
So on our last day walking through a very quiet Bristol on a bank holiday Monday, we passed a very old looking building. Like crooked, almost falling down Tudor type building. I could make out that it said ‘Christmas steps’, however with little time left of our day we didn’t explore it. I was slightly disappointed we didn’t check it out, after a little research when we got home. So I am including it here as it is a little historical gem. One of the reasons I didn’t check it out was because I hadn’t heard much of it before . We also spotted it from the end where it was half hidden by a modern building, in our defence .
So in an effort for you not to make the same mistake I did and to promote this retail are for future vendors, I encourage you to check out the Christmas Steps. It looked like it was out of Dickens novel and rumour has it, comes complete with ghosts of the Victorian times. Check out this video from the Bristol Post to see what it’s like.
Have you been to Bristol? What would you recommend people see?