Bristol was voted the best place to live in the United Kingdom in 2017 and if you visit this cool and eclectic city which straddles the Avon River, you too will fall in love with the charm!
Off the tourist radar, Bristol has a thriving music and arts scene, which includes lots of amazing street art. Bristol was home to the world-famous graffiti artist Banksy and many of his works can be found all over different areas of the city.
The cobbled streets and Georgian terraces makes for the perfect trip back in time and it’s no wonder that the TV series “Sherlock” filmed several of their episodes there. In fact, if you find the clock above St. Nick’s marketplace, you will see Bristol to London time marked upon it. Before GMT was introduced, a time difference of 15 minutes set London and Bristol apart and trains were able to literally travel through time!
The port city has close ties to America, and is known as the “Birthplace of America” when John Cabot set sail to the New World to help “discover” it in 1497. The city has a rich maritime history and was wealthy due to booming trade in wine, cotton and tobacco.
48 hours (such as a weekend in Bristol) may be short, but you will have plenty of time to explore this culturally vibrant city and discover the rich history and culture of one of Britain’s happiest cities.
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How to get to Bristol
Bristol is very well connected and can be easily reached from London. The main train station is Bristol Temple Meads Station and the journey takes under 2 hours, alternatively there is a high-speed train from London Paddington that takes only one hour and a half.
Bristol also has an international airport which runs daily flights from all over Europe with low-cost carriers such as Easyjet and Ryanair making this an affordable destination, especially as a gateway to exploring the West Country and Cornwall. There is a 24-hour Airport Express Flyer bus service that goes into the city every 10 minutes and costs only £7 per person. A taxi from the airport takes approximately 20 minutes and costs around £25-£30.
Alternatively, if you prefer to travel by bus, the National Express has a direct bus from Heathrow Airport.
How to get around Bristol
Bristol is the first cycling capital of the United Kingdom and most people opt to get around by bike, there are excellent cycling routes and you can rent a bike from the city centre to get around, one of the most popular companies is Cycle the City who also offer guided bike tours around the city.
Alternatively, the public bus is an excellent and budget friendly way to get around. There are one-day passes which give you unlimited travel on the Bristol, Bath, South Gloucestershire and North Somerset buses. There is also a tourist double-decker bus which is open-topped and provides guided tours around the city, including famous sights such as the Clifton Suspension Bridge and the harbourside.
The bus is hop-on, hop-off and you can choose when you want to board the bus and there are 20 stops around the city where you can get off. The best thing about the tourist bus is that it is valid for two full days and therefore you can spread the sightseeing out over your stay.
What to expect in Bristol
Bristol is a friendly city, the people will be more than happy to provide recommendations and directions. The language spoken is English and the currency used is the British Pound. Bristol actually has its own currency, the Bristol Pound but the British Pound is accepted everywhere.
The average allowance per day for a stay in Bristol is £72 including food and transportation. The average expenses for food are around £26 per person. When eating in restaurants it is advisable to tip around 10 – 15%.
Electricity is provided through three-prong plugs and electricity is 230 volts, so an adaptor may be required. Drivers drive on the left-hand side, should you wish to rent a car during your stay.
Bristol is a relatively safe city, especially in the daytime and rated as moderately safe at night. It is advisable to take precautions and not walk alone in city streets at night and only take registered taxis, Uber and Cabify.
Best time to visit Bristol
The best time to visit Bristol is in the summertime, in July to August temperatures reach around 22 degrees centigrade but it’s always advisable to bring wet weather clothes and a coat or fleece as summertime in the UK can always be changeable and it’s common to experience all four seasons in one day!
August is also a popular time to visit due to the Bristol Balloon Festival, held annually in Ashton Court, you will see hundreds of hot air balloons rising and floating over the city and it is absolutely incredible.
Where to stay in Bristol
The average cost of a hotel is around £70 per night, but there are many budget hotels and Airbnbs under this budget, here is a list of some of the best places to stay in Bristol below and above this budget:
The Kyle Blue – Have you ever fancied staying on a riverside barge? This Dutch barge is now an upmarket hostel and is docked in Bristol’s harbour. For a hotel with a difference, the rooms and décor are quirky, eclectic, yet contemporary with views of Bristol Harbour. Private cabins are available and there are also cabins with five beds and typically of any seagoing vessel, you might have to duck if you’re tall to avoid banging your head! Prices start from only £45 per night!
The Curious Cabinet – If you want to stay in a B&B that is charming and quirky, this little hotel in Northeast Bristol is perfect. Designed by a local artist, the décor is a combination of antiques, vintage furniture, artistic flair and eclectic design, you will find everything from old travel-worn trunks and fairy lit mirrors to vintage Fischer Price toys. The rooms themselves are more minimalistic but cosy at the same time. Rooms start from £89 including breakfast.
YHA Bristol – For those on a serious budget, there is always the YHA right in the heart of Bristol, located on the harbourside. It was once a grain warehouse and is complete with heavy wooden beams and antique windows. Private rooms start from £49 per night or from £21 for a shared dorm.
Brooks Guesthouse – Once upon a time this guesthouse was an office block from the 1960s and is now a backpacker’s hostel with a gorgeous outside courtyard. Rooms are simple, classic and homey. The hostel is equipped with a comfortable and classic lounge with leather sofas and also a kitchen. Alternatively, the hostel also has retro Rocket caravans which have been converted into rooms with ensuite. The price is only £66 per night.
48 Hours in Bristol
Start your day with a hearty English breakfast including sausages, bacon, toast, beans and a steaming mug of tea to provide energy for your day wandering around the city. Head to the eclectic Stokes Croft neighbourhood to do a Banksy graffiti route, you will pass some of Banksy’s most famous pieces, or even better, join a Banksy graffiti tour. Stokes Croft is considered the more eclectic and grungy part of the city and there is plenty of amazing street art. For a unique souvenir, head into the People’s Republic of Stokes Croft.
Just a short stroll away is the harbourside, where you can find a good selection of cafes and restaurants at the Harbourside Food Market or at Cargo 1, a hotspot for foodies full of restaurants and cafes built in old shipping containers. After stopping for a filling meal, head over to visit the famous and majestic SS Great Britain, built by the civil engineer Brunel in 1843. A visit to the ship lets you explore the inside of what is described as the “grandmother” of all modern ships.
Nearby, the M Shed Museum offers a tour into the history of Bristol, the visit is completely free and is a great way for you to learn about the city through the medium of photographs, personal stories, film and objects. There is even a locomotive engine and 19th century tugboat on display. There is a lot to do for all the family and plenty of family-friendly facilities such as buggy parking and lockers. The museum is closed every Monday.
A short visit to St. Nicholas Market will give you the opportunity to find some exciting vintage clothes, jewellery, bric-a-brac and quirky souvenirs.
By now, your stomach is grumbling and it’s time to seek out some more amazing British food. You can catch the sunset on the harbour from one of the gorgeous terraces of harbourside restaurants and cafes, you can enjoy some food at the Arnolfini Café, or explore the summer Harbour Nights street food market nearby. Alternatively, have dinner at a great British institution called The Grain Barge which is owned by the “Bristol Beer Factory” and serves up delicious pub food with great ales and often hosts live music.
For something a little different, head to The Ox in the city centre. This basement restaurant has cocktails aplenty and amazing, juicy steak. Homey and upmarket, the restaurant has a menu from 5pm to 7pm on Mondays to Saturdays where you can get a delicious 6oz steak, fries and house wine for only £15. What a bargain! Book early to avoid disappointment.
Bristol is a multicultural city and there are also plenty of excellent options for international food, check out Chai Shai if curries make your mouth water, their extensive menu and warm welcome makes this a fantastic place to indulge in some spice. The owners, Faruk and Shilpi Choudhury, were Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress of Bristol when they established this restaurant in 2014.
Finally, to end your night you can head to Bristol’s Milk Thistle, a trendy prohibition style bar that occupies four floors for a unique cocktail. This impressive bar has its own creative house cocktails and a menu that is constantly being updated, the cocktails cost around £9.50. It is worth calling in advance to book as due to its popularity, it’s often full.
After a night of cocktails, it’s time for bottomless brunch, head to Brace and Browns to enjoy huge portions of delicious smoked mackerel bagels, poached eggs or American pancakes to name a few for only £28 per person. An alcohol-free option costs only £20. This restaurant is very popular and reservations should be made in advance.
Now that you’ve refuelled, it’s time to set out on your wanders. Head to Clifton Village to visit the upmarket neighbourhood and the famous Clifton Suspension Bridge that spans the Avon Gorge. The bridge can be visited on foot or by bike as there are pathways on either side and the views from the bridge are incredible, you can see entire panoramas of Bristol city. For more amazing views, climb observatory hill just to the right of the suspension bridge.
There are plenty of things to see in Clifton and if you love vintage or designer clothes, head to one of the many second hand shops in the area, you will find some cheap and wonderful items that are a complete steal because the wealthy inhabitants of the area end up throwing out their designer clothes after one season!
When it’s time for lunch, Clifton has plenty of restaurants including the notable Woky Ko on Queen’s Road, this restaurant is the brainchild of Masterchef finalist Larkin Cen who created a smaller restaurant in the harbourside Cargo area. The food is cooked in front of you on an open fire and the Asian dishes are served with a unique and fun twist.
Alternatively, the beautiful venue for many a boutique wedding called No. 4 has excellent meal options for couples at a great budget, there are many offers and the ingredients are all seasonal and locally sourced. The restaurant is a gorgeous Georgian mansion in central Clifton and is a perfect place to enjoy a hearty lunch.
Heading back to the city centre, you can visit the Bristol Cathedral on College Green, the domineering spires can be seen from even the harbour and a visit inside is free. This is the perfect place to while away the afternoon on a summer’s day and you will see plenty of people lazing around on the grass, enjoying picnics and the English sunshine.
As the sun sets head over to catch some live Jazz at the River Grille, a great restaurant on the harbourside that offers great food and sophisticated ambience. Alternatively, Riverstation offers award-winning Mediterranean food on the harbourside.
For your last night, check out the vibrant music scene in Bristol. You can discover more live jazz at The Old Duke or for alternative and underground music, go to the intimate little music venue, Cosies.
For a spectacular finish to your visit to Bristol and for those who have a larger budget, take in the sunset from a hot air balloon. A hot air balloon will take you over the Clifton suspension bridge and the hour-long ride comes with complimentary champagne. Prices start at £140 per person at Bristol Balloons. If you go to Bristol in August you can catch the much anticipated Bristol Balloon Fiesta, held at Ashton Court, where there are hundreds of balloons taking to the sky which makes for a stunning sight.
Want to learn how to travel on a Budget? Check out our dedicated “Budget Conscious Travel Guide”
Recommend budget tours in Bristol
- Bath City Tour & Hot Springs Experience – Day Trip from Bristol
- Hot Air Balloon Flight from Castle Cary – Somerset
- Zombie Scavengers Game – Bristol Magpie Park, UK
- Camelot Crusade
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