Bristol is one of the largest cities in the southwest of England. This sprawling but vibrant city is a hotbed for arts and culture in the United Kingdom, and recent decades have seen Bristol City embracing its former maritime heritage to expound its position as one of the country’s most historic destinations.
There are a great many things to do in Bristol, from exploring the city center to strolling along colorful, charming riverside streets. There are museums, heritage architecture, revitalized harbors and much more awaiting visitors in Bristol. Those with little interest in the city’s history will find an abundance of cafes, restaurants, bars, and markets to spend the day enjoying, while the surrounding countryside and nearby cities such as Bath offer travelers excellent day trip opportunities from Bristol.
If you are looking to visit Bristol, then this article will help you to plan your trip to what is one of England’s most popular travel destinations. Here’s our guide to the best things to do in Bristol.
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How to get to Bristol
Bristol England is located on the banks of the River Avon, overlooking the Bristol Channel that leads into the Atlantic Ocean and staring across the water towards Wales. This is the heart of southwest England and this city that borders the counties of Somerset and Gloucestershire has long been the most prominent city in the region. Bristol is the hub of travel in the southwest of the United Kingdom, with excellent road, rail, and air connections available to and from the city.
Bristol Airport offers domestic flights across the UK and international flights to the rest of Europe. There are excellent value, budget airline flights available to Bristol with the likes of EasyJet and Ryanair. KLM, the Dutch carrier, offers regular flights to Amsterdam where you can then transfer onward to the United States and other destinations such as the Middle East and Asia, ensuring Bristol is well connected internationally.
Bristol Airport is located just a 30-minute drive away from the city center making it a convenient gateway to the region. There are taxis waiting at arrivals or the frequent, fast and efficient bus service leaves every 10 minutes or so, 24 hours a day, and offers a quick connection between the city and the airport. London Heathrow Airport is located around 2 hours away by car or public transport. This is the busiest airport in the UK and there are flights to almost anywhere else in the world. There are direct buses from Heathrow to Bristol.
Bristol has great rail connections, particularly to London, which is just 2 hours away on the Great Western Railway, with frequent direct trains throughout the day. There are also connections by rail to the rest of the southwest region. National Express run regular bus services to Bristol from London, Oxford, and other cities.
Bristol is a large city, and although you can traverse much of the city center on foot, getting anywhere else will require you to use public transport or a taxi. There are bus routes across the city. If you require a map then the local tourist office – Visit Bristol – will be able to provide these complimentary.
What to expect in Bristol
Bristol is a modern, contemporary and forward-thinking city and you can expect to have an enjoyable stay here. The streets are colorful but busy and you will find a huge array of interesting sights to see and a burgeoning culinary scene to enjoy. If you like a drink, there’s excellent nightlife too.
If you are just arriving in Bristol, then you can expect to be slightly confused by the local dialect. The West Country accent is strong here and it’s very distinct in comparison to other areas in the south and is particularly different to a London accent. It may take a while to adjust to this accent if English is not your first language.
The currency is the British Pound and you will find that ATMs are plentiful across the city. If you need to change foreign notes then it’s best to do this in the Bristol city center. It’s advisable to walk around and check the rates of several of the money changing outlets before exchanging, to get the best deal.
Where to stay in Bristol
Bristol has a great range of accommodation and there will be something in the city to cater for every style, taste, and budget. Compared to other southern cities – particularly London of course – Bristol is a much cheaper destination to visit and you will find that accommodation costs can be comparatively lower here. Here are a few great choices for your stay in Bristol.
YHA Bristol – The YHA always offer consistent quality and service at their hostels across the United Kingdom and their branch in Bristol is no exception to this. Found by the Quays right in the heart of the city, the location is exceptional, allowing you to easily walk to all the attractions, restaurants and bars. The dorms are clean and cheap, while the limited private rooms offer great value. The hostel features a huge common area, with comfy chairs, tables, and even a bar and cafe.
Hampton by Hilton Bristol City Center – The three-star Hampton by Hilton is one of the best choices for a stay in Bristol if you are looking for great value and excellent levels of comfort. Located in a perfect city center position next to the large shopping center, everything you might want to see is only a short walk away. The rooms are spacious, and although the facilities are basic, the service is friendly and helpful and the included breakfast is on point. Book in advance to get exceptionally cheap deals at the Hampton by Hilton Bristol City Center.
Radisson Blu Bristol – The Radisson Blu offers contemporary, modern rooms in a great city center location. This is one of the most well regarded hotels in Bristol, and there is a great range of rooms suitable for mid-range to luxury travelers. The basic standard rooms are spacious and colorful, with all the amenities you might need for your stay, while the higher end suites have incredible views of the city and excellent, homely living areas. There’s an onsite restaurant serving up great British dishes to compliment your stay in Bristol.
Places to visit in Bristol
The Bristol Museum is definitely the best place to start when you first arrive in the city. This is a grand collection of art, natural history exhibits and historical displays that stretch through the ages. The museum aims to tell the story of Bristol, while encompassing all facets of the history of the southwest of England. It’s a wonderful place to begin to understand what Bristol is really all about. The best part is admission is always free.
Clifton Suspension Bridge
One of the best places to visit in Bristol is undeniably the Clifton Suspension Bridge. This iconic work of engineering is pictured in almost any advertisement or article related in any way to Bristol. It’s one of the most famous bridges in the United Kingdom and it’s a must see when you are in the city. The Clifton Suspension Bridge spans the River Avon and offers visitors a dramatic portrait of the deep Avon Gorge below. Built by the legendary engineer and architect Isambard Kingdom Brunel during the Industrial Revolution, the bridge opened in 1864, and connects Bristol to Somerset. There are exceptional views from the nearby Bristol Observatory. Don’t forget your camera!
Outside the city center, you can find the beautiful, green gardens of Brandon Hill. The lovely park is home to the Cabot Tower, which was built on the hilltop in 1898 and stands at over 100 feet in height. The tower makes for a striking view, as it emerges from the green foliage and after recent restoration work was completed a few years ago, it’s possible to climb the steps to the top for exceptional views over Brandon Hill Park and of the rest of Bristol. The tower is an interesting piece of history too because it commemorates the journey of John Cabot, who left Bristol on a journey of discovery to North America. He became one of the first Europeans to land in Canada, in 1497, and the tower marked the 400th year anniversary of this world-changing event.
Ashton Court Estate
The Ashton Court Estate is an extensive manor house which can trace its origins back to the 11th century AD. This mansion has been redeveloped several times over the centuries and is a beautiful mix of architectural styles on the inside and out, giving visitors a look at the changes that befell the estate through history and through its many different owners. The grounds that surround Ashton Court are enormous, covering hundreds of acres, and it’s possible to spend an entire day exploring the area, on top of visiting the house itself.
Georgian House Museum
The Georgian House Museum is one of Bristol’s top attractions. This historic townhouse is found on the edge of Brandon Hill Park and gives visitors the opportunity to travel back to the 1790’s. The house retains the interior designs of a Bristol slave and plantation owner at the turn of the 18th century. Many of the city’s residents became wealthy overseas, taking advantage of the maritime opportunities of Bristol to purchase slaves and to invest in plantations in the Americas. While this shadowy past may not be celebrated now, Bristol remembers its darker past still, and the Georgian House Museum is one these instances of remembrance. The museum is free and is an intriguing place to learn more about Bristolian history in a worldwide context.
Blaise Castle is a mid 18th century estate that’s found in the nearby countryside. The castle itself was built as a sort of imitation castle, not for defense but to show off the landowner’s wealth. On the vast estate though there can be found an extensive manor house and much of the grounds and the building can be toured by visitors.
Things to do in Bristol
Cruise the River Avon
One of the many Bristol points of interest is, of course, the River Avon which the city is built around. An excellent excursion is to take a boat cruise along the river, to see the skyline from the water and to learn more about the maritime history from local boat captains.
Bristol Harbour was once the center of commerce and trade in the city when it was a ocean going power. Today, it is still the center of business, but a different kind of business. The old harbor has been converted into a modern space for shopping, eating, and drinking.
Stokes Croft is one of the liveliest areas in Bristol. This is the cultural center of the city and here you can find quirky shops, local cafes and plenty of pubs. It’s a great place to spend the day.
Tours to do in Bristol
Hop on Hop off Bus
A Hop on Hop off, open top bus tour will give you the opportunity to experience the best sights of Bristol at your own pace, as you can jump on and off where you want. This bus tour will give you a great insight into the city as you travel from attraction to attraction.
One of the best things about Bristol is the accessibility of everything on foot. It’s a great place to walk around and there are many great walking tours on offer that will take you deeper into the history and the contemporary quirks of the city. Many of the walking tours will take in the city’s superb street art, including, of course, the famous Banksy murals which can be found around Bristol.
The historic Roman spa town of Bath is just half an hour down the road and there are many tours that depart Bristol to explore the ancient streets and to indulge in a few hours of geothermal spa relaxation. It’s a great place to relax and unwind for the day.
Recommend budget tours in Bristol
- Bath City Tour & Hot Springs Experience – Day Trip from Bristol
- Wells, Cheddar Cheese and Cheddar Gorge – Private Day Trip from Bristol
- Folly Farm Adventure Park and Zoo Day Ticket Entrance
- House Magicians’ Comedy Magic Show at Smoke & Mirrors in Bristol
- Hot Air Balloon Flight from Ashton Court
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