Bristol is a city in the southwest of England near the Welsh border on the River Avon. With around half a million residents, it’s one of the top five biggest cities in England. It’s long been a favourite of British travellers seeking a fun staycation thanks to its thriving cultural scene. But it’s often overlooked by overseas visitors in favour of the bustling capital city of London or historic cities like York. So, is Bristol worth visiting?
Absolutely! If you love cities with historic harbours, iconic street art murals, and rows of bright and colourful houses, Bristol has you covered. There are also tons of street food markets, vintage and antique stores, art museums, and quirky pubs that make this a fun and exciting place for a city break. And let’s not forget Bristol’s Clifton Suspension Bridge in Clifton Village which is one of the most noteworthy British landmarks.
This ultimate guide to Bristol includes everything you need to know to enjoy the best of Bristol and make the most out of your trip. It will show you how to get to Bristol, how to get around, and the best time to visit. It also includes the best things to do, the top places to visit in Bristol, what to eat, and where to stay so you have an amazing trip!
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How To Get to Bristol
Bristol is situated, unsurprisingly, on the Bristol Channel which is a major inlet between Bristol and Wales. Despite it having its own harbour, travelling to Bristol via boat isn’t much of an option these days cruise ships nor many passenger ships dock here. But you can travel to Bristol via plane, train, or car.
Bristol’s nearest airport is Bristol Airport. It’s very small, so you might find flying to a London airport like Heathrow, Cardiff, or Oxford Airport more convenient than travelling by train. Bristol’s main train station is Bristol Temple Meads and you will have no problem finding many daily direct services via CrossCountry trains between Bristol and all major UK cities.
Bristol is accessible by road from London via the M4 motorway, England’s midlands via the M5 motorway, and Wales via the M48. You catch Megabus or National Express bus services from other major UK cities to Bristol.
The Best Time to Visit Bristol
Bristol’s climate is characterised as Oceanic. This means Bristol’s winters are cold and rainy and its summers are mild and rainy. You won’t escape the rain! Bristol’s coldest month is January with average lows of 2.5°C (36°F) and its warmest month is July with average highs of 22°C (71°C).
July and August are Bristol’s summer months and the peak season. The city will be at its busiest and accommodation prices will be particularly high during the Bristol Harbour Festival in July and the Balloon Fiesta in August. This is when the weather is the warmest too. Despite the crowds and prices, this is still the best time to visit Bristol.
Don’t mind colder, wet weather and would rather save money and have fewer crowds? The shoulder seasons of April – June and September – October are great times to visit Bristol.
What To Expect in Bristol
Since Bristol is a city in England, most of the residents here will speak English as their first language. The vast majority do not speak a second language and, if they do, Polish is the second most popular language.
The UK’scurrency is the Great British Pound (GBP). In the last decade, many banknotes and coins have been removed from circulation. Check your currency is current before you travel. However, most businesses in Bristol will accept and prefer card payments.
According to local news, Bristol’s city centre has one of the worst crime rates in the UK. But for travellers, it is no less safe than any other big city in Europe. And it also has a reputation for having some of the friendliest locals in the UK. Avoid walking alone at night, keep your valuables safe, and use your common sense.
How To Get Around Bristol
Most of the main tourist attractions in Bristol old city centre are within walking distance. As long as you don’t have any accessibility needs (and the weather isn’t too bad!) then you should have no problems walking to get around in Bristol.
Bristol does not have a city bike scheme but you can hire bikes from private rental companies. Alternatively, most of Bristol’s bus services are run by FirstBus and you can buy an unlimited day ticket for £5. There are also night bus services.
If you want an alternative way to travel, Bristol Ferry Boat docks at multiple quays along the coast. Cars aren’t the most cost-effective or quickest way to travel around the city because parking is scarce and expensive and traffic can be a problem. Taxis are expensive yet convenient and you can hail free black cabs whenever you see one. You can also hire private (often cheaper) taxis or use a ride-share service like Uber.
Things To Do in Bristol
Ride in a Hot Air Balloon at Bristol’s Balloon Fiesta
One of the city’s most popular events is the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta. It’s an annual event that takes place over a weekend in mid-August where tons of hot air balloons fill the sky. It’s a spectacular sight and most people gather at the Ashton Court Estate to watch the display.
Shop at St Nicholas Market
St Nicholas Market is an undercover Georgian market selling everything from food, antiques, nicknacks, houseplants, soap and more. Lots of local independent companies have stalls in this market so you can take home some souvenirs from a local artisan rather than a mass-produced trinket.
Witness Vistas of Bristol from Cabot Tower
Cabot Tower dates back to 1897 and sits on top of Brandon Hill, a park in the centre of the city. You can climb the 108 steps to the top of this 32-metre-tall historic tower for phenomenal views over the entire city. Bristol, like other parts of the UK, doesn’t have any skyscrapers so you can gaze over the entire city and the countryside beyond.
Places to Visit in Bristol
Clifton Suspension Bridge
The Clifton Suspension Bridge is the most iconic structure in the city and it is the top thing to do in Bristol. This bridge was built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel in 1864 and links Bristol to the town of Leigh Woods over the Avon Gorge. It’s considered a masterpiece of urban design and an engineering triumph. There is even a visitor’s centre near the bridge so you can learn more about its inception.
Bristol Museum & Art Gallery
Bristol Museum contains a little bit of everything and anything; natural science, street art, a Romany caravan, and so much more. There’s even a sculpture created by local artist Banksy. No matter what your interests are, you are sure to find something that will fascinate you at the Bristol museum. Some other fantastic museums in Bristol include the M Shed, The Georgian House Museum, and The Red Lodge Museum.
Bristol Cathedral dates back to the 12th century but its most recent facelift was in 1877. It’s a mix of architectural styles including Norman, Gothic, and Gothic Revival. This Church of England cathedral is one of the most impressive in the country and you can enter for free. It’s also in a beautiful location on Bristol’s College Green.
Brunel’s SS Great Britain
Bristol’s maritime history is so extensive and vital to the city’s growth. Many historic ships sit as permanent time capsules in Bristol’s harbour but none more than the SS Great Britain. This was a passenger liner built by Brunel (who also built the Clifton Suspension Bridge) in 1843. It’s been restored and you can take a tour of the whole ship as well as learn more about Brunel and shipbuilding in general in the museum.
What To Eat in Bristol
English cuisine is infamous for being bland, unexciting, and carb-heavy. Signature dishes include battered cod and chips (thick-cut fries) and roast dinners consisting of meat like beef or pork and vegetables covered in gravy. Not forgetting English fried breakfasts which are huge plates of eggs, toast, bacon, sausages, tomatoes, beans, black pudding and more.
For dessert, nothing beats a sticky toffee pudding covered in custard or cream. Apple crumbles, scones, and afternoon teas are also winners.
You’ll find all of these English stapes in Bristol. But England, including Bristol, is an incredibly multicultural and diverse nation. Curry houses and kebab shops are just as English as cafes serving afternoon teas. There are tons of fantastic restaurants in Wapping Wharf. The Harbour Kitchen is a great seafood restaurant and you’ll find lots of traditional English pub grub on the menu at The Ox.
Where To Stay in Bristol
Because the city is so walkable, the best neighbourhoods to stay in Bristol are in the city centre. Bristol harbour, or Wapping Wharf, is the most picturesque part of Bristol, Clifton Village is more upmarket, and Broadmead is the shopping district. Old Market is also very central.
Mid-Range – There are tons of affordable chain hotels in Bristol like Holiday Inns, Premier Inns, and Travelodges. But if you’d prefer to stay somewhere a bit more unique while not blowing your budget, check out The Curious Cabinet. This is a quirky guesthouse with lots of vintage decor and a homely feel with room rates starting from £79 per night.
Luxury – Want to pay a little extra for a little bit of luxury? You can stay in a gorgeous boutique hotel on the harbour for around £147 per night. Bristol Harbour Hotel has a tasteful nautical theme and some suites even have bathtubs in the bedroom. The hotel is housed in a beautiful period building and they also have an onsite pool and free breakfast.
Tours To Do in Bristol
Banksy Street Art Tour
In case you didn’t already know, Bristol is the hometown of the uber-famous and elusive street artist Banksy. The city is filled with some of his best works including The Girl With the Pearl Earring, Well Hung Lover, and The Mild Mild West.
You could hunt them all down yourself, or you can take a street art walking tour and let a local guide do all the hard work for you. Joining a tour will also allow you to learn more about the artist and the meanings behind his pieces as well as Bristol’s street art scene today.
Craft Beer Tour
Bristol is one of the UK’s best cities for craft beer and has lots of speciality craft beer bars, breweries, and taprooms. By joining a craft beer tour, you will be able to sample flights of lots of different beers from multiple local Bristol breweries. You will also have the advantage of a knowledgeable guide who can reserve tables because it can be difficult to find free seats on a busy weekend in Bristol!
Ferry Boat Tour
Want to see more of Bristol’s historic harbour? Join a boat tour where you can learn all about Bristol’s maritime past and see the city from a different angle. Most boat tours depart from Wapping Wharf and last up to 60 minutes.
Day Trips From Bristol
Yes, Jane Austen country is only a 40-minute drive (12 miles) away from Bristol which makes the city of Bath ideal for a day trip. You can visit the Roman Baths that the town is named after, the beautiful Georgian houses on Royal Crescent, or a simple stroll around this gorgeous city. Most of the buildings are made from the local Bath limestone so the city has a clean, unified style.
Bristol is located on the border of the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It’s an area of England famous for adorable, charming cobblestone towns that look straight out of a fairytale book. Castle Combe, Tetbury, and Slaughterford are just a few of those beautiful towns that are only around 20 miles away from Bristol.
Do you love cheese? Of course, you do. Love geology or cool rock formations? Sure! Take a day trip to the town of Cheddar and follow the hiking trail through this beautiful ravine. You can also explore the caves here before heading into the village and tasting as much of the town’s namesake treat as you can. It’s only a 45-minute drive (or 20 miles) south of the city.
Recommended tours in Bristol
- Blackbeard to Banksy – The Ultimate Walking Tour of Bristol
- Bristol’s Darkest Secrets Tour
- Guided Walking Tour of Bristol Old City and Harbour
- Guided Walking Tour of Suspension Bridge, Clifton Splendour & Old City
- Bristol Balloon Fiesta Champagne Flight from Bristol
- Bristol Street Art: Banksy & The Capital of Graffiti Exploration Game
- Brunel’s Bristol: A Self-Guided Tour from SS Great Britain to Clifton Bridge
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