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These Are Some Great Things To Do In Bristol, UK!

Exploring the south of England? In that case, Bristol should be on your list of places to discover! This English city draws travellers year after year due to the historic and different vibes it gives off. Whether you are travelling alone, with a partner, or as a family with kids, Bristol offers different things for all interests!

So, to bring you the best things to do in Bristol, we enlisted the help (once again) of Laura from She Who Wanders. She lived in Bristol, fell in love with the city, and now knows loads about what there is to check out in Bristol!

From historical things to do in Bristol to lounging by the water’s edge at Harbourside, and exploring the vibrant and modern art scene, there is no shortage of unique things to do in Bristol! So, here’s Laura with her top Bristol tips and more!

if you are planning a larger trip to the south of the UK or are heading to Europe for the first time, here are a few more helpful posts to check out:

General Information About Bristol

ship in water with cranes along water edge in bristol things to do
The water plays a huge role in shaping Bristol! // Photo: Laura O.

Located in the South-Western part of the United Kingdom and home to just over 535 900 residents, Bristol is a city that is often overlooked for London by visitors. Bristol has a vibrant maritime history which was once underwater – but has now turned into a mecca for the arts, food & drink, and events of all kinds.

Straddling the Avon River, much of Bristol’s vibrancy comes from its harbourside area where you’ll find incredible tall ships, World-class restaurants, pubs with the perfect pints for those sunny afternoons and a whole lot of history to be discovered. Street art aficionados will revel in the amazing works of art by local talent and those from abroad, and if you look hard enough you may just lay your eyes on a Banksy (he’s a local boy, after all).

If the street art scene isn’t for you then maybe it’s the theatre in which case you have several prestigious locations to check out including the Bristol Hippodrome & The Bristol Old Vic theatre. Young or old, rain or shine, weekend or month-long, no matter who you are or what brings you to Bristol, you’ll be sure to find enough to keep you coming back for years on end.

Best Time to Visit Bristol

The best time to visit Bristol would have to be summer and/or autumn. Remember, the weather in England can be unpredictable (to say the least), but if you’re looking to make the most of the best weather months I would suggest the tail end of summer after everyone has gone back to school.

Alternatively, the Autumn months when the leaves go all golden can be quite gorgeous as well. While England is synonymous with rain, being in the South West does give Bristol a little bit of a better weather pattern (for the most part).

Getting To/Around Bristol

One of the most walkable cities I’ve had the pleasure of living in, Bristol is easily accessible on foot to most places. If you’re traveling with little ones or the weather takes a turn, then you’ll look to the First West bus service for public transportation. There’s even a downloadable app for your smartphone where tickets cost less than purchasing from the driver.

A day ticket that allows you multiple rides on multiple services costs £4.00 on the app and £5.00 from the driver. If you’re coming into Bristol from the airport there are two options: a pricey taxi or a relatively inexpensive airport shuttle (the Bristol Flyer) at 7.00 pounds one way or 11.00 pounds return per adult running nearly every 10 minutes daily.

If it’s by train that you’re arriving into Bristol, you’ll find yourself at Bristol Temple Meads station (which is really gorgeous) with easy connections by bus or by foot into the city center as well. You can check out train times at the National Rail website.

Explore Like a Local – Discover Bristol on a Private Tour!

Where to Stay in Bristol

Since Bristol is such a popular city in the UK, there are loads of accommodation options for you to choose from. From nice hotels to apartments, guesthouses, and Airbnbs, you’ll have no problem finding a place that works for your style and budget. If you are looking for a place to stay, check here for accommodations in Bristol.

Specifically, Laura recommends checking out the Mercure Grand Hotel in a historic building or the Royal Marriott Bristol Hotel in a gorgeous Victorian-era building!

If you are more into hostels, there are a handful in Bristol that are really great. You can check for hostels in Bristol here. Specifically, The Bristol Wing is a great place for a non-party atmosphere. Kyle Blue is a hostel ON A BOAT which is also really, really cool!

Great Things to Do in Bristol

Now that we’ve covered the basics, here are some of the best things to do in Bristol! Of course, this isn’t everything – but you’ll get a pretty good sense of what there is to do and check out while in the city!

Clifton Suspension Bridge

suspension bridge crossing large rock gap things to do in bristol
Always a wonder to see and cross! // Photo: Laura O.

Opening in 1864, the Clifton Suspension Bridge is one of Bristol’s most famous (and most beautiful) attractions. Spanning both the Avon River & Avon Gorge, the suspension bridge links Bristol to North Somerset with spectacular views on either side and can be traversed by vehicle, bicycle and on foot with pathways on either side.

Originally designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and later executed by William Henry Barlow and John Hawkshaw on that same design some years later, the bridge is 412 m in length and sits 75 m above sea level. Sunrise & sunset from the bridge can be breathtaking, as well as the views out over the bridge from the observatory that sits just next to it.

large bridge crossing gap with water below bristol
Photo: Laura O.

No matter the weather, she really does stand above the rest in terms of bridges to Bristolians and it’s no surprise why once you see it for yourself. Would definitely recommend checking it out!

Address: Bridge Rd, Leigh Woods, Bristol BS8 3PA

SS Great Britain

large ship in water in harbour things to do in bristol
The SS Great Britain ready to welcome you aboard! // Photo: Laura O.

This former passenger ship turned museum is a huge part of Bristol’s history. Between 1845 – 1854, the SS Great Britain was the longest passenger vessel of her kind in the world during that decade. As the first iron steamer to cross the Atlantic in 14 days in 1845, she transported passengers and cargo over her years at sea from Liverpool to New York City, and in 1852 made her way to Australia with passengers emigrating from the UK.

In 1970, after being abandoned for 33 years, the SS Great Britain was retrieved from the Falkland Islands and returned to the Bristol Dry Dock where she now lives and welcomes nearly 200,000 visitors a year. With ticket prices ranging from £ 17.00 (adults) to £10.00 (children) and the ticket staying valid for 12 months, you’ll be wishing you could come back time and time again to visit and explore the ship.

art on wall inside ship in bristol ss great britain
Photo: Laura O.

You can get sucked right into life as a passenger on the ship exploring the hull and the inner workings of the kitchen. You can go aloft by climbing the rigging on the sails, and explore the newest exhibit – Being Brunel – where you get an inside look into the man and legend that brought this ship to life. You can learn all about the famous ship and museum here.

Address: Great Western Dockyard, Gas Ferry Rd, Bristol BS1 6TY

Bristol Zoo

penguins standing together in zoo enclosure things to do in bristol
PENGUINS! (how fitting…) // Photo: Laura O.

Opened in 1836 by the Bristol, Clifton and West of England Zoological Society, Bristol Zoo is the world’s oldest provincial zoo. Located in a quiet section of Bristol you’ll find not just a zoo, but a conservation and education charity. A location for a wedding or special event and of course a multitude of animals are housed over its grounds. There are countless talks throughout the day on the resident animals ranging from gorillas to lions and even feedings for seals!

Exhibits range from The Seal and Penguin Coast to a Bird Forest, Gorilla Island, The Reptile House, and a mesmerizing aquarium just to name a few. The zoo has a few special accolades like being the first zoo to welcome the birth of a black rhino born in the UK in 1958. The zoo also held the first chimpanzee born in Europe in 1934.

Today, the zoo is continuing its efforts to promote the sustainable housing of its animals as well as conserving the species. With admission costing less than 20 pounds/person it’s the perfect day out for the whole family and the perfect place to try your hand at animal photography too! Check out ticket prices and information for the Bristol Zoo here.

Address: College Rd, Clifton, Bristol BS8 3HA

Bristol Museum and Art Gallery

man in model airplane hanging from museum ceiling bristol art museum
Photo: Laura O.

Who doesn’t love a museum with free entry!? Located at the top of Park street right next to Bristol University, this impressive building is home to loads to see including: art by the infamous Banksy (a Bristol resident rumor has it), an incredible array of fossils, a Romani caravan, and other countless exhibitions throughout the year.

You might want to discover Egyptian mummies, wildlife native to the South West, brilliant dinosaur fossils and artifacts, and get in tune with your inner artist taking in paintings from the Victorian, British & European art style.

Depending on when you visit, you’ll be able to enter exhibitions such as Japanese Masters, Banksy, and even one on tribal masks. If you’d like to visit, check out the website for the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery here.

Address: Queens Rd, Bristol BS8 1RL

M Shed

plane and balloons handing from ceiling in mshed bristol things to do
Don’t forget to look up! // Photo: Laura O.

Open Tuesday through Sunday, this vibrant museum is home to fantastic pieces of Bristol harbour history and located right at the start of the harbourside giving you great views as you walk to the entrance. Moving through exhibits on the people and places of Bristol, this museum covers three floors of the building – and you’ll get a true sense of the cities history and just how big of an impact the dockside area had on the city from the 1950s to today.

You’ll notice massive cranes outside of the museum itself which always draw people’s attention. On chosen days, you can even grab a ride on the steam train that goes along the harbour starting from the front doors of the M Shed too.

The museum has been home to travelling exhibits in past years such as The National Geographic Photo of the Year Exhibition and more recently an exhibition on British tattoo art and its history. You can learn more about M Shed here.

Address: Princes Wharf, Wapping Rd, Bristol BS1 4RN

St Nicholas Market

alleyway lit up at night with spire in background bristol market
The market can be enchanting at night… // Photo: Laura O.

Named Britain’s best large indoor market in 2016, St Nicholas market is home to the largest collection of independent retailers in the city. On any given day, you’ll also stumble upon an additional outdoor section to the market selling everything from vintage housewares, clothing, treats from around the world and art from local painters and photographers.

Established in the 1740s, this market is the oldest in the city and operates year-round, rain or shine with dozens of different vendors on offer.

Food is a huge draw for those coming to check out the market and with so many options to choose from, I’ll give you a few local favourites to narrow it down. Check out Eatchu for award winning dumplings, Ah Toots for tea and cake to solve all of the world’s problems, and Eat A Pitta for the best falafel around (or at least in the market). You can learn more about St Nicholas Market here.

Address: The Corn Exchange, Corn St, Bristol BS1 1JQ

Bristol Harbourside + Whapping Wharf

boat in blue river with colourful houses behind things to do in bristol
A perfect day at the Harbourside… // Photo: Laura O.

Where do the hearts of a lot of Bristolians lie you might ask? A good and often answer is likely to be the Harbour. Full of life on any given day, it’s the perfect place to be – especially on a sunny afternoon.

From Princes St Bridge, just past the M Shed you’ll find yourself in the bustling section of the city known as Whapping Wharf where dozens of shipping containers have been turned into pubs, cafes, restaurants & even florists. Grab a coffee and banana bread at Little Victories, lunch at Squeezed for the best burger of your life, or a cheeky cider at Bristols Cider Shop.

Explore the Harbour – Hop on a Bristol Sightseeing Cruise

Eat in and watch the world go by or take it to go and dangle your feet over the edge of the boardwalks watching the waterways come to life with SUP yoga pros, kayakers, ferries & dragon boaters go by.

After your fill, you can walk a circular loop down past the SS Great Britain, down towards Underfall Yard, a historic boatyard housing lots of different vessels. Then head along to Baltic Wharf where you can marvel at the rainbow row houses of Hotwells and Clifton, turning onto merchants road and continuing along the path along tons of cafes and restaurants on the opposite bank of the Avon River.

ship at night sitting in water with colourful houses behind bristol harbourside
The morning air at Harbourside is not to be missed.. // Photo: Laura O.

Spot the iconic yellow Bristol ferries as they go past and watch out for Gromit! Finish off at Lloyds Amphitheatre or head on towards Millennium Square where there is never a shortage of entertainment going on. Check out the Whapping Wharf website for events and information here.

Address: Welsh Back, Bristol BS1 4SP

Cabot Tower

stone tower among green trees with river in front cabot tower bristol
The Cabot Tower // Photo: Laura O.

This tower was built in the 1890’s to commemorate the 400th anniversary of John Cabot’s journey from Bristol to what is now known as.. Canada! The Grade II listed building is still standing tall and proud today in the middle of Brandon Hill park for all to see, and to climb.

views of english town houses from high up cabot tower bristol
Views from the tower… // Photo: Laura O.

From the base of the park you can wander your way up through the gorgeous trees which turn to bright pink blossom in the Spring towards Cabot tower. During daylight hours you can climb the 100+ steps to the top and be gifted with the most spectacular panoramic views of Bristol and beyond. Learn all about visiting the tower on the hill here.

Address: Brandon Hill Park, Park St, Bristol BS1 5RR

Ashton Court Estate

This historic National Trust site is located just 10 minutes (drive) from Bristol city center and is easily accessible on foot as well. Covering 850 acres with a gorgeous manor house at the top of the grounds which was once was owned by the Smyth family (who then later gifted it to the National Trust), you’re free to roam around the grounds. This makes it the perfect place for a run, a dog walk or even a picnic in the grass.

On the highest point of the estate there are two 18-hole pitch and putt golf courses that give great views over the city. In addition to these, there are special trails for mountaineering and biking and even a miniature railway open on select weekends during the year. And if that hasn’t sold you enough, in the drier warmer months at dawn and dusk there is a good chance you’ll see hot air balloons taking off from the site.

Oh, and if you needed one last reason to visit, there are DEER! Yes, the estate is also home to a very old deer park where you’ll be able to spot countless deer grazing in the grass and making you feel as if you’ve stepped back in time. You can plan a visit and learn more about Ashton Court here.

Address: Ashton Court Estate, Long Ashton, Bristol BS41 9JN

Lido Bristol

blue pool with changing rooms behind in sunshine things to do in bristol lido
The water at Lido is always inviting! // Photo: Laura O.

Located in the historic and beautiful neighbourhood of Clifton, this hidden oasis will have you feeling like you’ve popped over somewhere tropical, especially when the sun is shining. Originally opened in 1850, this historic Lido was once closed down and set for demolition before the Bristol Glass Boat company purchased the Grade II listed building and turned it into what is today.

Opening their doors in 2008, Lido was newly refurbished with not only the 24 metre swimming pool but a steam room and sauna, hot tub, spa facilities, and a fantastic restaurant and cafe. While the Lido is a members-only swimming pool, they do open the doors Monday – Friday to the public from 1 pm-4 pm where you are able to use all the facilities for £25.00.

Additionally, you can book into the spa for treatments or the restaurant for meals or drinks at any given time without a membership. It’s the perfect place to relax and let your worries float away. You can plan your visit to Lido here.

Address: Oakfield Pl, Bristol BS8 2BJ

North Street

street art of women on side of wall in bristol street art
The street art in Bristol is around every turn basically.. // Photo: Laura O.

Why visit a street in Bristol? Well, it’s not just any street you see! North Street in Bedminster is south of the Avon River from the downtown core and home to some incredible things.

Firstly, the street art scene. All along North street and off on tangent streets and alleyways you’ll find some absolutely spectacular street art from local artists and those from afar thanks to the Infamous UPFEST street art festival.

While the festival is currently taking a break, the artwork from previous years can still be seen throughout this neighbourhood, and when it is on (during the month of July) it’s a scene like no other.

Secondly, the food and drink scene here is fantastic. Local indie cafes like Albatross and North Street Standard will curb anyone’s need for caffeine and keep the hunger away.

mug of coffee with design on top on wooden table in bristol
Coffee in North Street, anyone? // Photo: Laura O.

Next up, shopping! Independent retailers dominate North Street where you’ll be able to find anything from adorable vintage items at Rhubarb Jumble, Casper with its retail and workshop space and Toyville to treat the kids. Even UPFEST has a gallery shop to buy prints and products from the artists who have done the street art here. An added bonus is that on a Sunday The Tobacco Factory runs a market with live music, fresh food, fab coffees and local retail stalls too!

Address: North Street, Bristol

Christmas Steps

english buildings with sunset overhead in bristol
The views of the Steps from above // Photo: Laura O.

This historic street in the centre of Bristol is more than just a set of steps (very steep ones at that). This iconic section of the city instantly transports visitors to a simpler time, a time of horse and carriage, and classic old-time pubs. Stop into the Christmas Steps pub for a pint and stay for lunch in front of the fire.

Head into the galleries that dot the stairway or if you fancy a little more of a unique night out, head into Chance & Counters, a board game cafe boasting a collection of 600 games to be played with a food and drink menu to keep you going well into the night.

Visiting in the evening you’ll be able to see it in a whole new light, twinkle lights that is. Giving it an even more magical feel, the cobbles light up after a downpour of rain leaving you to imagine what this area has seen across history.

Address: Christmas Steps, Bristol BS1 5BS

Royal Fort Gardens

historic building with green lawn and mirror maze in front bristol things to do
Don’t get lost in the maze! // Photo: Laura O.

Located right near Bristol University and housing the offices for the Faculty of Sciences, the Brigstow Institute, Elizabeth Blackwell Institute for Health Research, the Cabot Institute and the Jean Golding Institute for data-intensive research, this is so much more than a portion of the University Campus.

Owned by the University, but open to the public, Royal Fort Gardens contains a peaceful atmosphere even during term time. Catch up with friends over coffee around the pond or under the massive trees that line the paths, check out the amazing wildflower gardens in spring and summer that the Gardens work so hard to keep vibrant and lush.

Or let your eyes wander down the hill to a mirror maze installed by World-renowned artist Jepe Hein called “Follow Me”. Learn about the Royal House and gardens here.

Address: Bristol BS8 1UH

Bonus: Bristol International Balloon Fiesta

hot air balloons taking off into blue sky bristol balloon fiesta
Balloons, everywhere! // Photo: Laura O.

This is a seasonal activity but TOO good not to mention! First held in 1979 and now one of the largest festivals of its kind in Europe, the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta is a sight not to be missed.

For 3.5 days during the first week of August balloonists from around the UK and the World bring their balloons out for display for what can usually be described as a magical experience for viewers and those lucky enough to book in on a flight during that weekend.

The fiesta opens at midday with countless food and drink stalls, rides for the kids, booths from local retailers and businesses all which stay up for the entirety of the festival and closes out on the Sunday evening.

hot air balloons getting inflated in a row at night thing to do in bristol
Preparation starts early in the morning… // Photo: Laura O.

While this festival is one not to be missed, weather plays a big part in whether or not the balloons are allowed to fly. You need the right combo of wind but not too windy, they can fly in rain but not too much, so it’s all down to the wire on when the balloons are allowed to take off – but when they do it’s absolutely spectacular.

Up to 130 balloons can take off during a mass ascent and can be seen from several locations around the city. So even if you aren’t at the festival you can see the balloons in the sky.

But never fear because if your visit is outside of the festival days but falls between May-Late September at dusk and dawn it only takes looking up for the chance to see flights over the city. And if you’re brave enough to take a flight yourself you have countless companies to choose from to see Bristol from above.

You can learn all about the Bristol Balloon Fiesta at the official website. The current dates for this year are August 8-11, 2019 

And there you have it – some of the best things to do in Bristol! A huge shout out (once again) to Laura for being awesome and sharing her UK travel tips. Penguin and Pia wouldn’t be the same without her! You can follow along with what Laura is up to over at She Who Wanders!

As always, Happy Bristol Waddlin’,
-L&E

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    Things to do in Bristol England

    Author

    Laura is a Canadian content creator who has called Quebec, Alberta, and British Columbia, as well as Australia, New Zealand, and the UK her "home". Her travel experiences have taken her to the volcanoes of Central America, the waterfalls of Hawaii, the castles of England, and much more. In addition to writing for She Who Wanders and Penguin & Pia, her work can be found published on Contiki, Getting Stamped, Women Who Explore, and Buzzfeed.

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