Bristol is England’s sixth biggest city, home to nearly 450,000 people. The area has been populated since the Iron Age with evidence of ancient forts and Roman villas in the surrounding countryside. Bristol has thrived throughout the centuries, once a popular port for journeys to America, and now a hub for culture, aerospace and industry. Today, Bristol is a colourful and welcoming city with easy access to coastline and natural countryside, making it a great place to start exploring England. Here are some of the best things to do on your next trip to Bristol.
1. Bristol Harbour
Start your Bristol experience with a trip to Bristol Harbour. The harbour has stood since the 13th century due to its excellent location upon the River Avon. In the past, this was the departure point for ships sailing to the ‘New World’ and a popular arrival destination for Europeans.
Today, the main port has been moved further downstream but the harbour remains full of activity, with a number of arts and exhibitions spaces on-site, as well as cafes and interesting attractions. Take a river cruise on a ferry to learn more about Bristol, the River Avon, and nearby towns. Or time your trip to coincide with the Bristol Harbour Festival to see a grand array of boats on display, including Royal Navy vessels and tall ships.
2. Clifton Suspension Bridge
The Clifton Suspension Bridge is an iconic Bristol landmark, having opened in 1864. The bridge spans a total of 214m over the Avon Gorge, linking Bristol to the beautiful Leigh Woods. The final design of the bridge was adapted from Isambard Kingdom Brunel, a famous English industrial designer.
Before walking across the bridge, climb nearby Observatory Hill for one of the best views of the bridge in Bristol – a perfect place to stop for photography! Take a free tour across the bridge and see if you can notice it swaying gently, as all suspension bridges do. Finish your trip at the Visitor Centre located on the Leigh Woods side of the bridge. With free entry and a gift shop, the Visitor Centre is also an ideal place to learn more about the history and influence of this infamous Bristol landmark.
At-Bristol is the city’s science centre, featuring hands-on activities, interactive exhibits, workshops and talks. Exhibitions cover fascinating topics including the human body, geography and physics. There are lots of activities for all of the family. You can create your own animated short, build a flying object, and try out optical illusions.
Attend the planetarium for demonstrations on space, or visit the Live Science Zone to explore current hot topics. At-Bristol features a programme of constantly changing events and activities, so there is always something new to experience. End your visit with a break in the café for sustainable and delicious snacks, or get a scientific souvenir from the shop.
4. Bristol Zoo
Bristol Zoo is a lovely place to spend a day out, with a huge variety of animals on show, including Asiatic lions, red pandas and seals. Since 1836, the zoo has been committed to conservation and research. Bristol Zoo was the first in the world to breed okapis, and is also one of the few zoos in Britain where you can find aye ayes and lowland gorillas.
Visit the Twilight Zone for a unique indoors experience that guides you through artificially-created night-time habitats, offering an opportunity to see nocturnal creatures in their natural setting. For the brave, tackle ZooRopia, an adventure rope course that leads you through the zoo alongside gibbons, lemurs and gorillas. And for a truly special zoo experience, book a stay at The Lodge to see the zoo after closing hours, with a private tour and delicious food.
5. Cabot Tower
Cabot Tower is a 32m high tower situated in the beautiful Brandon Hill park. The tower was built in 1897 to celebrate John Cabot’s voyage from Bristol to North America 400 years earlier. The tower is a listed building which you can climb via spiral staircase for impressive views out across the city.
Afterwards, spend some time exploring Brandon Hill, Bristol’s oldest park. The park features a number of gardens which look especially gorgeous in spring. Walk through the park’s small nature reserve, home to a wildflower meadow, a pond for newts and frogs, and a butterfly garden.
6. SS Great Britain
The SS Great Britain is a historically-important ship, once an iron steamship used to ferry visitors across the Atlantic between Bristol and New York. The ship was built in 1845 and was the world’s longest passenger ship for almost ten years.
The ship was designed by the famous designer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and could carry 360 passengers alongside cabins and recreational facilities. This was an astounding achievement at the time. Over the years, the SS Great Britain has transported immigrants to Australia and been used as a warehouse. Today, the ship is a floating museum dedicated to telling the story of this remarkable vessel. A must-visit in Bristol.
7. St Mary Redcliffe
Completed in the 15th century, St Mary Redcliffe is an imposing gothic-style church with beautiful historical architecture. The church was built on an important site of Christian worship that has been used for centuries. Praised by Queen Elizabeth I, St Mary Redcliffe is a delight to witness and a great way to explore some of Bristol’s history.
The church features stained glass windows dating from the 14th century all the way up to the 1960s. Inside you will also find a number of statues and monuments, as well as 15 bells in the church tower, dating from the 17th century. Today the church is still used as a community space and for prayer, as well as hosting regular choir and organ performances.
Watershed has stood on Bristol’s harbour since 1982, making it Britain’s first dedicated space for media. Housed in ex-warehouses, Watershed holds three cinemas, a café, and a number of open spaces for small businesses and creative use. Watershed is a great place to experience Bristol life, as it is a vibrant place that is popular with the locals, designed to encourage culture and connection.
Come to Watershed to catch the latest blockbuster, a niche indie film, and unique film-based events including talks and workshops. Listen to filmmakers discussing their recent projects, or get hands-on with Watershed’s practical events. Watershed has been home to a number of festivals and is used by the British Film Institute to promote film, culture, and critique. This is a wonderful place for film fans, and the café offers a gorgeous spot to sip a coffee right besides Bristol’s waterfront.
9. Queen Square
Queen Square is a popular green space located in the heart of the city. The Square offers a calming retreat away from the hustle of the city centre whilst still retaining a sense of Bristol’s unique vibrancy. The Georgian park has existed since 1622 when it was a fashionable place for residents to live.
Today, you can still walk down the Georgian promenades and view the beautiful architecture of the surrounding houses. Visit the statue of John Michael Rysbrack in the centre of the park, which has stood here since 1736. The park is a great place to sit and relax on a sunny day, and also hosts many public events including open air theatre and concerts.
10. Georgian House
The Georgian House is a historic building, built in 1790 and currently used as a museum. The house showcases typical life in the 18th century in Bristol, with free entry to visitors. Learn about the servants’ and housekeeper’s chambers, and stroll through the meticulously restored resident’s house, including a drawing room, bedroom and dining room.
There is also a small display outlining the history of the family that once lived here and the sugar trade they worked in. The Georgian House is a unique way to experience a slice of Bristol’s history and culture.
11. Royal West of England Academy
The Royal West of England Academy is Bristol’s first art gallery, built in the 19th century in order to celebrate local and international artists. The academy continues to dedicate itself to promoting arts and culture in Britain, and the gallery features work by important artists such as Vanessa Bell, Julian Trevelyan, and Gilbert Spencer.
The gallery also features regular temporary exhibits and one-off events, showcasing subjects such as landscape paintings, female artists, and even hosting workshops to get visitors into creating their own art! This is the perfect place to experience some culture in Bristol.
12. Ashton Court
Ashton Court is a stately home and grounds that once belonged to a wealthy family living in Bristol. With 850 acres of land, there is plenty to explore and see here. The manor has stood since the 11th century, a beautiful building with an eclectic mixture of architectural styles, evidencing the additions and changes that have been made over the centuries.
Explore the mansion and gain a taste of noble life in this home. Spend some time on the grounds which have been a deer park for over 600 years. See deer frolicking amongst the ancient oak trees, and hike or bike along the specially designated trails. Ashton Court is a gorgeous and historical way to enjoy the countryside surrounding Bristol.
13. Blaise Castle
Blaise Castle is home to a mansion and estate built in 1798 on a site that has been inhabited since Neolithic times. On the estate is a stately home currently used as a museum, the castle itself, and 650 acres of parkland. Start with a visit to the house to learn about life in Bristol since the 17th century. The Picture Room is a gorgeous home gallery showcasing paintings from the inhabitants’ collections over the years. Learn about early children’s toys and games, or stroll through a perfectly-recreated Victorian school room.
Move onto the nearby Roman Villa featuring the only Roman baths in Bristol, original mosaic floors, and a unique touch of Roman history in the city. Be sure to visit the Blaise Castle standing on a hill overlooking Avon Gorge and Bristol, with excellent vistas. Finish your trip to the estate by exploring the woods which are home to beautiful flowers, plants and English wildlife.
Arnolfini is Bristol’s hub for contemporary art, showcasing international and local art and culture. Located on the harbourside, the gallery has featured works by Paul McCartney, Bridget Riley and Jack Yeats. It is regularly used as an events and exhibition space for art, dance, music, and even lectures.
Be sure to check the week’s listings as the gallery hosts film screenings, archive displays and art installations. Stop by the Reading Room for an extensive library of art books, magazines and resources, available to peruse in a quiet environment. Visit the shop for one of the country’s best collections of art books, or grab a bite to eat at the café. Arnolfini is one of the best places in Bristol for contemporary arts and culture.
15. Avon Valley Railway
To experience an important part of Bristol’s heritage, pay a visit to the Avon Valley Railway. The railway was once used to connect Bristol to Bath, but today it is a tourist attraction with around 80,000 visitors every year. Avon Valley Railway features a fully-restored Victorian station to provide an immersive historical experience.
The railway also runs regular steam and diesel train rides for visitors – or, for hiking enthusiasts, you can walk alongside the track. Be sure to stop by the museum to learn more about the railway’s history, and pick up a souvenir in the shop.
16. Bristol Hippodrome
The Bristol Hippodrome is a theatre and performance venue built in 1912, and one of Bristol’s largest venues. The Hippodrome is one of the best places to go to catch a live show. The venue has hosted acts such as Eddie Cochran and Lee Mack, and is a popular spot for touring West End theatre shows, including Cats and Les Miserables.
This historical building provides the biggest names in live performances, all in a beautiful setting. Take some time to admire the architecture before turning your eyes to the stage.
Tyntesfield is a stately home located just outside Bristol featuring beautiful gothic-style architecture set amongst gorgeous and peaceful gardens. The home is part of the Tyntesfield estate which is home to flower displays, a lake, and plenty of woodland to get lost in.
Begin your journey through Tyntesfield at the house, constructed from 1843 into the current building standing tall on the estate. The house features thousands of objects from the period, reflecting life at the time in Bristol. Wander through immaculate historical rooms with original architecture and details.
Go outside to the gardens which feature a huge variety of plants and flowers, all laid out decoratively in stunning displays. Here you will find a rose garden, an arboretum, a kitchen garden, and a cut flower garden where flowers are taken to form the arrangements inside. Finally, relax with a walk through the estate’s woodland or parkland, the perfect place to find local wildlife including bats, badgers and hares.
18. Blaise Hamlet
Built in 1811 as a home for retired staff from Blaise Castle, Blaise Hamlet features a small collection of buildings that remain well-preserved to this day.
The hamlet is made up of nine quaint cottages laid out around the hamlet’s green, forming a picturesque scene of the English countryside. This hamlet was one of the first of its kind and is also home to an original stone sundial and water pump. The hamlet puts on frequent events that change with the seasons, including wildlife explorations, group runs, and sketching sessions.
19. Spike Island
Spike Island is a creative space, dedicated to developing and promoting contemporary art and design. Spike Island was once a man-made island but has since been joined to the mainland and is now a hub for Bristol’s active culture scene.
Spike Island has a weekly roster of arts events and exhibits, featuring work from modern artists around the world. There are also talks, activities, workshops, performances and screenings on offer every week so there is always something new and exciting to engage with. Visit the Spike Island Café for organic, sustainable food with plenty of veggie options and delicious baked goods on offer.
20. The Old Duke
For fans of jazz and blues, The Old Duke is a must. This pub is infamous in the jazz and blues scene. The Old Duke features live music every night, and even hosts its own jazz festival each year.
The pub was built in 1775 and features gorgeous architecture and a cosy vibe. Specialising in traditional, New Orleans-inspired jazz, The Old Duke has featured acts such as the Blue Notes, Andy Hague and Code Red. This important venue is a wonderful place to spend an evening listening to some good music in a vibrant atmosphere.
21. Bristol Cathedral
Bristol Cathedral was founded in 1140, but has been built upon and renovated over the centuries. The cathedral features impressive gothic-style architecture and has played an important part in Bristol’s history. The first female Church of England priests were ordained here. You can also find stained glass windows dating from the 14th century to the 1960s.
Visit the cathedral to view the towering vaulted ceilings, or attend a guided tour to learn about the building’s history, including its place in historical riots and archaeological discoveries. The cathedral was also used in the filming of BBC’s ‘Wolf Hall’ and now features a trail to help visitors place themselves in their favourite scenes.
22. Temple Church
The Temple Church ruins have a rich history and are one of the best landmarks to see in Bristol. During the 12th century, the church was donated to the Templars, a medieval religious order of knights tasked with protecting pilgrims. The Templars eventually fell into disrepute and in 1540, the church returned to the parish. During WWII, the church was bombed and gutted by fire, creating the ruins that can be seen today.
Amongst the ruins, you can see the shape of the original Templar church which is considered to be particularly long. On-site, there is also a leaning tower, tilting 1.6m away from where it once stood vertically. The tower was built in the 14th and 15th centuries. The Temple Church ruins are a perfect place to experience some of Bristol’s unique history.
23. Bristol’s Speakeasies
For a distinctive night out, spend some time getting to know Bristol’s hidden speakeasies. Bristol has plenty of lively nightlife, with a host of clubs and bars available to suit all tastes. More recently, speakeasies have become very popular, offering a more intimate nightlife experience.
Seek out The Milk Thistle, hidden in one of Bristol’s gorgeous historic buildings, and decked out with Prohibition-era-style décor. With a rotating cocktail menu, immersive atmosphere, and regular events such as whisky or gin clubs, this bar is sure to provide a unique drinking experience. For a ‘gentleman’s club’ vibe complete with wooden walls and leather smoking chairs, try Hyde & Co for original and themed cocktail concoctions. Speakeasies are a fun way to explore Bristol’s nightlife.
24. Bristol Museum and Art Gallery
Bristol Museum and Art Gallery is one of Bristol’s biggest, exploring local and natural history as well as showcasing extensive art collections. The museum has stood since 1823 with beautiful Victorian architecture throughout the building. The museum features exhibitions on natural and ancient history, including a focus on ancient civilisations, archaeology, local wildlife, dinosaurs and more.
Here you can find stuffed animals to ignite your imagination and relics from centuries ago, such as Egyptian sarcophagi. The gallery is home to both traditional and contemporary work by artists such as Pissarro, Constable and Gainsborough. The museum and gallery host a variety of events for all of the family, including talks, workshops and temporary exhibitions. This is an ideal day out for culture lovers.
Bristol is home to the legendary street artist Banksy, who is now internationally recognised. Banksy grew up in Bristol and some of his earliest pieces can be found on the streets of the city today. Banksy remains anonymous, his artwork seeming to appear overnight and completely unexpectedly. His work has appeared in cities around the world, selling for hundreds of thousands of pounds in some cases.
Tracking down Banksy’s Bristol pieces is an excellent way to explore the city and adventure down smaller streets and passageways. Alternatively, book a guided street art tour to learn more about Bristol’s street art scene. Famous pieces are dotted around the city, including the Grim Reaper, the Well Hung Lover, and the Masked Gorilla, amongst others.