Things To See And Do In Bristol
Although most visitors to England focus solely on the capital city of London, there are many other hidden treasures throughout the country.
Bristol is one such location.
“Bristol? There’s not much there.”
That was the common response I got anytime I said I was going to Bristol from the locals.
Naturally, I didn’t have very high hopes. However, I went there anyhow. Since there are no absolute must-sees, there are also no absolute must-not-sees.
Upon my arrival, I discovered a trendy college town that was home to a wide variety of excellent restaurants, delicious ethnic cuisine, interesting attractions, and ample opportunities for outdoor recreation.
You may compare Bristol to Seattle and say that it’s the English equivalent. Most visitors tend to use it as a jumping-off point for excursions to Bath, but they never spend much time in the city itself, instead skimming the surface before making the long journey back to London.
This is a mistake.
Bristol is one of England’s largest shipping ports and, with a population of over 500,000, is the second-largest city in southern England (after London). In 1155, it was granted a royal charter, and until the Industrial Revolution, it was one of England’s major cities along with Liverpool, Birmingham, and Manchester.
The city of Bristol was heavily bombed during World War II, leading to the downfall of its once-thriving manufacturing sector. This city has developed into a thriving university community. Bristol is largely shaped by the University of Bristol, and the city benefits greatly from the influx of students.
Here is a list of some of my favourite places and activities in Bristol to help you make the most of your time there:
1. Bristol Cathedral
This stunning Romanesque cathedral was dedicated in the year 1148. (and has a similar design to Notre Dame in Paris). The cathedral, which dates back to its days as St. Augustine’s Abbey, is more than 300 feet in length. Although much of the structure has been restored, the original structure still stands in one corner.
Free tours are offered every Saturday at 11:30 am and 1:30 pm, with a suggested gift of 5 GBP.
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2. Wander King Street
King Street, an interesting and historically significant area of Bristol, was first mapped out in the year 1650. It was the destination for the old sailing barges coming from South Wales. The neighbourhood has flourished into a vibrant entertainment hub, complete with world-class dining and nightlife. The Hatchet Inn, which was established in 1606, is only one of several taverns that date back to the 17th century that are still operational.
3. See the Clifton Suspension Bridge
In Bristol, this is without a doubt the most well-known landmark. The bridge opened in 1864 and offers spectacular views of the river and the nearby gardens and buildings from its perch high above the Avon Gorge and the Avon. Also, in the 1970s, it hosted the first British bungee jump. The bridge is 1,352 feet long (412 metres), and it carries about 10,000 cars every day. It also has a modest visitor centre (open everyday from 10am to 5pm) where you can find out more about the bridge and its history.
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4. Check out St. Nicholas Market
It’s a busy marketplace with more stores than you could ever visit in a single afternoon. There is an overwhelming abundance of thrift stores, antique shops, and farmer’s markets selling delicious, fresh food. With a history that goes back to 1743, the market is a great spot to take a stroll, check out some new wares, and people watch.
5. Visit the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery
The museum, which has been open since 1823, features displays on a wide range of topics, from archaeology and dinosaurs to English history and art. Non-history nerds won’t be bored by the wide range of topics covered. It’s the biggest museum in town, and one of my favourites, too. Even though the museum has tens of thousands of objects, it is manageable and can be seen in a couple of hours. The museum is free, as are all public museums in England.
6. Take a Walking Tour
Bristol has been a significant port for about a millennium, making it an ancient city. Due to its long and storied past, it is perhaps not surprising that ghost stories have accumulated there. Take a Haunted and Hidden Ghost Walks tour to hear some of the stories while you explore the city. Their 90-minute tour is well-executed and well-worth the 5 GBP price tag.
A street art tour may be more your speed than a ghostly one. Bristol is filled with murals, including many by Banksy. The best public artwork in the city can be seen on Where the Wall’s 2-hour long tour. Starting at 7.50 GBP, tours are not cheap.
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7. See the S.S. Great Britain
The S.S. Great Britain, berthed at the harbour, was the first steam-powered passenger liner. It set sail on her maiden trip in 1845 and, for over a decade, held the record for longest ship in the world. It measures 322 feet in length.
It was so massive that it took six years to construct, and unfortunately the owners went bankrupt not long after it was first introduced to the public. Very soon after that, it ran aground and was sold for scrap. It was converted to complete sail in 1852 and operated to carry passengers to Australia until 1881. After being sunk and scuttled in the Falkland Islands in 1937, it was found 33 years later, towed back to the United Kingdom, and made into a tourist attraction.
8. Have Fun at WetheCurious
The mission of this arts and scientific museum is to inspire wonder and learning. It opened in the year 2000 and has more than 250 exhibits that you can engage with, making it a great spot to take children on vacation. A planetarium, 3D printers, and displays on the human body, magnets, animation, and more are all available here.
9. Relax at the Downs
The Downs, which include both Clifton Down and Durdham Down, are a patch of green space on the outskirts of Bristol. The 400-acre parks are close to the Clifton Suspension Bridge and the Avon Gorge, and they are great for taking a stroll or watching local sports.
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10. See Cabot Tower
The tower, which measures 32 metres (105 feet) tall, was constructed in the 1890s to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Italian explorer John Cabot’s departure from Bristol and his subsequent “discovery” of North America (he was the first European to visit North America since the Norse Vikings in 1,000 CE). The tower is made of sandstone, and within it features a small, winding stairway that leads to a lookout point.
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