Romantic, adventurous or family-friendly, whatever kind of holiday you’re looking for, Bristol has something up its sleeve for everyone.
Famed for its irreverent spirit, year-round festivals and proximity to beautiful countryside, it’s compact enough to get around on foot or bicycle (with plenty of cycle trails to boot), yet big enough to boast a thriving cultural scene, world-class attractions and one of the most exciting gastronomic reputations in the country. Here are our top 12 things to do in Bristol:
Bristol is a family-friendly destination with exciting, world-class attractions. For a great introduction to the city, take a sightseeing tour on one of Bristol Insight’s Open Top Buses.
Animal lovers should head for Bristol Zoo Gardens; set in 12 acres of vibrant, beautifully-kempt gardens, the zoo is home to over 400 species, including several gorillas which you can watch pace above your head in a 180 degree view gorilla house.
For more extraordinary up-close encounters with exotic animals, spend the night at Camp Baboon - Wild Place Project’s glamping venture. Discover an underwater world at Bristol Aquarium or head out of the city to find wildlife at Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm, Puxton Park, WWT Slimbridge Wetland Centre and Old Down Country Park.
Families will love getting hands-on with interactive exhibits at We The Curious, home to the UK’s first 3D Planetarium.
Get to grips with the amazing story of Bristol’s world-class aerospace industry and peek inside Concorde Alpha Foxtrot (the last Concorde to be built and fly) at Aerospace Bristol.
Learn about Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s legacy to the city at Brunel’s SS Great Britain and new museum Being Brunel, located alongside the magnificently-restored ship.
Combine with a visit to another of his greatest achievements, the Clifton Suspension Bridge – one of the city’s most iconic sights for an awe-inspiring day out.
For more panoramic views of Bristol, climb to the top of Cabot Tower or take it easy in the picturesque Brandon Hill Nature Park below.
Bristol’s independent sector is booming and the city is fiercely proud of its many independent restaurants, bars, markets and cafés.
With a thriving micro brewing industry, several gin distilleries, Michelin-starred restaurants and an eclectic collection of independent eateries housed in shipping containers on the Harbourside, Bristol’s reputation as a leading UK gastronomic hotspot means eating and drinking out is a must on any visit.
For a dining experience with a difference, try The Lido - a restored Victorian open-air pool serving award-winning food, or Michelin-starred Casamia - voted the best British restaurant outside of London in the annual SquareMeal list of the UK's top 100 restaurants.
You’ll also find fantastic street food in St Nicholas Markets or head over to Bristol’s Independent District and Gloucester Road - jam-packed with independent shops, buzzing cafés, greengrocers and pubs.
Keen foodies will also find a vast array of food festivals, cookery and foraging classes, food tours and tastings.
Much of the city is best seen on foot. Bristol boasts an incredible street art culture made famous by the elusive graffiti artist Banksy, whose murals can be seen all over the city.
Street art tours are a Bristol ‘must-do’, led by local expert guides at Where the Wall and Graft. You also get the chance to have a go yourself and spray your own canvas!
Get to know Bristol one bite at a time on an EatWalkTalk Bristol Food Tour and learn about Bristol's cultural heritage, fantastic local produce, meat, seafood and sweet treats, while sampling its foodie hot spots.
Or become wise in the ways of Bristol beer and explore pubs, microbreweries and tap rooms on a Bristol Hoppers tour.
For ghostly goings-on in the city take a spooky Haunted and Hidden Walking Tours or learn about Bristol’s pirating past on the Treasure Island Trail or Bristol Pirate Walks.
Keen strollers should also keep a beady eye out for pop-up tours such as the Gloucester Road Charity Shop Tour with a personal stylist.
Bristol loves its festivals and there is a varied and extensive mix throughout the year – everything from slapstick comedy to food, cocktails, puppetry, film, music, art, dance and lots more.
One of Bristol’s most famous festivals is the annual Bristol International Balloon Fiesta, which sees hundreds of hot air balloons take to the skies in the early morning and evening over four days in August.
A huge highlight are the ‘nightglows’ (which take place on Thursday and Saturday evening) – a stunning visual spectacle of hot air balloons illuminating the dark, accompanied by music.
You’ll find a fantastic line-up of shows at the city’s many theatres all year-round. Bristol Hippodrome hosts blockbuster shows and touring West End musicals while Bristol Old Vic is the oldest continually-running theatre in the country.
St George’s Bristol is one of the UK’s finest concert halls and Colston Hall, Tobacco Factory Theatres and the Redgrave Theatre all present excellent performance programmes.
As you’d expect in such a cultural hub, there are fantastic museums and art galleries in Bristol, many of which offer free entry.
M Shed tells the story of Bristol to the world through its people and places, while Bristol Museum and Art Gallery brings the world to Bristol through fascinating collections of collections from home and overseas, including an outstanding art collection displayed in the galleries and frequent exhibitions.
Tudor buffs will love The Red Lodge Museum or head to The Georgian House Museum to discover what a Bristol sugar plantation and slave owner’s home might have looked like around 1790.
Discover a 19th century mansion, Blaise Castle House Museum, sitting in 650 acres of parkland or celebrate the best of historic and contemporary British art at the Royal West of England Academy (RWA), England’s only regional Royal Academy of Art.
Head to the Harbourside to view contemporary art at Arnolfini and Spike Island or watch an independent film at cross-artform cultural centre Watershed.
Travellers after a bit of nightlife will find a vibrant live music scene, retro nightclubs, friendly pubs, speak-easy style cocktail lounges, bars, underground clubs and popular gig nights.
Bristol’s live music scene is the envy of many a city - The Old Duke on King Street has live jazz every night of the week and many of the bars around the Harbourside offer free entry to gigs at weekends.
The Fleece, Thekla and the Tunnels are all located near the city centre with ticketed gigs most nights. For even more live music try the pubs of Gloucester Road.
Bristol has an abundance of churches and places to worship and any visit to Bristol should include a glimpse inside some of these remarkable locations.
Bristol Cathedral is one of the finest examples of a hall church in the UK. It was used for BBC’s Wolf Hall and there are guided tours showing the production’s film locations.
Tucked away in the heart of Bristol's main shopping district is the world’s oldest Methodist building, The New Room at John Wesley’s Chapel (Poldark fans may recognise it from the BBC’s second series).
Inside you’ll find a visitor centre, museum, café and shop. St John on the Wall, the last surviving medieval church contained within the original city walls is the perfect place to discover the intriguing history of medieval Bristol.
And don’t miss St Mary Redcliffe - one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture in England.
See the city in the most unforgettable way – by hot air balloon. Ballooning companies Bristol Balloons, Bailey Balloons and Elite Air (UK) Ltd run flights over the city throughout the season.
Or head to the Harbourside to see Bristol from another perspective – on a Stand Up Paddleboard with SUP Bristol and paddle past famous sights like The Matthew.
A perfect activity for families, friends, colleagues, or stag and hen dos. As the UK’s first Cycling City, Bristol is great for exploring on two wheels.
Hire a bike from Cycle the City, who offer themed, guided cycle tours - choose from wine tasting, street art or the Great Bristol Food Tour.
If you’re still hungry for adventure, the indoor wall at Redpoint Climbing Centre welcomes novices and seasoned climbers.
Once a busy dock where sailors and merchants traded goods and set sail for voyages of discovery, Bristol's Harbourside is now an attractive, modern development filled with restaurants, bars AND shops.
Hop on and off Bristol Ferry Boats to get you from A to B or take a scheduled cruise round the Harbour on The Matthew – a replica of John Cabot’s caravel – while chomping fish and chips.
Tuck into excellent craft beers on The Grain Barge or join Bristol Packet Boat Trips as they head towards the Bristol Channel for spectacular views of Clifton Suspension Bridge and the Avon Gorge.
With its wealth of independents, high-street and high-end stores like Harvey Nichols, the city is a fantastic shopping destination.
Hunt for high-street bargains in Bristol Shopping Quarter, take a stroll around the boutiques in classy Clifton Village or shop for quirky retro clothes on Gloucester Road and Park Street.
Bristol is also marvellous for markets. St Nicholas Markets is a must-see for any visitor to the city and don’t miss the festive Mile of Markets at Christmastime.
For department stores and high-street favourites all under one roof, head to The Mall at Cribbs Causeway.
Spectacular countryside surrounds Bristol on all sides. Picnic next to the dramatic Avon Gorge, explore the woodland of Leigh Woods, or relax in one of the city’s many parks and gardens.
As the gateway to the South West, Bristol makes the perfect base for exploring nearby World Heritage Sites, Gloucestershire, Somerset, the Cotswolds, Bath, and Wales.
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