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48 hours in Bristol

Thursday 06 February 2020

Nestled between the Cotswolds and rural Somerset in south-west England, Bristol has a rich history and a wealth of visitor attractions to match. One of Europe's most fascinating and historic maritime cities, Bristol's Harbourside was once a busy dock where sailors and merchants would trade goods and set sail on voyages of discovery. Today, this redeveloped quarter is abuzz with restaurants, bars, museums and a lively Sunday market. One of the greatest Britons ever to have lived, the renowned engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel left his mark on the city too, with his iconic Clifton Suspension Bridge and his revolutionary steam ship SS Great Britain.

Bristol is also a hotbed of artists and activists. There's a vibrant street art scene, led by now world-famous street artist Banksy, born in the city in 1974. A number of Banksy's original pieces are located throughout Bristol - and another could pop up at any time! Alongside street art, Bristol developed a thriving underground music scene throughout the 1990s, becoming especially associated with trip hop, acid jazz, and electronic artists including Massive Attack, Portishead and Tricky.

A culturally diverse city, major annual events include Bristol LGBT PrideUpfest (urban paint festival), Bristol Harbour FestivalBristol International Balloon Fiesta and Bristol Shakespeare Festival - so there's definitely something for everyone, with many events free to attend.

Hot air balloons awaiting take-off, Bristol International Balloon Fiesta, Bristol, England



10:00 Step back in time on board an epic and historic ship

Bristol's redeveloped Harbourside is home to numerous visitor attractions. Dominating this waterfront quarter is Brunel's SS Great Britain. The largest ship in the world when launched in 1843, this impressive feat of engineering by Brunel is a forerunner of all modern shipping. Designed for the emerging trans-Atlantic luxury passenger trade, she now lies in the original Great Western Dockyard where she was built. Exploring the ship is a real step back in time: the cabins have been painstakingly restored to recreate life on the world's first great luxury liner, while the engine room retains the evocative smell of oil and coal.

Brunel's SS Great Britain, Bristol, England.

11:30 See more of Bristol's maritime heritage

Continue your voyage through Bristol's seafaring history with a visit to Underfall Boatyard. This historic working boatyard is home to a number of thriving businesses. It's part of a trust whose aim is to preserve Bristol's maritime heritage, and is fascinating to explore. Another maritime attraction, The Matthew, is a full-size replica of John Cabot's ship that discovered North America in 1497, offering popular harbour tours.

Bristol's Harbourside attractions are easy to explore on foot, but to truly immerse yourself in the waterfront experience why not travel between attractions using Bristol Ferry Boats?

13:30 Enjoy an award-winning pie for lunch

You'll find their award-winning pies for sale throughout Britain, but the very first Pieminister pie kitchen and shop opened in Bristol in 2003. A real Bristol institution, their newest eatery in Bristol opened in 2016 on Broad Quay. For a quicker lunch, grab a tasty pie to go from their stall on Bristol's Harbourside Market.

14:30 Take a glimpse underwater - or into space

With Britain's only 3D planetarium, We The Curious is a family favourite. Located in Bristol's Harbourside, this hands-on science centre has interactive exhibits, live science shows, plus a gift shop stocked with gadgets and quirky curiosities. Another popular family attraction hereabouts is Bristol Aquarium – keep an eye open for the resident Giant Pacific Octopus named Gloria!

18:00 Refresh your taste buds with the best locally-made cider

Named Britain's Independent Cider retailer of the Year 2018, Bristol Cider Shop is a specialist cider and perry shop - everything they stock is made within 50 miles of the shop by the very best craft cider makers. Book a tasting session and sample 10 different ciders, from traditional ‘scrumpy' to champagne-style cider and cider brandy.

19:30 Grab a slice of the finest British pizza

Specialising in British pizza and craft cider, The Stable has over a dozen pizza, pie and cider bars throughout Britain - but their Bristol venue is the biggest. Housed in a Harbourside warehouse with exposed brick walls, they bake pizzas with inventive, locally-sourced toppings.

21:00 Delight your ears with an array of live music

Bristol has a thriving music scene. Number 1 Harbourside is an excellent choice for food and top-notch live music. For live jazz and blues, seek out the legendary Old Duke - other pubs along King Street are also worth checking out for their real ale and ambience. Afterwards, enjoy a gig or club night at Thekla, an award-winning music venue on a former cargo ship. 



9:30 Visit a holy landmark - and an iconic filming location

Dramatic Bristol Cathedral was a filming location for the television series Wolf Hall, adapted from Hilary Mantel's bestselling historical novel, and also appeared in the popular Sherlock. Visitors to the cathedral may wish to attend one of the many exhibitions and talks that take place regularly, before basking in the architectural splendour of the building that dates back to the 12th century.

Flower beds and lawns in front of Bristol Cathedral, groups of people sitting on lawn

11:00 Get inspired by street art

Bristol has developed a vibrant street art scene - it is, after all, the city where Banksy hails from. WhereTheWall offer Bristol Street Art Tours on most Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Lasting two hours, this informative guided walk tells the story of Bristol's incredible creative culture and art scene from the 1980s to the present day.

13:00 Eat healthy and ethically in Bristol's alternative quarter

Known as Bristol's creative quarter, Stokes Croft is anchored by the independent cafés and shops of Gloucester Road. Dining options here include Café Kino, an community space and workers' co-op that serves tasty vegan food such as homemade burgers, falafel, fresh salads and cakes. Another ethical organisation, The Arts House Café is an arts space and café, while Rice and Things offers an array of authentic Jamaican cuisine. A place to enjoy pub food as well as gigs by up-and-coming bands, The Full Moon is also a 70-bed backpacker hostel.

14:00 Go swimming in a restored Victorian lido

Located just a five-minute drive from the centre, Clifton Village is a charming suburb of Bristol, tucked away from the hubbub of city life. One of its many Victorian treasures is Bristol Lido. Dating from 1850, it's one of Britain's oldest surviving lidos and is a wonderful place for a swim. Re-open to the public since 2008, this beautifully restored lido retains its Victorian charm, with the addition of modern floor-to-ceiling windows allowing great views of the outdoor pool. Its restaurant and poolside bar serve breakfast and à la carte lunch and dinner. Spa treatments are also on offer.

16:00 Take afternoon tea overlooking a spectacular bridge

As well as providing unbeatable views of the world famous Clifton Suspension Bridge, Clifton Village boasts many independent shops, cafés and delis, and a Victorian shopping arcade, making it a great area to explore. For afternoon tea with a view, head for Avon Gorge and Hotel du Vin & Bistro, where you’ll find excellent vistas across the gorge to Bristol's landmark bridge.

Hot air balloons rising and floating in the air against a cloudy sky, above the city of Bristol and the Clifton Suspension Bridge during the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta. River Avon.

16:45 Traverse an iconic and historic suspension bridge

Spanning the Avon Gorge and the River Avon, the infamous Clifton Suspension Bridge dates from 1864. Considered one of the world's greatest bridges, renowned engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel began building it when he was just 23 years old. A brand new Visitor Centre tells of its fascinating history, including the daredevil bridge builders who worked 75 metres above the high tide mark to secure its vast suspension chains across the gorge. 

19:30 End the day with steak and classic cocktails

A bastion of top-notch British fayre, The Ox is renowned for its steaks and cocktails, as well as its fresh fish and vegetarian options. Afterwards enjoy more classic cocktails at the vintage, speakeasy-style Hyde & Co.


For more practical information on Bristol, visit our Bristol destination page.

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