Bristol, in south west England, is a colourful and vibrant city with an alternative streak. Known for being progressive and creative, it was here that Wallace and Gromit, Banksy, and musical innovators like Portishead, Massive Attack and DJ-producer Julio Bashmore all began their paths to stardom. Read on to discover some of the best locations to explore the city's quirky culture and heritage.
1. Take a trip inside the mind of Banksy
World-famous street artist Banksy comes from Bristol and it's here that you can spot several of his most recognisable works, along with those of other artists. Take a self-guided Banksy Walking Tour around the city and discover his often controversial pieces that shine a light on social issues and other difficult subjects. Among them is Girl with the Pierced Ear Drum, found near Bristol’s harbour side, a satirical take on Vermeer’s famous Girl with the Pearl Earring.
2. Enjoy a festival celebration of street art
Bristol has embraced street art and most years you can experience Upfest, Europe's largest street art and graffiti festival. After a hugely successful 2018 when more than 400 artists took part, the festival will be taking a break in 2019, but organisers have promised to return in 2020 with a larger, refreshed version of the free event.
3. Discover murals on a spectacular scale
Although street art can be found across Bristol, it is more prominent in some locations than others. One such area is Nelson Street, where several large scale murals adorn the once-grey concrete buildings as a result of the See no Evil art festival in 2012, organised by legendary street artist Inkie. Artists from all corners of the globe took part, creating cutting-edge urban art on an incredible scale, with Nick Walker’s mural Vandal a particular stand-out. If you're visiting later in the year and you want to take in more of the city’s street art scene, sign up to a Bristol Street art tour by WHERETHEWALL which explores the region’s creative culture and art scene at weekends in the autumn and winter months.
4. Celebrate local music at Number 1 Harbourside
Bristol has a thriving music scene, something that is celebrated at Number 1 Harbourside, a beautiful eatery and music venue that hosts regular performances from a diverse set of local artists. Expect to hear everything from rock and jazz to folk and flamenco music nearly every weekend.
5. Explore where every building is an artistic canvas
The bohemian neighbourhood of Stokes Croft is packed full of colourful murals, awesome independent shops and plenty of incredible community-led initiatives. Often referred to as Bristol’s cultural quarter, the area is home to unusual shops, great pubs, fabulous food and a wealth of artistic studios and ever-changing exhibitions. Many of the buildings provide an ever-changing canvas for street artists and it’s here that you’ll find Banksy’s Mild, Mild, West and Cosmo Sarson’s Breakdancing Jesus.
6. Experience live music every day of the week
For live jazz and blues music, seek out the legendary Old Duke, located on King Street in the heart of Bristol. Named after Duke Ellington, the pub has live music on every night of the week and performances on Sunday lunch times. Other pubs along this city centre street are also worth checking out for their real ale and buzzy ambience.
7. Indulge in Bristol’s cultural heritage
An interactive space that celebrates the city’s famous people, places and history, the M Shed has large sections that are devoted to Bristol’s street art scene. Gaze upon Banksy’s Grim Reaper, removed from its original location on Bristol’s floating music venue, Thekla, and discover the hugely impressive illustrated dinosaurs by Andy Council - part of their body is created from the shapes of Bristol’s most iconic architectural landmarks.
8. See vibrant colours take flight
If you need another excuse to pay a visit to this city, it’s the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta, held annually every August. More than 100 colourful balloons of every shape and size float up from Ashton Court Estate, filling the sky with a mesmerising mix of vibrant designs.
Bristol is around a 2.5-hour drive from London, while train services from London Paddington station take in the region of 2-hours.