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Bristol is a city with a restless spirit where there is always something interesting to do. What’s more, its citizens are environmentally conscious, a distinction which the European Commission was quite aware of when it decided to give the city the European Green Capital Award in 2015. The city’s recycling and energy efficiency policies and its commitment to sustainable transport, not to mention its 450+ green areas, are some of the reasons why it received this accolade.
Six years later, the city continues to be a beacon that illuminates the path of sustainability, something that its citizens can experience in their daily routines, and that visitors can also enjoy. A good example of the close relationship with nature that makes the city so attractive is how easy it is to get to Leigh Woods. Located on the outskirts of Bristol, these woods are extremely relevant in terms of nature conservation, as they are designated a National Nature Reserve. Here, you will find a large number of plant species (such as Bristol rock cress, which can only be found in this area and is worth looking for if you go there at the right time of year) and many unusual insects. Whether you are taking a walk to get away from the bustle of the city and lose yourself amidst hundred-year-old trees, or going for an early-morning run to enjoy the unmistakeable scent and peace and quiet of the woods, they are certainly worth visiting. Beautiful all year round, this map has three easy routes to explore. And if you go in the spring, be sure to keep your eyes peeled for the wild hyacinths in the area known as Paradise Bottom, which are a wonderful sight and very photogenic!
Bristol is known as one of the most bike-friendly cities in the UK. If you want to see it on two wheels, the best option is to rent a bike and set out to explore it. Bristol Tandem Hire offers tandem bike rentals (the minimum hire is a half day and it flies by). What’s more, they also advise on cycling routes with zero or very little traffic and places to visit, so that you don’t have to plan what to see or look for an alternative route to avoid the rush hour traffic.
One of the most emblematic sights to see in Bristol is the Clifton Suspension Bridge which crosses the River Avon gorge. Since it was first built in 1864, it has become an icon in the city. You can cross it on foot, in fact you will if you visit Leigh Woods, and if you just want to take in the view, you can either do it in Leigh Woods or on the terrace of The White Lion bar. Another option that allows you to enjoy the view is to book a balloon trip, one of the most popular activities in the city.
We The Curious is an interactive area dedicated to science. It is run as a non-profit charity organisation and is situated in Millennium Square, near the harbour, where the frontiers between art, ideas and science disappear. Activities like “A Better World is Edible”, for instance, introduce both children and adults to a sustainable kitchen, offering them the possibility of creating different dishes in-situ that contribute to reducing the environmental impact of food, while also generating discussion about the topic.
Bristol Aquarium, which seeks to raise awareness about nature conservation and has implemented pro-sustainability changes in its building management, such as installing LED lighting and improving its recycling policies, will delight all those who love the sea. The M Shed museum is another highlight, and the best place to discover the city’s past. It has photographs and recordings as well as many ancient objects and reveals the history of Bristol, from prehistoric times to the modern day. And if you fancy going to the cinema, Watershed has an independent film programme, as well as more mainstream options. On Spike Island, an old tea packing factory has been converted into a multidisciplinary artistic space that houses dozens of artists’ studios. There, you’ll have the chance to talk with artists, from writers to sculptors and painters, and explore their processes, in addition to enjoying a complete programme of exhibitions. Another institution that is well worth a visit is the Arnolfini International Centre for Contemporary Arts, which also has a multidisciplinary programme that includes visual arts, performances, dance, music and films. Its library, which is known all over the country, is an art lover’s dream.
The dynamic spirit of Bristol is reflected perfectly in the large number of festivals hosted by the city during the year. Ranging from Pride and carnivals to an African film festival, your visit could coincide with Afrika Eye, In Between Time, Bristol Pride, Mayfest, Bristol Harbour Festival, Bristol Balloon Fiesta or St Paul’s Carnival, to name just a few.
Few photographers have been able to capture British mannerisms better than Martin Parr (you’ve most likely seen his renowned photos of crowded beaches on the British coast and in Benidorm, or his street parties). This creative artist is one of the great British photographers of recent decades and his foundation in Bristol, the Martin Parr Foundation, is worth a visit. It is designed as a tool to support lesser-known and emerging photographers who focus their work on Great Britain and Ireland, and provides a unique opportunity to discover the islands from a different point of view.
Navigating the gastronomic seas of Bristol is no easy task, there are too many options! Many local chefs focus on sustainability and respect for the environment, from using local, organic ingredients to increasing the presence of vegetarian dishes in their menus. Often, they also share the origin of the food in their menus with their customers, a gesture that raises awareness about circular economies, workers’ rights, and local products – fitting when you think that Bristol has been a Fairtrade City since 2005.
Furthermore, the city was recently awarded the Gold Sustainable Food City status for its initiatives to improve the food system in terms of both people and the planet. Measures include reducing food waste, expanding the “good food” movement, which is focused on growing foods in the city and prioritising what is healthy, and community actions to improve access to food for persons at risk of exclusion. Bristol also achieved the distinction through initiatives such as the Get Growing Garden Trail, which opens the gates of community orchards to anyone who wants to visit them at certain times of the year, a bridge that helps establish a dialogue about sustainability and reveal a new way of living in the city.
Poco Tapas bar, which was twice nominated as “Sustainable Restaurant of the Year”, is a place not to be missed on any visit to Bristol. Its chef, Tom Hunt, is one of the founders and is known nationwide for his sustainable credentials, his weekly food waste column in The Guardian and for practising an “eco-friendly” culinary style. The restaurant has two menus, both based on seasonal produce and on supporting local farmers who share ethical principles and apply sustainable farming practices.
Wilson’s Bistro has a tasting menu of five dishes for £50, all of which feature local products grown with low impact formulas. The Bistro also has its own farm, located twenty minutes from the city, where most of the ingredients they use come from, including vegetables and edible flowers. One of the founders, Mary Wilson, has experience in biodynamic farming, which facilitates the relationship between the restaurant’s kitchen and the garden, a magic that is reflected in her creative, delicious dishes.
Located under one of the Victorian arches of Temple Meads railway station is Hart’s Bakery. Known for its delicious cream puffs and sourdough bread, it has managed to reduce its environmental impact thanks to banning the use of plastic bottles, as they store their milk in a stainless-steel tank. They also work with an ethical coffee supplier, Extract Contract Roasters, both of which makes their flat whites taste a whole lot better.
Lastly, you can’t go to Bristol without trying one of the famous hamburgers at Café Kino, which recently transformed part of its premises into a deli where they sell a large variety of vegan products. Their philosophy is based on principles like equality and honesty, and they work hand-in-hand with suppliers who adopt sustainable environmental values. The café is organised as a non-profit cooperative, which is all the more reason to go there.