Bristol, a city of about 480,000 people, is located just 2.5 hours’ drive west of London in England’s south west region. The city was originally built around the River Avon and prospered in its early days before its port moved from the city centre to the nearby Severn Estuary. Now, the city’s economy benefits from electronics, aerospace and creative media and the rejuvenated city centre docks thrive with bustling cafe’s and culture.
Bristol is a city drenched in important history, being the starting point for many important voyages and the trading hub between England and Ireland, Iceland, Gascony and, eventually, across the Atlantic Ocean during the 15th century. The city was the gateway for plantation goods such as sugar, tobacco, run, rice and cotton, but also played a big part in the height of the slave trade in the 1700’s. Several buildings carry decoration related to the slave trade, and streets and public houses also bear witness to the trade. Bristol was also heavily involved with the abolition of slave trading in the early 1800s.
As a major seaport, Bristol has a long history with trading commodities and is known for nautical connections. As a result, it also had its own stock exchange, banks and market in which deals were struck over bronze trading tables, known as “The Nails”. Pirates such as Black Beard are known to have come from Bristol, and are said to have drunk at old pubs such as the Hatchet.
Destination: Bristol, UK
Currency: British Pound / £
£10 = €12 – €14 (approx.)
£10 = US$13 – $15 (approx.)
What you will notice in Bristol
- Independent specialty shops, bars and coffee shops are popping up everywhere
- There are a number of famous pubs and establishments sprinkled throughout the city known for their part in Bristol`s rich history.
- Street art is everywhere. Bristol is said to be the birth place of controversial local graffiti artist, Banksy, who`s are is now recognised throughout the world.
- Ships, docks and pirate haunts. Bristol played and extremely important role in sea trade for hundreds of years. As a result you will notice statues dedicated to captains who started their voyages from here, incredible ships lining what is left of the relatively small harbour and the restored ss Great Britain, which now rests in the original dry dock in which she was built, and it open to the public as one of Bristol`s major visitor attractions.
- Large bronze “nails” outside the Exchange on Corn Street once stood in the Tolzey Walk, where the city`s merchants used to conduct business – allegedly the origin of the saying “pay on the nail”.
- The large clock on the Exchange shows an extra hand for “Bristol Time”. Bristol Time (black minute hand) was ten minutes behind Greenwich Mean Time (red minute hand, or London Time) until Bristol officially adopted GMT for railway timetabling in September 1852.
What to see and do in Bristol
A street art walking tour
If street art and graffiti interest you, Bristol is the place to be. The city walls change almost weekly with new pieces that are born from a creative culture and modern view of art. Bristol is home to more than 100 street artists and graffiti writers, including the world-famous Inky and Banksy.
A bunch of internationally renowned graffiti artists created a collection of works as part of the See No Evil festival in 2011 and 2012. Buildings, tunnels and vacant walls along Nelson Street (Quay Street) was decorated with numerous colourful pieces, some of which still stand today. (Quay Street, Bristol BS1 2JL)
Bristol Street Art Tours is run by WHERETHEWALL at 1.30pm on Thursdays and at 11am on Saturdays and last approximately 2-2.5 hours. You can book your tickets online or from the Bristol Tourist Information Centre, near the Watershed. (Bristol Street Art Tours cost £9.20 per adult. Book online)
Alternatively, the Ultimate Bristol walking tour, from Blackbeard to Banksy, lasts for almost 2 hours and runs at 11.30am on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from the Cathedral. (The Ultimate Bristol walking tour cost £7 per adult. Ph: 07909221684)
Visit famous pubs and establishments for history (or craft beer and cider)
Bristol is a great location for a pub crawl, if not to absorb this history then simply to try the delicious range of craft beers and hundreds of local ciders that are on offer.
In the city centre:
The Apple Cider Boat has a large range of fine ciders, perries and bottled beer on a beautifully converted Dutch barge in the heart of Bristol`s Old City. (Welsh Back, Bristol BS1 4SB)
The Thekla is a large boat located by the Mud Dock that has been converted into a nightclub which hosts various nights from house to contemporary indie and guitar-orientated music. It is a rather small venue, but warm in winter and a great place to see a live band, cabaret show or even comedy. (The Grove, East Mud Dock, Bristol BS1 4RB)
The Hole in the Wall pub, just off Queen Square, is said to be the inspiration to the Spyglass Tavern in the book Treasure Island. It has been renovated with rustic-style decor but still boasts it`s 18th century spy hole used as a lookout for press gangs. (2 Three Queen`s Lane, Avon, Bristol BS1 4QZ)
The Llandoger Trow is a Tudor-style whitewashed establishment where Daniel Defoe met Alexander Selkirk and heard his lost at sea stories, the inspiration for his character Robinson Crusoe. Dating from 1664, it is an historic public house that is also said to be haunted. (King Street, Bristol BS1 4ER)
The Old Duke stands in stark contrast, directly opposite the Llandoger Trow, and is known as a bustling, loud, world-famous music venue featuring jazz and blues. Admission is free and spontaneous jams are frequent at anytime of the day. (45 King Street, Bristol BS1 4ER)
Just down King Street is the recently (2013) opened Beer Emporium. It’s underground, stonewalled caverns shelter a bar and bottle shop that is home to a vast variety of craft beers from across the globe. There are more than 30 beers on tap and hundreds more in bottles, so ask the experts for their advice if you are overwhelmed. (15 King Street, Bristol BS1 4EF)
The Seven Stars is noted for its association with slavery abolitionist Thomas Clarkson, who used the pub in the 1780`s to research Bristol`s “Honourable Trade” of slavery. It also boasts a significant list of craft beers for the beer lovers. (1 Thomas Lane, Bristol BS1 6JG)
The Stable is in the heart of Bristol’s harbourside, in a sparse warehouse overlooking the water. It serves up a great range of pizza and an incredible number of ciders from the local area. There is a cider sample board which allows you to try 200ml of five different ciders of your choice. (Canon’s Road, Harbourside, Bristol BS1 5UH)
The Ostrich Inn is located in Redcliffe, on the south bank of Bristol’s floating harbour. Built around 1745, the pub features charming character, a huge waterfront garden and the entry of a historic smugglers cave. Go for history and stay for the craft beers and British fare. (Lower Guinea Street, Redcliffe, Bristol BS1 6TJ)
Grain Barge is another barge moored in the historic Bristol Harbour and is exceptionally popular in summer months due to its sun-catching rooftop. It is owned and supplied by the award-winning Bristol Beer Factory and serves a large variety of reasonably priced, local craft beers. (Mardyke Wharf, Hotwell Road, Bristol BS8 4UR)
The Hatchet Inn on Frogmore Street, established circa 1500, claims to be Bristol`s oldest pub and the establishment which Bristol`s most famous pirate, Blackbeard, frequented. These days, it often has some decent music playing, good service and thrives of rumours of doors covered in human skin. (27 Frogmore Street, Avon, Bristol BS1 5NA)
There are a many cute pubs and cafes in Clifton Village, at the top of the hill, near Bristol’s famous Clifton Suspension Bridge. Try The Mall, The Coronation Tap and The Brunel.
Canteen is the place to be for live music, great beer and good food. It is also beside a Banksy and is in the heart of Bristol’s bustling hipster scene in the area of Stokes Croft. (80 Stokes Croft, Bristol BS1 3QY)
If you are hunting for something further south, try The Tobacco Factory – known for its industrial, redbrick building, Mediterranean kitchen and locally grown and brewed beer. Located south of the Avon River, it also encapsulates Bristol’s creative scene with theatre, life-drawing classes, a Sunday market and the annual Upfest graffiti festival. (Raleigh Road, Avon, Bristol BS3 1TF)
Clifton Suspension Bridge
The world famous bridge, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel in 1831 and completed in 1864 after his death, spans the Avon Gorge and the River Avon, linking Clifton in Bristol to Leigh Woods. Now an iconic symbol of Bristol, it draws thousands of visitors a year who stroll below it, along Hotwell Road, or stroll across it at 75 meters above the high tide mark.
(Free tours from the toll booth operate at 3.00pm every Saturday and Sunday from Easter to October. Bridge Road, Bristol BS8 3PA)
ss Great Britian
The ss Great Britain, the world’s first great ocean liner has been restored as a museum right in the heart of Bristol. This 3,679 tonne steam ship was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel for transatlantic service between Bristol and New York. It was launched 19 July 1843 and the longest passenger ship in the world from 1845 to 1854. She was also used to carry thousands of immigrants to Australia before 1880 and was rescued from the Falkland Islands in 1970 where she had been used as a warehouse, quarantine ship and coal hulk.
(Entry cost: £14 adult, free children aged under 4, £8 children 5-17, £11 students, £13 seniors. Opening hours: daily 10.00am – 4.30pm during winter and autumn, daily 10.00am – 5.30pm during spring and summer. Last entry is one hour before closing. Great Western Dockyard, Gas Ferry Road, Bristol BS1 6TY)
The M Shed is a 19502 transit shed situated on the historic Harbourside. It has been reopened as an innovative museum that explores the city’s history from prehistoric times to the 21st century. With working exhibits on the harbourside including steamboats, trains and cranes and a rich collection of objects and art, Bristol’s history really comes to life.
(Entry cost: Free. Opening times: 10.00am – 5.00pm Tuesday to Sunday, 10.00am – 6.00 Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holidays. Wapping Road, Bristol BS1 4RN)
The Matthew is a reconstructed replica of the boat used by John Cabot when he discovered Newfoundland in 1497. It was built in Bristol to mark the 500th anniversary of Cabot’s voyage. When not moored in Bristol Harbour outside Bristol’s M Shed, the sails are unfurled and the ship ventures around the British Isles and Northern Europe. You can go onboard the ship while it is in the harbour and you can join a 45 minute trip around Bristol harbour or a three to four hour trip down the Avon and under the Clifton Suspension Bridge.
(Entry: Free, though donations are welcome. Opening Hours: 10.00am – 4.00pm, Tuesday to Sunday. 45 minute harbour trips start at £10 per adult or £8 per concession. A 3-4hour Avon Gorge trip starts at £32 per adult or £25 per concession. Princes Wharf, Wapping Road, Bristol BS1 4RN.)
Explore collections of art, nature and history are on display at the Bristol Museum & Art. (Entry cost: Free. Opening times: 10.00am – 5.00pm Tuesday to Sunday, 10.00am – 6.00 Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holidays. Queens Rd, Bristol BS8 1RL)
At the Georgian House Museum discover what a Bristol sugar plantation and slave owner’s 11 room home might have looked like around 1790. (Entry cost: Free. Opening times: 10.30am – 4.00pm Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, from April to November. 7 Great George St, Bristol BS1 5RR)
Castle Park is the scene of the original Saxon Settlement of Bristol and the ruins of St Peter`s Church that were destroyed in the Blitz during the Second World War. (Castle Park, Newgate, Bristol BS1 3XB)
Clifton Rocks Railway was an underground, water powered ‘funicular’ railway that opened on 11 March, 1893 and operated for 40 years, linking Clifton at the top to Hotwells and Bristol Harbour at the bottom of the Avon Gorge in a tunnel cut through the limestone cliffs.After its closure in 1934, it became a secret transmission base for the BBC during WWII. (Hotwell Road, under the Clifton Suspension Bridge)
How to get around Bristol
Bristol is made for walking. You can get to almost any historical site or tourist attraction by foot within 40 minutes from the city centre. The city is quite flat, but there is a bit of a hill as you head west into the Clifton Village area.
There are plenty of public bus routes in Bristol that can help you get around. There is also Bristol’s FreeBus which offers free transport in a bid to reduce excessive car use.
The City Sightseeing Bus is a great way to see the city through a hop-on hop-off guided tour.The full tour takes 1 hour and 15 minutes and stops at over 20 stops. (Tickets are £14 for adults, £7 for children)
Near the Watershed, near the city centre, numerous ferries and boats offer transport to other parts of the city. There is a guided tour boat that offers an interesting prospect of the city from the water. (Tickets are from £5.50)
How to get to and from Bristol
Bristol Temple Meads railway station has direct services available from London, Scotland, Wales, Manchester and Birmingham.
National Express, MegaBus and First Group are a few of the many bus companies that offer transport in and out of Bristol.
The M4 and M5 motorways meet at an interchange just north of the city and link Bristol with London (M4 eastbound), Swansea (M4 westbound across the Estuary of the River Severn), Exeter(M5 southbound) and Birmingham (M5 northbound).
Bristol’s large international airport hosts budget and first-class carriers which fly to more than 100 different countries.
Weather in Bristol
Summer (June – August): Summer can be gloriously sunny, dry and warm(ish) in Bristol, with average lows of 12°C and highs of 21°C. Record highs in summer have reached 33.5°C (91°F).
Spring/Autumn: Average lows of 4°C and highs of 18°C. Spring can be unsettled and changeable.
Winter (December – February): Autumn and winter are the wettest seasons, with more rainfall in January than any other month. Cold spells through winter can bring frost and snow can fall from November through to April. Average lows of 3°C and highs of 7°C.
Looking for more travel inspiration or destination guides?
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