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Bristol Do List
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The 20 best things to do in Bristol

In need of some sightseeing inspiration after being locked down for months? These are the best things to do in Bristol for first-timers and old hands alike as the city opens up again

By Sammy Jones and Jon Cook
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April 2021: It’s been extremely sad to see Bristol quiet and shuttered for the last year. Soon, however, it should be back in action. The reopening of this picturesque city straddling the River Avon has already begun now non-essential shops have re-opened and restaurants, bars and pubs are able to serve food and drink outside. With indoor dining on the cards from May 17 and (if all goes to plan) most restrictions being lifted by June 21, meaning nightlife and other cultural venues like theatres and galleries could open again by this date, it’s time to get planning your next day out. 

It’s very easy to spend a good week pottering through Bristol’s vastly contrasting neighbourhoods. Locals all have their own strongly held views on the best stuff to see, hear and taste in Bristol – meaning that even if you get stuck on where your next stop should be, you can always ask whoever you end up sitting next to at the pub, coffee shop or art gallery. However, with such a wealth of options, it doesn’t hurt to go in with a plan. Here are 20 totally brilliant things to do in Bristol next time you’re in town.

Done something on this list and loved it? Share it with the hashtag #TimeOutDoList and tag @TimeOutEverywhere. Find out more about how Time Out selects the very best things to do all over the world.

Best things to do in Bristol

The Downs, Bristol, Clifton
Rochard Toller

1. Get lost on the Downs

What is it? Get your green fix in the lungs of the city. 

Why go? Stretching from the top of Whiteladies Road all the way to the Suspension Bridge, is the huge open green space known as the Downs. This massive area has been helping Bristolians feel a million miles away from the hustle and hassle of the city centre for generations. There’s more than enough room for whole teams of sporty types and Sunday leaguers to kick a ball around without bothering each other.

Don’t miss: The area known as the Sea Wall in the south-west corner of the Downs is the perfect spot to admire the jaw-dropping views of the Avon Gorge and Suspension Bridge.

Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol
Charlie Marshall

2. Marvel at the Clifton Suspension Bridge

What is it? Much more than just a masterpiece of design and engineering. 

Why go? Clifton Suspension Bridge first opened in 1864, the grade I-listed structure is widely considered to be Brunel’s greatest work and is an internationally recognised icon of the city. No matter how many times you’ve climbed up to Clifton Village to take a look, the giant wrought iron structure never fails to inspire sheer vertiginous awe, whatever the weather or time of year. Starchitecture, indeed.

Don’t miss: The bridge is a convenient way of getting from Clifton Village to Leigh Woods. Perched up on the hill on the Bristol side of the woods you’ll find the Clifton Observatory. Within this former snuff mill is one of only two working cameras obscura left in the UK and a subterranean passageway leading to Ghyston’s Cave, which looks out from the cliff-face on to unrivalled views of the bridge and gorge.

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Nelso Street, Graffiti, Tats Crew, Bristol

3. Track down some gorgeous graffiti

What is it? Get to know Bristol’s graffiti hotspots. 

Why go? We couldn’t publish a list of the best things to do in Bristol without mentioning one of its most famous cultural exports – street art. From fiercely protected murals on shop shutters and public walls to chrome-and-black ‘throwies’ and tags on vans and windows, Bristol is covered in graffiti. While everyone knows about Stokes Croft and Nelson Street, if you’re looking for even more top-quality street art, you can head to Dean Lane skatepark in Bedminster. 

Don’t miss: Take a look beneath the M32 flyover at the ‘halls of fame’. Here you’ll find huge pieces by local and visiting artists that are far more impressive than any pseudo-political stencil with a £50k price tag.

Bristol to Bath Cycle Path
Sam Saunders

4. Cycle up, down and around the city

What is it? Wizz around in the UK’s first ‘cycling city’.

Why go? With more sharply rising inclines than a ski resort, cycling around Bristol can be hard work. But, there are plenty of great things to do here on two wheels. Head to the huge open spaces and wooded trails of Ashton Court, cycle out to the beautiful Snuff Mills. There are plenty of resources online to illustrate possible cycling routes – so there’s really no excuse not to get wheelie (sorry) into it.

Don’t miss: Set off on the Bristol to Bath Railway Path that follows the route of an old train line through the serene countryside for a manageable 13 miles. 

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5. Get your caffeine fix at a Small Street coffee shop

What is it? Satisfy your caffeine cravings at an indie coffee joint on this much-loved street. 

Why go? Dozens of incredible independent coffee shops have sprung up all over town in recent years. From cold-pressed filter coffee to Italian-style espressos and flat whites, you’re never too far from a great spot and much of it is freshly blackened in the city by one of the many roasters that call Bristol home. If you’re a real aficionado, pay a visit to one of the many independents around the Small Street area in the city centre – Full Court Press and Small Street Espresso deserve particular praise for their complex blends, broad roster and distinctly charming surroundings. 

Vinyl, Bristol, [Duncan]
[Duncan]

6. Get back in the vinyl-hunting groove

What is it? Rediscover your love of vinyl at the city’s best record shops. 

Why go? Back in the late ’90s, you couldn’t walk more than 50 metres without stumbling upon a record shop in Bristol. Like everywhere, though, those days have been laid to rest. While the ghosts of Replay, Rooted, Breakbeat Culture and many more have now long passed, there are, thankfully, still plenty of vinyl shops. Fiercely independent and run by true music obsessives, the likes of Idle Hands, Specialist Subject Records, Friendly Records, radio/ON and Payback keep the city up to date with their hand-picked releases, while Wanted, Prime Cuts, PK Music Exchange and Plastic Wax are packed solid with second-hand vinyl and CDs of almost every genre and are perfect places to lose an afternoon on one of Bristol’s many rainy days.

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Think Local, Stokes Croft, Bristol, SEPR
Kyla Borg

7. Spend your Bristol Pounds in Strokes Croft

What is it? Do some shopping on the largest strip of independent retailers in Europe. 

Why go? Bristol isn’t like other cities – we all know that. And one of the many things that makes it so special is the huge variety of independent shops here, particularly on Gloucester Road and Stokes Croft, both just a short walk from the Bear Pit. Sure, there are a couple of Tescos along the way, but we all know how their arrival went down...

Don’t miss: Support the spirit of independence that thrives in our city by investing in (and then spending) Bristol Pounds - a local, community currency for shopping in the city’s many fantastic (and rather eccentric) indie shops. 

A ferry in Bristol harbour
Photograph: Pixabay / steelfish

8. Tour the harbour by ferry

What is it? See the city from the water. 

Why go? Bristol was built on the slave trade that its docks and floating harbour enabled. The waterways around which Bristol is built still remain, and mean that nowadays you can tour the city while bobbing around in a boat. Bristol Ferry Boats operates waterbus services 364 days a year, letting you jump on and off as you choose from Bristol Temple Meads train station to the SS Great Britain.

Don’t miss: For those not afflicted by seasickness, Bristol Packet Boats give you the option to sail and dine. 

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9. Take the plunge at the Bristol Lido

What is it? A beautiful outdoor swimming pool with a top-notch restaurant attached

Why go? Residents of Clifton are renowned for thinking their genteel part of the city is superior to anywhere else in Bristol, partly thanks to the fact that Bristol Lido is tucked away down a residential street here. Built back in 1850 and re-opened in 2008 after closing for almost 20 years, the Bristol Lido has been fully restored with spa facilities and a new restaurant and café. You can lounge by the pool, have a massage, pop in the sauna, then grab some tapas at the bar or head up to the more upmarket viewing gallery restaurant. 

Don’t miss: We recommend ordering the set menu at the restaurant, which features things like perfectly prepped wood-roasted aubergine, whole quail and moreish rosemary manchego.

10. Grab some grub at St Nick’s

What is it? The largest collection of independent retailers under one roof in Bristol.

Why go? While most of the surrounding area was totally destroyed during the Second World War, the 18th-century Exchange building at the heart of St Nick’s market was spared. Today it’s the last remaining building of its kind in the country. While the Exchange itself is packed with independent traders selling all sorts of wares, the adjoining Glass Arcade is home to a huge variety of food stalls offering treats from across the globe. From divine Kurdish naan wraps and tantalising tagines to awesome jerk pork at Caribbean Wraps and fabulous falafels from Eat A Pitta, it’s all here.

Don’t miss: If you fancy something from a little closer to home, Bristol’s own Pieminister does a roaring trade here, too. Gravy goodness at your fingertips.

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Wapping Wharf
Photograph: Flickr / John Lord

11. Wander the shipping containers of Wapping Wharf

What is it? From high-end dining to independent shops selling plants, pastries and proper Bristol cider, it’s all here in this new historical and cultural quarter. 

Why go? You could idle away a whole day exploring the shipping containers of Wapping Wharf – for each one holds its own kind of treasure. Little Victories serves some of city’s best coffee, Loop Massage will pound out your worries on the massage table, and there’s so much amazing food here we don’t even know where to start. Gert lush, as the locals say.

Coronation Tap
Photograph: Sal Maxuda

12. Knock back (half) a pint at the Coronation Tap

What is it? One of Bristol’s most notorious drinking establishments.

Why go? We’re not talking about a spit-and-sawdust pub packed with pissheads vying for a fight – this is Clifton, remember. Nope, the reason the tiny Coronation Tap is infamous across Bristol and beyond comes in half-pint glasses and is made of apples.

Don’t miss: Heading up to the ‘Cori Tap’ for a glass or four of their deadly Exhibition cider has been a rite of passage for students in the city for decades. We reckon you should add it to your bucket list, too.

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Wiper And True

13. Learn how to brew like a Bristolian

What is it? Get hoppy on a tour of one of Bristol’s great craft breweries.

Why go? Those who run Bristol’s breweries are a friendly bunch, and they’re always keen to throw open their doors so you can get a taste of how they make such brilliant brews. From Bristol Beer Factory to Moor Beer to Wiper and True, beer-makers across Bristol offer an inside look at how those tasty pints make it to a pub near you.

Don’t miss: All the breweries offer a snifter of the goods once you’ve learned something new, so make sure to head to the tap room after your tour. 

Scrabble
Photograph: pxhere / Suzy Hazelwood

14. You’ll never be board at Chance & Counters

What is it? Bristol’s very own board game cafe. 

Why go? Board games get a bad rep – endless games of Monopoly with your extended family are never going to convince you they’re a worthwhile way to spend your spare time. But, suspend your disbelief for a trip to Chance & Counters, a board game café where you can knock back a beer (or three) while exploring their comprehensive catalogue of games old and new. Prepare to knuckle down for hours.

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the lanes
Photograph: The Lanes

15. Be bowled over at The Lanes

What is it? A boutique retro bowling alley.

Why go? The Lanes is where to head for a tipsy (and thoroughly indulgent) night of sport, live music, pizza and lots and lots of drinks. Adults and childish adults, in particular, will get a kick out of the ’50s diner-style décor and jazzy atmosphere. 

Don’t miss: If you get bored of bowling, you can take over a karaoke room and show the locals how it’s done, or get down at one of their many popular alternative club nights.

Arnolfini, Gallery, Bristol
Matti Braun

16. Tick off the city’s coolest art galleries

What is it? Bristol’s art district boasts three cutting-edge galleries. 

Why go? There are few better cities for art than this, and we’re not just talking graffiti. Centrespace is dinky and hosts work by some of Bristol’s best up-and-coming artists. The RWA is slightly fustier, though brims with striking sculpture and floor-to-ceiling art. Arnolfini, on the Harbourside, often showcases boundary-pushing installations that are keen to start conversations. Even better? They’re all pretty close to each other, so you could probably tick them off in one afternoon.

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Sal Maxuda

17. Catch some spoken word at the Greenbank

Bars and pubs

What is it? An unfussy watering hole providing a platform to the city’s poets. 

Why go? Bristol’s spoken word scene is having a moment, and there won’t be a night of the week you’ll find lacking in poetry around these parts. All kinds of poets flex their skills at nights run by local collectives like Milk Poetry, Tonic and Raise the Bar. Watching your pennies? Head to Satellite of Love at airy Easton pub The Greenbank – it’s free.

Don’t miss: The Greenbank’s Sunday roasts are some of the best in Bristol. 

The Cube
Photograph: Sarah Macfarlane

18. Enjoy some movie magic at an arthouse cinema

What is it? Catch rare prints on screen and all the latest independent releases at Bristol’s clutch of fab arthouse cinemas. 

Why go? Each picturehouse offers something a little different: the Cube ‘microplex’ is a resolutely DIY and volunteer-run affair that even brews its own cola, the plush Everyman offers delicious cocktails delivered to your seat, and the Watershed is a culture and arts hub dedicated to showing the best international cinema you can’t catch anywhere else.

Don’t miss: The Cube ‘wild-crafts' its own cola from an 'open-source recipe' found online. 

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19. Check out some cutting-edge theatre

What is it? Bristol’s playhouses and auditoriums of all shapes and sizes put on shows most nights of the week. 

Why go? Here in Bristol, we love a bit of culture – and there’s little more enlightening or intellectually invigorating than a good bit of theatre. Delving into dramatics is easy in our city, from internationally acclaimed touring shows at the grandiose Hippodrome and Bristol Old Vic, to cutting-edge theatrics at the Redgrave and Tobacco Factory, to intimate performances at the Wardrobe Theatre, Bristol has it all down.

Don’t miss: While theatres are closed you could do worse than checking out Bristol Old Vic’s fantastic online programme. 

Bristol Sound, Speaker, DeclanTM
DeclanTM

20. Bask in the ‘Bristol Sound’

What is it? Get to know this sleepy little city’s world-famous contributions to modern music.

Why go? The likes of Smith & Mighty, Massive Attack, Portishead, Full Cycle, Pinch and Julio Bashmore call Bristol home, and it’s now held up alongside the likes of Berlin and Detroit as one of the most influential and significant musical cities on the planet. What was once labelled the ‘Bristol Sound’ is still very much alive and evolving, and can be found shaking the walls at clubs and bars such as Cosies, Lakota, Motion, and across the city almost every night of the week.

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