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Bristol suspension bridge
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The 20 best things to do in Bristol

Planning a day out in this beautiful, creative city? Whatever your bag, here’s our pick of the best things to do in Bristol

Amy Houghton
Written by
Sammy Jones
Amy Houghton

With its pastel streets, maritime history and rich cultural output, Bristol really shouldn’t be missed. Among loads (and we mean loads) of other things, it is Banksy’s original stomping ground, the birthplace of Wallace and Gromit and a Unesco Creative City of Film.

As a former European Green Capital, the city is also has some pretty solid eco credentials and is one of the greenest in the UK. It’s fuelled by innovative caffeine, forward-thinking galleries and some of the best pubs in the country. And if all of that wasn’t enough, it’s home to some of the UK’s funnest locals, so visitors are always guaranteed to feel at home.

If you’re stuck for things to do, Bristol really is bursting at the seams. So here’s our round-up of the best ways to enjoy the city – expect street art, engaging museums, stunning bridges and no shortage of booze. You’re in for a real treat.

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Best things to do in Bristol

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

Why go? Widely considered to be Brunel’s greatest work, Clifton Suspension Bridge first opened in 1864, and the Grade I-listed structure is an internationally recognised icon of the city. No matter how many times you’ve climbed to Clifton Village to gawp at it, the giant wrought-iron structure never fails to inspire sheer vertiginous awe. Big Brunel fan? The SS Great Britain contains a whole room of exhibits dedicated to him and his inventions, including a working train carriage and an enormous bust of the cigar-puffing man himself.

Don’t miss: Perched up on the hill, you’ll find Clifton Observatory. Within this former snuff mill is one of only two working camera obscura left in the UK and a subterranean passageway leading to Ghyston’s Cave, which looks out from the cliff face with unrivalled views of the bridge and gorge.

Get lost on the Clifton Downs
Photograph: Shutterstock

2. Get lost on the Clifton 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 endless 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. Follow it around to the gorge to spot bearded goats picking their way up and down the rocky terrain.

Track down some gorgeous graffiti
Photograph: 1000 Words /

3. Track down some gorgeous graffiti

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

Why go? One of Bristol’s most famous cultural exports is 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. Definitely take a look at the art all the way up Stokes Croft and looming large on Nelson Street, and if you’re looking for even more top-quality street art, you can head to Dean Lane skatepark in Bedminster. You may see a Banksy or two along the way.

Don’t miss: Bristol is home to Europe’s biggest street art and graffiti festival, Upfest, an event committed to ensuring street art is in the spotlight in south Bristol. 

Mess about on Millennium Square
Photograph: chrisdorney /

4. Mess about on Millennium Square

What is it? Two of Bristol’s best things to do with kids are handily placed together on Millennium Square, where you can also take a pic of yourself in the great shiny sphere that holds an observatory. We the Curious is a science centre encouraging children and their grownups to experiment with ideas via their colourful interactive installations. Just across the Square, Bristol Aquarium holds watery wonders like sharks in a sunken ship, a bay of rays and a learning lab.

Don’t miss: In summer, there’s a pop-up roller disco over the harbour. Brilliant for making some bum-bruising memories.

Cycle up, down and around the city
Photograph: Joe Dunckley /

5. Cycle up, down and around the city

What is it? Whizz 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. Still, there are plenty of great things to do here on two wheels. Head to the open spaces and wooded mountain bike trails of Ashton Court, where you can hire a mountain bike for the day or cycle out to the beautiful Snuff Mills and take in the greenery. There are plenty of resources online to illustrate possible cycling routes – so 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 from city to city.

What is it? Satisfy your caffeine cravings at an independent coffee shop. 

Why go? Bristol is packed with incredible coffee shops. From cold-pressed filter coffee to Italian-style espressos and flat whites, you’re never too far from a great coffee, and much of it is freshly blackened in the city by one of the many roasters that call Bristol home, like Clifton Coffee RoastersWogan Coffee Roastery and Extract Coffee Roasters. If you’re a real aficionado, pay a visit to one of the many independents around the city centre – Full Court PressLittle VictoriesNew Cut Coffee and Small Street Espresso deserve particular praise for their complex blends, broad roster and distinctly charming surroundings.

Spend some cash on Gloucester Road
Photograph; 1000 Words /

7. Spend some cash on Gloucester Road

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

Why go? One of the many things that makes Bristol so special is the huge variety of independent shops here, many of which are particularly well-clustered along Gloucester Road and Stokes Croft. Sure, there are a couple of Tescos along the way, but we all know how their arrival went down… On your walk from bottom to top, we’d particularly recommend a stop at Colmado, an award-winning Spanish deli; Wild Leaf, an indoor plant specialist; and Fox + Feather, an aspirational fashion and homewares shop.

Don’t miss: It probably goes without saying that there are many multiples of coffee shops and pubs to wet your whistle on your climb from the Bear Pit all the way into Bishopston and beyond. The pub garden at The Prince of Wales and the coffees and pastries at Bakers + Co are especially worth a pause.

Learn how to brew like a Bristolian
Photograph: Wiper And True

8. 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? Bristol’s brewers are a friendly bunch, 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 taproom after your tour. 

Tour the harbour by ferry
Photograph: Pixabay / steelfish

9. Tour the harbour by ferry

What is it? See the city from the water. 

Why go? Bristol was built on the slave trade. The docks and floating harbour that slave traders used until slavery’s abolition remain, and nowadays you can tour the city by boat. Bristol Ferry Boats operates a waterbus service 364 days a year, letting you jump on and off as you choose from Bristol Temple Meads train station to the SS Great Britain. The stops are well placed, letting you jump on and off at places, including Spike Island contemporary art gallery, The Cottage Inn and Underfall Yard’s working boatyard and visitor exhibits.

Don’t miss: If you’d like to round off your seafaring day with dinner on a boat, Under the Stars, the Grain BargeFiSH and Three Brothers Burgers all serve you on-board a (stationary) vessel.

Enjoy some movie magic at an arthouse cinema
Photograph: Sarah Macfarlane

10. 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 cinema 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 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’ you can find online. 

Wander the shipping containers of 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 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. The Bristol Cheesemonger has an incredible range of specialist delights, Bristol’s first dedicated fermentery Every Good Thing is based here, and there are so many amazing restaurants here we don’t even know where to start. Seven Lucky GodsRoot and Bandook, perhaps? Gert lush, as the locals say.

Take the plunge at the Bristol Lido
Photograph: Minka Guides /

12. Take the plunge at the Bristol Lido

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

Why go? Clifton is undeniably the most genteel part of the city – so it’s no wonder the luxe Bristol Lido is quietly tucked away down a residential street here. Built in 1850 and reopened 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: Eye for a bargain? Keep an eye on the website for spa packages that include a set dinner and a drink – they’re cheaper and just as lovely as an à la carte day out.

Stroke a sheep at a city farm
Photograph: Matti Braun

13. Stroke a sheep at a city farm

What is it? Two small-scale West Country farms.

Why go? These mini-farms, one in St Werburghs and one in Windmill Hill, are small but hardworking, and are a lovely day out for little ones. See all the animals you would in a countryside setting, like ducks, sheep, goats and pigs... but in the middle of the city. 

Don’t miss: If you plump for a trip to St Werburghs, the café and pub nextdoor come highly recommended. The café has a playground for kids, too.

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

Why go? While most of the surrounding area was destroyed during WWII, the eighteenth-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 is packed with independent traders selling their 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 at Matina and tantalising tagines to delicious jerk pork at Caribbean Wrap and fabulous falafels from Eat A Pitta, it’s all here.

Don’t miss: Bristol’s pie-flingers at Pieminister do a roaring trade here. Pie and mash goodness at your fingertips.

Get clued up at a new class
Photograph: Trylla

16. Get clued up at a new class

What is it? Try your hand at making pottery at Trylla, cook up a storm at The Square Foundation or swing on a flying trapeze at Circomedia… there’s something for every keen learner here. Bristol Folk House also offers classes covering art, writing, dance, and loads more.

Why go? Bristol’s full of arty ideas, cutting-edge culture and full-on fun – so where better to pick up a new skill? 

Bask in the ‘Bristol Sound’
Photo: Shutterstock

17. Bask in the ‘Bristol Sound’

What is it? Get to know Bristol’s world-famous contributions to modern music.

Why go? The likes of Smith & Mighty, Massive Attack, Portishead and Full Cycle have called Bristol home, and a new generation of sound-makers is thriving in their wake. Independent radio stations like Noods RadioSWU.FM and 1020 Radio promote Bristol-born sounds like Giant SwanScalpingTara Clerkin Trio and Slagheap. What was once labelled the ‘Bristol Sound’ is alive and evolving and can be found shaking the walls at clubs and bars such as CosiesTrinity and in venues across the city almost every night of the week.

Get in the vinyl-hunting groove

18. Get in the vinyl-hunting groove

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

Why go? Fiercely independent and run by true music obsessives, the likes of Specialist Subject RecordsFriendly Records and Payback Records keep the city up to date with their hand-picked releases, while Wanted RecordsPrime Cuts, 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. There are plenty of newer spots too – check out Planet Caravan inside arts space-slash-club Strange Brew and Longwell Records down on Wapping Wharf.


What is it? A boutique retro bowling alley.

Why go? Independent bowling alley The Lanes is where to head for a tipsy (and thoroughly indulgent) night of bowling, live music, pizza and lots and lots of drinks – including their signature hardshakes, which are boozy milkshakes. Genius. Adults and childish adults, in particular, will get a kick out of the 1950s diner-style decor and jazzy atmosphere. It’s also great for first dates – show off to your partner by getting a strike. Or two. Or a Turkey! Okay, just one...

Don’t miss: If you get bored of bowling, you can take it to a karaoke room or get down at one of its many popular alternative club nights.

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