A cosmopolitan city with a small town feel, caught between the coast and the Cotswolds, it’s no wonder Bristol is one of Britain’s favourite places for a weekend break
This university city straddles the River Avon, and combines the best bits of town and country life – an independent spirit with a cosmopolitan vibe, urban industry with spectacular views and a vibrant student population with a community feel. It has become a favourite destination for those priced (or bustled) out of London – thanks to its marriage of cultural buzz with bucolic calm. It has the longest independently owned shopping street in the UK (Gloucester Road), testament to a firmly community-minded outlook in the city at large. All over the city there are pockets of indie shops and restaurants where cafe society is alive and thriving, and no one buys from the big coffee shop chains if they can help it. The city is dominated by the extraordinary suspension bridge that links the two banks of the Avon Gorge. Built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel more than 150 years ago, it is inscribed with the description ‘SUSPENSA VIX VIA FIT’, which translates as ‘A suspended way made with difficulty’ – it took some 33 years to build, so you can see what they meant.
What is the best time of year to take a city break in Bristol?
There are always things to do in Bristol, so there is no bad time to visit. It’s on the route down to the West Country, which means the motorway is busy during school holidays, but the city itself is a little quieter when its student population heads home. Bristol is one of the warmest and sunniest cities in the UK, kept from freezing by the Atlantic and sheltered from high winds by the Mendip Hills. That means it should be lovely in July and August – but probably won’t be bone-chilling even in December. There are a number of idiosyncratic festivals taking place throughout the year if you fancy planning your break in Bristol around a cultural event. In January, you can celebrate silly celluloid with the Slapstick Silent Film Festival. May sees Mayfest, a critically acclaimed presentation of fringe theatre at venues across the city. Summer is the busiest time to visit, with the Harbour Festival, St Paul’s Carnival and the magnificent Bristol Balloon Fiesta filling the calendar. Outdoorsy types might like to wait until September for the Bristol Open Doors Day and Bristol International Kite Festival, while winter sees the colourful Christmas Market.
What are the best attractions in Bristol?
The SS Great Britain is a historic passenger ship designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel – the longest passenger ship in the world from 1845 to 1854. After being used as an ocean-going craft travelling to the US and Australia, the SS ended her working days in the Falklands before being brought home to Bristol in 1970. The ship, which is carefully moored in the docks, is worth visiting on a weekend trip to Bristol, not just for its place in history, but for its epic journey home. The museum attached does a very good job of bringing both to life.
Brunel’s spectacular Clifton Suspension Bridge is something you must see – but you’d struggle not to, considering its size! You can take a guided tour of the bridge, and get some insight into its lengthy construction, or better still, follow the footpath to Observatory Hill for a spectacular view of the full span. It’s a quicker journey down than up – you can take a quick slide down the polished surface on the other side.
From more recent history, Bristol’s other most famous son is Banksy – the street artist who turned graffiti into modern art. His handiwork is all over the city, and you can take an official walking tour or just seek them out for yourself. Unlike art galleries, the walls of the city are always open. The artist’s Grim Reaper, The Girl With The Pierced Eardrum and Well Hung Lover are all easy to spot. Bristol as a whole has a really vibrant street art scene – which owes a lot to Banksy’s influence. Go Cycle Tours often operate a Bristol street art tour by bike – a great way to take in the fabric of the city and work up a sweat at the same time (Bristol, like Rome, is built on seven hills). For a mix of contemporary and modern history, the M Shed is a museum with enough to entertain the whole family. It’s a former warehouse that was converted to a museum in 2011, and has a truly eclectic collection. Industrial shelving units house all sorts of curios – from penny farthing bikes to old printing presses and even whale bones.
If you fancy the sight of the sea when in Bristol, you could always take a 50-minute car journey, or a 35-minute train journey from Bristol Temple Meads station, to coastal resort Weston-super-Mare. Whilst there, you can not only wander the sandy beach but also visit attractions such as the Town Square and Italian Gardens, the local zoo, or even the town’s Helicopter Museum. For more things to do in Weston-super-Mare, visit the local tourist board.
Why not take a look at our hotels in Bristol and see what this beautiful city has to offer all for yourself.