A short city break in Bristol offers appealing countryside, cosmopolitan culture and enough street art to fill a weekend of wandering
Bristol is almost unique in its offering – a city near the sea with a renowned university, a community feel, and a spectacular bucolic backdrop. A weekend break in the city presents infinite options – it’s a performing arts hub, a walkers’ dream and a foodie haven with plenty to offer the history buff and culture vulture alike. It’s also a great place to base yourself for a night or two of excitement before heading further into the West Country or Wales for a beach holiday.
Feel the breeze on the Clifton Suspension Bridge
The Millennium Bridge in London isn’t the only one likely to give you the shakes. Suspension bridges like Bristol’s are actually designed to be flexible. Stop at the halfway point and focus on something in the distance to see how much it moves! This is a historic bridge, and an unmissable Bristol focal point. Isambard Kingdom Brunel won a competition to design it at the age of just 23 – but construction was not complete until he was 56. The bridge bears the inscription SUSPENSA VIX VIA FIT, meaning ‘A suspended way made with difficulty’ – and it was certainly the greatest project of the engineer’s lifetime.
Take tea in Clifton village
Clifton is a lovely suburb five minutes from the middle of the city. Housing the university as well as a very picturesque centre, the village is full of independent shops and little cafes in chocolate box style Victorian houses. Try the Farm Cafe in the heart of the village for locally sourced food, homemade cakes and a fine afternoon tea. If the weather is good (and even if it isn’t) you can work off your scones with a swim in Clifton’s restored lido. This heated outdoor pool re-opened in 2008 after a complete make-over, and offers the kind of spa-facilities you’d expect in a five-star hotel.
Go wild at the Bristol Zoo
While you’re in Clifton, take the chance to see one of England’s finest animal enclosures. This petite Victorian zoo is in a residential area of Clifton, and has more than 400 types of animals – including gorillas, lions, meerkats and a fantastic seal and penguin arena.
Buy local and independent produce
Local is a real buzzword in Bristol – the consumer appetite for independent designers and home-grown produce means that the St Nicholas Market, operating for more than 270 years, is doing better than ever. It’s a handsome covered market, which means it’s open whatever the weather, and the offerings vary daily. On Fridays and Saturdays the Nails Market sells fashion, jewellery and crafts; on Wednesdays you can buy produce directly from the local farmers; and on Fridays, there is a good street food market on Wine Street.
See Bristol by boat
Bristol was a strategically important port in the history of trade – not only for food, sugar and tobacco, but also slaves. The docks are right in the heart of the city, so at one point you would have seen a sea of tall masts as you walked around its centre. Nowadays, the docks house more pleasure boats than trade vessels, and the Bristol Ferry Boats offer waterbus services daily. Take a cruise down the Avon Gorge while a narrator points out all the sights of historical and social importance. The tour kicks off at the SS Great Britain and passes the ancient port of Sea Mills, as well as the Old Powder House.
See the writing on the wall
There’s more to Bristol than Brunel – it was also home to Banksy, and the site of his earliest work. The graffiti artist who elevated street art to a respectable, and highly lucrative, industry has spawned a generation of imitators – inspired by his ability to use a spray can to challenge convention and change opinions. Many of Banksy’s own works are in the centre of Bristol and easy to find, from his Grim Reaper to The Girl With The Pierced Eardrum and Well Hung Lover. But there are also important large-scale works from the likes of Nick Walker (Butterfly, Rapunzel and Vandal) – a contemporary of Banksy’s, and himself a hugely influential street art figure. Take a guided tour with www.wherethewall.com to find the stories behind the walls – and you’ll end up covering the best of Bristol by accident.
Why not come and see this amazing city and stay in one of our affordable hotels in Bristol.