What to see in Bristol
Bristol, the economic and cultural capital of South West England is amongst UK most popular city destinations. The city, whose origins date back to the 11th century has an impressive and versatile tourist offer.
Although Bristol is located approx. 8 miles inland from the Bristol Channel, the city’s history is closely connected with the sea. Bristol developed on River Avon which flows into the Bristol Channel and the relatively easy access to the North Atlantic was one of the factors which contributed to the rapid development of the city in its earliest days. In the 15th and 16th centuries Bristol was one of the leading maritime ports for the British explorers heading towards the New World and the harbour activity and maritime commerce sustained the city’s economy until the 20th century. The lavish Victorian architecture and several examples of the advanced engineering, unique at its time, are today a reminder of Bristol’s past prosperity.
Bristol boasts a great historic heritage related to its maritime past, including the not-so-glorious chapter of the slave trade and many original monuments and sites surprise the visitors here. Modern Bristol is equally appealing; At-Bristol Science Museum or Bristol Aquarium are the most popular contemporary attractions and the city’s cultural life is thriving thanks to iconic artists as Banksy or progressive rock groups such as Massive Attack and Portishead.
The city can be roughly divided into five distinct neighbourhoods. Tourists are more likely to start their Bristol experience in the Harbourside and the Old City. The eastern (Eastside) and western (West Side) parts of Bristol are also worth a visit and so is Clifton, Bristol’s suburb where the iconic Clifton Bridge is located. See map of Bristol.
Find listed below most popular Bristol attractions.
The Harbourside area of Bristol, apart from historically rich is also one of the liveliest parts of the city. The old dock infrastructure has been adapted to host restaurants and bars becoming one of Bristolians’ favourite hang-out places. A number of cultural and leisure attractions are also available in the harbour side area, amongst them:
Brunel’s SS Great Britain
Several Bristol’s landmarks are the legacy of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, one of England’s greatest civil engineers. Brunel, who revolutionized transportation in the 19thcentury was most known for his railway, dockyards and steamships projects. Designed by Brunel the SS Great Britain, which is one of Bristol’s most popular attractions, was the first iron propeller-driven vessel and also one of the largest ships ever built by the standards of its time (mid-19th century). Currently, the museum ship SS Great Britain is stationed at Bristol’s dry dock and open for visiting. Find out more about SS Great Britain experience in Bristol.
M-Shed – the Bristol Museum
To learn more about Bristol’s past visit the M-Shed museum located in a former industrial building in the harbour side. The admission-free museum tells the history of the city through interactive exhibitions, photography expositions and temporary events. Find out what’s on in M-Shed Bristol.
Once in Bristol docks, do not miss on the opportunity to explore the area more thoroughly. Bristol Harbourside website will guide you through the most interesting locations and cultural events to take place here.
Located in also in the Harbourside, Bristol Aquarium is a top attraction for families. The Aquarium recreates different marine environments. The life-size replica of a sunken ship and walk-through underwater tunnels are amongst the highlights. Find more information on Bristol Aquarium opening times and prices.
At-Bristol / We The Curious
The We The Curious science museum (previously known as At Bristol) is another family oriented attraction of Bristol. Through a series of interactive expositions and hands-on activities children of all ages can discover here the world of science. We The Curious is located on Anchor Road in Harbourside.
Bristol Old City landmarks
After the Harbourside, Bristol old quarter is probably the most visited part of the city - see map.
A reminder of a once walled medieval town, Bristol Old City is a charming location, boasting several fine examples of both Gothic and Victorian architecture, unharmed by the bombings of World War II.
Stock Exchange and The Nails
Dating back to 1741, the Exchange building was originally used for the trade of corn and other goods (the building is situated at Corn Street). Nowadays it is one of Bristol’s landmarks, together with the four bronze tables on which the merchants used to close their deals. The tables, referred to as The Nails are located in front of the Exchange building. The origins of the expression “Cash on the nail” (meaning “pay on the spot”) is linked to Bristol nails.
St. Nicholas Market
At the very heart of Bristol Old City one of the UK’s best markets attracts shoppers, traders and tourists. St. Nicks, as the market is called by the locals is a great opportunity to purchase all sorts of goods, from local produce, through crafts to antiques.
A walk through St. Nicholas Market in Bristol:
Once at St. Nicholas Street, take a moment to visit a medieval St. Nicholas Church, destroyed duing the war and rebuilt as a church museum.
Clifton Suspension Bridge
The symbol of the city of Bristol, the Clifton Suspension Bridge is located outside of the strict city centre, in the Westside where it provides connection between Bristol and North Somerset, over the Avon Gorge. This unique construction was based on Brunel’s design, later modified by architects John Hawkshaw and William Henry Barlow. The bridge is open for visiting year round.
Bristol Zoo Gardens
Clifton is home to another popular attraction - Bristol Zoo Gardens which are the fifth oldest zoo in the world. Find more information on Bristol Zoo Gardens opening times and tickets.
Bristol street art – Banksy Tours Bristol
Bristol is known for its vibrant cultural life. Street art - or graffiti - is one of its most visible manifestations. The graffiti artist Banksy is from Bristol and many of his iconic works can be seen in different areas of the city. Downloadable applications for mobile devices are available for tourists who would like to see works such as The Well Hang Lover, Mild Mild West and Grim Reaper and more.
Organized walking tours (paid and free of charge) are also popular. Apart from the most famous Banksy’s creations, you will have numerous opportunities to admire street art of lesser known, or unknown local artists in Bristol, especially in the Stokes Croft area, which is considered Bristol’s cultural quarter.
Shopping in Bristol
Bristol offers many exciting shopping opportunities, most of them available in the very city centre, the so called Bristol Shopping Quarter. Here are located the two largest covered shopping malls: Cabot Circus and The Galleries. The whole area between them (Broadmead) is also considered the prime location for shopping in Bristol.