Often overlooked previously for larger cities like London and Edinburgh, Bristol is a city growing quickly in popularity and cultural relevance. Visitors have a huge and rapidly increasing array of activities and cultural attractions to enjoy in this city in the SouthWest of England. It also boasts a vibrant international food and drinks scene, with Bristol becoming a more acclaimed culinary destination by the day. With many distinctive neighbourhoods, there’s something new and exciting around every corner in Bristol.
Although it hasn’t typically been renowned for its coffee, that is all changing now for Bristol and its modern identity. The up-and-coming independent coffee scene has taken a real hold in Bristol, and, as it becomes a more and more popular destination, there has never been a better time to soak up some culture while on a well-caffeinated tour of Bristol! In this article we have rounded up some of the best independent cafes in central Bristol, and then linked each one to the best nearby cultural attractions that shouldn’t be missed, for the makings of a perfect day out.
Boston Tea Party – Gloucester Road
First up is Boston Tea Party, a Bristol-based small chain which is extremely popular with locals and visitors alike. Although ‘BTP’, as it is known locally, has multiple stores across Bristol and increasingly England, the Gloucester Road branch is the perfect spot for that coffee and culture combo we are looking for. It is also one of the larger branches of BTP, but still has the cosy feeling of a standalone cafe. The quality of BTP has also endured since they opened their flagship cafe on Park Street.
Serving ethically sourced and locally roasted coffee and an infamous selection of traybakes, BTP’s unique attraction is its ethos. When you visit Boston Tea Party, you can be confident that you are supporting a brand that is trying to change the way we drink coffee for the better. In fact, Boston Tea Party was the first UK cafe franchise to ban single-use cups altogether. All in all, BTP is a sustainable and iconic cafe not to be missed on any trip to Bristol.
Once you’ve enjoyed a coffee break at BTP, Gloucester Road is there for exploring. Known for its independent shops, Gloucester Road in the Horfield area has gone from a historical travel route to a thriving neighbourhood renowned for local trades and community. It is even recognised by Bristol City Council as a centre for independent trade.
On a walk down Gloucester Road, look out for the infamous graffiti art that fills the area and changes from week to week. You might even be lucky enough to spot a new Banksy mural if you look closely enough! Culturally, there is nothing quite like enjoying and supporting one of the last ‘true’ traditional high streets in the UK, and this is why Gloucester Road is such a rewarding part of any trip to Bristol.
Browse in one of the UK’s largest selection of vintage, local and independent businesses, from art shops to up-cycle reclamation workshops. There is an endless list of locally sourced books, clothes, antique and food shops, but here are some of our favourites: fig, Gloucester Road Reclamation, and iota.
Boston Tea Party Gloucester Road – 293 Gloucester Road, Bristol, BS7 8PE
Society Cafe, Harbourside
Situated on the beautiful leafy harbourside, the Society Cafe is a welcome new addition to Bristol’s coffee scene, opening its doors in 2017. The store itself is reason enough to visit, boasting a spacious outside seating area and clean, minimalist design inside. Indeed, the Scandinavian designed store, which was previously a rope factory, has proved to be very popular with locals. This is Society’s third branch, after their previous success in both Oxford and Bath. They even stock sweet treats from an independent bakery in Bath.
The coffee is another draw, with Society serving only directly sourced beans. Although their house blends are from Origin in Cornwall, Society also features a wide rotation of ‘guest’ coffees, meaning any visitors are able to sample an impressive array of flavours and origins. For the true coffee connoisseurs, it is also worth mentioning that Society does a brilliant job of keeping their Instagram page up to date on the current coffee origins and characteristics, so rest assured that any coffee-related queries will be met with expertise!
Society Cafe is also in the perfect location to explore Bristol Harborside from. The Harbourside is an area you just can’t miss, filled with cultural significance and attractions for all interests and ages. Bristol has long had an important maritime history, and there is no better place to learn all about it than at the M Shed, where you can find a permanent exhibition on the rich history of Bristol that is perfect for all family ages. Here, you can find out how Bristol became an international trade hub, and how it has changed into a modern city over time.
For art lovers, the Arnolfini is a brilliant contemporary arts centre just a stone’s throw from the Society cafe. With a focus on interdisciplinary arts, and with something for all tastes, this centre really is at the cultural heart of modern Bristol. The Arnolfini also has its own award-winning and locally-based cafe and outside seating area which has a beautiful view over the harbour. Bristol Aquarium is also well worth a visit when in the area; a very educational and interesting attraction for families which has a strong focus on conservation.
There is also plenty to do if you are interested in boats and waterways, with the family-friendly open-air museum of the SS Great Britain just a short walk from the many restaurants that line the harbour. In fact, the harbour itself is a significant feat of engineering, built to overcome the world’s second-highest tidal range. It is worth walking a bit further along the bank to view Brunel’s Floating Harbour to get a true scale of the undertaking.
Society Cafe Harbourside – Farr’s Lane, Narrow Quay, Bristol, BS1 4BB
Friska, Park Street
Although there is an abundance of good coffee options on Park Street, Friska is a standout choice. With a few branches around Bristol, Friska was started in 2009 by a pair of friends who wanted to make a one-stop win for good food and coffee. They serve directly sourced coffee, and as an independent coffee chain, they also serve a variety of international breakfast and lunch options.
Friska became very popular a few years ago after partnering with a coffee bar inside the infamous Rise Records shop on Park Street and has since opened more stores throughout Bristol. Although Friska no longer partners with Rise and the shop itself has since moved, this classic culture combination meant that for a long time Friska was at the very heart of this renowned area. The good news is, Friska now has its very own store on Park Street, and there are plenty of great culture opportunities very close by.
Park street itself is another Bristolian icon, a steep road that runs from the harbour up to the suburb of Clifton, lined with beautiful apartment buildings and landmarks. From the bottom of Park Street, take in College Green which is a perfect place to sit and enjoy the atmosphere in good weather, and the adjacent Bristol Cathedral. Look out for one of the most famous Banksy paintings across the street, the unmissable ‘Naked Man Hanging From Window’.
Park Street also boasts the Wills Memorial building on the way up. This landmark is a part of Bristol University that is said to be one of the last true Gothic buildings to have been built in England. Aside from that, it is a beautiful reward for reaching the top of the steep road!
All the way up this beautiful street you can find boutique shops, independent vintage, books and gift shops and great food options such as The Florist. There is also an extensive variety of cultural attractions just in this small area, including the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery near the top of the road, which holds an impressive art collection from different eras. Whilst at the top of Park Street, be sure to also take in the impressive fountain and front of the Victoria Rooms, which houses the music department of the university.
Friska Park Street – 87 Park Street, Clifton, Bristol, BS1 5PJ
East Village Cafe, Clifton
Finally, a cultural trip to Bristol wouldn’t be complete without a wander around the beautiful Georgian neighbourhood of Clifton. Full of tempting food and drink options and cute boutique shops, Clifton has a polished atmosphere that hasn’t lost the cost village feeling it is famous for. East Village Cafe, opened in 2017, is no exception. Situated under the stone-arch at the heart of Clifton Village, East Village is a unique combination of a coffee, food, jewellery and home store. All food and drink served is fully vegan, but there are no compromises made in the quality of the delicious cakes and sandwiches here.
French Grey jewellery is also stocked in East Village, and the sister brands both base their products around their values of sustainability and waste-reduction. In this beautifully laid out shop, there is a great array of homeware and cosmetics that are all environmentally minded, and the aesthetically laid out shop is the perfect background to enjoying a coffee here.
It is also worth noting that there are many other perfect coffee spots in Clifton, East Village is just a writer’s favourite! There are too many great independent coffee shops to choose from around Clifton, including Spicer and Cole, Primrose, and the Mall Deli Cafe. Clifton truly is the perfect meeting point of coffee and culture.
While in Clifton, be sure to also go on a walk to see the landmark sights around the area, especially the Clifton Suspension Bridge. A familiar sight far and wide, this bridge is a truly impressive feat of engineering and is the most iconic image of Bristol by far. Sitting an impressive 75m above the river Avon, the bridge spans the Avon Gorge and was, amazingly, originally designed to cater for horse-drawn traffic only. Clifton Suspension Bridge is best viewed from the Observatory, a beautiful small park which is a short walk from the village.
Also in Clifton and very much worth a visit are the Bristol Zoo Gardens, a very small zoo with excellent conservation programmes and a focus on animal welfare. In fact, the zoo is somewhere between a botanical garden and a zoo, as they have moved more towards educational experience than big star attractions. This is all the more reason to visit, especially for families, as it is the perfect opportunity to learn about conservation and ecological systems while in the heart of a thriving city. You should go soon though if you are planning a visit, as Bristol Zoo Gardens has recently announced it will be moving to a new out of city location in 2022.
East Village Cafe Clifton – Arch House, Boyce’s Avenue, Clifton Village, Bristol, BS8 4AA