Your Ultimate Guide To Bristol: 12 Best Things to Do and Explore

Updated On: October 31, 2022

bristol harbour

The alleged home of the pirate Blackbeard and the actual birthplace of Banksy, Bristol is fiercely climbing the top of the list of best locations for a holiday. Bristol has its own pace and sense of identity. Drum and bass were created there—artisans, filmmakers, tattoo artists, musicians, and anyone who loves art and creativity, in general, will find much to enjoy in Bristol.

Famous for its irreverent spirit, year-round festivals, and proximity to beautiful countryside, the city is compact enough to get around on foot or by bike but also big enough to boast a thriving cultural scene, world-famous attractions, and one of the most interesting foodie reputations in the country.

Bristol is the sixth-largest city in England and is located on the River Avon. Surrounded by green hills and because of its proximity to the sea, it is considered one of the most scenic cities in the entire country. To help you have the best experience in the city, here is our list of the best things to do and explore in Bristol.

1. Ashton Court Estate

Bristol The Green man statue in Ashton Court park
The Green man statue in Ashton Court park in Bristol, the United Kingdom

Whether you want to ride a bike, stroll through the park, or just sit on the grass, Ashton Court has it all. The famous Ashton Court Estate is just a 10-minute drive from Bristol city centre. The Ashton Court is an 850-acre country park and mansion that used to be the residence of the Smyth family in the past, and now it is considered a historical park.

At the highest point of the mansion, you will find two 18-hole pitch-and-putt golf courses that provide a breathtaking view of the city.

There are also special trails for mountain biking and cycling. Ashton Court Estate is just perfect for enjoying a lovely day out in the sun with your family. There’s even a deer park! Want to grab a coffee to enjoy with your lunch? There’s an on-site cafe that offers fresh sandwiches and drinks. If you’re planning on coming down on a Sunday, make sure to stop by the nearby market in the back of the Tobacco Factory bar on North Street. You’ll find there many different dishes from local delis and restaurants that have set up stalls, each perfect for your picnic basket.

Bristol is very famous for its balloons, and Ashton Court Estate is where the well-known Bristol International Balloon Fiesta takes place annually. The Ashton Court Estate balloon festival is one of the most enjoyable events to attend! This event is where teams from the UK and other countries bring their hot air balloons to participate in mass ascents, with up to 100 balloons launching simultaneously! How fun is that!

The Ashton Court Estate Bristol opening times are from 8 AM to 5:15 PM. Visiting the Estate is definitely one of the best things to do in Bristol!

2. Brandon Hill & Cabot Tower

Cabot Tower surrounded by trees
A view of the historic Cabot Tower, located in Brandon Hill Park in Bristol, UK.

Walk halfway down the famous Park Street (looking at the Banksy mural, of course!), and you’ll find Brandon Hill, the oldest park in the city. Want to feel like a local? Head there with a barbecue or packed lunch, or pick up some supplies at the amazing Pinkman’s Bakery up the street. Brandon Hill is a must-visit picnic destination; trust us, you will fall in love with the view from the Cabot Tower.

The magnificent park on Brandon Hill is home to the Cabot Tower. From this 32-meter-high tower, you can see the whole city at 360°. It is located on Brandon Hill inside a park populated by many squirrels.

The tower was built in honour of the famous navigator John Cabot to celebrate the 400th anniversary of his expedition. Born on Italian lands, the navigator Giovanni Caboto moved to England in 1494. Accordingly, his name was changed to the English version, John Cabot. In 1497, John Cabot reached the shores of what is now Canada by Matvey the ship.

Construction of the Cabot Tower began in 1897 and was completed in 1898. Inside the tower is a spiral staircase. The tower has two observation decks, which offer an excellent view of the city. The top platform is 102 metres above sea level. The Cabot Tower was designed by William Venn Gough (not Van Gogh! We know how similar the names are). It was built of red sandstone and finished with cream-coloured limestone, giving it the Neo-Gothic architectural style. The Cabot Tower view is like no other, and you surely don’t want to miss it.

3. Bristol Harbor/Waterfront

Bristol Harbor, or Bristol Waterfront, has existed since the 13th century but was completely rebuilt in the early 19th century. Thanks to the installed locks on the River Avon, the water level in the floating harbour remains stable, regardless of the rains and tides in the river.

The Bristol Waterfront welcomes tons of tourists with its museums, exhibitions, and galleries. The waterfront’s former workshops and warehouses are now cultural centres, bars, and nightclubs. It also boasts several Fashion Houses, an Art Centre, and a Media Centre.

The famed waterfront has a new drawbridge with a state-of-the-art electro-hydraulic system. You can enjoy watching the boats and ships arrive there each July when Bristol hosts one of the largest music festivals in Great Britain. Over 250,000 fans from all over the world form a lively chain along Bristol’s waterfront to dance, listen to good music, and relax.

A landmark of Bristol is the colourful houses that stand slightly above the harbour; you can have a great view of them from the dock. Get your camera/phone out and snap a beautiful, mesmerizing picture of these houses. A stroll over the Bristol waterfront is one of the most relaxing things to do in Bristol.

4. Clifton Suspension Bridge

Clifton Suspension Bridge
Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol

The Clifton Suspension Bridge is one of the postcard symbols of the city of Bristol. The Clifton Suspension Bridge was first opened in 1864, and it is located on the River Avon between Clifton, Bristol and Leigh Woods, Somerset. It has a height of 75m above the riverbed and is over 400 m long, making it an impressive construction. Once over the bridge, you can walk back towards the town centre through a beautiful little wood designed by a path full of trees.

The spectacular bridge was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who, believe it or not, was considered the second most important man in England after Winston Churchill! The Clifton Suspension Bridge offers views of Bristol on one side and the countryside and sea on the other. It is a great place to watch the hot air balloons ascend during the Bristol International Balloon Festival.

The Clifton Suspension Bridge spans the River Avon from Clifton, the highest suburb, and its total length is 230 metres, and the span over the river is 190 metres. It is a single-lane road bridge, but that does not stop it from being a popular destination for travellers. All day and night, you can meet there an endless number of tourists with cameras and plenty of lovely couples.

An interesting fact about the Clifton Suspension Bridge is that the first Bungy jump in the world was made from this bridge on 1 April 1979, from a height of over 76 metres (250 feet). It was performed by four athletes from the local club of extreme sports. Nowadays, the bridge is popular among tourists and athletes…. How cool is that?!

The bridge will not disappoint you; you will be amazed by the view from the suspension bridge of the sights of Bristol. The Clifton Observatory, with its famous camera obscura and Bristol Caves, including Giant’s Cave, are the most famous of them all. You can also buy a £1 ticket to see a 58-metre-long tunnel that takes you into the “Giant’s Cave” in the cliffs above the gorge, which was home to a 15th-century Catholic chapel.

As with many similar structures, this bridge has a sad reputation as a “suicide bridge.” The bridge is now fenced with railings, which are difficult to climb over, and there are signs at the bridge’s piers with the Samaritan Society’s telephone numbers.

5. Goldney House and Gardens

Goldney House is a self-catering Dormitory at Bristol University. The house and other estate elements gardens are on the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens list. The house was initially owned by the famous, wealthy English merchant trading family, the Goldney family. In 1953, the hall was donated to Bristol University.

The staggering Goldney House was built in 1724, and over the years, it became a landmark of the area, which is not a surprise given its marvellous picturesque. You can find the magnificent house on a hilltop overlooking Bristol and Brandon Hill.

The main building provides services like a library, a bar, and an ornate mahogany parlour with 1725 wood panelling for special events. The grounds of the Goldney House are used for weddings and receptions, one of which even made it to TV! It is where Dr Watson’s wedding from BBC’s hit series Sherlock was shot! Do you still need another reason to add this to your list?!

6. Bristol Cathedral

Bristol Cathedral
Bristol Cathedral

Many monuments in the city are worth visiting, including the city’s 16th-century cathedral. The cathedral is the main church of the Anglican Diocese of Bristol. Founded in 1140 as St. Augustine’s Abbey, it combines several architectural styles, from Romanesque to Gothic, with Norman influences.

The cathedral’s interior is a unique example among British churches built in the Germanic style, with a vast hall where the side aisles rise to the same height as its central part. The choir, named after Edmund Knowle, is one of the most sophisticated and refined examples of the early Gothic style in architecture with its characteristic profusion of decorations.

Bristol Cathedral is awe-inspiring from the inside. The ceiling is beautifully designed inside, and it is definitely worth a photo for architecture lovers. The cathedral is one of the most beautiful in the UK. It was featured in the BBC series Wolf Hall, dedicated to Cromwell, and guided tours allow you to see the filming locations.

7. Things To Do in Bristol with Kids

Bristol is a family-friendly destination, and you will find many exciting things to do in Bristol for families. To start your discovery of the city in style, take a guided tour on one of Bristol Insight’s open-top buses.

For animal lovers, head to the Bristol Zoo Gardens. The zoo is spread over 4.8 hectares of lush, beautifully manicured gardens and is home to more than 400 species of animals, including several gorillas that you can watch moving about above you in a gorilla house with a 180-degree view.

If extraordinary up-close encounters with exotic animals tempt you, spend a night camping at Camp Baboon – Wild Place Project. You can also discover the aquatic world of the Bristol Aquarium with its remarkable collection of marine life and exotic fish species, seahorses, lobsters, starfish, rays, and sharks.

Finally, you can leave the city for a while to meet wildlife at Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm, stroll through Puxton Park, visit the WWT Slimbridge Wetland Centre, or discover Old Down Country Park. The options in Bristol are infinite!

8. Treat Yourself to A Cultural Experience

Bristol offers a remarkable year-round selection of shows in its many theatres. The Bristol Hippodrome hosts blockbuster shows and touring musicals from London‘s West End, while the Bristol Old Vic is now the oldest continuously operating theatre in the country. St George’s Bristol is one of the finest concert halls in the UK. Colston Hall, Tobacco Factory Theatre, and the Redgrave Theatre all present excellent programs.

9. Visit a Museum

Bristol Museum & Art Gallery
Bristol Museum & Art Gallery

As you’d expect from such a cultural hub, Bristol has some outstanding museums and galleries, many of which are free. Bristol offers several different museums, so there is something for everyone. Right in the city centre is At-Bristol, the interactive natural science museum with imposing very modern architecture. It opened its doors in 2000, and there, you can also visit the only 3D planetarium in the country.

Bristol Museum & Art Gallery also has art, nature, and history exhibitions. Blaise Castle House Museum, where you can see everything from furniture to historical clothes, toys, and a classroom, is a great option to visit with your little ones. There are no less than 10,000 different pieces of clothing to admire here, from the 1730s to the present day. The museum also has an extensive collection of toys and much more. You can pick up the key to the Kings Weston Roman Villa, located right next door, from Blaise museum. There, you can see remains from Roman times and even mosaics that have survived the centuries.

You can take a trip back in time at The Georgian House Museum. The house dates back to the 18th century and once belonged to an enslaver and sugar trader. In the nearby historic house museum, Red Lodge Museum, you can follow the house’s history since the 16th century in fully furnished and restored rooms. It was built during the Tudor period and was even used as a school in the 19th century.

10. Capital of Street Art

View of the famous Banksy graffiti piece titled Mild Mild West
View of the famous Banksy graffiti piece titled Mild Mild West

Bristol is famous for street art, not just because the street-artist Banksy started to create his first works here. In Bristol, you will not find street art and graffiti artworks concentrated in one place but everywhere in the city. You will find impressive and incredibly huge street artwork around Nelson Street in the city centre. Works of artists like Conor Harrington, Pixel Pancho, and Nick Walker all cavort in one small spot. Many of these works were created in 2012 when the “See no Evil” festival was celebrated here.

The convenient thing about the many artworks around Nelson Street is that they are right in the city centre, making them ideal for pairing with a shopping day.

The street Stokes Croft, which leads directly into the city centre, also offers a lot of street art. Many students live in this part of Bristol. Among other things, you can see Banksy’s famous work “Mild Mild West” here. Also, the old warehouses in Backfields Lane are full of graffiti and are a real eye-catcher.

Besides the city centre, there is also a whole district in the south -Bedminster- where Europe’s biggest street art festival, UpFest, takes place every year. Bedminster is full of great works, proving that Bristol is more than just Banksy!

The Upfest Festival in Bristol takes place every year at the end of July in the Bedminster and Southville neighbourhoods in the city’s south. Over 400 street artists from over 70 countries find their way to Bristol to work on over 50 pieces of art in the streets for an entire weekend. Around 50,000 people attend the Upfest Festival! Admission? Free of charge! Attending the festival is one of the best things to do in the city for sure!

11. Shop ’til You Drop!

People in St Nicholas Market
People in St Nicholas Market

The city offers fantastic shopping opportunities with many independent boutiques, high-street stores, and high-end brands such as Harvey Nichols. Pick up bargains in the big-name stores of Bristol’s shopping district, browse the boutiques in elegant Clifton Village, or pick up quirky retro clothing on Gloucester Road and Park Street.

Bristol is also fantastic for its markets; every visitor must go to St Nicholas Market, and the festive “Mile of Markets” at Christmas is not to be missed. If you’re looking for a place that combines department stores with your favourite brands, head to The Mall on Cribbs Causeway.

12. Let’s Eat!

Bristol has a reputation as the Mecca of British foodies, which means you won’t be able to avoid a night out for a drink and a bite to eat. Passionate foodies will find various food festivals, cooking and foraging classes, guided culinary tours and tastings. To make sure you get the best of everything, here are our recommendations of good places to go to:

Keepers Kitchen and Bar

The 4-star Mercure Bristol Grand Hotel is a real eye-catcher for street art fans. In 2017, the hotel collaborated with the UpFest festival and now displays more than 500 unique pieces by local artists. Equally innovative is the hotel’s own restaurant, Keepers Kitchen and Bar, which has a chic ambience and boasts the finest food, especially for dinner.

M Café

M Café is located on the first floor of the M Shed, Bristol’s music museum. There, you sit right on the harbour and have a beautiful view of the hustle and bustle all around. M Café offers only fresh and sustainable hot and cold food. You can also find homemade cakes here. So, if you are looking for a good snack between meals, you are in the right place.

Old Market Assembly

If you’re looking for a place where you can drink, eat, and watch theatre or listen to live music simultaneously, then Old Market Assembly is the place for you. Afterwards, you can see a play by Shakespeare, for example, at the Wardrobe Theatre. Here you go; a plan, a memorable evening, and a new experience.

Bambalan

Bambalan is absolutely crazy. The slogan “We offer something for everyone” is spot on. The food is fantastic, and the atmosphere is the best!