Bristol Cathedral (Shutterstock)

9 unique ways to see Bristol

30th December 2015

Bristol is one of the UK's most exciting and creative cities, making it perfect for a mini adventure. How will you discover it?

Polly Allen

1. Take to the water

Catch the ferry service from Temple Meads train station (it's a two-minute walk to the port) to the SS Great Britain and beyond. The farthest stops are a short walk from the Underfall Yard, a hub for boat restoration. The floating harbour was built in 1809 to stop ships being stranded in the mud or crowding the docks. Bristol Packet Boat Trips offers a tour of the docks, covering key sights like the Matthew: a replica of the boat John Cabot sailed from Bristol to the New World in 1497.

Boats in Bristol (Polly Allen)
Boats in Bristol (Polly Allen)

The SS Great Britain is a vast steam-powered ship designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel that carried passengers, then cargo, around the globe. There's plenty of interesting info and exhibits to keep you on board. When you can tear yourself away, grab a meal at a floating restaurant, the Glassboat.

2. Hang out with a pirate

Ideal for time-poor visitors, Pirate Pete's one-hour Pirate Walk guides you through the city's swashbuckling, seafaring past, including the real life locations behind Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. He also covers the local influence on the slave trade - not something to be glossed over - and the interlinked history of Bristol blue glass.

Hanging out with Pirate Pete (Polly Allen)
Hanging out with Pirate Pete (Polly Allen)

At the end of the tour, double back through Queen's Square to raise a glass at a previous stopping point: the Llandoger Trow. Author Daniel Defoe met Daniel Selkirk, the man who inspired Robinson Crusoe, in this 17th-century pub.

3. Splash some cash

The Bristol Pound is Bristol's unique currency, accepted at many independent shops, attractions and restaurants. Buy your pounds online, or from outlets like the tourist centre on Canon's Road, then spend them at the Mud Dock Cafe, visit the Tobacco Factory's popular Sunday market, or pay for a visit to At-Bristol science centre.

4. Learn to speak 'Brizzle'

Celebrate the local dialect and learn to speak 'Brizzle' with a tongue-in-cheek dictionary from the tourist office on Canon's Road. Find Brizzle-inspired merchandise at Beast Clothing in St. Nicholas Market; a new pair of socks saying 'gert lush' will be... well, gert lush (very nice) indeed.

Soon you'll add the letter 'l' to your speech ('camera' becomes 'camrawl'), shorten words altogether ('perhaps' becomes 'praps'), and learn new definitions (if someone calls you a 'spanner', it's not a compliment). Plus, you'll put 'mind' at the end of your sentences - for no apparent reason, mind...

5. Be guided by your stomach

The city's oldest coffee house, Cafe Revival, has stood on Corn Street since the 18th century. Contrast it with the ultra-modern Full Court Press, which has a refreshingly simple coffee menu that changes weekly. Want something stronger? The craft beer scene is huge here, thanks to innovators like the Zerodegrees microbrewery, and the Bristol Beer Factory which offers monthly guided tours.

Time to fuel up? Sample British bangers at the Clifton Sausage, where over 10,000 sausages are eaten every year (including veggie options), or try tapas at Bravas, on Cotham Hill. If you want lunch on the go, aim for St. Nicholas Market, or find Temple Quay Market every Thursday.

6. Discover Bristol's history

Trace the Old City with a self-guided walk along the remaining Saxon walls and medieval streets, covering sights like St Stephen's Church. Next is the cathedral on College Green: it's free to visit and dates back nearly 900 years. Afterwards, enjoy the traditional feel of Christmas Steps and its listed buildings in the arts quarter.

Bristol Cathedral (Polly Allen)
Bristol Cathedral (Polly Allen)

Clifton Suspension Bridge, designed by Brunel, opened in 1864, but sadly the engineer didn't live to see it completed. One of the best views of the Suspension Bridge is from Clifton Observatory, especially during the annual Balloon Fiesta (established 1979), when the skyline is filled with hot air balloons.

7. Go green

Bristol was Europe's Green Capital of 2015, full of eco initiatives like the Create Centre & Ecohome, delivering a glimpse of tomorrow's sustainable homes. Bristol is also the UK's first designated Cycle City, encouraging people to get cycling whenever possible. Take an vintage bike tour, or hire an electric bike to tackle those hills. If you prefer walking, make time to wander up Brandon Hill or roam Ashton Court Estate.

The view from Brandon Hill (Polly Allen)
The view from Brandon Hill (Polly Allen)

Looking for a souvenir? Go second-hand - the city centre has plenty of tempting vintage shops, or you can browse for high-end antiques in Clifton Village. Alternatively, shop at Co-Lab (on Merchant Street) for jewellery by Priormade, which repurposes wood offcuts and abandoned bicycle tyres.

8. Hunt modern art

Modern art lovers can find local boy Banksy's murals in Frogmore Street, Hanover Place, the M Shed, Stokes Croft and Easton (Bristol Post has a map to help!) Spy more graffiti on Nelson Street, then head to the Arnolfini or hop across the water to studio-turned-exhibition-space Spike Island.

The acclaimed Banksy graffiti piece Mild Mild West (Shutterstock)
The acclaimed Banksy graffiti piece Mild Mild West (Shutterstock)

If traditional art is more your thing, aim for Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, followed by the Royal West of England Academy (RWA) on Queens Road, where you can attend a drawing workshop or an exhibition talk.

9. Tread the boards

Banksy aside, legendary Hollywood actor Cary Grant is Bristol's most famous son. Born Archibald Leach in 1904, he attended several local schools and was inspired to become an actor after a school trip to the Hippodrome Theatre. Though he found fame in the USA, Grant never forgot his roots. During return visits he always stayed at Marriott Hotel on College Green; find his statue a short walk away in Millennium Square.

Bristol Old Vic (Polly Allen)
Bristol Old Vic (Polly Allen)

2016 is the 250th anniversary of the Bristol Old Vic, which opened its doors in 1766 as a technically illegal establishment (missing the crucial royal patent). The Grade I listed Georgian theatre has been lovingly restored. Its theatre school, established in 1946 by Laurence Olivier, was where many of Britain's greatest actors cut their teeth back in the day, including Olivia Colman, Jeremy Irons and Daniel Day-Lewis.


Main image: Bristol Cathedral (Shutterstock)

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