Bristol, you sassy thing, you. You’ve always been hard to define. All pastel palette pretty in some quarters yet home to subversive Banksy in others.
As a former resident and long-time listener, here’s a collection of fun, quirky, alternative and unusual things to do in Bristol. Your Bristol bucket list.
Things to do in Bristol
Your Bristol Bucket List
Bristol is not like Bath or Cambridge or the area around Westminster Abbey. It’s a living city and you’re more likely to find coffee-coiffing creatives sketching out their next great idea than big tour groups led by a flag and a stick.
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S.S. GREAT BRITAIN
The SS Great Britain deserves an article in its own right. I can’t believe how many times I saw the name advertised everywhere yet still hadn’t understood what it’s all about.
Folk, it’s about travel history. And engineering, yes, but this ship revolutionised the way people crossed between America and England. And beyond. And the results of that can still be felt today.
If you’re lucky, you may spot Isambard Kingdom Brunel taking a stroll above the dock…
The Arnolfini is an international arts centre and gallery with regular exhibits, poetry readings, lectures, dance events and more. It’s bursting with unusual things to do in Bristol.
Relish the open access library and reading area as well as the twinned restaurant, unspectacularly named the Arnolfini Cafe Bar. The green plants hanging from the ceiling are quite spectacular, though, and the Bristol Beer Factory have created an interesting blend of craft beers and gourmet health foods in a picturesque setting.
The art can be interesting but, ahem, you know, it depends.
The Arnolfini also have one of the best beer gardens in Bristol, but they’re up against stiff competition. If you want to add great beer gardens to your Bristol bucket list, then check out this complete guide to the best beer gardens and terraces in Bristol.
THE M SHED
The M Shed is free to enter and it’s a museum that gathers together the story of Bristol through local paraphernalia. Whether you love Bristol or don’t know it at all, it makes a good place to stop off. If you’re already on Facebook friends terms and in a bit of a rush, then this would be the one to skip.
A Bristol Bucket List for Kids
The renovated docklands of Bristol Harbourfront are a key part of town and feature clearly on every tourist map.
This area also happens to be perfect for travel with young children. It’s flat! There are spaces they can run around! There are loads of museums with changing facilities and cafes designed for babies to sleep.
There’s also a host of vegan restaurants which makes it easy to find healthy food for baby weaning or breastfeeding.
Oh yes. And many of the attractions are designed with children in mind ;-)
WE THE CURIOUS (FORMERLY AT BRISTOL SCIENCE CENTRE)
Terrible name, lovely place. We the curious is a science museum filled with light, air and space for children. Its bookshop makes a good stop for adults, too, with inspiring titles like Women Who Dared and Great Women of the World.
There are over 300 exhibits inside – and the one that stood out the most (perhaps for obvious reasons) was the lifesize stages of pregnancy exhibit. And the indoor pink earthquaking trampoline with audio that “simulated” labour.
RIVER CRUISE THE AVON
Bristol’s history is all about the water, so what better way to see the place than from the river itself? You can join a hop-on, hop-off river cruise with 16 stops and see the harbourfront from the level of the waves. The whole thing lasts around 80 minutes if you don’t get off at all and you can buy your river cruise tickets here.
TAKE A SELF-GUIDED CRAFT BEER TOUR
Wait, what is this, how does it work? Well, sadly, I haven’t tested it myself but it’s definitely on my Bristol Bucket List. The idea is you pick up a map and some tokens and take your time walking around some of Bristol’s hotspots, tasting craft beer as you go. There are even quirky facts about the city’s history to make it seem more educational. You can book your craft beer tasting tickets here.
Places to eat for your Bristol Bucket List
Bristol’s history leaves it with a wonderfully diverse range of eating options (plus every chain restaurant you can imagine.)
But for some different flavours and unusual places to eat in Bristol, here are the highlights (all personally tested, of course…)
THE GLASSBOAT BRISTOL
A Bristol institution, this cute little place gets its name on account of being a boat. With a lot of glass. It’s a lovely atmospheric spot made for special occasions with a French bistro menu. Oh, and highchairs and a lovely approach to young children so head along early in the evening for all of you to enjoy the place.
Its sister property, The Lido, also looks intriguing, housed in a former open-air swimming pool. I’ve had coffee there but am yet to taste their dinner menu.
ST NICHOLAS MARKET, BRISTOL
A weekday wander through the narrow lanes of this indoor/outdoor market is absolute bliss with a babe in pushchair (or without.) So many colours! So many scents! So many flavours!
Beautiful clear glass overlooking the water, with swirling sausages and flavoursome veggie options too.
WATERSHED CAFE BAR BRISTOL
Part art house cinema, part pub-cafe, part digital nomad workstation, I’ve spent more time than I’d care to admit typing away in the Watershed. Look out for the flower-cakes, moist carroty sponge with instagrammable purple petals.
Your Bristol Bucket List Beyond the Town Centre
CLIFTON SUSPENSION BRIDGE – AND CLIFTON VILLAGE
Another of Brunel’s legacies, the Clifton Suspension Bridge was designed for horses and carts but now transports thousands of vehicles across the Avon Gorge every day. It’s a symbol of the city and has a modest visitor’s centre at the top. The grassy area around the bridge is lovely to visit on a good day and Clifton offers a gentrified choice of places to eat and drink too.
Visit Concorde at Aerospace Bristol
Sleek, chic, and grounded for now, the world’s most famous passenger aircraft now has the shiny new museum it deserves. Spend an afternoon at Aerospace Bristol to fall in love with how we take to the skies and to walk aboard Concorde herself. (The museum is quite a way out of town near the airfield so remember to factor that in to your plans.)
LOOK FOR BANKSY
Bursting with subversive and controversial energy, Banksy is a street artist and activist whose work has spread around the world. But it all began on the underground scene in Bristol and if you’re lucky, you can find his work to see as well.
How can you tell if you’re looking at the real thing or an imitation? Not easily if you’re new to all this. Sometimes, the best bet is to join an organised tour. I’ve heart great things about this walking tour that covers Banksy and other aspects of Bristol’s historyGive it a go and let me know how you got on!
Festivals for Your Bristol Bucket List
Bristol Harbour Festival
Bristol Harbour Festival in July combines music, food and even more music along the Harbourfront.
Bristol Balloon Festival
The Bristol Balloon Festival in August sees more hot air balloons than you can shake a selfie stick at glow and rise into the sky. It looks absolutely amazing! And it’s known as the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta if you want to put some sizzle into it!
Where to stay in Bristol
With Young Children
On our last trip, we stayed in the Premier Suites Serviced Apartments in Cabot Circus and it was a genius idea. Why? Well, because the location was within walking distance of the Harbourfront but, arguably as importantly, it made travel with a young toddler easy.
With a separate lounge area, once baby Lab was in bed, we could stay up and enjoy each other’s company instead of hiding out in the bathroom or going to bed at 8pm. The kitchen made breakfast quick and easy for a weaning toddler, which meant that we could enjoy lunch or dinner out, safe in the knowledge we weren’t going to be asking baby Lab to sit still and wait for longer than she could handle at this age.
We were also impressed by the little touches, which smoothed over some of the bumps that sometimes arise in self-catered stays. They provided mini dishwasher tablets and a small bottle of washing up liquid, for example, plus a welcome pack of common breakfast bites. Towels and sheets were also provided and the beds were already made. They made life easy and made us feel welcome.
More on Travel in England
- How to plan the perfect Cotswolds weekend itinerary
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- Quite simply, the best places to visit in England
- The best things to do in Harrogate, the spa town of the North
- The best things to do in Kingston upon Thames
- The best things to do in Sandwich, Kent
Disclosure – We paid a reduced rate to check out some of the attractions on our last visit to Bristol and were hosted by Premier Suites. Plus, if you book or buy through some of the links on this page, then we may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. As ever, as always, we kept the right to write what we like. Otherwise, the whole thing becomes too depressing for words…