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.
So close to London yet with an accent so far away it may as well be another language, me babbers.
Bursting with art yet excelling in science.
Winning Oscars for Wallace & Grommet and convincing Brunel’s SS Great Britain to shimmy up and stay here for good, followed by aviation’s legendary giant Concorde.
Where should a first, or third or long time visitor begin?
Well, having been each of those things, I thought it was high time I spilled the chic vegan beans about your pretty gritty city charm.
So here’s my list of unusual things to do in Bristol, with a baby or toddler, and without.
Right, let’s get started.
Yes, this area is a strange place for a list about unusual things to do. These renovated docklands are a key part of town and feature clearly on every tourist map.
Yet, it’s hard to find too many tourists in Bristol. It’s just not that kind of place.
It’s 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.
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 ;-)
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.
This free to enter museum 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.
Terrible name, lovely place. This 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.
This place 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…
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…)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
Bristol Harbour Festival in July combines music, food and even more music along the Harbourfront.
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.
Note – I haven’t seen these but I’ve heard great things about the former and have seen the previous years of the last one so do check them out! I will too and report back once I have…Find out more things to do in Bristol over at the Visit Bristol page.
A new museum for Bristol, Being Brunel will be devoted entirely to the life and works of the remarkable Victorian engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Located alongside the SS Great Britain, one of his finest achievements, the museum is scheduled to open in March 2018 and will invite visitors to immerse themselves in Brunel’s story, brought vividly to life with never-before-seen personal possessions, documents and artefacts, including his last cigar and cigar case, and his 1821 school report. Brunel’s Grade II* Listed Drawing Office where he originally designed and built the SS Great Britain is being restored to how it would have looked in the 1840s.
Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Appeal has revealed details of a third Bristol arts trail planned for July 2018. And for the first time, there will be not one, but three characters taking part: lovable canine Gromit will be joined by his old pal Wallace and arch nemesis Feathers McGraw. Two previous trails were hugely successful: Gromit Unleashed, which scattered 70 large-scale designer Gromits all over Bristol in 2012, and Shaun in the City in 2015, which pulled off a similar feat with a flock of 120 spectac-ewe-lar sheep. These hugely popular events, and the subsequent sale of the sculpted Aardman characters, raised over £6 million for Wallace & Gromit’s Children’s Foundation while introducing a fun way of discovering Bristol.
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.
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.As ever, as always, we kept the right to write what we like. Otherwise, the whole thing becomes too depressing for words…
Abigail King is an award-winning writer and author who swapped a successful career as a hospital doctor for a life on the road. With over 60 countries under her belt, she's worked for Lonely Planet, the BBC, National Geographic Traveller and more. She is passionate about sustainable tourism and was invited to speak on the subject at the EU-China High Level summit at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris.Here she writes about food, travel and history and she invites you to pull up a chair and relax. Let's travel more and think more. Welcome!
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