Tag Archives: Bristol

What to do in Bristol, what to see in Bristol and the best Bristol attractions.

The Best of Bristol Tips

While Bristol may not be the city that jumps to your mind when you think of planning a holiday, it is apparently fourth on the list of the most visited cities in England, and when you discover the long list of interesting sights to see in Bristol, you won’t be surprised. As the hometown of  former Europe a la Carte contributor Heather Cowper, we have some very useful inside knowledge and I’ve drawn on Heather’s posts as well as adding some tips of my own to compile this list of top things to do in Bristol.

Things to do Bristol

Bristol Harbour by nicksarabi

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Museums in Bristol

The Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery, easy to find in a large Edwardian building on Park Street, includes all kinds of artefacts like Egyptian mummies, a biplane and a Romany caravan, and it also features excellent temporary exhibitions (such as the Banksy Exhibition it hosted a couple of years ago) which are also free to see.

Things to do Bristol
Bristol City Museum by Heather Cowper

Coming soon to Bristol, the M Shed looks set to be the key museum attraction in the city. Located at the site of the former Bristol Industrial Museum, the M Shed has been five years in the making and is due to open in June 2011. It will explore life and work in the city of Bristol and as it is located quayside a number of historic vessels moored in front of it will also form part of its exhibitions.

The Georgian House is a restored townhouse turned museum demonstrating life for the wealthy merchant John Pinney and his family back around the year 1800 – and as a bonus, admission is free. Similarly, the Red Lodge, furnished in a mix of Elizabethan, Stuart and Georgian styles also contains exhibitions from its past inhabitants and is also free to enter.

Things to do Bristol
Georgian House drawing room by Heather Cowper

Landmarks in Bristol

The restored SS Great Britain, a ship that dates back to 1843 and has travelled as far and wide as New York and Australia, is now moored in the Harbourside area and is fascinating to visit.

The SS Great Britain by Heather Cowper

The Clifton Suspension Bridge is probably one of the most recognisable sights of Bristol. Designed by famous Bristol Victorian-era engineer Brunel, construction on the bridge started way back in 1836, although it wasn’t complete until 1864. These days it is not only a tourist attraction but a functional bridge carrying thousands of cars daily.

Things to do Bristol
The Clifton Suspension Bridge by Heather Cowper

The Harbourside in Bristol is home to numerous landmarks including Millennium Square, Pero’s Bridge (complete with horns!) and the Steam Train which runs up and down the quay. You can also use the local ferry service to explore the harbour from the water.

Things to do Bristol
Bristol Harbourside ferries by Heather Cowper

And while the Harbourside area of Bristol gets most of the attention these days, the original Old City is also worth a look. The St Nicholas Market, Castle Park, St Peter’s Church and the areas around King Street and Corn Street all include historical buildings mixed with some interesting modern-day shopping and eating.

Things to do Bristol
Old Fish Market in Bristol by tombream07

The recent See No Evil street art project is the UK’s largest permanent display; it’s the product of more than sixty international street artists.

The See No Evil Street Art Project


Family Attractions in Bristol

The Bristol Zoo Gardens once won Britain’s “Zoo of the Year” and is still a quality zoo to visit. It’s 175 years old and some of the animal highlights include red pandas, pygmy hippos and the seal and penguin section. Animal-loving visitors might want to continue the theme at the Blue Reef Aquarium Bristol, an aquarium designed around a large coral reef centrepiece and including various fish and sharks which can be seen from the underwater viewing tunnel.

Things to do Bristol
Pygmy hippo at Bristol Zoo by crabchick

Families will also have plenty of fun (and a little learning!) at At-Bristol, a large science museum which also includes a Planetarium – housed in a particularly cool building!

Things to do Bristol
Planetarium at At-Bristol by Nick Bramhall

Day Trips from Bristol

The lovely town of Bath is only 12 miles from Bristol.

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Bristol City Museum

Three free museums to visit in Bristol, England

If you’re visiting my home town of Bristol it’s worth being aware that there are some excellent free Bristol museums here that are ideal for families and lovers of history and culture. Here are three great free Bristol attractions that I personally recommend as top Europe travel tips and that are all situated close to each other in the university district of the city that’s also got plenty of nice shops, cafes and restaurants.

Bristol City Museum

Bristol City Museum

Bristol City Museum & Art Gallery

This is in an imposing Edwardian building at the top of Park Street and it’s hard to miss. It’s got the typical mixture of Egyptian mummies, stuffed animals and paintings and the odd curiosity like the biplane hanging from the lobby ceiling or the painted Romany caravan. These in themselves would not make it anything special, but the museum regularly holds excellent touring exhibitions which are also free – the recent Banksy exhibition was one of their most successful but there are many others. I’d recommend that you check what’s coming up or just pop in to see whatever exhibition’s on, you’ve nothing to lose. This museum is also very family friendly, as the open lobby to the rear is given over to a play area for younger children and there are many hands on family activities. On a rainy Saturday or Sunday the place is swarming with families having fun and there’s also a pleasant cafe at the back with tables near the play area where you can keep an eye on your offspring.

The Georgian House in Bristol

The Georgian House in Bristol

The Georgian House

This Georgian townhouse was built in 1790 for a wealthy Bristol merchant, John Pinney who was a slave owner and made his fortune from sugar plantations in the Caribbean. The Georgian House has been restored and is now furnished and laid out as it might have looked when the Pinney family lived there. You can see both the imposing drawing rooms and bedrooms and the kitchen below stairs with it’s polished copper pots, as well as an unusual cold plunge pool in the basement. On the top floor is an interesting small exhibition, with information about the family’s Caribbean business interests and details of the triangular trade in slaves and other goods that brought so much wealth to Bristol. The museum is open Saturday-Wednesday (closed Thursday and Friday) and is free.

Drawing room at the Georgian House in Bristol

Drawing room at the Georgian House in Bristol

The Red Lodge

This old building only hints from the outside at what you’ll find within, as although the house was built in 1580, the exterior was updated and added to in Bristol’s Georgian heyday. The Red Lodge is furnished in Elizabethan, Stuart and Georgian styles and you enter through the impressively panelled Great Oak Room, with its original Elizabethan plasterwork ceiling and carved chimney piece. From the window, you can look down on the restored Elizabethan knot garden and look down on the city imagining the grassy hillside that once separated it from the bustling city centre.

Although the house is quite grand, it was built as a lodge for the much larger Great House, which once stood on the site of the present Colston Hall used for concerts, further down the hill. The house later had other uses such as a school for girls and some of the rooms have mementos from this era. Like the Georgian House, the Red Lodge is open Saturday-Wednesday (closed Thursday and Friday) and is free.

More on European Museums

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All photos by Heatheronhertravels

Places to visit around Bristol’s harbourside

Bristol is my home town and one of England’s less known cities for tourism but well worth a visit. The harbourside area is one of my favourite parts of the city to stroll for a few hours with plenty to see and many free attractions. Bristol’s heyday was in the 17th and 18th centuries when many Bristol merchants made their fortunes off the back of the tea, spices and slaves that were landed here.  Here are some of the things you might enjoy in the harbourside area of Bristol;

Bristol docks

Take a tour by ferry
From many places around the harbour, you can easily pick up a blue and yellow ferry , to take you on a round trip, or you could walk from one end of the harbour to the other and then catch the ferry back. This one’s great for children who will enjoy seeing the view from the water. There’s a useful short ferry from one side of the harbour to the other near the SS Great Brittain, which will allow you to make the whole circular walk if you want.

Arnolfini free art gallery
The Arnolfini art gallery is a great free attraction for all ages and is housed in one of the old tea warehouses on the dockside. It’s a centre for contemporary art and film and always has something a little wierd and wacky on show, often with an interactive element. The café is a cool place to hang out. Next door there’s another small warehouse housing the Architecture Centre which also sometimes has interesting exhibitions upstairs. I also love the statue of explorer  John Cabot who sits on the cobbled wharf outside the Arnolfini, gazing out towards the open sea.

Arnolfini gallery, Bristol docks

Industrial Museum
Over the iron bridge from the Arnolfini is  the Industrial museum. At present it’s undergoing renovation and will reopen in 2011 as the new museum of Bristol. The huge cranes in front are being preserved as part of Bristol’s industrial heritage and at the moment there are hoardings with some great street-art.

The Steam Train
Outside the Industrial Museum you can jump on a steam train run by enthusiasts that chugs up and down the quay on holiday weekends in the summer. Again, this is something that younger children will enjoy and it sets you down in front of another major harbourside attraction, the SS Great Brittain.

Street-art outside the industrial museum

SS Great Brittain
The SS Great Britain was designed by the great Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel who also designed the Clifton Suspension Bridge. At the time she sailed in 1843 from Bristol to New York she was the largest steam ship in the world. She was eventually abandoned in the the Faulkland Islands and in the 1970s the project was started to bring her back home and refurbish her to the wonderfully restored ship you see today.

Millenium Square
On the opposite side of the harbour to the Arnolfini,  you’ll find yourself in Millenium square which is a great public piazza to relax. Sit on a bench and see the children cooling off in the water features and shallow pools, or sit beside the statues of notable Bristol characters, including filmstar Cary Grant who was born here. On one side of the square you’ll see the silver globe of the Planetarium, which is part of Explore, a hands on Science centre in the At Bristol Complex, and is a favourite with families in Bristol.

Pero’s Bridge
If you turn back towards the water from Millenium Square, you’ll come to Pero’s bridge, which can take you across the water, back to the Arnolfini. The sculptural horns on top of the bridge are actually weights to help lift the bridge when ships pass underneath, and the bridge is named after the black slave Pero, who served a wealthy Bristol merchant in the late 18th Century.

Pero's bridge, Bristol docks

There are no shortage of interesting places to eat around this part of the harbourside – my favourites are;

The Olive Shed is housed in one of the small warehouse buildings near the Industrial Museum, serving meditteranean style food and tapas with a terrace to watch the boats go by.
Close by, the Brunel Buttery kiosk serves  bacon rolls, chips and home-made cakes, washed down with a steaming mug of tea.
Bordeaux Quay, housed in a large warehouse which has a bistro and cocktail bar downstairs, an upscale restaurant upstairs and a cookery school and deli too.
Watershed film centre where the film and arty crowd go to the upstairs cafe with free wifi and snacks, cakes and drinks all through the day and a great view of the water.

Photos by Heatheronhertravels

Banksy exhibition comes to Bristol

The Street-Artist known as Banksy returned this month to his home town of Bristol for an exhibition in the Bristol City Museum. And it seems that the whole city is being taken over with street-art fever, for only last month the gilded halls of the Royal Academy of the West of England hosted the best of Bristol’s street-artists in their Crimes of Passion exhibition.

Banksy exhibition, Bristol

There used to be many Banksy pieces around the streets of Bristol, but before he hit the big time the Bristol City Council was only too quick to roller over his works. Now, if they so much bring the whitewash out there’s a public outcry. There are still a handful of major pieces in Bristol if you know where to look – I can walk past two or three on my way to work if I choose.

These days Banksy has an international repuation as well as being a local hero, as the queues down the road last weekend outside the museum witnessed. The exhibits are pretty much all new stuff although the wicked and subversive humour is unchanged.

Banksy exhibition, Briston

There’s a burned out ice cream van in the lobby and the jokes are spread around the whole museum so that you have to take a second glance before you work out what’s the original work of art and what’s the Banksy look-alike.

The exhibition is on until 31st August at the Bristol City Museum and it’s free.

Thanks to Jason Blait for the photos on Flickr

See Bristol with Isambard Kingdom Brunel

One interesting way to get under the skin of a city is to use as your guide a famous person who lived there and visit the places they lived and worked. In Barcelona, for instance you’re bound to go on a little Gaudi tour. But when you visit my home town of Bristol, you might like to see some of the sights made famous by the famous Victorian engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

In 1833 Brunel was appointed chief engineer of the Great Western Railway running from London to Bristol and he also carried out many improvements on the Bristol Docks, then a thriving hub of industrial Bristol, now a pleasant harbourside area for leisure and relaxation. If you arrive by train, you’ll pass through Temple Mead Station which he designed.

Clifton suspension bridge

The most famous of Brunel’s Bristol creations is the Clifton Suspension bridge, which spans the Avon Gorge. Brunel won a competition to design the bridge and it was his first major commission, and has become Bristol’s major and most photographed landmark. The bridge was designed for horses and carriages but thousands of cars still cross it every day. However, when festivals are held on Ashton Court park on the far side of the bridge, it is closed for fear of the stress of too many people at one time. On one side of the suspension bridge you’ll find picturesque Clifton Village, with elegant Georgian terraces, restaurants and boutiques. On the other side there are woods to walk in and the Ashton Court Park where the Balloon fiesta is held every August.

SS Great Brittain
The other major Bristol landmark designed by Brunel is the SS Great Brittain, moored in the Harbourside. When it launched in 1843 it was the largest ship of it’s kind with a steel hull and steam powered propellor. After many voyages to New York and Australia it ended up rusting away in the Faulkland Islands, before being salvaged and returned to Bristol. Since then an ongoing restoration programme has made it an award winning visitor attraction.

If you’d like to see more of Bristol, following the work of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, you can download a free audio guide to the Brunel Mile and City Docks from the Visit Bristol Website.

Even if you’re not coming to Bristol, why not try this approach to find interesting things in other cities through the work of famous people who lived and worked there.

Photos by Heatheronhertravels and dizz on Flickr

Bristol is a top 10 city to visit

It’s official, Bristol is one of the top 10 cities to visit in 2009, according to guide book publisher, Dorling Kindersley. I have lived in Bristol for the last 15 years, and I always knew that it was not only a fantastic place to live, but a great destination for a city break. It’s also a good jumping off point for exploring the west of England, south into Somerset, Devon and Cornwall, and westwards into Wales.

Here are some of the things that make Bristol special;

Arnolfini Art Gallery in the harbourside area of Bristol

The harbourside area
The old port of Bristol, which was once the industrial and trading hub, has been cleaned up over the years to make a pleasant centre for leisure. There are many bars and restaurants in this area, you can visit the At-Bristol Science complex and relax in the Millenium square with its statues and water features. Sample some modern art in the Arnolfini art gallery, walk down to the SS Great Britain or take one of the ferries that ply up and down the harbour.

Clifton Village
This is the Georgian old village of Bristol, with beautiful architecture and plenty of individual boutiques, cafes and restaurants. Take a stroll on the landmark Clifton Suspension Bridge with the Avon Gorge below or take in the view from the terrace bar of the Avon Gorge Hotel.

Avon Gorge and Clifton Suspension Bridge

Museums and Art Galleries
On Park St there are three excellent free museums. The Bristol City Museum is just what you’d hope from a Victorian city museum, from gypsy caravans to Egyptian Mummies and excellent art and photography exhibitions throughout the year (free). The Georgian House was built in the 1790s for a wealthy Bristol Merchant and has been preserved to show how a family of that period would have lived. (free) Red Lodge was built in the 1580s and takes you back in time with it’s Tudor pannelled rooms and knot garden (free). The British Empire and Commonwealth Museum, by Temple Meads Station tells the story of Britain’s Empire, especially Bristol’s association with the Slave Trade. In the Harbour area, families will enjoy the At-Bristol hands on Science Centre and if modern art is your thing, visit the Arnolfini gallery with ever changing exhibitions that are on the cutting edge of the art scene (free).

The Georgian House in Bristol

Fantastic eating and drinking
You won’t be going hungry in Bristol, with many bars, pubs and restaurants all over the city. These are some of my favourite eating haunts
HarboursideWatershed café for coffee, Bordeaux Quay for a more upscale experience, the Olive shed for mediterranean style  food & tapas.
Park StBristol Guild café for soup and salads, Goldbrick House for stylish eating and cocktails, Rocatillos for a family diner with the best milk shakes in Bristol.
Corn StSt Nicholas Market has many different vendors of hot food from Indian, Moroccan, Jamaican to cakes & coffee to eat in or take away. For a cosy restaurant & bar try the Rummer in the Market area.
Clifton VillageBar Chocolat is where I stop for a restoring hot chocolate, Fishers is a fish restaurant that has an excellent budget menu and the Arch House Deli is a gourmet paradise which also has a small cafe at the back to eat in.

Cafe at Goldbrick House on Park St

The Cabot Circus development has recently opened and covers all tastes from the upscale Harvey Nichols to the High St chains. Park St, leading up the hill from the Harbourside area has plenty of trendy clothes shops as it’s close to the University. Clifton Village is the place for more individual boutiques and gift shops and you’ll find some quirky and original artistic offerings in the area around Christmas steps and Perry Rd.

All photos by Heather on her travels

Great street art around Europe

Don’t get me wrong, I hate to see a scribbled graffiti tag defacing an attractive building as much as anyone. But I do love to see great street-art on my travels, it’s a gift to the photographer and brightens up many a run-down city neighbourhood. I’ve noticed that street-art often springs up in areas that are due for regeneration and in fact is often a catalyst or symbol of that regeneration. Here’s a run-down of some of the great street-art I’ve found on my travels around Europe.

Street-art in Stokes Croft, Bristol

Street-art in Stokes Croft, Bristol

Starting with my home town of Bristol, the best place to see street-art is the neighbourhood of Stokes Croft, close to the city centre. This is an area where the residents are fighting to retain the arty, bohemian feel of the neighbourhood and stop it being over-run with expensive flats. Leading the use of street-art in the regeneration of the area is the People’s Republic of Stokes Croft, which gives details on it’s website of the street-canvases open to artists. Bristol is also the home town of Banksy, the international street-artist who has hit the big time and you can still see a few of his works around the city.

Banksy mural in Bristol

Banksy mural in Bristol

When I visited Valencia in spring 2008, I loved all the street-art in the Barrio Carmen neighbourhood. This is an old part of town with narrow streets and is also the centre of the night-life in Valencia. By day you’ll find quiet squares and funky designer shops, but by night the place comes alive with bars and nightclubs and the party goes on until dawn.

Street-art in Valencia

Street-art in Valencia

All around the area, old buildings are being replaced by new apartment blocks and on the builder’s hoardings you can see plenty of interesting, if temporary street-art. It was also the only place I’ve come across religious street-art in a homage to the local patron saint of that area of town.

Religious street-art in Valencia

Religious street-art in Valencia

If you’re in eastern Sardinia, you must not miss the mountain village of Orgosolo, once the haunt of bandits and kidnappers. Now you’re perfectly safe, as the village has become an open-air art gallery, attracting visitors who come to wander round the village to look at the street-art. The trend was started by the art teacher at the local school, Francesco del Casino, a talented artist from Siena who is influenced by Picasso, and over the years many other artists have added their work around the village. Many of the murals are on themes of social injustice and protest, harking back to the days when this area of Sardinia felt forgotten and neglected by the central government.

Mural in Orgosolo, Sardinia

Mural in Orgosolo, Sardinia

I’m looking forward to a visit to Berlin in Spring 2009 where a large section of the Berlin wall has now been transformed into the East Side gallery. Berlin’s artistic reputation stemmed in part from the communist days, when young Germans had a choice of either doing military service, or going to live in Berlin for a year, as no-one wanted to be there on the doorstep of the eastern bloc. Many artists who didn’t fancy a spell in the military took the latter choice and when the wall came down the East side gallery became a colourful symbol of new hope for the future.

East side gallery on Berlin by Franfiorini/Flickr

East side gallery on Berlin by Franfiorini/Flickr


Summer Specials in Bristol

Visit Bristol have a “Summer Specials” section in their website with details of hotel offers and discounted attractions tickets. There is also information about festivals and events such as the Bristol Harbour Festival and the Festival of the Tree. I liked the suggestion of a canoe safari to see the wildlife at close quarters at the Slimbridge Wetland Centre. located between Bristol and Gloucester.

Bristol Harbour

Bristol Harbour

I stayed in Bristol in a family room at the Youth Hostel a converted warehouse for a few days with one of our sons a few years ago. The Youth Hostel was in a very central location close to the harbour.

Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol

Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol

I really liked Bristol, we enjoyed walking around the parks, the harbour and Clifton Bridge. However don’t take your car to Bristol, there’s a congested one way system and it’s expensive to park. Have you visited Bristol, what did you most enjoy about your visit?