I recently visited a spunky place called Bristol, in the south-west of England, and was wildly impressed with what I found.
A city of about 440,000 people, Bristol boasts an active cultural scene, a dramatic suspension bridge, plenty of cider, lovely manners and a laid-back charm… all things that make me smile. Known for being a historical (pirate infested) port-city, as well as the birth place/urban canvas for world-recognised graffiti artist, Banksy, Bristol can certainly hold its own in the list of must-see UK cities.
We arrived on a grey Saturday morning with few expectations besides the forecasted afternoon snow. I’d heard murmurings of a creative urban culture – guerrilla knitting, public book swaps and more street art than your camera can handle – but told myself to contain the excited dance until I’d experienced said coolth.
Well, over the next few days, I did many a dance in the colourful Bristolian streets. Within an hour of arriving, I was bounding between bright multi-storey artworks on Nelson and Quay streets. Then I explored the book stores, boutiques and cafes along Park Street. I was introduced to the historical structures through the views from Cabot Tower on Brandon Hill, the foyer of the University of Bristol Wills Memorial Building and the uplifting chime of the Bristol Cathedral bells. And then, the recently-opened M Shed whisked me through an engaging version of local culture and development.
An afternoon stroll led me south of the lazy River Avon to admire rows of coloured houses, scarf-warmed bridges and sweet messages underfoot. Finally, to add some spice and cider to my day, I enjoyed an evening at Soukitchen and The Tobacco Factory in North Street, Bedminster.
Day two in Bristol offered more wonderful delights, starting with the scent of Pieminister pies, wood-fired pizzas and gluten-free brownies at St Nick’s Market. Naturally, after enjoying a slow food market, one wants a bit of literary stimulation, which was appropriately provided by the nearby Bristol Book Market. Then it was off to find a pre-loved clothing stalls and a fancy Sunday roast in the retro-inspired bar, Start the Bus.
A post-roast walk up the hill led us to the very pretty suburb of Clifton, where crescents of houses and parklands overlook the city and the pubs are fire-warmed nooks. Clifton is also where we found the famous Bristol suspension bridge, as well as a sneaky camera obscura and cliff-side observational balcony/‘chapel’ that was worth every pence of the £3.50 admission price.
Other things to see/do/experience in Bristol:
- For cultural events, check out what’s on at The Tobacco Factory, (theatre, music, bar),The Watershed (films and digital art), Start the Bus (gigs, markets, quizzes) and local street art galleries such as Weapon of Choice Gallery.
- If you haven’t seen it elsewhere, the (free) Veolia Environmental Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition is in the City Museum and Art Galleryuntil 11 March and is definitely worth a peek.
- Shamefully, I didn’t get a chance to follow the advice of many a local and traveller by going to The Apple (a.k.a the Cider Boat) to experience the local love of cider.
- Another highly recommended activity that I didn’t get a chance to do is a local pirate tour. While it does sound a little tacky, I am assured these tours give an awesome insight to local history and are great fun. The most popular tour is by Bristol Pirate Walks, which costs £7.50 for an adult and starts at 2pm every Saturday and Sunday.
- Bristol has a very pretty harbour which can be admired as you walk its banks. Allow a couple of hours to wander along the water.
Info & resources:
- From London you can catch a bus or train to Bristol. The trains (to Bristol Temple Meads) are faster, more comfortable and more expensive than the buses, but bus tickets (from London Victoria to Bristol Coach Station) can cost as little as £7 one-way. For transport info look up the National Express and Megabus and National Railwebsites.
- Bristol’s tourist info centre is located along the water in the centre of town, offering pamphlets galore. You can also visit the local tourism authority website at VisitBristol.
- The Slow Food Market that is part of St Nick’s Market is held in Corn Street on the first Sunday of every month between 10am and 3pm. There are quite a few other little markets in Bristol so check out the city council list to see what’s on when you’re there.
Also, a big thanks and hello to James from the great travel blog, www.ouroyster.com – I enjoyed our random international blogger catch up and appreciated your local knowledge. Safe travels.