Individuality is in Bristol’s DNA. This is a city of free-thinkers, emblazoned with street art and bursting with quirky cafés, indie shops and creative studios. Its counterculture spirit has bubbled away for decades, breathing new life into this former industrial hub – but even as its popularity has grown, Bristol has kept its edge. Visit now, and you’ll find a food, arts and nightlife scene that’s sharper than ever, and numerous ways to see its iconic attractions in a new light.
From secret sights and immersive new tours, to an exciting array of outdoor attractions, Bristol is full of unusual things to do. Maybe you’ll bathe in the beautiful Bristol Lido, a Victorian spa and swimming pool reimagined for the modern age, or climb the rigging of Brunel’s SS Great Britain ship, for a hands-on insight into the city’s maritime history. This 180-year-old ship is one of the waterfront’s most famous landmarks, but up in the ratlines you’ll see it from a whole new angle. Alternatively, join a paddleboarding tour with SUP Bristol, for a self-powered sightseeing adventure.
While Banksy put Bristol’s street art scene on the map, there are many more artists to discover. Take a walking tour with Where The Wall, and you’ll spy magnificent murals and hidden gems alike, and get to know the people behind them. Or maybe you’d like to try street art for yourself? At Graft’s hands-on workshops, you’ll learn how to stencil and spray, and even design your own ‘tag’ and canvas. It’s taught by artists, and the lessons are held in the cells of an old police station. In May, Upfest Festival takes over the city with live graffiti demos, local bands, and the chance to buy art directly from its makers (28–29 May). The shops on Gloucester Road also sell eye-catching pieces, alongside retro fashions and vintage treasures.
If you miss Upfest, fear not: Bristol has countless events and festivals in store. For Michelin-starred dining and live music, look to Foodies Festival (20–22 May); for outdoor theatre and live bands, don’t miss Bristol Harbour Festival (15–17 July); and for new flavours and comedy, visit Bristol Craft Beer Festival (10–11 June) . You can even soar skywards at the International Balloon Fiesta, Britain’s biggest gathering of hot air balloons (2-15 August).
Back on the ground, Bristol’s eclectic walking tours are full of surprises – whether that’s spine-tingling ghost stories, pirate-themed treasure hunts, or a musical trip down memory lane. In September (2022 dates TBC), Bristol Open Doors ventures even further, granting access to places that are usually closed to the public. Last year, its tours included Redcliffe Caves, a rock cavern deep beneath the harbour, and the crypt of an 18th-century church.
For an even wilder walk, brave the high ropes trail at Adventure Bristol, or hang out with the animals at Bristol Zoo Gardens. This world-leading conservation charity ploughs every penny back into its wildlife projects. Alternatively, test your surfing skills at The Wave: powered entirely by sustainable energy, this inland pool serves up consistent, top-quality breaks from dawn until dusk, with lessons for all abilities. It’s easy to reach on public transport from the city centre, and even has its own chilled-out surf camp.
Why stay in a hotel, when you can rock a silver Airstream-style caravan instead? Up on the roof of Brooks Guesthouse you’ll find four gleaming ‘Rocket’ vans, decked out with double beds, private bathrooms and lots of little luxuries. Expect fluffy towels and goose-down pillows, as well as skyline views to accompany your morning coffee.
Or, take things indoors at Towed Town Camping, which has transformed an unloved old warehouse into a cool glamping site, complete with six vintage campervans – all refurbished to tip-top condition – and a games room.
Occupying a former Sugar Factory, Hotel du Vin’s 40 unique rooms and suites just scream luxury. From deep roll-top baths to mezzanine floors, each is packed with character and custom-made beds, all decked out with lavish Egyptian linen.
At The Lanes, artisan pizzas and locally brewed beer are served with a side order of karaoke, bowling, pool tables and live music. Chance & Counters is one of Bristol’s best-kept secrets, with its 850+ board games to play over drinks and hearty dinners (think sourdough toasties, vegan chilli and loaded nachos).
Opening this June, Boxhall will join Bristol’s growing street food ranks, bringing indie restaurants together with local bands, cinema screenings and art exhibitions. If that sounds like your thing, check out Cargo too: its grassroots bistros and bars occupy repurposed shipping containers at Wapping Wharf, with extensive views of Bristol’s harbourside.
Every lunchtime, in-the-know Bristolians often head to the Glass Arcade, where family-run cafes dish out Caribbean curries, Japanese dumplings, Moroccan tagines and much more. It’s part of St Nicholas Markets, a bustling heritage spot in the city centre – whose eclectic stalls also sell clothes, crafts and delicatessen bites.
Less than a two-hour train ride from London, Bristol also has excellent road/rail links with Cardiff, Birmingham and the South Coast. It is also served by Bristol International Airport, with Bristol Flyer buses departing to/from the city every 10 minutes, 24/7 (except Christmas Day).
As well as an extensive bus network, the city has two main train stations: Bristol Temple Meads (closest to the centre) and Bristol Parkway, both with step-free access. If you want to explore the city on two wheels, bike hire is available from Bristol Cycle Shack (from £15 per day), or you could rent an electric Scooter via the Voi app.