If you're searching for somewhere to visit in the UK for a weekend break, I really recommend Bristol. For this week's post, I've invited guest writer Jess Cleave to inspire us on what to do in her home city.
The largest and most populous city in the southwest of England, Bristol is a beautiful and diverse cultural hub. One weekend isn’t nearly enough to experience and take in all that Bristol has to offer but it’s certainly a start. Whether it’s peace and quiet or excitement, there’s something for every solo. I also like to argue that it’s one of the sunniest parts of the UK, being on the southwest coast the bad weather doesn’t linger but moves on to expose Bristol to more sun than the rest. So if you want to experience some of the great outdoors that Bristol and the surrounding areas have to offer, you’ll definitely stand a better chance of enjoying some sunshine!
So, what to do with a weekend or maybe a day or two longer? In this list you’ll find a great range of recommendations but no doubt you’ll uncover gems with a little exploration too. I’ve lived in Bristol for many years now but I’m still discovering amazing new things or even rediscovering places that I’d long forgotten about. It’s a constantly growing and evolving city that holds plenty of treats for visitors and denizens alike.
In my experience, the best way to get a feel for a city, especially, is to walk through it – Bristol is no exception. In fact the city centre is very pedestrian-friendly and accessible. You can see a great deal of the centre and the docks (as they are one and the same) just by foot. The famous Bristol docks are a great place to get a feel for the city as a lot of its main cultural attractions are located a brief walk from each other: M Shed, We The Curious Science Museum and the Arnolfini Arts Centre just to name a few. All great places to spend a morning or afternoon discovering a wealth of culture and information.
You can also find museums floating on the water at the docks; step aboard the historic replica of The Matthew, the ship that John Cabot sailed to North America shortly after Christopher Columbus’s discovery. Just on the harbourside alone there is more than a day's worth of activities to keep you entertained.
Just south of the harbourside is Spike Island which is the creative epicentre of Bristol. It’s home to the eponymous Spike Island Arts Centre; a gallery and studio space for local artists to promote contemporary art and design, and to the University of West England’s Fine Arts programme – its creative credentials are confirmed. Also on the island is Wapping Wharf, a historic area that’s recently been transformed into a food and drink quarter. I’ve sampled a few of the delicious treats offered in Wapping Wharf and all have been 10/10 would recommend experiences. I won’t begin to recommend food and drink spots in Bristol because the list would be far too long.
Walking slightly further inland will take you through St Nicholas market which is a vibrant hub filled with retail and food stalls cooking up mouth-watering cuisines often hailing from far-flung locations. From St Nick’s market you can then stroll over to Nelson Street where you’ll find graffiti towering above and quite literally covering the length of some of the multistorey buildings. Bristol is famous for its graffiti thanks to Banksy but there is a whole host of wondrous street art that can be found throughout the city. Nelson Street is a great place to see up close some amazing examples.
You will notice very quickly that Bristol is a hilly city and the next recommendation is going steeply uphill from Nelson Street. The historic Christmas Steps which is filled with independent shops and a bar or two, is a short stroll away from the city centre. In fact the steps are so historic that you can even rent a DVD here at 20th Century Flicks! A very picturesque and quite narrow street that really gives you a feel of how the city may have looked a century or two ago.
At the top of Christmas, if you continue uphill you’ll go through Park Street which is another famous street because of its great selection of shops, bars and cafes. And if you make it all the way to the top you can then enjoy some of the fantastic panoramas afforded by Cabot Tower which is perched atop Brandon Hill. Surrounded by a lovely garden space, Cabot Tower stands 32 metres tall which means you can see over the whole of south Bristol. I always enjoy getting an aerial perspective of a city because it somehow makes it more digestible. So I highly recommend a trip to the tower to enjoy the vistas over the city.
Again, another walkable distance away from Cabot Tower and you’re at Bristol Museum which, just like the harbourside museums and galleries, is well worth a visit. A magnificent building housing a wide selection of paintings, statues, ceramics and much more. This is the type of museum where each visit uncovers something new and one that I’ve been to more times than I can count. And just next door is the Wills Memorial Building which is considered to be one of the last great Gothic buildings built in England. Now it’s owned by Bristol University who use it to house the Earth Sciences Department and Law school.
One of the best things about living in Bristol is the opportunity to enjoy green spaces throughout the city – I’m still discovering new ones after many years living here. Beautiful lush countryside is all around Bristol with the Mendips and Cotswolds just a short drive away but in this section I’m focussing more on what’s on offer within the city. The first on this list being the Downs; a 400 acre space that every Bristolian has taken advantage of, especially during the warmer months. At the Sea Walls end of the Downs you’ll be treated to another panorama over the River Avon that also features probably the most famous landmark, Clifton Suspension Bridge.
From Sea Walls you can meander over to the Observatory which, as the name suggests, has more fantastic vistas overlooking Bristol and the Suspension Bridge. You can then go downhill a bit to walk across the bridge for more fantastic views, and into Leigh Woods on the other side. A wonderful woodland space with bike and walking trails and even an Iron Age hillfort tucked away!
If you’re still looking for more greenery, across the road from Leigh Woods is Ashton Court which is another 850 acres of lush parkland for the public to explore, bike through, play golf or even foot golf which is something I only recently discovered but is great fun. There’s also a cordoned off area which is reserved for local deer and other small wildlife.
A few more honourable mentions: Old Sneyd Park Nature Reserve, Snuff Mills and Blaise Castle Estate are all well worth a visit too but as you can see we’re quite spoiled for choice. So for brevity’s sake I’ve only included them as an addendum even though they each offer plenty of exploration. There’s really a great deal of green space within the city which is a refreshing luxury to have at your doorstep.
Going Further Afield
Apart from within the city, just a short car journey outside of the city limits and you have the Cotswolds and Mendips which I mentioned earlier. Both of which are Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and can be explored independently over many days. Unfortunately this guide is just for one weekend and these are outside the city so I’m only recommending them in passing. What is within Bristol but is a bit further afield are a couple of great locations for day trips or an afternoon outing by car.
The first being the Wild Place Project which is the sister site of Bristol Zoo; an open air wildlife park that aims to replicate the animals natural habitat as faithfully as possible. This is a great spot for families as getting to see the diverse range of animals is a great experience for the kids. This wildlife park really emphasises conservation and the wellbeing of the animals which is great to see in practise.
20 minutes down the road from the Wild Place Project is a similar open air space: Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm. Like the former, this is another conservation-focussed zoo that aims to teach the younger generations about best practises when it comes to looking after their wide range of animals. They often teach with a hands-on approach so in live demonstrations they might even let you feed certain animals!
I’ve only really scratched the surface of what’s on offer in Bristol and I heartily recommend, if possible, a return visit to explore further. As mentioned earlier, I’m still discovering new gems which is amazing after all these years. Bristol really has something to offer for everyone and is a perfect weekend getaway for a family or a couple’s retreat. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!
Get Your Guide – Get Your Guide helps you to find top-rated day tours and activities in Bristol. Choose from a self-guided sightseeing audio tour, a Blackbeard to Banksy guided walking tour, or a cheese crawl walking tour with cider. There are several to choose from including a half-day tour to Bath, and it’s really simple to use. Just check the reviews, price and availability then book online. Read my Get Your Guide review or click the link below for all their tours.
Author bio: Jess Cleave works for Oak Tree Parks, a family business that has over 50 years’ experience in running quality residential retirement parks and owner-occupied holiday parks in the South West of England.
Subscribe to Girl about the Globe for monthly solo travel inspiration