As the biggest (and easily the best) city in the South West of England, Bristol has built a reputation as a laid-back, individual and creative city. We might have accents like pirates and farmers, but we’re super artistic and fiercely independent! From colourful streets thanks to all the graffiti to colourful skies during Bristol International Balloon Fiesta, it’s a vibrant city to say the least. But there is so much to see and do in this lovely city. So, here are twenty of the best things to do in Bristol you’ve got to try at least once in your life.
1. Soak up the views of the city from Clifton Observatory
This is the best spot to see Bristol’s most iconic sight: Clifton Suspension Bridge. Not a guidebook nor postcard about Bristol can go without an image of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s engineering masterpiece. So to get the best sights of it, you’ll want to head up to Clifton Observatory – perfect on a sunny day for a picnic too.
Inside the observatory, you’ll also have access to one of only three working camera obscuras in the UK. While you can also climb the depths of Giant’s Cave – home to the local legend of Goram and Ghyston – for views of the Avon Gorge. Nearby, you’ll find one of the ultimate free things to do in Bristol too: Bristol’s natural rock slide, locally known as The Slidey Rock.
2. See the colourful houses of Cliftonwood and Totterdown
It’s a quirk of Bristol that so many of the houses here are brightly coloured. There are plenty of theories as to why, but few hold up under scrutiny. The most popular involves Bristol’s former mayor, George Ferguson. He claims to be the first in Cliftonwood to paint his house in the 1970s before the whole street followed and kickstarted the area’s iconic look. But south of the river, in Totterdown, you also find rows-upon-colourful-rows of houses, so explain that. All that matters to us is that they help turn Bristol into a rainbow-coloured city, taking strolls through the streets a kaleidoscopic adventure.
3. Go shopping on the fiercely independent Gloucester Road
It can sometimes feel like there’s no end to unique things to do in Bristol on Gloucester Road. One of the longest stretches of independent businesses found in the UK, you’ll start by The Arches and soon find yourself on the outskirts of the city before you know it – discovering all the amazing shops, cafes and restaurants along the way. From bookshops to Spanish supermarkets, vintage shops to plant stores and pubs, there’s so much to discover. Check out our guide to just some of the best things to do on Gloucester Road.
4. Sample the local speciality of cider
Bristolians are an eclectic bunch, no two are the same. But there’s one thing most can agree on and that’s cider. But where’s the best place to get it? Well, that’s an argument in itself. The Coronation Tap in Clifton is said to be Bristol’s oldest cider specialist – older than Clifton Suspension Bridge. Its exclusively brewed Exhibition is a must-try but is strong stuff at 8.2%.
The Apple on Harbourside is arguably a bit more accessible, with a variety of local ciders to try. While sitting on the corner of Spike Island and overlooking the marina, you’ll find The Orchard Inn. See our full list of Bristol’s best cider pubs here.
5. Take in the culture at Bristol’s amazing art galleries
If you do go for a pint at The Orchard Inn, then heading to the art gallery, Spike Island, is a must. Founded in the mid-1970s by a group of painters, sculptors and printmakers looking for affordable studio spaces in Bristol, it has since remained a cultural hub for the city’s art scene. There are always new and unexpected exhibitions to discover here.
Another free gallery worth checking out too is Arnolfini, a short walk away on the Harbourside. Its ambitious exhibitions often feature everything from world-renowned artists to local talent from in and around Bristol. Thanks to its location, the cafe is also a favourite hangout spot for locals too. See all of Bristol’s best art galleries here.
6. Climb aboard the SS Great Britain
Once the largest passenger ship in the world, and another Brunel marvel, SS Great Britain is among the best things to do in Bristol with children. Learn the life and legacy of Britain’s greatest engineer at Being Brunel; Go Aloft! and climb the rigging over 25 metres above ground level; explore the Historic Dockyard & Museum; and head below for ‘glass sea’ view of the SS Great Britain in the original dry dock.
7. Cycle up Vale Street for a sense of achievement
Bristol is notoriously hilly. You’ll need calves of steel to cycle around all day. (Not really, just a little.) Anyone who has had to cycle up Park Street or Brandon Hill will attest to that. But Bristol’s true cycle challenge is Vale Street. Only 0.10 km long, it’s not the length that’s tough. No, it’s the steepest residential street in England. Perfect for getting a sweat on.
Luckily, the peaceful Arnos Vale Cemetery is nearby for some well earned respite. One of Britain’s best examples of a Victorian garden cemetery, it is set in a leafy 45-acre landscape dotted with classical buildings, historic monuments, leafy walks and wildflowers. Also see some of Bristol’s other best parks here.
8. Head to King Street for the easiest pub crawl of your life
Every great city needs a place to pub crawl. And making it easier on your legs, some of the best pubs in Bristol can all be found on one street: King Street. There are 10 pubs on this street (including The Apple at the very end). But each offers a uniquely different vibe too, so you never feel like you’re repeating yourself.
There’s the haunted The Llandoger Trow (once the drinking hole of Blackbeard, which these days throws techno nights); the quirky and colourful Hey Dude bar; The Old Duke for jazz and blues music; and the King Street Brew House for football, to name a few. But The Beer Emporium, Kongs, Small Bar and the rest are all worth your time.
9. Head to the theatre for amazing shows in Bristol
Beyond all the pubs, on King Street you’ll also find the Old Vic. Built in 1766 as a place for Bristolians to come together, it is “the oldest continuously working theatre in the English speaking world.” Today you’ll still find a mix of experimental storytelling and family-friendly classics.
Head to Bristol Hippodrome for more mainstream shows, however, while both the Tobacco Factory and The Wardrobe Theatre are fantastic for showcasing the best of local talent. But for something truly unusual among things to do in Bristol, visit The Bristol Improv Theatre. It’s the UK’s first full-time dedicated improv theatre and you’ll never be able to guess what it has in store!
10. Taste the world at Easton’s Sweet Mart
Too few people head to Easton when they’re in Bristol, including many Bristolians as well. But Bristol Sweet Mart should be a must-visit for all. This iconic shop has been around since 1978 and is a vital part of the community. Sat on St Mark’s Road, it is the biggest supplier of ethnic food and spices in the South West. You’ll find more than 9000 different food and drink products, as well as a huge range of fresh produce. Even if all you’re after is a quick bite to eat, the deli counter is perfect for picking up some freshly cooked, Authentic Indian food.
11. Take a balloon ride above Bristol (Or just spot them from the ground)
There’s no doubt that the biggest event in Bristol is the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta. Every August, Europe’s largest annual ballooning event attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors from all over the world to Bristol. Stunning mass balloon ascents fill the skies during this time of year, so here are some great spots to see them from the ground.
It’s also a great excuse to take to the skies yourself, with a number of nearby companies running balloon trips in the area. Don’t just save you the trip for summer time though, you can go up anytime. You’ll rarely see a hot-air balloon free sky no matter the time of year. Trust us, the views are spectacular!
12. Hit up St Nick’s Market for trinkets, gifts and street food
Dating back to 1743, St Nicholas Market is the oldest and most beloved market in Bristol. Here you’ll find fabulous cheap eats, like the crispy fried gyozas of Eatchu or the massive Middle Eastern wraps of Matina. But there’s plenty of great street food to find here. There are over 60 stalls to discover at this market, selling everything from hot sauces to wacky hats, second-hand books to sewing equipment. It’s an Aladdin’s Cave of wonder.
13. See the graffiti of Bristol’s street art scene
You can’t talk about Bristol without mentioning the street art legend Banksy. His iconic works are everywhere from Well Hung Lover on Park Street to Mild Mild West in Stokes Croft. (All as recognisable as anything hanging in the Tate or Louvre.) Of course Bristol’s street art scene is so much more than one person.
The annual Upfest sees the best local and international graffiti artists takeover Bedminster each year, painting mesmerizing murals on houses and shopfronts. Meanwhile in the City Centre, particularly on Nelson Street, you’ll find massive artworks leftover from the old See No Evil street art festival in Bristol. Finding a wall not covered in street art is the real tough find in Bristol, however! To see the best street art in Bristol head here.
14. Head to the romantic and secluded Blaise Castle
The secluded Blaise Castle in the north of Bristol is not the easiest place to get too. But nothing worth having comes easy, as they say. You’ll have to climb upwards through woodland to reach the glade where this folly sits. But trust us, it’s worth it. Especially if you are looking for romantic things to do in Bristol. (Lovers’ Leap there might offer the best view of the city.)
Blaise Castle Estate also offers a museum to discover Victorian objects of the past, while the surrounding 400 acres of parkland – full of babbling brooks and exciting overgrowth – are worth a visit alone. Blaise Hamlet, a cute collection of cottages, is also only a short walk away.
15. Grab a pint at Bristol’s legendary cat pub
One of the more unusual things to do in Bristol, you’ll find nearly a dozen cute cats roaming this traditional pub. Bag Of Nails is about more than just its feline friends though. You’ll also find some of the cheapest pints in Bristol here. (There are pints of real ale costing as low as £3.70.) Be warned, however, the cat pub has some strict rules you can learn more about here.
16. Relax Harbourside with some tinnies and grab some food from Wapping Wharf
Recently voted one of the coolest places to live in the UK, everyone in Bristol spends summer days (and some winter days too) down by the harbour. It’s perfect for sitting down with a few cans of beer, dangling your legs over the water and soaking in the sight of passing kayaks, canals and yachts. It’s also home to Bristol Harbour Festival once a year, bringing a mix of circus performers, local musicians and water activities to the area. While nearby, you’ll also find Wapping Wharf. These cargo containers are full of the most exciting restaurants in Bristol.
17. Watch classic movies in some of Bristol’s strangest and spookiest locations
The ongoing Bristol Film Festival offers one of the strangest cinema experiences in Bristol, possibly the UK. From watching David Lynch’s psychological horror Eraserhead in Redcliffe Caves to Top Gun at Aerospace Bristol, Evil Dead at Arnos Vale Cemetery to Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid at Clifton Observatory. You’ve seen these movies a thousand times. But we promise you, never like this. To see what’s scheduled, head here.
18. Support Bristol’s music scene at these free venues
Bristol’s music scene is legendary. From The Pop Group to Idles, via Massive Attack, the city had produced more than its fair share of amazing bands. But what about will come to define Bristol in the future? Well there’s lots of exciting up-and-coming bands to discover, many of them frequently playing the Bristol circuit. If you’re feeling a little thrifty, many of Bristol’s venues host free music on a regular basis too. (Which is great when you’re looking for things to do in Bristol when it’s raining.) Check these free music venues out here.
19. Head St Philip’s Marsh to discover a Bristol’s independent craft breweries
At first, St Philip’s Marsh can appear like a fairly barren suburb of Bristol. But those in the know see it as the burgeoning capital of Bristol’s independent breweries. Sat just behind Temple Meads, you’ll find the likes of Arbor Ales, Dawkins Ales, Good Chemistry Brewing, Wiper & True, Left Handed Giant, Moor Beer, Little Martha Brewing and Newtown Park Brewing Co. They often have their tap rooms open over weekends and each year host The East Bristol Brewery Beer Trail too. Nearby you’ll also find Lost & Grounded in St Anne’s, recently named the best brewery in Britain!
20. Pop over to one of Bristol’s two city farms
While we wait for Bristol Zoo to reopen at Wild Place Project, your best bet of meeting animals in the city these days is to head down to one of the two wonderful city farms in Bristol. Windmill Hill City Farm was founded in the mid-70s and provides some inner city access to goats, pigs, sheep and cows, as well as gardens and shops selling handmade crafts and local produce. Meanwhile, on the other side of Bristol, St Werburghs City Farm also has lots of livestock, as well as woodlands, allotments and a community garden to explore. A taste of the countryside without leaving the city.