Whether you’re new to Bristol, just visiting or are a lifelong resident, you should know that the city is chock full of iconic landmarks. From Clifton Suspension Bridge to Ashton Gate Stadium, the Wills Memorial Building and the Floating Harbour. But there’s only one place where you can see them all at once: Cabot Tower.
Offering the most unbelievable, panoramic views of Bristol, you can see for miles from the top of Cabot Tower. Soaking in city life and Bristol’s history all at once. Even the surrounding Brandon Hill takes on a new beauty as you gaze down. Full of fabulous flora and fauna, and various park dwellers below – anywhere good for people-watching is a plus in our book!
As the oldest park in Bristol, the Earl of Gloucester granted Brandon Hill to the council in 1174. However, it was used only for animal grazing until it was opened as a public space in 1625. Before the introduction of Cabot Tower at its summit stood a chapel which was replaced by a windmill in the 16th century. Today, it is known for its diverse natural habitats, winding paths and, of course, Cabot Tower.
But the 105-foot tower does make you work for its unbeatable views. You’ll first have to climb uphill through Brandon Hill to reach the tower, before then tackling its narrow, spiralling 108 steps. It never seems like a good idea – especially when you’re halfway up and pump into someone coming down – but reaching the top provides pure elation.
Open to the public, free of charge, every day, it was built in 1897 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of John Cabot’s voyage from Bristol to Canada. Made from red sandstone, using Bath Stone for ornamentation, it’s not bad looking either. There’s also another Cabot Tower built at the same time, although quite different looking, in Newfoundland commemorating the same journey.
So why build a tower for John Cabot?
Bristolians will obviously recognise the Cabot name, from Cabot Tower, Cabot Circus, and the former council ward, among other things. But what makes him so special? Well, John Cabot was an Italian explorer, who became the first European since the Vikings to arrive in North America.
Under the commission of Henry VII, he set sail from Bristol and landed on what we now call Newfoundland in Canada in 1497. A replica of his ship, The Matthew, was built to commemorate the 500th anniversary of this voyage and is now docked in Bristol – you might even be able to spot it sailing some days from the top of Cabot Tower!