Be it Angela Carter’s gothic tales of the city’s counterculture in her “Bristol trilogy” or David
Nicholls’ love letter to University Challenge, Starter for Ten, Bristol has been the backdrop to countless tales across the years. But Bristol’s literary exploits aren’t just limited to dusty old bookshops. There are so many places for book lovers to visit, where you can see the city come to life with this guide to the most lovely literary spots in Bristol.
1. The Llandoger Trow
We’re mostly a bunch of landlubbers here at Secret Bristol, but the city itself has a great history with pirate stories (and real ones too). The Llandoger Trow has supposedly inspired two of the greatest adventure novels ever written. Robert Louis Stevenson is said to have based the Admiral Benbow Inn from Treasure Island on this famous pub. While Daniel Defoe met the Scottish privateer Alexander Selkirk here – who served as the inspiration for Defoe’s most famous character, Robinson Crusoe.
It’s actually a different pub that would go on to inspire the drinking hole we visit in that novel, however. The Hole in the Wall by Queen Square served as the inspiration for The Spyglass. If you fancy turning this into a pirate-themed pub crawl, why not check out The Hatchet Inn? Which was frequented by the (very real) very famous pirate Blackbeard back in the day.
The Llandoger Trow, King St, Bristol BS1 4ER
The Hole In The Wall, 2 The Grove, Queen Square, Bristol BS1 4QZ
The Hatchet Inn, 27 Frogmore St, Bristol BS1 5NA
2. The Victoria Rooms
The Victoria Rooms now house the University of Bristol’s music department in Clifton, but were originally assembly rooms and have hosted numerous literary icons over the years. Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins performed two plays there in 1851. While the 19th-century writer Oscar Wilde gave many speeches there, on wonderfully titled topics such as ‘The House Beautiful’, ‘Dress’ and ‘The Value of Art in Modern Life’.
The Victoria Rooms, 88 Queens Rd, Clifton, Bristol BS8 1SA
3. The Last Bookshop
Bristol is full of wonderful bookshops, often hosting events with some of the city’s most incredible writers. But there’s one bookshop everyone must stop at for its unique concept. Every book at The Last Bookshop is only £4. They’re not secondhand either. See The Last Bookshop specialises in buying up book returns, remainders, and samples before they’re sent for pulping. You can get almost brand new books without forking out loads of money. Watch as Bristol’s booklovers leave with stacks of novels, plays, poetry and memoirs in their arms.
The Last Bookshop, 60 Park St, Bristol BS1 5JN
4. Jane Austen Centre
You can’t talk about literary spots in Bristol without mentioning Jane Austen. The folly at Blaise Castle Estate is namechecked in Northanger Abbey! But to really get to know the author, you need to take a quick trip to Bath for the Jane Austen Centre. Here you partake in a spot of afternoon tea, learn about the writer’s life in Bath or dress up in Regency attire for the yearly Jane Austen Festival. You can also visit her old house at 4 Sydney Place!
Jane Austern Centre, 40 Gay St, Bath BA1 2NT
5. Royal York Crescent
It’s hard to narrow just one spot when it comes to Angela Carter but maybe start with the place she lived for eight years, Royal York Crescent in Clifton. She wrote three novels set in Bristol (Shadow Dance, Several Perceptions and Love), which are now called the Bristol Trilogy. And, having studied Bristol University, landmarks such as Cabot Tower, Bristol Museum and Arnolfini all feature. But it is the smell, taste and sights of late 1960s Clifton and Hotwells that permeate through these novels the most.
38 Royal York Crescent, Clifton, Bristol BS8 4JU
6. Poet’s Corner
Nothing like the Poets’ Corner in London, there are no poets of artistic merit to be found here. Poet’s Corner on North Street is actually a nod to the Butcher Poet, Alfred Dawes Collard, whose meat-themed poetry earned him the nickname “the worst poet in Bristol”.
14-16 North St, Bedminster, Bristol BS3 1HW
7. The Rummer
The Rummer is quite a trendy cocktail bar today. But this historical pub dates back to 1742, even further if you count the fact that it was built on the site of an older inn dating from 1241. The romantic poets William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and (Bristol-born) Robert Southey used to frequent The Rummer Hotel. While in 1795, Coleridge launched his magazine The Watchman at the pub.
8. University of Bristol
While it was never explicitly stated in the novel, it’s pretty widely believed that David Nicholls’ novel Starter for Ten is set at the Univesity of Bristol. The story follows a University Challenge hopeful at a uni that often mirrors the iconic campus. The movie chose to set the movie here anyway, while Nicholls actually attended the uni too.
9. Birdcage Walk
What is it about Clifton that inspires literary genius? The novel of the same name by Helen Dunmore is set during the days of the French Revolution – but in Bristol, not Paris – and follows the struggles of a married couple. Birdcage Walk is a beautiful, poem-inspiring stretch well worth visiting even if you haven’t read the book.
Just around the corner, you’ll also find the volunteer-run Clifton Community Bookshop selling low-cost secondhand books. A little further along you’ll also find Clifton Hill House. Once the home of John Addington Symonds, an English poet and literary critic. A supporter of gay love, who was influenced and conversed with Walt Whitman, Symonds’ A Problem in Greek Ethics features one of the earliest recorded uses of the word “homosexual”.
Birdcage Walk, Clifton, Bristol
Clifton Community Bookshop, 10 Clifton Rd, Clifton, Bristol BS8 1AF
Clifton Hill House, Lower Clifton Hill, Clifton, Bristol BS8 1BX
10. Bristol Old Vic Theatre
Opened in 1766, Bristol Old Vic is “the oldest continuously working theatre in the English-speaking world”. Think of all the wonderful productions, breathtaking performances and wonderful literary words that had happened here. It still hosts some phenomenally written productions today like Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina or Shakespeare’s MacBeth. But there are plenty of new productions crafted and hosted inside these four walls too. Proving the Old Vic to be one of the most cutting-edge literary spots in Bristol to this day.
Bristol Old Vic, King Street, Bristol, BS1 4ED
11. Stokes Croft
We all know how cool Stokes Croft is, but it also might be one of the newest literary spots in Bristol. While so much of the city’s literary past feels so long ago, Tim Maughan’s Infinite Detail was released in 2019. This futuristic tale is half set in New York, half set in Stokes Croft and tells the end of the world as we know it – the end of the Internet. The Croft (as it is known in the novel) is “a digital no-man’s-land cut off from the surveillance”, which doesn’t sound too far off what it is now! It won The Guardian’s Science Fiction and Fantasy Book of The Year and shows Bristol has plenty of literary genius for generations to come.