I went on a short, way too rushed two-day trip to Bristol a few weekends ago. It’s a lovely city break from London and a place I definitely want to explore with more time – but if, like me, you are way too busy for your own good, here are a few things you can’t miss on a very short trip to Bristol.
As the intro and headline of this post suggest, this is by no means an extensive list of things you can do in Bristol. This is what I was able to do on a very short city break.
The lovely folks at Visit Bristol’s tourist office gave me and a plus one complimentary entry to the majority of Bristol’s attractions, but as always opinions are my own.
We got to Bristol via National Express, through a 2.50h coach from London’s Victoria Station. We booked less than a month in advance and paid £21 return for two people. The coach takes approximately the same time that the train takes, it’s cheaper and it terminates right in the centre of Bristol, by the main shopping area.
Bristol is extremely walkable. The only reason we hopped on buses was that it was literally pouring down and buses were a break from the buckets of rain the universe was throwing on us.
Buses are fairly cheap – we paid from £2.50 to £5 for tickets depending on time and distance. Tickets can be bought on the bus with either cash or card.
A fun way to explore Bristol is through the Bristol Ferry Boats (another freebie by the tourist office) which stops near main areas such as Nova Scotia or Castle Park and leaves right from the Harbourside. It’s a lovely boat trip taking you under bridges and allowing you to take in the views of the city when you need a break from walking.
The boat has both an open deck area and a covered area, which saved us from unpredictable weather. Tickets can be bought on board from £1.40 to £5.80, or you can get a hop-on-hop-off Day Ticket for just £6.60.
We stayed at the gorgeous Mercure Bristol Grand Hotel in the main centre. The hotel’s staff are professional and helpful, and the hotel itself is an art lover’s dream: murals and modern paintings or prints on walls, and an industrial vibe in the bedroom.
We booked via booking.com only a few weeks in advance, finding a room for about £70 per night. I might have liked the shower a little too much.
Of course, Bristol has plenty of Airbnb options too, but we found those to have roughly the same price as hotels so we decided to treat ourselves.
For such a small city, Bristol has plenty of opportunities for culture junkies. We didn’t manage to do everything, but enjoyed what we saw.
Clifton Suspension Bridge and Clifton Neighbourhood
We walked to the bridge from Nova Scotia after having been dropped off by the Bristol ferry boat. Despite the rain, it was the right choice: walking up to the Clifton Suspension Bridge allows you to walk through the beautiful Clifton neighbourhood, a gem of Victorian architecture, quaint houses and stunning viewpoints. However, if you’re not feeling like it, bus 8 from the city centre takes you there too.
If you aren’t afraid of heights, cross the Clifton Suspension Bridge and take in the greenery and cute streets around the area. The Mall is a picture-perfect blend of pubs, independent shops and stunning street corners. The Clifton Arcade hosts cafés, vintage shops and quirky galleries, while Anna’s Bakery makes some mean cakes just outside it.
Blackbeard To Banksy’s Walking Tour
If you can, book this tour as the first thing you do when you come to Bristol. Luke, the guide on the day we went, is fun, knowledgeable, prepared and ready to expand on any question you might have. I had loads, because I’m a geek.
The Blackbeard walking tour (£8 for adults, £4 children and £20 for a family ticket) takes you to many of the centre’s main attractions, explaining the history behind them. I was particularly pleased to hear Luke focus so much on Bristol’s past and stakes in the slave trade – something not all white guides feel comfortable to admit to and explore.
In particular, I loved hearing from him about all the different bits of street art you can find in the centre, from Banksy’s ‘Well Hung Lover’ to JPS’ work around the city’s main LGBTQ+ venues.
The street art below belongs to Leonard Lane – an alley that served to celebrate the 180 years since Charles Darwin’s trip to Galapagos and that subsequently became a street art hub.
The one below comes from Nelson Street instead, after thanks to a local authority project street artist Inkie gathered other artists to spice up one of Bristol’s most boring streets.
Bristol Cathedral and College Green
Bristol’s Cathedral and its surrounding university buildings are one of the most stunning sights in Bristol. Really jealous of the student life here!
St. Nicholas’ Markets
A fantastic lunch spot and a covered market with array of independent shops and stalls, St. Nick’s Markets are in the heart of the old city and feature their very own clock which, according to our guide Luke, before trains became a thing was set to Bristol’s own timezone.
The Shoreditch of Bristol (gentrification included), Stokes Croft is all about independent cafés, vintage shops and street art – from colourful murals to Banksy’s ‘Mild Mild West’. It’s only about 20 minutes’ walk from Bristol’s main centre and it leads to the independent shopping street of Gloucester Road.
For more Bristol things that I didn’t have the time to visit, go on Visit Bristol’s website.
Food & Drink
I received so many good recommendations by friends and followers for Bristol restaurants, but unfortunately I couldn’t take them because I was here for so little time. Because of it, I followed my gut but I’d like to think I picked some pretty fine places – again, by no means an extensive list but some fun options.
I saw Pinkmans from a bus down from Clifton and read about it in every guide to Bristol, so I had to make a stop. I’m glad I did: it’s exactly the place I’d want to run if I had a bakery/café and, according to the locals, it really represents the Park Street area and its independent businesses.
Pinkmans is a bakery open from 7.30am to 10pm, serving everything from yummy doughnuts to sourdough to their own pizza. They even have booze for the evenings.
I went after having been rained on for ages and thankfully Pinkmans cheered me up. Their raspberry and cream doughnuts are a must.
Fun fact: walking to Pinkmans from the centre will take you through the lovely, narrow Christmas steps and their independent shops, so that’s the recommended route.
After an awful day of rain, I was dying for a hot, spicy meal to get some warmth in my soaked bones. Dhamaka was the right spot for it, providing a unique combination of Indian and Chinese food right between the Old City and the Harbourside.
From Indian steamed dumplings to chili paneer, all the way to heart-warming curries and inventive cocktails, Dhamaka is affordable and tasty, an Indo-Chinese tapas bar that’ll fill you up and make you happy.
I went to Bristol after having left Ghent just a week earlier, and I was really pleased to see the Strawberry Thief pub had a bunch of Belgian Beers on draft – including the deadly, 8.5% Delirium Tremens.
I went for Bristol Lagers instead this time, but this cute pub with chandeliers, strawberry wallpaper inspired by outside graffiti and dim lighting has tearoom vibes with brewpub drinks lists. A must.
More Bristol Places We Didn’t Get To Try
Other places that looked amaze but that I couldn’t try cause there’s only so much beer and food you can have in two days:
- Pizzarova Pizza, a start-up that originated at the back of a Land Rover (pizza-rover) and did so well it became a restaurant
- The Hatchet Inn, Blackbeard’s fave pub that apparently has a door made of human skin (ew)
- The Old Duke, one of Bristol’s best jazz pubs
- The Rummer Hotel, a gin distillery in one of the Old City’s alleys
Some More Blog Posts About Bristol
Before going to Bristol, I read and loved posts by these bloggers, so to make up for my short list, here you go:
Can’t wait to go back to Bristol – next time to go out more and do some pole!