I threw a dart at the world map and it landed on Bristol, England.
That’s pretty much how I ended up here. After applying for what seemed like a million gigs on Trusted Housesitters, finally the dart landed on Bristol, it stuck, and I secured my first house sit! (Yahoo!!)
But, when I arrived in Bristol, I realized I had done very little research. I knew it was located somewhere west of London and very near The Cotswolds, but that was about it. So, I arrived in this fascinating city somewhat ignorant and stumbled my way through the city to find some amazing things.
Here is a list of my “Top 7 Things to do in Bristol”, in case you prefer to do a little research and avoid being ignorant and unprepared…like me!
1.) Hang out in Cafes
England is well known as a tea-loving country, but thankfully they’re also really into coffee. There is a Cafe Nero, Costa Coffee, Starbucks, or random coffee shop on almost every block in downtown Bristol. Many of the old, historic buildings have been renovated and now house quaint cafes or quirky pubs.
I quickly became addicted to Cafe Nero, kind of Italian inspired with much more atmosphere than Starbucks. They serve all kinds of teas, coffees, sandwiches, and snacks and usually have worn leather sofas and comfortable armchairs – perfect for lingering and people-watching while sipping a latte.
2.) Stroll through Castle Park
Located just south of the City Centre (where most buses drop off) is Castle Park, a beautiful park running along the River Avon – a nice green escape from urban chaos. In this park, you can also witness evidence of “the Bristol Blitz”, a series of World War II attacks by the Germans that left the castle, St. Peter’s Church, and much of the Bristol area in ruins.
The park is kind of a memorial to those who lost their lives in the war – the shell of an old castle destroyed in the blitz, a tree dedicated to Anne Frank, and five silver birch trees planted as a tribute to those who died during the D-day Landings in Normandy.
Nice place to stroll along the river, remember the past, or just hang out and watch the world go by.
3.) Browse St. Nicholas Market
From Castle Park, wander west along the river and take a right at Bristol Bridge – you’ll get to one of my favorite areas of this city, St. Nicholas Market. One of the oldest market areas in town dating back to 1743, it was named one of the ten best markets in the UK. The Georgian architecture in this area is stunning and the indoor market sells everything from Buddhist trinkets to wool ponchos to scented soaps.
The areas bordering The Exchange Building also host a variety of outdoor markets like the “Street Food Market” on Wine Street and the “Nails Market” on Corn Street. For a complete list of markets, dates, and times, see the Visit Bristol website.
The St. Nicholas Indoor Market is located on Corn Street and is open Monday – Saturday 9:30 – 5.
4.) Visit Bristol Cathedral
Southwest of the St. Nicholas Market area is the magical and majestic Bristol Cathedral. I’m not usually blown away by churches but this one fascinated me. It’s really OLD! I was so intrigued by this place I visited three times and spent time trying to capture its magic on film.
Founded in 1140 as St. Augustine’s Abbey, parts of the original building still remain. The abbey became a cathedral in 1543 after King Henry VIII broke away from Rome and founded the Church of England. This massive cathedral is filled with mysterious ancient carvings, effigies, and interesting statues like the naked figure of King Edward II. After three solo visits, I really need to take an official tour to fully absorb all of the details and fascinating history in this cathedral.
Guided tours are available on Saturdays at 11:30 am and 1:30 pm. Check their website for a schedule of current events.
(Many more photos available on Facebook.)
5.) Cruise the Waterfront
I discovered the waterfront area on a beautiful January day and spent hours just walking and exploring. This area has tons of pubs and restaurants, most with outdoor seating areas perfect for hanging out and watching people while sipping a beer.
One of my favorite discoveries is The Grain Barge, an old ship that’s been converted to a floating bar and restaurant. After a really long walk to the Clifton Suspension Bridge (see #7 below), I stopped at the Grain Barge to rehydrate with a well-deserved beer. Since it was mid-afternoon and I was the only person in the joint, I chatted with the Ukranian expat bartender who talked me into an impromptu “beer tasting” of some of the local brews. He poured, I sipped. And I must admit, they’ve got some really tasty local brews!
6.) Tour ss Great Britain
Docked just across the river from The Grain Barge is the magnificent ss Great Britain. Considered one of the most historic ships in the world, this one is the great- great- grandmother of modern ships and was a radical experiment when she was christened by Prince Albert in 1843. The innovative engineering was dreamed up by an eccentric local guy named Isambard Kingdom Brunel and was the first luxury ocean liner built of iron.
The ss Great Britain offers regular ship tours and historic storytelling, bringing its fascinating past to life. This ship is also a popular venue for weddings and parties.
Check their website for a current schedule of special events.
7.) Walk across Clifton Suspension Bridge
On my final day in Bristol, I decided to challenge myself with a walk to the Clifton Suspension Bridge. Buses run from City Centre to the bridge, but the map made it appear very walkable. Unfortunately, the map didn’t show the steep hills along the way! It was way more challenging than expected so, if you’re not somewhat fit, take the bus!
This iconic bridge was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel – the same talented and eccentric guy who designed the ss Great Britain. He was only 24 when, in 1830, he won a bridge design competition. The bridge was still not completed when he died in 1859 but funds were raised in order to complete it as a tribute to him.
Getting there: From city center buses 8 or 9 or the City Sightseeing Bus
Cost: Free if you’re crossing on foot or bike. Cars pay 1 GBP each.
All of these sites are easily walkable (well, kind of) from the city center. But, if you’re not into walking, you have a few options to capture many of them:
Ferry: Check Bristol Ferry.com for pricing options and schedules.
Bus: Bristol In Sight, the open-top double-decker bus. Check their website for prices and schedules.
There is so much more to explore in the fascinating city of Bristol. For more a deeper look, check out The Crazy Tourist’s suggestions in “25 Best Things to do in Bristol”!
Enjoy your time wandering through Bristol’s charming old streets. Then stop at a quirky pub for a pint and soak up the history of this fascinating city!
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