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5th Oct 2016 2:58pm | By Laura Summerhayes
Regularly voted one of the most livable places in Britain, Bristol has plenty to keep travellers occupied too: from scenery that looks like the backdrop of a period drama, to entire pubs devoted to that most West Country of tipples, cider. Friendly, relaxed with a seemingly endless stream of festivals, live music and events, Bristol’s the perfect destination for a weekend getaway. Just a short train ride from London Paddington there’s no excuse not to visit, so what are you waiting for? Below you’ll find 10 essential Bristol experiences to help you get the most out of your trip to the wild, wild west.
The Clifton Suspension Bridge – Yep, it’s that famous bridge engineered by that bloke with the weird name. If you’ve ever seen a picture of Bristol in a magazine, it will no doubt have featured an image of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s 152-year-old masterpiece. Drive under it, drive over it, walk across it, even abseil down the cliff next to it if you like, but just make sure you see it. Because if not, uh, did your trip to Bristol even happen?
Explore Clifton and the Downs – While you’re checking out the Bridge, it’d be criminal not to explore its namesake, the surrounding area of Clifton. The grand townhouses, squares and beautiful Georgian-era Royal York Crescent are something out of a Jane Austen novel, and certainly give Bristol’s neighbouring city Bath a run for its money in the charming classical architecture stakes. When you need to chill, grab a newspaper or a book and wander out of the hubbub of Clifton Village to the grassy area known to locals as ‘the Downs’, for stunning views over the Avon Gorge.
Will ye walk the plank, landlubber? – Well, OK, not the actual plank, but how about a pirate walking tour, to uncover the wilder side of Bristol’s history. Once an important port, the city’s history is steeped in piracy. Local legend has it that some notable – and notorious – historical figures have passed through and left their mark; Blackbeard, or Edward Teach to his mum, hailed from Bristol, before heading to the Caribbean and becoming one of the most fearsome pirates to sail the seven seas. It’s also said that Robert Louis Stevenson based his Admiral Benbow Inn from Treasure Island on the Llandoger Trow pub in King Street. Incidentally that’s where Daniel Defoe apparently met Alexander Selkirk, a sailor marooned for five years in the Caribbean, becoming the inspiration for Robinson Crusoe. So why not visit for a drink, mateys? Just watch out for the one-legged ghost, arrrrr!
Be a culture vulture – From art galleries to theatres, concert halls to festivals galore, there are a tonne of cultural pastimes to enjoy in Bristol. For a classy way to spend an evening, check out The Theatre Royal – it’s the oldest continually working theatre in Britain and recently celebrated its 250th birthday. Or if your visit to Bristol revolves around a more liquid form of entertainment, then brunch at indie cinema the Watershed, where you can dine on scrumptious local produce and catch a film all under one roof, is a beautiful way to nurse a hangover.
Wait! Is that a Banksy?! – Hell, you don’t even need to go indoors to soak up culture in Bristol, just wander the streets to see some excellent graffiti. That’s right, int-art-national man of mystery Banksy is from Bristol and you’ll find ‘Banksies’ everywhere, from Park Street to Easton. But it’s not all about the big names in Bristol – there’s even an annual graffiti festival, celebrating artists from near and far. So what are you waiting for? Hit the streets and don’t leave town without snapping a pic of your favourite piece of colourful outdoor art.
Do a spot of guilt-free shopping – If you love to shop but aren’t keen on chain stores or supermarkets, then there are plenty of retail therapy options for you in Bristol. Frequently touted as being the longest street of independent traders in Europe, Gloucester Road to the north of the city centre has long held the title of indie favourite. Meanwhile North Street to the south of the city is working the cool, young and so-not-mainstream vibe pretty hard. The good news? You’ll be spoilt for choice. So whether you’re looking for organic vegetables to cook up in your swanky self-catering pad overlooking the Bristol floating harbour, or some quirky second-hand gear to hit up the town, you can find it in Bristol – safe in the knowledge that you’ll be supporting the local economy.
Visit the farm, right here in the city – If the sights and sounds of the city get too much then St Werburghs City Farm and Windmill Hill City Farm are pockets of rural loveliness in the heart of the urban sprawl. For folks used to existing in animal-free, urban dwellings these farms are a real treat – you’ll see all the usual farmyard animals here, from sheep and pigs to chickens and goats. As if that’s not enough both city farms have cafes attached, where you can sample fresh produce (and piggies!) grown just yards from the kitchen. Talk about keeping it local.
See the city by bike – Bristol was named Britain’s first ever cycling city in 2008, and since then millions of pounds have gone into encouraging people to get on two wheels. So make like a local and get on your bike. With miles of cycle lanes crisscrossing the city, it’s the perfect way to get around and see things at a slower pace. Just make sure you choose a bike with gears. Bristol isn’t huge – which makes it ideal for exploring by pedal power – but it’s definitely not flat! Don’t worry, there’ll be a pint of West Country cider with your name on it when you stumble off your cycle and into the closest watering hole.
Stuff yourself silly – Whether you’re looking for a vegetarian breakfast, a meaty sandwich for lunch, or the swankiest of swanky dinners, there are no shortage of places to eat in Bristol. Falafel King is synonymous with the city centre and has been serving tasty chickpea-based snacks from its blue van since way before food trucks were hip. For something more upmarket than street food, The River Grille is a great option. Grab a window seat and watch people wander along the cobbled waterside street as the harbour shimmers in the fading light, or simply gaze across the candlelight into your loved one’s eyes. How romantic.
Watch the sun set from Brandon Hill – Bring a blanket, a bottle of something cold and pick a spot to watch the day turn into night. With some of the best views the city has to offer, from the brightly coloured houses across the harbour, to the southern stretches of the city and beyond to the green swathes of Somerset countryside, it’s a stunning way to end your trip to Bristol.
Need to know
Regular trains run from London Paddington to both of Bristol’s train stations. Bristol Temple Meads is the one you want if you’re planning on staying relatively centrally. If you’re organised and book in advance you can pick up a one-way ticket from as little as £17.50. See www.gwr.com.
Bristol is well connected with regular trains running direct from cities as far afield as Edinburgh, Newcastle, Leeds, Birmingham and Cardiff. Check www.nationalrail.co.uk for more details.
There’s a YHA hostel right next to the waterfront, within walking distance of all of the city centre sights. Prices starting from £16 for members. You’ll also find well-known accommodation options in the city, including Premier Inn, Radisson Blu and Marriott – all are within walking distance of the city’s attractions.
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