11 must-do things to do in Bristol

Are you planning to visit Bristol, in the southwest of England? Here’s our rundown of 11 must-see things to do in Bristol!

What to do in Bristol In my opinion, we’ll soon be moving on to Wales! If you think there’s nothing to do when you visit Bristol, think again, because it’s one of England’s most dynamic cities! With 432,500 inhabitants (2012), it’s the eighth largest city in the UK and the sixth largest in England. Open to the Atlantic Ocean and Ireland, Bristol was a world-class port during the Industrial Revolution, and a hub for the Triangular Trade during the slave era (16th-17th centuries).

Historic, cultural, artistic, young, challenging and vibrant, Bristol is often described as one of England’s most liveable cities. In 2010, Bristol was voted « UK’s Music City » and « Europe’s Green Capital » in 2015. So, if you’re wondering what to do in Bristol, we’ve put together a short – albeit non-exhaustive – list of 11 must-see and must-do things to do when visiting Bristol and the surrounding area.

Read also about the Bristol guide:

1. Old City

What to do in Bristol A visit to Bristol’s Old Town is a must! It’s an open-air witness to the passage of time. The district stretches from north to south, from Cabot Circus to the Avon quays, with Queen Square Park. The old town offers a maze of narrow streets and old stone houses. Stroll blindly through the « veins » of the Old Town, winding your way through cul-de-sacs and cobbled streets.

2. Millenium Square

Millenium Square is Bristol’s main city-center square, a popular tourist attraction. A must-see for visitors to Bristol, Millennium Square is on the west side of the Old Town, just a short walk from the Cathedral and the Aquarium. The square features a number of pools and giant screens, including one for the BBC, where you can watch the news. The pools are also very popular with the little ones, who come to splash around on hot summer days.

3. Castle Park

Right in the heart of Bristol city center lies one of the city’s many green lungs: Castle Park.

There are 450 parks and green spaces in Bristol, and this one is well worth a visit. Situated on the site of the former medieval castle, it now contains the ruins ofSt Peter’s Church, whose tower dates back to the 12th century and was completed in the 15th century. According to some sources, it was the very first and oldest church in the town. Destroyed and bombed by Nazi aircraft during the Second World War (November 24-25, 1940), it now stands as a memorial to the civilian war dead. Castle Park, opened to the public in 1978, is a very popular park. People come here to stroll and spend time on the lawns overlooking the river.

4. Brandon Hill

Brandon Hill, Bristol

Photo credit: Flickr – Matt Gibson

What can you do in Bristol when you’ve already explored all the narrow streets in the historic center? Why not take a break at Brandon Hill ? Brandon Hill Park is an English-style park as we like it: close to the city center between Clifton and Hotwells, the park is a vast green space with gardens for strolling and relaxing, with a view of Cabot Tower, opened in 1897 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the voyage of John Cabot, an Italian explorer who set out from Bristol in 1497 for the « New World », in present-day Canada. The 32-metre-high tower offers a breathtaking view of the city, and admission is free, so don’t hesitate!

5. Bristol street art

Street art in Bristol

Photo credit: Flickr – Marco Derksen

What to see and do in Bristol As you stroll through the city’s streets, admire the countless graffiti that adorn the walls. Bristol is home to a rich culture of street artists. In fact, some of Bristol’s alleyways are veritable urban art galleries, and no legal proceedings are taken against street artists. Bristol is a source of inspiration for graffiti artists from all over the world. Do you know the artist Banksy? You’re sure to come across his work!

6. Bristol museums

A must-see when visiting Bristol, Bristol’s museums will be appreciated if you like to discover a city through its cultural life.

In Bristol, the M-Shed, housed in a former harbour shed, is a must-see. It traces the history of the city, the lives of its inhabitants and its landmarks. Admission is free, and visitors can discover the history of the port, the different districts, the protest tradition that forged the city’s identity, etc.

It would be a shame to visit Bristol without a visit to the British Museum and Art Gallery. Here you’ll find collections of ancient artefacts (Assyrian and Egyptian), paintings and pottery, and a natural science museum.

Do you like social issues? Visit the Palestine Museum, a photo exhibition on the history of Israeli colonization of Palestine and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

7. The cathedral

Known as the Cathedral of the Holy and Indivisible Trinity of Bristol, the cathedral is an Anglican Gothic monument in the city center. Founded in 1140, it was built between the 12th and 16th centuries. It is a listed monument protected by the British authorities. Don’t miss the twin towers on the west façade, reminiscent of Reims Cathedral.

8. The zoo

Lémurien, Zoo de Bristol

Photo credit: Flickr – Airwolfhound

A visit to Bristol’s zoological and botanical gardens is the perfect way to go green in an urban environment. Here you’ll see rare animal species and exotic, tropical plants. Bristol Zoo is home to over 400 animal species, including gorillas, penguins, pandas and reptiles. Children’s play equipment has been set up on site, so this family activity has something for everyone.

9. Nightlife

How can you visit Bristol and/or other British cities without enjoying the party, the pubs and the bars? Bristol’s nightlife is renowned for being very lively. So do a barathon – a marathon of bars – scouring the local craft breweries, clubs and discos where you can party until dawn. Please note: this is a suggestion for « young people »!

10. The Avon gorges and the suspension bridge

Clifton Bridge, Gorges de l'Avon, Bristol

Photo credit: Flickr – Nic Trott

What to do in Bristol when you’ve seen it all? Get out of the city and enjoy the Avon Gorge. It’s a massif carved out of limestone, 2.5 kilometers west of the city center. You can then photograph another Bristol landmark: the Clifton Suspension Bridge. This 412-metre-long structure is suspended 74 metres above the river. Completed in 1864, it is one of the oldest suspension bridges still in use. A treat for many travelers and other civil engineering enthusiasts.

11. Gloucester and Lacock: in the footsteps of Harry Potter

Gloucester Cathedral, Harry Potter, Poudlard

Visiting Bristol also means making room for magic. Just a few miles from Bristol, discover the two filming locations that brought the Harry Potter saga to life. In Lacock, discover the famous abbey, including the room used as a classroom for Professor Quirrel’s Defense Against the Dark Ones classes (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone), as well as the room where Professor Snape gave his Potions classes. Continue your exploration to Gloucester, where the 1,300-year-old cathedral has taken on the role of Hogwarts (among the 5 other places that have brought the school to life), notably when Harry and Ron escape the troll in the first film. Discover the village of Lavenham (Godric’s Hollow in the saga), where you’ll find the house where Harry was born and where James and Lily were murdered.

Last but not least, if you’re a fan of the famous saga, you should know that the country is home to most of the iconic filming locations, as well as the Harry Potter Studios, which invite you to go behind the scenes of filming.

How do I get to Bristol?

There are many direct low-cost flights to Bristol from France (allow just over an hour’s flying time), and you’ll find the cheapest on our partner Ulysse’s website. Bristol airport is located 12 kilometers south of the city, so you can choose to reach the center or your accommodation by bus or private transfer (a driver will drop you off at the foot of your hotel).

By train from the English cities – Manchester, London, Leeds, etc. – you’ll arrive at one of two stations: Bristol Parkway and Bristol Temple Meads. -You’ll arrive at one of two stations: Bristol Parkway and Bristol Temple Meads. From London, you can travel by bus with National Express and Megabus.

Where to stay in Bristol

Where to stay in Bristol? We recommend the Old Town, Brandon and Redcliffe to find a hotel in Bristol that’s centrally located, so you don’t have to spend your time on public transport. In terms of places to stay, you’ve got the choice: hotels, apartments, youth hostels, guest houses… There’s something for every type of traveler. On this hotel comparison site, you’ll find the best deals around, whileAirbnb offers you the most typical accommodations for an English-style stay.

Map of hotels and accommodation – Bristol