On the borders of Gloucestershire and Somerset, BRISTOL has harmoniously blended its mercantile roots with an innovative, modern culture, fuelled by technology-based industries, a large student population and a lively arts and media community. As well as its vibrant nightlife, the city's sights range from medieval churches to cutting-edge attractions highlighting its scientific achievements.
Weaving through its centre, the River Avon forms part of a system of waterways that made Bristol a great inland port, in later years booming on the transatlantic trafficking of rum, tobacco and slaves. In the nineteenth century the illustrious Isambard Kingdom Brunel laid the foundations of a tradition of engineering, creating two of Bristol's greatest monuments – the SS Great Britain and the lofty Clifton Suspension Bridge.
Strictly speaking, there isn't a city centre in Bristol—the River Avon and floating harbours carve the centre up into various parts. But rather than being a problem, this has meant each area has developed a distinctly different feel—and what better way to spend your time here than discovering what these are?
Against the backdrop of the harbour are bars, restaurants, cinemas and art galleries ( The Arnolfini and Watershed ), making this a great place for a stroll. It's also home to the award-winning attractions of the At-Bristol complex and is where you'll find Bristol Tourist Information Centre as well. Visible across the water is Bristol Industrial Museum and slightly further along the water's edge, are the city's two famous ships— The Matthew and SS Great Britain . In the summer, this area really comes alive and Bristolians like nothing better than to sit on the quayside, legs dangling over the edge of the water, enjoying a pint or a coffee. Take a trip around the water on one of the small ferries for the best view of it all.
Park Street, home to the historic Cathedral (usually surrounded by crowds of enthusiastic skateboarders) is possibly the trendiest street in the city and is lined with shops, bars and cafes, all with a certain student-flavour—perfect if you're looking for an alternative to all the usual high-street stores. If you're heading up to the top (be warned, it's steep), take a look at The Georgian House and Cabot Tower , both off Great George Street. Also nearby are The Red Lodge and The City Art Gallery and Museum —great for a rainy day.
Ancient City/Modern Shopping
Corn Street, one of Bristol's oldest and most historic streets, was once the meeting place for the city's wealthy merchants, hence the ornate and grand buildings. These now house numerous bars and restaurants—some are rather mass-produced but others offer superb and refined dining, such as Lord's and San Carlo . Halfway up is the fascinating St Nicholas Market —a sprawling grid of alleys and stalls selling all kinds of gifts and produce. After you've had your fill of history, follow the crowds to what is the city's busiest shopping area, Broadmead—a criss-cross of pedestrianized streets packed with all the leading chain stores, in the middle of which is an indoor shopping mall, The Galleries Shopping Centre . It's brash, not particularly pretty and only worth a visit if money is burning a hole in your pocket, in which case it's perfect.
Cotham and Redland
Travel up Christmas Steps and onto St. Michael's Hill, both well worth a look for their classic old boozers such as The Highbury Vaults and lively cafes such as St. Michael's Cafe is the students' choice for a fry-up and you'll reach the Cotham and Redland areas. Mainly residential, with beautiful old houses and leafy streets, they're still worth a visit for their cafes, pubs and restaurants— Red Snapper and Blue Juice to name just a few - and shops! There are masses of charity shops for those after a bargain, plus specialty shops selling, amongst other things, fine wines, kites and vintage clothes. You'll notice a definite hippie, studenty, eco-conscious feel in the air around here.
Clifton contains the grandest architecture and atmosphere in the whole city and to leave Bristol without seeing all it offers would be a crime! It's an absolutely gorgeous place and a wander round here leaves you with the impression that you've somehow stepped back into time. You can visit all its attractions— Clifton Suspension Bridge , Clifton Observatory and Caves , and Bristol Zoo Gardens for example—or just stroll around, taking in all the marvellous Georgian terraces with their iron balconies. Be sure to check out the Royal York Crescent, which is the finest and most well-known terrace in Bristol! Clifton Village is perhaps THE most sought after place to live in the whole city—it's rich and it shows. All of which makes it a great (if slightly expensive) place for shopping—don't miss Clifton Arcade , full of small, independent, antique stores. As expected, there's an equally good number of restaurants, pubs and cafes—mostly full of the city's rich students and well-off professionals. Whiteladies Road is also part of Clifton and apparently the name is nothing to do with Bristol's slave-trading past, but refers to an old nunnery here, whose inhabitants wore white habits. Known as "The Strip" there are masses of lively, funky bars, pubs and restaurants here, making it the main drag for those young, pretty and with money in their pockets. Perfect if you want a night out but don't want to trail all over the city. Check out Bar Humbug , Dragon Kiss and Henry Africa's Hothouse —just to name a few!
Montpelier, St Paul's and Gloucester Road
Also close to the city centre, these areas are the favoured residence of the city's bohemians and "alternative" types. Parts are rather shabby and run-down, but let's just call that character! Of interest in Montpelier are Picton Street and York Road, site of a great Italian deli, a couple of cafes ( Bristolian and One Stop Thali ) and one of the best restaurants in the city, Bell's Diner . St Paul's is home to the magnificent St Paul's Carnival, an annual street-party of enormous popularity and nation acclaim, which celebrates the African and Caribbean community here, and usually attracts around 100,000 revellers over two days. Gloucester Road is the city's alternative "Strip" (see above) and is a long, extremely lively street packed with bars, restaurants and shops, all offering something a little different from the norm. Well worth a look—a stroll along here would take you virtually a whole day!
This area is characterised by its multi-culturalism and even has its own festival—Respect in the West—which celebrates its diversity. Home to a large number of Bristol's Indian, Bangladeshi, Afro-Caribbean and Somalian communities, it's a somewhat neglected area but well worth exploring. It houses Bristol Sweet Mart , the largest stock of Indian foods in the South West and is an excellent choice for a those wanting to dine out cheaply: try The Eastern Taste or Old Casbah Cafe on busy St. Mark's Road.
South of the River
Finally, over the river are Southville and Bedminster. Victims of a north-south divide, these areas are thought of by some as a cultural wilderness! Certainly, there isn't the grandeur of Clifton and the shopping is pretty poor, but don't write it off just yet. First of all, there are plenty of really cheap B&Bs round here, so you may well find yourself staying here if on a budget; secondly, it's only a fifteen minute walk into the harbour area of the city; lastly, the area itself is actually experiencing a bit of a renaissance at present. The acclaimed Tobacco Factory Theatre and art space opened last year and houses a branch of Teohs , one of the city's most popular Chinese/Thai restaurants. And for those of you that like live music, try the Albert—known globally as a centre for folk and jazz music.
For a small city, Bristol has an astounding amount of restaurants, pubs and bars. It's not just the sheer number that will surprise you but also the rich diversity on offer. The whole scene has exploded over the last few years, and the healthy competition between venues has seen places become slicker, more high-profile (reviews of Bristol restaurants are not uncommon in the national papers these days) and generally more discerning—which can only be good news for you, the visitor. So, go out there and consume!
Let's start at the top. For those times when only the best will do, take your pick from a number of posh eateries. Very highly regarded are Harvey's Restaurant, housed in ancient wine cellars, and the superb Lord's , situated in the unlikely but impressive surroundings of a former bank vault. Then there's the old fashioned elegance of The Glass Boat , yes, an actual boat moored on the floating harbour and in contrast, the startling modernity of the super-hip River Station . After a night of dining in one of these places your stomach will feel suitably self-indulged, even if your bank account is suffering!
If your budget doesn't quite stretch to this, there are plenty of places where you can get a fabulous meal for less expense in the city centre: Pan Asian fast food in trendy settings at Budokan , cosy informality at Portuguese A Cozinha , French cuisine(and belly dancing!) at Byzantium , or a tasty curry at Village Tandoori —the list is endless. If you don't fancy the formality of a restaurant, try somwhere that doubles up as a pub/bar—good examples being All Bar One , the infamous Renato's on King Street and the very trendy Severnshed .
If it's a quick and cheap lunch you're after, explore the area around St Nicholas Market , which has some great stalls selling anything from curry to crepes. And of course you can't move far in the centre without coming across a cafe. Some of the more outstanding ones include—former cafe of the year the Mud Dock and at the other end of the scale (in formality terms) the south west's first veggie cafe, Royce Rolls .
Don't just confine yourself to the city centre however. Many of Bristol's best restaurants are situated in the nearby suburbs. Go to Redland to sample the best fish in town at Red Snapper , or travel to the other side of the city to Totterdown to discover one of Bristol's best kept secrets at Glasnost - the place that looks like an austere Russian vodka bar but is in fact a model of Mediterranean warmth and classy cuisine inside. Montpelier is home to the acclaimed splendour of Bell's Diner and the hippie-chic of One Stop Thali. Then there's picture-postcard-perfect Clifton where you can dine in decadence and luxury at the Albion Public House and Dining Rooms (The) , try a curry at Bombay Spice or a pizza at trendy Pizza Express .
If you're not quite sure what you want, take a stroll along lively Whiteladies Road, which is lined with all manner of places to eat, including Thai Classic , Quartier Vert and Planet Pizza . You can't fail to find somewhere that takes your fancy.
Pubs and Bars:
Bristol's nightlife has really begun to make a name for itself in recent years - places such as Oceana and Thekla have become increasingly popular for a wild night out on the town, as well as a number of other dance clubs that cater to the eager night owl. But leave it to Bristol to not stray too far from the English tradition. Most of the city's drinking is still done in the various pubs and bars peppered throughout the city. Generally speaking, head to the city centre if you want a full-on, noisy night-out drinking. But be warned, at weekends it's heaving and for those uninitiated in the ways of English drinking culture (think screeching girls, macho boys and uninhibited behaviour), it can be slightly intimidating, even if it is mostly good-natured.
There are a few main areas for those on a drinking mission: Around the harbour you'll find plenty of large pubs, such as E-Shed , and Brannigans. These cater for dressed-up youngsters and can suffer from the "meat-market" syndrome. Some notable exceptions around here are The Arnolfini and The Watershed and and Apple (The) -they will be equally packed but more trendy and arty and certainly less boisterous. But if boisterous is your bag, you'll be in heaven at nearby King Street, a cobbled street whose ancient pubs are steeped in nautical history, although if you want to appreciate these finer aspects, come only at daytime or early in the week Bar Med at the far end of the street remains the focus point for what seems like all of Bristol's youth. Corn Street is very popular, thanks to the wall-to-wall bars and pubs, such as The Slug and Lettuce and All Bar One , both catering for the city's smart, youngish drinkers. And Park Street and Whiteladies Road also see a lot of drinking action—there are plenty of bars along here, all willing to cash in on the student dollar, so to speak. All are packed and offer various degrees of sophistication, from the basic pack-em-in of The Rat and Parrot to the funky chic of Bar Humbug. The possibilities are endless, as long as you're young, pretty and have plenty of money in your pockets that is.
If it's a quiet boozer you're after, you may be better off heading to the outer edges of the city centre. Try the Hope and Anchor (complete with wonderful beer garden), just ten minutes walk from the centre; Bedminster in South Bristol is home to the acclaimed Albert, where you can catch live folk and jazz; the Stokes Croft area is home to the low-key and impossibly trendy The Bell; St Michael's Hill boasts some classic little boozers such as The Highbury Vaults and a walk around Clifton will reveal great hideaways. Don't neglect to try The Coronation Tap , if only because it's famous for selling the west country's favourite tipple - that's right, cider. A few glasses of their premium strength Exhibition Cider (only sold in half pints because it's so potent) and all those curious drinking rituals mentioned before, will suddenly become like second nature to you! It's even rumored that in his day the infamous pirate Blackbeard used to frequent this hot spot. So go and taste the cider that has tested the strengths of many men—but don't say you haven't been warned!
Below are a selection of tours that will give you a taste of what the city has to offer and an idea of its history. The Tourist Information Centre , in Millenium Square, has extensive and detailed information on various tours, including the city's Heritage Trail, a walk marked-out by brass pavement plaques which you follow around the centre. But why not try one of the following for starters?
What better way to explore a city famed for its maritime past, than by boat? The Bristol Ferry Company operate two round trips around the heart of the city (you can also buy single and return tickets from one stop-off point to another). In summertime, the ferries run about every twenty minutes and you shouldn't have to wait for one too long. Watch out for them coming up the floating harbour that leads past the Arnolfini and Watershed , and just hop on. In winter the service is less frequent, so check the timetables on boards by the water. The Hotwells Round Trip costs 4.80 pounds for adults and 3.20 pounds for kids and pensioners and takes 40 minutes. Starting at the City Centre (look for the yellow and blue Ferry signs along the quayside) it travels through the newly developed Harbourside area, home of the At-Bristol Complex (housing Imax , Wildscreen and Explore Centres) and glides past the historic ships, SS Great Britain The Matthew . Taking in the area of Hotwells, with its lovely waterside pubs such as The Cottage and Pump House, it then loops back and returns to the city centre. The Temple Meads Round Trip costs 3.20 pounds for adults, 2.50 pounds for kids and pensioners, takes an hour and covers much the same area, but also takes you up past the infamous club, The Thekla and swish restaurants The River Station and Severnshed (designed by Brunel and originally a railway shed) under Bristol Bridge and past the ruins of Bristol Castle, all the way past Victorian grandeur and modern offices, to Temple Meads Railway Station (a great way to arrive or leave the city if using the train!). Ask for a timetable when you embark. It contains a map, which gives you some good ideas about where to stop and explore and also tells you something of the history of the company and Bristol itself. Certain landing stages along the route have ramped access (these are clearly marked on the map), others can be problematic for wheelchair users—the starting point at the city centre is fully accessible.
A great way to see all the major tourist attractions for those pressed for time and a good way to get an overview of the city is the City Sightseeing - Bristol Open Top Guided Bus Tour . The tour runs daily from March 31st to September 30th and buses leave from the starting point every hour, from 10am to the last bus at 4pm (between July 24th-September 3rd, buses run every half hour). Round Trip tickets take you on one complete circuit of the tour (7 pounds adults, 6 pounds students, Old Age Pensioners and children aged 5-15 years). A 24 hour ticket means you can "hop on and hop off", i.e. start and end your tour from any of the bus pick-up points in the circuit and get off and on as many times as you like (9.00 pounds adults, 5.00 pounds students, OAPs and kids from 5-15 years old). Finally, single tickets offer a trip between one or two of the places included for 90p adults/50p child each stop. When you board, pick up a map of the bus's route, with stops and attractions clearly marked—very useful and also includes places where you can get on a ferry or a Bristol Packet Boat for a trip down the river. There is a commentary for you to listen to as you go along. The starting point is outside the Hippodrome , right in the city centre - look for the bus stop that has the letters Cj on it. The tour takes in the following places: Broadmead and the Galleries Shopping Centre area; King Street—home of the Theatre Royal , Britain's oldest working theatre and some great old pubs, such as the Llandoger Trow and The Old Duke (great for live jazz fans); through Redcliffe, home of the magnificent St Mary Redcliffe Church ; all along the floating harbour area and past the SS Great Britain ; up to the Georgian splendour of Clifton and its famous Clifton Suspension Bridge ; along Avon Gorge and through the Downs to the popular and busy Bristol Zoo ; finally coming back into town, passing City Museum and Art Gallery and trendy Park Street—look out for Cabot's Tower on the right, before delivering you back at the Hippodrome.
Once the second largest port in the country, this trail (a leaflet going into more detail is published by and available at the Tourist Office) gives you a flavour of Bristol's sea-faring past and takes between 2-3 hours to complete. Start at Bristol Bridge (at the end of Baldwin Street) in the city centre. On the left is Castle Park, which was surrounded by the River Frome and River Avon back in Anglo Saxon times and the site of a tiny port. In 1239 it was decided to divert the River Frome and a channel was cut to enable the river to flow into St Augustine's Reach, which flows right into the city centre. Cross the bridge and walk along the cobbled street of Welshback—a very busy area in the past, with many small boats ferrying produce around the area. A lot of trade was with Welsh merchants, thus the name. It houses a magnificent 19th century building built in a Byzantium style; now the trendy restaurant/bar Belgo's , but formerly a granary —the grain being loaded onto waiting ships. Walk to the end of Welshback, cross over the road and head left. Turn right at the next roundabout in front of St Mary Redcliffe Church (not strictly nautical, but well worth a look and built with rich sea-merchants money) and head up the slight hill, taking the first right into Redcliffe Parade. This Georgian terrace has the most amazing views over the floating harbours and beyond. Apparently Blackbeard, the violent robber of the high seas was born here in the 17th century! The steps at the end (look out for the ramp which was used to transport goods, by donkey, from the quayside) lead down to Bathhurst Basin. At the bottom of these on the right, are a series of caves cut into the rock. The sand cut from these was used for ship's ballast and also in the manufacture of the famous Bristol Blue Glass. Walk past The Ostrich pub on your left and either peek inside to see the caves in the wall here, or just soak up the nautical atmosphere—this part of the harbour is lined with small craft, longboats etc. Bathhurst Basin plays an important role in Bristol's development—because the Avon River had such a strong tide, it was damaging the ships docked in the city, so in 1803, a civil engineer called William Jessop began to create a 'floating harbour', which would keep the water at a level. Not only was the River Frome diverted, but also the River Avon, hence all the different branches of the floating harbour. Cross over the iron bridge infront of you and walk along with the water on your right. Continue until you meet the road and cross over Prince Street, to continue walking along the water. On your left is the Industrial Museum, housed in the transit sheds that remain from the old docks and displaying many exhibits of maritime Bristol. Continue along until you reach The Matthew and the SS Great Britain and visit the Maritime Heritage Centre here to find out more about them. Continue on, to pass the modern working marina and two lovely waterside pubs, The Cottage and The Nova Scotia —the latter also being the site of the only original Jessop-built lock to survive. The enormous red brick warehouses on the horizon, were originally tobacco warehouses. Cross over the small iron bridge to the other side of the water and stop outside The Pump House pub, which used to be an engine house that powered the swing bridge you've just crossed. You can catch a Ferry from here back into town. Check the Bristol Ferry Boat Company timetable for details, but in summertime, they call here about every twenty minutes. Once on the ferry, you will head back the way you came. Take a look at the tall tower on your left, on top of a hill in the distance. This is Cabot's Tower , built in 1897 to commemorate the voyage to Newfoundland by it's namesake John Cabot. Then turn to the right and gaze at the wooden ship The Matthew he went in! Past the new Harbourside developments, into St Augustine's Reach, all the bars, cafes and the Arts centre, the Watershed were once transit sheds serving the docks. Disembark and head for Narrowquay on the opposite side of the water. Follow this road and pass The Arnolfini on the corner—now an Art Gallery and cinema, but formerly a tea warehouse (tea, along with tobacco, was one of Bristol's lucrative trades) and a statue of the aforementioned John Cabot. Go round the corner and onto Prince Street, cross over at the traffic lights onto The Grove. This former soft-berth, called The Mud Dock, is now the name of a great cafe/bar situated here. Even Bristol's night life takes place on the river—look out for the Thekla night-club, situated in a large boat moored here and walk past the swish restaurant/bars, The River Station (an old harbour-police centre) and Severnshed (previously a transport shed). Cross over to The Hole in The Wall pub, whose spy-holes, according to local legend, were used to watch for marauding press gangs (mobs that kidnapped people and forced them onto ships to work) and was the model for the fictional inn featured in Robert Louis Stevenson's "Treasure Island". Turn left at the roundabout and turn into Queen's Square, crossing it and entering King Street. This cobbled street gives a real feeling for the city's sea-faring past, with its Merchant Venturers' Almshouses (intended for retired seamen), Theatre Royal (built with rich merchants money), Naval Volunteer Pub and the ancient, timber-framed pub, Llandoger Trow . You can almost hear the salty-sea dogs' tales! Walk to the end of King Street, to rejoin the cobbled street of Welshback, and from there back up to Bristol Bridge, from where you started.
Bristol's importance as a port in the late seventeenth century, unfortunately meant it was also involved in the awful business of slave trading. To find out more about the city's role in this shameful commerce, follow this trail (a leaflet going into more detail is published by and available at the Tourist Office), which takes approximately four hours. Start at the City Art Gallery and Museum at the top of Park Street, which contains a permanent exhibition about how the city became rich by trading slaves for tobacco, sugar and rum. Next door is a perfect example, the Wills Memorial Building (the large tower)—bequeathed to the University by the Wills family, who made a fortune in the eighteenth century by trading in tobacco, which was produced by slave labour in America. To see how rich merchants lived at this time, walk down Park Street and turn right into Great George Street, site of The Georgian House . This house/museum was once owned by John Pinney, a merchant who traded in sugar and ran slave plantations on the Caribbean island of Nevis - look out for exhibits showing Pinney and his black slave, Pero. On the corner of the same street is the home of Henry Cruger, who was Bristol's major in 1781 and who argued against abolition of the slave trade (his wife was the daughter of a successful slave-trader, which could have had something to do with it!). Back onto Park Street and passing number 43 (site of a now-demolished school for women, run by Hannah More who was a passionate opponent of slavery), you come to Bristol Cathedral at the bottom of the hill. Inside are monuments to various slave traders who owned ships transporting slaves from Africa to America. Turing left, on St Augustine's Parade, is a pub called the Horn and Trumpet, with a native American figurehead attached above the door. This celebrates the sugar industry in the British colony of Demerara. What it fails to portray however, is the violent rebellion of the slaves here (around 12,000) in the early eighteen hundreds. Next on the trail (continue along and turn left into Colston Street) is Colston Hall . Many streets and buildings bear the name "Colston" and they all refer to one Edward Colston. Thought of as a rich and charitable merchant (Colston Day is still celebrated every year by the schools and charities he gave his money and name to), he was also a sugar merchant in the Caribbean, and involved with the Royal Africa Company, who practically ran the entire slave trade itself. There has been talk of re-naming the hall, and some bands refuse to play there whilst it retains its moniker. Turn around and head back to the main road again (Colston Avenue!). Turn left, following the road along and in the middle of a traffic island on your right, you can see a statue of the controversial figure himself. Further along this road, on your left is The Three Sugar Loaves Pub, named after a nearby (now destroyed) sugar refinery. By 1760, there were 20 sugar refineries in Bristol, working with slave-produced raw sugar from plantations in the West Indies. Cross over the main road into Christmas Street, leading into Broad Street and round onto Corn Street. These two streets were the hub of mercantile life—a place for barter and discussion in the numerous coffee houses here. Look out for Tailors Court (down a small alley just past number 44 Broad Street), where wealthy William Miller, founding member of the 'Company of Merchants Trading to Africa' lived; The National Westminster Bank, whose founders were almost all traders to Africa; and the Corn Exchange, the busiest meeting place for merchants and traders. From Corn Street, take a left onto St Nicholas Street, turn left onto Baldwin Street and follow the road along until you see the floating harbour. Cross over the road onto the cobbled street that runs along the water, called Welshback. As you walk along here, take a look to your left. Over the water, peeping out between two large, modern buildings you can just see a small pub called the Seven Stars. It was here, in the late 1780s that Quaker Thomas Clarkson, who was involved in the anti-slavery campaign, visited the landlord (who reportedly refused to serve slave traders), to find out the level of opposition to slavery on the street. On your right you'll see a cobbled street called King Street, turn into this and look for the Theatre Royal , Merchant Venturers Almshouses and the Venturers House—all built with money made by merchants involved in the slave trade. When you come to the end of King Street, look over the roundabout to the left, at nearby Marsh Street - now a rather non-descript road, but once a favourite place for masters of slave ships to pick up their (often unwilling) crew, from the drunken patrons of the 37 taverns situated there. Turn around and head back up Prince Street and take any of the left turns into Queen's Square—again, a genteel area of the city, mostly built on the back of the slave trade—which was completed in 1727 when the trade was at its peak. From Queen's Square, head to the street called The Grove. Turn left and when you come to the roundabout, stay on the right-hand pavement and use the zebra crossing over to the enormous church in front of you. This is St. Mary Redcliffe . Local legend says that slaves were kept captive in the caves below here and true or not, it is certainly recorded that on the abolition of the anti-slavery bill in 1791, the bells were rung in celebration. A good time to remember Hannah More's feeling that "they are not Christians who infest Africa's shores, but are rather white savages ruled by lust of gold or lust of conquest".