Top things to do and see in Bristol

Stuart Forster writes a city guide with top things to do and see in Bristol, England. 

Bristol was the European Green Capital of 2015 and is a gateway to exploring the attractions of southwest England. Once the country’s second city, the legacies of Bristol’s maritime heritage mean there is much to explore along the Harbourside waterfront.

Contemporary attractions include works by Banksy, among street art adorning walls across the city.

Here are some of the highlights among things to see in Bristol.

A place to visit in Bristol

Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the prolific Victorian engineer, designed the SS Great Britain, the iron-hulled steamship that was launched in 1843. Docked by Spike Island, which you can reach by a brief ferry journey, the refurbished ship stands in a dry dock as the star attraction of a museum telling the story of the vessel that was described as “the greatest experiment since the Creation.”

The Great Britain served as an ocean-going liner, transported emigrants to Australia and hauled coal before being scuttled in the Falkland Islands. The museum explains how she was raised and subsequently brought to Bristol, and gives visitors a chance to tour the decks.

The SS Great Britain.
The SS Great Britain docked in Bristol.

A place to enjoy a view of Bristol

Get up early and head to Clifton Down, the location of the hilltop Clifton Observatory, to see the sun rising above the Avon Gorge. The cliff-side Giant’s Cave, accessible via the observatory, is a good spot for viewing another of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s projects, the Clifton Suspension Bridge, which spans the gorge.

Stroll onto the bridge, where a bronze plaque explains that it opened in 1864 — five years after Brunel’s death. The visitor centre provides information about the bridge and its construction.

Time your visit right and you’ll see one of the twice-daily tidal bores sweep up the River Avon. The river rises and falls as much as 13 metres between tides.

Clifton Observatory, overlooking the Avon Gorge, in Bristol.
Clifton Observatory, overlooking the Avon Gorge, in Bristol.

A place to eat in Bristol

Bristolians extoll the virtues of their city’s culinary credentials. Eat Walk Talk Bristol Food Tours are a way of finding out more about that while sampling produce.

The city is the home to the UK’s biggest restaurant, Za Za Bazaar, which serves Asian-style street food.

If you’re looking for a special meal why not reserve a table at a Michelin-starred restaurant? You could opt for the seasonal cuisine served at the Casamia.

For inspired Indian cuisine in a chic setting dine at The Mint Room in Clifton.

Floating candle with rose petals by an exotic cocktail served at The Mint Room in Bristol.
A floating candle with rose petals by an exotic cocktail served at The Mint Room in Bristol.

A place to drink in Bristol

For craft beers, King Street is the place to head. The Beer Emporium, Small Bar and King Street Brew House all serve a selection of ales.

But Bristol is in the heart of cider country. Locals reckon that The Coronation Tap, in Clifton, is the place to head to sample cider.

If you prefer the idea of tea or coffee, perhaps with a slice of home-style cake, pop into one of the Boston Tea Party cafés that are dotted around Bristol.

Statue of Rajah Rammohun Roy outside of Bristol cathedral.
Statue of Rajah Rammohun Roy outside of Bristol cathedral.

A place to shop in Bristol

If you’re into shopping then you’ll probably enjoy exploring the Bristol Shopping Quarter, at Broadmead, featuring Cabot Circus and The Galleries Shopping Centre. The Harvey Nichols department store is one of the key attractions for shoppers.

For independent retailers and an array of foods, it’s worth browsing St Nicholas Market, where trading began back in the 18th century.

A place to stay in Bristol

If you want to treat yourself to a luxury weekend, book into the Bristol Marriott Royal Hotel, which opened in 1863. The four-star hotel is located centrally, at College Green, and has an indoor pool and sauna. Afternoon tea is served in the hotel’s Club Lounge.

Facades of Georgian houses on Royal York Cresent in the Clifton district of Bristol.
Facades of Georgian houses on Royal York Crescent in the Clifton district of Bristol.

Further information

For information and ideas about things to do and see in and around Bristol, take a look at the Visit Bristol website.

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Getting there

Bristol Airport has connections with cities across the United Kingdom, Europe and beyond. The Bristol Airport Flyer shuttle runs to and from stops in the city centre, around 30 minutes’ drive away, including Bristol Temple Meads railway station.

If you feel that there’s a ‘must see’ attraction missing from this guide of top things to do and see in Bristol, England then please leave a comment below.


  • Charles Grey

    March 24, 2017 at 00:22 Reply

    Thanks for your inspiring post. I’ve just been motivated by it to book a weekend in Bristol. The observatory and Great Britain will definitely be on our list.

    • Stuart Forster

      March 25, 2017 at 12:00 Reply

      Enjoy your trip!

    • Stuart Forster

      March 30, 2017 at 13:17 Reply

      Thank for that comment Charles. Yes, they are well worth a visit.

  • Ferne Arfin

    January 27, 2018 at 10:31 Reply

    Good piece. Bristol is a great place to visit – manageable size, lots to see,do and eat. But you left out my two favorites: Bristol is probably the coffee capital of the UK with lots of independent coffee shops and roasters. And what about the Bristol Old Vic? A real national treasure and ( I think) Britain’s oldest theatre.

    • Stuart Forster

      February 4, 2018 at 10:44 Reply

      Thanks for suggesting the coffee houses and the theatre. If I’d had a bit more time in the city then I’d have loved to have taken in a show there.

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