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A Local's Guide To Bristol: Insider Tips + Things To Do

A Local’s Guide To Bristol: Insider Tips + Things To Do

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As we’ve had the fortune to call Bristol our home for the past eight years, we’ve written a whole heap of Bristol travel blogs

But we also wanted to create a one-off Bristol city guide that pulls all our top tips, must-sees and things to know about Bristol into one place for you.

A “one-stop-shop” Bristol travel guide if you will.

This is our local’s guide to Bristol and we hope it’s full of tips, inspiration and must-knows for your visit – and how best to experience Bristol like a local!

Under the Stars

10 Incredible Facts You Probably Didn’t Know About Bristol

As with a lot of UK cities, Bristol is home to so many weird and wonderful secrets and stories to tell

Here are a few of our favourite facts about Bristol that you probably didn’t know:

  • Bristol has its own currency: the Bristol Pound
  • A Bristol-based firm (Fry’s Chocolate) was the first company in the world to produce solid chocolate bars and the first company to make chocolate Easter eggs
  • North America was discovered by John Cabot who set sail from Bristol on The Matthew in 1497
  • Guerrilla street artist Banksy was born in Bristol in the 1970s and spent some of his childhood here
  • The first ever bungee jump took place from the Clifton Suspension Bridge in 1979
  • The popular blackcurrant squash drink Ribena was invented in Bristol in 1933 as part of a scientific experiment
  • Bristol is the world’s largest manufacturer of hot air balloons
  • Bristol is the home of the fun cartoon series Wallace and Gromit
  • The infamous pirate Captain Blackbeard was born and raised in Bristol and once had a hideaway cave under St. Mary Redcliffe Church
  • Before the introduction of train travel in 1840, Bristol had its own timezone, which ran ten minutes behind London-time

Discover more interesting facts about Bristol here >>

Bristol Bucket List For First Time Visitors

Although there are a ton of things to do in Bristol that you’ll love, here are our top must-sees for any first timer’s Bristol bucket list:

1. Clifton Suspension Bridge

Clifton Suspension Bridge

The Clifton Suspension Bridge was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and is one of the most iconic landmarks in Bristol so shouldn’t be missed! 

It dates back to 1864 and costs £1 to cross it by car or you can walk across it for free.

2. SS Great Britain

SS Great Britain

Brunel also designed the SS Great Britain, which was launched in 1843. 

In its heyday, it regularly transported Victorian passengers to far off lands including Australia! 

Climb aboard this infamous ship for a unique and historic day out in Bristol.

3. The Matthew

The Matthew is another of Bristol’s most famous ships. 

In 1497, John Cabot set sail from Bristol on it and discovered Newfoundland (aka America). 

The ship you can hop on board today is a replica but still deserves its place on your Bristol bucket list.

4. Banksy Street Art Walking Tour

Fall in Love with Bristol: Girl with the Pearl Earring Street Art

As Bristol is Banksy’s birthplace and where he grew up, it should come as no surprise that you’ll find some of his earliest and unknown works of art here as well as more famous pieces. 

And you can see them all on your own self-guided Banksy walking tour – check it out!

5. Gloucester Road

Gloucester Road once boasted the longest road of independent shops in all of Europe and is still a fantastic place for a “mooch”. 

From quirky clothing to unique gifts and delicious patisseries, there’s so much amazing shopping on offer along this stretch of road, which is very popular with locals.

6. Cabot Tower

Admire the views from the top of Cabot Tower

Who doesn’t love perfect city views?

Cabot Tower in Brandon Hill Park offers some of the best views of the city, whilst also offering a perfect picnic spot in the accompanying park.

And at sunset, a climb to the top of Cabot Tower is a very romantic thing to do in Bristol!

7. Watersports at the harbourside

Windsurfing, Bristol Harbourside

As can be expected from a city that prides itself on its youthful fun vibe, you can take part in many watersports activities at the harbourside.

These can include paddle boarding, sailing, windsurfing and on some occasions, even dragon boat racing!

8. International Balloon Fiesta

Hot air balloon ride over Bristol

Bristol is home to some of the best free festivals including the International Balloon Fiesta held every August.

Tourists come from far and wide to see this spectacle, which rivals even that of Cappadocia in Turkey.

Watch hundreds of hot air balloons sail overhead, see the famous balloon night glow and hang out on roller coasters with your friends… all for free!

It’s one of the most awesome Bristol bucket list activities ever!

Read more to discover even more things to do in Bristol:

Must-See Bristol Festivals & Events

Ask anyone in love with Bristol and they’ll tell you that fun is the city’s middle name. 

So it should come as no surprise that Bristol is home to a number of events and festivals throughout the year that are NOT to be missed.

1. International Balloon Fiesta

International Balloon Fiesta

When: Early August
Where: Ashton Court Estate
Why visit: The International Balloon Fiesta is the world’s largest meeting of hot air balloons, seeing over 130 balloons take to the skies every year. It’s been running for over 40 years and is completely free! Even if large crowds aren’t really your thing, you can always find a quiet spot in most areas of the city to watch the balloons sail overhead.
Cost: FREE
Don’t miss: The night glow… which sees hot air balloons light up in time to music and cheers from the crowds!
More info: www.bristolballoonfiesta.co.uk

2. Bristol Harbour Festival

Bristol Harbour Festival

When: Mid-July
Where: The Harbourside
Why visit: Bristol’s Harbour Festival is a celebration of the city’s thriving harbour, port and maritime history. During the festival, various events and demonstrations happen, such as those of lifesaving swimming dogs, flyboarding and boat races. It’s great fun (especially if the sun is shining)…
Cost: FREE
Don’t miss: The annual cardboard box boat race… you’ll likely find yourself cheering on a bunch of people swimming and pulling along their cardboard behind them!
More info: www.bristolharbourfestival.co.uk

3. St Paul’s Carnival

St Paul's Carnival Bristol

When: Early July
Where: St Paul’s
Why visit: St Paul’s Carnival is a celebration of everything Afro Caribbean related including food, music and the carnival atmosphere, emphasising Bristol’s multicultural diversity and acceptance.
Cost: FREE
Don’t miss: The carnival itself… despite the various acts and performances available throughout the day, the carnival really does steal the show!
More info: www.stpaulscarnival.net

4. Bristol Open Doors Festival

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When: Mid-September
Where: Multiple locations across the city
Why visit: For one weekend every year, Bristol unlocks over 100 doors that are normally closed to the public, thanks to the Bristol Open Doors Festival. From old houses, to decrepit bank vaults, historic museums and sacred churches, this is your one chance every year to see something in Bristol that you wouldn’t ordinarily see.
Cost: FREE
Don’t miss: The Redcliffe Caves… head out on a self-guided tour of Bristol’s old mine complex, which was used to help excavate red sandstone from the 15th century to the 18th century. Heads up: there are no lights so make sure you bring your torch!
More info: www.bristolopendoors.org.uk

5. Love Saves The Day

Love Saves The Day Bristol Festival

When: Late May
Where: Eastville Park
Why visit: Love Saves The Day is one of Bristol’s most popular festivals, which often markets itself as the city’s Glastonbury. Home to a number of locally and internationally renowned live music acts, DJs and performances to suit multiple music tastes, this festival also sees its fair share of high profile acts as well.
Cost: From £38.50 per adult
More info: www.lovesavestheday.org

6. Bristol Pride Festival

Bristol Pride Festival

When: Early July
Where: Millennium Square and Castle Park
Why visit: Bristol is – without a doubt – one of the most diverse and inclusive cities throughout the UK, which means it should come as no surprise that the Bristol Pride Festival is world class!
Cost: FREE
Don’t miss: The parade… last year, over 12,000 people took part in the parade. It’s big. It’s bold. And it’s going to knock your socks off!
More info: www.bristolpride.co.uk

7. Bristol Shakespeare Festival

Reading books in an old book store

When: Throughout July
Where: Multiple locations across the city
Why visit: The Bristol Shakespeare Festival sees various performances and events inspired by the Bard himself take place throughout indoor and outdoor spaces across Bristol for the whole month of July. Whether you enjoy theatre, poetry readings, musicals or informative lectures, you’re sure to find something you’ll enjoy if you’re into culture and/or literature.
Cost: Price varies per show
Don’t miss: The Bard Buskers… who bring Shakespeare to life in the form of street music!
More info: www.bristolshakespearefestival.org.uk

8. DogFest Bristol

DogFest Bristol

When: Late June
Where: Ashton Court Estate
Why visit: DogFest is fairly new to Bristol, but is a must for dog owners and lovers alike. Run by Noel Fitzpatrick (aka The Supervet), this event showcases the latest and greatest dog food, accessories and gadgets via market stalls, as well as various expert talks and doggy demonstrations that you’ll enjoy and learn from. It’s also great for socialisation (for both you and your dog!)
Cost: From £17.66 per adult
Don’t miss: The police dog demonstration… they’re so skilled they even put Lassie to shame!
More info: www.dog-fest.co.uk/bristol
Festival tips: www.wandereroftheworld.co.uk/dogfest-bristol

Best of Bristol Itineraries

One Day in Bristol

If you’ve got just one day in Bristol to spare then here’s what you should see and do:

  • Morning: Harbourside walk and Clifton Suspension Bridge
  • Afternoon: Gloucester Road and Banksy street art walking tour
  • Evening: Cabot Tower sunset visit and back to the harbourside for dinner and drinks

See this Bristol itinerary in full here >>

One Weekend in Bristol

If you have a full weekend to spend in Bristol then we recommend you do everything above on one of the days, while the other day includes a visit to the SS Great Britain or a festival if you’re lucky enough to be in the city while there’s one going on!

Best of Bristol Food Guide

Bristol is one of the trendiest cities in the UK and is awash with local, trendy, bustling restaurants. 

Tourists might come to Bristol for the cool street art, hipster vibe and fabulous free festivals, but they stay for the quirky, trendy, exciting foods on offer here. 

Whether you’re after a slap-up posh affair, a sizzling pizza or the most fabulous of afternoon teas, Bristol caters for the foodie in us all in any way possible.

Here’s our best of Bristol food guide…

Beese’s Riverside Bar

Only open during the spring and summer months, and requiring a boat to get to it, Beese’s Riverside Bar is such a unique restaurant experience in Bristol.

The food itself is pretty good, serving the usual bar snacks and ‘pub grub’ such as burgers, sandwiches, salads and chips.

And their beer garden is large and sitting right on the riverbank – that’s why it’s only open during the nicer parts of the year as their garden floods during the winter.

But on a sunny day, hopping onto their boat (for 50p return per person), and ordering some drinks and a few snacks can be a really great way of spending your day. You can even follow all of this up with a riverside walk in nearby Conham River Park.

Beese's Riverside Bar

Côte Brasserie

Located within one of the poshest areas of Bristol, Clifton Village, Côte Brasserie is everything you should expect from a fancy French restaurant.

Their chicken dishes are made from corn-fed chickens reared in the heart of rural Brittany, they have fish dishes to suit most seafood lover’s tastes and oh, their desserts are to die for! From gooey chocolate fondants to praline crêpes, you’d be hard pushed not to try them all.

No. 51 Stokes Croft

Primarily a bar with a decent beer garden, you may be surprised to find that you can get some fantastic stonebaked pizzas at No.51 as well.

They have so much choice on offer, from cheesy to meaty to vegetarian-friendly, each with that classic smoky stonebaked flavour.

And as they’re not technically a restaurant, their prices are very pocket friendly! Our advice? Come for a cider, stay for the pizza.

Stonebaked Pizza from No 51, Bristol

The Bristol Flyer

A trip to the UK should most definitely involve eating some proper ‘pub grub’, and The Bristol Flyer, located along Gloucester Road is one of the best pub food offerings in Bristol.

We recommend checking out their roasts, swiftly followed by some refreshing cider or wine. Although they do have a beer garden, it’s quite small out the back, so you’d be best sitting inside their very roomy bar and restaurant.

Something else we love about The Flyer is how relaxed and chilled it is. Locals come here not just for food, but for some post-work drinks, so you can happily head out to dinner in your jeans if you want to.

Za Za Bazaar

There are just a couple of Za Za Bazaar restaurants around the UK. One of the best restaurants near the Bristol harbourside, and looking out over the harbour itself, you may be lucky to secure a table by the window for great views.

So you’ve heard of all-you-can-eat buffets. But have you heard of somewhere that offers food from across the globe? Yep, that’s right! You could be eating cheesy Italian pizza one minute, helping yourself to onion bhajis the next and then working your way around the dessert island. Yes, a whole island for desserts!

It’s probably a good thing that they have a 1 hour 45 minute time limit for each table, or you could leave several kilos heavier if you’re not careful. But when the food’s this good, who really cares?

Insider Tip: Come during the lunch slot and your meal will be a few quid cheaper than during the evening. They don’t have every single food item out during this time, but with so much choice on offer, you won’t feel like you’re missing out on anything to be honest!

Dessert island at ZaZa Bazaar, Bristol

Ciao

Italian has to be one of our most favourite cuisines, and thankfully, Bristol has a few great options in and around the city.

Our top choice of Italian restaurants in Bristol is Ciao found near The Hippodrome.

It’s a small, family-run restaurant, offering a really authentic Italian restaurant experience. And the best bit? Tourists don’t know about this one!

Patisserie Valerie

Although Patisserie Valerie is a large chain and can be found throughout the UK, their hot drinks, cakes and afternoon teas are sublime!

If you happen to be combining a visit to Patisserie Valerie with some Christmas shopping at Cribbs Causeway in Bristol, then go in search of their Festive Afternoon Tea, which comes complete with a free box of mince pies to take home with you.

Patisserie Valerie Festive Afternoon Tea

Pieminister

With a couple of pie shops in Bristol as well as others in Nottingham and Leeds, Pieminister is still a local chain selling traditional (yet trendy) British pie and mash.

We Brits are really pleased with our pie and mash combinations so it’s always a firm favourite. From the traditional steak and kidney pie to marvellous meaty ones (and everything in between), Pieminister has several different types of pie to suit your trendy taste buds.

Oh and their mash is buttery, creamy and smooth. Are you drooling yet?

The Beehive Coffee House

The Beehive Coffee House in Downend is a small, independently run café which specialises in fantastic freakshakes!

The Beehive top their shakes with all manner of things like doughnuts, sauce, sprinkles, marshmallows, chocolate bars, you name it. They even have a “Freak of the Week”, which is a totally special, limited edition shake, varying with each week.

They also sell homemade cakes, decent sandwiches and the usual hot drinks – with ingredients all locally sourced from around the city.

Read More: Indulgent Freakshakes at Bristol’s Beehive Coffee House

Freak Shakes at The Beehive Coffee House

The Social

Again, primarily a local drinking hole, The Social is a firm favourite for a Somerset cider or a gin and tonic. But grab a table in the back and choose from some exquisite meals as well!

Their menus change with each season as they always prefer to use local produce, so they work with what is being farmed and grown at that particular point in the year.

If it’s on offer at the time, we’d recommend their pan-roasted duck breast, which is utterly delicious. 

They also like to cater to those who have special dietary requirements, so for the gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian among you, no need to worry. And if you have any other special requirements? Just let them know as they’re more than happy to help.

At busy times you may struggle to find a table  so get in there quick!

St Nick’s Market

Found within the centre of Bristol, St Nicholas Market (St Nick’s to the locals) is a hidden little secret. This is a typical street food market but with a difference.

Being trendy Bristol, you have the delight of knowing this is the place to come for falafel (huge portions of it), super energy boosting smoothies and posh locally sourced sausages (big ones and full of flavour)!

If you fancy some street food with a bang, then head to St Nick’s market in the centre. Your only problem will be choosing which stall to buy food from!

Falafel from St Nick's Market, Bristol

Dog Friendly – Café Grounded

Truly dog friendly food and drinks places don’t come easy although companies are coming around to the idea of it. One of the best Bristol cafés and a true dog friendly one is Café Grounded.

Although you’d expect to only come here for tea and cake, they actually serve decent dinners in the late afternoons and evenings. Their pizzas are particularly good!

And as they’re so well known in Bristol, they have a number of locations dotted throughout the city including Horfield, Redfield, Fishponds and Keynsham. We’d suggest browsing their website to find out about each of their branches.

Italb

As we mentioned before, there are a number of really good Italian restaurants in Bristol – with Italb in Downend also joining the mix.

Similarly to Ciao in the centre, their restaurant is also very authentic and off the beaten track.

Although the Italb restaurant is small, their service and food both pack a punch. We just love it when you get asked if you want grated Parmesan on your food (when is the answer ever “No”?)

But Italb’s prices are also really good! Scott and I came here for a three-course meal accompanied with several alcoholic drinks and we only paid £30 including a voluntary 10% service charge.

How amazing is that? And we honestly cannot rave about their food enough – especially at that price!

Italb Italian Restaurant in Downend

Atomic Burger

After a burger and chips in Bristol? Look no further than Atomic Burger, which has over 20 different types of burger to choose from.

And the best bit? They’re named after famous TV, film and superhero characters.

Fancy a bit of Forrest Gump? This one is classic and simple.
Drooling over Daisy Duke? Cheese, crispy bacon and BBQ sauce adorns this burger.
Salivating about Scott Pilgrim? Pineapple, mushrooms and jerk sauce will have you on this one.

We could go on. But don’t just take our word for it, check out their burgers yourself!

In their own words, Atomic Burger want to “take you back to that time as a child when burgers could be as big as your head, summers lasted forever and simple things made you smile.”

This is probably why their restaurant is also decked out with superhero wallpaper (even in the loo), barbie dolls above the windows and action man figures hanging from the ceiling.

Where To Stay in Bristol

When asked where to stay in Bristol, we always reply with the same three recommendations, which are:

Bristol Harbour Hotel & Spa on Corn Street

1. The Bristol Hotel on Prince Street: It’s close to the harbourside, offers a generous 12pm check out time and even offers a romantic couple’s package of champagne, chocolate-dipped fruits and breakfast for two if you’re interested. Check Prices | Read Reviews

2. Bristol Harbour Hotel & Spa on Corn Street: Found within the historic part of Bristol’s city centre, this hotel used to be a bank and the bank vaults are now home to a beautiful spa. Check Prices | Read Reviews

3. Berkeley Suites on Berkeley Crescent: Located within Bristol’s most sought after neighbourhood: Clifton, these luxurious suites are fully equipped apartments and are individually decorated so you’ll never know what elegant and cool theme you’ll be getting no matter how many times you stay here. Check Prices | Read Reviews

Find more Bristol hotels on Booking.com >>
Or try Hotels.com >>

Must-Do Day Trips From Bristol

One of the many things we love about living in Bristol is how you only need to drive for 45 minutes and technically be in a new country, or drive for just 90 minutes and be in stunning Devon.

This is because Bristol is handily located at motorway junctions for the M4 East, M4 West, M5 North and M5 South. 

So now there’s no reason at all why you can’t make the most of an epic day trip when you’re next in the city.

We’ve already written a detailed blog all about day trips from Bristol, but if you want to know which ones are our absolute favourites and most recommended, then here you go:

Discover even more day trips from Bristol here >>

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We hope you’ve found our local’s guide to Bristol helpful! Is there anything else you want to know about our beautiful hometown? Just let us know in the comments below and we’ll reply asap…

Did you like this Bristol city guide? Pin it now, read it again later!

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