Did you know that a settlement has existed in the city we now call Bristol since as early as the Iron Age? While this iconic city is exceedingly historic, it’s also one of the trendiest cities in the UK. This means there are plenty of things to do in Bristol to suit every kind of visitor.
Scott and I have lived in Bristol for nearly a decade now, and while it feels like we’ve explored every nook and cranny of this fabulous city, I’m sure there’s much more to be discovered.
That said, if we had to tell you about our favourite things to do in Bristol, then this list would probably be it. Whether you choose to do 5, 10, 15 or all 75 of these things, you’re sure to find something you’ll love doing. Let’s dive in!
Don’t Miss Bristol’s Best Things To Do
So that you don’t miss something epic, please feel free to use the skip-ahead links below to jump to the sections of this blog post you’re most interested in reading:
- Bristol’s landmarks
- Top museums in Bristol
- Bristol’s street art scene
- Top foodie spots in Bristol
- Unusual things to do in Bristol
- Bristol’s hidden gems and secret spots
- Best things to do in Bristol for nature lovers
- Shopping in Bristol
- Where to go for a night out in Bristol
- Iconic Bristol events and festivals
Alternatively, keep on reading for all the info!
See some of Bristol’s iconic landmarks
Given Bristol’s varied history, it’ll probably come as no surprise that there are a myriad of iconic landmarks to see here.
Clifton Suspension Bridge is probably the most iconic image associated with Bristol. The bridge was designed by the great Isambard Kingdom Brunel and has been used as a toll bridge since 1864.
Although it costs £1 to cross it in a car or on a motorbike, it’s free to cross by bicycle or on foot. Plus, the views you get of Avon Gorge and Bristol when walking across it are fantastic.
Located in Brandon Hill Park, you can climb the 109 steps to the top of Cabot Tower to take in the panoramic city views. Unsurprisingly, the best time to visit is just before sunset or on a sunny day for the best views.
Need To Know: The steps inside Cabot Tower are steep and small and the corridors narrow, so passing others on the stairs can be a little tricky.
Found within a short 10-minute walk of Cabot Tower is another iconic landmark: Bristol’s Cathedral.
While the cathedral was first founded in 1140 (then called St Augustine’s Abbey), much of the architecture you can see and appreciate today dates back to the 14th and 15th centuries.
Speaking of historic architecture, there’s lots of stunning Georgian and Victorian architecture to admire throughout Bristol.
For instance, did you know a popular hotel is housed within a former 20th-century bank? The hotel’s spa is actually located within the bank’s old vaults. Bristol is chock-full of secrets just like this. But I digress…
Let’s talk about Bristol’s Harbourside next, which is home to not one but two iconic ships.
Up first is The Matthew. The ship you can see today is a replica of the original ship that John Cabot used to sail to Newfoundland in 1497. At certain times of the year, you can hop aboard to sail past Avon Gorge.
Then there’s the SS Great Britain, which was designed by Brunel (yes, the same guy that designed the Clifton Suspension Bridge mentioned earlier!) The SS Great Britain is a Victorian passenger boat, which once sailed as far as Australia.
Today, you can see the underside of the boat and explore the first-class cabins inside, as well as the top deck. If possible, the best time to visit is on a sunny day so that you can admire the views across the harbour and enjoy the top deck without slipping and sliding in puddles.
Visit Bristol’s top museums
Another way to experience Bristol’s incredible history is by visiting some of the top museums.
If you’re keen to learn more about Bristol’s culture and heritage, and if you’re also into art, then a visit to the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery is well worth it. You’ll even find a Banksy work of art here!
Speaking of art, the Arnolfini Art Gallery found at the Harbourside is another top thing to do in Bristol. Here, you’ll find a number of art exhibitions, which change throughout the year and are free to visit.
The M Shed is another great way to experience Bristol’s history; this time, with a focus on the city’s maritime heritage and what it’s like to live and work in Bristol (both now and in the past).
Interestingly, this museum is also home to an original Banksy. Plus, you can visit the museum for free!
Did you say free?! Another museum that won’t cost you a penny to visit is Blaise Museum set within the extensive grounds of Blaise Estate near Henbury in Bristol.
Here, you’ll find an 18th-century mansion complete with toys, clothes and decor from the same era. While you’re here, Blaise Estate is a stunning place to explore.
Finally, Aerospace Bristol is another museum that’s well worth visiting. Based in Filton (near the Airbus campus), this museum houses a myriad of aeroplane artefacts and exhibits and even entire aircraft you can see up close and go inside.
In fact, the Concorde Alpha Foxtrot, the final Concorde to be built and the last to fly can be found here. How cool is that?!
READ NEXT: 30 Free Things To Do in Bristol
Marvel at Bristol’s vibrant street art scene
Given that Banksy himself (or herself!) grew up in Bristol, street art is as synonymous with this city as its maritime history is.
You’ll find some of Banksy’s earliest and unknown works of art throughout Bristol, as well as a more recent one they created to celebrate Valentine’s Day.
Although you can join an official guided walking tour like this one, finding Bristol’s most iconic street art on your own is also a great way to explore the city.
But it’s not just Banksy street art murals you can admire. You’ll find incredible street art almost anywhere you wander within the city.
Also, in celebration of this, an annual street art festival called Upfest calls for local artists to make their mark on the various shopfronts and buildings within Southville and Bedminster (in the southern parts of Bristol).
The festival is usually held during the spring or summer months and it’s amazing to watch the artists at work!
Enjoy Bristol’s best foodie spots
So far we’ve discovered that Bristol has a varied history and thriving art scene, but it’s also a great city for foodies.
While you’ll find many of our favourite restaurants listed in our local’s guide to Bristol, there’s so much more to discover.
Such as a little cafe in Downend (a suburb of Bristol) that specialises in freakshakes!
Or the popular Hart’s Bakery, which is housed within a Victorian railway arch.
Not to mention the charming Beese’s Riverside Bar & Restaurant, which you have to get a boat to.
Or, if you love street food, then St Nick’s Market is the place to be!
Scott and I are also big lovers of afternoon tea. I mean, come on, who doesn’t love scones with lashings of cream and jam, washed down with a good old cuppa?
Given the city’s close proximity to Somerset, Bristol is also an excellent city for cider drinkers. So pick a bar, any bar, during your visit and try some good old-fashioned cider.
Or, if gin’s more your thing then you might also enjoy The 6 O’Clock Gin Distillery Tour, which is just slightly north of Bristol in Thornbury.
Try some of the more unusual things to do in Bristol
We’ve already touched on the fact that Bristol is one of the UK’s trendiest cities.
It makes sense, then, that you should definitely try some of Bristol’s more unusual things to do.
Of which, there are many! Read on for a few of our favourites.
Up first is one of Bristol’s newest attractions, Wake the Tiger, which opened in the summer of 2022.
With its incredible art installations, dazzling lights, mystical sound effects and impressive feats of mechanical engineering, this stunning amazement park will make you feel like you’re stepping into another world.
Bristol is also recently home to its very own urban axe throwing venue on All Saints Street.
Urban axe throwing is a bit like archery in that you’re aiming at a target for points. But the difference (obviously) is that you’re throwing axes rather than shooting arrows. It’s a lot of fun and definitely a unique thing to do in Bristol!
Both of these activities are perfect for a rainy day in Bristol – and here’s another suggestion: escape rooms! We’ve tried several within Bristol itself; our favourites include City Mazes, Escape Hunt and Locked In A Room.
Psst! Fancy trying an at-home escape game? Here’s our review of the games from Epic Escapes, which are, well, epic!
Following the same theme of fun and unusual indoor activities, we also love the adults-only nights that We The Curious (formerly known as At-Bristol) puts on occasionally.
By day, We The Curious is a science museum that children love. But during their after hours events, adults can explore the museum without children around and with a few beers in hand. Very cool!
UPDATE: We The Curious is currently closed following a fire they had in 2022. At the time of writing, they’re planning on reopening again in early 2024.
If you’re like us and enjoy being big kids for the day, then you might also enjoy one of the several trampoline parks in Bristol.
You’re basically thrown into a huge warehouse space filled with trampolines for an hour. Expect to be very tired by the end of it!
Top Tip: Keep an eye on Groupon for cheap deals that occasionally pop up.
Speaking of being big kids, we also love Chance & Counters, next to the Christmas Steps, which is one of Bristol’s board game cafés.
In essence, you come here to drink, eat and play retro board games. They actually have over 850 games dotted around the bar!
As massive board game lovers ourselves, we think this is most definitely one of the best things to do in Bristol.
Hmm, I’m sensing a recurring theme here because coming up next is yet another “big kid” thing to do in Bristol: mini golf!
Bristol has a few great mini golf (or crazy golf) options. Scott and I have played mini golf every year since living in Bristol together. Here are some of our favourite places to go:
- Mr Mulligan’s near Cribbs Causeway: Where a retro bar and two very cool mini golf courses meet.
- Congo Falls Adventure Golf in Stockwood: Gushing waterfalls, babbling brooks and more add to the excitement!
- Jungle Rumble in Cabot Circus: Where palm trees and tiki huts decorate two mini golf courses.
- Caddy Gilmore’s in Hambrook: Where both King Kong and an ‘Around the World’ adventure await!
While it sounds a little (okay, a lot!) strange to suggest visiting a cemetery, Arnos Vale Cemetery is far from ordinary.
It’s often home to open-air theatre and movie nights, as well as something called the ‘Morbid Curiosity Tour’. During this nighttime tour, you’ll hear plenty of ghost stories and tales of murder. Spooky? Yes. Fun? Very.
If you love the sound of spooky nights, then you’ll also love FEAR at Avon Valley, which is an annual ‘scream park’ akin to something you might find at Thorpe Park.
There are several live-action mazes (the centre focus of the whole experience), various street theatre performances, pyrotechnic displays, stage shows, fairground rides and a number of food and drink stalls as well. It’s lots of fun and definitely worthy of a few screams!
Find some of Bristol’s hidden gems and secret spots
If you’re like us and love finding hidden gems and secret spots when you’re somewhere new, then there’s plenty to discover right here in Bristol.
For example, did you know Bristol once had its own timezone, which ran ten minutes behind London time?
While this changed with the introduction of train travel in 1840, the clock on the Exchange building on Corn Street still has Bristol’s old time on it. The red minute hand shows Greenwich Mean Time and the other minute hand shows “Bristol Time”.
Escape into nature and the great outdoors
While Bristol is only the seventh largest city in England, the hustle and bustle of city life can feel overwhelming.
Thankfully, there are plenty of parks, green spaces, woodlands and more that you can escape to for some peace and quiet.
One of our favourites is Leigh Woods. The walk is fairly flat and easy and there’s also a fab viewpoint of the Clifton Suspension Bridge to enjoy from here.
The Downs in Clifton is another popular parkland and picnic spot with fantastic views across the city, and at 440 acres, it’s one of the largest green spaces in Bristol. There’s also the chance to see Avon Gorge and the Clifton Suspension Bridge from a different angle here.
Meanwhile, the Frome Valley Walkway connects a number of stunning green spaces and parks across the city, making this the perfect walk for first-time visitors to Bristol and those of you who love long walks.
The walk starts in Castle Park and takes you through places like Oldbury Court Estate, Huckford Quarry Nature Reserve and Old Sodbury.
Speaking of longer walks, you can follow the old railway line from Bristol to Bath. This is one of Bristol’s most popular cycle paths, but it’s also just fine for pedestrians. Just avoid peak commuting times when cyclists are in a rush!
For the nature lovers among you, you’ll also love a visit to the University of Bristol Botanic Garden. Inside, you’ll find a huge number of different plants, trees, flowers and shrubs. It’s the perfect way to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.
You might have already found yourself in Brandon Hill Park (where Cabot Tower is) and Conham River Park (where Beese’s Riverside Bar is). If not, then these are lovely places to while away a few hours outside.
Meanwhile, if you love animals, then you have a few options in and around Bristol. There’s St Werburghs City Farm, Windmill City Farm and the Bristol Zoo Project (formerly the Wild Place Project). You might also enjoy a trip to the Bristol Aquarium!
If you enjoy swimming, then the Bristol Lido (formerly Clifton Lido) is the perfect spot for you! Complete with a sauna and steam room, you’ll love a splash about here.
Finally, it wouldn’t be a blog post about Bristol without mentioning hot air balloons. If you really want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, then why not take to the skies?!
Shop ’til you drop in and around the city
If you want to shop for gifts or souvenirs while you’re in Bristol, then you have lots of options. Better still, you have lots of independent and local businesses to choose from.
Boasting one of the longest roads of independent shops, you can spend hours mooching along Gloucester Road.
From quirky clothing and used books to unique gifts and amazing patisseries, there’s so much amazing shopping on offer along this stretch of road. Don’t say we didn’t warn you and your credit card, though!
The St Nicholas Indoor Market is also worth a visit. It’s open every Monday to Saturday (9.30am – 5pm) and holds Bristol’s largest gathering of independent retailers. You’ll find so much in here, from clothes and homewares to jewellery, Bristol-inspired gifts and more.
You’ll probably also want to explore Clifton Village at some point. Clifton Village is a superb place for shopping, particularly if you love independent boutiques and a bit of luxury.
Finally, if you’re looking for chain stores, then check out Cabot Circus, The Galleries and Broadmead, which have your usual favourites. The Mall at Cribbs Causeway is also popular.
As for designer stores, Quakers Friars near Cabot Circus is home to many of Bristol’s high-end boutiques (mostly fashion houses) such as Harvey Nichols, Ted Baker, BOSS and Hobbs.
If you can afford to shop here, then you’ll be spoilt for choice. Otherwise, it’s also fun to window shop here. The displays at Harvey Nichols are magical year-round as you might expect.
Enjoy an epic night out
If you’ll be exploring Bristol at night, then you have lots of choices for what to do.
While we’ve already shared our favourite cider bars in the foodie section earlier, you might also enjoy a visit to The Llandoger Trow on King Street.
Dating back to 1664, this is one of the oldest pubs in Bristol and is said to have inspired Robert Louis Stevenson and his book, Treasure Island.
Then there’s The Full Moon in St Paul’s, which has its own shisha bar. As The Full Moon is also a backpacker’s hostel, you’re sure to meet some really interesting people here.
Did you know Bristol is also home to a speakeasy? Although The Milk Thistle is no longer a secret, it’s still a cool place to go. Relax in the leather armchairs, drink cocktails and enjoy chatting with your partner while surrounded by super lush decor.
Or maybe you’d prefer a night at the theatre or a comedy club instead?
The Hippodrome is Bristol’s largest and most well-known theatre. Although it’s not quite as iconic as London’s West End, it does offer many of the most popular shows when the performers go on tour around the UK.
It also plays host to comedians and other performers although you’ll need to book most tickets about 3-4 months in advance to get the best seats. We recently saw Michael McIntyre here who was excellent!
The Bristol Beacon (formerly Colston Hall) is just around the corner from the Hippodrome and also has great shows. I once sat in the front row of a Marcus Brigstocke show here!
Speaking of comedians, head to the Rip Roar Comedy Club near the harbourside for a few laughs. It’s a small club, but the seating areas are quite private, so you’ll enjoy just chilling out and watching some live comedy. Just watch out for the comedians picking on you!
Visit Bristol during one an iconic event or festival
Finally, Bristol is also home to many iconic events and festivals, which simply must make their way onto your Bristol bucket list.
Held at the start of every August on the grounds of Ashton Court Estate, the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta is Europe’s largest meeting of hot air balloons, seeing over 130 balloons take to the skies every year. This Bristol festival is about as iconic as it gets – and it’s free to attend!
Also, in July each year, Bristol’s Harbour Festival is another fun (and free) event. This time, in celebration of Bristol’s thriving harbour, port and maritime history.
During the festival, various events and demonstrations happen, such as lifesaving swimming dogs, flyboarding and an annual cardboard box boat race. It’s great fun (especially if the sun is shining!)
Speaking of celebrations, St Paul’s Carnival is a celebration of everything Afro-Caribbean related, including food, music and the carnival atmosphere. You can look forward to this event every other summer.
If you’ll be in Bristol for the festive period, then you can also look forward to Bristol’s German Christmas Market. Full of glitzy Christmas decorations, original handmade crafts, tasty street food and all manner of gifts, you’ll love getting into the festive spirit here!
Also, 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 and decrepit bank vaults to historic museums and sacred churches, this is your one chance every year to see something in Bristol that you wouldn’t ordinarily see.
Other fabulous Bristol festivals and events to look out for include Love Saves The Day, Bristol Pride and DogFest.
Discover More Top Things To Do in Bristol
Phew! That was a long list; I’m genuinely surprised we had so much to say about Bristol. I guess that’s what comes from living here for close to a decade, eh?
That said, if you’re after even more top things to do in Bristol, then you might enjoy our other Bristol travel blogs, such as:
- Epic Bristol Itinerary: How to Spend One Day in Bristol
- 30 Free Things To Do in Bristol (Written By A Local!)
- 16 Epic Date Ideas & Romantic Things To Do in Bristol
- Where to See the Best Views in Bristol
- 23 of the Very Best Day Trips From Bristol
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