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The Absolute Best Things to Do in Bristol 2023

The best things to do in Bristol:

1. Explore Bristol Harbourside

Bristol Harbourside is a cultural hub based around the old City Docks, which was once a significant port for merchants and slave traders.

Today, rows of brightly coloured houses sit on the cliffs above the water, and the 19th century warehouses house art galleries, restaurants and cultural institutions.

A city harbour with boats, tram lines, old warehouse sheds and people walking next to the water.
Bristol Harbourside

Start your exploration of Harbourside at Prince Street Bridge and head towards Wapping Wharf and Spike Island before reaching the old historic boat yards near The Cottage Landing.

Next, cross the Junction Swing Bridge and walk back towards the city centre on the other side of the river (maybe rewarding yourself with a drink at one of the bustling riverside bars near Millennium Square).

If you don’t fancy the walk, you can also explore the Harbourside by ferry.

Hopping on at one of the many small terminals along the river, you can cruise all the way to Temple Meads with Bristol Ferry Boats.

The best things to do on Bristol Harbourside include visiting Cargo (Wapping Wharf Containers) for brilliant food, as well as the 19th century steamship Brunel’s SS Great Britain, which is highly rated on Tripadvisor.

History enthusiasts may enjoy a ride on the old steam locomotive at Bristol Harbour Railway (which is also a great thing to do with kids), or the Revitalized Victorian harbour at Underfall Yard.

2. Discover Bristol’s Thriving Art Scene

A man walking past a diner with a huge street art mural above it saying 'welcome to Bristol'.
An example of some of the epic street art in Bristol

From original Banksy pieces to Italian Renaissance painting, the city’s impressive art scene brings tourists from all over the country.

As the birthplace of Banksy, there are several of his works in the city including the famous ‘Well-Hung Lover’ which can be viewed from Park Street and ‘Girl with a Pierced Eardrum’ on Hanover Place.

Nelson St and Leonard Lane are known as Bristol’s graffiti streets, whilst the Stokes Croft neighbourhood is filled with cool street art and home to the city’s counterculture movement.

If you don’t fancy hunting down street art yourself, you can join the popular Bristol Street Art Walking Tour instead.

Those who appreciate modern art will also enjoy the contemporary exhibitions at Spike Island.

Classical art aficionados will enjoy a trip to Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, whose permanent collections include realism pieces by Courbet and Boudin, as well as early Dutch landscape paintings and medieval Chinese dynasty ceramics.

3. Check Out Clifton Suspension Bridge

Clifton Suspension Bridge was built above the Avon Gorge in the 1860’s and it’s been an iconic part of Bristol’s landscape ever since.

You can walk over the bridge if you want, but I personally think it’s better to see it in all its glory from Clifton Downs, which is a park on the cliffs above the River Avon.

A suspension bridge over a gorge with a low tide river and a road beneath it.
The Clifton Suspension Bridge at Sunset

From here, you can take epic photos of the suspension bridge, climb the Clifton Observatory (18th century windmill) or venture down tunnels to the infamous Giant’s Cave.

Whilst in the area, you should definitely check out the cool things to do in Clifton Village.

Definitely take a wander down the pedestrianised Boyce’s Avenue and Princess Victoria Street, whilst the quirky jewellery shops and plant emporiums of Clifton Arcade are also worth a visit.

In summer, a trip to the historic Bristol Lido is the perfect way to cool off in a restored Victorian swimming pool.

Clifton is famous for its Georgian terraces and crescents, with Royal York Crescent offering some serious crib-envy.

4. Eat at Bristol’s Best Restaurants

Bristol is well known for its innovative food scene, with a huge variety of restaurants to try.

There are two Michelin Star restaurants in town, Bulrush (modern British fine dining) and Paco Tapas.

Bristol is also renowned for world class Indian restaurants – the best ones are Pipal Tree and Coronation Curry House

Baba Ganoush Kitchen does amazing Jerusalem Falafel (great for vegans), whilst meat lovers will be in heaven at Pasture Steak House.

The best restaurant on Bristol Harbourside is The Chefs Table (with views towards Clifton Suspension Bridge).

A hand putting micro herbs onto a white plate of food (scallops and tortellini).
Refined Modern British dishes via The Chefs Table

For the best Italian food in Bristol, you can’t miss La Panza and Taste of Napoli for unreal pizza slices.

5. Peruse Vintage Shops and Independent Markets

One of the best things to do in Bristol city centre is explore the brilliant vintage shops and independent markets selling unique goods.

Park St in West End and the hip Gloucester Road are the best areas for vintage shopping, with a high concentration of second hand boutiques and record stores.

A trip to St Nicholas Markets is another must-do activity in Bristol.

Found in the corn exchange building in Bristol’s ‘old city’, you’ll find fascinating stalls selling everything from local hot sauce to handmade bamboo socks.

St Nicholas Markets in the old city

The back area of St Nicks is a popular street food market – don’t miss La Lola (paella), Eat a Pitta, Low and Slow (BBQ), Eatchu Japanese Dumplings and Portuguese Taste.

The whole market is fully covered, so it’s one of the top things to do in the rain.

Another cool thing to do in Bristol is visit the Christmas Steps Arts Quarter, a historic narrow street likened to ‘Diagon Alley’ with quirky shops and small galleries.

6. Enjoy Bristol’s Nightlife

Bristol has a buzzing night-time economy and there’s really something for everyone.

From comedy at the iconic Smoke & Mirrors, to live music at Bristol Beacon, you’re guaranteed a good night out in the city.

A trip down King St is one of the best things to do in Bristol at night, where 17th century buildings house both traditional ale houses and modern micro-breweries.

The pedestrianised street is especially buzzing in the summer, when the street is transformed into a huge beer garden with live music and cold drinks.

A pedestrianised cobbled street filled with people sitting on benches drinking and chatting.
The beer gardens on King St in Bristol City Centre

Those interested in pirates will love checking out Bristol’s Pirate Pubs.

Old pubs like The Hatchet Inn and Llandoger Trow were frequented by the infamous Bristol-born pirate Blackbeard.

The city also has a great beer scene.

Don’t miss the riverside microbrewery Left Handed Giant, as well as New Bristol Brewery, Good Chemistry Brewing and Basement Beer Ltd.

For the best cocktails in Bristol, try The Cock & Tail and Hyde & Co.

Those who prefer a quieter night out will enjoy a trip to The Watershed, an arthouse cinema showing independent films in an old warehouse on Harbourside (this is also a great thing to do in Bristol on a rainy day).

7. Learn About Bristol’s Role in the Slave Trade

The Transatlantic Slave Trade is a dark yet significant part of Bristol’s history, and there are many ways you can learn about it during your trip.

A visit to the M Shed on Wapping Wharf is not to be missed, offering an exhibit on the city’s role in the slave trade (entry is free but you need to book a slot).

The controversial Edward Colston statue is soon to be reinstated permanently at the M Shed too.

A group of people toppling a black statue into a river using ropes.
The toppling of the Edward Colston Statue in Bristol via Minority Rights Group on Instagram

The Georgian House Museum is the preserved home of a local sugar plantation owner from the 1790s.

It creates a harrowing juxtaposition between the luxury life of slave traders and the heartbreaking realities of those forced into slavery in the Americas.

Even as you wander around the city centre, you’ll see links to the slave trade.

Pero’s Bridge over the floating harbour is named after enslaved African Pero Jones, whilst streets like Colston Street and Farr Lane are named after slave traders.

The Theatre Royal on King Street was built using money from the slave trade, and it’s thought that several of the grand Georgian buildings in Bristol were built with stolen riches.

8. Try Bristol-Roasted Coffee

A solid caffeine fix is an essential part of any city break itinerary, and luckily Bristol has some unbelievable coffee spots.

Small St Espresso is the best coffee spot in Bristol, closely followed by Full Court Press, Baristas Coffee Collective and Small Goods in Temple Meads.

All of these coffee shops brew up with locally roasted beans, the most popular roastery being Clifton Coffee Roasters.

Coffee enthusiasts may wish to buy some beans from them, or from other great local roasteries like Triple Co Roast and Wogan Coffee.

9. SUP on Bristol Harbour

Ever fancied trying stand up paddleboarding? A cool place to do it is on the historic waterways of Harbourside.

A harbour with an old wooden pirate ship, life boats and small rowing boats, with boat yards and a mill in the background.
The location for SUP on Bristol Harbour

Running in the spring and summer only, SUP Bristol will teach you the basics of paddleboarding whilst you enjoy the sites of the floating harbour.

10. Visit Bristol Cathedral

Bristol Cathedral is one of England’s great medieval churches, which dates back to the 12th century.

Colourful sring flowers in front of a gothic cathedral
Bristol Cathedral Gardens

Open every day of the year, tourists can visit the cathedral to admire the medieval tombs and statues, or to attend a daily service.

Others may prefer to admire the cathedral’s Norman/ Gothic architecture from the outside in the Cathedral Gardens, which is a beautiful spot for a picnic in the warmer months.

11. Go Surfing at The Wave

The Wave Bristol is the only in-land surfing destination in England.

A boy with a yellow helmet surfing a wave at an artificial wave park.
Inland surfing at The Wave Bristol

If you want a unique thing to do in Bristol, then this is it.

From beginner’s lessons to advanced waves, this family-friendly Bristol activity is perfect for adrenaline seekers.

Found just outside the city in Easter Compton, you will need a car or a bike to reach the Somerset countryside location.

12. Stay in One of Bristol’s Colourful Homes

Bristol is famous for its colourful Georgian terraces that line the Harbourside area.

The view of colourful georgian terraced houses across a body of water with a colourful boat in the foreground.
The colourful Georgian terraces in Redcliffe, Bristol

And you can now stay in one of these beautiful apartments for yourself in Redcliffe, the well-known dockside area right on the water.

This stunning holiday apartment sleeps four and offers brilliant views out of the large windows towards Bristol’s floating harbour – the perfect spot for your morning coffee.

13. Cycle or Walk the Bristol to Bath Railway Path

The Bristol to Bath Railway Path is a popular route connecting these two cities in the South West of England.

People in high vis jackets sitting in a grassy field in front of an old railway wall with bikes leaning against trees.
The Bristol to Bath Railway Path

The traffic-free route along the disused railway line is 13.9 miles long, so you can either cycle one way and get the train back or do the return trip if you’re feeling adventurous.

Walkers may want to do a shorter section of the path and turn around after a spot of coffee and lunch at the heritage Warmley Waiting Room.

The Bristol to Bath Railway Path is also accessible for wheelchair users.

14. Hike to Cabot Tower and Brandon Hill

One of the best things to do just outside Bristol city centre is visit Cabot Tower.

The Grade II listed building was constructed in the 1890’s on Brandon Hill, the oldest park in Bristol.

When the tower is open it’s free to climb, and you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of Bristol city from the top.

I hope you enjoyed my guide to the best things to do in Bristol. Don’t miss my guide to The Best Farm Breweries and Distilleries You Need to Visit in the UK.