Bristol in the 21st century is one of the UK’s most beloved cities. It stands shoulder-to-shoulder with London, Edinburgh, Bath, and Brighton as being one of the great arts and culture cities of Britain. It was also our home for a year; we miss it every day. If you get a chance to live in the UK, Bristol is one of the best cities, and if you’re just visiting the UK, Bristol is an unmissable stop.
Allow us to be your Bristol tourist information site and provide you here with an overview Bristol travel guide. We’ll discuss cheap hotels in Bristol (that are still full of character and quality), as well as how to get to and from Bristol (to the airport and to neighbouring Bath) what each of the best neighbourhoods in Bristol has to offer when you stay in England’s most dynamic city!
Let’s start with Bristol’s most fancy neighbourhood. Clifton is a gorgeous little neighbourhood which quite literally overlooks the rest of the city. It’s home to the legendary Clifton Suspension Bridge: an incredible feat of engineering designed by one of Britain’s most famous genius engineers (and owner of Britain’s best name): Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Clifton is all about its stunning Georgian townhouses that give the neighbourhood an orderly, romantic Victorian kind of atmosphere. It’s also full of high-end restaurants and delightful cafes.
Fun fact: Clifton is also home to historian and presented, Jonathan Dimbleby. When we first moved to Bristol, so did he, and Jess got a job archiving his massive collection of history books.
Things to Do in Clifton
Visit Bristol Zoo Gardens
This is a fantastic day out, especially for couples and families. Bristol Zoo Gardens is a wholesome and happy zoo with animals from across the world that are so wonderfully well looked after, as evidenced by their behaviour. At Bristol Zoo Gardens you’ll find red pandas, African penguins, gorillas, an aquarium full of exotic fish, and far more besides! The penguins were a real highlight for us, as was the massive animatronic t-rex statue. If you book online, tickets to Bristol Zoo Gardens cost £17 for adults and £11 for children.
Located on Clifton Down, Clifton Observatory was originally built as a windmill far back in 1766. Since 1828 it has existed as an observatory, and now you can visit to explore its in-house museum as well as get astonishing views of the city and surrounding countryside, including the Clifton Suspension Bridge and the valley below. Inside the observatory is a camera obscura you can use to see Bristol in a strange and wonderful new way.
A Night at the Theatre
Clifton has two small local theatres: Redgrave Theatre, which puts on performances by students from the Old Vic Theatre School, and The Alma Tavern & Theatre which, as its name suggests, is a pub with an upstairs theatre space that hosts small plays, magic shows, stand-up comedy and more!
Where to Stay in Clifton
Victoria Square Hotel
In true Clifton fashion, this is less a modern hotel and more a traditional English hotel. A pretty Georgian house with a traditional exterior and a modern interior. Found at the heart of Clifton Village (where all the cafes and pubs can be found), Victoria Square Hotel is fantastic value for money. Stylish, classy, with good food, and yet one of the best cheap hotels in Bristol, especially given the up-market area of Clifton. In fact, this hotel has a very B&B vibe; if you’re looking for a bed and breakfast in Bristol, consider this hotel!
The Regency Bristol Hotel
Perhaps not one of the very cheap hotels in Bristol, but not one to break the bank either. The Regency Bristol Hotel is a Grade II listed building and a stunning place of chandeliers, winding stairs, and an outdoor terrace to enjoy in the summertime. There’s even a shisha bar, if that’s your kind of thing! This hotel is one of the best choices of accommodation in Bristol.
Bedminster & Southville
South of Bristol city centre are the twin neighbourhoods of Bedminster and Southville. Running like a spine down the two, separating them into hemispheres, is North Street, a suburban road with enough going on to keep you happy for days. Bedminster is also our old haunt, where we lived for a year in 2016-17. The cafes, pubs, shops, and restaurants in these twin districts made us feel more at home than anywhere else we’ve ever lived – London, Shanghai, Tokyo, you name it. Bedminster was our friendliest home, and that says a lot. This part of Bristol is very hipster. Every shop and café is private, artisan, chic, artsy, and delightful. The people are kind and happy, and every street is brightened by incredible street art (including, at time of writing, the world-famous mural of Greta Thunberg!)
Things to Do in Bedminster & Southville
Browse Storysmith Bookshop
While we lived in Bedminster, the one thing the neighbourhood was missing was an indie bookshop. Lo and behold, after we wander off one appears! I’ve always heard that bookshops are like buses. Our bitterness aside, Storysmith is a delightful bookshop that deserves all your love and support. You can drink coffee, enjoy author events (check their website calendar), and browse their fine selection of books new and old!
Enjoy Bristol’s Best Coffee at Tincan
Tincan Coffee Co. is one of the most delightful hipster coffee shops you’ll ever visit. It’s a great little place on North Street and easily our favourite Bristol café. Although they don’t serve full meals, their selection of homemade cakes is fantastic (try the carrot cake – it convinced me that carrot cake is, in fact not only not disgusting but actually divine). Their coffee really is the best in Bristol; trust us!
Visit Friendly Records
This lovely record store has been at the very top of North Street for only a few years, but it’s the total epitome of vinyl revival. Since Bristol is chock full of vinyl-collecting hipsters, where better to open up one of the finest indie record stores in England! In fact, Friendly Records has done so well for itself that it has recently opened a bar next door! That means a full day and night is now covered for your stay at Bedminster and Southville! Speaking of…
Read More: The UK’s Best Literary Cities.
Where to Stay in Bedminster and Southville
If you’re looking for ‘Hotel Bristol’, you won’t find it in Bedminster. It’s not really a hotel district. But if you’re with some friends and want a big, beautiful apartment space to share for a few days, this is exactly what you’re looking for. And, as the name suggests, it’s a converted church! A hyper-modern shared space with a big TV, a comfy sofa, and heaps of room for a family or some friends to stay in. This place is awesome.
Remi Martin Apartments
Another alternative to Hotel Bristol, and another spacious apartment ideal for a family or a group of friends. These apartments are found on North Street, the exact street where all the good stuff can be found, including the aforementioned Tincan, Friendly Records, and Storysmith. Also found on North Street are some fantastic restaurants like The Lounge, The Burger Joint, and Souk Kitchen.
Central Bristol is, of course, the heart of it all. It’s where all the shopping, best Bristol restaurants, coffee shops, and pubs can be found. But central Bristol also branches out into some really fun places that are worth talking about but are still within walking distance. So, we’ll talk about them in a second. As for the very centre of the centre, you’ll find there two shopping precincts: The Galleries and Cabot Circus. The Galleries is easy to overlook apart from the fact that it houses our favourite Waterstones in all of England (it has a café overlooking all the books). And Cabot Circus is an awesome shopping area that’s indoors as well as outdoors (Schrodinger’s Shopping Centre, if you will). It’s also where you’ll find the main cinema in Bristol.
Things to do in Central Bristol
All the Bookshops
In Bristol city centre you’ll find four awesome bookshops. The first is a Waterstones which, yes, is part of the country’s biggest chain (and they don’t pay their staff enough). But, like I’ve said, this is the best Waterstones in the country. It’s bright and happy and spacious. It has a great café with excellent coffee and cakes. The best thing to do is buy a book (or select a few to browse and mull over), then take a seat with a coffee and a cake and spend a rainy afternoon in the most wonderful atmosphere. I remember running in a few years back, picking up Max Porter’s Grief is the Thing with Feathers, and finishing it in one breathless session at the Waterstones café. Ah, memories.
Just south of the centre, next to St. Nick’s Market and an awesome Vietnamese restaurant (Pho) is Stanfords, a bookshop that specialises in literature from around the world and travel writing/guidebooks. This shop’s very existence inspired the launching of Books and Bao, so we owe a lot to it. The original Stanfords is also in London if you happen to be in the neighbourhood.
Speaking of London, there’s also a branch of Foyles in Cabot Circus. Foyles is awesome and its staff are the most passionate readers. Finally, there’s Excelsior, an indie comic book shop near the Bear Pit north of the centre – named for Stan Lee’s iconic phrase. The guys in Excelsior are amazing. I often spent hours there after work (back when I was a teacher) just chatting comics and picking up a few paperbacks. Make sure to visit when you’re in Bristol.
Read More: The Best Indie Bookshops in London
Take a Wander up Park Street
Walk from Bristol city centre to Bristol Hippodrome (a fantastic local theatre). Follow the road around to College Green, Bristol Cathedral, and the statue of Queen Victoria. Then you’ll see a hill leading up to Bristol Museum & Art Gallery. That hill is Park Street, home to even more bookshops!
At the very top you’ll see Will’s Memorial Building Tower, a neo-gothic tower that’s part of the University of Bristol. Check what’s on at the museum and gallery before you go; they have some incredible exhibitions and events so keep a close eye on their website!
All the Bars and Clubs of Harbourside
Along and nearby Bristol Harbourside, and surrounding the beautiful Queen Square, are a bunch of fantastic pubs and clubs. Thekla being the best and most famous of them. Thekla is a moored boat with a piece of Banksy art on its hull. It has two floors and is the biggest and best club in Bristol. If you’d rather a chill pub experience, there’s The Crown near St. Nick’s Market; they have awesome burgers. Turtle Bay does two-for-one on cocktails. And The Old Duke is a legendary jazz bar that has live bands on almost constantly!
Where to Stay in Central Bristol
Mercure Bristol Grand Hotel
Back in Bedminster we mentioned how there’s no ‘Hotel Bristol’ to be found there. But if there is a Hotel Bristol, well, Mercure Bristol Grand Hotel is that Hotel Bristol. It’s a gorgeous four-star Grade II listed building with huge, spacious rooms. The beds are big and soft and gorgeous. And the paintwork and colours are everything you want from a relaxing hotel room.
As for the facilities, this Bristol accommodation offers a great gym and a stunning pool. This is the best hotel in Bristol. The bar is luxuriously decorated, and everything is of the highest standard. Also, the prices! When you’re looking for cheap hotels in Bristol, this amazing four star is actually surprisingly reasonable.
Ibis Bristol Centre
This Bristol harbourside hotel is in a fantastic location. As we said, Bristol harbourside is where all the best bars and clubs are, so having your hotel within walking distance is more than ideal. And what a delightful hotel it is. As cheap hotels in Bristol go, it’s not the cheapest. But for a couple or for two friends it could be considered one of the cheap hotels in Bristol (there certainly are more expensive hotels in Bristol, after all). And besides, this Bristol accommodation is one of the finest., with delightful décor and a fantastic restaurant.
How to Get to and From Bristol
Train from Bristol to Bath
Taking a day trip to Bath from Bristol is a fantastic idea when you visit Bristol. It’s easy to get to and the train from Bristol to Bath takes literally minutes. Just get yourself to Bristol Temple Meads Station and you’ll find that the train from Bristol to Bath leaves almost constantly, given how many trains from Bristol pass through Bath. The train from Bristol to Bath also costs just a few pounds so there’s no reason not to. Bath is also one of our great literary cities!
Bus to Bristol Airport
Getting the train to Bristol Airport can’t be done. There basically is no train to Bristol Airport. Instead, you have to hop on the Bristol Airport bus, which is called the A1 Airport Flyer. The bus to Bristol Airport leaves from various spots around Bristol, including Temple Meads Station and Wapping Wharf. It’s a shame there’s no train to Bristol airport but the Bristol airport bus is a simple, cheap and quick journey, so taking the bus to Bristol airport is no stress at all.
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Will predominantly writes about the books of Books and Bao, examining the literature of a place and how the authors have used the art of storytelling to reflect the world and the culture around them.