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The harbour is the place to relive Bristol’s Maritime past and visit the many interesting old warehouses that are converted into everything from accommodation at the YHA hostel to modern art at the Arnolfini to the family friendly M-shed Museum of Bristol and the hands-on science centre At Bristol in Millennium square. In the harbour area you’ll find the award winning SS Great Britain, a Victorian iron-built, steam-powered passenger ship, now in dry dock at the end of the harbor. If you want to further explore Bristol’s past, continue up the hill on Park Street to find a trio of free museums; The Georgian House, once the home of a 17th century merchant and slave owner, Red Lodge with Tudor paneling and a knot garden and the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery that often hosts great free exhibitions. Further up the hill in Clifton village you can admire the Georgian squares and don’t miss a walk over the Clifton Suspension Bridge that is the landmark icon of Bristol.
For high street shopping from Harvey Nichols to House of Fraser, the recently opened Cabot Circus has a huge range of clothes shopping. Walking up Park street from the harbour area you’ll find plenty more clothing and shoe shops, from those that will suit a student budget, to the upmarket brands such as Jigsaw, Cath Kidson and LK Bennett towards the top. Half way up Park Street, my favourite for unusual gifts is Bristol Guild, an independent store that has an emphasis on arts and crafts. Looking for more of a boutique atmosphere? Then head for Clifton Village where there are many designer shops, my favourites being Maze and it’s more expensive sister 15 for clothing and Pod for anything for the home. For vintage and antiques, look out for the restored Clifton Arcade near the arches.
Bristol is full of great restaurants for a lunchtime bite between sightseeing or an evening splurge. In the harbourside area, my favourites are the upstairs café at the Watershed Film centre where you can get a window seat and watch the boats go by, or for upmarket bistro style try Bordeaux Quay.
Not far away there are plenty of cafes and bars that cater for shoppers and students on Park Street, my favourites being the American Diner style Rocotillos where the milkshakes and cheesy fries to die for. If you have young children, you might like to park your buggy at the café inside the free Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, set in the large foyer with plenty of activities to keep them entertained. Clifton Village is the upmarket neighbourhood to hang out and my favourites for a coffee or a light lunch are Bar Chocolat or the Primrose café where I can never resist the home-made cakes. In the evening you can take your pick, but the local’s choice is the Bristol Lido tucked in a residential street where you can have snacks and tapas downstairs and treat yourself to a special meal upstairs, all overlooking the restored Lido swimming pool and spa.
I’m more of a girl for the cocktails than the pints and my favourite haunts for a drink with friends would be the bar at the Hotel du Vin or the 1st floor cocktail lounge in Goldbrick House halfway up Park Street, or tucked away in the glazed St Nicholas Market try The Rummer. My husband however, loves the sort of tiny traditional pubs that a tourist would never find, such as The Victoria tucked away on Oakfield Place next to The Lido, or the Portcullis on Wellington Terrace in Clifton Village close to the Avon Gorge Hotel. When the weather’s fine in the harbourside, head for the outdoor benches on Welsh Back and take your pick from beer at the Old Duke Jazz Pub or the Llandoger Trow, featured in Treasure Island as well as cider from The Apple on an old barge close by.
For friends visiting Bristol I’d suggest the boutique style Hotel du Vin, set in an old sugar warehouse where I love their classy bar and I also like the look of the recently opened luxury guest house at 38 Clifton. For something more mainstream you can’t beat the location of the Mercure Brigstow, set overlooking the water by Bristol Bridge. If you’re on a budget I might suggest the YHA hostel set on the harbour in a converted grain warehouse. For location, I’d personally try to stay around the harbour area with interesting river views and a central location.
The circular walk around the harbour, crossing on the ferry at the SS Great Britain and returning through Millennium Square is great to feel the atmosphere of Bristol’s past as a bustling port. If you’d like to try a free Bristol audio tour there are several on the Visit Bristol website with themes such as the Quayside Adventure, the Slave Trade Trail and the Brunel mile covering the great Victorian engineer’s most famous creations. For a walk with an urban edge, check out the street art in the Stokes Croft area of the city centre, where you can look around you and up the side streets for some great street art including a famous Banksy mural, and you’ll also find great street art along Nelson Street, where the grey office blocks have been brightened up with murals in a recent Street art project.
If you want a walk with views on the northern edge of Bristol, start at the Blaise Castle Estate and take a look at the picturesque thatched cottages of Blaise Hamlet, walk up to the castle folly at the top of the hill, then along the ridge as far as KingsWeston house where you can get a cup of tea and cake from the café. For green spaces to relax with a picnic, walk up to Brandon Hill Park just off Park street with great views over the harbour or Castle park with pretty formal gardens around the shell of the old church of St Peter’s that was bombed in the war, and a children’s playground tucked away in the trees. From Clifton village, you can walk across the suspension bridge and find yourself at the top of Ashton Court Estate where you can fly a kite, go mountain biking or watch the fallow deer and in August this is where they hold the famous Balloon Fiesta.
If you are classically minded then check out the recently extended Colston Hall where they host a wide range of music styles and often also have free live music in the foyer, or St George’s Brandon Hill where concerts are held in the former church that’s known for it’s wonderful acoustics. Jazz lovers will want to sit outside near the river with a beer and listen to the live music in The Old Duke and also in the harbour area the Thekla is a club on an old boat that’s a favourite for bands touring the UK. Stokes Croft is also a great place for music with the Canteen hosting free live music most nights and to hear up and coming Bristol bands with a cheap bowl of noodles check out Mr Wolf’s.
Being in the West of England, it sometimes feels that Bristol is blessed with more of its share of rainy days, so I’d probably plan to visit from April through to October, avoid the dreary days of winter and pack an umbrella at any time of year.