The south of England has so many gems to explore! From Roman cities like Bath, the rolling hills of the Cotswolds and, of course, the pretty vibrant and lovely city of Bristol. Perched just shy of the Severn Estuary (about 25-minutes west of Bath) there’s a heap of epic and best things to do in Bristol for a little visit. In fact, you’ll be spoilt for choice!
You see, Bristol is a great place to position yourself for a little city break but also to discover the areas around Cheddar Gorge and wider Somerset (which makes for a great trip).
Over the years, we’ve visited Bristol countless times and loved every second of it; especially for all the foodie spots, museums and Banksy art that surrounds the city. You see, Bristol has some pretty distinct neighbourhoods and areas to explore giving it the vibe or a much larger city.
So, to help you navigate which spots to see and which to avoid, I’m sharing some of our best things to do in Bristol when you visit.
Have the best time exploring Bristol!
1.) St Nicks Market
St Nicks (or St Nicholas) Market runs off High Street and is really easy to visit when you’re in the centre of Bristol. Not only that, it’s one of the best things to do in Bristol if you’re fancying some street food or quirky stalls that line the market area and Exchange Hall itself.
It packs a mighty punch with the diversity of little places to visit. For vintage books, head to Beware of the Leopard Books and stop by Jewellery Lane for some trinkets.
If hunger strikes, pop into Chilli Daddy for their fiery hotpots or Eatchu for their Japanese street food like gyozas. Yum!
2.) See the works of Banksy
Probably one of Bristol’s most famous artists, Banksy has left quite a few pieces of his art around the city to see.
If you ventured inside M Shed, it’s likely you’ll have glimpsed the Grim Reaper that was once on the side of a boat in Bristol Harbour?
Though don’t fret if you missed it, there’s quite a few more that are dotted all across Bristol.
Just shy of SS Great Britain is “The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum” (See the Google Maps location here). It’s a take on Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring” though, missing a pearl and gaining a security alarm in its place.
Beyond the Harbour area of Bristol, you can spot the “Well Hung Lover” on Frogmore Street. Here, you’ll see a cheating couple hiding from a rather angry partner! Interestingly, this is the very first legal street art in all of England. You can find its location (on Google Maps), here.
Seeing Banksy’s art is easily one of the best things to do in Bristol, it’s always so much fun to find and kinda feels like treasure hunting across the city. Just keep your eyes peeled for new and upcoming art that Banksy continues to exhibit across Bristol.
3.) SS Great Britain
Way back in the 1800s, SS Great Britain was the longest passenger ship in the entire world! Of course, this has been taken over by the beasts that sail the seas today; but its importance and historic significance is epic to see.
Nestled on Spike Island (about 20-minute stroll from M Shed), it’s a great place to learn more about its heritage, the dockyard itself and Brunel himself. You can easily spend two-hours wandering the exhibitions and ship itself, making it a perfect stopping point for an afternoon visit.
Once onboard, be sure to check out the gorgeous Dining Saloon and the Promenade Deck, too. It’s pretty epic to see.
4.) M Shed & Harbourfront
One of my favourite museums in Bristol, M Shed is based in the harbourfront area of the city, a short stroll from Prince Street Bridge.
Whenever we go to Bristol, I’ve always got to visit this area of the city, which is totally gorgeous on a sunny Bristolian afternoon. After popping inside, be sure to explore the Bristol People Gallery that focuses on discoveries made in Bristol and subsequent sombrer times gone by; like the city’s role in the Transatlantic slave trade.
Afterwards, take a wander around Whapping Wharf and stop by some of the independent cafes, bars and little shops here. We love the Wild Beer for an afternoon tipple of local ale. These guys know their stuff!
If you’re feeling peckish, grab a bag of freshly cooked fish and chips from the Salt & Malt (a few metres away). Served up with mushy peas and lashings of salt and vinegar!
Fancy swapping walking for some wheels? Head over to Bristol Tandem Hire (2-minutes away from M Shed) and hire a tandem bicycle to explore the docks and wider Bristol itself. It’s so much fun!
Oh, and be sure to head inside Spike Island Galleries and artistic workspaces. There’s always some sort of cool and exciting exhibition going on.
5.) Clifton Suspension Bridge
Seeing the Clifton Suspension Bridge is one of the best things to do in Bristol that’s totally iconic and can’t be missed in Bristol. You see, it’s another engineering feat of Brunel and stands proudly over the River Avon.
Now, it might feel like a bit of a stroll from Queen Square (about 40-minutes) but it’s well worth it for the views and to learn more about the history in the visitor centre.
Afterwards, take a wander towards the Clifton Observatory and take in the views from St Vincent’s Rocks. It’s one of our fav photo spots for the bridge.
For an evening dinner, book a table at Pasture for one of Bristol’s best steaks. Their Châteaubriand is everything!
6.) Cabot Tower
Standing proudly within Brandon Hill, the Cabot Tower was constructed in the 19th Century to celebrate John Cabot’s journey from Bristol to North America 400 years earlier.
Take a wander around Bristol’s oldest park and head to the top of Cabot Tower for some lovely views. Best of all, it’s totally free to climb.
Plus, it’s quite easy to partner a visit to the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery that’s a stone’s throw away.
7.) Galleries & Museums
For me, one of the best things to do in Bristol is to explore its museums. As I mentioned, M Shed is a spot you can’t miss but there are a few other gems that are dotted across the city, too.
If you’re around Bristol University or Berkeley Square be sure to pop into the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery. Housed inside is thousands of years of history; from mummies to dinosaurs!
One of the more overlooked treasures of Bristol, Red Lodge Museum (on Park Row) is a well worth taking stroll inside. Here, you’ll get to wander the Great Oak Room with its gorgeous panelled walls and see centuries of history and art that adorn the walls. In fact, it feels like you’ve gone back to the 16th Century.
Afterwards, take a wander down Park Street and visit the Vintage Thrift Store and Uncle Sam’s. Though, don’t expect huge bargains; it’s a fashion-forward spot and prices are a little steeper than traditional thrift stores.
Oh, and grab a doughnut and some baked goodies or brunch from Pinkmans that conjure up a mouth-watering custard dipped brioche dream.
8.) Bristol Cathedral
England’s only hall church Cathedral is based right in Bristol, making it hard to miss when exploring the city for the first time. Nestled on the banks of College Green, Bristol Cathedral has been around for hundreds of years.
Once inside, be sure to explore the gorgeous east end of the cathedral itself; it’s stunning; especially the vaulted nave.
Also, Chapter House, which is said to be one of the finest Norman rooms in the world that dates back to the 1100s.
9.) Gloucester Road & Stokes Croft
Stokes Croft kinda reminds me of Camden Town in London! It’s totally diverse, pretty artistic and has a really distinct feel from the rest of Bristol.
With a more “edgy” vibe, it’s the kind of place that’s filled with bohemian retailers and indie shops; especially around Gloucester Road. You see, it’s often said to be Europe’s longest street that focuses on independent businesses that thrive in the area.
Stokes Croft feels like one big open-air art gallery, filled with street art as far as you can see! As I said, it’s a great place to peruse the shops but it’s also got a heap of bars and eateries that are great for an evening out.
Be sure to stop off at Pieminister for some of the tastiest pies in the south of England. No joke, they’re delicious! Also, for some tasty Sri Lankan hoppers, head over to The Coconut Tree (on Gloucester Road). Ask for extra chilly for a kick.
10.) Bristol International Balloon Fiesta
Taking place in August, experiencing the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta is amazing and can’t be missed. In fact, I’d go as far as saying to arrange your trip around the dates if you’re already visiting in warmer summer months.
Completely free to attend (unless you want to secure parking), it’s easily one of the best things to do in Bristol that’s so unique.
With hundreds of balloons taking to the skies, nightglow events, fireworks and a carnival atmosphere, you can literally spend days soaking in the fiesta.
It’s totally special.