Weekend Break: Things To Do In Bristol

By Maire Rose Connor Last edited 9 months ago

Last Updated 10 October 2023

Weekend Break: Things To Do In Bristol
Photo by John McMahon on Unsplash

It's the birthplace of trip-hop, Banksy's hometown, and the backdrop of every millennial's favourite edgy teen drama (Skins, duh). Bristol's bohemian brand of cool is still going strong.

But it's not just the vibey riverside eateries, top-tier grassroots music venues, and huge swathes of socially-conscious graffiti that make the city so special. With its handsome Georgian architecture, multiple museums, and close proximity to the River Avon — not to mention the remarkable beauty of the surrounding countryside — Bristol is a real crowd-pleaser. Here's how to make the most of your weekend in Bristol. Or 'Brizzle', as it's sometimes called locally.

Getting to Bristol

A green GWR station beneath the sweeping canopy of the station
From one beautiful station to another - Paddington to Temple Meads. Image: Londonist

By far the quickest way to get to Bristol from London is on a direct train from Paddington to Bristol Temple Meads. At 1 ½ hours, it takes half the time as driving, though tickets can be expensive. Travelling down on Friday? Go for 7pm or later to avoid peak pricing.

Alternatively, there's the ultra-thrifty Megabus or National Express, which takes 3 ½ hours on average and can cost just a few quid.

Bristol need to know

Getting around Bristol: If you can handle a hill, Bristol is remarkably walkable. Most need-to-visit areas — Harbourside, Clifton, Stokes Croft, Bedminster, Montpelier — are accessible on foot, though local buses are pretty reliable. There are also several train stations for intra-city travel.

Accommodation: The new Artist Residence hotel — a converted boot factory in St Paul's, featuring limited edition prints and reclaimed furniture — is a lovely-looking boutique offering for creative types (though, fair warning, prices aren't exactly starving-artist-friendly). For spectacular vistas, it's got to be Avon Gorge Hotel, which overlooks Clifton Suspension Bridge. On a budget? Try Brooks Guesthouse, an indie B&B with rooftop 'Rocket' caravans available.

Banksy's The Mild Mild West mural in Stokes Croft. Image via Wikimedia Commons

Activism: Bristol hit the headlines in 2020 after its statue of Edward Colston — the 17th-century merchant, MP and slave trader who supported and endowed many public institutions in the city — was toppled during a Black Lives Matter protest. In fact, the city has a long tradition of grassroots activism and radical politics — from the 1831 reform riots to the Bristol Bus Boycott of 1963.

Street art: The city's radical spirit is often reflected in its street art. And there's a lot of it. One of Bristol's most famous exports is Banksy, and you'll find many of his works in the city, including The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum, Well-Hung Lover, and The Mild, Mild West.

Day One

Museums and galleries in Bristol

Industrial cranes by the dicks
M Shed is where to explore the city's history. Image: Londonist

If you want to find out more about both Bristolian history and contemporary life in the city, you need to visit M Shed. Highlights at this fantastic free-entry museum include the electric cranes and steam train, and the toppled statue of Colston.

Meanwhile, Bristol Museum and Art Gallery boasts Egyptian mummies, some of the best-preserved dinosaurs to be found in the UK, a Banksy and loads of other art stretching from all over the world. It's also free to visit.

For lovers of the contemporary arts, there's the Arnolfini, which hosts exhibitions creative workshops, film screenings, and more.

Shopping in Bristol

Image: Londonist

Visit Bristol on the last weekend of the month to take advantage of The M32 Flea Market — a buzzy bargain-hunter's paradise that pops up on selected Saturdays on a motorway underpass. Here you'll find rack after rack of second-hand treasures (think suede jackets and Adidas trainers for less than a tenner a pop), antique homeware, and handmade products that range from the sublime (we spotted some lovely geometric jewellery) to the bizarre (succulent in a toddler's shoe, anyone?)

For artisanal goods, there's also Cargo — Bristol's answer to Boxpark — and the bijou boutiques of Clifton Village. St Nicholas Market, housed in The Corn Exchange, is worth a look for the neo-Palladian architecture alone. Bibliophiles should make a beeline for The Last Bookshop, where all titles cost just £4 — including glossy coffee table numbers.

Bristol nightlife

It wouldn't be right to kick off your night out in the West County with anything other than a nice cider. That makes The Apple — a Dutch barge-turned-cider bar docked near the city centre — a good starting point. Another option is The Coronation Tap, Bristol's oldest ciderhouse, apparently, which sells a potion so potent that it's only available in half-pints. Prefer beer? Left Handed Giant Brewpub occupies a prime spot on the riverbanks near the city centre, dishing up an admirable range of its own beers. The historic Llandoger Trow on cobbled King Street is an atmospheric spot to hole up with a beer — again, it's a decent range (28 kegs, three casks and five ciders!), including some European brews you don't often see in these parts.

People drinking on a terrace of a large brewery warehouse building
What can we say - Bristol does drinking terraces overlooking the water, rather well. Image: Londonist

As things get livelier, head to The Old Market Assembly for live music and DJ sets in a spectacularly ornate building, complete with a domed roof. The event programme at this multi-purpose venue is eclectic, ranging from northern soul club nights to brass-infused hip hop.

Other late-night options include bowling, shuffleboard, arcade games, beer pong and more at Lane7, or dancing the night away at Thekla — a club-slash-live music venue onboard a converted cargo ship with a rich and storied history (trip-hop pioneers Massive Attack and Portishead both performed here during the 90s).

Day Two

Brunch and lunch spots in Bristol

Start Day Two with a stroll around pretty Clifton, home to some of Bristol's comeliest Georgian architecture, followed by breakfast in one of its many independent cafes. We particularly rate Foliage Cafe, a plant-strewn bolthole that turns sourdough toast into an art form (pictured above: avocado, feta, pink pickled onions, pea shoots, and a beautiful beetroot pesto).

Nearby East Village is good for cakes, pastries and fancy flavoured coffees but if you're hankering for a fry-up, we suggest a trip to Montpelier's The Bristolian.

Alternatively, if it's Sunday, you could just skip straight to a roast. The Canteen in Stokes Croft does excellent veggie and vegan ones, and there's live music from 5pm if you fancy sticking around for a local beer or two. The Clifton Sausage also does super roasts (and, of course, sausages).

Brunel-themed fun

People drink on a terrace overlooking the Clifton Suspension Bridge
Drinks on the terrace at the White Lion. Image: Londonist

One of Bristol's most prominent landmarks is Clifton Suspension Bridge, which first opened in 1864. This handsome red sandstone structure straddles the Avon Gorge, linking Clifton in Bristol to Leigh Woods in north Somerset.

It's free to walk across, and some beautiful woodland awaits you on the other side. But if you're low on time or energy, you can instead admire it over a beverage from Hotel du Vin's White Lion pub garden.

Clifton Suspension Bridge was designed by William Henry Barlow and John Hawkshaw, based on original plans by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the esteemed civil engineer who — as London infrastructure nerds will know — also worked on the Thames Tunnel.

But did you know that another of Brunel's triumphs also resides in Bristol? Launched in 1843, the SS Great Britain is known as the world's first great ocean liner. After the ship ceased operations, it was eventually restored and turned into a fascinating museum, docked in Bristol's Great Western Dockyard.

Dinner in Bristol

Foodwise, Bristol punches well above its weight. It's home to a ton of independent restaurants that are small in scale but big in personality, often with a focus on local produce — we are on the doorstep of the southwest, after all.

If you're driving or can nab a cab, The Ethicurean is absolutely worth the 12-mile trip outside the city centre. Set in an idyllic Victorian walled garden, overlooking the undulating Mendip Hills, this is a proper slice of rural bliss. Seasonal vegetables grown onsite take centre stage here (I still yearn for the wild garlic soup I had here circa 2017), though meat does make the odd appearance. These days it's a set menu affair, with a choice of natural wines to wash it all down with.

Back in the hustle and bustle, tapas bar Gambas — which overlooks the harbour — is a must for seafood fans, though the gloriously gooey tortilla with aioli we tried here possibly surpassed the beetroot-cured salmon in the deliciousness stakes, and that's really saying something.

Curry-wise, Urban Tandoor is a locals' fave; carnivores should plump for the tandoori mixed grilled — meat succulent and charred. There's a sister restaurant in Clifton, if you're still out there when your curry craving hits. Book a table: these fill up on the weekend.

On the list for next time

Cary Grant by a bin
Shamefully, the great Cary Grant was fenced off near some bins on our visit. Image: Londonist