Bristol City Guide

Bristol is clearly a top destination of interest for those interested in maritime history, but it is perhaps its diversity that keeps it as England’s fourth most visited tourist cities. It’s the biggest city in the South West of England, and for hundreds of years before the industrial revolution it was in line with York and Norwich as England’s most populous cities.

Bristol is a great starting off point to explore the West Country, and those who are planning on heading west would do very well to use Bristol as their base as oppose to, say, Bath. It is relatively cheap, has a vibrant arts and music scene, and has lots of culture and history to explore.

Bristol is a good city to walk and bike about in. Most places of interest in the centre of Bristol are within walking distance, as most will be found within the Old City and Harbourside areas. There are also bus tours that operate in a circular route around the main tourist destinations, and you can buy a one (or three) day pass that allows you to hop on or off at your leisure. Getting out the outer regions of the town is a bit more frustrating as the bus service is a bit unreliable, and the town operates on a large one-way system.

For what to do in Bristol – you are really spoilt for choice. Bristol Zoo Gardens is the 5th oldest zoo in the world and the oldest zoo not in a capital city. The Blue Reef Aquarium is one of the best Aquariums in the country; first offering a unique view into the world of the waters off the British coast, and then offers the ability to see Mediterranean and tropical such as sharks and seahorses.

Brunel is important to Bristol, as evidenced by perhaps its best known landmark, the Clifton Suspension Bridge. This 19th Century bridge is 75m in the air and is free to walk over –well worth a visit. Once you’ve visited this, head to see Brunel’s SS Great Britain, the beautiful and impressive steam-powered passenger liner built in 1943. It now rests near the floating harbour.

Bristol has spent a lot of money on new shopping centres, modern play areas and exhibitions that keep winning awards. To experience a more traditional Bristol head to the Old City (within walking distance of the main shopping district and many of the cheap hotels in Bristol), and take time walking through the cobbled streets. Here you’ll find cheap traditional food, ruins of churches bombed in the Second World War, and it’s also the heart of Bristol theatre land.

The best time to visit Bristol is in the summer, when it is host to a wide number of festivals too many to mention. Bristol Balloon Fiesta is one of the most colourful, with hundreds of hot air balloons filling the skies. The best thing to do is to pick up the local Venue magazine, which lists everything that is happening in the town at the time of your visit. No matter what time of year you do come, Bristol will certainly not disappoint.

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