The south of England has so many gems to discover! From Roman cities like Bath, the rolling hills of the Cotswolds and of course the lovely, lively and beautiful city of Bristol. Just across the Severn Estuary (about 25 minutes west of Bath) is a bunch of epic and best things to do for a little visit in Bristol. Indeed, you are spoiled for choice!
As you can see, Bristol is a great place to position yourself for a small city break, but also to explore the areas around the Cheddar Gorge and wider Somerset (which makes for a great trip).
We have visited Bristol countless times over the years and loved every second of it. specifically for all of the foodie, museums, and Banksy art that surround the city. You see, Bristol has some pretty different neighborhoods and areas to explore to give it the vibe or a much bigger city.
To make it easier for you to navigate which places to see and which to avoid, I’m sharing some of our best things to do in Bristol.
Have fun exploring Bristol!
1.) St Nicks Market
St Nicks (or St Nicholas) Market runs along the High Street and is very easy to visit in central Bristol. Not only that, it’s one of the best things to do in Bristol if you’re into street food or the quirky stalls that line the market area and Exchange Hall itself.
It offers a tremendous punch with the variety of small places to visit. For vintage books, head to Beware of the Leopard Books and head to Jewelery Lane to shop for some jewelry.
When hunger strikes, head to Chilli Daddy for their fiery hotpots or Eatchu for their Japanese street food like gyozas. Yum!
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2.) See the works of Banksy
Banksy is probably one of Bristol’s most famous artists and has left some of his works of art on display in the city.
If you’ve ventured into M Shed, have you probably seen the Grim Reaper who was once on the side of a boat in Bristol Harbor?
While you don’t fret if you missed it, there are a few more all over Bristol.
Just a bit shy of SS Great Britain is “The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum” (see the Google Maps location here). It is a take on Vermeer’s “Girl with the Pearl Earring”, in which a pearl is missing and a security alarm is triggered in its place.
Beyond the Bristol Waterfront, discover the Well Hung Lover on Frogmore Street. Here you see a cheating couple hiding from a pretty angry partner! Interestingly, this is the very first legal street art in all of England. You can find the location (on Google Maps) here.
Oh, and when you’re in Stokes Croft look out for Mild, Mild West which is in one of the liveliest areas of Bristol (see location here).
Seeing Banksy’s art is simply one of the best things to do in Bristol. They are always so fun to find and it feels like searching for treasure all over town. Just keep your eyes peeled for new and emerging art that Banksy continues to exhibit across Bristol.
3.) SS Great Britain
The SS Great Britain was the longest passenger ship in the world as early as the 19th century! Of course, this was adopted by the animals that sail the seas today; but its importance and historical significance can be seen epic.
Nestled on Spike Island (about a 20-minute walk from M Shed), it’s a great place to learn more about its heritage, the shipyard itself, and Brunel himself. You can easily wander the exhibits for two hours and ship yourself, which makes it a perfect stop for an afternoon visit.
Once on board, be sure to check out the beautiful Dining Saloon and Promenade Deck. It’s pretty epic to watch.
4.) M Shed & Harbourfront
One of my favorite Bristol museums, M Shed is in the city’s waterfront, a short walk from Prince Street Bridge.
Whenever we go to Bristol I always have to visit this part of the city which is beautiful on a sunny Bristol afternoon. Once inside, be sure to stop by the Bristol People Gallery, which focuses on exploration in Bristol and subsequent dark times. like the role of the city in the transatlantic slave trade.
Then, take a stroll through Whapping Wharf and check out some of the independent cafes, bars, and small shops here. We love the wild beer for an afternoon with a local beer. These guys know their stuff!
When you get hungry, grab a bag of freshly cooked fish and chips from Salt & Malt (a few meters away). Served with pea puree and salt and vinegar!
Fancy a couple of bikes? Head to Bristol Tandem Hire (2 minutes from M Shed) and rent a tandem bike to explore the docks and wider Bristol on your own. It is so much fun!
Oh, and be sure to check out the Spike Island Galleries and Artistic Workspaces. There is always a cool and exciting exhibition.
Read More: Best Things To Do In Nearby Bath
5.) Clifton suspension bridge
Seeing the Clifton Suspension Bridge is one of the best things to do in Bristol. It’s an icon and cannot be missed in Bristol. As you can see, it’s another Brunel engineering feat, standing proudly over the Avon River.
Now it might feel like a stroll from Queen Square (about 40 minutes) but it’s worth it for the view and to learn more about the history at the visitor center.
Then, take a stroll to the Clifton Observatory and enjoy the view from St. Vincent’s Rocks. It’s one of our favorite photo spots for the bridge.
For dinner, book a table at Pasture for one of the best steaks in Bristol. Your Châteaubriand is everything!
6.) Cabot Tower
The Cabot Tower, proudly standing in Brandon Hill, was built in the 19th century to celebrate John Cabot’s journey from Bristol to North America 400 years ago.
Take a stroll through Bristol’s oldest park and enjoy the view of the Cabot Tower. The best part is that climbing is completely free.
Plus, it’s easy to arrange a visit to the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, which is just a stone’s throw away.
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7.) Galleries & museums
For me, one of the best things about Bristol is exploring the museums. As I mentioned earlier, M Shed is a place not to be missed, but there are a couple of other gems dotted around the city as well.
If you are near Bristol University or Berkeley Square, be sure to check out the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery. A history dating back thousands of years is housed inside. From mummies to dinosaurs!
The Red Lodge Museum (on Park Row), one of Bristol’s most overlooked gems, is well worth a stroll. Here you can explore the Great Oak Room with its beautiful paneled walls and see centuries of history and art that adorn the walls. In fact, it feels like you’ve returned to the 16th century.
Then, take a stroll down Park Street to visit the Vintage Thrift Store and Uncle Sam’s. However, don’t expect big bargains. It’s a fashionable place and the prices are a bit steeper than traditional thrift stores.
Oh, and grab a donut and some baked goodies or brunch from Pinkmans who will create a delicious, custard-dipped brioche dream.
8.) Bristol Cathedral
England’s only Hall Church Church Cathedral is right in Bristol, so it’s hard to miss when you first explore the city. Bristol Cathedral sits on the shores of College Green and has been around for hundreds of years.
Once inside, be sure to check out the beautiful east end of the cathedral on your own. it’s breathtaking; especially the vaulted nave.
Also the Chapter House, considered one of the most beautiful Norman rooms in the world and dating from the 11th century.
Read more: Best Places to Visit in the Nearby Cotswolds
9.) Gloucester Road & Stokes Croft
Stokes Croft kind of reminds me of Camden Town in London! It’s totally diverse, quite artistic and has a very different feel to it than the rest of Bristol.
With a more “nervous” feel, it’s the kind of place that bohemian retailers and indie stores are. especially around Gloucester Road. You see, it is often referred to as the longest street in Europe, focused on independent businesses thriving in the region.
Stokes Croft feels like a large open air art gallery filled with street art as far as you can see! As I said, it’s a great place to stop for the shops, but there are also tons of bars and restaurants that are great for an evening out.
Make sure to stop at the Pieminister to try some of the tastiest cakes in the south of England. No joke, they are delicious! For some delicious Sri Lankan hoppers, visit the Coconut Tree (on Gloucester Road). Ask for extra cold for a kick.
10.) Bristol International Balloon Fiesta
The Bristol International Balloon Fiesta, which takes place in August, is incredible and cannot be missed. In fact, if you are already visiting in the warmer summer months, I would even say that you should arrange your trip around the dates.
Participation is completely free (unless you want to park safely). It’s just one of the best things about Bristol that is so unique.
With hundreds of balloons, night lights, fireworks, and a carnival atmosphere, you can literally spend days at the fiesta.
It is very special.
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