A city break guide to Bristol in the West-country
Bristol, at the mouth of the River Avon in south-west England, has a fascinating background as a major transatlantic port and home to the famous S.S Great Britain, the first of the great ocean-going steam liners. The city grew fat and rich on tobacco, wine and more controversially slaves in the 17th century, and there are numerous cultural and historic attractions for visitors to enjoy here. From the magnificent medieval cathedral at its centre to the newly developed docks at Avonmouth with their shops, cafes and art galleries, Bristol is one of the UK’s most attractive cities outside of London.
Things to see in Bristol
The best part of Bristol lies in the area centred on Broad Street, Corn Street and King Street. The Corn Exchange was built in 1743 and is where merchants historically plied their trade when Bristol was a leading port; it is now the location of a lively covered market. St John’s Gate is the medieval remnant and further along from here are the famous Christmas Steps, a narrow lane lined with specialist shops where you can pick up great bargains. The Chapel of the Three Kings at the top of the steps was founded back in 1504 and abuts the colourful Foster’s Almshouses of 1861. These magnificent buildings were built in the Burgundian style, making them look as if they belong on the banks of a Bruge or Amsterdam canal rather than in Bristol.
Nightlife in Bristol
The timber-framed Llandoger Trow inn is where Daniel Defoe apparently supped with Alexander Selkirk and was inspired to pen Robinson Crusoe after listening to the sailor’s tales of his shipwreck. The nearby Theatre Royal or Old Vic is a rare example of a Georgian playhouse. A bit more up to date, the Arnolfini Gallery along Narrow Quay is a centre for dance, drama, cinema and contemporary art, and on the floating harbour just beyond is a vibrant cafe and bar scene.
Cathedrals and Ships
Bristol Cathedral dates back to the late 13th century. It took all of 600 years to complete, from 1298 when the choir was put in place until the nave was added in 1865. This was a labour of love you rarely come across in these days of passing fads and mass media, and it’s worth popping in if only for a lesson in dogged perseverance and a faith that has mostly disappeared.
The S.S Great Britain was also built by the great Brunel as a prototype for all later vessels. It was unceremoniously dumped in the Falklands in 1886 after sailing the world a staggering (for its day) 32 times. It was brought back home to much fanfare in 1970 and has now been completely restored.
Just to the west of Bristol is the famous Clifton Suspension Bridge, which is good for a quick trip and views across the steep Avon gorge. It was finished in 1864 by Brunel, and close by are the Bristol Zoo Gardens, where you can see how they look after endangered species from around the world.
Where to stay in Bristol
Bristol hotels are mostly clean, friendly and make a great base for exploring this historic English city. From central plush hotels to cheaper family-run guesthouses and B&Bs, hostels and self-catering apartments, there’s something for every taste and budget here.