With an illustrious history and reputation for its nightlife, Bristol is the perfect city for the intrepid interrailer. In this article, we’ll outline some of the best things to do while you’re in the city, including the top places to explore, eat, party and stay.
Bristol has produced the likes of Banksy, Maisie Williams, Cary Grant and Russell Howard and there is plenty in the city to discover to uncover what exactly inspired the artistic prowess that it has provided over the years. Be sure to brace yourself for some hills on your way round the city, however for the views and sites you’ll find, it is certainly worth the short but steep inclines
AREAS TO EXPLORE
Stokes Croft is full of independent cafés and restaurants and has buckets of personality. If you fancy soaking up the vibes and atmosphere and area, take yourself for an amble along Cheltenham Road towards The Arches. Be sure to pop into some of the charity shops and vintage shops to secure some clothes to make you feel like a true Bristol local! Whilst you’re in the area, have a look for some of the funky street art it has to offer, including some works by Banksy.
As St. Pauls has been the site of much social discontent leading to political action, it is a must-visit whilst in Bristol, in order to soak up everything the city has to offer. One good way to guide your discovery of the history of the area, and Bristol more widely, is through finding the murals of the Seven Saints of St. Pauls. The murals were created by Michele Curtis as a way to celebrate the founders of the St. Pauls Carnival, and to commemorate and educate people about the importance of the Bristol Bus Boycott, and those involved in the fight for racial equality.
The St. Pauls Carnival is an annual summer street party full of music, community spirit and good food (if you saw our recent post about Oxford, this is similar to the Cowley Road Carnival, but on a larger scale). It celebrates African Caribbean communities, in particular those in Bristol, and represents a pivotal part of the city’s history, which is too often focused on the slave traders.
Photo by Sophia Choudhury
Clifton and the Clifton Suspension Bridge
Clifton can be reached easily from Clifton Down Station, which is connected to Bristol Temple Meads through the internal city railway. The area has lots to offer, such as the shops, cafés and restaurants in Clifton Village; walks along the streets of Georgian terraces; and Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Clifton Suspension Bridge. The latter is a distinctive feature of the city, and was designed to cross the Avon Gorge at its narrowest point while still accommodating the height of tall ships travelling in and out of the city. Even though Brunel never saw the completed bridge as it was only finished after the engineer’s death in 1859, the bridge remains a top tourist attraction for visitors to the city today. A particularly iconic view of the Clifton Suspension Bridge would include a handful of hot air balloons dotted across the sky behind the bridge, particularly at sunset, given the fact that Bristol is home to an International Balloon Festival every summer, where teams from across the world gather to take part in mass ascents, with as many as 100 hot air balloons floating into the sky at once. A fantastic view is also attainable from the terrace at the back of The Avon Gorge Hotel – grab a drink on a nice evening and watch the lights on the bridge light up as the sun sets.
Slightly to the east of what is considered the heart of Clifton, you’ll find Brandon Hill, the oldest park in the city, and Cabot Tower. This is the perfect spot for a picnic or some drinks in the evening, as even though the hill seems daunting, the winding paths make for a gentle ascent to reach some fantastic views down towards the river and harbour. Cabot Tower was built in 1897 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of John Cabot’s sailing to arrive in the North American continent, but nowadays, it is open to the public to offer a free view of Bristol from above. Have a look out for Wills Memorial Building, part of the University of Bristol, as well as the S.S. Great Britain, which is also worth an explore if you fancy.
Ashton Court and Leigh Woods
Over the Clifton Suspension Bridge from the main urban centre of Bristol lies Ashton Court Estate and Leigh Woods. Ashton Court is a country park that houses a mansion, deer park two golf courses and 15 heritage ponds within its 850 acres of land. The land has a history of being the site of a manor since the 11th century, with the Smyth family gaining ownership and subsequentlty developing it from the time of the English Civil War until the 1940s. During this time it was not only the family home, but it was also used as a military hospital in World War I as well as the 1936 Royal Show. Nowadays, on some Sundays throughout the summer, the Ashton Court Railway operates visitor trips around the grounds – perfect for those looking to explore by train!
Bristol’s location on the River Avon and the River Frome not only played a significant role in its establishment as a port city, but more recently, the area has been revitalised and developed into the ideal place for tourists and locals alike. In 2020, as part of the Black Lives Matter movement, Harbourside and Bristol hit international headlines as public action led to the statue of Edward Colston being toppled into the river – have a look for the plaque next to Pero’s Bridge that commemorates this long-awaited moment. With M Shed, a museum dedicated to Bristol’s history, constructed in one of the old commercial shipping sheds; and Watershed, the first full-time multi-screen independent cinema in the UK outside of London, both down on the waterfront, head down to Harbourside for a cultural and artistic fix, accompanied by some great food in the converted shipping containers of Wapping Wharf (scroll down to the next section of this article for some of our recommendations of the restaurants to visit). One of the most picturesque routes down to Harbourside is the riverside walk along the northern bank of the river from Hotwells. However, if you fancy the more direct way, check out the route that takes you down Park Street past Bristol Cathedral and the City Hall on College Green.
WHERE TO EAT IN BRISTOL
· Seven Lucky Gods, Wapping Wharf
Sushi and Asian street food lovers beware of straying towards Seven Lucky Gods, you will be drawn in and never leave! They are known for their Curry Fries and Spicy Korean Fried Chicken, with the Sichuan Fried Cauliflower also to die for. The reasonably priced yet sizeable and delicious lunchtime Bento bowls are also a firm favourite of those you’ve had the opportunity to visit.
· Eat a Pitta, The Triangle
If houmous and falafel are what’s on your mind for a bite to eat, head over to Eat a Pitta. They pile the salads high on top of the delicious, smooth houmous, and be sure to add some sauces and halloumi on too if you fancy. However, as a true Eat a Pitta veteran will surely tell you – take your time whilst investigating the menu, as while the set menus and offers may seem like the best option, it can sometimes be more economical to order almost the same items individually.
· Oowee Diner
As Bristol has topped a global list to be crowned the vegan centre of the world, and given this, it does not come as a surprise to find out that there are some fantastic vegan restaurants in and around the city. Oowee Diner serves up a wide range of plant-based burgers, ‘chicken’ and fries that are sure to fuel even the hungriest of people, and with multiple venues and delivery options also available, you’ll never be far away from some delicious food.
WHERE TO GO OUT IN BRISTOL
Bristol is renowned for its nightlife, in particular the drum and bass scene that has grown steadily over the years, largely thanks to the Caribbean population and then the popularity of raves in the 1990s. However, it does have something to cater to all music tastes!
Drum and Bass Scene – predominantly in and around Stokes Croft
The list of fantastic acts at Lakota is endless, with huge well-established names such as Kings of the Rollers, Koven, Ragga Twins, D Double E and General Levy all playing over the last few years. They also have upcoming local artists as the warm-up acts so you’ll be in for a treat from the moment you arrive. Event companies, such as Tribe of Frog, Jungle Cakes and Wide Eyes, provide spectacular sets, both in terms of the artists playing and the decoration across the venue’s five different rooms.
Just a short walk from Temple Meads Station, you’ll find Motion – one of the biggest clubs in the UK, which has also been voted 11th best in the world by DJ Mag. With the likes of Noisia, Bicep, SHY FX and My Nu Leng with Dread MC playing in the past, be sure to look up what events they have coming up. Booking tickets in advance is certainly advisable, especially for big names and events such as Hospitality and Run. The multiple rooms sometimes have their own independent events, such as Aitch in Marble Factory, as well. Funk, house and disco nights are also held at Motion so do check out everything it has to offer.
· Take Five Café
In the daytime, Take Five seems like the last place you’d find a rave, serving everything from teas and coffees to curry. However, as night falls, the 100-capacity venue transforms into one of the best places to find a good drum and bass night in Bristol.
Popular Music – head to The Triangle
· Brass Pig
With a bar area upstairs and more of a club set-up downstairs, Brass Pig is the perfect venue if you’re not sure how heavy you want to go! Inevitably, with drinks flowing, some classic sing-along tunes and good friends around the night will last until the early hours…
· La Rocca
La Rocca has the friendliest staff going, and with song requests possible throughout the night, it is a firm student and Bristol local favourite. Be prepared for some queueing for entry at the weekend, but it is certainly worth the wait once you get inside as the reasonably priced drinks and cheesy bangers will keep you going long after you intend!
· Lizard Lounge
Lizard Lounge is another popular club amongst the student population of Bristol and with multiple rooms there’s plenty to get stuck into. If you fancy checking out their top tunes, go find them on Spotify before you head in to the bar for some cocktail jugs.
WHERE TO STAY IN BRISTOL
· The Full Moon Backpackers
The Full Moon Backpackers has received fantastic reviews across the board and as it has such a central location, a bar and restaurant on site and great value rooms, it is not hard to understand why. Do be aware that the hostels can be a music venue in its own right, and so some nights might be louder than others, but get your dancing shoes on and head down to the bar to join in if you fancy.
· Harbourside Hostel
Looking over the river, this is the perfect place to stay if you fancy plenty of exploration of the harbour and surrounding areas. This particular hostel is also good for interrailing groups with lots of people, as they have rooms to accommodate 10 people, with individual rooms also available if you’re travelling alone.
There are also some well situated apartments that you can rent for your stay in Bristol that are not much more expensive than the hostels. We’d recommend staying in and around Whiteladies Road in order to have shops round the corner, and good access to all the sites that Bristol has to offer.