The waterfront and SS Great Britian in Bristol, UK | Travel guide | City guide | Girl with a saddle bag travel blog

24 hours in Bristol: Britain’s most colourful city

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Think of colourful spots in the UK, and the Cornish coast or Brighton might spring to mind. But there’s another technicolour gem hidden in plain sight – the city of Bristol. From the vibrant waterfront to the pastel-coloured Regency splendour of Clifton village, there are surprises round every corner of this city in the south-west.

Last weekend took us to Bristol.

It was a happy coincidence, more than a planned getaway. An old friend had invited us to celebrate her wedding, and the couple picked a beautiful venue in Clifton on the edge of the city. As Bristol is only a few hours from home, we could have headed down just for the occasion. But it seemed a shame not to make the most of the weekend, and before long we were booking an Airbnb.

As it happens, I’ve never been to Bristol before (well, apart from Cabot Circus shopping centre, and I’m not sure that counts). And within an hour, I was was wondering why on earth not.

Bristol is delightful in almost every way. Especially on a gloriously hot and sunny summer weekend.

What stood out more than almost anything else (and a lot of lovely things did stand out) was just how strikingly colourful the city is. From the jewel-toned Georgian terraces of Clifton village to the street art that speckles the city centre, Bristol is a veritable rainbow.

I hadn’t planned to write about this trip as Saturday’s celebration was the star of the show. But I couldn’t resist sharing some of the pictures I took. So here’s a snapshot of the city rather than a full-blown travel guide. And rest assured, we’ll be back some time soon. Hopefully this will show you why.

Let’s start at the waterfront

The river Avon is the heart of Bristol. What was once one of Britain’s busiest industrial ports is now one of it’s most glorious renovated docksides, bursting with restaurants and bars, promenades and patios. Whilst local businesses have gently gentrified the area, nods to it’s heritage can be found everywhere.

There’s plenty to explore here if you’re happy to stroll along the waterside. But if you want to relax with a drink in hand, or tuck into tucker, head to Wapping Wharf on an island mid-river. Here you’ll find heaps of independent cafes and restaurants as well as the M Shed – Bristol’s free to enter city history museum.

Meander along the river and you’ll fnd Brunel’s SS Great Britain and more docks – each packed with places to eat and sit out by the water.

Upwards to Brandon Hill and Cabot Tower

Want to find a spectacular panoramic view over the city? And find some wonderfully whimsical architecture? And not pay for the privilege?

Then make your way immediately to Cabot Tower at the centre of Brandon Hill park.

This Victorian folly affords panoramic views across the city and park below. It also requires a leap of faith on the very steep, un-lit, spiral staircase (it all adds to the experience in my opinion). Access to the two viewing galleries is free and unrestricted every day.

Then on to Clifton Village and the Clifton Suspension bridge

As with many of my favourite cities, it’s not just the centre that delights in Bristol.

We were helpfully directed towards Clifton as it was the venue for Saturday’s celebration. And the Bride and Groom couldn’t have chosen a prettier location.

If you’ve ever visited the nearby city of Bath, you’ll have some idea of how beautiful Georgian and Regency architecture can look. Clifton is packed full of beauties from this period of time. And to my surprise, they’re bigger, more plentiful and (dare I say it) even more graceful and elegant.

We spent Sunday morning strolling and running around this area. There’s plenty to see and do, from gaping at the suspension bridge (an awe-inspiring example of Victorian engineering) to strolling the parkland of Clifton Down.

Every street conceals vivid townhouses and the village centre is packed with upmarket independent shops, cafes and restaurants. It’s perfect for a lazy brunch or coffee, watching the world go by outside.

And if glorious Georgian architecture is your thing, don’t miss the streets between Goldney Hall of Residence (part of the University) and the waterfront.

Ambrose Road and Ambra Vale are painted in gorgeous technicolour, and are more beautiful in real life than any instagram shot. And look out for hidden paths, passageways and gardens – they’re tucked around every corner.

Street art

Bristol’s got a bit of a (well-earned) reputation for street art. And you could happily spend your time here seeking out some of its most famous Banksy’s and murals.

Or you could just head out and explore. It’s almost impossible not to spot some of these gems as you meander around the city.

Come here before the end of summer 2018 and you can also catch the Gromit Unleased (2) sculpture trail. 62 fun statues inspired by Wallace and Gromit, and other friends, from the Aardman animations studios (here in the city) are peppering the streets to raise money for the Bristol Children’s Hospital Charity. You can download the app to tick them off in return for a small donation to the charity – then keep your eyes peeled when you’re out and about.

The practical bit

We stayed in a stunningly beautiful Airbnb on Ambrose Road in Clifton. Would I recommend it? Absolutely. I had no idea it was situated on one of the city’s prettiest streets, so it was a wonderful surprise when we arrived.

Although we were at a special event on Saturday evening, we managed to find plenty of other opportunities to stuff ourselves tuck into local food and drink.

Pata Negra – perfect for lunch

We genuinely across this place just a few moments after exiting the car park and couldn’t have been happier. It’s an authentic and classy independent Spanish restaurant that specialises in tapas and sherries. We popped in for their lunch menu of bocadillos (tortilla and roasted peppers for me), and frankly I couldn’t have found a nicer sandwich. The bar upstairs looks great for a late night – I’d go out of my way to go back.

Spicer & Cole – for a great brunch

There are three branches of this local cafe chain in the city – we settled for the one in Clifton village on Sunday morning. Everything is freshly made on the premises with ingredients sourced as locally as possible. It’s cosy, comfortable and very, very tasty.

Boston Tea Party – for coffee any time

Want somewhere to stop for a brew? You could do much worse than one of the many Boston Tea Party cafes scattered around the city. This hugely-likeable little chain is local to the south-west and serves up reliably good coffee and cakes in beautiful locations. We loved the colourful courtyard garden at the back of their Park Street store.

Little Victories – for people-watching on the terrace

If you’re down by the waterfront, this is a great stop for coffee or a cold drink on Gaol Ferry Steps at Wapping Wharf. Whilst the menu isn’t anything out of the ordinary, the location is – and the shady terrace outside this independent cafe bar is perfect for watching the world go by on a sunny day.

Bristol is unexpectedly, delightfully beautiful.

Old and new clash comfortably in a way that makes the city feel both proud of its heritage and also very much looking to its future.

It feels young, lively, exciting – and it’s packed with things to do.

And because Bristol isn’t on the mainstream tourist trail in the UK (despite being one of it’s largest cities), it’s both accessible and affordable. Skip the coach tours in nearby Bath and head here instead, you’ll be sure to stumble across places you’ll love.

I’ll be back soon, without a doubt.

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  • Ana Ro
    Posted at 10:06h, 19 August Reply

    One of my friends used to live in Bristol, and every time we would meet, she’d tell me that it was the coolest city in the UK. 🙂 And I now see why. Somehow the cities in the south are usually more colourful, and the ones in the Northern Europe are more grey – and I think Bristol is a nice exception.

    • Alice
      Posted at 13:52h, 19 August Reply

      I think your friend was right! I really enjoyed it, and thought it was refreshingly vibrant compared to some of the other big cities in the south of England. I hope you can make it here sometime soon.

  • Jac
    Posted at 14:20h, 18 August Reply

    Bristol’s been on my list because I love street art, but I really like that shot you had of the colourful Georgian architecture as well, so pretty!

    • Alice
      Posted at 19:25h, 18 August Reply

      Thanks Jac, I had no idea that there was so much Georgian architecture here. It’s something I associate much more with Bath, but I’m glad to day there are lots of Instagrammers sharing it’s secrets if that’s your cup of tea.

  • Catherine’s Cultural Wednesdays
    Posted at 13:25h, 18 August Reply

    I’ve visited Bristol for work but never to wander around, I need to fix that soon!

    • Alice
      Posted at 19:24h, 18 August Reply

      It really surprised me Catherine – I hope you’d really enjoy a visit. If you’re ever visiting for work maybe try and squeeze in exploring a new cafe or restaurant whilst you’re there? We were blown away by how many independent (and enticing!) places we stumbled across.

  • Becky Angell
    Posted at 12:59h, 18 August Reply

    Bristol looks gorgeous, I don’t know why but it wasn’t on my list of places to visit but lately, I’ve been seeing lots of stunning photos. How long do you think you need to explore? 🙂

    • Alice
      Posted at 19:22h, 18 August Reply

      Thanks Becky, I’d really recommend it. If you really want to get under the skin of the city, you’d probably want to spend more than just an overnight here. I’m hoping we can go back soon as we’ve only just scratched the surface. That said, it’s an easy city to explore on foot so I think you could get a good feel for the place in a weekend. Would love to know how you get on.

  • Ricarda Christina Hollweg
    Posted at 12:05h, 18 August Reply

    Love your beautiful photos. I heard so many good things about Bristol. Now I’m finally convinced I have to visit the city. Will consider a trip for next time I will be in England. Thanks for the lovely inspiration.

    • Alice
      Posted at 19:20h, 18 August Reply

      Thank you Ricarda! The more I talk to friends who know the city more than I do, the more I hear there is to do and the more recommendations I get for places to eat. It can sometimes get a little overshadowed by neighbours like Bath as they are smaller and more on the established tourist trail, but Bristol is very authentic and vibrant.

      • majlinda mustafa
        Posted at 21:32h, 04 August Reply

        We are going there for few days and are looking forward to it.
        I’ve always wanted to visit and now is the time .
        Any tips ?

        • Alice
          Posted at 08:14h, 06 August Reply

          Hi! At this time of year I’d highly recommend spending some time exploring the parks and riverside. Ashton Court is perfect for a summer picnic, and the area around M Shed on the waterfront would be great on a sunny evening. Have a great time.

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