23 Jul 24 hours in Bristol: Britain’s most colourful city
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.
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.