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Discover the Best of Bristol: Top Things to Do and See

The Sunday Times has twice recognised Bristol as the most liveable city in the UK. Bristol is a truly’ liveable place’ in the UK with its rich history and cultural heritage, spectacular natural landscapes, easy access to transport networks, and an open and inclusive city atmosphere. Whether on your own, with friends or through fun activities, there’s plenty to explore in Bristol. Get ready to dive into our ultimate guide, where we’ll take you on a journey to discover the best things to do in Bristol.

Free things to do in Bristol

free things Bristol

In Bristol, you’ll find a wide range of free things to do. We’ve written a blog specifically about the top attractions in Bristol: Top 8 Popular Tourist Attractions in Bristol. I hope you find this valuable information for your trip to Bristol.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

The Clifton Suspension Bridge was designed by the great Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel. It was created in the early 19th century for light horse-drawn traffic and still meets the needs of 21st-century commuters. The Clifton Suspension Bridge sits spectacularly on the cliffs of Avon Gorge, making it an iconic Bristol landmark. Go up the path, and at the highest point, there is the Clifton Observatory, next to a cafe which serves snacks and coffee. It overlooks the entire Clifton Suspension Bridge and Avon Gorge. In addition, the Clifton Suspension Bridge is free for people to visit and is a great place to enjoy the views of Bristol.

Bristol Museum & Art Gallery

The Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery is also free to visit. Founded in 1823, this neo-classical building was designed by Sir Charles Robert Cockerell (1788-1863), who completed the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge and built St George’s Hall in Liverpool, later used as a Masonic Hall. The Bristol Museum and Art Gallery’s three floors and 19 gallery collections showcase fascinating cultures, ancient civilisations, human inventions and creativity. If you want to explore the wetland wonders of the South West, travel back in time to Ancient Egypt, explore the animal kingdom, see rare and endangered wildlife from the UK and around the world, and enjoy the collision of different arts, this is the place to be.

St Mary Redcliffe Church

St Mary Redcliffe Church is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture, a 14th-century building that stood on this site for some 800 years and was hailed by Elizabeth the Great as ‘the most beautiful and charming community church in England’. You will find elegant 18th-century ironwork within its hallowed walls, beautiful stained glass, and a world-famous organ. The church sits on the red cliffs above the floating harbour, originally a centre for shipping and industry, which is key to its history. Bristol Harbour traders began and ended their voyages at the Shrine of Our Lady of Redcliffe. St Mary Redcliffe Church is an attractive free thing to do in Bristol.

Bristol Cathedral

Bristol Cathedral is also a free attraction. Bristol Cathedral is one of the most famous buildings in the city of Bristol and is also the cathedral of the Church of England. It is ideally situated on high ground in the city’s centre, overlooking the city and surrounding countryside. The construction of this cathedral involved the collective efforts of several architects and artisans, although the original designers’ identity still needs to be discovered. Construction began in the 12th century with the initial building of a Norman-style church, while most of the surviving buildings were constructed between the late 12th and early 14th centuries. 

Bristol Cathedral is known for its typical Gothic style, including soaring spires and vaults, fine stained glass and exquisitely carved decoration. The east end of the cathedral, particularly the choir, gives Bristol Cathedral its unique place in developing English and European architecture. The nave, choir and aisles are all of the same height, making Bristol Cathedral a prime example of an English hall church and one of the finest in the world!

Fun things to do in Bristol

fun things to do in Bristol

Graffiti Art

If you want to get a taste of Bristol’s art scene, check out the street art of Banksy, who was born in Bristol in 1974 and was part of the street art wave sweeping through Bristol in the 1980s. Before Banksy became a world-renowned artist, he was little more than a Bristolian on the street with a can of spray paint. Some of his early work was hidden around the city, and through the constant exploration of his work, there was a continual discovery of what the city had to offer.

Banksy’s graffiti is hidden on street corners around the city, surprising you without realising it. Because of his influence, Bristol holds a graffiti festival every year and has set aside an entire street in the city centre as a graffiti street, ‘See No Evil’.

Smoke & Mirrors

If you like British comedy, check out Smoke and Mirrors Comedy and Magic Bar. Smoke and Mirrors is an intimate, magic-themed pub with a small theatre staging live magicians on the weekends. Actors perform close-up magic, stand-up comedy, and parody in a small theatre with velvet curtains. The quaint décor makes you feel like you’re in the last century for traditional British entertainment. It’s a unique experience to have a drink and watch comedy. Students whose English is not so good may need to practise their listening skills more and better.

Harbourside

Bristol Harbour has been in use since the Middle Ages and is bustling with activity to this day, and the harbourside is my favourite place. A grand ship, the famous steamer SS Great Britain, is at the M Shed in Harbourside. Great Britain has been in service for over 90 years and was once a passenger ship on the Bristol to New York route. It is also described as the first steamship to cross the Atlantic. In addition, Harbourside is a great place to come as a couple, where you can take a relaxing walk together holding hands, have a drink in the pub and watch the sunset together. There are plenty of benches along the river and plenty of room for you to sit by the water’s edge with your legs dangling in the air.

St Nicholas’s Market

Established in 1743, St Nicholas Market is one of Bristol’s oldest and most popular markets. With over 60 stalls, this market is one of the must-visit places for many visitors to the city. St Nicholas Market has also been voted one of the ten best markets in the UK. The market is divided into three sections (the glass arcade, the covered market and the trading floor) and is full of unique items and street delicacies guaranteed to overwhelm you. St Nicholas Market is highly recommended for anyone who enjoys shopping, savouring good food or wants to pick up a little souvenir!

Bristol Balloons

The Bristol Balloon Fiesta in August has long been known as ‘Britain’s best ballooning festival’. Since 1979, it has attracted more than half a million visitors and hundreds of ballooning teams worldwide and is Europe’s largest ballooning event. 2024 will see the festival reduced from four days to three – it will run from Friday, 9 August, to Sunday, 11 August. However, unlike previous years, the hot air balloon releases may be extended to the city this year. The Bristol Balloon Fiesta is entirely free, but each year is packed full of events, especially the nightly Hot Air Festival musical fireworks display – dozens of hot air balloons on the ground ignite and light up to the rhythm of the music. There will be a fireworks ceremony, which is a beautiful sight to behold.

Things to do in Bristol with kids

Bristol things to do with kids

Bristol is a vibrant and diverse city that has something to offer for everyone, including families with kids. From outdoor adventures to educational experiences, Bristol is a perfect destination for a fun-filled family vacation.

Bristol Zoo Gardens

Bristol Zoo is situated in Bristol and is the fifth oldest zoo in the world, having been open to the public since 1836. The zoo currently has over 7,000 animals, over 400 animal species, and a variety of mammals, birds, reptiles, and marine life. As with most zoos in the UK, it is possible to see not only regular animals but many endangered species. Bristol Zoo was the UK’s Zoo of the Year in 2004. The zoo is divided into different zones, and other animal shows occur throughout the day. But the zoo is small and you can walk through it in half a day.

Interestingly, you can walk through the Butterfly Forest, filled with butterflies worldwide, watch penguins in the transparent corridors, and get close to some of the smaller animals. There is also a small adventure park for children, which is perfect for families with children.

Brandon Hill

Brandon Hill is Bristol’s oldest park and offers excellent views of the city and the seafront. It is just off Park Street and has a children’s play area, beautiful paths, and a nature reserve. Walk up the path, and you’ll see the Cabort tower standing at the top of the hill. The building was designed by Bristol architect William Venn Gough and bought by public subscription. It is made of red sandstone and covered with cream-coloured bath stone.

Brandon Hill has large lawns and lush trees. It’s a beautiful experience to lie on the lawn on a sunny day and soak up the sunshine or picnic with the family. Walking around the grounds, you can ‘bump into’ many cute little animals, such as squirrels, pigeons and dogs, which are very popular with children.

We The Curious

The Bristol Science Centre, located in the port city of Bristol on the Irish Sea in the south-west of England, was one of 18 new cultural facilities built by the UK Government’s Millennium Commission for the turn of the century. Opened in 2000 as Explore, 2017, the operating team revisited its mission, recognising that ‘making science accessible to all’ was no longer the sole purpose. They believe that curiosity is the driving force behind scientific and artistic discovery and is an innate human instinct. The life-changing impact of science begins with the questions that are asked out of curiosity, so people need to be inspired to be curious and to keep asking questions. So, in 2017, they changed the museum’s name to We The Curious, a new vision to create a culture of curiosity!

At We the Curious, you’ll hear stories from different ancient astronomers, fly to distant galaxies, and see views from newly discovered distant planets. The big silver ball at the entrance is where you can view the 3D starry sky every Thursday night, with different stars for different seasons. We the Curious has always been a great place for children and young people to learn and explore science in a fun way!

Things to Do in Bristol FAQ

Yes. Bristol is a gem worth exploring for anyone seeking a blend of historic charm and modern innovation. This vibrant city is not only rich in maritime history, reflected in the landmark harbours and the iconic SS Great Britain, but also thrives as a hub of creativity and culture.

Yes. Bristol provides many free things to do for people. For example, you can visit the Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, St Mary Redcliffe Church and Bristol Cathedral for free. 

Yes. Bristol is a city teeming with activities that families can enjoy together, fostering both fun and learning in diverse environments. Here are some top picks for family-friendly outings: Bristol Zoo Gardens, Brandon Hill, and We The Curious.

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