Bristol is England’s sixth biggest city and the heartbeat of the beautiful English West Country. You’ll find the Bristolian people open-minded, hospitable and heart-warming. Bristol’s prosperity is strongly related to Britain’s early sea-faring days and was the base for New World exploration. Therefore, there are many well preserved and inspiring historical sites dotted around the city. Modern day Bristol is a beautiful mishmash of the world’s cultures and its historical and modern arts scenes are prolific. Bristol is one of the UK’s most popular tourist destinations and was selected in 2009 as one of the world’s top-ten cities. Sounds expensive? Sure, there are plenty of ways to burn a hole in your wallet, but here’s a few of my favourites freebies that won’t.
Whilst the local transport links in Bristol are pretty good, they can be costly. The City Centre is fairly compact so why not consider getting around like a local; by bike or walking! Keep your eyes peeled around town for original Graffiti by world famous street artist Banksy, Wallace and Gromit street installations and plenty of fabulous period architecture.
Top Ten Things to See and Do in Bristol for Free
1. Clifton Suspension Bridge
This icon of Bristol is a must see – Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Clifton Suspension Bridge is truly stunning. Although it can be quite hard to miss as it hangs high above the city over the Avon Gorge National Nature Reserve, it looks fabulous when it’s lit up at night. Crossing the bridge on foot or by bicycle is free (1GBP for cars) and the view of the city is second only to Cabot Tower. On Spring and Summer weekends and also bank holidays, there are free guided tours, which meet at the Clifton Village side of the bridge at 3pm – look out for guides in bright orange jackets. Also on the Clifton Village side of the bridge is the Bristol Observatory which is a great spot for a picnic on a Summers day and is a popular photo opportunity of the bridge.
2. Bristol Museum and Art Gallery
For all of you history and architecture buffs, the Edwardian Baroque Architecture of the museum itself is worth seeing. Entry to the Museum and Gallery are free and houses collections of geology, Eastern art, Bristolian historical items, including English delftware, and local, national and international archaeology. The art gallery has many international works of all periods including many by internationally famous artists and a collection of modern paintings of Bristol. The museum is large and can easily take up the best part of your afternoon. It’s very child friendly and was always something I loved going to when I was younger, especially the dinosaurs and Egyptian Mummy’s. The majority of the collection remains the same but there are often special exhibitions so be sure to check out what’s on here.
3. Cabot Tower
Located smack bang in the middle of all the action in a nice little public park called Brandon Hill, Cabot Tower arguably has the best view of Bristol. It doesn’t take long to explore and make your way to the top, so it’s well worth the visit as long as you don’t mind pressing against strangers and the walls as you wind your way up the perilous spiral staircase. It’s free to go up and is a romantic spot to take a selfie.
4. The Arnolfini
Okay so if you’re not really into art, this won’t be your cup of tea, you’ll probably think it’s a bunch of pretentious junk. On the other hand, if you are as pretentious as me this is going to be right up your street. With a regular change in exhibitions the Arnolfini on many occasions has had me in admiration, deep thought and exhilaration. The surrounding bustling water front of Bristol Harbourside and nearby Queen’s Square are a great location for one of Europe’s leading contemporary art centres. Check out what’s on here.
5. Avon Cycleway
The Avon Cycleway is a fantastic bike ride. Considering Bristol’s hilly topography, the cycleway is very flat so it’s fun for all the family. There are several variations in loops that you can do the largest being 85-miles and some more manageable around 15-miles, all of which are well sign-posted. If you’re a keen cyclist, beware that the cycleway can get very busy with ambling families during the Summer months. This is a great free way to see Bristol’s surrounding suburbs and countryside with many cafés, picnic spots and traditional pubs along the way for food and a local cider. One of my favourite past times as a child was blackberry picking; they are at their tastiest in early September and the Cycleway has a few good spots for picking. They go great with a local apple in a crumble with a scoop of ice cream on top.
6. Ashton Court
If you’re in town during the International Balloon Fiesta (Mid-August) you’re in for an absolute treat. The festival is free to enter and has become Europe’s largest. Don’t miss the highlights of the show, which are the night glow and mass launch, for more information and what’s on click here. Outside of the chaotic balloon fiesta Ashton Court is entirely different, although you can still occasionally see hot air balloons taking off here. Especially in the summer it’s a lovely place to go for a leisurely stroll or to just lie on the grass watching the clouds change shape. Popular with locals for dog walking, jogging and family picnics in the summer, Ashton Court is located a conveniently short walk across the suspension bridge and you are out of the city into quaint Ashton. There are some lovely views of the nearby city and you can often spot wild deer roaming the park and other British wildlife.
7. St Mary Redcliffe Church
Not far from the Harbourside and the Arnolfini is the thriving St Mary Redcliffe Church, considered by many one of the country’s most beautiful churches. Sure this isn’t going to fill an afternoon but is worth popping in if you are in the area. Make sure you see the mesmerizing chaotic pendulum before you leave.
Photography by my good friend; Instagram @CharlesJDean