Bristol is an energetic and artsy city bursting with a robust restaurant scene, fascinating history, and lots of art. A college town with a youthful feeling, the city is full of great budget experiences, plenty of parks to relax in, interesting museums and historic homes, and a waterfront lined with art galleries and eateries.
Bristol is one of my favorite places to visit in England, and I’m not the only one who thinks so: in both 2014 and 2017, Bristol was named the best UK city. And that’s not the only award Bristol can claim — it won the European Green Capital Award in 2015, and in 2017 became a UNESCO City of Film.
In short, Bristol has a lot to offer. It’s an underrated city often overshadowed by England’s more international hubs but it’s definitely worth visiting for a day or two.
This travel guide to Bristol can help you plan a fun, affordable trip to this unappreciated gem!
Table of Contents
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Top 5 Things to See and Do in Bristol
1. See the Clifton Suspension Bridge
2. Visit the Bristol Cathedral
3. Learn nautical history aboard the SS Great Britain
4. Visit St Nicholas Market
5. Enjoy the street art
Other Things to See and Do in Bristol
1. Take a Pirate Walks tour
The Bristol Pirate Walks are short guided tours that take you to some of Bristol’s oldest neighborhoods. You’ll learn about Bristol’s early history in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries when slavery, maritime trading, and piracy were part of daily life. Tours cost 12.50 GBP and include visits to sites related to the legendary Long John Silver and Blackbeard’s Lair.
2. Hang out on King Street
King Street is a fascinating, historic part of Bristol dating to the 17th century. It used to be where the old sailing barges docked after their journeys from South Wales. Now the area is the heart of Bristol’s theater district and features numerous bars and restaurants too. The oldest continually operating theatre in England, Bristol Old Vic, is located on King Street. Tickets to a show start at 8 GBP.
3. Daytrip to Bath
The site of the ancient Roman baths is just a quick train ride away. The Romans used this area as their spa retreat up until the 5th century. Whether you’re interested in seeing the baths, cathedrals, or Jane Austen’s home (her family lived here in the early 19th century), Bath is an easy and enjoyable day trip from Bristol. Trains from Bristol to Bath run all day and it’s just a 16-minute ride for 8.40 GBP.
4. Explore the Wookey Hole Caves
This unique geological area, comprised of a series of limestone caves formed by an underground river, is another short day trip from Bristol. During your visit, you can take a 35-minute tour, stop in the historical museum, and view artifacts that archaeologists have uncovered in the caves. You can also take a boat ride through the murky cave waters and learn about spelunking. Don’t miss the famous Witch of Wookey Hole, a human-shaped stalagmite that legend says is a witch who was turned to stone. Most of the attractions are geared for children and families (other attractions at the site include animatronic dinosaurs). Admission is 20 GBP.
5. Take a stroll along the Bristol Harbour
The historic Bristol Harbour along the Avon River was traditionally known as the Floating Harbor because the water levels neither rise nor fall, keeping everything constant. Today, the harbor is home to most of Bristol’s busy street life and many of the city’s tourist attractions, including the Watershed Media Center and the M Shed Museum. In July, the free Bristol Harbour Festival features a weekend of activities on the waterfront including live music, dance performances, spoken word, food markets, circus acts, and more.
6. Tour the Bristol Aquarium
In a city with such close ties to the sea, it’s no wonder the Bristol Aquarium has several unique exhibitions on display. There’s an underwater tunnel that takes you through a recreated environment, and even a sunken ship inside. The real attraction, though, is the Urban Jungle which features hundreds of exotic plants and trees, including mangroves. The jungle’s underwater environment is home to stingrays and freshwater fish from the Amazon rainforest. Tickets to the museum are 17.50 GBP, though you can also buy a 4-pack of adult tickets for a steep discount if traveling in a group. It’s a good place to visit if you’re traveling with kids.
7. Wander the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery
Bristol’s largest museum is home to an extensive collection of art and artifacts, including works from Bellini, Renoir, Hepworth, Sisley, and Bomberg. The ground floor has a collection of Egyptian mummies and other ancient artifacts, as well as displays dedicated to rare gems and crystals. Possibly the oddest yet most beloved part of the museum is Alfred the Gorilla, a mascot for the city. The gorilla originally lived in the Bristol Zoo, but since his death in 1948, he has been housed in a glass case on the second floor of the museum (he was even stolen for a few years in the 50s). Admission is free.
8. Visit M Shed
For a more in-depth look at the city of Bristol itself, visit this free museum. Over 3,000 artifacts comprise the museum’s exhibitions, which focus on the people and history of the city. The exhibition includes a collection of historic vessels, such as a fireboat and the oldest surviving steam tugboat (which is moored outside the museum).
9. Take a harbor tour
For an even closer look at the harbor, Bristol Ferry Boats offers daily harbor tours leaving from the city center. You’ll get to float past all of Bristol’s maritime sights during the hour-long tour and learn more about the city. They also offer specialized cruises (such as a gin cruise) on certain days of the week. Tickets to the daily harbor tour are 8 GBP.
10. Meander through Castle Park
Before being destroyed in World War II, Bristol’s main shopping district was located on the site of what is now this large harbor-side park. The park is home to several ruins: the 14th-century tower of St Mary-le-Port Church, the 12th century St Peter’s Church (now a memorial to those who died in the Bristol Blitz), and vestiges of Bristol Castle itself. Stop in for a hot drink at the Vaulted Chambers Café, located within the last above-ground remnants of Bristol Castle.
For more information on specific cities in England, check out these guides!
Bristol Travel Costs
Hostel prices – There aren’t too many hostel options in the city and some close in the off-season. A dorm with 4-8 beds costs 25 GBP. Several of the hostels are currently only offering private rooms for 50-80 GBP per night due to COVID. Free Wi-Fi is standard and most hostels also have self-catering facilities.
There is only one campground in the immediate area (Ennywevers Campsite), but if you branch out from the city you can find others. Expect to pay around 10 GBP for a basic tent plot without electricity.
Budget hotel prices – Budget two-star hotels cost 70 GBP per night. Free Wi-Fi is standard and breakfast is often included.
There are also lots of Airbnb options in Bristol. Private rooms start at 45 GBP per night while a full apartment averages 90-100 GBP per night.
Food – While British cuisine has evolved in leaps and bounds due to immigration (and colonialism), it’s still very much a meat and potatoes country. Fish and chips remain a popular staple for both lunch and dinner while roasted and stewed meats, sausages, meat pies, and the quintessential Yorkshire pudding are all common options as well. Curry (and other Indian dishes, such as tikka masala), are super popular too.
For a cheap pub meal of fish and chips, falafel, or sandwiches, prices start around 6 GBP.
A mid-range meal at a casual pub or restaurant costs 12-16 GBP for a main course while a pint of beer costs 5 GBP. Dining on the waterfront or at a nice restaurant costs around 27 GBP for a multi-course meal with a drink.
Fast food (think McDonald’s) costs around 7 GBP for a combo meal while pizza starts at 9 GBP. Indian food starts at 7 GBP for a main dish.
Lattes/cappuccinos cost around 3 GBP while bottled water is less than 1 GBP.
If you choose to cook your own meals, a week’s worth of groceries costs 40-50 GBP. This gets you basic staples like rice, pasta, seasonal produce, and some meat.
Backpacking Bristol Suggested Budgets
If you’re backpacking Bristol, expect to spend 50 GBP per day. This budget covers a hostel dorm, taking public transit, limiting your drinking, cooking your own meals, and doing mostly free activities like museum visits and seeing the suspension bridge. If you plan on drinking, add 5-10 GBP per day to your budget.
A mid-range budget of 115 GBP per day covers staying in a private Airbnb room or private hostel, eating out for most of your meals, taking the occasional taxi, having a few drinks, and a few paid activities such as a harbor cruise or street art tour.
On a “luxury” budget of 220 GBP or more per day, you can stay in a hotel, eat out anywhere you want, drink more, rent a car or take more taxis, and do whatever tours and activities you want. This is just the ground floor for luxury though. The sky is the limit!
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages – some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in GBP.
Bristol Travel Guide: Money-Saving Tips
With cheap pubs, public parks, an accessible waterfront, and hostels, there are plenty of ways to save money in Bristol. Here are my top ways to save money when you visit:
- Chill in the park – It seems like Bristol is one giant park, with many great places to relax, play Frisbee, read, and picnic. It’s a low-cost way to spend an afternoon, hang out, and people-watch.
- Eat cheap – Bristol is a college town with lots of cheap sandwich shops and restaurants. Flock to where the students go to save money on your meals. Popular places for students include St. Nick’s Market, the Harbourside Market, and at places along Wapping Wharf (Bertha’s for pizza is a great stop).
- Visit the museums – Learn about Bristol’s fascinating history by going to the museums, all of which are free.
- Take a free walking tour – If you’re there on a weekend, be sure to take a free walking tour. It lasts a couple hours and is a nice way to get a sense of the city. Bristol Free Walking Tours offers free tours that cover the highlights (currently on pause due to COVID). Visit Bristol also offers several free self-guided audio tours for download on their website.
- Stay with a local – If you’re on a budget, use Couchsurfing to stay with a local. It’s a great way to cut costs while getting insider tips and advice. Just note that many students are away during the summer so be sure to apply early.
- Bring a water bottle – The tap water here is safe to drink so bring a reusable water bottle to save money and reduce your plastic use. LifeStraw is my go-to brand as their bottles have built-in filters to ensure your water is always clean and safe.
Where to Stay in Bristol
Bristol has a few hostels; however, most are not currently booking dorms due to COVID safety protocols. Nevertheless, here are my favorite places to stay in Bristol for when things open up again:
How to Get Around Bristol
Public transportation – Public transit for Bristol and the surrounding area operates on a zone system, so bus prices depend on how far you go. A single fare in Zone A (Bristol and the immediate area) costs 2.25 GBP, with a daily cap of 5 GBP (the price of a Zone A day pass). The city center is easily walkable but to get to some of the outer parts of the city you’ll need to take a bus.
Bicycle – Bristol is a bike-friendly city, ranking as the UK’s best city for cycling. Cycle the City and Bristol Cycle Shack both offer day rentals for 15-18 GBP. If you’re planning to cycle outside of the main city area to enjoy the riverside country trails, consider getting an electric bike or a mountain bike to make the trip easier. You can even cycle all the way to Bath (there’s a bike path and it’s just 13 miles). Electric bike rentals cost 40 GBP per day.
Taxis – Taxis are readily available, with prices starting at 2.50 GBP and going up 2.15 GBP per mile. Given how expensive they are, I wouldn’t take one unless absolutely necessary.
Ridesharing – Uber is available in Bristol but again walking or cycling are the easiest way to get around in the compact city.
Car rental – Car rentals can be found for as little as 25 GBP per day for a multi-day rental. Keep in mind you’ll be driving on the left and that most cars have a manual transmission. You don’t need a car to explore the city, however, it might be helpful if you want to explore the region.
When to Go to Bristol
Bristol doesn’t get too cold, but like most English cities, it also doesn’t get too hot. Summer is peak tourism season and temperatures are the warmest during this time – but rarely are they ever above 22°C (72°F). People make the most of the warm weather and during July and August, there are tons of events and festivals happening along the Bristol harbor. One of the most famous is the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta when hundreds of hot air balloons fill the sky during the first two weeks of August.
Spring (late March-June) and autumn (September-November) are also fantastic times to visit, as temperatures are mild and the summer crowds have thinned out. You can still walk everywhere and hang out in the parks. Just bring a rain jacket.
Winter lasts from December to February and temperatures can dip below freezing (0°C/32°F). While prices are a bit lower, I wouldn’t visit during the winter as you’ll miss out on the parks and other outdoor activities.
How to Stay Safe in Bristol
Bristol is a safe city and the risk of violent crime here is low. Scams and pickpocketing can occur around high traffic areas, especially on busy weekend nights in the city center when partygoers are a little less aware. Always keep your valuables secure and out of sight just to be safe.
If you’re partying in the student pubs, be aware of your surroundings and avoid dimly lit alleys and pathways when heading home. Pickpockets tend to work in teams, so stay alert and be aware of your surroundings.
When out at the bar, always keep an eye on your drink and never walk home alone if intoxicated.
If you experience an emergency, dial 999 for assistance.
You can read about common travel scams to avoid here.
As a general rule, if you don’t do it at home, don’t do it in Bristol!
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:
Bristol Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel to Bristol. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and, overall, are better than their competitors. They are the ones I use the most and are always the starting points in my search for travel deals.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine. They search small websites and budget airlines that larger search sites tend to miss. They are hands down the number one place to start.
- Momondo – This is my other favorite flight search engine because they search such a wide variety of sites and airlines. I never book a flight without checking here too.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or in their spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can share the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- Booking.com – The best all-around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around England, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get a discount when you click the link!
- The Man in Seat 61 – This website is the ultimate guide to train travel anywhere in the world. They have the most comprehensive information on routes, times, prices, and train conditions. If you are planning a long train journey or some epic train trip, consult this site.
- Rome2Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B in the best and cheapest way possible. It gives you all the bus, train, plane, and boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
- BlaBlaCar – BlaBlaCar is a ridesharing website that lets you share rides with vetted local drivers by paying a small fee. You simply request a seat, they approve, and off you go! It’s a cheaper and more interesting way to travel than by bus or train!
- EatWith – This website allows you to eat home-cooked meals with locals. Locals post listings for dinner parties and specialty meals that you can sign up for. There is a fee (everyone sets their own price) but this is a great way to do something different, pick a local’s brain, and make a new friend.
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
Bristol Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Bristol Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
Notes from a Small Island, by Bill Bryson
After spending nearly 20 years living in Great Britain, author Bill Bryson decides to return to the United States. (To quote him: “I had recently read that 3.7 million Americans believed that they had been abducted by aliens at one time or another, so it was clear that my people needed me.”) But before he leaves the UK, he sets out on a tour of his adoptive country, delivering hilarious social commentary on the nation that brought us Shakespeare and zebra crossings.
Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
Jane Austen’s most popular novel is one of those classics you read and can’t ever forget about. It’s famous for a reason. When Elizabeth Bennet meets an arrogant bachelor named Fitzwilliam Darcy, she immediately brushes him off as too conceited — and he immediately ignores her good looks and charm. Elizabeth discovers that Darcy has become involved in the disastrous relationship of his friend Bingley and her sister Jane, which further deepens her disdain. What follows is an excellent commentary on England’s snobbish middle-class life and the dangers of judging someone by first impressions.
Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë
While this is Emily Brontë’s only novel (originally published under a male pseudonym), its impact has withstood the test of time. The 19th-century story focuses on Mr. Lockwood, the newest tenant of Thrushcross Grange on the Yorkshire moors, who is forced to seek shelter one evening at Wuthering Heights (the home of his landlord). He soon uncovers a love story between an orphan named Heathcliff and high society’s Catherine Earnshaw. The book is about love and the risks and challenges and pain that often accompany it.
Sorry!: The English and Their Manners, by Henry Hitchings
The Brits are notorious for their polite behavior and the importance of having proper manners. This book by Henry Hitchings is an investigation into that phenomenon. It isn’t just holding doors open and keeping your elbows off the table, though — there’s a whole system for things like sexual conduct, hospitality, chivalry, online etiquette, and so much more. This is a funny, upbeat read about British manners and what it all says about the English character.
Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens
An English reading list without Charles Dickens isn’t a reading list at all! The book is about the course of orphan Pip Pirrip’s life as he is transformed from a poor boy begging for soup to the heir of a mysterious inheritance from an unknown person. Dickens takes us through Pirrip’s life as he abandons his apprenticeship to a blacksmith and then takes up a new station as a proper English gentleman. Dickens is a masterful storyteller and this book continually ranks in the greatest novels of all time.
Bristol Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on backpacking/traveling England and continue planning your trip: