The Best Things to do in Bristol, UK

The 15 Best Things to do in Bristol, England

Perched on the tidal banks of the River Avon, Bristol is one of the United Kingdom’s most progressive cities. With a recorded history stretching to the Anglo-Saxons, Bristol is today home to street artists and graffiti (have you heard of Banksy?), one of the most diverse food scenes in the country, and iconic sights like the SS Great Britain and the Clifton Suspension Bridge. 

Explore the Georgian terraces of Clifton, be awed by views of the Avon Gorge from the Clifton Observatory, or take a boat ride beneath Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s famous bridge. Join street art tours, take off into the skies at the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta, or join the festivities at St. Paul’s Afro-Caribbean-inspired carnival. 

With so many things to see and do, you might not know where to begin. That’s why we’ve compiled our list of the absolute best things to do in Bristol for you. Try these fun and unique Bristol bucket list recommendations, and there’s no doubt you’ll have an incredible time exploring this gorgeous British city!

The 15 Best Things to do in Bristol

1. Stroll Along the Clifton Suspension Bridge

Unique Things to do in Bristol, England: Clifton Suspension Bridge

Soaring 100 meters above the River Avon, the Clifton Suspension Bridge is one of the most recognizable Bristol attractions. This iconic work of engineering is a masterpiece of Victorian ingenuity and design, and ever since it opened in 1864, the bridge has been a vital link from one side of the Avon Gorge to the other.

Perched precariously on top of Bristol’s limestone cliffs, the Clifton Suspension Bridge was based on drawings and schematics conceived by the city’s most famous engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who also designed the largest ships of the day. Brunel never lived to see his suspension bridge become a reality, but it’s safe to say he’d be happy that his plans not only came to fruition but became an enduring symbol of Bristol.

You can walk over the bridge at your leisure, which connects Leigh Woods and Ashton Court on the western side of the gorge to Clifton on the eastern side, although it costs £1 to cross in a vehicle. The views of the Avon Gorge as you stroll over are sublime, and on the Clifton side of the bridge, you can carry on walking to the Clifton Observatory, where you’ll have an amazing panoramic view that includes the bridge itself.

2. Take a Tour of the SS Great Britain

Fun Things to do in Bristol, England: SS Great Britain

Bristol’s location on the banks of the River Avon, within easy striking distance of the busy Atlantic shipping lanes, ensured that the city became home to one of the United Kingdom’s busiest shipbuilding industries following the Industrial Revolution.

Take a stroll of Bristol Harbour today, and you’ll still see ships being built and yachts moored all along the wharves, although things are much quieter than they were in centuries past. As you walk along the harborside, you’ll also notice the tall, wooden masts of the SS Great Britain, which was once the largest ship in the world.

The SS Great Britain is one of the best sights in Bristol, and at almost 100 meters in length, with an iron hull and kitted out with both engines and sails, it was the most technologically advanced ship of its day when it launched in 1843. The SS Great Britain was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel (who else, in Bristol?) and spent decades crossing the Atlantic Ocean or voyaging to Australia before she made her final journey in 1886.

If you’re looking for unique things to do in Bristol, you can visit the SS Great Britain today and learn all about its design, construction, and service life (including what life was like on board). You’ll also learn how the ship was salvaged in 1970 after being left to rot in the Falkland Islands, thousands of miles from Bristol. 

In 1970, a team from the UK refloated the ship and towed it all the way from Port Stanley back to Bristol harbor, where it was rebuilt and transformed into a museum back home in its original berth.

3. See the Infamous Colston Statue

What to do in Bristol, England: Tour of M Shed

Bristol, with its multicultural and often rebellious outlook, has always been seen as one of the UK’s most progressive cities. In recent years, this ethos took on epic proportions when Bristol made headlines across the world after the toppling of the infamous Edward Colston statue in 2020. 

Colston had been a philanthropist, but he had also been a slave trader, and when Bristolians decided they’d had enough of the man, they tore his statue down and threw it into the harbor. The statue was eventually pulled out, and it was decided the best place for it was in M Shed, a forward-thinking museum, where it could be preserved with the graffiti intact.

The Colston Statue was put on temporary display in the museum, and although it’s now been placed in the storage warehouse, you can still see it by signing up for a Behind-the-Scenes Tour of the museum, which is easily one of the best free things to do in Bristol. 

Bristol, England Things to do: Tour of M Shed

These unique, volunteer-led tours are run several times a week, and they offer a fantastic insight into the museum’s extensive collection (the majority of which isn’t on display), as well as the process of curation and how the curators decide what is put on display.

You’ll see the Colston Statue and many of the placards that were shown during the protests, as well as parts of the Concord (which was designed in Bristol), vintage bicycles, old coaches and carriages, and so much more. After the tour, take the time to explore the public galleries at M Shed, where you’ll learn about 2,000 years of Bristolian history, including everything from Romans to the city’s role in the Transatlantic Slave Trade. 

4. Take the Slave Trade Walk

Unique Things to do in Bristol, England: Slave Trade Walk

If you’re interested in learning more about Bristol’s history, then the fascinating Slave Trade Walk is one of the best things to do in Bristol. This unique walk offers a progressive perspective on the city’s role in one of the darkest periods of human history. 

Much of Bristol’s wealth was built on the misery and anguish of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, as Bristolian merchants (including the infamous Edward Colston) made a fortune shipping Africans to plantations in the Caribbean and Americas. Much of their wealth was reinvested into Bristol, funding (directly or indirectly) many of the Georgian and Victorian-era buildings you see today. 

But much of this history was later covered up, as Bristolians felt it unnecessary to delve into the source of the city’s affluence. Bristol’s role in the Slave Trade, though, is now being discussed in as honest a way as it ever has been, largely thanks to the toppling of Colston’s statue in 2020.

Rob Collin, a local Bristolian history enthusiast, developed his Slave Trade Walk in 2019 after beginning to understand that this was a history the city never told. His walk takes you to sights associated with slave traders or the Slave Trade, including Pero’s Bridge (named after Pero, a slave who was brought to Bristol), Bristol Cathedral, the Wills Memorial Building, Queen Square, and many more famous landmarks. Along the way, you’ll hear about Bristol’s role in the Slave Trade and why it matters today. 

5. Discover Banksy’s Graffiti on a Street Art Tour

Fun Things to do in Bristol, England: Street Art Tour

Nobody knows the identity of world-renowned street artist Banksy, the person (or perhaps, the group of artists) that turned graffiti into a mainstream, creative pursuit. All we know is that Banksy began their career tagging Bristol landmarks, and they’ve returned time and time again to host exhibitions and add to the street art.

For art lovers, then, a street art tour is one of the must-do things in Bristol. You’ll be guided around Bristol’s creative districts, finding hidden graffiti and not-so-hidden murals in places like Stokes Croft or North Street.

In central Bristol, you’ll also find some of Banksy’s most iconic works, including “The Grim Reaper,” “The Girl with the Pierced Ear Drum,” and “The Well Hung Lover.”

6. Visit the ‘Giant’s Cave’ in the Clifton Observatory

Bristol, England Bucket List: Clifton Observatory

One of the best things to see in Bristol is the Clifton Observatory, which has stood on the top of the Avon Gorge since 1766. 

The observatory’s tower offers fantastic views of the Clifton Suspension Bridge, while the three-floor museum within the tower takes you all the way back to the Iron Age when the Celts built a hillfort on this same spot. At the top of the observation tower, you’ll even find William West’s Camera Obscura, an invention installed in 1828 to provide unique panoramas for Victorian tourists. 

Must do Things in Bristol, England: Clifton Observatory

But the real fun is below ground. From the Clifton Observatory, you can access a 61-meter-long tunnel that allows access to the fabled Giant’s Cave. Said to be the home of legendary giants Goram and Ghyston, the cave opens out into a natural viewing area 76 meters above the Avon Gorge.

7. Climb to the Top of Cabot Tower

Bristol, England Things to do: Cabot Tower

For one of the best views in Bristol, climb to the top of Cabot Tower. Standing 32 meters tall, Cabot Tower has a lofty perch at the top of Brandon Hill, offering sweeping panoramas of the city below.

The tower itself is a beautiful piece of local history. It was originally constructed in the late 19th century as a tribute to John Cabot, a European explorer who had set sail from Bristol some 400 years earlier and crossed the Atlantic Ocean. Cabot’s voyages took him to Newfoundland and other parts of what eventually became Canada, making him one of the first Europeans to visit this part of the world.

What to do in Bristol, England: Cabot Tower

Cabot Tower almost fell down in the 2000s, though, but a costly repair job fixed up the famous Bristol landmark and kept it open for the public. Make the climb to the top, and you’ll be rewarded with an excellent view of the skyline.

8. Jump aboard for a Bristol Packet Boat Trip

This is a city that’s long been defined by the River Avon and its “Floating Harbour,” so a boat ride is one of the best things to do in Bristol. While you can hop on the Bristol Ferry for quick crossings from one side of the harbor to the next, we recommend signing up for a longer Bristol Packet Boat Trip.

Bristol Packet Boat Trips have been operating old narrow boats and heritage ships along the River Avon since 1974. Their unique fleet of boats all have a long history behind them, and they’re continuing a tradition of “Pleasure Boating,” which extends back to the Victorian era. 

Hop aboard, and you’ll be plied with cream teas, soft drinks, and cider as you explore the waterways around Bristol. The shortest trips take you around the “Floating Harbour,” a work of engineering genius that allows Bristol’s harbor to stay open despite the low tides of the River Avon.

When the tide is high, though, you can also join longer trips along the Avon Gorge, where you’ll pass under Brunel’s famous bridge before traveling west toward the Bristol Channel. If you’re looking for more fun things to do in Bristol, there are also dedicated “Pub Lunch Tours,” taking you to riverside beer gardens in summer, as well as the famous “Cream Tea Cruise!”

9. Take a Walk along Clifton Down

Best Things to do in Bristol, England: Clifton Down

Clifton – where you’ll find the iconic Clifton Suspension Bridge, Clifton Observatory, and the grandest Georgian terrace houses in Bristol – is home to one of the city’s best public spaces. 

Clifton Down, a large area of open grassland, punctuated by the odd woodland, has been a public park since it was purchased for the people of Bristol in 1861. The Down really begins at the top of the Avon Gorge and then extends across the top of Clifton for several miles. 

Clifton is the perfect place for a walk, jog, or bike ride, while the open space is often used for exercise classes, music festivals, and public events all throughout the year. 

10. Go for a Swim at Bristol’s historic Lido

Best Things to do in Bristol, England: Lido

Hidden among the Georgian terraces of Clifton, overlooking the steep sides of the Avon Gorge, is Bristol’s historic Lido. First opened in the 1850s, when Clifton was in the midst of a construction boom as Bristol’s wealthiest families moved to this affluent neighborhood, the Lido was designed as the peak of Victorian leisure facilities.

The outdoor swimming pool was open for almost a century and a half until it was finally closed in the 1990s and, unfortunately, scheduled for demolition. But the historic Lido, with its unique Victorian architecture, was saved by Bristolians and was reopened in 2008 after a massive refurbishment.

Now, the old Lido has been transformed into a modern spa pool, complete with saunas, steam rooms, and masseuses. But the ethos of the Victorian Lido is still there, and you’ll love swimming in the outdoor pool, which is kept at a comfortable temperature of 25°C all year round. 

11. Eat Your Way Around St. Nicholas Markets

Cool Things to do in Bristol, England: St. Nicholas Markets

If you’re a keen foodie, then you’ve picked the right British city for a vacation because Bristol has one of the most exciting culinary scenes in the country. The city’s diverse communities ensure that you’ll never be bored when you’re eating out in Bristol, with everything from modern Anglo-Indian cuisine to feisty Caribbean curries on offer.

Bristol has two Michelin-starred restaurants (but you’ll need to book weeks, perhaps even months in advance), while no less than 35 restaurants (ranging from traditional English pub grub to Spanish-Mexican fusion restaurants) are listed in the Michelin guide. But despite these accolades, the best food in Bristol is still found among the humble, yet historic, stalls of the St. Nicholas Markets.

Located right in the middle of the city, the St. Nicholas Markets have been feeding hungry Bristolians since 1743. Take a walk through the narrow alleyways of the undercover market, and you’ll be tempted by the sizzling smell of fried gyoza, the colorful toppings of freshly made falafel pita sandwiches, and the fiery spices of Szechuan hot pots. 

The market is open from Monday to Saturday, while on Tuesdays and Fridays, there’s an additional lunchtime street food market that sees even more worldly cuisine added to the menu. If you’re looking to sample the best of the best of the city’s diverse food scene, eating your way around St. Nicolas Markets is easily one of the best things to do in Bristol.

12. Cycle from Bristol to Bath

Unique Things to do in Bristol, England: Cycle from Bristol to Bath

Tackling the cycle path to Bath is one of the best Bristol activities to add to your bucket list, especially when it’s a sunny day. Bristol’s association with cycling is a long one, and the city is proud to be the home of Sustrans, a charity that oversees Britain’s extensive “National Cycle Network.”

Their first project, way back in the 1970s, was the Bristol and Bath Railway Path, which follows an old rail route that once connected the two cities. Sustrans transformed the disused railway into a cycle path, which is now one of the best short bike rides in the UK. 

At 13 miles long, you can easily cycle there and back in a day, with plenty of time to stop off en route at old stations that are now cafes. Once in Bath, you can visit the Roman ruins, the thermal spa, and Bath Abbey before turning around and cycling back to Bristol. Alternatively, you could hop on the modern train line which connects the two cities and be back in Bristol in 17 minutes!

13. Enjoy a Pint at the Bristol Beer Factory

Bristol, England Bucket List: Bristol Beer Factory

After all that Bristol sightseeing, we won’t be surprised if you’ve worked up a thirst. Beer lovers are in luck because you can quench that thirst with a trip to the Bristol Beer Factory. This excellent brewery epitomizes the independent spirit of Bristol, and you’ll love sampling the different brews, hops, and flavors that are blended to perfection inside the tap rooms. 

The Bristol Beer Factory produces a popular range of beers that you’ll find all over the city, including favorites like the Southville Hop, The Independence, and the Clear Head (the last one being an alcohol-free beer). The best beer, however, is always going to be the Milk Stout, a creamy, dark porter that’s packed with milky goodness. 

The Bristol Beer Factory offers tours of their brewery on North Street once a week, which includes a behind-the-scenes look at the brewing process in addition to a tasting session in the bar. Their Tap Room is open all week, where you’re welcome to stay for a pint, a tasting board, or to take a crate of beers home with you.

14. Embrace Multiculturalism at St. Paul’s Carnival 

What to do in Bristol, England: St. Paul’s Carnival

Bristol is easily one of the UK’s most diverse cities, and you can embrace the multicultural side of life at St. Paul’s Carnival. 

Held once a year in St. Paul’s, the carnival started in 1968 as a celebration of Bristol’s Afro-Caribbean communities. Since then, it’s evolved into a wider celebration of Bristol’s diversity, focusing on food, art, dance, and culture from all over the globe, but that’s found here in the city. 

Must do Things in Bristol, England: St. Paul’s Carnival

If you’re looking for festive Bristol activities, join the parades, mingle with 100,000 other carnival-goers, try some of the best Caribbean food in Bristol, and then stay up late partying the night away in St. Paul’s!

15. Attend the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta

Cool Things to do in Bristol, England: Bristol International Balloon Fiesta

One of the most famous sights in Bristol is the early morning ascent of hundreds of hot air balloons as they lift off from Ashton Court to hang like a painting above the city’s skyline. This is the start of the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta, when hot air balloons fill the skies for the annual festival every August.

The festival is a celebration of Bristol’s hot air ballooning industry, and it’s been taking place every year since 1979. It now attracts as many as 500,000 spectators and 100 hot air balloons over four days, with every day starting with the iconic morning ascent as the sun rises.

Throughout the day, you can watch hot air balloons rising into the skies while live music and entertainment keep the crowds amused at Ashton Court. The balloons take off en masse in the evening, too, just before sunset, while the highlight of the festival is the Night Glow (usually held on Saturday), when the balloons light up the night sky. 

There you have it! The 15 best things to do in Bristol. What’s your favorite thing to do in Bristol?



  • Richard Collett

    Richard is an award-winning travel writer based in Southwest England who’s addicted to traveling off the beaten track. He’s traveled to 75 countries and counting in search of intriguing stories, unusual destinations, and cultural curiosities.

    Richard loves traveling the long way round over land and sea, and you’ll find him visiting quirky micronations and breakaway territories as often as he’s found lounging on a beach (which is a lot).

    When he’s not writing for BBC Travel, National Geographic, or Lonely Planet, you can find Richard writing for the Wandering Wheatleys or updating his off-beat travel blog, Travel Tramp.

    View all posts

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *