Offbeat, quirky and full of fun, Bristol has long been a favourite for a last-minute weekend break for those in the know.
Now the cat’s well and truly out of the bag - the city has been named as the best place to live in Britain, according to the Sunday Times Best Places to Live Guide.
Described as “a small city that feels like a big city”, Bristol beat off stiff competition from London and other major UK destinations to take the well-deserved top spot.
Elegant Georgian architecture, smart dining destinations and buzzy nightlife spots… there are dozens of reasons why you should plan a visit to this cool and creative city. Here are just a handful.
You’ll never run out of places to eat in Bristol, and the city has built a reputation on its vibrant foodie scene. Locals will tell you that the best fare is plated up at Casamia - a Michelin-starred dining experience that’s as famed for its seasonally changing decor as it is for its tasting menus. Mediterranean-inspired tapas spot Bell's Diner is also a highlight, as is neighbourhood gem Wilson’s, London export The Ivy at Clifton and modern British restaurant Bulrush. Street food is big here, and come July, summer pop-ups start appearing in trendy St Nick’s Market. Wander around on a hot afternoon and you’ll find a surfeit of unassuming trucks and carts that will serve up fresh, tasty and aromatic grub right in front of you.
Nightlife and festivals
Like most student cities, Bristol knows how to throw a good party from dusk ‘til dawn. There are underground dive bars, cosy pubs, retro nightclubs and music venues to keep even the most hackneyed hipster happy. Sound-system culture is at the heart of city, and so you’ll find plenty of places to party if you’re a fan of turntables -Timbuk2, Motion and Basement 45 are the best places to head for dance and D&B. Meanwhile, Bristol’s huge summer festival, Love Saves The Day, sees thousands of party-goers descend on Eastville Park for live music, DJ sets and all-round good vibes.
Culture & history
Bristol has a fascinating history as one of the country’s most economically important cities - in medieval times it competed with York for the title of England’s largest city after London - and so no stopover is complete without a visit to its harbourside history museum, M Shed. The converted 1950’s transit shed is a fascinating intro to the changing face of Bristol, from prehistoric times to the 21st century. Clifton Observatory high up on the downs is also worth a visit - it’s home to one of only two camera obscuras open to the public in England. The site affords terrific views over Bristol and a bird’s eye view of Brunel’s famous suspension bridge below.
The street art scene is a big part of Bristol life. Local boy Banksy started as a freehand graffiti artist in the city in the Nineties, and so you can see some of his earliest original murals while wandering around the city with a coffee on a free afternoon. Keep your eyes peeled for the very famous Mild, Mild West and The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum. It’s not just Banksy’s work that’s worth venturing outdoors for, however, and there are new works popping up all the time - ‘Breakdancing Jesus’ in Stokes Croft, created by the artist Cosmo Sarson, is also an epic sight to behold.
Bristol is a sanctuary for magpies on the hunt for second-hand treasures, one-off designer pieces and rare records - so make sure you come with an empty boot and a full wallet. If retail therapy is your thing, check out Garment Quarter for one-off pieces from the catwalk, Gloucester Road for vintage shopping and Clifton Village for a spot of antiques hunting.
Small St. Espresso, The Stock Exchange Bakery, Baristas… you’re never far from an excellent cup of coffee in Bristol. Daytrippers should make a pitstop at the Playground Coffee House, where you can sit on swings while you slurp your drinks, or hunker down in one of their leather sofas and tuck into their massive pile of board games.
Bars and restaurants are all well and good, but where do weekenders go to get a good night’s kip? Well-heeled clientele hang their hats at chic boutique lodgings Bristol Harbour Hotel, which is set in two former Grade II Listed former banks and overlooks trendy St.Nicholas market. As well as luxury digs, the hotel boasts the brasserie-style Jetty restaurant, cosy cocktails bars and a brand spanking new spa to pad around in on a weekend afternoon.
Hackney fans will love buzzy Stokes Croft, a special pocket of the city that’s home to cafes, drinking spots and all manner of fixie bike-riding freelancers. Get your laundry done and pick up a soy latte at At The Well (a laundrette come coffe shop, naturally), tuck into vegan avo on toast at Cafe Kino or pop into The Canteen for an Aperol Spritz - Bristol’s open air answer to Frank’s Cafe. Banksy was one of the first to tag here, but Stokes Croft is now home to dozens of inspiring street murals from all corners of the globe.
The Clifton Lido makes for a great day out when the sun is shining. Unlike many other of Britain’s outdoor swimming spots, it's been given a stunning makeover with a new spa and restaurant. Pop in for a cup of tea in the glass-walled bar or soak up the rays outside as you watch the swimmers go by.
Cosy old pubs
Bristol’s lively pub scene is no secret. There are charming, old-fashioned boozers, trendy microbreweries and pretty pubs with roaring fires. Locals recommend you check out The Cornubia (a real ale pub that’s been around for donkey’s), smart cellar bar The Beer Emporium and snug, 19th-century pub The Highbury Vaults. The Corrie Tap also brews its own cider so strong, you’ll probably only be able to stomach a half pint.