Bristol, UK is an incredibly vibrant, diverse and interesting city in the south-west of England. The city has lots of green spaces and is teeming with independent museums, cafes, shops, and restaurants. Bristol has a huge variety of things to do which are free or low-cost, enabling you to see the best of the city without spending much money.
For this article, I have mainly included places which are within walking distance of the city centre, but the suburbs and outskirts of Bristol have lots to offer too, particularly Totterdown, Easton, Redfield, St George, Church Road, Stoke Park, and Victoria Park.
If you have longer to explore by public transport, or have access to a car or bike, I suggest you explore those areas, too.
The Arnolfini Gallery
The Arnolfini Gallery has a mixture of free and paid exhibitions as well as a reading room, café and bookshop. It’s a peaceful and welcoming space where everyone is welcome. For warmer days, you can take your drinks outside and sit and look at the boats in the harbour as well as people-watching.
Bristol Museum and Art Gallery
Bristol Museum and Art Gallery is part of a network of museums throughout Bristol. Like the Arnolfini, there’s a mixture of free and paid exhibitions. Bristol Museum also has a café, and is child-friendly.
Royal West of England Academy
If you’ve made the journey up steep Park Street or Park Row, after visiting Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, pop into the Royal West of England Academy for yet another amazing gallery. As well as the permanent collection, look out for the visiting exhibitions.
Brandon Hill Park
And if you’re ready for some fresh air after being inside for a little while, head down the hill a short way to Brandon Hill Park where you’ll find Cabot Tower which you can climb for far-reaching views.
Bristol is intertwined with Banksy and many of his famous works are within walking distance of each other.
As well as Banksy, you can also find a huge variety of work by other street artists all around the city. If you’re in Bristol in the summer months, look out for Upfest, Europe’s largest street art festival. Here are some maps and walking guide’s to Bristol’s street art, whatever time of year you’re visiting.
Upfest’s street art map (free), Visit Bristol’s Banksy guide (free), Where The Wall’s self-guided audio tour (£10 for 24 hours), Wanderer of the World Banksy tour (free) and Where Goes Rose street art tour (free).
Instagrammable Photo Opps
When you do an image search for Bristol, something you’ll see over and over again are photos which capture the colourful terraced houses.
Many neighbourhoods in Bristol have beautiful and colourful houses as well as mixture of gorgeous building styles, but some areas have particularly great vantage points where you can appreciate the colourful rows or where you can capture especially great angles.
This article by Where Goes Rose details some of the really great streets and spots in Clifton for seeing the houses. You can also find colourful houses in Totterdown (and some say this is where the trend originated) so check those out too if you have time to leave the city centre.
Shop Til Ya Drop
As well as its indie shops, cafes and restaurants, you’ll find a selection of markets around the city. It’s worth looking on social media as there are frequent pop-ups and one-offs in addition the regular markets I have listed below, especially in the run up to Christmas.
The two main food markets that happen in the city centre are the Harbourside food market which runs on Wednesdays and Thursday from 12 – 2.30 and on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 – 4, and the Finzel’s Reach food market which runs on Fridays from 12 – 2pm.
There’s always a wide and varied selection of stands meaning that you could eat something different each time and it would take weeks or months before you’d need to repeat (although it’s pretty tricky not to eat the same thing every time once you’ve found your favourite…).
The Tobacco Factory market runs each Sunday from 10 – 2.30. It’s a little way out of town but definitely walkable and it’s on the very lovely North Street, which I mention in more detail below. The Tobacco Factory market has a mixture of food, drinks and other goods such as art, plants and services like bike repair.
Some stalls attend weekly and some on a cycle, so check out their social media accounts for who is attending each week.
North Street runs along the border between the neighbourhoods of Southville and Bedminster. From the centre, you can walk to North Street in about 20 – 30 minutes (I suggest walking via Wapping Wharf, see below) or you can hire an electric mini-scooter as there’s lots parked along this route.
North Street is the heart of Upfest (see above) so you can combine exploring this lovely street with checking out the street art and if you visit on a Sunday, the Tobacco Factory Market too. North Street has the Upfest Gallery where you can buy prints and original artwork from the festival, as well as cafes and shops.
Wapping Wharf is conveniently situated between the city centre and North Street, so if you’re in the city and you’re planning on heading south of the river, choose the route that takes you via Wapping Wharf.
The development of Wapping Wharf and Cargo has reinvigorated this part of Bristol, situated in the docks. As well as the M Shed Museum, you can find cool shops and restaurants in shipping containers.
Clifton is an area you could explore for a week and not run out of things to do! As mentioned above, it’s one of the areas where you can find many of Bristol’s colourful houses, but it has lots of other things to offer too.
Clifton Village has lots of lovely shops and cafes (you may spot a theme occurring!) and is the perfect spot to pick up a picnic or some snacks and make your way out to one of the nearby green spaces.
Arnos Vale Cemetery
Maybe not a typical date night but Arnos Vale Cemetery is a must see. It's not in the city centre and you’ll need some kind of transport to get there, but it’s somewhere so special that I couldn’t write about things to do in Bristol without mentioning it. You can drive there or plan your journey via public transport.
Arnos Vale Cemetery is a Victorian Garden Cemetery and looks like something from a fairytale. It’s also a thoroughly modern place to visit with a shop, visitors centre and you can even get married there! It’s a wonderful, atmospheric place to explore and feels like an oasis of peace, or is it spookiness?
Bristol is such an interesting place to visit that you’re sure to find somewhere to suit every date – just don’t get so caught up in Bristol that you forget to talk to each other!