Bristol, located inland on the Avon River and with access to the Bristol Channel, has a long history as one of England’s most important ports.
Following John Cabot’s trip to North America in 1497, it became a popular point of departure for the New World. Cabot Tower at Brandon Hill Park was built to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Cabot’s journey.
During the English Civil War, Bristol was also a commerce centre and Royalist headquarters. For generations, shipbuilding has been a foundation of Bristol’s economy, reaching a zenith with I.K. Brunel’s SS Great Britain.
This was the first steamship to conduct regular Atlantic crossings, having been built in 1838. Brunel was the engineer in charge of finishing the Great Western Railway between London and Bristol, in addition to creating the iconic suspension bridge crossing the Avon Gorge.
30 art galleries and a handful of parks are among Bristol’s many tourism attractions. Bristol Zoo Gardens and We The Curious, a science and arts centre specifically intended to stimulate young minds, are ideal for families. Ashton Court Estate, a site that offers a range of enjoyable outdoor activities for families, is well worth a visit.
There’s enough to do in Bristol between all of these areas of interest and fantastic places to explore, as well as a fun day excursion just outside of town to Cheddar Gorge.
The historic Port of Bristol on the Avon River has been given a new and inventive lease on life, with many of its old wharves and buildings being renovated or adapted for modern purposes.
The region, once known as the Floating Harbour, is now home to a number of museums and galleries. Top attractions include the Bristol Aquarium, the We The Curious science centre, and the Arnolfini visual arts, music, and performance complex.
M Shed is a museum that focuses on the city’s history from ancient times to the present. Locomotives and the spectacular Fairbairn Steam Crane may be seen outside the M Shed.
It is the oldest surviving crane of its type in the United Kingdom, having been built in 1878. It worked around the clock during World War II, handling assault landing boats and other supply vessels. Four more cargo cranes harken back to the city’s peak in the 1950s.
Bristol Ferry Boats, which runs five boats on the Avon River, makes it easy to travel in and around Bristol. This convenient means of transportation provides affordable passes that let you to hop on and off at various sites of interest across the city.
St. Mary Redcliffe was praised as “the finest parish church in England” by Queen Elizabeth I during her visit to Bristol in 1574.
The church, which was built in the 13th century and significantly refurbished in the 15th century in the Baroque style, is located on the south side of Floating Harbour and is named after the red cliffs on which it rests.
It admirably portrays the affluence of Bristol’s affluent merchants, with its thin, clustered pillars and reticulated vaulting, hexagonal porch, and elaborately carved entryway.
William Hogarth’s enormous triptych, Sealing The Tomb, intended and completed for the main altar, is currently at the Bristol & Region Archaeological Services headquarters in the old St. Nicholas Church.
The memorial stone and grave of Admiral Sir William Penn, father of the William Penn who established Pennsylvania, are very noteworthy.
Keep an ear out for the church organ as well. It was built in 1726 and is considered to be one of the best surviving examples of its kind in England.
Redcliffe, Bristol, 12 Colston Parade
Bristol Cathedral took about 600 years to attain its current shape after being built as the church of the Saint Augustine Abbey. Abbot Knowle magnificently constructed the east end in the Decorated style between 1298 and 1330.
The central tower and transepts were built in the 16th century, while the nave and towered west facade were built in the 19th century. In 1542, the church was raised to cathedral rank.
The rectangular chapter house, with its late Norman décor of zigzags, fish scale patterns, and interlacing, is one of the cathedral’s many fascinating characteristics.
Look for the Great Gatehouse, which was erected in 1170 as the St. Augustine Abbey’s gatehouse. It has early instances of pointed arches.
Bristol’s address is College Green.
The SS Great Britain, the world’s first iron-hulled passenger ship, is still docked in the same location where it was launched in 1843. It was also the first usage of screw propellers on a ship, thanks to the innovation of legendary engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
The ship was famously recovered from oblivion after being destroyed off the Falkland Islands and is currently housed in Bristol’s Great Western Dock, a tribute to Brunel’s technical prowess.
Today, you may walk about the ship’s upper decks or go below decks and peek at the luxurious rooms of First Class guests.
The Brunel Institute and the David MacGregor Library, which house hundreds of books, records, drawings, and items relating to England’s greatest engineer and inventor, are also located on the property.
Bristol, Great Western Dockyard, Gas Ferry Road
Built in 1664, the iconic triple-gabled, half-timbered Llandoger Trow building in King Street is where Alexander Selkirk is claimed to have recounted Daniel Defoe the account of his shipwreck, which was immortalised in Robinson Crusoe.
The Admiral Benbow, the inn frequented by Long John Silver in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, was also modelled off the Llandoger Trow.
The structure, which was meticulously restored in 1991, is connected by an underpass to the Theatre Royal, home of the Bristol Old Vic and the oldest theatre in England to have had its stage in continuous operation.
Bristol’s address is King Street.
Another creation of the great British engineer I. K. Brunel – and one of his first – the stunning Clifton Suspension Bridge crosses the 260-foot-deep Avon Gorge on the west side of the limestone plateau known as Clifton Down and Durdham Down.
Measuring 702 feet between its piers, the bridge was finished in 1864, 33 years after Brunel had initially submitted his prizewinning drawings.
Stop at the tourist information centre to learn about the bridge’s construction or join a weekend behind-the-scenes tour. Watch for peregrine falcons soaring over the Clifton side and climb Observatory Hill in Clifton for a bird’s-eye perspective of the bridge.
The Clifton Observatory is also the spot to observe the Camera Obscura and Giant’s Cave.
Address: Bridge Road, Leigh Woods, Bristol
Bristol Old City is a maze of old buildings from a lengthy stretch of the city’s history. One of the most photographed sites is St. Stephen’s Church on St.
Stephen’s Avenue, the parish church of Bristol, which dates from 1476. Look inside for the grave of Martin Pring, the discoverer of Cape Cod Bay in Massachusetts, and for the vivid effigy of George Snygge.
The mediaeval St. John on the Wall is near by and is the last of the several churches previously erected inside the city wall.
It is famous for its domed crypt and interactive exhibits built in 2016. It lies near St. John’s Gate, once part of the old city wall, notable for its sculptures of Brennus and Belinus, mythological founders of Bristol, and Christmas Steps, a mediaeval lane paved in 1669 and now lined with antique and souvenir stores.
At the crossroads of Broad Street and Corn, you will discover the neoclassical Old Council House, completed in 1827.
Across Corn Street, the Palladian-style Exchange (completed in 1743) is renowned for its four outdoor tables, the brass “nails,” upon which Bristol merchants settled their transactions and gave origin to the idiom “paying on the nail.”
The covered St. Nicholas Market, with more than 60 vendors, is close to the Exchange on St. Nicholas Street. A Farmers Market is hosted on Corn and Wine Streets on Wednesdays.
Part of Bristol Museums, an organisation of six outstanding museums in the city, Bristol Museum and Art Gallery contains three levels loaded with Egyptian mummies, fauna, dinosaurs, jewels, glass, ceramics, eastern arts, and a collection of Old Masters. An entire section is devoted to I. K. Brunel and his many technological achievements.
The neighbouring Red Lodge Museum (closed Jan to April), with its ancient furnishings and excellent Elizabethan chamber, focuses on the human aspect of history.
Also at a different location and open periodically, the Georgian House Museum portrays the tale of an 18th-century merchant, sugar plantation owner, and slaveholder via his house and valuables.
Address: Queens Road, Bristol
A late 18th-century mansion home and estate, Blaise Castle House offers a feel for the lifestyle of an affluent family on a country estate.
The Picture Room, with a domed glass ceiling, is filled with paintings, and the home is noted for its collections of children’s toys, including doll houses and furnishings, trains, and toy soldiers.
On the grounds are remnants of Kings Weston Roman Villa, including baths, a heating system, and mosaic floor. The home and Roman villa are closed January through March.
Address: Henbury Road, Bristol
Located just 18 miles from Bristol, the beautiful Cheddar Gorge offers for a wonderful day excursion. Highlights of this National Nature Reserve include its spectacular 450-foot cliffs and beautiful stalactite caverns.
Other sights include the remarkable Gough’s Cave, with its secret chambers, as well the soaring chambers of “St. Paul’s Cathedral” and the towering spires of “Solomon’s Temple.”
A word of caution: you do need a degree of fitness to handle various portions of the gorge, notably the 274 steps up the wall of the gorge and the 48 more to the top of the Lookout Tower. Entry includes the cliff-top trek and the Cheddar Man Museum of Prehistory.