One of the coolest cities in the country, we take a stroll through the hip streets of Bristol and sample a few of its hottest spots.

In 2019, Bristol was named the happiest city in the UK. It’s also been voted the best place to live for the under-25s and it was garlanded as European Green Capital in 2015, having long been recognised as the most sustainable city in the UK as far back as 2008. For many, though, it’s the alternative spirit that is its biggest draw (well, that, and the abundance of green space and beautiful Georgian and Regency architecture). The creative seems to run through the city’s veins; it is no coincidence that it has given birth to such towering talents as Massive Attack, Banksy and Portishead. A thriving university city, its student population add an interesting transitory layer to the city, all drawn to its thrumming activity through day and night. From its excellent food scene to its exceptional night life, Bristol is the perfect rejoinder to its near neighbour, Bath: while the latter is bijoux and picture-perfect, the former is sprawling, at-times messy, and full of life. These are some of the places we love.

STAY



Number 38 Clifton



If you’re looking for a special boutique spot to rest your weary traveller’s head, Number 38 Clifton offers the exemplar of anti-chain hospitality. Set within a refurbished Georgian merchant’s house, expect panoramas of the city in one direction; views of the Clifton Downs in the other. Everything here has been meticulously considered, from the excellent breakfasts featuring local ingredients to the heavenly spots to get settled in with a drink and a good book at the bar. Do note, only children over twelve are permitted. Book it here.


Hotel Du Vin



There are two ever-reliable Hotel Du Vins in Bristol. The first is in the city centre, housed within the 17th-century Sugar House, which was once used to store imported sugar from the Caribbean. Opened at the turn of the millennium, it was an instant hit, serving the city with its first proper boutique hotel, complete with excellent restaurant. Book it here. A couple of decades later, it has been joined by the Avon Gorge by Hotel du Vin in what is surely the most enviable location in Bristol. For years prior to be being taken over, the hotel operated amidst shabby – but alas far from chic – circumstances. Now that’s all changed; the grand 1898 building has been restored to former glories, and its 78 rooms are all suitably well-appointed and tasteful in the Du Vin mould. If you can, do book a balcony room overlooking Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s breath-taking masterpiece: the Clifton Suspension Bridge. And be sure to have a drink on the terrace, which rejoices in the same view. The most perfect place for a sundowner (or, indeed, for dinner). Book it here.


Bristol Harbour Hotel



If it’s grandeur you’re looking for – as well as a central location – then the Bristol Harbour Hotel is an excellent choice. This Victorian Grade II-listed beauty is, in fact, two former banks yoked together and refurbished to an exacting standard. Don’t miss the underground spa housed within the bank’s vaults. Book it here.


EAT



Bristol Lido



The Bristol Lido was built in 1849, its classical façade and Egyptian-style doorway making it as much of an architectural draw as a leisurely one. By 1990, however, it had fallen into disrepair and was considered for demolition, before – thank goodness – being granted Grade II*-listed status in 1998. A decade later, it made waves when it reopened, complete with a destination pool-side café and restaurant which, fourteen years on, still serves up an excellent array of Spanish cuisine. Book a spot here.


The Primrose Café



There are plenty of exciting young newcomers to the Bristol food scene. This is not one of them. On the contrary; the Primrose Café has, for the past twenty-five years, been serving the residents of Clifton an always-excellent roster of brunches and lunches. Set on Boyces Avenues, one of the prettiest streets in the city, it is a joy to sit outside on a sunny day, watching shoppers bustling around the picturesque greengrocers and bakeries opposite. It is, as far as we’re concerned, the platonic ideal of a neighbourhood café – if only there were more made in Primrose’s mould. You can’t book, but you can explore the menu and website here.


Flow Bristol



Bristol is at the vanguard of the UK’s plant-based movement and, as Flow demonstrates, eschewing more fleshy delights need not be anything but wildly appealing and delicious. The restaurant is tiny; the food menu features such beauties as aubergine with sesame, pickled kohlrabi, tahini, peaches, slow cooked chard; and the drinks consist of biodynamic wines and local beers. We can’t recommend it highly enough. Book it here.


Poco



The Poco story began in 2004, when Tom Hunt, Jen Best and Ben Pryor started feeding revellers at the UK’s best festivals with their feasts of grilled meats, fish and rainbow super salads. In 2011, they decided to lay down roots in the ultra-fashionable Stokes Croft, where they have been nourishing locals with their exceptional British tapas ever since, all while holding themselves to the highest standards of sustainability. Indeed, as they say, ‘We’ve made real and transparent commitments to operating as sustainably as possible which has seen us crowned 2016 & 2018 Sustainable Restaurant of the year, as well as Best English and Best Independent Restaurant at the Sustainable Restaurant Association awards and Best Ethical Restaurant at the Observer Food Monthly Awards.’ These guys are doing astonishing things for gastronomy, as well as leading the way for others to follow their ethical lead. Book it here.


Pinkman’s Bakery



Bristol is a city that has taken the sourdough revolution very much to heart. There is no shortage of bakeries selling loaves that will delight not only your tastebuds but your gut bacteria too. Pinkman’s on Park Street is particularly good and, what’s more, you can even visit in the evening for a wood-fired sourdough-base pizza. The rare sort of place that pleases both young and old greatly. Book it here.


Root



Another Bristol eaterie, another triumph for plant-based fine dining. This Wapping Wharf-based restaurant is a total triumph, its menu brimming with the mouth-watering likes of roast beetroot with fermented rhubarb honey, almond cream and walnut, and ricotta dumplings with sage brown butter, greens and lemon. Whilst not a vegan restaurant per se (fish, dairy and even the occasional bit of meat do feature), it places the onus the humble vegetable, demonstrating how, with a little imagination, they can be as astonishing as anything carnivorous. Book it here.


DRINK



The Milk Thistle



A hidden vault, an attic, a parlour bar and some of the best cocktails in the city: The Milk Thistle, slap-bang in the centre of town, may be bizarrely hard to find, but it is well worth the effort. A former merchant’s house, it’s set out over four floors, all of them an atmospheric joy. Visit the website here.


Thekla



Thekla has bene one of the coolest hang-outs in Bristol since 1984; generations of Bristol university alumni have happy memories of nights misspent on this former cargo ship. It’s all about the music here; head straight down to the lower deck where the music happens and you might just catch the next biggest thing. The likes of Florence and The Machine and Calvin Harris played here in their nascent days, after all. Visit the website here.


The Coronation Tap



The 18th-century Coronation Tap – known to locals as The Cori Tap – is a mere skip away from the suspension bridge. Don’t, however, get too close to the edge after a long session at the cider house; its own Exhibition cider, made exclusively for the pub, is so potent it is only sold in half pints. It may taste just like apple juice but, as those who have been initiated know, it is wise to sip, not gulp, this particular concoction. Visit the website here.


Highbury Vaults



Students, lecturers and locals: just a few of the folk who love the Highbury Vaults, an atmospheric pub that’s a stagger away from many of the university faculties on Woodland Road. Inside, its snug bar and dark wood panels have changed little since the 1800s, when it first opened its doors to thirsty punters (generations have delighted in the little train set that runs along the wall). Outside, meanwhile, there is a lovely garden, making this the perfect pub through all the seasons. Visit the website here.


Small Bar



Small Bar opened its diminutive doors in 2013 and has been delighting the cognoscenti ever since. Be warned; its extensive list of IPAs, beers and stouts teeter at the top of the scale when it comes to alcoholic proof. It also serves an excellent selection of bar snacks (thank goodness, with the strength of the booze on offer), ranging from Malaysian burgers to Korean burgers. A favourite hang-out of the city’s chefs, which tells you all you need to know. Visit the website here.


DO



The Wave



Bristol has, like all good cities, a good selection of galleries and museums on offer. If, however, you’re more in the market to fling yourself about in the water, why not head straight to The Wave, Europe’s first inland surf lake, which promised waves of up to two metres? Visit the website here.


Being Brunel at SS Great Britain



Buy a ticket for the SS Great Britain, Brunel’s trailblazing former passenger steamship which once ran between Bristol and New York, and you’ll also get access to the permanent exhibition, Being Brunel. There you can journey into the world of the country’s most celebrated engineer – the man responsible for the Clifton Suspension Bridge, the Thames Tunnel, whole railway lines and docks – and get to know the man behind the genius. Interactive and fun, you can even visit a recreation of his dining room and decide which guests to invite to dinner.


Bristol Botanic Gardens



The university’s botanic garden, established in 1882, is open seven days a week. Such dedication can be put down to its mission to educate, communicate and conserve by telling the story of plants. It is also a wonderful spot to wander peacefully amid nature. Visit the website here.


The Matthew of Bristol



If the SS Great Britain has given you a taste for stepping aboard historic ships, then the next one to head for must surely be The Matthew. It may be a replica, but it is a faithful one of the ship John Cabot set sail in from Bristol in 1497 to discover Newfoundland (aka North America). This is a good year to go; 2022 marks the ship’s twenty-fifth anniversary and the voyage’s 525th. Visit the website here.


Go On A Banksy Walking Tour



The world might know Banksy as a stratospherically famous artist whose scrupulously anonymous work sells for hundreds of thousands of pounds. Bristolians, on the other hand, know him as one of their own. Born here in 1974, the city is home to some of his earliest pieces – and, helpfully, the tourist board lists all the locations so you can go on a self-guided walking tour of his work. Explore more here.


International Balloon Fiesta



Happen to be visiting in August? Don’t miss the famous International Balloon Fiesta. It is an astonishing sight, as hundreds of hot air balloons rise above the city (try grabbing a spot at the Avon Gorge hotel’s terrace for a perfect view over the suspension bridge). Visit the website here.

By Nancy Alsop
April 2022

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