One Day in Bristol Itinerary – Top things to do in Bristol, United Kingdom

Bristol sits astride the River Avon, which cuts through the imposing Avon Gorge and is the biggest city in the South West of England. It is, however, a lot less hectic than London and, being only an hour and a half’s train ride away, is a popular tourist destination. Historically famous for its ships, pirates and ill-gotten gains from the slave trade, today it is known for its street art, music, animation (home of Wallace and Gromit) and it’s green credentials. Greta Thunberg recently adopted a local two-storey mural portrait as her social media profile picture. But that’s not all, so read what else there is to do during your one day in Bristol.

One day in Bristol itinerary, England

BLOG: Holidays from Hels

What’s the best time to visit Bristol?

Harbour Festival

The best time to visit Bristol is summer. During the annual Harbour Festival in July the city’s docks fill up with ships from around the world, accompanied by live music, food tents and a general party atmosphere for the whole weekend.

Bristol Docks, Source: Flickr, Author: Stewart Black

Balloon Fiesta

Another incredibly popular annual event is the not to be missed is the balloon fiesta in August, when hundreds of hot air balloons gather in Ashton Court and launch en mass in an blaze of colour at dawn and dusk. Don’t be surprised to find a 30 foot magnum of champagne or Leonado Da Vinci’s head floating by. The grounds of the Estate are transformed by the arrival of a funfair, open air bars and market stalls.

Balloon Fiesta, Bristol
Balloon Fiesta, Bristol, Author: Helen

Upfest – Southville

For those who like street art, welcome to the home of Banksy and the July Upfest Festival in Southville. Artists descend on this Bristol suburb from across the world to turn walls, shop fronts and houses into urban art.

Banksy in Bristol
Banksy in Bristol, Source: Flickr, Author: Adrian Scottow

A few facts about Bristol

The name Bristol derives from “Brigstow” meaning “place by the bridge”. A thousand years on, and Bristol still plays second fiddle to its upgraded replacement, the iconic Clifton Suspension Bridge, built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, one of Bristol’s most famous residents.

Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol
Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol, Author: Angel Ganev, Source: Flickr

In his quest to link London and New York, he also built Paddington Station in London, the entire railroad to Bristol and the city’s grand Temple Meads Station. He finished the job spectacularly with the magnificent SS Great Britain, for the final leg across the Atlantic. This remains one of the City’s foremost tourist attractions. Busy man.

Meads Train Station, Bristol
Meads Train Station, Bristol, Author: Mitch Altman, Source: Flickr

Bristol’s proximity to the sea has had an enormous impact on its history and notoriety. The infamous Bristolian pirate Blackbeard would place lit fuses in his beard so that it would literally smoke and thus strike terror into the hearts of his foes.

The grand buildings in Clifton and Queens Square were built on proceeds from the Slave Trade, a part of local history that remains controversial today and is explored in the city’s museums.

Street of Bristol
Street of Bristol, Source: Flickr, Author: Adrian Scottow

The phrase “Ship shape and Bristol fashion” comes from the strength of the hulls required to withstand life in the Bristol channel.

A non-nautical fact, is that Bristol is also home to one of the oldest zoos in the world, which comes with dazzling landscaped gardens, perfect for summertime wandering and picnics.

Bristol ZOO
Bristol ZOO, Source: Flickr, Author: Charlie Marshall

One Day in Bristol Itinerary

Visit SS Great Britain

Start your day at the impressive SS Great Britain, which has been restored both inside and out to its former glory. Step into the shoes of an authentic first class passenger in the dining salon below deck before taking a promenade outside under the towering masts. The braver of you may choose to have a go at climbing the scarily high rigging.

SS Great Britain interior, Bristol
SS Great Britain interior, Bristol, Source: Flickr, Author: Hugh Llewelyn
SS Great Britain interior, Bristol
SS Great Britain interior, Bristol, Source: Flickr, Author: Hugh Llewelyn

On holiday weekends, a steam train runs from in front of the SS Great Britain to your next destination, the M Shed. It is great to sit downwind of the plumes of steam billowing overhead. If it is not running, never fear as you only have a 10 minute walk to your next stop.

Explore the M Shed

Walking along the docks, stop for a cuppa or some chips in the Brunel Buttery, an al fresco café popular with the locals, before popping into one of the former shipping warehouses, and current Bristol Museum, the M Shed. Learn all about Bristol’s past, including its wartime experience, when heavy bombing destroyed much of the city. You can also board a vintage double decker bus, which is fun.

M shed Museum, Bristol
M shed Museum, Bristol, Author: Heather Cowper, Source: Flickr

Sit down in the Cargo Area

For lunch you are spoiled for choice in the Cargo Area, next to the M Shed, which has recently been regenerated and plays host to a number of the city’s top eateries, housed in old shipping containers. Urban chic, Wild Beer and tapas abound.

Relax at Arnolfini

After lunch, continuing round the docks and over the old Princes’ Bridge you might want to check out the Arnolfini, a contemporary art centre with a lovely dockside café. This is often the site of food stalls and live music on weekends, when crowds dangle their feet over the edge of the docks whilst drinking a summer beer.

Arnolfini, Bristol
Arnolfini, Bristol, Source: Flickr, Author: crabchick

Head through the lovely Queens Square, where homes of former merchants are set around a grassed area with cobbled streets and set about with olde world-y lamp posts. You may want to check out King Street which, not surprisingly, sits right next to Queens Square and is home to some of the oldest and most characterful pubs in town.

Explore St Nicholas market

You are now in the centre of town, and it is worth taking a look in the historic St Nicholas market, established in 1743. It is a maze of independent stalls, spread through the old Exchange Building, with its ornate ceiling (don’t forget to look up) and into the Glass Arcade behind. You can buy a whole range of goodies – anything from ethnic clothes to carved wooden bowls, leather bags, enormous ammonites, old records or second-hand books.

In front of the huge wooden doors of St Nick’s Market on Corn Street, stand the iron nails on which traders struck their deals, giving rise to the phrase “on the nail”.

Glass arcade St Nick's Market, Bristol
Glass arcade St Nick’s Market, Bristol, Author: Helen

Walk along Park Street

Moving up Park Street, you will pass a Banksy on your right before having a chance to check out a few shops on your way up the hill. Take a detour behind the shops to your left to climb up to Cabot Tower where you will be treated to a 360 degree view of the city.

Park street, Bristol
Park street, Bristol, Source: Flickr, Author: Angel Ganev

Built in 1897, the tower stands more than 100 feet tall, and commemorates John Cabot’s voyage from Bristol to North America four hundred years ago.

Cabot Tower, Bristol
Cabot Tower, Bristol, Source: Flickr, Author: Adrian Scottow

At the top of Park Street you will find another Bristol landmark, the Wills Memorial. The building, commissioned by the tobacco manufacturer Henry Wills in 1925 (although it looks much older). Next door is the Natural History Museum with collections of gemstones, dinosaur skeletons, Victorian stuffed animals, Egyptian mummies and an amazing gypsy caravan.

Head out to Clifton Village

From the Museum it is a short walk to Clifton Village, the prettiest and most affluent area of Bristol.

Don’t miss the beautiful Victorian Clifton Arcade, which houses a handful of unique shops selling vintage clothes, antique glass and jewelry.

Wandering around the village itself, you might want to take afternoon tea at the very glamorous Ivy, with its black and white tiled floors and flower festooned doorway.

Clifton Arcade, Bristol
Clifton Arcade, Bristol, Author: Helen

Cross the Clifton Suspension Bridge

On the far side of the village is the Suspension Bridge with incredible views over the rugged Avon Gorge. From the adjacent hilltop in the park, you can enter an observatory and descend into the rock, emerging out of the sheer cliff face on to a small platform balanced over the gorge. You may come face to face with one of its many climbers.

Avon Gorge, Bristol
Avon Gorge, Bristol, Author: Angel Ganev, Source: Flickr

Soak in Avon Gorge views

After all this walking, the best place for rest is the terrace of the White Lion pub, which has unrivaled views over the Gorge and bridge.

When it is time for dinner, stroll down to the Lido, where you can dine overlooking an open air pool, with retro poolside changing rooms.

Where to stay in Bristol?

YHA Bristol

YHA Bristol

14 Narrow Quay, Bristol, BS1 4QA

For groups or budget individual travel, the funky YHA Bristol is right on the docks in a former warehouse.


Avon Gorge by Hotel du Vin, Bristol

Avon Gorge by Hotel du Vin

Sion Hill, Clifton, Bristol, BS8 4LD

For more luxury accommodation, try the fabulous Clifton Hotel Du Vin, overlooking the Avon Gorge and the Suspension Bridge. Hotels in the chain are always chic and  provide tasteful, quality décor and great restaurants.


Hampton by Hilton Bristol City Centre

Hampton by Hilton Bristol City Centre

Bond Street, Bristol, BS1 3LQ

Something in between would be Hampton by Hilton Bristol City Centre. It’s close to SS Great Britain, and the rooms are modern, comfortable and well equipped, which provides a great stay.


Day trips from Bristol

If you are looking for day trips from Bristol, then the beautiful Roman town of Bath, with its Royal Crescent, Roman Baths and magnificent Georgian terraces, is only a 12 minute train ride away.

Or why not try Tyntesfield, a manor house and grounds run by the National Trust, 15 minutes by car from Bristol.

For a traditional seaside town, Weston Super Mare with its pier and donkey rides on the beach is another popular day trip from Bristol and only 30 minutes by train.

Beeseys tea rooms is a popular place for a boating day trip from the centre, with lunch at the famous riverside cafe.

Extra tips for visiting Bristol

A lovely way to get around is on one of the harbor ferries. You can catch these from just outside Temple Meads station, and they take you all the way to the town centre, or beyond. You can hop on and off at various points around the harbour.

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How to spend a perfect day in Bristol, UKA complete one day itinerary for Bristol, UK

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Helen spent 2 and a half years pottering around the world. She is now all grown up and works in a school, which allows her plenty of time, if not money, to keep exploring with her children and sharing the mishaps, surprises, stories and lessons learned in her new family adventures travel blog.

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