A local’s guide to Bristol: 10 top tips | Travel
Bristol’s foodie scene is booming, with vegan options particularly strong. Soak up the city’s indie vibe at Beets n Roots, serving Buddha bowls and superfood smoothies. Tiny restaurant Flow Bristol in the centre does plant-focused, Instagram-friendly dishes such as broad beans with wild leeks, tempura spring onions, horseradish and burnt onion crema (£7.50).
For dinner, book at Poco in Stokes Croft, for British tapas with an emphasis on seasonal veggies. It’s run by chef Tom Hunt, who writes the Guardian Waste Not column, and won the Sustainable Restaurant Association’s Business of the Year 2018 for dishes such as sweetcorn fritters with kohlrabi, aioli, jalapeno, chocolate and coriander (£6).
It’s hard to pick one independent bar in this city because there are just so many (wander the back streets and take your pick). One that stands out is the new Crying Wolf on Cotham Hill – a collaboration by local creatives that serves delicious cocktails made with local and homemade ingredients (from £9.50) in low-lit surrounds. On Prince Street bridge, Little Victories at Wapping Wharf is a minimalist cafe by day, and a natural wine bar and cocktail spot by night (espresso martini £7.50).
And this week (6 August), new bar and restaurant Marmo opens on Baldwin Street – expect organic/biodynamic wines (from £4 a glass) and an Italian-influenced menu.
St Werbughs is the city’s favourite urban farm: free to enter, it has a farm shop and an organic cafe in a treehouse. It offers courses in everything from raising chickens to organic gardening, led by experts who have turned this disadvantaged plot into a successful, community-supporting, green space over the past 40 years. For more animal action, Wild Place, Bristol’s 150-acre suburban conservation park, has a new attraction, Bear Wood. A walkway winds through 7½ acres that is now home to four brown bears as well as five European grey wolves, lynx and wolverines. Rangers and interpretation areas bring the experience to life.
Theatre lovers are spoiled for choice in Bristol but the Old Vic on King Street (the UK’s oldest theatre) is a must, after its £25m renovation. The work has opened up a new studio theatre and front of house revealing the original 18th-century facade. Its new 1766 Bar & Kitchen is a dramatic, light space with a seasonal menu that changes daily (Sunday roasts start at £14.50). There are also behind-the-scenes tours of this 253-year-old grande dame (£12, Thursday and Saturday) and drama workshops for young people.
Take to the water
The Wave, a new inland surf lake – the first of its kind in Europe – opens this autumn on the outskirts of Bristol with waves that will peak at almost two metres. Also on the water, Kyle Blue (dorm beds £29, doubles from £59) is a floating luxury hostel on an old Dutch barge in Bristol harbour, with both dorms and private rooms and a shared kitchen. Wake up to kayakers on the water and gulls circling overhead. Across the harbour, the concretey Bristol Hotel (doubles from £96) has won awards for cutting its carbon emissions. It also has an organic juicery for the morning after the night before.
South of the river
While Montpelier, Cotham and Clifton have long been the hipster hot spots, Southville’s North Street (pictured above) is a brilliant reason to cross the Avon – for craft beer bars, organic restaurants and lots more. Southville Deli (no 262) is everything you’d expect from Bristol – an alternative, organic-focused deli with a pavement cafe perfect for people watching. Pop into Corks (no 79) for ever-changing wine by the glass; local record store Friendly Records (no 59), which recently opened its own boozer next door; or get some ideas flowing at Upfest (no 198), a street art gallery that is also responsible for a summer street art festival. And above all, don’t miss Casper Bristol (no 221), a vibrant gallery showcasing the work of local artists and designers. It’s a present-buying heaven: perhaps a copy of Jane Duffus’s book The Women Who Built Bristol, Bristol-inspired screen-prints from Amy Hutchings, or handmade cards from Alyn Smith and Emma Studd. For more independent shopping, the Tobacco Factory Theatres on the corner of Raleigh Road has a market every Sunday.
Newly opened, self-styled “good company” Found Hea sells ethical fashion brands and accessories. It’s all about good design and doing good for the planet, in a cute, pared-back store in Wapping Wharf on Museum Street. It does timeless classics such as organic cotton white T-shirts (from £22) and slow fashion buys from local makers, such as handmade jumpsuits by Two Things. There’s a kids’ collection and accessories, including jewellery that uses recycled materials and is made by artisans in Kenya. Even the store fittings are been upcycled or made using FSC wood by carpenters. It is a perfect low-impact, high-style retail therapy spot.
Two wheels good
Cycling runs in Bristol’s veins. Cycling network Sustrans is based in the city and a huge network of off-road cycling lanes thread through it and beyond. One of the best is the Bristol and Bath Railway Path, which offers keen two-wheelers a bucolic, flat 13-mile pedal to thenearby spa town. Hire bikes through Yobike (£5 a day, £1 for 30 minutes).
This city seems to run on sourdough – you can’t swing an organic cotton tote bag without hitting an artisan bakery. Try Bakers & Co (193 Gloucester Road) for San Fran-inspired sourdough toast with ricotta, lemon and fennel marmalade (£4.50); Pinkman’s Bakery (85 Park St) does knockout daily-made loaves and wood-fired sourdough pizzas in the evening; and Hart’s Bakery, in a Victorian railway arch by Temple Meads station, is great for cinnamon buns, cakes and pastries.
The People’s Republic of Stokes Croft has been in the local activism game since long before millennials took to the streets. This leftwing collective has been responsible for some of Bristol’s iconic graffiti. It has an outdoor street art gallery and a china shop (yes, really) that adds subversive messages to reclaimed bone china (Jeremy Corbyn mug, £12). Find both on Jamaica Street.
Direct trains run from Birmingham, Cardiff, London and Manchester. From December, First Great Western is planning a more frequent, faster Turbo train service between London Paddington and Bristol Temple Meads, taking 1 hour and 19 minutes.
Best time to visit
Bristol has plenty to do all year round. Summer events and festivals include the one-day Downs Bristol music festival (31 August); Bristol Open Doors (13-14 September), the Encounters Short Film Festival (24-29 September) and the new Cocktail Weekend Bristol (27-29 September).
The free-to-use pebble guide to Bristol has lots more ideas.