An A to Z of Bristol, United Kingdom: More than just Banksy
Bristol is an edgy, gritty city just two hours from London. What was once the second most important port in England has been transformed into a hub of creativity, maritime history, and great food experiences. Most famously known as the birthplace of the notorious genius Banksy, and home to music acts Massive Attack and Portishead, the city sometimes ignored in favour of Bath has reinvented itself. Here's why it deserved to be on your itinerary.
Bristol is built around a tidal river that can rise and fall by as much as 13 metres. The city spent two centuries as a busy trading port. Today you can have brunch on a house boat, cruise the river on a wildlife spotting trip or walk along the river visiting the numerous attractions dotted on its banks.
All you have to do is wander the city streets to see where it all began. Now a famous artist worth millions, Banksy was once just a kid trying to provoke a reaction and make a difference. Wander down to Frogmore St to see one of his best known, earliest pieces of art – The Well Hung Lover. At the time, the city council took a zero tolerance attitude to public art, enraging and provoking Banksy to spray paint this piece onto a building directly opposite the City Hall, and just out of reach of the removal team. Attitudes have since changed, and what was once just graffiti is now art.
Try the Banksy Tour with WhereTheWall. Adults £9.20 (NZ$17.20), children £4.80. See wherethewall.com.
C-lifton Suspension Bridge
An architectural marvel designed by the inspired Isambard Kingdom Brunel, this bridge is probably the city's most famous, and most Instagrammed landmark. Designed in the early 19th century to withhold light horse-drawn carriages, today the bridge handles up to 12,000 vehicles a day. At 75m-high, spanning the Avon Gorge, the bridge is free to walk across, and £1 to drive on. Take the free bridge tour or enjoy the view from the Avon Gorge Hotel or from the nearby Observatory Hill.
You can't go to the city of cider and not have any. Combine two distinctly Bristolian things and sip your cider on The Apple – a converted Dutch barge located on the city's floating harbour. Choose from around 40 different types, even the non-cider types will find one that's palatable.
E-xhibits at MShed
A great introduction to the city, the museum on Prince's Wharf tells Bristol's story in a series of exhibits, displays, and tours. Wander through the museum, learning about the city's people, places and lives. Learn about Bristol's role in the slave trade, its evolution over 2000 years, and its vision for the future.
Entry is free. See bristolmuseums.org.uk
Hop on the waterbus for a river view of the city's historic harbourside. From wildlife tours to booze cruises (think a pub crawl by boat), the ferries provide a unique perspective of this port town.
Brunch with a view on a once-fully-functioning 1920s barge, on the floating harbour of the city, is an experience. Watch ferries sail past, rowers getting their daily fix, and swans gliding across the river, as you tuck into eggs benedict and a flat white. The ambience is top notch, the food is classic.
Right in the heart of the city, next to the St Nicholas Markets, close to the harbour and by a boatload (haha!) of shops, restaurants and bars, this hotel is all about the location.
Housed in a 16th-century building that was once two banks, the hotel's standout feature is the magnificently opulent events space – Sansovino Hall – it was once the banking hall of the Lloyds Bank. It's a grand room, with a spectacular skylight and is rented out for anything from weddings to corporate functions.
Venture down into the hotel's basement to find the spa and pool, located in the former vaults. The rooms are chic and comfortable, and come with complimentary decanters of gin and sherry – bonus!
Rooms from £145 onwards. See bristol-harbour-hotel.co.uk
I-sambard Kingdom Brunel
Lauded as "one of the 19th century engineering giants", and one of the greatest figures of the Industrial Revolution, Brunel's genius can be seen all over the city. From the Suspension Bridge (see above) to the restored steamship SS Great Britain, a visit to the city isn't complete without a little history lesson.
At the time of its launch in 1843, the ship was the world's largest. She was a revolutionary vessel and carried 252 passengers and 130 crew. Today you can wander her galley, cabins and other parts of the ship on a self-guided tour. Life in the 1800s is recreated through staged sets, mannequins, sounds and unnecessary smells – maybe avoid the ship's sick room if you're squeamish.
Tickets are priced at £14 for adults and £8 for 5-17 year olds. Younger children enter free. See ssgreatbritain.org.
Head to the The Old Duke, one of Britain's top jazz venues where live music is played every night of the week. The pub draws inspiration from traditional jazz from New Orleans and has hosted bands from across the world. Best of all? It's free.
The leafy streets of this residential suburb are home to the University of Bristol. In a city of half a million population, there are 50,000 students so expect there to be a few good (and cheap!) pubs. Wander into The Highbury Vaults for a taste of academia and some really great ales. Or visit The White Bear on top of St Michaels Hill, allegedly one of Bristol's oldest pubs, for a drink with the locals.
A courtyard of Georgian Terraces is possibly the last thing you'd expect to see in the heart of Clifton, but the Lido is a cool little hangout with a restaurant, spa and outdoor pool. The pool, originally opened in the 1800s, was defunct and closed, only to be rescued and reopened in 2008 – it still retains its Victorian features, including a row of changing cubicles. On a chilly day in March, swimmers complete laps in the 24-degree water, while spa patrons (still in their bathrobes!) relax in the restaurant. Head chef Freddy Bird serves up a menu that blends influences from France, Spain and Morocco effortlessly.
St N-icholas markets
Named Britain's best large indoor market in 2016, this maze of street food, vintage stalls and much more is a great way to while away an afternoon. Established in 1743, the market is right in the heart of the old city making it a short jaunt from most of Bristol's hotels. Stop by for lunch and a browse.
Sitting above the Avon Gorge, the Clifton Observatory – a former mill – offers great views of the city, and particularly of Clifton Suspension Bridge (see above). Climb up to the top to use the Camera Obscura for panoramic, if a little fuzzy, view of the city. The 16th-century technique projects light through a convex lens and a mirror on the top of the tower, resulting in a true image of the landscape on a surface in the tower – best viewed on a clear day. Descend into the Giant's Cave, which opens out onto a cliff face 76m above the Avon Gorge. The best view of the bridge is from this vantage point. Just wear sensible shoes and brace yourself for the steep climb back up.
Bristol has it's own. Independent stores and local retailers offers discounts to those who pay with the Bristol Pound – encouraging consumers to spend their money locally. The multiplier effect builds community connections and creates a stronger, healthier local economy It's currently the United Kingdom's largest alternative to the pound sterling, and isn't limited to cash transactions either, it can be used online and on mobile phones.
The Georgian park in the middle of the city is quintessentially British. In spring the daffodils are in bloom, dog walkers meander past walking-tour tourists and locals gather for a lunch-break gossip on the park benches. The park hosts outdoor concerts, events and is great for a picnic on a sunny day. If you're lucky enough to get one ... this is the UK after all.
The 24-kilometre railway path between Bristol and Bath is perfect for a cycling adventure. Along the way enjoy the landscapes, spot wildlife and reward yourself, once you reach Bath, with a Sally Lunn bun.
Bristol is riddled with secret bars, you just have to know where and what to look out for. The clandestine establishments are reminiscent of the Prohibition in the United States, after the Great Depression, when alcohol was ... well, prohibited. Today, while the tipple flows freely, the hush-hush atmosphere adds a sense of intrigue to your G&T.
Hyde & Co, just off the Clifton Triangle, can be found by illuminated bowler hat sign. Ring the doorbell, and wait to see if permission is granted. Rumour has it there's a secret private room behind the bookshelf. Wander down Park St, past The Well Hung Lover (See B-anksy above) to Union St, and if you happen to see a graffiti-covered door, with a red light and a phone booth, stop. Pick up the phone, and if you're lucky, and there's space, congratulations. The door will open and you've made it into Red Light.
See hydeand.co and redlightbristol.xxx
Have a pint at the The Llandrodger Trow, a 350-year-old pub that is said to have inspired Robert Louis Stevenson when he was writing Treasure Island, and Daniel Defoe when he wrote Robinson Crusoe. Other patrons include infamous pirate Blackbeard, and up to 15 ghosts. Bristol was the fifth most bombed city during World War II and the old timber building was damaged quite badly but has been well restored. Today you can enjoy a drink among myths, legends, and the odd ghost story.
Spend an afternoon at the historic shipyard which is now a scheduled monument – making it "nationally important". Explore the story of the city's Floating Harbour, and go on guided tours that explain how things like water level and silt are managed. It's a great, educational way to spend an afternoon with the kids, and understand how Bristol's Docks have been running for centuries.
Journey on The Matthew, a replica of the 15th-century vessel John Cabot sailed on in 1497, when he discovered Newfoundland. The recreated boat reconstructed Cabot's original journey and was welcomed into port by Queen Elizabeth II. Today the ship explores Bristol's historic harbour, and often ventures into the high seas beyond.
"Oh yeah, that was Inkie", Rob Dean, our guide, says casually after he'd stopped for a chat during our walking tour of Bristol's street art. Inkie ... just one of Banksy's inner circle. In the birthplace of Banksy, it seems everyone is in on the secret of his identity. But no one is giving it up. A walking tour of the city is the best way to take in the street art and graffiti art, the passion and the history of Banksy, and other Bristolian artists that have put this 1000-year-old city on the map.
The Bristol Street Art Tour costs £9.20 for adults and £4.80 for children. See wherethewall.com
Co-X & Baloney
There's never a good excuse not to have afternoon tea, and doing so at this vintage tearoom is truly a delight. Think towers of finger sandwiches, cakes and scones served with lashings of clotted cream, strawberries and jam. Wash it all down with one of 14 loose-leaved teas for an afternoon well spent.
Try Lily's Afternoon Tea for £18.50 pp. See coxandbaloneytearooms.com
The Young Company is a team of successful theatre professionals who run workshops for young, aspiring actors. It's run by the Bristol Old Vic – a theatre company with a star-studded alumni list including Academy award winners Daniel Day-Lewis and Jeremy Irons. It's the oldest continuously-running theatre outside of London.
Bristol has the fifth oldest zoo in the world – opened in 1836. Run by the Bristol Zoological Society, a conservation and education charity, it's home to more than 400 species from across the globe. Although many zoos the world over are criticised for keeping animals in captivity, this takes animal welfare seriously. The zoo works with others around the world to breed lemurs – which are critically endangered. Since it opened it has helped save more than 175 species from extinction.
Getting there Qatar Airways flies to London via Doha. See qatarairways.com/nz. From London, Bristol is a two-hour drive, or one hour 45 minutes by train.
Walking is the best way to see Bristol's street art. This first one is by Banksy and called "the well hung lover" 🤣 . . . . . . . . . . #OMGB @lovegreatbritain @visitbristol #GoingPlacesTogether #banksy #traveltheworld #theglobewanderer #instatravel #travelgram #travel #bristol #uk #streetart #graffiti #traveler #wanderlust
The writer was a guest of Qatar Airways, Visit Britain and Visit Bristol.