How to spend one day in Bristol, England
One day itinerary for Bristol
Home to many iconic sights, Bristol lives up to its reputation as a vibrant, friendly city. From the awe-inspiring Clifton Suspension Bridge to the joyful rows of bright coloured houses lining the hillsides, you can’t help but feel your spirits lift higher the more time you spend here.
What must have been a bustling port in the past is now a modern cultural hub, and now forms the heart of Bristol; complete with buzzing restaurants, live music venues, museums, galleries and events spaces.
Getting outside the city centre will take you to a more edgy scene, where it’s no stretch of the imagination to envisage the thriving underground graffiti and music scene which cultivated artists like Banksy and 3D (Massive Attack).
It’s all too easy to combine all of these experiences into a jam-packed day of exploration with the perfect balance of art, food, history, shopping and nature. And as you’ll soon find out, plenty of opportunities to see an original Banksy. In this guide I’ve managed to stitch together an itinerary which is equal measures self guided Banksy and Bristol tour – enjoy!
With return train tickets from Paddington station for under £50, Bristol makes for a great cheap weekend break from London. If you have a full weekend, you could very easily squeeze in a stop at nearby Bath on your way back to London – a perfect ‘Sunday morning stroll’ destination, in my opinion.
1. Hart’s Bakery
When you step off the train you’ll likely smell the wafts of pastry floating through the station from all the fast food vendors – don’t let these inferior shops tempt you! Step outside and wind your way around the station brick wall, and under a railway arch you will find an amazing bakery. This is a must stop if you arrive on a Saturday morning (it’s closed Sundays). It will likely be buzzing with people and the line will be big but trust me, it’s worth it for a traditional homemade cornish pasty and freshly baked treats, with a variety of dietary requirements catered for including veggie and gluten free options.
2. Bristol City
Once you’ve fuelled up, make your way into the city centre. I was not expecting so much water, but the city is built not just around a river but essentially on it, with multiple bridges connecting different precincts together. It can get a bit confusing so take the time to walk around and orientate yourself. To follow this guide head north towards the shopping quarter. Don’t fret about turning your back on the beautiful wharfs, you’ll be back soon enough!
3. Shopping Quarter & Banksy’s Mild Mild West and Rose Trap
North of the city centre Bristol gets a bit grungy, you’ll notice more and more graffiti, independent cafes, vintage stores and quirky boutiques. Walk on through the lovely Shopping Quarter (unless you want to hit the shops, in which case, go right ahead!) and head up Stokes Croft past the vintage market and cafes until you find yourself at the peak of a fork in the road. When you are next to ‘The Canteen’, turn your back on the road and look up to see Banksy’s Mild Mild West. From here, keep heading away from the city and turn left at ‘The Crofters Rights’, then left onto Somerset Street. After a few metres you’ll find the Rose Trap nestled down a lane to your left beside a blue door.
4. Cabot Tower & Banksy’s Well Hung Lover and You Don’t Need Planning Permission to Build Castles in the Sky
From the North you can head back down towards the city centre, this time passing down Upper Maudlin Street and stopping in at some local boutiques selling arts and homewares from local Bristol creators.
Continuing down towards Cabot Tower, plan your route so you come along College Green and you’ll find yourself walking right past Banksy’s Well Hung Lover on the wall of Frog Lane. From the overpass you’ve got a great view (and photo op) so this is definitely the best viewpoint.
Keep heading along College Green to get to Cabot Tower, a 32-metre viewing tower built in 1897 for 400th anniversary of John Cabot’s voyage to Newfoundland. The parkland is lovely and green and the trek up to Cabot Tower an easy walk. The stairs to the viewing platform, however, can prove a bit troublesome as they are so narrow it’s one way traffic only.
Depending on how busy the tower is at the time of your visit you might (like me) choose to avoid the hassle and settle for the views at the base of the tower, which are still great. Be sure to cast your eye out to the city outskirts where you’ll see rows of colourful houses lining the hills, a trademark in Bristol. Take a moment here to enjoy the peaceful, natural surroundings before heading back into the city centre.
Wander downhill to the base of the park and seek out Banksy’s You Don’t Need Planning Permission to Build Castles in the Sky on Lower Lamb Street – mind the dumpsters.
5. Hannover Quay
It’s time to head back down to the water. Take note of the architecture as you head down to Hannover Quay, it fronts an apartment block shaped like a cruise ship! Wander along the waterfront, check out the houseboats and again, look towards the city edges for the colourful houses which are really easy to spot from this vantage point.
Head around the quay to the ferry stop and get a few coins ready; from memory, the short boat ride from one side to the other is just one pound per person across. Sure, you could walk around just as easily but it’s always such a novelty to be on the water, even if only for a minute.
6. Spike Island & Banksy’s Girl with a Pierced Eardrum
Disembark the boat and head off to explore Spike Island. Watch out for the steam train, check out the steam crane and take a peek inside M Shed, a converted museum, if it takes your fancy. Wapping Wharf is a great dining precinct with a few pubs surrounding a double story collection of vendors in kitted out shipping containers, and makes for a great lunch stop if you’ve been following this itinerary.
Once you’re finished exploring, head towards the Marina and the west side of the island. If you wander through an industrial carpark just before the Marina you’ll find your fifth Banksy; Girl with a Pierced Eardrum.
7. Ashton Court
After a morning exploring the city, it’s time to get some fresh air. Head towards Ashton Court, where you’ll find a beautiful estate with rolling hills, deer parks, a cafe and several walking trails. Depending on how much time you have, find the trail that best suits you but make sure it takes you up through the park towards Clifton Suspension Bridge.
8. Clifton Suspension Bridge
Our final stop is the iconic Bristol landmark, Clifton Suspension Bridge. Walk over this masterpiece of industrial design, which was first opened to the public in 1864. If you are interested in learning more about it, there is a visitor centre and free weekend tours at 3pm, or if you want more walking you can hike to the Observatory for a sweeping view over the bridge.
By this time of day though, you might simply be a bit thirsty, in which case I recommend heading down to the White Lion pub. Order a pint, head out to the courtyard and you’ll be faced with an amazing view back onto the iconic bridge and cliffside.
Where to eat (and drink)
The Coronation Tap for local cider
King Street features a row of old pubs
Apple on the River is a boat serving cider on the river
Woky Ko at Wapping Wharf
Wild Beer at Wapping Wharf
The Albion in Clifton for dinner or a Sunday roast
The White Lion for a drink and a view of Clifton Suspension Bridge
Transport in Bristol
Typically, I walked everywhere in Bristol until it came time to head back to the train station and London, when I got an Uber. I’m sure there are well connected buses but the city isn’t that big and has so much to see, so I highly recommend walking if you can.
Make a weekend of it
While you could pack all of this into one day, I personally did it over two and stayed overnight in the city centre at SACO Broad Quay. This would give you more time to take it slowly, have more coffee stops, more beer stops and more time to poke around the vintage markets and boutiques.
Alternatively, you could pack two cities into one day and head to Bath on day two. The city is a World Heritage site, so of course features some beautiful architecture, and of course you can visit one of the roman bath houses for some relaxation. I’ve spent a morning in Bath and went on a free walking tour run by the Mayor of Bath’s Honorary Guides (local volunteers), which I’d recommend to get the most out of a short visit.
I went to Bristol with a group of friends for a gig, and live music ended up being the heart of our Saturday night out. We started with Cup Sport (an Aussie band) at The Louisiana on Spike Island, caught the end of the cover band at The Bristol Stable where we joined the locals dancing on their tables, then made it to Hy-Brasil Music Club for the last few songs of a swing band.
There was one lowlight – the ‘Bearpit’ popped up on a few lists of key sights in my research, and a big bear statue was a prominent feature of the city mural at our accommodation. It did not live up to the hype! There is a bear statue marking an underpass beneath a busy roundabout but it’s all extremely underwhelming. Learn from my mistake and don’t go out of your way to see it!
Bristol city had an electric atmosphere and was a great place to spend a weekend. The city spills with creativity and there seems to be so much happening, yet the people are moving at such a calm pace you can’t help but feel relaxed. Maybe it’s the water surrounding the city centre, the joy from catching sight of a bright pink flat as you scan the horizon, or perhaps the endorphins from doing so much walking, but Bristol has definitely made it to the top of my list of UK cities.