Voted the best city in the UK to live Bristol has the feel of a much bigger city with a distinctly village quality. I mean it’s beautiful, no duh but also manages to tick all the boxes for any city break bucket list. From foodie hot spots to kick ass art tours for you culture vultures, to some of the best vintage shopping I’ve seen in the U.K the only problem with Bristol is trying to find the time to pack it all in. So strap in folks for a quick and nasty guide ,hitting all my personal highlights of what to do in Bristol. Oh, and spoilers – there’s a cat pub.
What to eat
Swoon’s award winning gelato inspires out the door queues – with their seasonal specials being the first to be lapped up. I mean really you can’t really go wrong with anything at Swoon because it’s all so frigging delicious. Like, merits a repeat visit in a 3 day stay kind of delicious. Churned on site and with a line up of Taste commended flavours (the amarena cherry cheesecake it a personal highlight) this is one to stop off if you’ve got any kind of sweet tooth. I’m still in a state of wild fervour that inspires spontaneous sonnet writing whenever I think about the fig and marscapone gellato by the by. It really was that good.
Flour & Ash
Flour & Ash’s concept is simple. Pizza and ice cream done well. Nearly always busy, Flour & Ash specialise in wood-fired sourdough pizzas with toppings that change seasonally. I ended up going for some blue cheese pear number which oh my god, why have I never had this combination on a pizza before? It was incredible. The dips are also pretty great (aioli or bust) but I will say give it a hard pass on the polenta chips. You’re here for the pizza. Commit to it.
The Big O Donut Co
I actively hunted round Britol’s many markets for these bad boys. It was one of those – love at first instascroll kind of deals. Again they have some old favourites – raspberry jam, salted caramel, you know the drill, alongside some more seasonal offerings like rhubarb & custard or chocolate & honeycomb. The raspberry & rose one though is pretty incredible and needs to be tasted to be believed.
The Canteen @ Hamilton House
Hamilton House in itself is pretty awesome – housing a range of incredible artists, designers, dancers, charities – it’s a hot bed of creativity in itself. If anything The Canteen reminds me in vibe if nothing else of The Forest Cafe in Edinburgh. Awesome home-cooked food, cheap as chips with an incredible events programme. They’ve got a great range of vegan, veggie and gluten free options and grabbing one of their dishes of the day and a beer is never going to be a bad way to spend an afternoon.
Spoke & Stinger
Spoke and Stinger is a surf & bike shop next to the harbor while also doing banging locally sourced breakfasts, lunches and tapas. It’s simple food done really well (who knew mushrooms and toast could be exciting? Not I dear reader. Not I.)
Boston Tea Party
Boston Tea Party have become a bit of a Bristolian institution since opening their first cafe in 1995. With 6 now in Bristol, Boston Tea Party has become a popular brunch spot with an extensive tea selection and relaxed vibe. Chilled out, fairly cheap and if you’re in Bristol, you’ll never be far from one.
Where to Drink
Hyde & Co
An unassuming prohibition style cocktail bar, off the beaten track and marked only by a top hat sign at the door makes for one of Bristol’s worst kept secret. Hyde & Co is a gorgeous little bar with a cocktail menu styled in the form of a pulpy detective noir story. Set in New Orleans, Hyde & Co’s menu spins a yarn of sex, death and magic coupled with some wickedly delicious cocktails. A great chilled out atmosphere for starting out evening.
The Milk Thistle
Another hidden cocktail bar, The Milk Thistle is the sister bar of Hyde & Co, tucked away behind an unmarked door in a grand 4 floor period building. It’s all wood paneling and stained glass and plush leather and well, it’s all a bit sexy isn’t it? With a regularly rotating drinks menu and bartenders well versed in all the classics (when it doubt always order an aviation) The Milk Thistle has an easy sophistication making for perfect date night fodder.
Bag Of Nails
Bag of Nails is a bit of a press darling isn’t it? Well, it’s a pub filled with cats, how could it not be? And yet it remains, remarkably, ungimmicky. There’s no real pretension here, it’s just a really great wee pub with a great selection of beers. The cats (who live upstairs) come and go as they please meaning more often than naught you’ll meet a new furry feline pal on repeat visits.
Playground Coffee House
Come for the coffee, stay for the swings and board games. Whether your’e looking for coffee or cocktails, Playground Coffee House is a delightfully offbeat cafe and bar. With a packed cabinet of board games, Playground Coffee House doesn’t take itself too seriously. I ended up spending an afternoon here playing Dirty Minds, crackling like a maniac while swinging away and sipping my coffee. Coffee lovers, there is no reason for you not to stop off here. It’s fantastic.
Where to shop
St Nicholas Market
Housing Bristol’s largest collection of indie retailers, St Nicholas indoor market is a must see for any shopping fan visiting Bristol. From instagram worthy cakes and bakes (keep an eye out for Ah Toots), world foods and records stores – be ready to rummage and spend.
One for the stationary lovers, Papersmiths is home to all things paper. Come here to scratch that indie mag itch, pick up a niche coffee table book (there was a rather spectacular one on food styling that caught my eye) or stock up on pens, paper and all that good stuff.
Rephyscho is an awesome little vintage shop with homewares upstairs and a fantastic little record shop in the basement. It’s pretty small but densely packed with some utter gems including vintage clip on statement earrings, retro postcards, quirky eye wear and pretty party dresses.
Stokes Croft Vintage Pop Up
A large warehouse spanning 2 floors with different retailers? What’s not to love. Expect everything from re purposed furniture , art, records and retro clothing. Favorite finds in here were a baby dolls head headdress, a carpet take on a Mucha and a candy pink dressing table.
Things to see
Grayson Perry exhibition at the Arnolfini
The Arnolfini is a free contemporary art gallery that can be found harborside in Bristol. They have a broad range of focus on what they produce and exhibit featuring everything from film, dance, visual art, music and events. Currently the Arnolfini is playing host to “Grayson Perry: The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever!” – which is well worth the visit to Bristol alone for. You’ve got till the 24th of December for this one folks so go! go! go!
Street Art Tour
You can’t really talk about Bristol without mentioning Banksy. Or in fact the rich street art scene throughout the city. Right off the bat, you’ve got Upfest – Europe’s largest street art and graffiti festival that is hosted in Bristol in the Summer, then you’ve got the Bear Pitt which other than being home to skateboarders and burritos boasts some impressive street art of it’s own. Book one of the tours or walk around and discover what you can for yourself. You’ll be spoiled for choice.
Check out Cube Cinema
Cabaret, indie cinema and live music all find a home at Cube Cinema. Expect to see limited releases and cult classics, a club dedicated to the supernatural and stand up comedy all part of Cube Cinema’s programme and worth checking out for any film fantatic.
Bristol is just crazy kinds of beautiful. There’s no escaping it. And while some will say you need to do a hot air balloon ride or check out the bridge (marvel of modern craftsmanship that it is) – I guarantee you’ll be equally as happy just wondering the streets and seeing what you find. The ice-cream palette houses along the palette and post-card picturesque while Gloucester Road is full of colour and art and loads of pokey little hideaways begging to be explored. It’s all fine and well me giving my recommendations (and for sure you should definitely check some of these guys out) but part of the magic of visiting any city is discovering it for yourself and Bristol has plenty to reel you in. Prepare to fall in love