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Bristol

Squint a little into the sun and Bristol could be San Francisco. OK, it’s not next to the ocean, but its hills, artists, musicians and vaguely lefty, anti-corporate vibe do have something in common with America’s most radical city. Bristol’s most famous contemporary artist, Banksy, sets the tone, his renegade social commentary and graffiti decorating various bits of the city centre. But it’s above all the more chilled, relaxed approach to life here that gives it most in common with America’s West Coast. That and the fact that the natives wouldn’t dream of living anywhere else.

Bristol is not on the ocean but it’s still very much a waterfront city, the various tributaries of the Avon weaving into the centre and forming the port that made its fortune. The docks have long gone – these days all the commerce is on the outskirts of the city, in and around the port of Avonmouth – but like so many old British ports they’ve been regenerated into a network of artsy warehouses, thriving retail and exhibition spaces and groovy cafés and restaurants. It’s here that Bristol’s cooler-than-thou ethos is at its most contemporary, and where the city really comes alive during the summer months, packed with walkers and cyclists, picnickers and revellers.

History

Bristol has its roots in Anglo-Saxon times, when it was a village known as Brigstowe, located where the Avon and Frome rivers met. Thanks to these waterways, the city became wealthy in the Middle Ages when Bristol traded with Europe. This shipping trade developed through to the 18th century, when wealthy traders built lavish houses in Clifton overlooking the water, based on profits made from slavery. The 19th century brought the engineering marvels of Brunel, who built the main railway station and the Clifton Suspension Bridge and launched the SS Great Britain from here, but today Bristol only uses the water for fun; its key businesses are focused on finance, aerospace and the creative industries – notably Aardman, the animation studio responsible for the creation of Wallace and Gromit.

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