Bristol

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.

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Eat and Drink

Bristol might not have legions of glamorous restaurants with names worth dropping, but it’s a great place to eat out nonetheless, making up in imagination what it lacks in star quality. There are excellent ethnic restaurants that trade on the city’s overseas connections, a burgeoning number of high-end gastro-pubs that serve seasonal food made with the freshest local produce, and lots of other local eateries that have something more than just food at their heart, whether it’s Olde-English cuisine, Thai kitsch or just straight-up Spanish and Moroccan tapas. Bristol’s dining scene is really all about the quirky and individual; restaurants based in the local community and venues to meet at with friends rather than foodie destinations in their own right. And the city is all the better for it. As for pubs, there is all the variety and authenticity you would expect from this old port, with plenty of places serving the best West Country cider and putting on a regular programme of live music.

Shop

Shopping in Bristol is a real pleasure. Independent shops rule, and you’ll certainly be able to pick up something original and unusual that you can’t find elsewhere. In the city centre, the shiny modern Cabot Circus development has all the upmarket fashion brands you could wish for, and it leads to Broadmead, where you’ll find classic high-street brands, and Quakers Friars, where you’ll find more upmarket delights. The best shops, however, are on Park Street, a steep street leading from the city centre to Clifton, as well as in Clifton village itself, where you can spend many a happy hour browsing indie fashion outlets, jewellery shops, delis and bookshops. There is also an out-of-town mall, Cribbs Causeway (also known as The Mall), if you need John Lewis or any big-brand shops.

Things to Do

Bristol isn’t a city that has a lot of sights: it’s more about the doing than the seeing. The pleasure of spending a weekend in Bristol lies in absorbing the atmosphere, stopping to smell the coffee and browsing the city’s quirkier quarters. There are things to see – Clifton, the SS Great Britain, the street art of Bristol native Banksy and his successors, a couple of decent museums – but this is a city you need to get to know gradually. The Waterfront is at its heart, both historically and geographically: base yourself somewhere around here and just walk. There’s nowhere quite like it.