26 April 2022

How To Spend a Long Weekend in Bristol

There's something about Bristol. Although the long weekend I spent there recently was only the third time I've been in two decades, both of my previous visits made me fall for the place enough to seriously consider going to university there and moving there, respectively. With a population of around 470,000, Bristol feels like a proper city, with great food and culture, but parts of it still retain a relaxed, villagey feel and it has a fantastic alternative scene too. I've always blamed expensive rail fares and hotel rates for not travelling very much within the UK but with Bristol only being a 1h30 train ride from London, I really have no excuse for visiting so infrequently. Here's what I got up to on my recent city break.

Exploring Bristol's history. The city centre is compact and easily explored on foot or by bike (watch out for the hills, though). I usually like to take a walking tour when I'm in a city I don't know that well, but as it was the Easter weekend, the two tours I was interested in (Bristol highlights and Blackbeard to Banksy) weren't running very often. Instead, I soaked up some history at the M Shed museum on Wapping Wharf, where there was a fascinating section on the city's involvement in the transatlantic slave trade and more recent protests (I also learned that Darth Vader actor David Prowse and Nipper the HMV dog were both from Bristol). I was staying near the city's 12th century cathedral and also enjoyed walking around the bustling waterfront and along the River Avon.

Walking Clifton Suspension Bridge. I was blessed with warm, mostly sunny weather during my trip and spent one afternoon walking from Southville along the River Avon, through the gorge and Leigh Woods to Clifton Suspension Bridge. I enjoyed the views from the top and from the Clifton side. You can visit the Clifton Observatory, where there's a camera obscura and access to Giant's Cave (which has even better views), but I did that last time.

Street art spotting. Of course, there's a lot of Banksy in Bristol, including the famous Well Hung Lover on Park Street, and you can even take Bansky walking tours. But there are a lot of great murals, painted houses and other forms of street art throughout the city. Just when I thought I'd seen the most colourful house possible, there would be another one even more vivid and eyecatching. 

Cooling off at Bristol Lido. Located in Clifton, the Bristol Lido occupies the site of a historic lido that opened in 1850. It reopened in 2008 and although members get priority access, non-members can still book a swim or a treatment. Non-member swims cost £20, which includes access to the (heated) outdoor pool, hot tub, sauna and steam room. Booking in advance is highly recommended, and if you can get a table for brunch at the pool-side restaurant, even better! It was a delightful way to spend a sunny Sunday morning.

I certainly didn't go hungry while I was in Bristol. The city is great for foodies, with everything from creative doughnuts to Michelin-starred tasting menus. I have a whole separate guide to Bristol speciality coffee shops, if that's what you're looking for.

Little Hollows. I came across this small, neighbourhood spot while strolling through Redland and immediately booked a table for the following evening. They specialise in pasta — I'm guessing the name comes from a rough translation of bucatini — and the agnolotti filled with cherry tomato, garlic, mozzarella, mascarpone, was one of the best pasta dishes I've ever had. The roasted cauliflower starter was delicious too, and the service was excellent. A few doors down is Wilson's, another restaurant on my list.

Pony Bistro. Over in Southville, Pony Bistro shares its site with Bristol Beer Factory — they also share some of its byproducts, which they put to use in their kitchen. They do a four-course meal for £43, but at lunchtime, there's also a very good value £25 set menu, which includes a main dish, a side and a dessert. I had roast chicken with Jersey royals, followed by the Beer Factory crème caramel, which were both excellent. I also started with an oyster with lime granita, and a G&T with the wonderfully named local Psychopomp gin.

Bulrush. The name of the small, unassuming restaurant up the hill in Cotham is inspired by chef George Livesey's love of foraging, which is seen throughout the menu. They only offer a tasting menu, which includes seven courses plus snacks and petits fours (NB, not that petits in this case). I often find that the 'snacks' course is my favourite, particularly the melt-in-the-mouth pomme dauphine and the counter-intuitive but divine duck liver macaron here. I also loved the dish I called 'stained-glass beetroot' — translucent, ruby shards of beetroot over roasted heritage beetroot and whey sorbet — and the monkfish with mussels and yuzu, but everything, including a bonus course of roasted asparagus from the vegetarian menu, was delicious. The dishes were all beautifully presented, and the intimate setting was complemented by warm service. If you're looking for a special meal in Bristol and can't get a table at Bulrush, Casamia was another restaurant on my list.

Burra. This café also appeared in my Bristol coffee guide and is a great choice for Antipodean brunch. I had a brekkie bun, which was great, but the brunch menu is extensive, with lots of veggie options.

Bristol is also particularly good at baked goods. Almost all of the coffee shops I visited had a tempting selection of doughnuts, pastries, cakes and other sweet treats. There were particularly good selections at Small Goods (so many doughnuts) and Sweven (if I hadn't had a lunch date, I would have loved to try the cinnamon pretzel!).

Hart's Bakery, just steps from the entrance to Temple Meads station, is also the perfect place to refuel after a train ride or stock up for the journey home. As well as breads and pastries, they do regularly changing lunch dishes, which included coconut chicken pasties on the day I visited. Future Doughnuts is also well worth a visit for slightly OTT vegan doughnuts. They were in the full Easter flow while I was there and it would have been rude not to indulge...

There are a lot of great independent shops on Gloucester Road, north of the city centre, including Fox + Feather (women's fashions and accessories), Iota (good for gifts) and Ottowin (women's clothes). I was also delighted to find one of only two UK bricks-and-mortar Patagonia stores on Park Street (pictured below), not far from Bristol Guild, a mini-department store with homewares and furniture, accessories and gifts.

Other shops I liked include: Good Store Studio (Old Market Street-based store selling gifts and homewares from local designers; pictured below); Fikkä (homewares and stationery in Cotham Hill, Clifton); Mon Pote (homewares, gifts and ceramics) and Storysmith (independent book shop) in Southville; and Bookhaus (book shop on Wapping Wharf). 

Accommodation. I had wanted to stay at the Harbour Hotel on Corn Street, in the Old City, which is also about a one-minute walk from Full Court Press but the bank holiday weekend rates were quite high and as I wasn't planning to spend much time in my room anyway and was going to use the spa at Bristol Lido, I stayed at Bristol Marriott Royal Hotel instead. Its central location on College Green was ideal, and my room was quiet and very comfortable. There's a small gym on site but I preferred to burn off all of those doughnuts by pounding the city pavements instead.

Arriving and getting around. Temple Meads station is about a 15-minute walk east of the city centre; there are plenty of buses too, which won't be much faster but may help if you have a lot of luggage. There are regular trains from London (some requiring a change at Bristol Parkway), which take about 1h30 to 1h45. Try to book well in advance if you can to get the best fares: I paid £67 for a period return, which is the standard off-peak fare. If you want to combine your stay in Bristol with a side trip to Bath, it's about 15 to 20 minutes on the train — or about an hour (12.5 miles) if you cycle along the Bristol and Bath Railway Path.

Found this post useful? Please consider supporting my blog by buying me a coffee.

No comments:

Post a Comment