Nestled in the heart of the West Country, Bristol is one of the liveliest cities in the UK. Whether you know Bristol for the Clifton Suspension Bridge, its entertainment scene, or for its fascinating history, there is plenty to discover when visiting the city. If you’re travelling the UK on a budget or a local looking for inspiration, fear not – CrossCountry has found the best free things to do in Bristol to make sure you see the sights and have a great day out.
Getting to Bristol by train
If you’re gearing up to visit and explore Bristol, you can kick your trip off in style by travelling with CrossCountry. Simply purchase your ticket and hop on board one of our many direct services to Bristol Temple Meads. Routes to Bristol begin all over the UK, including Truro, Birmingham, Manchester, and Plymouth.
Watch hot air balloons fill the sky
Every August, colourful hot air balloons fill the Somerset sky as part of the Bristol Balloon Fiesta. Balloon enthusiasts from all over the world travel to Bristol to take part, with sunrise hot air balloon rides, model plane stunts, historic balloons, and much more entertainment to enjoy all weekend long. The image of hot air balloons over Bristol is iconic – so why not enjoy the spectacle in real life? Make a whole weekend of it and stay over in Bristol to make the most of the festival and the city.
Discover Bristol’s street art scene
Bristol is the hometown of the world’s most famous street artist, Banksy – so it really is no surprise that the city is a plentiful hub of street art and creative expression. All across the city, you can find mesmerizing artworks dedicated to political movements, memorable moments, and all things bright and colourful. Even if you don’t plan to see the excellent street art, it’s hard to miss. Most famous of all of Bristol’s street art scene, Banksy rose to prominence thanks to his work around the city in the 1990s. Stroll around Bristol to find some classic pieces.
Explore St Nicholas Market
St Nicholas market has been part of the Bristol community since 1743, so it is an essential spot to visit if you’re hoping to get to know the city. It is home to some of the city’s best eateries, with more than sixty stalls to explore. There are permanent food stalls in the Glass Arcade, including cuisines from China, Persia, Mexico, the Middle East, and the Caribbean – along with many more tasty options! On Wednesdays, you will also find a farmers’ market for buying fresh, local produce. St Nicholas Market is chock full of culinary delights and is well worth a wander at lunchtime.
Hengrove Play Park
When travelling with little ones, it can be difficult to know how to fill your days. Thankfully, there are some great free things to do in Bristol with kids and toddlers in tow. One of the most beloved spots by Bristolian parents is Hengrove Play Park, an expansive open play park with climbing frames and slides galore and plenty of running and playing to be done. There are picnic areas as well as a café, so you can enjoy an afternoon of family time together.
Learn at Bristol’s museums
Bristol is home to many museums and art galleries, the greatest of which are completely free to enter! Bristol Museum & Art Gallery is a great place to start, especially if you’re new to the city and want to get an overview of Bristolian history and culture. There is more than just Bristolian culture to explore though, as they also have enlightening displays on natural history, science, and more.
M Shed is another favourite of the Bristol heritage scene, with amazing film and photography exhibitions on display to offer a unique insight into personal histories of Bristol. The Georgian House Museum focuses in on Bristol’s Georgian history, a period in which Bristol’s prominence was at its peak. Exploring the complicated political histories of slavery and plantation, this is a particularly interesting museum for adults and young adults to explore – it truly taps into the contemporary questions Bristol’s heritage is facing.
Walk to Clifton Suspension Bridge
Spanning the River Avon and the Avon Gorge, the Clifton Suspension Bridge is one of the most recognisable landmarks in Britain – let alone in Bristol! The bridge overlooks Bristol city and its surrounding greenery, and the route up to the bridge makes a wonderful walk from Bristol city centre. The circular walk takes around an hour and mostly tracks through woodland, with unmatched views at the peak. While you’re nearby, make sure to visit the Clifton rock slide – a strip of glassy rock that has become smooth from Bristolian bottoms sliding down it!
Take in Bristol Harbour
Something that makes Bristol such a special city to visit is its waterside nature – the River Avon running through Bristol lends it the relaxed, bohemian vibe it is so famous for. The harbourside area was once a busy dock for sailors and merchants going to work, but now represents one of the most cosmopolitan areas of the city. With bars, restaurants, museums, and galleries, there is plenty to discover and enjoy when strolling around the harbour.
Written by Julia