Bristol has always been a mystical place accessed from the M5 which causes multiple traffic jams in every direction. It is also a nightmare to drive around the city centre, with each roundabout comprising multiple lanes, at least three of which will be a bus lane, and one which will force you to do a U-turn and come back the way you just came. Even our Sat Nav gave up the ghost and started shouting random street names at us. Many of which were not even in Bristol (“Turn left onto Las Vegas Boulevard. Turn right onto the Champs Elysees). But once you’ve dumped the car and left the concrete jungle behind, there’s a whole lot of fab stuff in Bristol…
24 hours in Bristol
We based ourselves in the Premier Inn at King Street. No beating around the bush here…it was cheap(ish) and well located. In fact it’s so well located that you are in stumbling distance of Bristol’s famous “Beermuda Triangle”. More on that later! It’s around the corner from the Queen Charlotte Street NCP, which although pricey (£21 for 24 hours) you do get a 25% discount from the hotel. Making it almost a bargain. And it was still cheaper than getting the train.
After a hearty breakfast in the adjoining Llandoger Trow pub, we set out to enjoy everything that Bristol has to offer on a fine and sunny July morning. Once we get our bearings and head in the right direction (entirely my fault, cannot blame the Sat Nav here), it’s the M Shed that is our first port of call. The M Shed is a museum which tells the story of Bristol’s past over two floors, and has an exhibition space on the top floor. It’s an exhibition we’ve come to see – The Story of Children’s Television from 1946-Today. This was in Coventry last year and I regretted not visiting, so it’s a must-do today. Mr Fletche and I get competitive over recognising TV themes, I engage some fellow Blue Peter fans in a discussion about the sturdiness of Anthea Turner’s Tracey Island and then we push some kids out of the way so that we can play with Sooty, Sweep and Soo (not really, we patiently waited our turn…). I may or may not have also tried to fit into a child-sized Scooby-Doo onesie. I am not child-sized.
Eventually we wave goodbye to Morph, Mr Spoon and Fingermouse, and I prise the Sweep puppet off Mr Fletche’s hand, and we head downstairs to find out more about this city that we are calling home for 24 hours. Isambard Kingdom Brunel built EVERYTHING. Ships had to tie down their cargo when they moored upstream and were grounded at low-tide, hence the saying “Ship-shape and Bristol fashion”. Ribena was invented in Bristol. We are now Bristol experts.
It’s just a short walk along the waterfront to SS Great Britain. We grab a refreshing drink at the Dockyard Café Bar before paying our admission – £14 for adults; I brandish my NUS card and get my ticket for £11. This is well worth the money. I have no interest in engineering or big ships, but even I can appreciate this amazing 19th century wrought iron steamship. The dry dock gives a fascinating insight into shipbuilding from underneath the boat itself, and then you go through the timeline of its history in the museum before stepping on board. Below decks is where the history is really bought to life – the sights, sounds and smells of life on board. The baby crying in the cabins is particularly lifelike – so much so that I tutted very loudly on a number of occasions before I realised the fake mother was not going to pacify her fake baby any time soon. I also struggled at times to tell the real people from the models. I apologised for walking into a fake Brunel, but then set a camera flash off in the face of a disgruntled American tourist.
Back on the top deck, and I watched the brave souls scaling the rigging. For £10 you can now “Go Aloft” and discover what the ship looks like from 30 metres above the ground. My nerves failed me though and I decided I was best keeping my feet planted firmly on the ground. Meanwhile, children, pensioners and people with no legs scampered up and down the main mast without a care in the world. Our SS Great Britain tickets are valid for a year’s admission though, so if the urge ever takes me then at least I don’t have to pay the admission fee again.
We continue our meander up the waterside, via a few backstreets, the marina and some boatyards where it looked like old boats go to die. We stop for a drink at the Cottage Inn. Us and a few hundred other people. I clutch my plastic pint glass of cider tightly until we find a spot to sit on the steps outside. There are stag parties and hen parties galore. But mainly stag parties. Bristol is a city of men. Young ones, old ones, middle aged ones, hipster ones, Pokémon-searching ones. And lots and lots of drunk ones. There is a definite trend for loud and garish Hawaiian shirts. Although on the night, the trend seems to be for men dressed up as busty Bavarian barmaids. It’s fun to watch.
Pepped up by cider, I’m energised for the next part of the day. The energy soon fades as we walk up a hill, another hill and another hill. Why do places build on hills? Just flatten the whole lot down like in Belgium or in the Netherlands. But without a hill, and without the gorge, you wouldn’t need the Clifton Suspension Bridge. Just another one of Brunel’s projects. Do you think he was bored one day and thought “this morning I’m going to build a ship, and then this afternoon – just for fun – I might build a bridge”? There are indeed some fantastic views both from the bridge, and from the downs above. On this surprisingly warm summers day, everyone is making the most of the sunshine with picnics, barbecues and frisbee-throwing. The ice-cream seller is doing a roaring trade.
We clamber back down the hill – it somehow seems steeper coming this way – and back down to the waterside. This time we walk down the opposite side of the water. Our plans to pop into the Pumphouse are thwarted by the fact that the queue for the bar is out of the door so we carry on down to Hannover Quay. It’s only as we drive out of Bristol the following day that I realise I forgot to look out for the “cat pub” – the Bag of Nails – and must have passed it on our walk.
We haven’t eaten since breakfast time and we’re lured in by the smokey smells coming from Spitfire BBQ. It’s a dodgy start when we’re ignored by the waiters but I eventually politely request some menus from one of the many staff standing around by the door and then we’re good to go. In fact our Portuguese waiter is amazingly friendly and turns tour guide when we tell him we’re off to Porto in November. The food is good if a little on the pricey side. (£20 for ribs? I’d want a whole carcass for that…). Mr Fletche’s handy app tells us we’ve walked about 15km today, so its time to head back to rest our weary feet and get our gladrags on for a night on the town.
Bristol nightlife seems to revolve around the familiar names in Corn Street (Walkabout, Slug & Lettuce) and the hen party corner of the Waterfront (Pitcher & Piano, Lloyds) but luckily closer to “home” we have King Street. Old men’s pubs. Micro-breweries. Craft beers and ciders. This is Bristol’s “Beermuda Triangle” and this is fab. Apart from Kongs. But we’re probably not their target audience anyway. Over two nights we tried Small Bar, King William Ale House, The Famous Royal Navy Volunteer and The Beer Emporium. We walked into Kongs, and walked back out again when we realised that despite still being spring chickens we were by far the oldest spring chickens in the place. More autumn chickens. Although we did spent a good hour or so being amused by the doorman dealing with the queue on Saturday night, meticulously requesting ID from every single person (“…but I’m 25/35/70…” “I’m here with my wife/child/grandchild…” “Don’t care, need to see some ID”).
So we spent just over 24 hours in Bristol. We didn’t see a Banksy, didn’t go to the zoo and didn’t climb Cabot Tower. But we think we did pretty well. What should we see next time we visit?
Thanks to GPSmyCity you can now download this article as a free “on-the-move” city guide! You can view the article here and download it onto your mobile device as an app! And for a small fee you can get an upgraded version with GPS navigation to the sights described in the article!