Bristol is one of the UK’s most vibrant cities. Bursting with colourful people, streets, shops and parties, this offbeat city is on par with Brighton when it comes to the heart of alternative England. If you’re looking for some fabulous things to do in Bristol, then check out these amazing museums, spas, cinemas, cafés and DJs for a taste of what this city has to offer.
Start with brunch at East Village Café
This gorgeously airy cafe is in such a dreamy location – under a sandstone archway at the entrance to Boyce’s Avenue in the very bougie neighbourhood of Clifton. Inside you’ll find a high-ceilinged space packed with plants and a seriously tasty selection of plant-based dishes. In fact, their entirely vegetarian menu is predominantly gluten-free and vegan-friendly.
In addition to a huge selection of cakes and coffee, they have the best brunch in Bristol. I opted for the seriously delicious acai bowl, with granola, yoghurt and fruit, topped with toasted coconut and hemp seeds. The café’s vibe was pretty chilled when I visited on a sunny Monday morning, but it apparently gets super busy on weekends – so be prepared to queue.
📍 East Village Café, Boyce’s Ave, Clifton, Bristol BS8 4AA
🕗 Open 7 days, 8am-5pm
Explore Bristol’s LGBT+ history at the M Shed
Located on Bristol’s harbourside, the M Shed is a lovely museum about the history of the city. Exploring the people and the places that have shaped the Bristolian way of life, you’ll find everything from Aardman characters to Massive Attack’s pink decks from the early 80s amongst the 3,000 or so pieces and stories on display. I definitely recommend visiting here at the start of your trip, to get a feel for the city’s history – plus it’s one of the best free things to do in Bristol.
When you arrive, make sure you visit the Information Desk to ask about their LGBT audio tour, Move Over Darling. Local performer Tom Marsham interviewed older LGBT+ locals about their stories, creating this beautiful insight into the lives of 20th century queer Bristolians. Tucked away in a matchbox, I loved how this audio tour told you a story for every match that would have once lived inside. It’s a really moving intro to the history of Bristol.
Treat yourself to an afternoon at the Lido Spa & Restaurant
Did I mention that Clifton is Bristol’s rich bitch area? Packed with beautiful old buildings, fancy cars and people wearing beige and pearls, I definitely stuck out a bit walking around here with my blue hair (yes, even in Bristol). However, it was worth all the odd looks when I visited the lido. Originally opened in 1850, this stunning Victorian building now houses a 24m heated lido (outdoor pool), two saunas, a steam room and a restaurant.
The stunning facilities are only open to members, unfortunately (I mentioned this area was posh, right?) but non-members can visit on weekdays between 1-4pm for £25. Although this sounds expensive, it was all so lovely it was the highlight of my trip to Bristol. I particularly loved the steam room with a huge window that faces onto the pool, so you can chill with a view while soaking up the vapours. If you feel like splurging, why not book a massage at the spa or lunch at the restaurant? If you’re visiting as a couple, this is definitely one of the most romantic things to do in Bristol.
📍 Lido Spa & Restaurant, Oakfield Pl, Bristol BS8 2BJ
🕗 Open to the public Mon-Fri, 1-4pm
Party with People Like Us
One of Bristol’s best underground queer parties is PLU (People Like Us). Think disco, funk, punk and nu-wave beats from this collective of local DJs. They throw parties at a bunch of different Bristol venues, like the Love Inn in Stokes Croft, but it’s their summer AstroTurf parties that should not be missed. Taking place on the rooftop of the kink venue Dare to Club, which is suitably located in the middle of an industrial estate in Old Market, it’s one of the best outdoor parties
I popped along to their first AstroTurf party of this summer and couldn’t believe how lovely it was. The sun was shining, the music was amazing and the people were so lovely. I went on my own and felt really warmly welcomed by all these beautiful queer people enjoying the start of the warm weather. I definitely recommend checking out their Facebook page to see if they have any parties planned when you’re in Bristol. If not, the Bitch, please! parties come highly recommended as well.
Originally called Queene Street in medieval times, these stairs were constructed in 1669 – and thus have all the quirky charm of a Harry Potter film set. In fact, locals claim that steep street, which is lined with jaunty Tudor-era shopfronts, must surely have been J.K Rowling’s inspiration for Diagon Alley, considering she grew up in villages on the outskirts of Bristol.
The cute street is a strong lure for Instagrammers looking to snap the most photo-friendly aspects of the street. The shops that line it are surprisingly low-key considering the footfall that the area must get from travellers, but that only increases its charm. Worth taking a wander via here when you’re on your way around town, especially if you’re a wee bit of a Potter fan (like me).
📍 Christmas Steps, between Lower Chruch Lane and Colston Ave, Bristol BS1 5BS
Find the heart of Bristol in Stokes Croft and Gloucester Road
While many of these fabulous things to do may be located in the picture perfect Clifton, it’s actually in the area around Stokes Croft and further along to Gloucester Road where you will find the balance of Bristol. Extravagant street art aside, it’s the fiercely independent and community-minded nature of the residents that make this one of the most fascinating areas to visit.
The focus on local, independent businesses means that there is an abundance of lovely cafes and shops to visit. So many, that I recommend you take a whole afternoon to explore this area if you have time. The so-called ‘People’s Republic of Stokes Croft Bristol’ is so independently minded that rioting actually broke out when Tesco’s opened a shop here in 2011 – but that’s simply a reflection of the big-hearted community behind this area. I actually wish I had stayed in this area – if you do, check out The Wellington hotel (which looks great for couples) or The Full Moon Backpackers, perfect for those on a serious budget.
Catch a film at the Watershed
I’ve long been a lover of independent cinemas and the Watershed Bristol is one of the best. First opened in 1982 (making it nearly as old as me), it’s housed in a former Victorian warehouse on Bristol Harbour. It’s a buzzing multi-arts venue, showcasing arthouse and independent films across its three cinema screens, and has a large café/bar that serves everything from brunch through to dinner every evening. Their menu is very gluten-free and vegan-friendly too.
One of the highlights of their film schedule is Queer Vision, a 10-day LGBT+ film festival that is curated by Bristol Pride that runs as part of the festival. One of the highlights of this year’s festival is Tell It To The Bees. Based on the book by Fiona Shaw and starring Anna Paquin and Holliday Grainger, it tells the story of a relationship between a single mother and the local doctor in 1950s rural Scotland.
📍 Watershed, 1 Canon’s Rd, Bristol BS1 5TX
🕗 The café/bar is open 7 days, 10am-11pm
Admire all the pretty things at the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery
One of the best museums in Bristol is this rather grand Edwardian Baroque building in Clifton. The Bristol Museum and Art Gallery first opened in 1823 and now houses an impressive collection of European Old Masters, Eastern Art, minerals, dinosaurs, taxidermied animals – and even a beautiful gypsy caravan. Sounds like a bit of a crazy mix, but everything is tucked away in various wings, so going around the museum is a bit of an adventure. You never know what you will find in the next room.
Like most of Bristol’s museums, entry is free and it is definitely a great thing to do on a rainy day. I arrived on a very wet afternoon but was instantly blown away by how beautiful the entry hall is, with the vintage Bristol Boxkite aeroplane suspended from the roof. I was also surprised by how much I loved the taxidermied animals’ section, especially the display of very fabulous birds.
Finally, one of the most iconic places to visit in Bristol that is actually worth the trip is the Clifton Suspension Bridge. Spanning the Avon Gorge, the grade I listed bridge was built in 1864 and joins Bristol and North Somerset in a very picturesque spot. It’s quite a long walk up from the centre of Bristol through Clifton to get to the bridge but it’s definitely worth the wander if you have time, as it gives you one of the best views of the city.