What to Do in Bristol | 2-Day Bristol Itinerary for First-Time Visitors
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Planning a trip to Bristol, England soon? You’re going to want to make sure that you read this post on the thing to do in Bristol.
I had the opportunity to visit Bristol recently and spend a few days exploring the city. The city is a treasure trove of places to see and things to do.
I am kicking myself as I wondered why I hadn’t visited this gorgeous city before.
So, if you’ve never been to Bristol, it’s a good thing you’re finally planning your trip there now. Once you arrive, you too will wonder what took you so long to visit.
To help you make the most of your time in the city, this guide to the perfect 2 days in Bristol itinerary gives you all the information you need. It’s all here from, getting there and travelling around the city to where to stay, eat, and visit.
Facts About Bristol
Let me drop some facts on why Bristol should be on your list of must-visit cities in the UK!
Bristol was named the ‘Best City in Europe’ by the Academy of Urbanism in 2017. The city also won the 2015 ‘European Green Capital’ title and was also awarded European City of the Year in 2008.
This English city is also known as one of the friendliest cities in England (they are way friendlier than Londoners), and the local accent is recognisable miles away.
With a deep and fascinating history, Bristol offers plenty for visitors to learn about and immerse themselves in.
This is a popular place, which makes it a worthwhile spot to travel to at least once.
Where Is Bristol, UK?
Bristol is a city in southwest England, south of Birmingham and west of London and the River Avon runs through the city centre.
Bristol’s Old City has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its unique combination of Georgian and Victorian architecture.
Is Bristol Worth visiting?
Bristol offers a lot in terms of architecture, history, nightlife, and food. The city is a hub of creativity, with plenty of artists and musicians among the population.
This is all apparent in the eclectic mix of bars, clubs, restaurants, and music venues that are dotted around the city centre.
Bristol also has two universities and youthful energy to it, thanks to the students. So, you can expect a wide range of clubs and music events to take place throughout the year.
Away from the friendly energy of people and celebrations, though, is a quieter side that offers stunning photography locations. If this sounds like the kind of place that tickles your travel fancy, then it’s safe to say it’s worth the visit.
For more inspiration read my guide on the best places to visit near Bristol UK
What Is Bristol Most Famous For?
Bristol has a fascinating history involving pirates and service in the British navy. Today, the city is known for its creative character and charming architecture.
The universities also put Bristol on the map, as do the Bristol Balloon Fiesta and, of course, the famous landmarks like the SS Great Britain and the Clifton Suspension Bridge.
Is Bristol a Good City Break?
Bristol’s unique mix of Victorian, Georgian, and modern architecture makes it a delight to explore by foot.
There are plenty of great boutiques, cafes, bars, pubs, and restaurants to be found too. Add in some interesting art galleries and museums plus the city’s maritime history points of interest, and its clear why Bristol can be considered as a viable alternative city break.
How Many Days Do You Need to See Bristol?
Whether you want to spend just a day in Bristol or two, there are enough interesting things to do and see here that any length of stay is worthwhile.
Thankfully, the best and most exciting attractions in Bristol are all located relatively close together, and you can do a day trip to Bristol from London.
However, I think 2 days in Bristol would be better and should be enough time for anyone looking to get the most out of the city.
And if you’re tempted to stay longer, an extended trip to Bristol gives you time to further explore and visit some of the surrounding areas, such as Bath and Wells in Somerset.
The Best Time to Visit Bristol
Bristol is a city that experiences all four seasons. The highest population of students is here during the fall and spring terms, so these are the most popular months to travel if you’re hoping for something lively.
Winter can be quite bleak; however, it’s ideal if you want to avoid crowds and experience some quieter times in Bristol. Most activities in Bristol can be done year-round, and the varying seasons only change the city’s vibe.
If you’re looking for a vibrant feel, go during the summer months. But if you want something a little quieter and more mellow, come in the spring or when it’s colder.
How to Get to Bristol
Getting to Bristol is easy, no matter where you start from. The quickest way to get to Bristol from London is by train – it’ll take you just over 90 minutes from London to Bristol by train.
Trains leave from London Paddington Station and arrive at Bristol Temple Meads station every half an hour during peak times.
You can also take the bus from London Victoria coach station to Bristol bus station in the city centre. You can bag these coach tickets for as cheap as £3.90, and the journey takes around 2 and a half hours.
If you’re coming from South Wales or Southwest England, then you’ll be able to arrive by train too. It takes over an hour for services to depart Swansea and Cardiff Central stations and get you into Bristol Temple Meads station.
Alternatively, it’s around a three-hour drive from London (if there’s no traffic) and around two hours from South Wales.
Routes to Bristol
The M5 runs between Bristol and Birmingham, with the M4 running in tandem further west for most of its route through South Wales.
At junction 17 you can take the A38 north toward Bath, while at J18 you can take the A37 south toward Yeovil via Glastonbury.
North of Bristol, you can take the A38 south to Exeter via Glastonbury, Wells, and Burnham-on-Sea. If you’re arriving by ferry or on foot then your route will be into Prince Street (Bristol’s old town).
Getting Around – To and From Bristol Tourist Attractions
Bristol is a small city that’s perfect for exploring on foot or by bike. Most buildings are close together and it doesn’t take long to get from one side of Bristol to another.
There are plenty of options for buses and taxis. Bristol also has an extensive ferry network (the Bristol Ferry Boat Company) which is great for exploring the River Avon.
If you want to make the most of your time in Bristol, using your contactless debit/credit card is recommended. You can get preloaded cards that will cover both bus and ferry services – remember that it’s not valid on trains.
Parking in Bristol
If you’re driving yourself to Bristol, you can also easily drive in and around the city. Parking your car overnight in a car park or at your accommodation is safe and often free.
For parking, while you are sightseeing in Bristol, it may be easiest to find the nearest free parking spot and then walk between your stops.
How to Spend Two Days in Bristol – Weekend in Bristol Itinerary
Bristol has plenty to offer for anyone who wants to visit. From the museums and old-time architecture to the nightlife that attracts both students and older, fun-loving tourists.
Trying to fit in all the great places to see in Bristol in just 48 hours is a near-impossible task. But you can hit all of the best parts of the city if you plan well enough.
Here is a detailed 2-day itinerary to help you get a better idea of how to spend your time while visiting Bristol.
Bristol Day 1 – Top Things to Do in Bristol
What to see in Bristol in one day? On your first day in Bristol, there is an excellent mix of history, art, and plain old good fun on offer.
Put on your walking shoes, get your camera out, and make a date with a different kind of first-rate attraction around every corner.
Brunel’s SS Great Britain
Your first stop is the SS Great Britain Museum which is on the dockside. This ship was launched in 1843, carrying passengers to Australia and New Zealand.
It was the first iron-hulled transatlantic steamship, and its success led to more large ocean liners like it. These massive ships changed travel forever.
Visitors can board the ship itself, which is now a museum covering both sides of the ship; you can see the cargo holds and how the crew lived.
In addition to this you can go up onto the deck and see how sailors used to work aloft – just bear in mind that this part of the ship is not accessible to those with walking difficulties.
M Shed Museum
Just a few minutes walk from SS Great Britain. You’ll find the M Shed, a museum that provides an overview of Bristol’s heritage and culture through the years.
There is a fantastic mix of history and culture on display here, including the world’s first hovercraft.
Visitors can learn about the city’s role in the slave trade and even discover what life was like for children during WWII.
You can also see exhibits that look into Bristol’s modern-day culture, such as their contribution to music and digital technology.
I saw a fantastic street art exhibition while visiting the M Shed and it is where you will also find the Banksy piece, the ‘Grim Reaper’.
We the Curious Museum
Next up on the way to Bristol’s Old City is We The Curious Museum. This museum is designed to be interactive and encourage more play within the science spheres.
There are various exhibits here, including ones surrounding the science of food and interactive displays on light and sound.
This museum is great fun for all ages, but it might be worth bearing in mind that things get busy here during school holidays.
There are multiple activities and shows that happen throughout the year, so check the program out online before you go so you know what to expect.
The museum also includes a planetarium with multiple shows each day and stargazing at night, but you will need to book your tickets in advance.
Bristol’s Old City and Harbourside
Just on the other side of We The Curious, on Anchor Road, is Bristol’s Old City. This area fuses together impressive architecture with significant landmarks and highlights here include the Christmas Steps and Kings Weston Roman Villa.
Spend some time here, strolling through the streets and discovering the more magical side of Bristol.
You can stop in at one of the pubs for a drink, take a few photos, or do some shopping.
Finally, your last stop for the day should be Bristol’s Harbourside area which is a lovely place for a walk or to get something to eat after a busy day of sightseeing.
In addition to many restaurants here, there are also some great views across the harbour.
The Beer Emporium
Before you head back to your accommodation, make a stop at The Beer Emporium. This is a unique bar that offers an eclectic range of beers from all over the world to suit both novices and experts.
They have over 400 bottles of beer to choose from in their fridges, so you truly are spoilt for choice.
Pick your favourite or discover a new brew and enjoy a cold beer with the friendly locals who frequent the bar.
These are just a few of the things you can see with the Bristol 1 day itinerary, up as you have more sightseeing tomorrow.
Bristol Day 2 – What to See in Bristol
Once you have finished exploring Bristol’s Old City and Harbourside on day one, it is time to move onto its modern heart.
Head to the other side of Bristol and discover some more of the top attractions and landmarks across the city.
Bristol Cathedral was founded in 1140 and consecrated in 1148. The site was originally St Augustine’s Abbey, however but after the Dissolution of the Monasteries, in 1542 it became the seat of the newly created Bishop of Bristol and the cathedral of the new Diocese of Bristol.
Bristol Cathedral is a Grade I listed building which includes fabric from the 12th century, with the Elder Lady Chapel added in the early 13th century.
Start the day with a climb up Cabot Tower for some splendid views across Bristol. The tower is open daily, and it’s free to climb the steps.
But be warned, they are steep and winding steps – the view from the top makes it worth it, though.
The tower is situated on Brandon Hill in the Clifton area of the city, not far from Clifton Suspension Bridge. It was built in 1897 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of John Cabot’s discovery of Newfoundland.
Bristol Museum & Art Gallery
After you have enjoyed the views, your next stop should be Bristol Art Gallery. This is a beautiful art gallery with some wonderful paintings displayed inside. Look out for pieces by both local artists such as Banksy as well as pieces by international stars.
The gallery houses a variety of artworks from British and European, French, and Victorian artists. As well as a collection of Eastern, modern and contemporary art.
There are also some great sculptures to see here too, including ceramics and pottery creations.
Clifton Suspension Bridge
This is one of Bristol’s most recognisable landmarks, and you will probably recognise it even if you haven’t visited Bristol before. Built-in 1864, this suspension bridge spans nearly 400 metres over the Avon Gorge.
Visiting the Clifton suspension bridge as the green spaces on either side of the bridge is peaceful. I recommend visiting at the sunset and walking up to the Clifton Observatory to watch sunset over the bridge.
The bridge is still open to pedestrians and cyclists, so you can take your time crossing this landmark to see some fantastic views across the city. Take photos of the incredible engineering, but make sure to be careful on your way back down.
Once you have finished exploring here, take a stroll through Clifton Village and visit some of the independent shops and restaurants around here too.
And if you have time, book a boat trip along the Avon River for a look at the surrounding city from a different viewpoint.
Where The Walls Art Tour
All along the streets of Bristol, you will find numerous spots that have been adorned by street art. The colourful wall art is a part of the city’s history and holds much of the culture within the artistic designs.
The Where the Walls Art Tour is a fantastic way to explore this artwork further and find some of Bristol’s best spots for street art as well as learn about its history. You will visit many famous landmarks across the city, including Stokes Croft and Park Street.
You can find dates and times for available tours online and join a guide who will be able to give you in-depth details and explanations around the art.
You can also download an audio self-guided tour and go at your own pace.
However, I did this Bristol street art tour, and I think that you will miss out on the wealth of knowledge that the tour guide has.
My guide has been in the Bristol Street art scene for more that 20 years and knew some of the biggest Bristol Street artists and was able to detail accounts of different artists and how their work has evolved over time.
If you’re a photographer who enjoys street art walking tours, this is ideal. You’ll go home with new insights on the fascinating art in Bristol and some amazing photographs as well.
Bristol Zoo Gardens
Next up is an experience that will be enjoyed by young and old alike with a trip to Bristol Zoo Gardens.
This zoo has been around since Victorian times, but it continues to be at the forefront of animal preservation and conservation.
This zoo includes some impressive exhibits that are home to creatures from far-flung locations across the world, including monkeys, lemurs, African penguins, and orangutans. There is also a fun space with farm animals so those travelling with children will be well catered for.
Along with the activities and educational opportunities, this is a great spot to stop before leaving Bristol.
Visitors to the zoo can enjoy both outdoor and indoor exhibits with a choice of events, including feeding demonstrations, talks, and behind-the-scenes tours.
Bristol Trip Planning
Along with finding all the best things to do in Bristol, here are some more important things to keep in mind when visiting the city.
Where to Stay in Bristol
Finding accommodation for your Bristol weekend won’t be hard. There are plenty of options for every budget. Here are some great accommodation options in Bristol:
If you want to go it alone and self-cater, then you’ll need somewhere to stay that offers cooking facilities as well as a place to rest your head. Luckily, there are many apartments available for rent short term.
You’ll find a number of places listed on yourapartment.com which offers homelike spaces close to all of the top Bristol tourist attractions. This allows you independence and freedom but still offers a feeling of luxury and being on vacation.
During my stay in Bristol, one of my accommodations was a one-bedroom apartment complimentary of yourapartment.com in the Clifton area. The apartment was cosy and equipped cooker, dishwasher, fridge and anything you could ever need when away from home.
The apartment was also only 20 minute’s walk from the Clifton suspension bridge and Clifton Observatory.
Book Into a Hotel
There is no shortage of hotels in Bristol, from complete luxury options to more budget-friendly choices. Take a look at a few below:
Leonardo Hotel Bristol Glassfields is located close to the Bristol docks area. It has excellent family rooms with panoramic views of the marina and city, so you’ll never get bored of your view.
If you want the best luxury experience possible, then book a room at The Marriott Hotel – conveniently located by Cabot Circus shopping mall.
The hotel offers wonderful spa facilities, and you can even book a table in one of the many restaurants.
Select a Bed and Breakfast in Clifton
Staying at a bed and breakfast in Clifton instead. This area is the most beautiful part of the city thanks to its gorgeous views over the Avon Gorge.
Many also offer fantastic dining facilities so you can eat like a local and enjoy some delicious food!
Or Find a Cozy Hostel
If you want the best budget experience possible, then book a room at The Rutland Backpackers – very centrally located and within walking distance of all major attractions. Rooms and facilities are basic but clean and tidy.
Where to Eat in Bristol
A great way to explore an area or city is through its food, sampling local delicacies and enjoying some traditional fare while learning about what makes each place special.
If you’re in the mood to splurge on delectable food, then try Casamia which serves up English cuisine with a Mediterranean twist. The restaurant is exclusive, with space for only 35 diners and offering a 14-course tasting menu.
The Pump House
This charming restaurant is set in a former Victorian pumping station at the waterside. This is a stunning building inside and out.
The food is all made from locally sourced ingredients and there is absolutely no shortage of flavour in these meals.
Number 7 Kitchen
Number 7 Kitchen provides a more casual space to enjoy a lunchtime meal or just a quick coffee and cake in between your sightseeing.
There is indoor and outdoor seating, and if you’re around on a Friday evening, be sure to pop in for some live music.
The Burger Joint
As far as budget options are concerned, you can’t go wrong with The Burger Joint. It uses only locally sourced beef to make all its burgers fresh every day.
They do the standard meat burgers along with some more unusual flavours like Moroccan chicken.
The Royal Oak is a no-fuss place to go if you want some delicious British cuisine made with local ingredients. Enjoy a burger, a wood-fired pizza, or a homemade pie and pair it with a drink as you enjoy it in the garden or on the terrace.
Where to Go out in Bristol – Nightlife
There are some great places to go out drinking or clubbing when visiting Bristol. Whether you’re after a cosy pub to throw back a beer before bedtime or a nightclub to dance the night away, there’s something for everyone.
The Butcher’s Arms
This family-run pub is relaxed but still plenty of fun. Stop here after a long day for some unwinding with your favourite beer, wine, or cider.
The Green Man
If you’re looking for somewhere more traditional, then try The Green Man which is found right in the centre of Bristol. It’s an 18th-century building that serves up hearty English food as well as micro-brewery ales and stouts.
If it’s DJs and dance floors that you’re after, Thekla offers a unique kind of clubbing experience. The venue is set inside a moored cargo ship and covers two floors.
There’s more than enough space to dance, an endless supply of drinks, and you’ll often find live bands here.
Things to See in Bristol – Photo Stops
For hobbyists, amateurs, and even professional photographers, there are a few Bristol must-see locations. Some you’ll find along the way as you go through the above itinerary, others you may need to make the time to seek out.
Wills Memorial Building Tower
When visiting the University of Bristol, be sure to get a photo at its impressive Wills Memorial Building. This structure towers over the campus and is worth seeing up close.
This is an urban flight of steps that lead up to St Michael’s Hill and are most beautiful when they are decorated with festive lights. But regardless of the time of year you visit, this alleyway makes for some beautiful photos.
This elegant and simple structure has stood for centuries, and you can go inside it to admire the architecture and historical features. Photos of the outside of the building are simply mesmerising.
If you seek some greenery during your trip to Bristol, then take a trip down to The Downs – this is a large parkland area that is popular with walkers and dog-walkers. This is great for some people watching and landscape snaps.
University of Bristol Botanic Garden
This garden has an impressive collection of plants from all around the world. There are also numerous rare plants to photograph here.
Where to Day Trip from Bristol
Once your time is over in Bristol, there is still so much of the English countryside to explore. Why not continue on your trip and head to one of these close-by destinations?
The next city from Bristol is Bath which is just 24 miles away. Spend some time exploring Bath and the fantastic history of the city.
Start off by visiting the Roman Baths. This was a temple to the god Sulis Minerva, and you can still see the hot water bath that people used here thousands of years ago.
Next up is The Royal Crescent which dates back to 1767 and offers a glimpse into how wealthy people used to live.
The Circus is the last thing that you should visit here, and this is where you’ll find three curving terraces that date back to 1760.
From Bath, you’re just under an hour away from Stonehenge which is one of Britain’s most famous historical sites.
You could also travel further afield and go to London – this will take around 2 hours by train from Bristol Temple Meads Station. You’ll find so much to do and see here including all of the major sites of this iconic world city.
In London, you can go see one of the most famous landmarks in the world – The Tower of London. This is where you’ll find the Crown Jewels as well as a number of other historical exhibits.
If that wasn’t enough, then check out Shakespeare’s Globe and Westminster Abbey which are both must-see attractions if you’re visiting London.
Also close by is Windsor Castle which is one of the official residences of Queen Elizabeth II. If you get time, also try to go see Hampton Court Palace – this is another royal property not far from London.
You can also travel from Bristol to Oxford – this will take around 45 minutes by train. This is a beautiful place that deserves some attention too as it’s steeped in history and has some impressive buildings.
Oxford has many great attractions that visitors to this city enjoy. For example, you can check out the impressive Bodleian Library which holds over 12 million books and other items that date back to 1602 (when it first opened).
The city is also home to another library called The Taylor Institution. If you’re a fan of art then Oxford has many great galleries for you to experience too. The Ashmolean Museum is one of the most famous museums.
You’ll see items going back thousands of years including Egyptian artefacts and more.
If history is your thing, then check out Christ Church Cathedral which is one of the most beautiful churches in Oxford.
You can read my guide of things to do in Oxford.
Visiting Bristol for the Weekend
With so many things to see and do in Bristol, two days doesn’t seem nearly enough time to really get a good feel for this unique city. But there is no rule saying that you can’t come back to the city as soon as you are able.
For your first trip, though, it’s important to choose a plan in order to get the most out of your visit without overwhelming yourself.
Hopefully, this has given you some ideas on how to spend 2 days in Bristol and what there is to do during your stay here.
Let me know how your first time in Bristol goes! Did you find any other gems that you feel should be included in this guide?
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This post was in partnership with VisitBristol.co.uk. Although all thoughts and experiences are entirely my own.