These are some of the top attractions in Bristol.
Bristol Zoo is open all year (except Christmas Day) and whatever the weather, there is plenty to see and do for all the family. Set in twelve acres of gardens and exhibits, there are more than 400 animal species to look at and experience.
The seven gorillas on Gorilla Island are among the most famous and most visited zoo residents, but there are also more delicate inhabitants in the Butterfly Forest, along with Bug World, the Reptile House and the Seal & Penguin Coasts' all are walk through exhibits. And don't forget the gardens! The exotic trees and plants from around the world form one of Bristol's most impressive and important horticultural collections.
If there is one single thing that typifies Bristol then the Clifton Suspension Bridge is surely it. This iconic structure connects the two sides of the Avon Gorge and has attracted visitors from across the globe since its opening nearly 150 years ago. Isambard Kingdom Brunel was awarded the contract to design the bridge 'his first significant project' and although he died before it was finished, it remains a fantastic legacy and still carries between 11-12,000 vehicles each day. Parking for the bridge can be difficult as on-street parking is the only option on either side of the bridge. Be careful to park within the law as the rules are strictly enforced by the Council. It is generally easier to park on the Leigh Woods side.
Alternatively, the number 8 bus from the city centre is the one to catch, and the open-top bus tours also take in the bridge. For sat-nav users, the postcodes are BS8 3PA for Leigh Woods and BS8 4BW on the Clifton side. There are free guided tours on Saturdays and Sundays from Easter to the end of October that leave at 3pm from the toll booth on the Clifton side of the bridge. Allow an hour to complete the tour.
This beautiful country estate covering 850 acres of woodland and parkland seems a world away from the bustle of the city, yet in reality is just a couple of miles. It is almost wholly surrounded by Somerset countryside and is an easy opportunity to be at one with nature without having to travel far. The estate is now a major feature in the Bristol recreational calendar hosting annual events such as the International Balloon Fiesta and the Kite Festival, but even when there are no events, the estate is still worth a visit. Although the mansion house is rarely open to the public, the grounds are open daily. The best access is from Kennel Lodge Road, which takes visitors to the Stables Courtyard (toilets and baby changing facilities available) where parking is available. The courtyard is cobbled, however, so does provide a bumpy ride for prams and wheelchairs. The ancient woodland is largely untouched and visitors are encouraged to see the parks on foot or by bicycle. There are two deer parks on site, one for Red Deer and one for Fallow Deer. There are two 18-hole golf courses on site, and the estate is also a take-off point for hot-air balloon rides ? what better way to see the city? Contact balloon companies directly for information: http://www.bristolballoons.co.uk/ or http://www.baileyballoons.co.uk.
This is a great family-friendly, all-weather attraction on Bristol?s historic harbourside. With so much of Bristol?s history tied up with the sea and being an important port, it seems fitting that the Aquarium is now one of the city?s major attractions. There are more than 40 living displays showcasing the world?s sea-life as realistically as possible. Perhaps the most breathtaking is the glass tunnel that enables visitors to walk through the reef display and see the sharks and rays far closer than most people will ever get otherwise! There is a cafe on site to sit and discuss what you?ve seen, and a gift shop with souvenirs starting at pocket-money prices to allow even the youngest visitors to take home a memento of their visit. It is fully accessible for prams and wheelchairs.
The Lido is a fully refurbished open-air Victorian swimming pool ? it is heated! Open throughout the year to members, non-members are welcome to swim weekdays between 1pm and 4pm, although with a strict capacity, it is advisable to call and check availability first. Originally built in the mid-19th century, it closed in 1990 after age began to get the better of the pool. A vociferous campaign from local residents prevented the site being developed and it was finally awarded a Grade II listing in 1998. The Lido reopened in its current format in November 2008, complete with spa facilities and poolside bar, and accompanying restaurant.
Visitors of any faith are welcome to come into the cathedral and admire the beauty of this spectacular building. People are welcome to join in with the services, or to take a moment to themselves for quiet reflection. Built as a ?hall church,? i.e. that the aisles, nave and choir are all the same height, which leads to the appearance of being a great hall, Bristol Cathedral remains the finest example in the UK and among the best in the world. Daily prayer has taken place on the site since the mid-12th century, although it is possible that there was a church there long before, possibly dating back 1,000 years. Today, there is a coffee shop and a gift shop as well to encourage visitors to come and see this stunning religious building.
The ss Great Britain is one of Isambard Kingdom Brunel?s triumphs, and when she launched for the first time in 1843, she was the largest ship the world had seen. Her design (steam-driven, and with an iron hull) was the inspiration for all modern shipping. Brunel?s vision was to develop trans-Atlantic passenger trade, and the luxury bestowed on the ss Great Britain ensured that the crossings were made in style. She opened the World?s eyes to the possibility of international travel. Today, the ss Great Britain is preserved to allow visitors to really experience how life aboard would have been ? a sensory overload! On the dockside, cases and cargo wait to be loaded, and once aboard, visitors can look inside the cabins and speak to the passengers to hear their stories. State of the art technology now gives visitors the opportunity to look under the ?water? and see the ship?s impressive hull ? keeping the air dry with huge dehumidifiers means no opportunity for the iron to rust. The attention to detail that has gone into the recreation of the ship makes it an unmissable attraction, and the ?trophy cabinet? is further proof including Trip Advisor?s top ranking for Bristol in January 2012.
This attraction is a truly hands-on, interactive science centre for visitors of all ages. The programme of special exhibitions means that even if you have been before, there will be something new to discover. The 300+ exhibits really bring science to life for everyone, and At-Bristol is making huge advances in making science accessible and inspiring to even the youngest visitors having recently launched ?Toddler Takeover Days,? aimed specifically at the under-5s. The Planetarium continues to be a big success for the attraction as visitors experience presenter-led shows about the night sky in the current season. (That?s what the big, silver ball is outside At-Bristol!) Be prepared to touch, feel and marvel as you make your way around the museum. Bristol Tourism & Hospitality voted it the Visitor Attraction of the Year for 2011, and it has won a host of other awards.
From its vantage point high up on The Downs, the Observatory offers magnificent views over the Avon Gorge and beyond from above the Clifton Suspension Bridge. The camera obscura is in fact a projector in a dark room that creates a panoramic view of the exterior onto a white surface. The technique dates from the 16th century, and Bristol?s camera obscura is one of only two remaining in England open to the public. Using a mirror and convex lens, the camera reflects the light vertically to give a true image of the environs. It works on cloudier days, but is far more impressive when the sun is shining. Artist William West installed the camera obscura, in what had been a snuff mill, when he began renting the building in 1828. It was West who also had the underground passage cut down to St Vincent?s Cave, previously only accessible from the cliff face. Today, visitors get the chance to see the superb views of the Bridge and the Gorge from the cave mouth from a far easier access point!
This beautiful Gothic church was once famously described by Queen Elizabeth I as, ?The goodliest, fairest and most famous?parish church?in England.? Often mistaken for a cathedral because of its imposing spire, it is truly a spectacular church. There has been a church on the site since AD 1115 and takes its name from the red cliffs of its location, above the floating harbour. Originally, it would have been in the midst of industry (primarily shipping) in the parish, which, being south of the river, was not considered part of Bristol until the 14th century. There are guides available, and even a children?s trail, onsite, outlining all the specific features and architecture, and a world-famous organ.
Located at the top of Park Street, on the hillside, the Wills Memorial Building has great views of the city. The grand Wills Tower, made from Bath and Clipsham stone, can be seen from across the city and is a major landmark for Bristol. It is twice as high as the other famous tower in the city, Cabot Tower, at 215 feet. The Wills Memorial Building was commissioned by tobacco magnates, brothers Sir George A Wills and Henry Herbert Wills, who wanted to honour their father, Henry Overton Wills, who was the first Chancellor of the University of Bristol. The family was a significant benefactor of the university and the building remains part of the university today. The University of Bristol was the first university in the country to admit women on the same terms as men. Today, the building houses the university?s Law school and Department of Earth Sciences. Various rooms and halls are available to hire for events.
The Avon Valley Railway is more than just a railway station. It is a chance to reminisce in some wonderful nostalgia for some, or a whole new experience for others of a painstakingly restored traditional steam railway station. The station is at Bitton, halfway between Bristol and Bath, and now provides a cafe, garden and shop selling railway memorabilia and souvenirs. It is also a great spot from which to explore the surrounding countryside.
The Georgian House Museum is a lovely way to experience life as it would have been for Bristol?s affluent residents 200 years ago. The six storey townhouse, originally built for John Pinney, a plantation owner and sugar merchant, has been restored and decorated as it would have been in the late 18th century. With rooms to view from both the Pinneys? and the servants? sides, the house gives a fascinating insight.
As the name suggests, this was a lodge for a much bigger house that stood on the site of what is now the Colston Hall. The original building dates from 1580 though has been added to since then, and furnishings on display cover Elizabethan, Stuart and Georgian styles. The Great Oak Room, which still has original Elizabethan plasterwork, oak panelling and chimney piece, is particularly impressive. The house has seen several uses in its life, including a period as a reform school for girls, and there is a small exhibition about that time. The knot garden outside is recreated in the Elizabethan-style using only plants that could have been found in English gardens at the time to ensure its authenticity. Due to the age and layout of the house, some areas will be difficult for some visitors to access and unfortunately there is no lift to the upstairs rooms. It is also worth noting that there is no toilet on site.
This covered shopping centre is the hot destination in the South West for the serious shopper with 120 stores laid out in a modern, three-storied mall. Cabot Circus is home to stores offering everything from accessories (Radley, Ollie & Nic) to homeware (The White Company, Dwell) and of course all the fashion brands you would expect in a modern high street mall; American Apparel, Crew Clothing, Fred Perry, Hollister, Reiss, Urban Outfitters, Zara and many more. Harvey Nichols and House of Fraser both have a department store in the centre. More than 25 cafes and restaurants cater to every taste, from morning coffee to a tasty lunch, and Brasserie Blanc, owned by celebrity chef, Raymond Blanc, serves a seasonal, locally-sourced menu for lunch or dinner from his restaurant in the open-air piazza area, Quakers Friars. Cabot Circus is also home to a 13-screen Showcase Cinema, and with covered access to a multi-storey car park, it is easy to spend the whole day here, whatever the weather. There are 2,500 parking spaces available, including some bays for electric cars to charge. All three Park & Ride facilities have stops at the centre. Aside from the retail and leisure facilities, there is also a hotel and apartment block in the development that cost ?500 million.
With so much of Bristol?s heritage surrounding the sea and its importance as a port, what better way to see the city than from the water? Bristol Ferry Boat Company offers a range of trips to suit whatever your interest, whether that is wildlife, history, or just bobbing about with a glass of something fizzy or a traditional afternoon tea. If you cannot make up your mind, there is a Grand Tour that combines elements from all the other trips.
John Cabot (in Italian Giovanni Caboto) was an Italian-born explorer, who moved to England in the late 15th century and made Bristol his new home. He is most famous for his discovery of North America when he set sail on The Matthew looking for a direct route to Asia. He called the land he first saw ?New-found-land.? Cabot Town stands at 105ft and was built in 1897 to commemorate the famous voyage some 400 years earlier. The spiral staircase is steep and some fitness is required to make the climb, but the views over the city and the Harbourside area that await from the top are worth it.
This guided tour is a great introduction to Bristol and combines interesting historical facts with anecdotal information to give a good picture of the city. The tour can be done in one, taking roughly 75 minutes, which can be a good way to familiarise oneself with the layout of the city and get bearings and inspiration for further visits. Alternatively the company operates a hop-on/hop-off option offering visitors the chance to add in their own sightseeing and make a day, or more, of the trip. There are 21 stops in all.
The park covers 50 acres of countryside and it is home to a range of farm animals, including six magnificent Shire horses and some rare breeds. Many of the animals can be handled (under supervision of Park staff) and there are regular falconry displays at weekends. For the children, there is both an outdoor adventure playground, and an indoor soft play area, while grown-ups might enjoy fishing on the River Avon that runs through the grounds, or just whiling away the hours on the riverbank. There is food and drink available to buy on site, and whilst the standard burger and chips is available, the catering teams have been making an effort to provide healthier alternatives, such as salads and pasta dishes. There is a 9-hole crazy golf course, trampolines, boating and much more. Whatever the weather, this is a great family day out with lots to do.
Built in 1739, The New Room is the world?s oldest Methodist chapel, built by John Wesley and other early Methodists as somewhere to meet and preach. The central location was perfect for them to help, and educate, the less fortunate members of the local community. There is a museum today upstairs in the Preacher?s rooms, and the site also has a small shop.
This beautiful ship is a replica of John Cabot?s ship that set sail to find a direct route to Asia and discovered what Cabot called ?New-found-land,? instead. In 1997, this replica sailed to Newfoundland again, following the same course that Cabot and his crew took 500 years earlier. The Matthew took the same time as Cabot?s original crossing, with the same number of crew members. Today, the ship spends Autumn and Winter in Bristol Harbour, where members of the public are welcome to come aboard and explore. In Spring and Summer, the ship unleashes its spirit of adventure once more and explores the seas around the United Kingdom.