At-Bristol typifies the city’s modern spirit. It’s a science centre, rather than a science museum...At-Bristol
One of Britain’s funkiest and most beautiful cities, Bristol is all things to all people. Gateway to the West Country, home of Banksy and the People’s Republic of Stokes Croft – you name it, Bristol’s got it covered. And all with a laid-back attitude its “upcountry” cousins can’t quite match.
As popular with stag and hen parties as it is with artists and hippies, Bristol has become a young city full of professionals, students and design entrepreneurs. The Southwest’s home of hip is blessed with a heavily regenerated city centre, whose Harbourside area rings nightly to the sound of revellers having a good time – and whose media businesses, art studios and alternative cafes cluster around the water in sight of the Clifton Suspension Bridge. The heavy-duty industrial history of the town lives on only in its ornate buildings and sweeping waterfront: these days, the chief exports of “Brizzle” are culture and cool.Read more
Bristol’s street art, music and DIY culture have made the city famous. But did you know it’s got a foodie scene that’s just as colourful? Stop what you’re doing, grab a friend, and get down to one of these incredible Bristolian restaurants immediately. Know the area? If we’ve missed a favourite of yours, get in touch with the redspottedhanky.com community on Facebook and Twitter to recommend it!
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Visit Bristol in the summer, and you’ll find the city at its alternative best. There’s always a festival going on somewhere, usually in one of Bristol’s magnificent green spaces or on the pedestrianised streets around the city centre and the harbour. West Country cider flows from the taps of pubs all over the city and beer gardens are full of patrons with a healthy disregard for working late.
Architecturally, Bristol belies its own past. Smashed by the Blitz in the Second World War, the city has been sensitively rebuilt and is once again renowned for its classical architecture. Imposing Victorian townhouses rub shoulders with beautiful Georgian terraces; and the industrial buildings in the centre, now repurposed from warehouses and factories to media empires or posh apartments, fill the waterfront with a sense of energy and purpose.
Bristol’s often been associated with social unrest: the phrase “Bristol Riots” refers to any one of dozens of historical clashes between citizens and authority, including one that caused construction of the Clifton Suspension Bridge to halt while Isambard Kingdom Brunel was sworn in as a special policeman. Modern Bristol often emphasises the revolutionary spirit of its past: from Banksy’s street art to the public graffiti project in Stokes Croft, there’s always someone stirring up the cause. Banksy’s Mild Mild West mural, which overlooks the corner of Jamaica Street and Stokes Croft, is the official “Alternative Landmark” of the city.
The City Centre
The city centre was heavily pedstrianised at the turn of the 21st century, resulting in an open plan area around the harbour and Hippodrome, which attracts significant attention from tourists and locals alike. The bulk of Bristol’s key attractions are spaced out around this area, as are some of its most famous pubs and bars. Visit the Old Duke on any night of the week to hear quality live jazz, blues and world music on its tiny stage.
Bristol’s theatrical heritage is as visible as its art. The Old Vic caters to classic and contemporary theatre lovers, with exciting productions from its adult and young companies. The Hippodrome, with its tiered interior and red plush seating, delivers mainstream fayre from panto (the annual panto at the Hippodrome is a city tradition) to comedy and West End musicals.
Bristol airport is a major connection for European flights: you can get into the city centre from the airport in around half an hour, on a bus shuttle service.
Trains come into Bristol’s two major stations: Bristol Temple Meads and Bristol Parkway. Temple Meads is connected to London Paddington; Birmingham; Bath; Cardiff; Edinburgh; Plymouth; Southampton; Exeter; and Glasgow. Parkway connects most of the city’s suburban areas with the centre, and can be a useful location for getting around.
National bus services call at Marlborough Street Coach Station and Colston Hall.
You can visit Bristol on the M5 and M4 motorways, which join at the edge of the city. The M32 forms a ring and link road around the city.
Driving in Bristol can be a nightmare. The city is one of the most congested in the whole of the UK, and you can spend hours stuck in rush hour traffic. Parking is also bad, except on Sundays when you can get free spots behind the Hippodrome and halfway up Park Street.
Walking is advisable in central Bristol – it’s hilly, but it’s also compact and beautiful. Wander around the pedestrian area in the harbour, take some time to explore the quays and dive down the side streets next to the Hippodrome. Most of the sights are within walking distance, and you’ll miss things if you’re in a car or bus.
Cycling is de rigeur in Brizzle: it’s the first place in the UK to be accorded Bike City status, and its network of cycle paths is well maintained and efficient.
Buses run apparently as and when they feel like it, and with the city centre traffic moving slowly at best it is often more convenient to walk. Buses are a good way to get from the middle of Bristol to its outlying areas, though: go for a day ticket if you plan on doing some sightseeing.
Like many port cities, Bristol’s history is inextricably bound up with slavery. Now, the Atlantic slave trade’s legacy lives only in name – Whiteladies Road, Blackboy Hill – but you can’t understand the layout and development of Bristol without it.
The first records of English slave trading refer to a Bristolian merchant who moved slaves from Africa to the Americas in the 17th century, and the rapid expansion of the trade in the city accounted for its importance in the Industrial Revolution. Slaves coming into the city were paid for in cheap brass, which had to be manufactured: by the time of abolition, the Avon’s brass and copper manufacturing operations were in full swing, which meant the area was already primed to prosper in the age of industry.
Bristol’s layout, and two of its major landmarks, were hugely affected by its most famous son: Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The engineer designed and built the Clifton Suspension Bridge and the SS Great Britain (now permanently moored as a tourist attraction); and was responsible for fixing the problems associated with the design of the harbour. Bristol’s modern harbour was built to compete with Liverpool for the tobacco trade, but its early 19th century incarnation (designed by William Jessop) didn’t work properly. Brunel’s improvements to the Floating Harbour design are still in place today.
Bristol’s involvement in shipbuilding and the tobacco industry define much of the modern city centre, in and around the harbour. The Tobacco Factory is now a theatre, and some of the warehouses at the bottom of Clifton (near the SS Great Britain) are now cafes and performance spaces.
World War Two
Bristol was savagely bombed during WWII, and much of the city was flattened. A sensitive programme of regeneration, however, has restored both the city centre and the suburbs to their Victorian and Georgian splendour.
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