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A design lover's guide to Bristol

A city with individualism running through its veins, Bristol is a hub for creatives and independent businesses

things to do in bristol
Martyna Bober

Bristol is a place that writes its own rules. Wander along its hilly streets and you’ll come across rows of colourful houses, buildings covered in every style of graffiti, a multitude of acclaimed restaurants, and, of course, architect Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s iconic Clifton Suspension Bridge.

Often recognised as the UK’s greenest city, thanks to its high level of recycling, clean air quality and pedestrian-friendly town centre, you’ll find sustainable, community-driven initiatives at every turn. It even has its own locally-based currency, the Bristol Pound. Before you start exploring, get your bearings with a 109-step climb to the top of the Grade II-listed Cabot Tower for a panoramic view of the streets below.

WHERE TO STAY

Newly opened in a former boot factory, the long-awaited Bristol outpost of boutique hotel brand Artist Residence has 23 rooms, as well as a coffee shop, bar, restaurant and garden, bedecked in eclectic art, reclaimed materials and playful furniture (from £125 per night).

things to do in bristol
A loft room at Artist Residence Bristol
Artist Residence Bristol

For expansive views of the Clifton Downs, head to hotel Number Thirty Eight. The refurbished Georgian merchant’s house features 12 considered, beautifully panelled rooms in tones ranging from petrol blue to ivory (from £115 per night). For a more central option, try Bristol Harbour Hotel, which is housed in former bank buildings designed by local architect William Bruce Gingell in 1850. There’s now a spa and pool in the vaults and a characterful cocktail den, The Gold Bar (from £145 per night B&B).

BREAKFAST & LUNCH

It’s hard to walk down a street without bumping into artisanal sourdough – get your fix at East Bristol Bakery (grab a potato and rosemary loaf before they’re gone) or join the queue at Farro Bakery for its chocolate and currant babka buns. For a hearty start to the day, head to Bristol Porridge Project for a ‘Crazy Clifton Combo’ – a warming bowl of dates, cacao, cranberries, hazelnuts, apple and cinnamon.

Lunch calls for a stroll through foodie heaven Wapping Wharf on the waterfront – think punchy jerk flavours at Calypso Kitchen, veggie small plates at Root or ramen and yakitori skewers at Woky Ko: Kaiju.

WINE & DINE

The Bristol food scene, like the city as a whole, is diverse, vibrant and fiercely independent. Peruse the wonderfully short, seasonal menu at light-filled Italian eatery Marmo, then order the gnocchi with courgette and saffron butter and watch the chefs work their magic in the open kitchen.

things to do in bristol
Italian fare is on the menu at Marmo
Marmo restaurant Bristol

Adelina Yard offers fine dining in typical relaxed Bristolian style, with its understated interior of exposed pipes, bare bulbs and age-worn furniture. For some Michelin-starred indulgence, book one of six tables at the intimate Casamia for the 20-course menu of exciting, wow-factor plates (£180 per person). And do make time to drop into Kask Wines, which has a roster of 10 vegan, sustainable and ‘minimal intervention’ wines on tap that changes daily, plus an interior featuring ‘Wishbone’ chairs, arched doorways and a Victorian-style tiled floor.

ART & CULTURE

No trip to Bristol is complete without a spot of graffiti appreciation. Walk through the city’s gritty cultural quarter Stokes Croft, where almost every surface is decorated with continually evolving, expressive street art – pay homage to The Mild Mild West, an early Banksy – and stroll the bohemian boutiques of Gloucester Road, hailed as the longest stretch of independent shops in the country.

things to do in bristol
Vibrant murals adorn buildings in Stokes Croft
Dave Phillips / Alamy

The striking red brick Tobacco Factory is now home to a theatre that hosts Shakespeare, opera, comedy and everything in-between, and waterfront arts venue the Watershed offers a rich film programme across three screens, plus regular exhibitions, events and festivals.

For an architecture fix, the angular brutalist 1970s masterwork of Clifton Cathedral by the Percy Thomas Partnership is well worth a visit.

things to do in bristol
Clifton Cathedral’s brutalist interior
Jameson Kergozou de la Boessiere / Alamy

SHOPPING

Clifton Arcade houses a community of small, unique shops and antiques dealers in a Venetian-style building, designed in the late 1800s as a mall for discerning Victorians. Around the corner is the original outpost of Papersmiths, an innovative stationery and magazine store designed as charmingly as its stylish wares. Find a curated edit of small and established homeware brands at Mon Pote and visit The Bristol Artisan for handmade, sustainable pieces, as well as craft workshops.

For something a little different, The Ottowin Shop sells limited-edition sustainable footwear in playful designs, all made in-house, as well as slow fashion pieces by local creatives.

ESCAPE THE CITY

Bristol is a city surrounded by swathes of green. Make the 40-minute drive to Westonbirt Arboretum to meander through its picturesque collection of 2,500 tree species. For those with a head for heights, its 13 metre-high treetop walkway allows you a closer look at the canopies, which can be seen in all their russet-toned autumnal splendour from mid-October to mid-November.

things to do in bristol
Shades of autumn at Westonbirt Arboretum
Christopher Nicholson / Alamy

The wild Mendip Hills, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, are a similar distance away, with a landscape speckled with ancient monuments, flower-rich grasslands and wooded combes. Make sure to admire the limestone cliffs and subterranean caves of Cheddar Gorge, which was formed in the Ice Age – and don’t forget a cheesy, cave-aged souvenir.

MEET THE INSIDERS: HUSK

things to do in bristol
Husk

Founded by bespoke furniture makers Dave Young and Ross Norgate in 2018, Husk creates custom fronts, doors and drawers to fit Ikea kitchens, handmade at its HQ in the creative Montpelier district and on display at its Wapping Wharf showroom. The duo share some Bristol secrets. madebyhusk.com

Wiper and True Brewery: Delicious beers, brewed in a laid-back atmosphere.

Root: Based on the harbourside, this restaurant is our go-to spot for a creative vegetarian meal.

20th Century Flicks: This is an old-school DVD and VHS hire shop with small screening rooms.

Hart’s Bakery: Excellent coffee, bread and pastries in a railway arch near Temple Meads station.

Leigh Woods: A nature reserve with views to Clifton Suspension Bridge – a great place to blow away the cobwebs.

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