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I was recently contacted by the lovely team at GoEuro, who’ve challenged bloggers to show their readers how to visit their home cities ‘like a local’.
At first I couldn’t decide where to focus on. I’m currently based close to both historical Bath and hip Bristol, so should I pick one of those great cities, or go back to my roots and share my fave haunts from my birth city, London?
In the end I decided to choose Bristol, as London already get lots of love and as much as Bath is architecturally stunning and has its spas, Georgian and Roman heritage, I personally feel that Bristol offers visitors a lot more variety in what to see or do.
So, with no further ado, here’s my guide to experiencing 48hrs in Bristol like a local.
48 hours in Bristol – Like a Local
What to do in Bristol
Hmm, so 48 hours to explore Bristol, what to choose?! Well the three places I visit more than anywhere else have to be Bristol Zoo, the SS Great Britain and We The Curious (formely known as At Bristol).
The world’s oldest provincial zoo, you can spend at least half a day wandering around Bristol Zoo Gardens, getting up close and personal to all the wonderful creatures and discovering the great conservation work they do. I particularly adore the gorilla enclosure, as it has a glass floor that allows you to look up at the gorillas eating, playing or just having a snooze above you.
If you get visit in the summer look out for the zoo’s special ‘twilight’ opening sessions as these allow you to come see the nocturnal creatures when they are active. It also holds outdoor cinema nights – I loved watching The Goonies there!
SS Great Britain was essentially the world’s first great ocean liner and changed history. Today it’s open to the public to explore as a museum, allowing you to learn about the adventures it took and find out more about its extraordinary engineer creator, Isambard Kingdom Brunel. There are often special themed events taking place on the ship, such as a chance to climb the rigging, attend a Victorian circus or even enjoy a three-course meal onboard in the first class dining saloon!
Then, my absolute favourite attraction in Bristol has to be We The Curious (formerly known as At-Bristol). This place is essentially an interactive science museum; with hundreds of experiments you can try out covering topics like the human body, food and planet Earth. It’s fun for small and big kids alike. Upstairs you can visit the UK’s only 3D planetarium, which offers some pretty wild shows, plus for the artistic types you can try your hand at creation your very own animated film in the Aardman-sponsored area. They also have adult-only nights, each of which explores a different scientific theme. Just writing about it now is making me want to go back!
Just so you know though, there’s so much more you could check out if you have the time. While you’re at the zoo for example, wander over and see the amazing Clifton Suspension Bridge – another of Brunel’s magnificent works.
Also, be sure to just spend time wandering Bristol’s streets – especially in the Stokes’ Croft area of the city, for a chance to see the best of Bristol’s famous street art scene. Bristol was the home to Banksy, don’t you know, and you can see a lot of his earlier pieces of work all over the city!
For more inspiration, be sure to check out my post 15 Epic Things To Do In Bristol.
Where to eat in Bristol
Of course you can find all the big chains around the city, especially in the big shopping areas like Cabot Circus, but two favourite spots for locals to dine are St Nicholas’ and Wapping Wharf.
Along the streets surrounding St Nicholas’ Market (a great spot to visit for some independent shopping too btw!) are some less well known chains and independent restaurants. For great meals that won’t break the bank try out the local Cosy Club, Pata Negra for tapas, or my absolutely favourite Bristol restaurant: Pho!
But if you want to make the meal something special, I recommend going for Bristol’s best Italian, San Carlo or speciality steak restaurant The Ox. Unbelievably, all these amazing places are within a five-minute walk from each other – at most!
Wapping Wharf is a new addition to the harbourside area and is a foodie hotspot where you can find a range of independent eateries housed in old shipping containers. Cool huh? Reminds me of my special spot in Kalamaja, Tallinn – Depoo. Here’s where Bristolians come for – amongst other things, the freshest local sausages, tasty Somerset cider and artisan fish and chips.
Finally, I can’t talk about the locals’ Bristol without mentioning Za Za Bazaar. This place might not be the classiest of joints, but it’s huge, fun, filling – and bloody cheap! Za Za Bazaar is an all you can eat restaurant in a huge, long hall styled like an Asian night market with large neon lights. For around £15 per person (depending on what day, and time of day you go) you have free run of the restaurant, which includes dishes from around the world. There’s Indian, Chinese, Thai, Italian and Japanese to name but a few, with chefs available to make you up your very own stir fries and one stand dedicated solely to desserts.
Locals’ tip – this is the place to go on Mondays, as ‘Monday Madness’ deals include dinner for £9.99 per person and they often have 2-4-1 deals.
The best afternoon tea in Bristol?
As I’m a total afternoon tea addict I couldn’t possibly give you my personal guide to Bristol without mentioning some of the best places to stop off for afternoon tea, could I? With all this walking I’m getting you to do, I believe you totally deserve that scone, right?!
Well, two of my personal hot spots are the beautiful Hotel du Vin, found in the bustling city centre and The Bristol, down on the harbourside. Both The Bristol and Hotel du Vin offer a great afternoon tea spread – as you’ll see from our recent reviews, so I personally think the best way to pick which to visit, is by the setting you’d prefer.
Hotel du Vin is set in an old sugar house dating back to 1798, so if you’re after rustic wooden beams and history, this is your place. It has an oh-so-inviting bar too, with the most comfy leather sofas and a pile of board games enticing you to settle in for hour or two.
On the other hand, if you’re after a bright, airy setting The Bristol is perfect for you. Afternoon tea is served in the hotel’s River Grille restaurant, with its glass exterior offering fantastic views of the harbourside, including Pero’s bridge. It’s the perfect spot for a bit of people watching, if I say so myself!
The best entertainment in Bristol
For a stylish evening in Bristol, you’ll want to visit some of the city’s most impressive ‘speakeasy’ style bars. There’s the Milk Thistle, which is a four floor cocktail bar with a hidden entrance, glamorous retro bar Red Light, or the gorgeous speakeasy Hyde and Co.
For a more ‘south west’ vibe though, perhaps you’d like to visit The Apple – this cider pub is actually on a moored boat!
My personal favourite thing to do is go along to the Ultimate Power club nights at The Fleece. Essentially a monthly student club night, Ultimate Power plays cheesy power ballads all night and people really get into the spirit – expect to see mullet wigs and blow up guitars galore. Go along and embrace the cheese – with drink prices as low as they are, that shouldn’t take you too long!
Where to stay
You can do a lot of great stuff in Bristol at a decent price, so why not splurge out with an overnight stay in one of Bristol’s luxury hotels. After all that exploring, you deserve a luxurious bed, right? Oh and perhaps even a roll-top bath filled with bubbles! This is on offer at Hotel du Vin, but when it comes to high-end hotels in Bristol, you’re spoilt for choice.
I’d also recommend the Bristol Harbour Hotel. This newly renovated hotel is in the heart of St Nicholas’ and having sampled one myself, I can tell you the beds are like hugs from a teddy bear. Also I love its styling – as the building was once an old bank, and the cellar, complete with vault doors has now been turned into a stylish spa.
Find out more about Bristol’s top hotels in our Bristol luxury hotel guide post.
Time your visit with some of Bristol’s best festivals and events
The Harbour Festival is a weekend of music, food and events, with stalls popping up all along the harbour. Free to attend, it’s got the best buzz and you can’t help but end up with a big grin on your face.
Then, every August Bristol’s skies fill with hot air balloons thanks to the Fiesta. Again there are stalls and fun things going on during the entire festival, but a personal highlight for the locals in attending the nightglow events. It’s gotta be seen to be believed!
Are you going to visit then?
So what do you think, has this inspired you to come visit Bristol like a local? Perhaps you’re a local yourself and have some other recommendations you’d add to the list? Do let me know by sharing your thoughts in the comments below!
This post is our entry into GoEuro’s #likealocal competition – we hope you enjoyed it!