I was so proud to see that my beloved Bristol was named one of the top cities to visit in 2017 by Rough Guides. They reckoned that “Bristol stands as a shining example of one of the UK’s most forward-thinking, innovative and dynamic small cities – and, dare we say it, its coolest city.” But what they neglected to mention is that Bristol is also a fantastic destination for outdoor adventure. There’s such a strong community of nature lovers here – Bristol is a city of climbers, hikers and green-fingered environmentalists.
One of the wonders of the city is how easy you can get out of it and into wild places – Somerset, Wales and along the South West’s incredible coastline. But don’t go yet – there’s plenty of green spaces and adrenaline-packed activities to discover in the heart of the city. I’ve collected some amazing and adventure-filled things to do along with some fantastic tips from fellow Bristol-based bloggers for my outdoors guide to Bristol – you’ll also find my favourite places to refuel with good grub after a busy day of exploring.
SWIM IN THE LIDO
Bristol’s 150-year-old public baths have been restored to their former glories. The beautiful outdoor pool is a must for a gander at its old-timey Victorian décor and a dip in deliciously cool water but the cheerful cafe and restaurant are also a wonderful spot for a glass of wine whilst swimmers glide past.
EXPLORE BY BIKE
To see Bristol like a local, rent a bike and tour the city on two wheels. Despite the many hills it’s a pleasure to cycle here – take a lazy circuit of the harbour then explore Stokes Croft and see how many street art murals you can spot. Black Boy Cycles rent bikes for £15 a day, or pick up a Bristol bike, rentable by the hour.
CYCLE TO BATH
If you have the whole day free, rent a bike in Bristol and cycle to the insanely beautiful UNESCO city of Bath. I studied here and am still very fond of its honey-coloured stone, myriad cosy cafes and elegant parks. The Bristol to Bath cycle path is 13 miles of car-free waterside cycling and passes by Bitton, the perfect place to stop for a picnic and a wild swim in the river.
CLIMB INDOORS AND OUT
My most epic day in Bristol was definitely the one I spent scaling the cliffs of Avon Gorge – climbing below the suspension bridge is a pretty unique way to cement yourself as a local. Find out more about the Gorge routes in the UKC Logbook and at Climb Bristol. For beginners or wet weather days the city is bursting with excellent climbing walls – my favourites are The Climbing Academy for bouldering and Undercover Rock for rope climbing.
GO SUP-ING ON THE HARBOUR
For the uninitiated, stand-up paddleboarding is essentially standing on a very big longboard and using a paddle to propel yourself along the water. In the sea you’re likely to get knocked off balance by rogue waves, but on Bristol’s calm harbourside you can canoe yourself merrily along the water, waving at bemused passers by. An amazing new way to get a different view of the city. You can also have a bash at wobbly but fun SUP yoga with SUP Bristol.
STAY IN A ROCKET CAMPER
I love Sophie Saint’s Travelettes Guide to Bristol, and in it she picks out the coolest accommodation you could wish for in the whole city – glamping on an urban roof. “See the city in style from the rooftops above the Old City. Perched atop the historic St Nicholas market, five silver campervans can be spotted up on the roof of Brooks Guesthouse. Pick between 16ft, 18ft or 20ft and stay in your very own Retro Rocket in the centre of Bristol.”
GO HORSE RIDING
En gallop! Gordano Valley Riding Centre let you saddle up and hack out into the rolling countryside surrounding Bristol for a chilled-out afternoon hack or a cheeky pint on their popular Sunday pub ride. For a proper rural Somerset ride try Tynings Trekking – they are based further out of the city and will take you around the green hills of Blagdon with no riding on roads.
TAKE A BALLOON RIDE OVER THE CITY
Bristol: the city of bridges and balloons. You can wander over the first and get a birds-eye view of the city in the second like Rachel Cross-Graham of Rachel Emily, who flew by the suspension bridge and over the top of the SS Great Britain. I also love Heather of Heather on her Travels and Jane Batt of Practically Perfect Mum‘s guide to heading to the joyously colourful annual Bristol Balloon Fiesta.
WALK ACROSS CLIFTON SUSPENSION BRIDGE
Brunel’s beautiful engineering masterpiece has become a symbol of Bristol, and the view of its cables stretched tight between two brick towers over the gaping Avon Gorge is a breathtaking one. It’s free to walk or cycle from Clifton over to the other side of the 150 year old bridge, but cars pay a £1 toll. Katherine Rose Tate of Worry Warrior says: I love walking across the Suspension Bridge to Leigh Woods or Ashton Court, especially when the bluebells are out!”
RUN OR RAMBLE AROUND ASHTON COURT ESTATE
When I need a bit of fresh air I love to go for a run around the forest trails of this sprawling country estate and deer park. It may be just two miles from the centre of the city but its acres of woodland are full of snaking mountain bike routes and its gorgeous yolk-yellow manor house will make you feel miles away from the crowds. Katie Flynn of Kate Fit recommends getting early of a Saturday morning to join Bristolian locals for the weekly Park Run around the estate.
EXPLORE BRANDON HILL NATURE RESERVE
Sarah Lewis of Lewis Loves reckons first-time visitors to our fair city should “head up to Brandon Hill Nature Reserve for some wildlife spotting, then climb up Cabot Tower for some of the best views in the city. Follow up with a a relax in the wildflower meadow and a picnic at sundown on Brandon Hill. Bliss.” Sounds like the recipe for a dream day.
EAT AND DRINK AND BE MERRY
PRIMROSE CAFE: Hidden down a Clifton side-street, the Primrose is a bit of a local secret. Outside are a jumble of tables and inside a deep-blue ceiling adorned with moons and stars looks down on a small dining room serving delicious lunches and dinners. Perfect for a low key supper or a doorstopper slice of homemade cake.
ST NICK’S MARKET: Let your taste buds travel the world by wandering down one market alley. St Nick’s vibrant market has a daily food market which, Arabian Nights like, offers grub from the four corners of the globe – do you feel like curried goat or pie and mash for lunch today? I particularly love the banana milkshakes whizzed up at Big Juice juice bar and the to-die-for pasteis de nata made daily at Portuguese Taste.
THE NAG’S HEAD: Say ‘The Nag’s Head’ to a Bristolian and they may not be sure which watering hole you mean. Tell them you’re after the cat pub and they’ll know immediately. This oddball little pub is home to a bevvy of cats and kittens, usually asleep in heaps on the bar. It’s proudly cash-only and stocks a brilliant range of local ales and board games. Heaven.
YURT LUSH: The. Best. Sunday. Roasts. Yurt Lush is a Mongolian tent parked incongruously right by Temple Meads, the city’s train station. But like in a lot of Bristol, great things flower in weird places. Lovely for a post-work pint, even better on Sundays when they do an insanely good roast that’ll cure any hangover.
THE APPLE CIDER BOAT: The Apple perfectly sums up Bristol’s relaxed harbourside charm. A boat moored on Welsh Back next to the city centre with wooden picnic tables sitting on the dock, this cider-lovers dream stocks over 40 scrumptious varieties of Somerset’s favourite tipple. Comes into its own in the summer, when fairy lights illuminate happy locals tasting limited edition bottles.
SPOKE AND STRINGER: A surf-inspired little den right on the water of Bristol’s blissed-out harbourside, serving tasty tapas and great coffee. On sunny days there’s nowhere better for a lazy breakfast whilst watching canal boats bob, paddle boarders glide past and happy locals bask in the sun.
WILSON’S: The newest addition to Redland’s foodie scene on Chandos Road is all white walls and warm lightbulbs, a small space where tables sit elbow to elbow and friendly waiters cocooned in white aprons bustle about carrying bright little plates of deliciousness. Wilson’s ethos of using locally gathered, hunted or home-grown ingredients leads naturally to a small, ever-changing menu – there are just three starters, three mains and three puddings to choose from, changing weekly.