The big idea

Bristol is all about adventure; about getting out and experiencing everything that life has got to offer – be it on the high seas, on dry land or up in the air. There’s much to do here, and the emphasis is very much on being active, getting involved and exploring things.
But look a little deeper, and Bristol has a wonderful history of myths and legends and great achievements; sea-faring bad boys, world explorers and one of Britain’s favourite sons have all played a major role in Bristol’s development; so if you can’t get inspired in Bristol, you haven’t properly experienced the city.

Maritime adventures

Bristol has always been famous as a romantic, sea-faring city (think the tobacco and rum trades, and pioneers like John Cabot exploring the world aboard his famous ship, theMatthew), its growth and success linked inextricably with the high seas. Being renowned around the world for the quality of its workmanship – hence the phrase ‘ship-shaped and Bristol fashion’ – the city is also home to the fabulous SS Great Britain, the ship that ‘transformed world travel’ – it was the world's first iron-hulled, steam-powered ocean-going ship and was designed for the transatlantic luxury passenger trade, and now a fantastic visitor attraction.
And the genius that was Isambard Kingdom Brunel, one of the greatest Britons that ever lived, is one of Bristol’s favourite adopted sons and was responsible for the Harbour system in Bristol and the magnificent suspension bridge, stretching over the beautiful Avon Gorge.
So it seems that adventures on the high seas have long been Bristol’s trademark, but what more would you expect from the home of one of the most famous pirates of all, Blackbeard, and the Hole in the Wall pub, reputedly Long John Silvers’ drinking den in Treasure Island?

Being green

One thing that strikes any visitor to Bristol today is how green it is – both in its surrounds and its philosophy. There are a breathtaking 450 parks here, more than any other comparable UK city. And the variety of parks makes for a great city in which to get out and explore: the magnificent yet compact Queen Square near the city centre, popular for lunchtimes; the Ashton Park Estate, with its deer parks, beautiful trees and home to the annual Balloon Fiesta; and the huge open expanse of the Clifton Downs, leading to Bristol Zoo.
And then there’s the eco-green attitude of the city. Consider Bristol’s official status as one of the leading Fairtrade cities in the world; or the fact its home to the Soil Association, which hosts an annual Organic Food Festival, which is Europe’s largest celebration of organic food and farming; or even the annual VegFest, a three-day music, food and drink event celebrating all things vegan and eco-friendly. A truly Green city.

Keeping active

One thing’s for certain; you’ll never be bored in this city. There’s a very real emphasis on doing things here, in getting people out and exploring. If you like to get on your bike, you’ll be pleased to know that Bristol is officially the UK’s first cycling city, with millions invested to make cycling safer and more attractive – and it seems to be working; apparently one in five of the city’s workers now cycles to work. Or if you like your biking a bit more adrenaline-fuelled, there are plenty of mountain bike trails to be discovered.
Cycling not your thing? Not to worry, there’s a plethora of other activities to get you out and about, from rock climbing at the Avon Gorge and  go-karting at Castle Combe, to ballooning over the city. And then there are things to simply explore, such as Bristol Zoo, where you can be a zoo keeper for the day, or At-Bristol, an amazing hands-on science and technology exploration centre.

The essence

A sense of adventure

Who’s it ideal for/how it can make you feel

With such an exciting history to build upon Bristol can make you feel up for an adventure and alive. As such this is a city in which to come and do things, to join in and meet people, to try new things. Have a look at the list of events and compare with other cities: there are a lot of unique events that only Bristol has a crack at, so it’s well worth a visit.
Given that, it’s good for people with an open mind looking for new experiences, sports and outdoors enthusiasts, and budding adventurers of all ages.

The interesting bits in the history

Thanks to archaeological finds in the area that date back 60,000 years, we can safely say that Bristol has been the home to one settlement or another for quite some time. Evidence of the Iron Age has been found in Clifton Downs, and a Roman settlement in nearby Sea Mills. However the name Bristol can most directly be traced back to Anglo-Saxon times, around the 10thcentury, when the settlement was known as Brig Stow, meaning the ‘place by the bridge’.

The settlement grew as trading with Ireland grew, and then, over the course of the next 200 years, Bristol became a busy port, exporting woollen cloth and importing wine from Gasconyand Bordeaux, Spanish sherryand Toledosteel. The 12thcentury was especially good for the city as it gained a town charter, a new castle, and a strengthening of the relationship with Dublin. The late 13thcentury saw the re-alignment of the river harbour and the creation of much better navigation for Bristol ships; crucial for the serious development of the city as a world-class port. But ships also left Bristol looking not just for trade, but also for new colonies in the New World, amongst them John Cabot, in 1497 in his ship, the Matthew. The spirit of adventure was by now well established in the city.

By the mid-1500s, Bristol had been awarded city status, and trade continued to prosper, with ever-more exotic goods being imported, such as olive oil, figs, dyes and dried fruits.

The 17thcentury saw another Bristol boom as new colonies were founded in North America and the West Indies; the city was ideally placed to trade. Sugar and tobacco flooded in, glassmaking was fast-growing, and ship-building was growing apace. This boom in trade also resulted in new buildings around the city: the infamous Llandoger Trow pub was built in this century, as were the now-famous Christmas Steps.

The boom continued in the 18thcentury as the city was heavily involved in the slave trade. Tobacco and rum were big business; brewing was making an impact, the infamous Blackbeard was wreaking havoc off the American coast, and as the 19thcentury was ushered in, Bristol replaced Norwich as the second most populous city in England.

The 19thand 20thcenturies pretty much carried on the growth of the previous 200 years, although the industries changed: glassmaking went into decline while ship-building thrived, along with chocolate and tobacco. There was much more emphasis on transport as well, as the Avonmouth docks were opened, the suspension bridge was built, Bristol connected to London via the railways and the British and Colonial Aeroplane Company was established; the port meanwhile continued to flourish.

And today, tourism is a big growth area for the city. It’s built on its adventurous past with attractions such as At-Bristol, which was opened in 2000; the new Bristol Aquarium, with its 3-D IMAX theatre; and it honoured one of its famous sons with a fabulous new shopping centre, Cabot Circus, in 2008.

How to experience Bristol

Start with the ship that transformed world travel on the seas, the SS Great Britain; a cracking attraction this one, where you can descend under water below the glass ‘sea’ and experience the smells, sights and sounds of Victorian maritime life. Head along the floating harbour and cross into the city centre over Prince Street Bridge. You’ve then got the Arnolfini on the left hand side – 50 years old in 2011, this famous Bristol warehouse is a leading contemporary arts venue containing potentially the country’s finest art bookshop.
Turn left here and walk along the river past the Hole in the Wall (the pub most likely referred to in Treasure Island as Long John Silver’s favourite haunt); once at the roundabout, cross the river and in front you’ll see another famous Bristol landmark, St Mary Redcliffe church. This grand church, once described by Queen Elizabeth I as the ‘fairest, goodliest and most famous parish church in England’ is well worth a visit. It dates back to the 12thcentury with masonry and architectural work from the 15thcentury that is stunning – you simply can’t help but look up and wonder how on earth that vast stone ceiling is being held up.
After admiring the church retrace your steps over the Redcliffe Bridge and head directly into the delightful Queen Square. After soaking up the charm of the square, cut towards the harbour again and you’re on Welsh Back; we’re now right in the heart of the old port – this is where pirates, privateers and the like hunkered down and plotted their adventures many years ago. Up on the right, look out for the Llandoger Trow, the famous pub that was the inspiration for Robinson Crusoe and Admiral Benbow in Treasure Island.
From here walk along Marsh Street and head up to Corn Street; this was the part of the city where the merchants and traders would do business a couple of centuries ago (look out for four flat-top pillars known as The Nails – when a deal was struck, merchants would strike one of the nails, giving rise to the expression ‘to pay on the nail’). Cut along to Wine Street and you’re now at the southern side of Broadmead and the Mall, Bristol’s original shopping heart with over 300 shops. A short walk north and you’re at the impressive Cabot Circus, Bristol’s brand-spanking-new retail and leisure complex, including Harvey Nichols, House of Fraser and a Cinema de Lux.
So, once shopped out and well fed, head back along Broadmead until you get to the old city centre; you’ll recognise it by the Hippodrome on the right-hand side. To the left of the Hippodrome is the bottom of one of Bristol’s most famous streets, Park Street. Before going up there, head alongside the harbour and into the Waterfront media complex. Just past here you’ll find At-Bristol; stop by and enjoy the new Animate It! Exhibition, allowing you to learn from Wallace and Gromit and Morph, and be an animator for the day (see what we mean? Bristol encourages you to take part, not simply watch).
After this head north and you’ll find Bristol Cathedral. Pop in and you’ll discover the best example in the country, and one of the finest in the world, of a ‘great hall church’ – that is the nave, choir and aisles are all the same height: truly impressive. Opposite the cathedral are the College Green, a very relaxing spot, and the well-known sweeping structure that is Bristol Council House.
Time now to head up Park Street; at the top you’ll find the University of Bristol alongside the City Museum and Art Gallery. Head round to the right and you’re now on another famous Bristol street, Whiteladies Road. This is a long road, with the BBC studios along the way and a strip of good bars and restaurants. If you carry right the way to the top you’ll eventually reach The Downs, a wonderful wide open space. Turn right when you hit the Downs along Clifton Down Road and you’ll reach Bristol Zoo Gardens; well worth a visit, it’s 175 years old in 2011, so there are a lot of events going on. And then behind the zoo why not stroll into Clifton. This was traditionally the most affluent area of the city, with its grand terracing and relaxed ambience.
And from here it’s a short walk to the Observatory and Camera Obscura, one of only two open to the public in the country, with suitably stunning views. Just beneath that is the Clifton Suspension Bridge itself, spanning the beautiful Avon Gorge, the most famous symbol of this fascinating and adventurous city.

When to visit

City pics