Stokes Croft street art, Bristol

Exploring Bristol with older children

Bristol is only an hour from home but most of our previous visits have been to two of its outlying attractions, the airport and IKEA. Our recent two night trip allowed us to discover the city at leisure, without the distraction of missed flights or Swedish meatballs!

There’s plenty to keep younger children occupied in Bristol, from At-Bristol to SS Great Britain, but what did we do with a teen and a tween in tow?

Ferry boat trip

Faced with a longish walk from Bristol Temple Meads railway station to our accommodation I thought a ferry trip into the centre might head off some of the grumbles.

Bristol ferry
Bristol ferry

It was the right decision. We were the only customers on board so the ticket lady treated us to a mini-tour of the river highlights. En route we passed another Bristol Ferry Boat full of litter pickers fishing rubbish out of the river. It may well be due to their efforts that we later spotted a kingfisher, watching us from the river bank.

Street art tour

Back in 2009 we visited the Banksy Bristol Museum takeover and in 2015 we enjoyed Dismaland in Weston-super-Mare so you’ll probably realise I’m a Banksy fan. Discovering Banksy art in Bristol is also on my 100 things to do in the UK bucket list so I was looking forward to ticking off another item.

Banksy art, Bristol
Banksy art, Bristol

But there’s a lot more to Bristol than Banksy as we found on a street art tour. Starting from City Hall and winding our way up through the city centre to Stokes Croft we learnt about the techniques used, artist backgrounds and the meaning behind some of the pieces.

One artist that stood out for me was JPS, who stencilled Spartacus (below, left). Previously homeless and addicted to drugs and alcohol JPS was inspired to paint after visiting Banksy’s Bristol musum takeover. There’s a definite Banksy likeness to some of his creations but he’s now a well known street artist in his own right. Heck, he’s even appeared in the Guardian and has a street art trail in his home town of Weston-super-Mare.

Bristol street art
Bristol street art

Part way through our tour the guide managed to loose half of the group at a busy traffic crossing. We watched from afar as the rest of the group disappeared down an alley. Ten minutes later, with the help of Head Office, we were reunited, but not before we’d jokingly decided to run our own self-directed tour.

Depending on your point of view, our final destination, Stokes Croft, is either full of drug dens and brothels, bohemian and edgy or gentrified and expensive to live in. Whatever your thoughts there’s definitely lots of street art to see.

St Nicholas Market

Leaving our street art tour behind we headed back to the city centre via the indoor St Nicholas Market. The market has the usual clothing and knick-knack stalls but what sets it apart are the food outlets. With options from all over the world it wouldn’t look out of place in Borough Market. One particularly alluring stand, Aah Toots, was named after my childhood nickname and aptly full of cake.

Saint Nicholas Market, Bristol
Saint Nicholas Market, Bristol

Cabot tower

Whenever I visit somewhere new I always climb a tower for a bird’s eye view of the area. For someone with particularly bad spatial skills it’s my way of making sense of my surroundings. Cabot Tower, set in parkland on Brandon Hill, gave me the views I needed to decipher Bristol.

Cabot Tower, Bristol
Cabot Tower, Bristol

Built in the 1890s to commemorate the journey of John Cabot from Bristol to Canada the tower is free to visit. There’s a 360 degree panoramic view from the top although getting there may involve a squeeze. The spiral stairs are pretty narrow and things get interesting when you meet someone coming the opposite direction!

Bristol harbourside

Continuing our Bristol exploration we finished our day with a riverside walk. I’d originally planned a short stroll to see the SS Matthew, a replica of the ship that John Cabot used for his voyage to Newfoundland. Yet we arrived at its mooring point to discover a missing ship, along with a note stating it was in dry dock further along at Underfall Yard.

View from near Underfall Yard, Bristol
View from near Underfall Yard, Bristol

For some reason I thought it would be good to continue walking on to Underfall Yard, a historic boatyard. Twenty minutes later we found SS Matthew, closed to visitors. As was most of Underfall Yard. Despite trying its best to attract tourists it’s probably better to visit when the cafe and visitor centre are open.

Sunset over Bristol harbourside
Sunset over Bristol harbourside

The kids were wilting by this time. Not surprising really as I later discovered we’d walked about 10 miles. Fortunately our walk home was accompanied by a paddleboarding dog (OK, its owner was paddling, the dog just balancing) and a great sunset.

Clifton Observatory – The Giant’s Cave

Next morning we continued our walking theme with a stroll out to the affluent suburb of Clifton. Clifton is the polar opposite of Stokes Croft with expensive interior shops, lots of coffee shops and estate agents full of houses we could never afford. We were there to visit one of Bristol’s most iconic attractions, Clifton Suspension Bridge, but were side-tracked into visiting Clifton Observatory first.

Giant's cave, Clifton Observatory
Giant’s cave, Clifton Observatory

Clifton Observatory is home to two attractions, a Camera Obscura and Giant’s Cave. We took advice from the ticket lady and left the Camera Obscura for a sunny day. Instead we opted for the cave, once home to two giants, Goram and Ghyston. It would be wrong to suggest this is pure myth but I wonder how the giants negotiated the 200ft tunnel to the cave. I bent my head as I walked down the steps and I’m definitely no giant.

Even if there is a touch of make believe about the tale, the steps lead out onto a platform with an impressive view of the gorge and bridge. You can just make out the bright yellow platform jutting out in the picture above. It’s probably not for you if you’re nervous of heights!

Clifton Suspension Bridge

Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol
Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol

I’ve seen Clifton Suspension Bridge from afar many times but its taken me 40+ years to walk over it. Was it worth the wait? Yes, of course. The bridge spans the Avon Gorge and is probably one of Brunel’s most famous designs (although some dispute the extent of his involvement).

Clifton suspension bridge, Bristol
Clifton suspension bridge, Bristol

On the far side there’s a small visitor centre. I enjoyed looking at the drawings submitted for the bridge design competitions. The kids played with a weighing machine that tells you how many of yourself can stand on the bridge without it collapsing. Quite a few fortunately!

I had a vague plan to walk beside the river back into the city but we decided it was probably a step too far after the previous day. Instead we explored Clifton further before returning to our hotel to pick up our luggage.

Eating out

One of the great treats on our city breaks is eating out. The family seem to think I’m a little fussy in my choice of venue. After I’ve checked the Trip Advisor reviews I’ll generally check their hygiene score and the menu. And did I mention I’m vegetarian? Anyway, the following met my standards:

For mice and men

Enjoying a cheese toastie, For mice and men
Enjoying a cheese toastie, For mice and men

Advertised as a travelling grilled cheese muncheonette we found this pop up stall at the Harbourside Market. My daughter and I highly recommend one of their bespoke toasted cheese sandwiches.

Under the stars

A floating tapas boat moored at the Harbourside. Lots of tasty veggie options, reasonable size portions and a quirky venue.

Urban Tandoor

An Indian restaurant with great service in a small (and dark) venue so book in advance. I probably chose the wrong item as it was a lot spicier than I expected but everyone else enjoyed their meals.

Swoon gelato

An ice cream treat for the kids with lots of different flavours to choose from. As it was a cold February day I stuck to coffee but quality checked both ice creams. Very tasty.

Accommodation

We stayed in a Premier Inn. Not quirky or characterful but a central location and very good value for a family room. And we love the breakfasts!

More info

  • Cabot Tower is free. Check opening times before you visit; it is currently closed on Friday afternoons.
  • Clifton Observatory is usually open daily. Entry to the cave costs £2.50 for adults, £1.50 for children (must be 4 or older).
  • Clifton Suspension Bridge is free to walk over (£1 for drivers). The visitor centre is open every day except Christmas Day and New Year from 10am-5pm.
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22 thoughts on “Exploring Bristol with older children”

  1. My resolution this year is to comment on blogs and acknowledge the author’s efforts when I’ve enjoyed reading them. So thank you for your blog – it is refreshing to hear about your travels with older children, often to interesting places not on the well-worn tourist track. I have a tween and two teens and live in the same part of the world as you, so it’s inspiring to read about your adventures. And thank you, too, for telling us about the parts that weren’t so successful and the times your family got fed up! It’s nice to read honest accounts that reflect the wins and loses, so thank you again.

  2. Hi Christine, growing up in Devon, Bristol was the place down the road where we sometimes flew from and the place where one of our form teachers would take us ice skating at the end of term if we behaved (he was one of those teachers everyone wanted). I cannot say it ever occurred to me to visit Bristol on a sightseeing tour! You have made it seem a very appealing place to visit. The marketplace sounds a nice place to browse and walking the suspension bridge must have been quite something…. Since my interest in photography has developed I will now stand on viewing platforms and enter places I would never have before. A change in focus makes all the difference. Literally.

    xx

  3. I love this as we spent half term in Bath and I really wanted to visit Bristol. I didn’t realise how close the 2 cities were, and we are planning a return visit to explore Bristol. It looks a great city, and well done on walking over the bridge. I am not sure whether I could have done that #MondayEscapes x

  4. Love your description of passing on the Cabot Tower stairs. I’ve been on a school trip to the Tower with 30+ children. Very interesting. It is worth it for the view though. I didn’t know they did guided tours of the street art. I drive passed it so often, but I bet I’d learn so much more. I’ll have to check out your eating recommendations as well. Not sure, but I have an idea that the giants climbed up to the cave. Always great to see the city through other people’s eyes.

  5. We live in Bristol and you featured many of our favourites here! Thanks for sharing your top tips for the city on #farawayfiles

  6. We had one day in Bristol last year and managed a swift walkabout and a climb up Cabot Tower. I thought it was such a vibrant city – loved the waterside area and the buzz of the place. I’d love to walk across the suspension bridge – next time!
    #mondayescapes

  7. Aaah Toots – how adorable a name is that? We just did a street art tour in Paris in what I imagine a similar neighborhood – very cool. Would love to see the Banksy stuff too! Sounds like we have similar exploring styles as I always seek out any option that gets us on or near the water AND high in the sky. Great list – thanks for sharing with #FarawayFiles, Erin

  8. All of it looks so scenic and picturesque, especially the bridge and the riverside walk. I was chuckling though at the beginning at Ikea as that has always been an “attraction” for us too. Can spend an entire day there! #culturedkids

  9. That sounds like a wonderful getaway with family. I have only changed trains at Bristol so far, not visited it. Looks like I must visit it someday.

  10. I have fond memories of Bristol as I used to visit a college friend there when I was a student. It’s clear a lot has changed since then Christine and I’m itching to return to check out street art and markets. I’m not sure about the Clifton Suspension Bridge though. It took a pint of cider to get me across it the last time I went! Thanks for sharing on #FarawayFiles

  11. I used to live in Bristol many years ago and while I loved it then, it seems to have even more going for it these days. I know my daughter would love AtBristol and floating tapas is tempting me, among other things.

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