Bristol is a city that often flies under the radar for tourists, yet it's an incredible place to live, work, and visit.
There are loads of activities and sights for those who come to explore, and It's high time to highlight what makes Bristol so unique and share some insider tips on its many enjoyable experiences.
In this guide, we'll focus on the best places, and plenty of free activities are on the list.
Here are 16 of the best things to do in Bristol that we recommend you try if you visit. The only issue might be trying to fit them all into one trip!
1. Explore the Historic SS Great Britain.
Visiting the SS Great Britain is something pretty much everyone does when visiting Bristol, and that's why it's at the top of our list of things to do in Bristol.
Brunel created the SS Great Britain and is famous for changing the world.
When you go on board, you get to see and feel what Life was like for people who traveled on it in the Victorian era. You can hear the sounds, see the sights, and even smell what it was like back then, which kids will enjoy. One cool thing is you can walk under the ship and see it from below through a glass floor, giving you a unique perspective.
People enjoy learning about the ship, especially how it's being looked after now so it can last a long time. The ship is easy to get around, and there are many things to touch and play with.
The staff who work there are very knowledgeable and helpful and will be able to share a lot about the history and are happy to share stories about it.
2. Visit the Iconic Clifton Suspension Bridge.
The Clifton Suspension Bridge is the second most famous Bristol attraction after the SS Great Britain. Designed and built by Brunel in 1836, it's a long bridge that stretches high above the Avon Gorge. We recommend walking across this bridge as it is something special, and the views are amazing.
You can take a guided tour with the volunteers. These are great; you will learn a lot about the bridge, such as how it was built and its history. You wouldn't get to learn these on your own without a guide. The visitor center is also worth checking out as well. Put this on your list of unique things to do in Bristol, as you don't get one of these in any other cities.
3. Clifton Observatory
Following on from number 2, you should head over to the Clifton Observatory while you are at the bridge. Visiting here at sunset is best as the views are incredible.
There is an outside terrace where you can get a drink, and it's one of the more romantic things to do in Bristol.
Inside, there's a small museum with some great gifts to buy, and on the top, there's a camera obscura, which you should check out.
4. Walk around Bristol Harbor
Bristol Harbour is a trendy spot right by the city center, and it's got a lot of different places to eat and drink. It is especially good In the evenings as it's lively and full of energy.
When it's sunny, Bristol Harbour is a great place to be. There's a lot to see and do, and it's easy to get around, even for people with trouble walking.
It's an excellent place to hang out, with restaurants, bars, and museums. There's also parking close by at Millennium Square.
5. Visit a Historic Pub
Visiting a historic pub is one of the best things to do in Bristol city center. We are fans of pubs here at the Frugal Expat. There's just something about them, especially in the UK. You can get a real sense of going back in time and start a conversation with a local while enjoying a pint.
We recommend heading to Bristols Harbourside, which is in the old town of Bristol.
Here you will find some of the better pubs, but one street that stands out is Kings Street, which is brilliant whether you visit in the daytime or the evening.
Our favorite is the Llandoger Trow, which dates back to 1664 and has over 28 kegs on tap, which are constantly updated on their website, and they have plenty of live music events each month.
6. Bristol Museum & Art Gallery.
The Bristol Museum & Art Gallery is one of the free things to do in Bristol on our list, with collections of art, nature, and history.
It's in a beautiful building where you can learn about the last billion years of Earth's history, check out natural wonders from the region, and learn about people's past and present lives.
The museum gets excellent reviews, with people praising how good the staff is. They are always impressed with the exhibits and installations, which are impressive.
It's worth visiting the museum as Bristol has lots of history and stories. While getting in is free, they suggest giving £5 to help look after the building. If you need to store your stuff, there are lockers, but you'll need a £1 coin.
7. Bristol Planetarium
This is one of the best things to do with kids in Bristol. You can't miss it as it's a massive silver ball on Millenium Square, and it's a place where you have to take a selfie before you go in.
Here, you will find all different sorts of space-related experiences. Kids under six will love Space Explorers 2D, which is aimed at kids, and there's also another one called Life in the Universe 3D, which is very popular with visitors.
Entry is free, which we like at the Frugal Expat, but donations are always recommended.
8. Take a Water Taxi
One of the best and unique ways to get around Bristol is to take their famous yellow and blue water taxis. These have been around since 1977 and are very popular with locals and tourists.
What we like about the water taxi is that it only costs £2 per taxi as it's a non-profit business. People often comment on how friendly and nice the crew is as well.
If you are not using it to pop from one side of the city to another, you could also try out one of the daily tours they run.
9. Relax in the beautiful Ashton Court Estate.
Ashton Court Estate is a great thing to do in Bristol with kids.
This historic site features a 16th-century house set in 850 acres of grass, woodland, and gardens, including a beautiful sunken rose garden. It's home to two deer parks with Fallow and Red deer, making it a perfect spot for animal lovers.
The estate is a popular place for families, dog walkers, runners, and cyclists to explore. The Courtyard Cafe is a dog-friendly spot that's open every day, and there's also an activity center with a cafe and golf course open seven days a week. You can play golf, FootGolf, and Disc Golf or rent mountain bikes to explore the trails.
The grounds around the mansion are beautiful, with a lovely cafe and plenty of space for a picnic on the mansion's lawns. It's a safe and open area for kids to run around and play. With many expensive things, Ashton Court Estate offers families a perfect, budget-friendly outing.
10. Have a Cocktail at the Milk Thistle
If you are after things to do for couples in Bristol, then The Milk Thistle should be at the top of your list. This place is regularly voted one of the best bars in the UK, and when you enter, you will see why.
It's a massive place, split over four floors, and inside, it's got a prohibition, speakeasy-style bar that looks classy.
The menu here is slightly different, and the bar staff are excellent. We recommend telling them what kind of unusual cocktails you like and having them make something up that's unique.
11. Visit the M Shed
M Shed is a unique place to learn about Bristol's history through various rare objects, films, photographs, and personal stories. It covers everything from prehistoric times to the present, showcasing Bristol's unique role.
One of the highlights at M Shed is the ‘Behind the Scenes at the Museum' tour. It's an hour-long journey through Bristol's history, from shipbuilding to chocolate making and from famous figures like Brunel to other important locals.
What's impressive is it's one of the free things to do in Bristol, although you can donate at the end if you want to. There is also a cafe here that's worth checking out, as it serves some fantastic cakes and lovely coffee!
12. Check Out The Street Art
After a few cocktails, why not visit the Bristol Street Art scene? There is street art all over the city where you can find yourself. However, we recommend you try out one of the guided street art tours to ensure you find the best street art in Bristol.
One company that comes highly recommended is “Where The Wall.” This tour lasts about 2 hours, which people rave about. You'll also learn about the famous Banksy, the street artist of all time.
13. St Nicholas Market for Local Crafts and Foods.
This is a fantastic market and one of Bristol's best places to eat. This market is a bit upmarket as the prices are not cheap and have a quirky feel.
It's the sort of place where you can go with a load of friends, and you can all pick different places to eat and then sit down in the communal area in the middle to enjoy your food together.
As well as the food stalls, there are plenty of independent shops worth checking out. You won't find any chain shops!
14. Bristol Aquarium
Bristol Aquarium should be on your list of things to do with families in Bristol.
It's located right in the city center, which is excellent, and here you can view over 40 themed displays that include a variety of species, including piranhas, seahorses, and massive rays.
In addition to the aquarium, there is a massive botanical house full of plant species worldwide.
We think it's pretty pricey, but it's worth checking out if your children are fascinated by the ocean.
15. Bristol Cathedral
On College Green, you'll find the Cathedral Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, a historic church dating back to 1140. It's known as one of the finest medieval churches in the United Kingdom.
The church underwent significant renovations in the 14th century, adopting the English Decorated Gothic style. A standout feature of this church is its east end, an outstanding example of medieval hall church architecture.
We have visited many cathedrals at the Frugal Expat, and this one is right up there as one of the best.
16. Free Audio Walking Tour
One of the best free things to do in Bristol is to take a free audio tour! You can download this from the official Visit Bristol website, and it's perfect that the city has put this together for visitors.
There are four tours to pick from, with some lasting up to 2 hours, so it's a great way to spend the morning. Our tip would be to get up early, grab a coffee from a local shop, and take the tour before the rest of Bristol wakes up.
17. Cabot Tower
Cabot Tower can be found in Brandhill Park, the oldest park in Bristol and stands at 105ft tall. Most people come here because they want to go up to the top of the tower and we recommend you do! It's open from 8 am Monday to Sunday.
Getting to the top can be hard work as it's 108 steps and quite steep and narrow. Your hard work will be rewarded with the best view of Bristol.
18. Aerospace Bristol
This is a fascinating place that all the family will enjoy. It's one of the few places to go inside Concorde, the famous supersonic passenger jet. Not many people can say they have been inside a Concorde, so it's an opportunity not to be missed when visiting the city.
It's not all about Concorde, though; there are helicopters, other airplanes, rockets, and lots of hands-on activities everyone can get involved with.
You could probably spend nearly a full day here as there's an outdoor play area for the kids and a lovely cafe and gift shop to visit at the end.
Bristol does float under the radar, but it's somewhere we think you should visit as there is something for everyone, and it's full of culture.
If you have any comments on anything mentioned in the article, please feel free to leave a comment below.
I’m Steve. I’m an English Teacher, traveler, and an avid outdoorsman. If you’d like to comment, ask a question, or simply say hi, leave me a message here, on Twitter (@thefrugalexpat1). Many of my posts have been written to help those in their journey to financial independence. I am on my journey, and as I learn more I hope to share more. And as always, thanks for reading The Frugal Expat.