Day 1 – Arriving and exploring Bristol's main sights
Temple Meads and Bristol Castle
The main railway station in Bristol, Bristol Temple Meads Station, is one of the most important transport hubs in the Southwest, so it's easy to get to by direct train from all around the UK, including Wales and Scotland. It's only 57m by train from Cardiff to Bristol. The train from London to Bristol takes just 1h 38m and runs almost 40 times a day. Manchester to Bristol takes 2h 57m, and the direct service from Edinburgh Waverley to Bristol takes 6h 22m. That may be pushing it for a weekend escape. But having said that, Bristol's unique attractions are sure to make you want to come back.
To get you started, take the ferry from Temple Meads station into the city centre. It's only a stone's throw away, but it's a fun way to start your weekend trip. Besides, you get to take in the beauty of this city from a completely different perspective. Get off at the Castle Park ferry pier, a lovely green space where you can easily visit St. Peter's Church, St. Mary le Port Church, and beautiful Bristol Castle on foot. Afterwards, pop into nearby St. Nicholas Market to pick up some breakfast, brunch, or lunch at the city's oldest market, dating to 1743.
Old City attractions and views from Cabot Tower
After filling up at St. Nicholas Market, stroll through the historic heart of Bristol's medieval Old City towards the University of Bristol's fantastic Royal Fort Gardens. Along the way spend time exploring the many boutiques, galleries, shops, and cafés squeezed into the narrow terraces of Bristol's beautiful Christmas Steps Art District. For a unique look at English history, head to the brilliant Georgian House Museum at the foot of Brandon Hill. This magnificent, six-storey townhouse of a wealthy 18th-century sugar merchant is one of the country's best-preserved examples of Georgian architecture, including ornate interiors. It also depicts Bristol's key role in the infamous trans-Atlantic slave trade.
After exploring the Georgian House, head up Brandon Hill for a breath of fresh air. Located near the top of Brandon Hill, the19th-century, 32m-high Cabot Tower is free to climb, and it offers amazing views over all of Bristol and the surrounding area, including the river. Descend for another dose of history and culture at the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, just a 5-minute walk down the hill from Cabot Tower. After visiting the museum, enjoy a stroll through Bristol's funky West End. Finally, visit the incredible 14th-century Bristol Cathedral on your way to the trendy Harbourside district for a tipple.
A night out on Gloucester Road
Among the crowd of buzzing restaurants and bars fringing Bristol's Harbourside, the Stable stands out for its cool industrial-chic decor, gourmet pizzas, and authentic local cider. To go the whole hog on Bristol's famous cider, though, head to The Apple. This iconic venue occupies two floors of a moored boat, connected with outdoor tables to the pretty cobblestone quayside. To kick off the night, head up to Cheltenham Road and Gloucester Road. This stretch is lined with dozens of great pubs and live music venues. Enjoy an open-mic night at the Blue Lagoon. Grab a fancy cocktail at the Bootlegger. Or enjoy a drink on the terrace at the quirky Gallimaufry modern wine bar.
Day 2 – World-class art and museums
Brunel's Butty M-Shed and SS Great Britain
Head to the Harbourside early and fuel up for a busy day out in Bristol with breakfast at Brunel's Butty at Wapping Wharf. This local institution serves undoubtedly the city's best bacon butty. You might have to queue, but it's well worth the wait. Afterwards, head to see Bristol's most visited attraction, the SS Great Britain, which is just a 5-minute walk along the quay. Climb the rigging, go below deck, and learn the story of the famous 19th-century vessel designed by local hero Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Delve further into Bristol's ship-building history, and Brunel's designs, at nearby Underfall Yard.
Take the ferry back to Millennium Square Landing and explore the former industrial area of Canon's Marsh, which is now a modern hub of leisure and entertainment. It's also the location of Bristol Aquarium and We The Curious science centre, two of Bristol's most entertaining and interactive museums. If you're visiting Bristol with kids, either of these is a superb place to spend a few hours. Or, pop across the water to visit Arnolfini, an iconic quayside arts institution in an industrial warehouse. Alternatively, discover Bristol's history in-depth at M-Shed, a museum inside a 1950's transit shed illustrating the city's history from prehistoric times to today.
Stokes Croft and Banksy's street art
Following the morning of museums and attractions, you'll probably be pretty hungry by now. So head to edgy, stylish Stokes Croft. This is one of Bristol's coolest, grittiest districts. And it has no shortage of fantastic places for delicious, cheap eats. Elemental Café started life as a pop-up bakery that got so popular it had to settle into permanent digs on the main road. It's now one of the best spots in Bristol for fresh bread, pastries, and sweet treats. Two minutes along Stokes Croft is The Canteen, a colourful, community-focused venue that helped to kick-start the rejuvenation of the area. They offer free soup and bread with every meal.
One of the most famous aspects of Bristol's underground culture is street art. Widely regarded as the street-art capital of the UK, a street-art tour is a must-do while in town. And Stokes Croft is the perfect place to start. The Canteen is located right opposite the Mild Mild West mural from the famous local street artist, Banksy. Also nearby is Banksy's Rose Trap mural, and several works from other local artists. You can either join a guided tour or follow your own route around the area with a free street-art map available online or from the tourist information office.
Clifton Suspension Bridge and a gig at the Old Duke
After funky Stokes Croft, head up to leafy, elegant Clifton for the afternoon. If you've got kids to entertain, don't miss visiting the beautiful Bristol Zoo. Otherwise, spend some time relaxing in the wonderful park surrounding Clifton Observatory, a converted windmill from 1766. The main attraction here, though, is the Clifton Suspension Bridge, Brunel's masterpiece, and the icon of Bristol. If you've got time, walk across the bridge to explore the lush grounds of Ashton Court Estate and Leigh Woods. Or settle into a prime spot to watch the sunset from the bridge. It's hard to beat the views down over the city and the River Avon.
Wander through Clifton Village, a cute, quaint suburb full of quirky boutiques and cosy bars, ideal for an early-evening drink. From Clifton Village, walk a few minutes to Christ Church (at the edge of the Observatory park) and bus back to Redcliffe, at the southern end of the city centre. Redcliffe is home to two outstanding gig venues in The Fleece (indie and electric) and the legendary Old Duke (live jazz and blues on the waterside). It's also only a few minutes' walk back to Temple Meads Station. So it's easy to connect with trains back to wherever you need to go at the end of your weekend trip to Bristol.
If a weekend in Bristol sounds like it could be on the cards, start having a look at train routes and journey times to see what works for you. With a lot of options to fill a weekend in Bristol, you may even be tempted to extend the trip beyond two days.