Bristol is the largest city in the south-west of England; a historic port with plenty for the day-tripper to see and do. It’s easy to get to Bristol from Bath and as trains and buses run until late, it’s possible to stay in Bristol for an evening meal at one of the town’s many restaurants, before returning to Bath.
Although it is a port, Bristol isn’t located on the sea coast, but on the tidal waters of the Avon, up the Bristol Channel. Bristol’s sheltered waterways played an important part in Britain’s international trading, profiting from import and export as well as the Africa – America slave trade. Alongside the River Avon is a network of waterways making up a floating harbour, which used to be jammed with tall ships. Bristol’s rich maritime and industrial heritage ensures a number of interesting attractions and activities. A boat trip around the docks can be followed by a visit to the iron steamship SS Great Britain, built in 1843 by Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
The Tourist Information Office, close to the harbourside, is a good place to start; tourists can pick up maps and information that will guide them around the historic sights. If you’re arriving by bus from the railway station, alight at the Centre, a glorified traffic island at the city’s heart, leading down to the harbourside.
A bus trip or steep walk from the centre is Clifton, an elegant Georgian area, close to the Clifton Suspension Bridge, a breathtaking bridge over the dramatic Avon Gorge (also designed by Brunel). The excellent Bristol Zoo is also situated in this area (bus route numbers 8/9). The zoo is a great family destination, with masses of information and attractions, and a strong emphasis on conservation. The penguin enclosure is particularly thrilling for visitors, who can pass among the swimming birds, in glass tunnels. The zoo can really be a day out in itself and you should certainly allow several hours to enjoy it.
If you’re interested in shopping as well as sightseeing, you’ll find a good range of shops in Bristol. For high street chains and department stores, head for the Broadmead shopping area, an unappealing but popular pedestrianised complex. More individual shops and boutiques can be found on Park Street, heading up towards the Clifton area.
There are plenty of cafes dotted around Bristol where you can enjoy a light lunch, while Corn Street is a good destination for restaurants. A good place to eat is the little Olive Shed, a stylish Mediterranean-style cafe/bar/restaurant with outside tables on Princes Wharf, and a range of vegetarian and seafood dishes. Book ahead. Trains back to Bath run until around 11pm (check timetables). The bus journey can take more time at night, when it follows a longer route, but there are later departures.
Getting to Bristol from Bath
It is extremely easy to get to Bristol from Bath. Bristol Temple Meads Station is just ten minutes by train from Bath, and services are very frequent. Temple Meads is a twenty-minute walk from the heart of Bristol. If you have time to walk, head towards the harbour along Redcliffe Way, past St Mary Redcliffe, one of the region’s finest churches. Alternatively, buses 8 and 9 stop outside the station (on your right as you exit), with frequent departures for Broadmead and the Centre, and on to Clifton and Bristol Zoo (check route details on the timetables behind the stop.
The bus journey to Bristol takes around 45 minutes, and buses also are fairly frequent. The X39 leaves from Bath Bus Station and stops in the centre of Bristol. The last return journey at night is around midnight (check up-to-date timetables on the First website).
If you will be travelling around Bristol or Bath by bus, it’s worth looking into the latest combination ticket offers. First (who operate buses and trains locally) offer Plus Bus tickets when you book a railway ticket, which can offer good-value bus travel. And a First Day South West is a bus day pass valid on buses in and between Bath and Bristol.