Tuesday, 28 March 2017

My Bristol

So, my home city has been named the best place to live in the UK by the Sunday Times. This comes off the back of a fair bit of publicity for the city in recent years - it seems Bristol has steadily built a reputation for being something a bit special and lately it seems like every other publication is singing its praises.

As someone who was raised in the city and came back here after I become a parent, I've seen it undergo a whole lotta changes over the years; most of them good, though I have to say that I'm less happy about Bristol becoming a bit of a London satellite - just try buying a family home in a good catchment area if you want evidence of the impact of London-Bristol migration.

I also have my own personal gripes - rubbish public transport, poor secondary school provision and a pretty bad litter problem - and I do think some stuff that has been written about the city is slightly romanticised. Yes, people from Bristol may seem physically compelled to thank every bus driver for every bus journey they ever make...but that does rather depend on whether you can actually get a bus in the first place.

And, like any city, for every affluent suburban street and graceful Georgian square, Bristol has its fair share of neglected, depressed areas that don't quite fit the rosy picture displayed in the broadsheets. It isn't really accurate to portray Bristol as some sort of utopia, despite its proud heritage of inclusiveness and political agitation, and it would be remiss to glaze over the fact that many of the city's best offerings are the preserve of its wealthier residents. BUT...that's a whole different conversation.

Instead, as someone who does truly love my home city - despite taking some of the plaudits with a pinch of salt - I've collected my favourite places in Bristol and the surrounding environs. They're not the big name attractions that you'll probably already be aware of, but rather places that, if I was visiting the city for a weekend, I'd be very happy to stumble upon...

Clifton Wood

Central Clifton - with the Suspension Bridge, Georgian architecture and an abundance of chi chi cafes - is an obvious addition to any tour of Bristol, but equally enchanting is Clifton Wood, a hotch-potch of quiet little roads and steep hills lined with pastel-coloured houses. You can enjoy fantastic views over the docks from up here, plus there's a cute little pub, The Lion, to fulfill your refreshment requirements. There's a distinctly Bohemian vibe in this part of the city - it's the sort of place people make mosaics for their walls and prettify electricity boxes with painted pictures.

You'll eventually wind up either down by the docks or back in Clifton; if you hit the latter, take your pick from a variety of photogenic attractions: Royal York Crescent, the Observatory, Clifton Arcade and Birdcage Walk, to name just a few.

The Lido

Staying with the upmarket side of Bristol, there's something very charming about this place. Brought back to life in 2008, the Lido retains the character of a 1920s bathing club, with its functional swimming pool lined with retro-style curtained changing rooms. Opposite the changing rooms is a lovely restaurant - enjoying a lazy, post-swim brunch in the sunshine can almost make you feel like you're on holiday. And to be able to get that feeling in the middle of a city is no bad thing. Visit the website for more info.

Bristol Museum & Art Gallery

A proper old school museum - the sort I love. With only small concessions to the modern, interactive way of displaying information, this museum hasn't really changed much since I used to come here as a child. 

Housed in a beautiful neo-classical building, this free museum has a whiff of old school exploration, with its collections of stuffed animals, Egyptian mummies and rocks and minerals. I particularly like the gallery, a tranquil space hung with some impressive artworks, including pieces by Seurat and Renoir. Visit the website for more info.

Gloucester Road

No prizes for naming this legendary high street as a Bristolian must-see. Often referenced as the last great high street in the UK, there's still a defiantly independent feel to Gloucester Road, despite the presence of a couple of chains. But if you were, say, wanting to visit the street art of Stokes Croft or indulge in some retail therapy at Cabot Circus, you could swap catching the bus for a wander down this quirky, interesting road, the kind of place where you can lay your hands on pretty much anything and everything. 

Traditional hardware shops rub shoulders with San Fran-style cafes, while you can have a rummage in a multitude of amazing charity shops or browse pretty homewares and clothing in some super-cute boutiques. I couldn't live without the traditional toy shop Totally Toys (a lifesaver for last-minute presents) plus I love a nose in the pound shop and brilliant health food store Scoop Away. 

Just before the junction with Cheltenham Road hook a right up to Zetland Road and you'll come across a real culinary gem - Green's Dining Room is, in my opinion - one of the best and most consistent restaurants in the city; it's a lovely, unpretentious little place serving some of the most delicious food I've ever had in Bristol.

Botanic Garden

A relatively recent discovery, this is a really lovely place to enjoy a break from the city noise. Owned by the university, the gardens are located just off Durdham Downs on Stoke Park Road (follow the brown signs) and feature collections of unusual plants and trees. It's all very calm and civilised beyond the garden threshold - the perfect place for an undisturbed wander on a sunny day. There's a cafe on site, plus the gardens often have interesting exhibitions on show - the last time I visited the plants were decorated with pretty glass sculptures. Visit the website for more info.


I bloody love Clevedon. Home to my two best friends when I was a teenager, I spent a lot of time mooching around in Clevedon in my youth. Having smartened up in recent years, Clevedon now has a beautifully restored Victorian Pier and a refurbished outdoor swimming pool, as well as a pretty pebble beach backed by elegant houses and cafes. There's a smart parade of shops at Hill Road, while Poets Walk offers gorgeous views across the water. 

And while said water might be a tad brown - the Bristol Channel isn't the most photogenic of waterways - Clevedon is a very convenient place to get to when you're looking for a bit of sea air. Just 20 minutes by car from Bristol, it's a lovely spot to sit in the sun eating fish and chips or a proper Italian ice cream from Forte's.

More Bristol Recommendations

I wrote a piece for HelloBRSTL on recommendations for things to do and where to eat in Bristol - take a look here.

Photos courtesy of Lido Bristol, Visit Bristol and Bristol Botanic Gardens.

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