Photo Gary Newman, courtesy Visit Bristol


Our guide to the vibrant city that everyone is flocking to for short visits, and increasingly to put down roots

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Rough Guides has Bristol down as the coolest city in Britain. ‘Think London but smaller,’ they said as they reeled off a list of attributes from cycle lanes to street art. The Sunday Times agreed, adding that Bristol is ‘classy and supremely creative’. 

National Geographic Traveller placed Bristol in the top 20 of its 2018 Cool List – an international hit parade of cool destinations that put the city above Paris and Amsterdam. And what does The New York Times say? A ‘cultural powerhouse’ no less.

Merchants and ventures

So what gives Bristol the edge? Creative, offbeat and independent are words often used to describe the city’s spirit. Wilfully different, it welcomes artists, radicals and innovators, all of which is reflected in its culture and on its streets. Big on counterculture and diversity, it draws on influences from around the world to nurture home-grown ambitions. The erstwhile title European Green Capital (2015) had as much respect for the city’s way of thinking as for its green spaces.

Bristol’s history is somewhat darker. A river port since the Middle ages, Bristol has been enriched by global trade, in particular tobacco, sugar and the slave trade – bringing wealth and commerce but at a price. After the Second World War – when the city suffered extensive bomb damage – the docks fell into disuse. Over 30 years of regeneration has gone into today’s busy harbour area.

Water under the bridge

Today, the Harbourside is once again the focus of city life, with boat yards, converted warehouses and repurposed shipping containers housing a colourful assortment of museums, galleries, cinemas, restaurants, cafes and clubs. Find out what makes this city tick at the summer’s annual Harbourside Festival, combining music, food and performance with a celebration of the city’s maritime past.  

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