From taking in the views of Clifton Suspension Bridge and the SS Great Britain, to great food and colourful street art, this is the perfect Bristol day trip itinerary!
When it comes to choosing a day trip from London, there are so many great options. Just hop on a train and within an hour or two you can be exploring the vintage stores in Brighton, wandering the historic Shambles in York, seeing Roman history in Bath or punting in Cambridge. It’s a relaxing way to travel, and if you plan a little in advance then you’ll be able to bag some cheap train tickets too.
For our latest trip we were looking for a destination that had a little bit of everything! We liked the idea of being by the water, especially as the weather forecast promised warm sunny days. We also wanted to find a place with a cool food scene and a few attractions.
So, where came out on top? Bristol! We’ve both always loved Bristol. It’s got such a creative spirit, which comes through not only in the vibrant murals you see splashed around the city, but also in its shops and restaurants. It’s one of those cities that feels full of life!
We set off on a day trip from London to Bristol and spent a couple of days cramming lots of sightseeing and food experiences. We hopped on boats, explored ancient monuments, climbed towers, ate a range of cuisines and even found a few speakeasies… all in the name of research of course!
Whether you’ve only got one day in Bristol, or you want to spread my recommendations out over a weekend, this Bristol itinerary has lots of travel tips to make the most of your visit.
How To Get To Bristol
We travelled from London to Bristol by train. The journey takes just over an hour and a half from London Paddington to Bristol Temple Meads Station. It’s such an easy way to travel and happens to be a good hour or so faster than driving!
As with many UK cities, once you’re in Bristol you’re unlikely to want a car, so the train is a much better option. It’s also a lot more sustainable, which is something we should all be considering right now.
To make things cheaper, Macca and I have a National Rail Two Together Railcard. This is 100% worth buying if you travel with the same person regularly. It saves up to 1/3 on train travel and only costs £30 for a whole year. There are eight other Railcards available if this doesn’t suit you, including one for friends and family and others if you’re aged 16-25 or 26-30.
As an example, for this journey, our tickets were reduced by over £50 with our Two Together Railcard. It’s quite likely you’ll make your money back on one trip (as we did on our recent weekend break in York), meaning any future journeys will be filled with savings!
Once you arrive at Bristol Temple Meads Station, it’s a short walk to the city’s main sights and attractions.
The Perfect Bristol Day Trip
Coming up are lots of recommendations for places to visit on your Bristol day trip. If you want to take things at a leisurely pace, I’d just pick a few of your favourites, or stay an extra day so you can tick everything off the list.
Take in the views of Clifton Suspension Bridge
One of Bristol’s most iconic spots, everyone should visit this majestic bridge. It’s one of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s most famous designs, and is an impressive feat of engineering.
Brunel was just 24 when he won a competition to head up the project. It took 33 years to complete and today is one of the oldest surviving iron suspension bridges in the world. It connects two sides of the Avon Gorge, over the River Avon.
For the best views of the bridge, I’d recommend visiting the park by Clifton Observatory. There are plenty of benches here where you can look out and admire the bridge.
For a quirkier view of the structure, how about heading down into the Giant’s Cave? This is a natural cave within the limestone of the gorge. Access is via 100+ steps, and once you emerge, you’ll see the bridge from a whole new angle!
One of the prettiest scenes you’ll see of this bridge is during the Bristol Balloon Fiesta which takes place every August. If you can time your Bristol day trip for one of the days it’s on, you’ll see beautiful hot air balloons dotted throughout the skies. It’s a very special time to be in the city!
Explore Clifton Village
Clifton is one of the most desirable neighbourhoods in Bristol. With bunting criss-crossing the streets and a range of chic boutiques and brunch spots, it’s a lovely area to mooch around.
Key places to visit are The Mall, Princess Victoria Street and the stunning Royal York Crescent. If you’re a lover of all things colourful, you simply have to visit Sky Bristol on Waterloo Street. With vibrant prints, fun greetings cards and quirky gifts, this is a shop that’s guaranteed to put a smile on your face!
Pod is great for homewares and gardening items while Portobella is a fun fashion store with a focus on multicoloured prints.
Clifton Village has a great food scene too. There’s The Mall Deli for tasty meats and cheeses, plus Chandos Deli and Spicer and Cole are ideal for brunching, lunching and caffeine fixes. For a quirky meal, visit The Clifton Sausage, where you can pick from a special menu of homemade sausages. Over 100,000 sausages are consumed every year here, so you know they’ll be good! This guide will point you in the direction of Bristol’s best brunch spots.
Catch the Bristol water taxi or go on a boat trip
Bristol is a city where you’re never far from the water, so it makes sense that some of the best views are from a boat! There are two easy options if you’re visiting for planning a Bristol day trip: catch the Bristol Ferry waterbus or go on a Bristol Packet boat trip.
The waterbus is a really great way to get around the city as it connects places like Castle Park, Wapping Wharf and the SS Great Britain. A short hop will only set you back £2.
Meanwhile, the Bristol Packet boat tours are great if you’re looking for a guided tour. The City Dock Tour takes 45 minutes and has a live commentary.
Visit CARGO in Wapping Wharf
When you see the stack of shipping containers in Wapping Wharf you might wonder what you’re approaching. This is actually a super-cool part of Bristol’s harbourside complex, and inside each container you’ll find something different.
The key reason to visit is for the food! There are so many cuisines with small eateries here including:
- Loki Poké – Poké bowls
- Cargo Cantina – Mexican food
- Bakers & Co – Bread and pastries
- Dog Town – Hot dogs
- Gambas – Tapas
- Pizzarova – Sourdough pizza
If you’re looking for a budget lunch in Bristol, Cargo is a really great option with street food vibes all around. I opted for a poké bowl this time which was delicious and fresh – perfect for a sunny day!
While you’re in the area, I’d recommend squeezing in a bit of shopping too. There are some cool independent stores located in the containers. My favourite was Frankly – a shop filled with pretty jewellery, colourful accessories and ethical gifts.
Moments away you’ll also find Bookhaus – an independent bookstore where you’ll see notes dotted around the store with recommendations from the staff. This offers a really lovely personal style of shopping experience.
Learn the history of the SS Great Britain
I’ve been to Bristol a few times before but this was my first time checking out one of the city’s main attractions, the SS Great Britain.
This impressive ship (another creation by Brunel) was a leader in her day! She was the largest passenger ship in the world in the 1840s. 750 people could travel on board, across three different classes. The ship was famed for transporting passengers from England to Australia which took a whopping 120 days! How amazing is that?
There is so much to see and do, you could easily spend half a day here. It’s ideal for kids too, as so many of the elements are interactive! You can wander along the edge of the base of the boat in the dry dock, take photos on the deck, learn lots in the museum area and take a look at Brunel’s life at a dedicated museum to the brains behind the ship! If you’re feeling brave, you could even book in for a ‘climb the rigging’ experience!
Enjoy a gourmet lunch at Adelina Yard
I’ve suggested Cargo as a great budget lunch option in Bristol, but now it’s time to reach a little deeper into your pockets! If you’re looking for a restaurant in the city centre for a special meal, book a table at Adelina Yard.
This casual restaurant serves gourmet dishes with a modern European theme. The décor is minimalist, with distressed walls, dried flowers and rugged chopped branches as cutlery stands.
We went for the 4-course set lunch at £38 per person. Over a couple of hours, we tucked into dainty plates of tomato and watermelon salad with goat’s curd, a smoky eel dish with beetroot stars and burnt apple, and a tasty Iberico pork dish with a pungent black garlic ketchup.
The food was presented in a smart manner, and there was a relaxed but professional approach to the service too. All in all, a lovely place for a memorable meal in Bristol.
Stop for ice cream at Swoon Gelato or a doughnut at Pinkmans Bakery
Whenever I’ve asked for recommendations of places to visit in Bristol, these two spots have cropped up over and over! If you have a sweet tooth, definitely add these to your Bristol day trip itinerary!
Swoon Gelato specialises in artisan gelato. They offer 11 standard flavours including salted caramel, mango, pistachio and chocolate, plus a few specials. As it was so warm, I ordered a scoop of the raspberry sorbetti which was refreshing, tart and utterly delicious – as if someone had smashed a load of fresh raspberries up and frozen them!
Meanwhile, a short stroll up Park Street is Pinkmans Bakery, which specialises in sourdough doughnuts. They’re light and fluffy, and very well-filled. Again, you’ll find some standard flavours along with specials such as lemon meringue and pineapple and coconut.
Check out Bristol’s street art scene
Bristol is a really creative city and one of the biggest expressions of that is through the street art. It’s a city to walk around with your eyes wide open. Scan the sides of buildings and look for colourful motifs – they’re everywhere!
The most famous of all the graffiti artists is of course Banksy. You might spot a few works as you wander around on foot, but to gain a bit more insight I’d recommend booking a Where The Wall self-guided street art tour. The tour and map load on your phone and take you on a 3-mile walking tour to see Banksy’s most famous works, alongside some other notable artworks. At each one there’s a short video presentation with information about the piece.
If street art is a big reason for your day trip to Bristol, you simply have to visit Stokes Croft. This neighbourhood is grittier and edgier than many parts of the city, but it’s also covered heat-to-toe in murals. I loved walking the streets around here, taking photos as I went. If you’re a fan of vintage shopping, you’ll love this neighbourhood too!
Alternatively, pop by the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery where there’s always lots of interesting artworks to admire. When I visited there were two works by Banksy inside. This museum is free to enter too!
Take in the views of Bristol from the top of Cabot Tower
If you’re looking for one of the best viewpoints over Bristol, you’re going to need to use your legs a little! Cabot Tower is a short walk from Park Street. The building itself is 32 metres tall, but as it’s perched on top of Brandon Hill it offers really incredible panoramas of Bristol.
From the top you’ll see all the famous sights including Clifton Suspension Bridge, the colourful houses in Clifton Village, the River Avon, Bristol Harbour and the SS Great Britain. This is another attraction that won’t cost you a penny. It’s definitely one of the best free things to do in Bristol too.
Brandon Hill Park is a really serene and peaceful park, so I’d recommend having a little meander through the gardens before you leave.
Go for cocktails at a speakeasy bar
Are you a cocktail connoisseur? You’ll be happy to hear Bristol has an exciting bar scene! As a Londoner I’ve been to several ‘speakeasy’ style bars, but I didn’t know that this scene was thriving in Bristol too.
The Milk Thistle is one of the coolest and comes with quite the accolade – being named one of the UK’s Top 50 Bars! It’s the kind of place you could walk by without realising that inside is a very cool cocktail bar split across four storeys, with its own hidden vault!
The main bar on the ground floor is filled with unique and unusual items, rather like an old-fashioned house of curiosities. The expert mixologists are happy to work off the fun cocktail menu of intriguing drinks, or they can shake up your favourite classic.
The Scarlet Lantern is another secret bar in Bristol. Located just around the corner from Banksy’s famous ‘Well Hung Lover’, this bar is only identifiable from the red lantern that hangs above the door. Follow the steps down to an underground lair with 4-poster beds, a well-stocked bar and no doubt plenty of debauchery!
Feast on Sri Lankan cuisine The Coconut Tree
We went on our honeymoon to Sri Lanka so I was already a huge fan of Sri Lankan food. I adore the delicate balance of spices, chilli and coconut you find in this part of the world. Crispy hoppers, spicy coconut sambal, fragrant curries, moreish kotthu and rotis – I mean, what’s not to love?!
When I heard there was a top-rated Sri Lankan restaurant called The Coconut Tree in Bristol, I couldn’t wait to try it. With pumping tunes and cocktails served in novelty elephants, I wasn’t sure it was going to be the most authentic meal… but I was wrong!
Over two hours we feasted on crispy hoppers topped with hot sambals, an indulgent salmon curry that was rich with coconut milk, a pork curry that had a smoky sauce, and delightfully moreish spiced potatoes.
I liked that all the dishes were designed for sharing (with dishes priced between £4 and £9), so we could try lots of different things. There are a few branches of this restaurant across the south west of England, including in Bath and Cheltenham. I’d definitely recommend trying one if you’d like to find out why everyone raves about Sri Lankan food!
Where To Stay In Bristol
If a day trip to Bristol feels a little rushed, you could book a hotel in the centre. I’d recommend staying at The Clayton Hotel which is in an ideal location, walking distance from many of the key sights and moments from St Nicholas Market (where you’ll also find plenty of great street food!)
We stayed in a comfortable superior room on the 8th floor, which was large with several windows. The lobby area was smart with cool lighting and a vibrant mural by the main entrance. There’s a large selection of items available at the breakfast buffet here too, from fried savoury items to gooey chocolate croissants. It was perfect for a short break in the city centre.
I hope you’ve found my Bristol day trip itinerary helpful. Have a great time in the city – it’s easily one of my favourites in Britain!
A big thanks to National Rail for inviting me to share my thoughts on visiting the city. Don’t forget to buy a Railcard before you travel. It could save you up to 1/3 on train travel.
If you’re looking for more great ideas for days out, check out my guide to the best UK weekend breaks.