Clifton Village

48 hours in Bristol

Independence and enterprise run through Bristol’s veins. From its engineering past to its creative indie shops and eclectic neighbourhoods, there’s a lot to appreciate in this harbour city.

The Pearl: Wapping Wharf is buzzing with little bars and restaurants in shipping containers, serenaded by buskers. It’s a vibe.

The Grit: Street art in the People’s Republic of Stokescroft takes you into a grittier neighbourhood.

day 1: s.s. great britain, wapping wharf, ferry boat

visit the ship that changed the world

Most of Bristol’s heritage is tied to the engineering genius Isambard Kingdom Brunel. In the 18th century, he designed several pioneering ships including the S.S. Great Britain which helped put England ahead for worldwide trade. You can get under the rusty hull of the S.S. Great Britain in its desert-like heat and see the propeller that changed the world, leading to inventions like planes, wind turbines and speedboats. Get into the ship’s belly to see and hear what it would have been like to emigrate to Australia and live on the boat for weeks and weeks. And find out more about the engineer himself in the onsite Brunel museum. Tickets are quite expensive but there is a lot to see and do, which will keep you busy for a few hours.

discover wapping wharf

The view across to Wapping Wharf at sunset

After all that gallivanting, walk along the quayside to Wapping Wharf. This quayside neighbourhood has recently been developed and it’s teeming with indie record shops, cafes and bijou restaurants. We had the tasting menu at BOX-E, a tiny restaurant perched atop a shipping container. See below for more info.

jump on a ferry boat round the harbour

Bristol Ferry Boats
Go on a tour of the harbour with Bristol Ferry Boats

A great way to see many of Bristol’s sights is by going on a tour of the harbour. Bristol Community Ferry Boats offer a daily one hour loop which goes from the city centre. The boat company is community-owned, and uses its profits to put on community events and get local people onto the boats who wouldn’t come otherwise. They’ve done amazing outreach for Black History month, International Women’s Day, taught people sea shanties and their boats are accessible to people in wheelchairs. They also put on afternoon teas and special sunset cocktail nights so do check their website. A perfect way to end a day.

day 2: clifton village, suspension bridge and observatory

quiet life in clifton village

You’ll easily spot Clifton Village, marked by colourful Victorian terraces lining the cliffs above Bristol’s harbour. Walk uphill then through leafy squares leading to quiet roads full of second-hand and antique shops, cafes and independent boutiques, artisan bakeries and luxury clothes shops. Go along Birdcage walk, named after its vine leaves canopy, which goes through the cemetery. If you have time, plan a swim or cuppa at the Lido, a Victorian swimming bath which was restored and reopened in 2008.

bristol’s best viewpoints

I’m always drawn to the highest points to get the best view and lay of the land. Three worth mentioning:

  1. The White Lion
    It’s easy to miss this pub as it’s part of the Hotel du Vin. Grab a drink at The White Lion and get some photos of the harbour city from the terrace.
  2. Clifton Observatory
    Set in a park, the Clifton Observatory has a camera obscura at the top (one of the first camera technologies in the world), and a Giant’s cave down narrow, slippy steps. The best bit is the rooftop bar which overlooks the suspension bridge.
  3. Clifton Suspension Bridge
    You can walk across the Clifton Suspension Bridge (also designed by Brunel) for free and get more information about it at the small visitor centre on the other side. Check dates for tours led by volunteers. You can see right up the gorge.

where to eat

Soukitchen – recommended to me by three different people, Soukitchen lived up to the hype. Small, surprising middle-Eastern dishes – watermelon, goat’s cheese and honey or stuffed cabbage leaves – come packed with flavour and texture. There are two branches- one in Clifton and one in Southville. Relaxed atmosphere in both.

St Nicholas Market – East of the city centre, this Georgian covered market gets busy for good reason at lunchtimes. Grab a pie from local company Pieminster or why not try some Carribean? The arcade is full of bijou boutiques offering unique homewares and organic produce.

BOX-E – If you’re looking for something a bit more special, head to BOX-E. Tucked above a shipping container in Bristol’s Wapping Wharf, this bijou restaurant offers a seven course tasting menu for £45. Little terracotta plates with delicate ingredients cleverly combined. Each course is a delight, the service is friendly but discreet and the wine list is mouthwatering.

where to stay

Stoke’s Croft – North of the Old city, this neighbourhood is a little on the edgier side. Great if you love art and independence. It’s also its own separate republic.

Clifton Village – Upmarket and uphill. Clifton Village is where you’ll find colourful houses and cafes galore.

Long Ashton – A short drive away from Bristol is this luxurious cabin with its own natural pool overlooking the valley (read my review here). A few good local pubs within walking distance.

If you have more time

Ashton Court – This hilly park has great views of Bristol and its own deer. You can rent a mountain bike near the main car park and cafe, and there’s a few fun but steep trails through the woods.

The People’s Republic of Stokescroft – North of the Old city, this neighbourhood is a little on the edgier side and is its own separate republic. Local people have been campaigning for their right to own buildings, land and more public spaces for community use. Check out the amazing street art, independent eateries and second-hand shops.

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