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Voted the best city in which to live in the UK in 2017, Bristol is a city and county in the Southwest of England which straddles the river Avon.
Its greater area has a population of 724,000 (the 8th largest in the UK) and is close to Wales (over the Severn River) and the ancient cities of Bath and Gloucester in England.
There’s ample to do and see in the city itself, and the surrounding area is easily accessible by car.
In modern times, Bristol has become famous as the hometown to iconic street artist, Banksy. Starting out as just another kid with a spray can, his work now commands hundreds of thousands of pounds, and his lively paintings can be seen all around the city – constituting a terrific treasure hunt experience for visitors and locals alike. However, it’s doubtful you’ll see the man himself (or at least that you’ll recognise him) as his true identity remains unknown and this anonymity has further fuelled his legendary outlaw status.
Drum & Bass of Mercury Prize winners
Bristol’s diverse cultural heritage also informed its pioneering music – notably the Drum & Bass of Mercury Prize winners Roni Size & Reprazent and the lo-fi soundscapes of Massive Attack.
No mention of Bristol is complete without mentioning arguably its most famous landmark, the Clifton Suspension Bridge. Designed by ingenious engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, when completed in 1864 it was the longest suspension bridge in the world, spanning 214 metres across and 76 metres above the Avon Gorge.
Guide to Bristol
- Central Bristol comprises seven areas, including the City Centre, Harbourside in the Southwest of the city, and the Temple Meads, Old Market, and Redcliffe area in the East.
- “Bristol is all about the ‘Bs’ – Brunel, boats, bridges, bikes, and beautiful countryside” (not to mention Banksy!) as its tourist website proudly states.
- The city has activities for all ages. The aquarium has sharks (among thousands of species) and its unique botanical house actually grows bananas, the aerospace museum has a Concorde which you can virtually pilot, and Bristol Zoo Gardens is a 12-acre animal haven with over 400 species, aerial ropes course Zooropia and its own water park.
- Bristol’s geographical position has shaped its history and its modern multiculturalism contrasts sharply with its historical involvement in the Transatlantic slave trade.
- Bristol was voted Britain’s most sustainable city in 2008. In 2015 it was the first UK city to win the European Green Capital Award, and in 2019 it voted to ban all diesel cars in the city centre from 7 AM to 3 PM daily, from 2021.
- The city’s aeronautical history includes the manufacture of planes for WWI and WWII, and due to its heavy involvement in the Concorde project of the 1960s, both Concorde’s maiden and final flights departed and landed in Bristol airfields. Its aerospace industry still employs over 50,000 people.
- It has its own currency! The Bristol Pound is Britain’s biggest community currency, is pegged to the Pound Sterling and designed to support local independent traders.
- Transport in Bristol is easy, with plenty of parking in both the City Centre and Harbourside areas. Bus, train, park and ride and even a harbour ferry complement the city’s public transport mix and there’s an extensive cycle path network. The city is accessible via the M4 and M5 motorways and Travel West has excellent advice on driving in the city.
- Bristol’s large international airport serves over 125 destinations and is just 30 minutes from the city centre. Car hire at the airport is provided by several international car rental companies operating 24/7. You can also reach any part of the UK from Bristol Temple Meads’ Station, the West of England’s largest.
Things to do in Bristol
Bristol doesn’t have the hectic, overcrowded feel of some cities. It’s a well-connected metropolis but also has 400 parks within its limits, while the Cotswolds, Severn Valley, and rural Somerset are accessible in the wider region.
Cultural activities of all types span the centuries and cater to all tastes – including everything from fine art to award-winning nightclubs. And food and shopping opportunities are also plentiful, so you’ll have to prioritise activities if you want to pack as much fun as possible in your itinerary.
With that in mind, here are some of the best things to do in Bristol:
- Top of the cultural must-see attractions is Brunel’s ship - the SS Great Britain, the world’s first and largest ocean liner from 1845-1854 and Bristol’s number one sightseeing attraction.
- Berkeley Castle is the next essential visit, and is handily accessible by car from Bristol – 30 minutes away via the A38. Built in 1153, it’s perhaps best known as the scene of the murder of Edward II in 1327. It’s open from March – October on selected days (with special events throughout the year) and has free tours which take about an hour. Berkeley Castle has been awarded many prizes for excellence in tourism, and the Berkeley family still resides there – the 24th generation to do so.
- A Banksy guided walking tour is a must for fans of rebel art. A pioneer of the street art that flooded Bristol in the 1980s, his work can also be found in London, LA and New York, but if you take a Banksy tour you can see many of his works for free in their original, “local” setting! Sadly, some of his pieces didn’t survive, so see the remaining ones while you still can!
- Nightlife in Bristol reflects its ethnic history and cultural diversity. There are huge clubs such as Motion, hosting DJs from all over the globe and smaller live events in the city’s bars, pubs and even boats. Music fans will find a strong Dancehall music scene and thumping Drum & Bass still shakes the ground in many Bristol venues too. Bristol proudly displays its Purple Flag Status in many of its famous districts, meaning that the night-time economy and atmosphere in the city is regulated for maximum safety and comfort.
- One of the best ways to see Bristol from a different perspective and appreciate its maritime legacy is by taking a Bristol Packet Boat Trip. There are several different river excursions available. For instance, a city dock tour introduces you to Bristol’s Floating Harbour and you’ll enjoy humorous and fascinating commentary on all the interesting sights along the way, while an Avon Gorge tour takes you directly underneath Brunel’s iconic Clifton Suspension Bridge for a view few people have the pleasure of experiencing. Finally, a tour of dockside pubs is a must for fans of a refreshing tipple – you’ll stop for refreshments at the city’s authentic riverside bars and cruise around its waterways. Don’t overindulge or you may find you’re prone to seasickness!
Eating out in Bristol
Bristol is one of Britain’s culinary hot spots and you’ll never be stuck for choice. There’s everything from fine dining to street food and local fare – it’s a real treat which satisfies all of your senses.
Here are the Bristol eateries where you can enjoy a world-class meal, including some of the city’s five Michelin-starred restaurants:
- First is Box-E, a 14-seat restaurant atop the event location Cargo – a collection of converted shipping containers in the trendy Wapping Wharf development popular with locals and critics alike. A tasting menu is available at 4-seater kitchen counter.
- The Michelin-starred Bulrush lies in the leafy suburb of Kingston, and has been exciting local and tourist palettes alike since 2015.
- Paco Tapas has skilfully prepared, authentic dishes bursting with flavour. The Chef’s menu promises a top-notch tasting tour of Spain.
- Fancy something a bit more local? Look no further than The Pony and Trap, a Michelin-starred pub serving West Country meat and fish combined with herbs, vegetables, and fruit from the garden. Their Sunday roast is a bestseller, and a good Sunday roast is an essential dining experience for any visitor to the UK.
- Gluten-free visitors needn’t worry – every meal from breakfast to supper can be enjoyed in a variety of top-quality locations. Try the Cote Brasserie or The Wild Beer Company at Wapping Wharf for breakfast and at lunch head to Caffe Clifton or Maza & Mezcal on Stokes Croft, which has a 100% gluten-free menu.
- St. Nick’s Market dates from 1743 and has over 60 food stalls. Obviously you’ll be spoilt for choice, but do try a local pie. The adjacent Glass Arcade also houses food stalls that showcase dishes from all over the world, including tacos, falafel, cakes, gyoza, and yakitori.
- Bristol boasts a Vegan and Wellness market every Monday on Corn Street and a Farmers’ and Producers’ market every Wednesday on Corn St. and Wine St. Its Street Food market is held every Tuesday and Friday on Wine St, from 1030 AM – 2 PM.
Bristol International Airport (BRS)
Bristol International Airport is 8 miles (13.1 km) to the Southwest of the city centre, in Lulsgate Bottom, North Somerset. It’s well connected to the city’s transport system and a journey to the city centre takes approximately 20 minutes. With over 125 worldwide destinations, it is the ninth busiest airport in the UK, handling more than 8 million passengers in 2017.
Car Hire at Bristol Airport
Here’s a brief overview of the reliable car hire options in Bristol International Airport:
- Car hire at Bristol International Airport is provided by Easirent, Green Motion and several other trusted suppliers. Vehicle’s are generally available in one of the following categories: small cars, medium cars, large cars, estate cars, premium cars, people carriers, and SUVs. Whether you’re heading to the countryside around Bristol or navigating the city centre on a retail therapy spree, there are more than enough vehicles and packages to choose from.
- Car hire packages at Bristol International Airport usually include features like theft protection, 24 hour assistance and free cancellation up to 48 hours prior to the start of the agreed rental. There are often special offers too, giving you options such as a fixed mileage amount, one-way discounts and attractive daily and weekly rates
- Your ideal car hire vehicle will depend on your requirements like cost, the size of your party and the requirements of your itinerary – for instance, a smaller vehicle suits a couple who want to scoot around the city easily, but a larger group with grandparents and small children might be better off in a spacious people carrier. Sometimes the unexpected choice can fulfil urban and rural requirements – a Ford Focus is considered a compact car (although it seats five people comfortably), can be hired for just over £60 for 3 days and is the perfect choice for navigating the city streets and seeking rural adventures further afield.
Bristol Car Hire FAQs
Cost of hiring a car in Bristol?
Depending on your selected company and model, car rental costs in Bristol vary as they do everywhere. As a general guide, a small to medium car can typically be rented for £10-16 per day at the time of writing, going all the way to £100 per day for a large nine-seater Mercedes Vito minivan.
What’s the cheapest car hire in Bristol?
You can currently hire a small car like a Peugeot 108 in Bristol for as little as £11.65 per day.
How much does economy car hire cost in Bristol?
Economy car hire in Bristol usually costs from around £11-12 per day for compact cars like the Ford Focus. However, if you’re splitting the cost of car hire with others in your party, an estate car like a Volvo V60 or Volkswagen Passat Variant costs £22-24 per day, which could mean a very reasonable price per person. Shop around for the best deals but car rental comparison websites like Enjoy Car Hire take some beating!
What’s the minimum age to rent a car in Bristol?
The minimum age for renting a car in the UK is 21 years old, although this can vary by company so be sure to confirm. Furthermore, age limit restrictions can be stricter for vans, people carriers and luxury models.
Are there any additional charges for renting a car in Bristol?
Some car hire firms may apply additional charges for renting a car in Bristol – for drivers between the ages of 21 and 25 for example, or for those who require some sort of adjusted package due to unusual requirements. For example, excess-free packages are available from most major car hire companies (the excess is the initial payment the driver would make if in an accident, after which the insurance covers cost of repair, towing, road-side call-outs; however, most packages have road-side assistance included, as well as things like Theft Protection or Collision Damage Waiver). All of the car hire firms available through Enjoy Care Hire are reputable, international companies, so should clarify any extra charges from the start. If no extra charges are mentioned but you’re still unsure and don’t want to get caught out by contractual small print, be proactive and ask them to explain clearly at the earliest opportunity, and take plenty of time to make sure that you fully understand all rental agreements.
Can I have additional drivers on the car rental agreement?
Yes – usually it’s common to add extra drivers to the agreement, provided their license is valid and an additional daily fee is paid. Again this may vary by company.
What’s the best car for getting around Bristol?
Choosing the best car for getting around Bristol depends on your group size, itinerary, and plans – if you’re a solo traveller, a small car like a Vauxhall Corsa can be ideal for city centre parking and buzzing around town, but if you plan taking a larger group off to explore the beautiful countryside surrounding the Bristol area, perhaps a seven-seater vehicle like a Seat Alhambra is preferable.
What if I have an accident?
Third party liability insurance and collision damage waivers are included in most car hire packages in Bristol, but always clarify this with your rental provider if you’re unsure. In the unlikely event you have a serious accident in Bristol, please call 999 immediately for emergency services.
What side of the road do you drive on in Bristol?
You always drive on the left side of the road in Bristol, as you do elsewhere in the UK.
Parking in Bristol?
Like any city, parking in the centre of town can be expensive at peak times. However, there are several car parks in the City Centre and Harbourside area alone. Bristol’s roads can be congested (like anywhere), so plan your outings around peak times – avoid morning & evening rush-hour traffic and check local traffic news online.
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