Bristol was originally known as Bricgstoc (the place of the bridge). A settlement grew up around a large port on the River Avon and its importance increased after the Norman Conquest.

Bristol Bridge
Bristol Bridge © Travel About Britain

A castle was built on the narrow neck of land east of the town, which became a Key defence of the West. Trade increased rapidly during the 12th and 13th centuries, greatly expanding the city and surrounding towns. In the 14th century it became a major wool exporter, forwarding cargoes to Ireland and the Baltic countries. In 1373, Edward III declared that Bristol was "a county by itself separated (from the) Counties of Gloucester and Somerset equally and in all things exempt".

Bristol Floating Harbour © Travel About Britain

The city's history as a key trading port dates back to before Saxon times. It developed as a transatlantic port following the launching of Isambard Kingdom Brunel's steamships Great Western in 1837 and Great Britain in 1843. Both ships were built at Bristol, but later were forced to trade from Liverpool docks due to the higher charges imposed by the Bristol Docks Committee. The history of the docks is told in detail in the exhibitions of the M Shed Museum.

Bristol Riverfront
Bristol Waterfront © Travel About Britain

Although no longer an area of key trade the docks and floating harbour side have been transformed into a wonderful leisure experience with visitor attractions, boat trips, public plazas, fountains, restaurants and bars. Most of the old wharf buildings have also been converted into luxury flats.

Just a short walk up from the harbour, the old city is packed with charm and character. Its ancient cobbled streets and alleys are lined with historic buildings and fine architecture. In the area around King Street and Queen Square can be found theatres, classy restaurants and ancient inns mixed in with elegant Regency townhouses.

The Llandoger Trow Inn

The Llandoger Trow Inn © TAB

Many of the fine old buildings that are open to the public include the Red Lodge and Chatterton House. The 17th century inn, 'The Llandoger Trow', in King Street was once an old haunt for pirates and is believed to have inspired Robert Louis Stevenson's inn, "The Spy Glass", in Treasure Island. One of the oldest streets is King Street, a cobbled thoroughfare with many old houses and Britain's oldest working theatre, the Theatre Royal, which opened in 1766 and is now home of the Bristol Old Vic.

The Christmas Steps Arts Quarter is another old thoroughfare, rebuilt in 1669, it is now a key destination for antique dealers and booksellers.

In the old area of Bristol stands the Grade I listed 'Exchange', built by John Wood in the 18th century. On the pavement outside, are four flat topped bronze pillars called the "nails" on which merchants completed their money transactions, giving rise to the saying "to pay on the nail". The nearby Guildhall (circa 1843) stands on the site of the original medieval building.

If you are looking for a comprehensive shopping experience then a visit to the Shopping Quarter and Cabot Circus will reward you with an excellent mix of independent, artisan and national stores.

Bristol has two main market areas: St Nicks, a glass-covered market that dates back to the 18th-c with over 90 independent stalls, and the weekend Harbourside Market, which sells clothing, jewellery and arts and crafts. Once the shop's shut the town centre buzzes into action again with a vibrant night life of clubs, bars and restaurants.

Cabot Tower

Cabot Tower, Brandon Hill

If a relaxing amble is more your thing then Bristol's beautiful parks and gardens are always at hand. Castle Park, just south of the Shopping Quarter, provides a welcome green space by the River. However, for a much quieter destination, a visit to Brandon Hill, to the west, is bound to revive your soul. At its heart sits the impressive Cabot Tower, a local landmark that provides dramatic views across the city. Clifton downs to the north west of the city is a much larger area of protected greenery that hosts many local events.

The British built version of the Anglo-French Concorde was once assembled at the BAC works in Filton, Bristol. In January, 1976, it became the first supersonic passenger aircraft in commercial service and was able to cruise at over 1,350 mph - more than twice the speed of sound.

Places of Interest to Visit in Bristol

At-Bristol Museum

At Bristol

Discover a wealth of fascinating hands-on interactive exhibits, arts and scientific activities, designed to educate, entertain and wow visitors. Includes the UK's first 3D Planetarium.

Bristol Aquarium

Bristol Aquarium

Enjoy the sights of tropical marine and freshwater creatures from around the globe, all living in naturally themed habitats.

SS Great BritainSS Great Britain

The first screw-propelled passenger ship to enter the Atlantic service. When it was launched in 1843, the 322 ft long ship was the largest in the world. She sailed until 1886, then she was abandoned as a hulk in the Falkland Islands after being almost wrecked during a storm. In 1970 the ship was brought back to Bristol on a specially constructed raft and has been restored to her former glory in the actual dock where she was built.

Bristol CathedralBristol Cathedral

Standing on College Green, the Cathedral was founded in the 1140s as the church of an Augustinian abbey. It became a cathedral in 1542. The Norman chapter house is one of the finest in England. Much of the original 12th-century building still survives, including the great gatehouse, the entrance to the abbot's lodging, the walls of the south transept and the east walk of the cloister.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

Clifton Suspension Bridge

Designed by the engineering genius Isambard Kingdom Brunel, it delicately spans the rocky, wooded, 250ft deep Awn Gorge. The bridge was completed in 1864, incorporating 1,500 tons of steel and still stands today as a monument to Brunel's expertise.

M Shed Museum

M Shed Museum

Social history museum, located in converted wharf buildings, alongside the old docks. M shed reiterates the story of Bristol in film, photographs and interactive exhibits, from prehistory to present day. Learn about the people who have shaped this amazing city's past and prosperity.

The Observatory

Bristol Observatory

Once a snuff-mill, it now contains a camera obscura which gives panoramic views of the city. A passageway beneath the observatory leads to the Giant's Cave, which opens out on to a ledge on the side of the 250 ft deep limestone gorge, high above the river.

Bristol Botanic Gardens

Botanical Gardens

These exotic gardens are open all year providing interest for all seasons.

Bristol Zoo

Located on Clifton Down, it hosts a wide collection of rare animals, including white tigers.

Bristol MuseumCity Museum and Art Gallery

Standing next to Bristol University, the museum has local archaeological and geological relics. The art gallery displays paintings by Sir Thomas Lawrence (a Bristol painter), plus collections of ceramics and glass.

Blaise Castle House Museum

A 15th century mansion containing exhibits of west country life. Its name derives from the original Gothic castle of the same period in the grounds. There is are also a water-mill, a thatched dairy and the remains of an Iron Age hill-fort.

Kings Weston Roman Villa

On display are the mosaics, bath suite and foundations of a Roman country house of the 3rd and 4th centuries AD.

Red Lodge

This 16th-century house was altered in the 18th century and has carvings and furnishings from both periods, now a branch of Bristol City Museum.

Chatterton House

The birthplace of the boy poet Thomas Chatterton (1752-70)

Georgian House

The Georgian House contains 18th-century furniture and fittings.

Map of Bristol


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