Over the past few years, I’ve explored my fair share of UK cities, from Brighton all the way up to Glasgow – I do love taking an easy to get to city break. However, there are plenty of places on this fair isle that I’m still itching to visit – and until recently, Bristol was one of them.
Well. I’d actually been to Bristol previously, for a wedding, but I didn’t get to explore much of the city at all. Mainly as I was hungover as hell and mostly just wanted to get on a train home to bed, Netflix and self-pity pizza. When I did walk through some of it to get to Temple Meads station though, it definitely got added to the list of places I wanted to visit. Pretty buildings, independent stores, cute cafes and bars, check check check.
So when Conor and I were looking for a place to go for an overnight visit after we had to postpone our Budapest trip, a weekend in Bristol was a perfect choice. Just two hours from London on the train, and we’d also been given a round-up of some cool things to do by Lyzi from Being Little as part of Mercure Hotels‘ City Swappers campaign. Aiming for a fun-packed two days, we packed up our overnight bags and made our way to London Paddington…
After an early-ish start (leaving the house at 10am on a Sunday is definitely early…ish. I stand by this.) and two hours on the train, we were pretty hungry. So before checking in, we went along to a cosy and welcoming little cafe I’d found on Yelp, called Spicer + Cole, to grab some brunch and much-needed coffee.
I’d been having a bit of a hankering for a big ol’ plate of avo toast since I’d woken up (#classicblogger), and I ordered just that. With a poached egg on top, for full-on brunch points. The bread was awesome, toasted just the right amount that the avocado didn’t make it soggy. And oh, sweet avocado. It’s hard to do it wrong, but Spicer + Cole did it really right.
Because we hadn’t had breakfast, we also ordered a bowl of the day’s salad – made up of leaves, edamame beans, peas, bulgar wheat and nuts. And I think it’s one of the best salads I’ve ever had. Seriously amazing. And also super photogenic.
Spicer + Cole, 16 Gloucester Road, BS7 8AE
Before heading for check-in, we took a wander though nearby Queens Square, which made for a lovely walk in the Autumn sun. The buildings in Bristol are so pretty and well cared for, and there are plenty of cute cobbled streets and green spaces to while away time in.
We also noticed that some of the statues throughout the city seemed to have had foam roller type things (“they look like those things people who can’t swim use to swim”) attached to them. I have no idea why – if anyone does know, please enlighten me in the comments!
Our hotel for the night was the Mercure Holland House Hotel and Spa, conveniently located for both Bristol’s city centre and Temple Meads station. Unfortunately, on check-in, they didn’t actually have my booking – but it was quickly sorted by their helpful staff and we actually ended up being upgraded to a superior room as an apology.
We stayed in one of Mercure’s Privilege rooms, which is an upgraded version of their standard double, including a coffee machine, free WiFi (hell to the yes), bathrobes and a mini fridge with some complimentary soft drinks in. It was really spacious, with a huge king size bed as well as some chairs and footrests to recline in. They were so comfy, we almost didn’t head out again…
…but we did, because we had a lot to see! Bristol definitely has some of the most eye-catching churches I’ve seen anywhere. As I mentioned earlier, if you’re into pretty architecture, it’s an amazing place to visit as it really is absolutely beautiful (also, check out that gorgeous pink sunset. Instagram dreams).
As the sun set, we had a walk around the main shopping quarter, as we wanted to pick up some swimming gear to take advantage of the hotel pool later. Broadmead Shopping Centre, The Galleries and Cabot Circus have pretty much every mainstream shop you need, from Primark to phone shops. If you’re more into more independent shops, I’ll be going over some of that later – but if you want to go on a spree, Bristol’s shopping quarter is definitely the place for you. Plus, there were loads of lovely Christmas stalls to get us into the festive spirit!
One of the challenges that Lyzi gave us was to drink some cider (my fave kinda challenge) in The Apple. Which is a pub, on a (moored) boat. And it’s super awesome. With loads of seating outside the boat by the canal, I can imagine it getting really busy in the summer time – and on the deck of the boat, there’s a lovely covered area with comfy seating and blankets. However, we were visiting in winter, so decided it’d be a good idea to head downstairs into the boat to grab a seat and enjoy a drink.
As soon as I saw the sign for mulled cider, I knew what I’d be drinking. Because it’s December, and therefore anything ‘mulled’ is actually the best thing ever. Fact. Perfect for warming up chilly fingers, I happily supped my mug of sweet cider and enjoyed the cosy atmosphere of The Apple. It’s such a unique space, and definitely a wonderful place to pick up a drink or spend an evening.
The Apple, Welsh Back, BS1 4SB
After our cider, we decided to work off the calories by taking a quick dip in the hotel pool. A fair few lengths later, I’d definitely worked up an appetite. For dinner, we decided to try out Holland House’s restaurant, Urban Bar & Kitchen. With loads of space and big comfy booths, it had the air of casual dining with some great food options.
Main course for me was the chicken burger (without the bun), with lots of salad and chips, and Conor had a mixed fish dish served with rice and lemon butter. Both were definitely enjoyable, with lots of flavour and cooked well. The rice in particular was really tasty, and the chicken had a bit of a cajun kick. I don’t normally tend to eat in hotel restaurants, but Holland House definitely offers a good quality meal, with friendly and speedy service too.
After our dinner, rather than venturing out into the cold, we decided to make the most of our cosy room. And, of course, the big bath. Having made a vital stop-off at Lush earlier in the day and a visit to Tesco for some bubbles of the other kind, it was time to relax in the tub. As cool as going out and about is, sometimes it’s just awesome to feel a bit special and treat yo’self to some chill time. Especially when the bathroom you’re in is basically the size of your living room…
After an awesome night’s sleep, breakfast was served in the hotel restaurant to start our second day in Bristol. Buffet style, we loaded up on full English and fruit for a busy day of more exploring…
I’d actually seen the Clifton Suspension Bridge pretty close up from the wedding I went to, as it took place in the building in the middle of that last picture! One of Lyzi’s challenges was to actually walk across it though, which I was pretty excited about. As I love heights. So the UK’s answer to the Golden Gate Bridge (probably) is pretty cool.
The views over the river and city were amazing, with nature-carved cliffs reaching all the way down to the river. And the bridge design itself is awesome. I didn’t know whether to look up or down!
On the other side of the bridge, there’s actually a free visitor centre which was fun to have a nose around in. It’s got interactive displays, loads of info on the bridge and Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the engineer behind it. Who knew there was so much to learn about a bridge?!
After our bridge exploring, we took a bit of a walk into the centre of Bristol again, and found some cool independent shops along Queens Road.
Rise Records is definitely the kind of shop I could get totally lost in – and we spent quite a long time in the upstairs section leafing through all the interesting books they had on offer. As well as books and gifts, they also sell vinyl (kinda obvious from the name, I guess…) and have a whole section of vintage and re-worked clothing. If you ever need a gift for anyone who likes kinda unusual things, or you just want to treat yourself to something cool, this is totally the place to visit. And there’s a coffee shop downstairs too, in case you want to read your new purchases straightaway…
Rise Records, 70 Queens Rd, BS8 1QU
Speaking of clothes…if you’re looking for one-off outfits, Bristol has some fab vintage stores. We popped into Uncle Sam’s, for a full-on vintage experience done properly. We’re talking rails of clashing prints and patterns, lots of leather and denim, and all kinds of pieces that you definitely wouldn’t find the same person wearing to your Christmas do.
Uncle Sam’s American Vintage, 54A Park St, Bristol BS1 5JN
To tick off another cultural box, we also paid a visit to Bristol Musuem & Art Gallery. Entry is on a pay-what-you-can donation basis, with history, art and nature displays.
The first place we visited was obviously (because, hello, it’s me) the dinosaur section. We saw the Thecodontosaurus, known as ‘Bristol’s dinosaur’; the scelidosaur, the best-preserved dinosaurs in Britain, and loads of other interesting dino-related bits and pieces.
I also loved the Egyptian exhibition – I’ve always had a bit of a fascination with ancient Egyptian stories and ways of life, and to see genuine artefacts from the period was pretty awesome. The ‘Curiousity’ exhibit was also really interesting, looking at objects from the past and inspiring visitors to think about their uses and meanings to the people who owned them.
We didn’t actually venture upstairs to the gallery as we were pretty short on time, but for such an inexpensive exhibit there’s loads to see in Bristol Museum, so definitely worth a nose around if you’re into history and nature.
Bristol Museum, Queens Rd, BS8 1RL
As we got towards the end of the day and headed towards our hotel to pick up our luggage, we took a wander around the harbourside area of the city. And it was probably one of my favourite parts to just look at. Stunning buildings, boats and bridges – plus loads of attractions and amenities. As you might guess from my Amsterdam post, I rather like canals and boats. We grabbed a drink in the Slug and Lettuce after taking a walk around, and finally headed back to London.
Bristol is such a lovely city to visit, and we found so much to do in a weekend there – we could definitely have stayed longer. It’s easy to get to if you’re in the South of England. Plus, our hotel was brilliant and the activities Lyzi suggested were perfectly on-point for an awesome weekend. If you like pretty buildings, culture, shopping and awesome eats and drinks, definitely pay the city a visit!
Have you ever visited Bristol (or do you live there)? What are your favourite parts?
*We were guests of Mercure for the weekend – honest opinions as usual!