We invited our fellow blogger Claire Martin of the blog Go South West to display the best things to do in Bristol in Winter. We are convinced, what about you?
The dynamic city of Bristol, the largest in South West England, isn’t one of the most touristy destinations in the country. Still, in my opinion (which may be biased, as a Bristolian), it’s got so much to offer. From unique bridges to hot air balloon festivals to dozens of neighborhoods, each with its own individual character, Bristol has something for everyone.
Why should you visit Bristol in winter?
Bristol is a fantastic place to visit any time of year. Sure, the summer’s great, with plenty of festivals and outdoor dining areas.
But Bristol certainly isn’t a seasonal city, and in winter, it has a certain charm. The historic buildings of Bristol’s city center are magical at any time of year, and the cobbled streets are beautiful rain or shine.
Elsewhere, Bristol’s famous street art brightens up any grey day, and there are plenty of places to hole away and spend a cozy afternoon. Plus, the famous Bristolian atmosphere – friendly, cheerful, and proud of our city – is a year-round installment!
Things to do in Bristol in winter
#1 Go Ice Skating – or roller discoing – at Millenium Square
Ice skating is one of the best typical winter activities that you can enjoy all over the world. Since 2013, Bristol’s Millenium Square has been home to one of the city’s best ice rinks, one of the most popular Bristol date ideas throughout the last few winters.
However, Bristol is a forward-thinking city, and after learning about the effects of ice rinks on climate change, the council decided to swap an ice rink for a roller disco in 2019. Still the same concept – strap special shoes to your feet and whizz around – but a lot more eco-friendly!
#2 Attend a carol concert in Bristol Cathedral
If you’re spending time in Bristol over Christmas, one of the best ways to get into the spirit of the season is to attend a Bristol Cathedral carol concert. These are open to all and are generally free. The beautiful cathedral building dates back to the 12th century, and a carol concert is a wonderful way to see its interior!
#3 Visit one of the many museums
When the colder weather sets in, museums are the place to go. Luckily, in Bristol, there are plenty of fascinating museums, many of which are free!
If you’re looking for ideas, try the following:
- The SS Great Britain, which is a restored ship that was once the world’s most luxurious liner. Here, you can learn about emigration to Australia and the USA and the engineering marvel that was Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The SS Great Britain costs £19 to enter, but it’s well worth it – plus, your ticket is valid for a year.
- The M Shed, which is a free museum focusing on Bristol’s culture and history.
- The Bristol Museum, which contains exhibitions about Bristol, the South West, and the world around. Popular exhibits include one on Ancient Egyptians and a South West Wildlife display.
- The Georgian Museum, which replicates a Bristolian house during the Georgian era.
#4 Catch a pantomime at the Hippodrome
Bristol has its very own hippodrome, perfect for all theatre fans! During the festive season, you can catch a pantomime here. There is a different offer each year – if you want to go, be sure to book tickets way ahead of time as they sell out quickly. Pantomime season in Bristol generally runs from mid-November to mid-January.
#5 Bristol Christmas Market
Another festive thing to do in Bristol is the Christmas market. You could purchase some Somerset cheese and chutney or try out the cider that this area of the country is famed for! This is smaller than its counterpart in Bath but has plenty of stalls selling local produce from farmers and artisans in the area. Yet, if you want to experience that too, you could easily have a day trip to Bath as it’s fairly close.
Once you’ve had a good shop, take yourself to the outside bar, decorated in the style of a Swiss ski lodge. Here, you can enjoy baileys, and hot chocolate mulled wine and be entertained by the large singing reindeer who belts out Christmas carols on a rotating basis.
#6 Christmas Shopping at St Nicholas Market
There’s a huge array of Christmas gifts available at St Nicholas Market, which is open all year round. If you fancy some festive shopping, or if you’re visiting Bristol after Christmas and want to buy yourself or a loved one something nice, St Nicks is your place to visit.
Many local businesses have stalls here, and you can purchase anything from hot sauce to handmade bags. Once you’ve finished browsing the market, pick up some budget street food, and enjoy by the harbourside. Perfect for a brisk autumn day!
#7 Take a frosty sunrise walk through Ashton Court
Dark mornings are one of the things most people dislike about winter, but it does mean that you are much more likely to catch the sunrise! Ashton Court, located in the city’s east, opens at 8 am daily – so during the shorter days of November, December, and January, you’ll be able to watch the sun come up just as the park opens.
Ashton Court is a huge estate sprawling over 850 acres. It comprises grassland and forest and even has two areas where deer live. During winter mornings, it’s frosty and tranquil, a wonderful place to start a day.
You could finish your walk by the Clifton Suspension Bridge, walk over it, and breakfast in the beautiful Clifton Village. I recommend the Rosemarino for delicious traditional food.
#8 Pub crawl King Street
Bristol is a fascinatingly historic city – the streets of the old city still have their original Medieval layout! King Street is the heart of this. While the buildings themselves don’t quite date back to Medieval times, the Llandoger Trow, which is the inspiration of both Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe, dates back to 1664, and The Old Duke has a history spanning back to 1780.
These pubs have been refurbished since the olden days and now provide a wonderfully cozy atmosphere when the winter chill sets in. And if you want to do a bar crawl, you don’t have to move very far; five bars are in a 100 meter stretch of road!
#9 Walk down Christmas Steps
Known by locals as Bristol’s own Diagon Alley, Christmas steps descend one of Bristol’s many hills, from Park Row to the central area. Lit up by old-fashioned street lamps, these cobbled steps are magical at any time of year, particularly when the weather is cooler. At the bottom of the steps is the board game cafe Chance and Counters, which is the perfect place to order a hot chocolate and spend a few hours in.
#10 Go stargazing
Stargazing? In the middle of the city? Bristol’s got you covered. Its planetarium – a huge silver ball in the middle of Millennium Square – is the perfect place to laze back and watch the constellations go past while the world is cold outside!
The 3D planetarium is the only one of its kind in the UK, and stargazing nights for adults aged 16+ run year-round. There’s an on-site bar, and you can watch a variety of star shows – from seasonal stargazing to exploring the galaxy!
Where to stay in Bristol
Bristol’s got tons of different neighborhoods, all with a really distinct character. Your ideal Bristol accommodation will depend on your style of travel. Some of my favorite places to stay in Bristol are Stokes Croft (for backpackers), the Harbourside, the city center, and Old Market (for mid-range hotels), and Clifton (for more upmarket luxury accommodation).
In Stokes Croft, the Full Moon hostel accommodates backpackers from all over the world. It’s also home to one of Bristol’s most fun bars and is in the heart of the city’s liveliest nightlife area.
For a central, modern, affordable hotel, check out Future Inn in Old Market. It’s got a bar and restaurant on-site, and the rooms are clean, have plenty of natural light, and offer all of the amenities that you’d expect in a city center hotel.
For something a little more boutique-y, try Number 38 in Clifton. Each room is styled to perfection, with both modern and traditional furnishings and unique touches. Dine at the on-site restaurant or bar, or enjoy Clifton’s many restaurants close by!
There are plenty of fun things to do in Bristol in winter. With lots of outdoor and indoor attractions, it’s somewhere where you can visit year-round and still be awed. There’s so much history waiting to be tapped into in Bristol at its all-weather attractions, as well as fun seasonal things to do such as Christmas rollerblading or the markets.
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