Bristol

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Bristol is often toted as England’s mini-London; a city with all of the energy and less of the stress. There’s no sprawling underground, no complex borough structure, no people-packed down town that’s impossible to transverse at rush hours, but there remains something of that edgy charm, that vibrant forward-thinking and cultured atmosphere that makes Bristol a really great place to visit for anyone travelling in England, or perhaps looking for places to explore outside of the capital. 

The city is a melange of Victorian townhouses and regal buildings that ring of England’s industrial strength in the 19th and 20th centuries. Bristol was a veritable powerhouse of the nation during the industrial revolution, and something of a playground for Britain’s engineering elite. Most notable are the awe-inspiring sights of the Clifton Suspension Bridge, and the magnificent SS Great Britain that’s now open for visitors in Bristol’s harbour. Both were the work of one of the nation’s most revered of figures, the prolific engineer and inventor, Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

The Clifton Bridge has become one of the city’s most iconic images. Spanning the width of the Avon gorge that weaves its way through the valley of the city itself, the bridge is one of the most breath taking feats of British engineering and stands more than 70 metres above the water surface below. It’s still in use today and is a popular destination for thrill seekers after a bungee jump experience on one of the UK’s highest bridges.

The historical character of the city continues into the depths of its old town, where modern bars, clubs and shops are nestled amidst a patchwork of classic 18th century frontispieces. Pay a visit to The Corn Exchange, one of the city’s foremost listed buildings, where local food markets now spring up on weekends, toting fresh produce from the surrounding counties. The building itself is a fine example of 18th century utilitarian architecture, intended to stimulate the commerce of the city by providing trading spaces suited to businessmen. The building’s clock has also acquired something of a reputation for its curious appearance and unusual adoption of two second hands (one showing the time in London, while the other local Bristol time) that pre-dates the adoption of national time in the UK.

For those looking for more a modern visit, Bristol has established itself as one of the foremost shopping cities in the south west. Cabot’s Circus on Broadmead is an ever-expanding complex of high-street and specialist stores, interspersed with a real variety of restaurants and classic English pubs. What’s more, Bristol central, particularly around the nightlife hub of Park Street, is home to a melange of independent stores, selling everything from local arts and crafts to bespoke handmade furniture.

In the summer Bristol is known as a city of festivals, and the wide parks and open streets of the city centre come alive with a number of different events from May to September. In early August (usually in the first two weeks) the city plays host to the Bristol Balloon Festival, which sees many international balloon handlers flock to the city-owned stately home of Ashton Court to show off their skills in the sky. Bristol also hosts a variety of film festivals and food fares in the summer, and had championed its position as one of England’s leading centres of independent cinema and vegetarian culture.

Close and compact, the middle of Bristol has plenty to offer in the way of nightlife. The city is split into two distinct areas for partying after dark, one attached to the down town shopping area near Cabot’s Circus, and the other on Park Street nearer the Avon Gorge. In the former, independent and alternative clubs rule, with a variety of quirky joints, like the 1950s inspired Lanes nightclub and bowling alley, where punters can sip beers to the din of rockabilly while trying their hand on the in-house bowling alleys. Park Street on the other hand, is the high-energy and hedonistic centre of nightlife, where chain pubs and boutique clubs stay open into the early hours.

Bristol is a city that exudes a real charm, its rejuvenated docklands are a great place to sit and have a drink in the summer, while down town has a really vibrant character, from the myriad of shops that line the winding, cobbled streets to the quirky bars that have become the territory of the city’s massive student population. With such ease of access from most of the UK’s major airports and cities (London in particular), for anyone looking for a taste of something different, Bristol is a fine choice.