Visitors to the SS Great Britain can see the ship’s massive propeller. // © 2017 VisitBristol
Feature image (above): The 150-year-old Clifton Suspension Bridge is considered to be one of the world’s great bridges. // © 2017 iStock
Chrissie Le Marchant, a U.K. Blue Badge tour guide, calls Bristol, England, “a modern city with a vision of the past” — and it’s exactly this blend of old and new that attracts all types of visitors to the hidden gem.
“Bristol is still relatively off the radar for many U.S. travelers, who may be more attracted to the usual honeypot destinations,” said Kathryn Davis, head of tourism for Destination Bristol. “There is a great opportunity for agents to win bragging rights as being among the first to discover this wonderful small city with big ambition.”
Home to the spectacular Clifton Suspension Bridge, designed by engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Bristol is also where visitors can see the SS Great Britain, perhaps Brunel’s greatest engineering achievement. Brunel’s SS Great Britain — an interactive museum telling the story of the ship as well as those who sailed on it — is built beneath and within the restored ship itself. The truly daring can climb the 100-foot-high rigging for a bird’s-eye view of the harbor. Being Brunel, a new museum, is set to open later this year and will feature an innovative audio-visual exhibit that helps guests experience what it might have been like inside the genius’ brain.
Barbara Crawford, president of European Travel Advisors in Palm Desert, Calif., thinks that Bristol especially appeals to millennials due to its variety of eateries and cocktail bars. There’s also its unique street art, which includes the work of one of its most famous — and infamous — residents, the mysterious street artist Banksy. Thanks in part to Banksy’s notoriety, Bristol has become one of the most important street-art cities in Europe. Tour operator Where The Wall leads two-hour Bristol street-art tours that celebrate this eclectic art form and educate visitors about street artists and their work. Participants even get to create a “Banksy” of their own to take home.
The Berkeley Family (pronounced “bark-lee”) has a long history in Bristol, so a visit to nearby Berkeley Castle is a fitting day trip. The ancient fortress is the oldest castle in England to be inhabited by the same family for nearly 900 years.
The castle is open Sunday to Wednesday from early April through late October. Guided tours take visitors through public rooms, including the magnificent Great Hall, with its beautiful portraits, stained glass and tapestries; and The King’s Gallery, where Edward II was held prisoner and then murdered in 1327. (This spot is also where guides jokingly caution children to behave or risk a stint in the dungeon.)
Charles Berkeley, next in line to inherit the castle, gives tours by appointment and offers personal insight into what it was like to grow up in the castle.
“My father always said we are custodians of this castle that has been here 850 years,” Berkeley said. “And we always respected that, even though as children we hid under the beds and jumped out at visitors on occasion.”
The Bristol, part of the Doyle Collection of hotels, offers a waterfront location close to restaurants, theaters and museums and is within easy walking distance to many of the city’s popular sights. Guestrooms are comfortable and spacious — many have views of the harbor — and provide boutique-style comfort combined with amenities that modern travelers want, including complimentary Wi-Fi access.
Brigitte Armand, president of Eurobound in Los Angeles, recommends a stay in Bristol to travelers wishing to explore England beyond London. She also notes that its location makes it the perfect hub for exploring Cardiff, Bath and the Cotswolds, which are all only a short distance away.
Where to Eat & Drink
For foodies, there are annual celebrations in Bristol for nearly every kind of food and drink, and Bristol’s restaurant scene ranges from Michelin-star-winning pubs to unique dining locations on boats, or in the case of The Lido Restaurant, surrounding an open-air swimming pool.
The Lido, a public outdoor swimming pool, dates back to 1849, and is one of the oldest in the U.K. After closing in 1990 and being neglected for nearly 20 years, the Lido reopened in 2008, and has become a popular venue for daily swims. Located in the viewing gallery surrounding the pool, the Lido’s award-winning restaurant features a menu with a twist on Moorish and Mediterranean cuisine.
For a unique spot to enjoy a pre- or post-dinner drink, The Milk Thistle Bristol is one of the city’s best-kept secrets. Hidden in a historic building in the old city, The Milk Thistle has no sign, so visitors feel like they are entering a private party. For an extra special experience, cocktail master classes offer the chance to learn how to mix the perfect concoction.