Top 10 FREE things to do in Bristol

Top 10 FREE things to do in Bristol and Somerset.

For those of you who don’t know, Steff is from Bristol and before she moved to Essex she lived in Bristol for 19 years of her life. Over the last couple of months, since being home in the UK, we’ve been exploring as much of the UK as possible and Steff has been our self-appointed tour guide around Bristol!

Situated in the South West of England its positioned in a really accessible part of the country – with regular trains going direct to London Paddington. Wales is just a 45 minute drive across the Severn Bridge and its quite literally situated on the cusp of Devon and Cornwall.

Bristol is one of those cities where you just can’t help but smile, the warm South Westerly accent is just utterly charming and you can’t not giggle when getting off the bus and a local chimes “cheers drive!”

Here are our Top 10 FREE things to do in Bristol and Somerset;

  1. Clifton Suspension Bridge / Avon Gorge
  2. Clifton and Dudham Downs
  3. Cabot Tower
  4. Bristol Harbourside (SS Great Britain)
  5. Ashton Court Estate (Bristol Balloon Fiesta)
  6. Cheddar Gorge, Somerset
  7. Axbridge Square, Somerset
  8. Glastonbury
  9. Dundry Hill
  10. Bristol Museum & Art Gallery

1. Clifton Suspension Bridge / Avon Gorge

As the perfect introduction to Bristol we highly recommend taking a visit to Clifton Suspension Bridge which sits over Avon Gorge. The suspension bridge is iconic to Bristol and IKB (Isambard Kingdom Brunel). IKB engineered the Great Western Railway which still serves us today. You’ll see a reoccurring theme throughout this blog with a few other destinations involving IKB and other engineers.

Where is it?

Clifton Suspension Bridge spans the Avon Gorge and the River Avon. It connects Clifton in Bristol to Leigh Woods in North Somerset.

There are many places to view the bridge, but our absolute favourite is from the veranda of The White Lion pub in Clifton. You don’t have to buy a drink to go onto the veranda, but if it’s a warm summers day/evening it will certainly add to the experience!

What is there to do?

As mentioned above, The White Lion is a great spot for a pub lunch and a beer, but being right up in Clifton there are plenty of things to do, including taking a walk around the boutique shops of Clifton. Or just going for a little meander through the hilly streets of Victorian terraced houses.

Best time to visit?

Depending on what season you visit Bristol in depends on what time sunset and sunrise are, but we highly recommend going for Sunset. Whether you visit The White Lion or you go to another spot in Clifton, sunset is always magical. The busiest times at The White Lion will be a Friday and Saturday evening.

Sunsets during the summer are around 9pm and in the winter you’re looking at about 5pm – but check it out on google when you’re here because it can vary!

2. Clifton and Durdham Downs

Clifton really is our favourite place in Bristol, its full of Victorian terraced houses, classy cocktail bars, cute little English pubs and views for days. And you can’t forget The Downs as most Bristolians refer to it as. A 400-acre green space sitting at the top of Clifton with magnificent views over the Avon Gorge.

Where is it?

Sitting on top of the cliff side overlooking the Avon Gorge/River Avon its easily accessible either through the city centre and up through Clifton, or if drive down under the suspension bridge along the Portway and then take a right up Bridge Valley Road. There is always plenty of parking around the edges of the downs. Sometimes there are festivals on at which point you can actually park on the grass.

What is there to do?

The Downs are very famous for leisurely activities such as BBQs, Kite Flying, Games (such as rounders, cricket or frisbee). So get to your local Lidl, grab a disposable barbie, couple of bottles of pop and your checked picnic blanket, invite a tonne of friends and have some good ol’ English summer fun!

There is also some crazy views of the river and cliff side from up here! And lots of big old Victorian houses that are super pretty!

Best time to visit?

English summers can be a little hit and miss, but if you’re in Bristol between late May – early September any day/every day is a good time particularly if the sun is shining!

3. Cabot Tower

On your way down from Clifton, if you head toward the legendary Clifton Triangle and Park Street (known for its bars and restaurants) just off one of the side streets you’ll find another beautiful green park on Brandon Hill. A short, and I mean SHORT, trek up and you’ll reach Cabot Tower – built in 1897 to commemorate John Cabot’s famous voyage from Bristol and the continent of North America four hundred years earlier.

Where is it?

Situated in parkland on Brandon Hill, its in between the City Centre and Clifton.

What is there to do?

Of course, the main attraction is Cabot Tower, which you can actually climb up (via stairs inside). You will definitely want to do this, because you get panoramic views of Bristol, particularly Bristol Harbourside!

Best time to visit?

It’s fairly quiet in this area of Bristol all year round, but we took a visit to Cabot Tower at around 4pm and we managed to capture a couple of Hot Air Balloons in the sky. If you want to catch a sunset with literally hundred of balloons in the sky then I’d recommend coming around the end of July/beginning of August as Bristol will be getting ready for its annual Balloon Fiesta and many people take to the skies around this time! It’s a really beautiful sight!

4. Bristol Harbourside (& The SS Great Britain)

Steff spent her childhood down on the docks (or Harbourside as it is now known as). Every Saturday she’d come down to the waterfront with her family for a bacon butty or pasty at Brunel Buttery and a ride on the steam train. So we’ve spent a lot of time here over the last few months!

Where is it?

The Harbour is situated smack bang in Bristol City Centre. It was, after all, the pulse of the city back when Bristol relied on the Harbour to provide goods and exports from over seas! The Harbourside is actually made up of a number of different areas; Wapping Wharf, Cannons Marsh and Spike Island. We recommending starting with Wapping Wharf as this is where you’ll find the main attractions.

What is there to do?

As I mentioned earlier, there are a few different areas that make up Bristol Harbourside. But in Wapping Wharf alone there are multiple restaurants, and bars – some are actually in shipping containers. There are a few little cafes such as Brunel Buttery and The Olive Shed, but the main attractions are below;

M Shed
The M Shed which is home to displays of Bristol artefacts and stories, showing Bristol’s role in the slave trade and items on transport, people, and the arts. The admission is actually free!

Bristol Harbour Railway
On a Saturday and Sunday, you can actually take a short ride on the old working steam trains that are down on the Docks, this isn’t free but it doesn’t cost very much (£2.50 single or £3.50 return)

Bristol Steam Crane
The only surviving Fairbairn Steam Crane, that still functions, in the world. And every now and then they do special displays of it working. Mainly during the Bristol Harbourside Festival.

The SS Great Britain
Okay so admittedly, if you want to go into The SS Great Britain and have a tour then that’s not free, it’s £16.50 each but that ticket then allows you to return to The SS Great Britain unlimited times for next 12 months, which is great because they often have different activities and shows going on throughout the year.
However, you can get some really pictures of the beautiful boat from a few different angles – the best being across the water from either Anchor Road or Hotwells Road

Best time to visit?

Harbourside in general – If you want to take a ride of the steam train then you would need to go on the weekend, however if like us you prefer to avoid the crowds we advise going mid-week outside of the school holidays!

The SS Great Britain – If you don’t have kids and prefer not to be surrounded by kids then we highly recommend checking when the school holidays and avoid going during this time. You do still get school trips to the boat, but we got there super early and were the first people in when it opened at 10am. Ideally you want to look at going mid-week during term time to avoid the crowds of children! That way you have the whole ship to yourself and like us you can pretend to be pirates who have commandeered the boat!

5. Ashton Court Estate

The Ashton Court Estate, once belonging to the Smyth Family (a famously rich family in Bristol), now a historical park which cover 850 acres of woodland is really something spectacular to visit!

Where is it?

Just a 10 minute drive from the city centre – it really doesn’t take very long to get to somewhere green in Bristol!

What is there to do?

The mansion house in itself is a sight to see, and every now and then they hold exhibitions in the house so you can take a sneak peak around!

Along with the many walks that you can take through the rolling fields and vast woodland, the annual Balloon Fiesta is held here – which might just be my favourite thing about Bristol! At the beginning of August, or there about Hot Air Balloon fanatics group together and take daily flights over bristol. They set off from Ashton Court and on the finale night they hold a night glow – where the owners light their balloons up in time to music! It can be seen from the hills surrounding Bristol or you can go down into the Balloon field in Ashton Court to witness this!

Another awesome thing about this estate is that you can actually bring BBQs here – Steff has spent many family days out here where the whole family have gathered on the field to have a day of BBq’ing!

Best time to visit?

If you want to see the balloons then you have to come end of July/beginning of August. However this place is pretty massive so if you don’t like the crowds – you’re in luck the majority of the year there is hardly any body here – so its an all year round kind of place!

6. Cheddar Gorge, Somerset

If you really want to get to know the South West, then we highly recommend taking a little trip out into Somerset… or Zomerzet as us locals pronounce it! And first place we recommend starting is Cheddar… and YES Cheddar Cheese IS from here – its matured in the caves!

Where is it?

Cheddar Gorge is a mere 30 minute drive from Bristol, situated in the Mendip Hills near the village of Cheddar.

What is there to do?

Considering it is a meandering Gorge, the best thing you can do is walk up (or down) the Gorge. Along the way you’ll probably spot a few mountain goats up on the jagged rocks! They are pretty cute.
If you’re into rock climbing then you can actually scale the Gorge too. And if you’re into hiking there’s an awesome walk which takes you up onto of the Gorge.

You can also explore the little village of Cheddar which is based at the bottom of the Gorge – there are cheese factories and sweet shops, where can actually watch a live demonstration as to how the candy maker makes hard boiled sweets! (Steff used to love this as a kid!)

And we can’t forget to mention the caves that line the Gorge – admittedly these aren’t free but they are well worth the admission fee!

Best time to visit?

Another one that’s popular with the kids, so you’re best off checking when the school holidays are and avoiding going during the holidays!

Other than that, Cheddar Gorge is gorgeous all year round!

7. Axbridge Square, Somerset

Whilst you are in Somerset and with Axbridge being literally 10 minutes down the road from Cheddar, we highly recommend visiting this sleepy little town!
This little town has a lot of history behind it and certainly has its charm, what with its thatched cottages and cute little English houses.

Where is it?

Situated in the Sedgemoor District on the River Axe, near the south edge of the Mendip Hills, it is just a 25 minute drive from Bristol.

What is there to do?

In the square there are a lot of the original buildings still present. Which makes it a beautifully little square. One of those buildings being King John’s Hunting Lodge – which is now a museum.

The beautiful little church – Church of Saint John is a grade 1 listed building and sits atop the steps overlooking the square.

And of course, you can;t go to an English Town without visiting a very English Pub! The Lamb is one of our favourites!

Best time to visit?

Nothing beats a good old walk on the Mendips and then a pub lunch as a reward, this is always better when its sunny and warm weather! So going in the summer would be ideal. But again, this is somewhere that is an all year round kind of place!

8. Glastonbury, Somerset

We’re guessing you’ve heard of Glastonbury Festival right? Well other than the festival, the town of Glastonbury is actually a super quirky, colourful and interesting place! Full of healers, crystals and witches it really is somewhere you cannot miss off of your itinerary! It also has a lot of mystical and medieval history!

Where is it?

Glastonbury is a town situated in Somerset, which is about a 45 minute drive from Bristol.

What is there to do?

Well for one, just walking up the high street is massively entertaining! What with all of the quirky little shops selling jewellery, crystals, home shops and healthy cafes. The colourful delights are enough to win you over straight away.

If you manage to pull yourself away from the main high street then make sure you head to Glastonbury Abbey, it costs around £6 for admission, so although not free it is still super cheap! (And if you are a student or concession you get a discount too!)

If you don’t fancy paying the admission fee to the Abbey then you can always take the walk up to Glastonbury Tor where St Michaels Tower sits on top of it – get speaking to a local and along with Glastonbury Abbey they’ll tell you about the medieval and mythical stories about these places.

When is best to visit?

Personally, we’d recommend visiting Glastonbury during the summer, it may be a bit busier, but because of how colourful the streets are, in the sun they look incredible! Also, its much nicer to walk around in the sun, than in the horrible English rain!

9. Dundry Hill

So this one, we’re guessing isn’t going to be on many blogs, but we really feel this place is over looked! About a 20 minute drive out of the centre of Bristol, its a beautiful little village and civil parish sat on top of a hill which gives you fantastic views of Bristol!

Where is it?

Just past Bishopsworth which is in the South of the city, the village of Dundry sits on top of Dundry Hill which gives you beautiful views of sunset over rolling hills and to the other side is fantastic views of Bristol!

What is there to do?

Asides from the magnificent views and beautiful country side walks, there is the cutest little parish church which every now and then opens its tower to the public. Right next to the church is a typical country pub for a well deserved pint after your walk.

For the best vies of sunset over the two reservoirs, when you get to the church (to the left of you) turn right where you will immediately see a small parking area and some fence. Park up, walk through the fence and just head toward the bottom of the friend where you’ll find a couple of fences you can hop over. Take the right field and keep walking down, you’ll soon get to a point where you can view the lakes and country side!

When is best to visit?

For sunset during the summer months you’ll want to aim to be in Dundry by 8pm to give you enough time to park up and walk to your spot for sunset – the colours and stages the sun goes through are incredible just before sunset! And the reflection of the sun on the reservoir is awesome!

But if you’ve come just for the views over Bristol and the walks, around 2pm would be perfect as you can reward yourself in the pub after a couple of hours walking!

10. Bristol Museum and Art Gallery

Probably one of Steff’s favourite buildings in Bristol. Aesthetically pleasing from the outside – a grade 2 listed building from Edwardian Baroque Architecture. The museum holds sections on natural history as well as local, national and international archaeology.

Where is it?

At the very top of Park Street just before the Clifton Triangle, it is literally a 10 minute walk (uphill) from Bristol City Centre.

What is there to do?

Other than exploring the museum itself, the museum also hosts some really awesome events! The best event Steff has been to there was a Burlesque night on Halloween called Hoochie Coochie- so its well worth checking out what might be going on whilst you’re visiting as you may also get to see the museum at night!

Best time to visit?

The museum is completely free to visit, so be sure to be aware of the school holiday time tables as this is a big attraction for the kids during the school holidays! The summer holiday which is the longest one in the UK usually runs from the end of July through to the start of September.

And that just about concludes our guide to the Top 10 Free Things to do in Bristol and Somerset!

As budget travellers ourselves we’ve been trying to explore Bristol as much as possible without absolutely breaking the bank (as we’re due to set back off again soon!) so these above are tried and testing FREE and fun things to do in Bristol!

Let us know if you’d add anything else to the list that is Free to do in Bristol in the comments below!

2 thoughts on “Top 10 FREE things to do in Bristol

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