Even though Bristol is only about 45 minutes away from my hometown I've rarely taken the opportunity to explore it. I've popped over the Severn bridge to see a few gigs in Bristol but never really been able to get to know the city or get a feel for it and its long history. I was really looking forward to my trip because not only did it mean a rare weekend away with my shift working partner but it also meant I was able to find out more about my neighbouring city.
Getting to Bristol was incredibly easy. It only took me about 40 minutes on a very comfortable CrossCounty train and I got a strong Starbucks coffee on board to get me ready for the long weekend ahead. *Fat Frocks Tip* If you travel on the weekend you can get a First Class upgrade from £5 which gives you loads of room, reclining seats, free WiFi and drinks and snacks. Perfect if you are making a long journey or just want to feel fancy.
Our hotel was just a five minute walk from Bristol Temple Meads train station and very easy to find. We stayed at the comfortable Hilton Garden Inn which I can highly recommend because not only are the rooms perfect for a weekend break they also have a waffle iron at breakfast. A waffle iron! I probably didn't need to eat a huge waffle after a full cooked breakfast but it would have been rude not to... We dropped our bags off after arriving at the hotel and set out exploring the city straight away.
I have to admit we didn't get very far because as soon as we reached the city centre it started to rain very heavily. We managed to walk around Stokes Croft, an area which has quickly gained a reputation as Bristol’s cultural and artistic hub and sought shelter from the rain in the main shopping centre, Cabot Circus. We decided to head back to the hotel to dry off and have some prosecco and nibbles before heading to a gig in the Fleece later that evening. The Fleece is a great small venue and has hosted some pretty amazing artists over the years like Radiohead, Jeff Buckley and Amy Winehouse. We had tickets to see Teenage Fanclub who were absolutely amazing. We headed back to the hotel after the gig to get an early night as the forecast for Sunday was much better and I wanted to make up for some lost time and get some sightseeing in before getting the train back home.
After a filling breakfast featuring the previously mentioned amazing waffles I wandered through the Temple Gardens with the ruined Temple Church (gutted due to bombing during the war) just behind the hotel into the city centre to explore. I didn't really have a plan or a map to follow so I just wandered around admiring the historic architecture and trying to spot some street art which Bristol is famous for.
A place I would recommend visiting is Bristol Cathedral located on College Green. It's Grade I listed and the nave, choir and aisles are all the same height, making the Cathedral a fantastic example of a hall church in Great Britain. The cathedral has also recently been used as one of the main filming locations for the BBC Wolf Hall series. The cathedral is free to visit and offers a calm space to explore in the middle of a bustling city.
If you're visiting College Green and the cathedral you would be silly to miss a pit stop at Swoon just on the other side of the road. The guys at Swoon make gelato in the traditional Italian way using locally sourced ingredients. I had a scoop of both the plum flavour and the honeycomb and they were divine. (photo here)
I also headed to Bristol's Harbourside which was once a busy dock where sailors and merchants would trade goods and set sail on voyages of discovery. Today, this redeveloped are is filled with restaurants, bars and museums. You can visit the SS Great Britain here which is a revolutionary ship designed by one of my heroes, the renowned engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Brunel also left his mark on the city with his iconic Clifton Suspension Bridge which I sadly didn't have time to visit.
There's a vibrant street art scene in Bristol, led by now world-famous street artist Banksy, you don't have to look too hard to spot some yourself. I've shared a few of my favourite sightings from the weekend below.
My weekend in Bristol finished at Bristol Temple Meads station. It opened in 1840 as the western terminus of the Great Western Railway from London Paddington. The railway including the station was the first one designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and I love the beautiful span of the timber and iron roof which was the largest of it's type when built. I caught the train back home to Newport with aching legs after a full weekend of exploring Bristol on foot and thinking about all the things I wanted to do, see and eat on my next visit to Bristol.
Would I recommend a trip to Bristol? Yes! More a collection of villages than a city, Bristol makes a perfect location for a fun weekend away. Visit Bristol for 48 hours like I did and you’ll find plenty of independent shops, world-famous street art and lots of green spaces. It isn't too sprawling so you can get a good feel for the city in a couple of days and you can even walk most if of it but pack a comfy pair of shoes as there's plenty of cobbles and hills.
What are you waiting for?! Get out there and make some of your own #LittleDiscoveries all over the UK. CrossCountry links up major cities across the UK making it easy to visit a new place including Birmingham, Cardiff, Leeds, Sheffiled, Edinburgh and of course, Bristol.
*Post was written in collaboration with CrossCountry and Hilton Garden Hill Hotel