Bristol, Shiver Me Timbers

Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.

Robert Louis Stevenson

It was the amazing writer Robert Louis Stevenson that said, “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.” We are constantly planting new seeds in our minds about where we want to travel to next, but not every plan pans out, whether because of an increase in flight prices or all of a sudden we need to change our travel dates. But that’s the beauty of planting so many seeds — one of them will always sprout. We are excited for any chance we get to explore a new place and shed light on an area that maybe a lot of people don’t know much about (including ourselves). One of the first things we learned about Bristol was that it first was known for being one of the maritime ports of England, but now it is known for being a cultural hub. 

We were there for three days. We flew down to the London airport, rented a car, and drove to Bristol. Before getting there though we stopped halfway to the Highclere Castle. Both of us really enjoy the show Downton Abbey! We were so excited to see where a lot of it was filmed. Even if you are not a fan of the show or have never seen it, you can still appreciate the stunning features of the outside of the building and the inside with its beautiful rooms (we really liked the library and the great hall). Everything you see in the show is really to scale when you see just how massive the inside really is. Also, you could easily spend lots of time walking around the perimeter of the castle with its beautifully well-kept fields. 

We thoroughly enjoyed our stop before we proceeded on to Bristol. Once we got to Bristol we went to our hotel called Bristol Marriott Royal. This hotel was next to everything we wanted to see and the building and interior of the hotel itself was absolutely gorgeous. We even peeked inside some of the event rooms and no surprise they were lovely. This hotel has been around for about 150 years and is considered one of the oldest hotels in Bristol. Famous people have stayed here, such as Laurel and Hardy (comedians), Cary Grant (born in Bristol and an American actor), Charlie Chaplin, Winston Churchill, and Queen Victoria.  

Here are the top activities we recommend for a three day trip to Bristol.

SS Great Britain 

One of the highlights of any trip to Bristol is the SS Great Britain. This ship was one of the best ships in its day from 1845 to 1854 and was mainly used for trans-Atlantic voyages. It also received high praise because it was the first-ever iron steam boat to make this extensive journey. It is said that this ship has made as many as 32 trips around the world. 

In 1852 the ship was being used to send immigrants to Australia. They even built an upper deck to be able to accommodate 700 passengers at once. So many people from all professions (e.g., magician, bishop, gold-digger, nun, soldier, etc.) started to use this as a form of transportation for vacations to Australia. Then in 1861 they used the ship to transport the England cricket team to compete in Australia. It is also said that the writer, Anthony Trollope, wrote his entire novel Lady Anna on the ship going back to England. 

As years passed the ship was no longer useful, so they decided to sink the ship (otherwise known as scuttling). This is a method that was used by a lot of countries when a ship wasn’t needed anymore and it was taking up too much space. This ship was very lucky to have been found in the 1970’s because any longer in the water and a crack that was forming on the side of the ship would have eventually split the ship in half with the help of the winds and tides. Once they lifted the ship out of the depths of the water, they placed it back on its original wooden dock. They have encased the bottom part of the ship and the deck, so that they can regulate the humidity levels. If they left the bottom part exposed to the elements, then it could have eroded away. 

Since the preservation of the ship, there have been so many tourists that come to explore it. It is nice because next to the ship they have a museum that talks about it further and there is also a section where you can dress up in old timey attire. Then go over to the ship and once inside you will see what it would have looked like if you were taking a voyage across the ocean in 1843. 

Bristol Cathedral

This cathedral is absolutely beautiful on the outside. We unfortunately did not have a chance to see the inside when it was open. However, seeing the exterior of it is still spectacular. It has this grand feel to it. The site the church is built upon was at first a religious shrine where St. Augustine of Canterbury was said to have visited. This church was originally built in the Norman style architecture in the 12th century, but then in the 14th century it started to be rebuilt into more of a Gothic style architecture, even though they did not have the proper financial funds to do this big of a project. For this reason the building did not see a lot of reconstruction within 100 years. In 1831 there were the Bristol Riots going on, which led to a lot of damage to the church. As such, they had to rebuild it one more time in the 19th century. Also, in the 20th century, there were 32 women that were ordained in the Bristol Cathedral as the Church of England priests (the first 32 to be ordained).  

The Clifton Suspension Bridge

You have to go up quite a hill to reach the Clifton Suspension Bridge (we are from Florida, so anything with an incline is quite a hill to us)! It was such a nice walk in the morning and we enjoyed walking around the residential areas of Bristol before we reached the bridge. 

One area we walked by was called the Royal York Crescent. It is an expensive residential street that has a gorgeous vantage point of Bristol. These buildings were under construction from 1791 to 1820. It is said that this crescent is known as the longest crescent in Europe. It is also said that some of the buildings were used as a boarding school in 1837, which was attended by royalty: Eugene de Montijo (the wife of Emperor Napoleon III and considered the last Empress of France) and her sister Paca (Duchess of Alba). 

We finally made it to the bridge and it was really impressive. When they first started talking about making this bridge, they thought about making it out of stone. However, as discussions and plans kept forming it was changed to make it out of wrought iron. The idea to build the bridge was in 1753, but it didn’t become a reality until 1864. This bridge was also used for the torchbearers to run across during the London 2012 Olympic Torch relay. 

Bristol Parks

On Brandon Hill Park you can visit the Cabot Tower. It is a nice park with some steep inclines.  This hill used to have a chapel during the Middle Ages, but then in the 16th century it was changed into a windmill. It wasn’t until the 19th century when they decided to change it into the tower. It became the tower to commemorate John Cabot sailing to Canada 400 years ago.  

Another park you should take a look at is the Castle Park. We would say that half of this park is nice and well maintained. When it is a nice day (like the day we went) you will see a lot of people sitting on the grass and enjoying the day. Most of the buildings that once stood here were destroyed during the Blitz of WWII. This area used to be called the Castle District and for this reason they gave the park the name Castle Park. However, you can still see the St. Peter’s Church ruins. Make sure you go and take a look at it. This church was said to have been built in the 12th century, which makes it the first church in Bristol. They now use the ruins of the church as a monument to all of the civilians that died in Bristol during WWII. 

Places to Walk By

The City Hall building is in the same area as the Bristol Cathedral. This is where their newest city hall resides. It was thought up in the 1930s, but it didn’t get built until after WWII. This building is something to take a look at because it so unique with its curved structure, the moat outside, and the flowers lining the moat.

It is hard not to notice the Christmas Steps alleyway when there is a giant sign that says “Christmas Steps.” It is everything you would want in a Christmas alleyway. You are in this small alleyway and as you go up the steps there are small shops on either side with strung lights above you. Now the name wasn’t always Christmas. It used to be called the Queene Street during the medieval times. No one is sure how the name was changed over to Christmas. Also, we have read many bloggers that have also speculated that this is where J.K. Rowling could have gotten her inspiration for Diagon Alley in her Harry Potter books. 

Walk up to the top of the Christmas Steps and then take a left and there you will see the Foster’s Almshouses. It was founded by John Foster, who was the Mayor of Bristol in 1483. This building was used to help give shelter to the poor and elderly in the area. It stayed that way until 2007 when it was sold to a developer to make it fit for private accommodation. They felt this area was no longer able to properly support the elderly, so they relocated the almshouses to another location. 

While you are walking along the waterfront of Bristol, you will come across the Redcliffe Parade. This is the perfect area to be able to take pictures of the buildings. Each building has its own bright color and is just nice to look at as you keep walking around. 

Banksy’s Graffiti 

There are so many beautiful graffiti to take notice of while you are in Bristol. Here the graffiti is not seen as vandalizing, but instead as a work of art or even a statement that they want to be heard. A well-known graffiti artist around the world is Banksy. He lived in Bristol, so it makes sense why you see so many of his works here. His work is so well known that you can even buy professional photos taken of his graffiti art.

You can find “The Well Hung Lover” graffiti located on Frogmore Street. At any time the city could just paint over the graffiti, but most people don’t want the art on the building to be simply washed away. For example, this particular graffiti caused a lot of debate on whether or not they should leave it there. After taking a vote, 97% of participants wanted to leave it there. That is why you can still see it today. Although, since that time there have been a few rival graffiti artists that have defaced it, including using a blue paintball.  

One of our favorite works of his was “The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum.” This piece is located on Hanover Place, which is along the side of the harbor where the SS Great Britain is located. This image is just so beautiful and you just want to stand there and look at it as you would with any beautiful work of art. What we liked about it was that he took the existing alarm system that was there and incorporated that into his piece to replace the pearl earring. 

Temple Gardens

Here you can see the ruins of the Temple Church and its gardens. You can find the church’s gateway between these two tall modern buildings. When you walk inside you feel like you found a hidden gem between all of these modern architecture buildings. This church was built in the 12th century and housed the Knights of Templar, a Catholic military order. Then in the 14th century the church was used to take in the Knights of Hospitaller, a more modern Catholic military order. During WWII, the church was hit by the Blitz and completely demolished most of the structure. They were able to salvage a couple items and put them in other churches. Now you see a shell of a church, but you can tell how magnificent it would have looked before WWII. Also, within the church’s walls you can see grass growing, which gives it this eerie and mystical feel. 

Clifton Arcade

When we got here it was closed and wasn’t going to be open for another thirty minutes. We wanted to get back to our hotel though, so we could explore the SS Great Britain, so we didn’t have time to wait for it to be open. However, someone that works near there said we could peek our heads in and take a picture. The Clifton Arcade is a Victorian style shopping mall with beautifully high ceilings. It was opened in 1878. There was a time when it was not being used as much, but in recent years that is not the case. There are a lot of different varieties of small shops to take a look at with unique items. 

St. Nicholas Market Food Tour 

One of our favorite things to do is take a cooking class or a food tour in different cities. This city has so many different cuisines to offer and they even have a lot just within their St Nicholas Market area. We figured we would make our own food tour (be warned that even getting one of everything and getting the small portions it can still be a lot. We would say this tour would be good with a group of 4 or more.) 

We started out by going to Eatchu. It is this small eatery tucked away in the building that was just a few feet away from the market. The guys working there were so friendly and helped us pick our food. This place is known for their Japanese gyoza and dipping sauces. Gyoza are pot stickers or dumplings that have a meat and/or vegetable filing. We didn’t know whether to pick the chicken or the pork gyoza, so the staff let us have half of one and half of the other. Then we asked for them to add their sauce special, which was a Japanese curry sauce. Everything was very well seasoned and there were so many great flavors to try with every bite. 

Then we went into the market and found our next stop: Pieminster where you can find an assortment of handheld pies. You can find Pieminster located all throughout England, but it is based in Bristol. We had so many to choose from, but we wanted to get something unique, so we got the Saag Pie-Neer (paneer, potato, spinach, pea, and chili pie). They were very flaky and well cooked with a terrific taste. 

Not too far from Pieminster you will come across the next location, Eat a Pitta. It is a falafel stand with so many vegetable and fixings to choose from. We shared the classic falafel in a box where you can pick from all of the vegetables and sauces displayed to go with it. We also got one of the za’atar and sesame flatbread to try. Everything we had here was very delicious and tasted fresh. The staff was very generous with their portions! 

Then to help the food go down better we stopped at The Big Juice Bar. They specialize in making juices out of raw fruits and vegetables. We ended up getting two drinks to share: a carrot ginger smoothie AND a banana smoothie (we can’t remember the rest of what was in this one). We could taste everything in there and it tasted amazing. 

At this point we started getting really full! We noticed that the next location, Café Atlas OR Moorish Café, on our list had a lot of food options, but everything we saw were plate sizes. Their stand was so cute with an adorable seating area. If you have room (in your stomach) and time, then go in there and enjoy some Moroccan food. We wanted to get something here though, so we got some mint tea with fresh mint leaves. 

Then we headed over to Chilli Daddy, which is known in the UK for being the first Szechuan street food stall. They specialize in hotpots, but they also have steamed buns, which is what we had. We ended up just sharing one because we wanted to try it and we were still really full from the other food. The steamed bun was great! The filling was well made and the bun was nice and fluffy. We can only imagine how good their hotpot must be. 

Then we finished off with something sweet and stopped at the Ahh Toots. This stand is so cute and really draws you in with its different levels of pastries being shown off with a vintage style charm. It was so inviting and we ended up sharing a sea salted caramel brownie. It was so scrumptious! The cakes also looked very decadent and good and a lot of people seemed to be buying those while we were there. 

If you have more room in your stomach and want to try another place, go to Matina before Ahh Toots. Matina is known for their Kurdish wraps with lamb or chicken. We didn’t get to try this place, but it does have a lot of great reviews, so we would have had it if we had had more room! 

Bristol Restaurants

The Coconut Tree

This restaurant was so memorable to us! It was the first time we had been to a restaurant that focused on Sri Lankan street food. We were so excited to see what that would entail. The inside gave off a nice and warm atmosphere and the staff was very accommodating. We ended up first trying a beverage called Wood Apple Necta, which had flavors of tamarind and resin jam. The closest taste we could relate it to is an apple juice, but in all honesty it is something we have never had before, but we enjoyed it. 

We ended up getting way to much food, but we were so glad we got to try it all! A lot of the food came out at once. We ordered plain rotti, Five C’s (carrots, cucumber, coriander, shaved coconut, with some green chilies), Fat Sister (pumpkin curry cooked in coconut milk and turmeric), Jaffna Goat Curry with Potatoes (slow cooked goat in Jaffna spices), and vegetable kotthu (made with chopped rotti, vegetables and egg). We enjoyed everything we had, but our favorite dish was the Egg Hopper, or coconut milk pancake with coconut sambal, seeni sambal (caramelized onions with a hint of cinnamon), and Lunu Miris (Sri Lankan salsa) placed on top of it. We can see why the server and the menu highly recommend newcomers to try this one! 

Wagamama’s 

This is one of our absolute favorite restaurants! Whenever we see that it is located in a city we are going to, then we always make sure we make time to go. What you see in the photos is our go-to order that we share here. We start off by getting the edamame with chili garlic salt. Then we get a bao bun that has pork belly, panko apple, cilantro, and mayo (this appetizer comes with two bao buns). Finally, we finish off our meal by sharing the chicken katsu curry, which has panko crusted chicken, sticky white rice, and a curry sauce. You also get a side salad to go with it. Be sure to ask the waiter when you sit down for their green tea. It is great because they give it to you for free (as if this place couldn’t get any better)! 

Bristol Bars

Beermuda Triangle

This area is very charming with its adorable cobblestoned road and its rows of small bars with their unique personalities. Also, they have such a cute name for this area…the Beermuda Triangle! We only had time to go into one. We ended up trying King William’s Ale House. The inside gave you the feel of being in an old style pub with wooden benches, fireplaces, wood floors, and leathered seats. We had a great time enjoying our Samuel Smith beers. 

Two other places that have great reviews as well are Beer Emporium and Small Bar. The Beer Emporium on the inside has a vaulted cellar bar and sells a lot of craft beers. Small Bar is a brick building with flowers along the building (could be a seasonal thing), with a rustic style feel, and also sells a lot of craft beers. 

Llandoger Trow

This building is right near the water and just down the road from the Beermuda Triangle. We tried to go inside two different doors, but it did not open. There were a lot of wooden benches though filled up with people right outside the building. We found out later that the building was closed. Either way we were happy we got to take a look at the building because here is where a lot of potential history took place. It was built in 1664 and was at first a row of houses before it became a pub in the 18th century. Then it was partially hit during WWII, but was rebuilt. Here is where it is said that Daniel Defoe, writer of the novel Robinson Crusoe, potentially got together with Alexander Selkirk, who was the person who inspired him to write the novel. Then there was another famous writer (also the person we quoted above), Robert Louis Stevenson, who it was said possibly came here as well and drew inspiration for the Admiral Benbow Inn in Treasure Island. Also, some people speculate that even the pirate Blackbeard would frequent the pub along with a few ghosts that seem to enjoy sticking around. 

The Florist

We just went to The Florist to try one of their cocktails at their bar, but if you are hungry, then they do have great reviews for their food. It does get pretty busy though, so be sure to get there sooner rather than later. If you go upstairs, then that is where the restaurant is located, but we stuck to the entrance way where the bar was located. It still fit the theme beautifully with hung flowers, gold pipes, and a cute saying along the wall – “find me where the wild things are.” The staff was very friendly and everything on their menu was botanical themed and looked appetizing. We both were pulled toward the same drink to try since it sounded like nothing we have had before: the Matcha Mai Tai, which had Bacardi, Cuatro, dark rum, almond and matcha green tea syrup, lime juice, and coconut cream. To top it off they put a flower on it and put the drink in a glass with leaves painted on it. 

The Hatchet Inn 

This old English style building is right in the middle of all of these tall buildings, which helps make it stand out. The inside had some elements that made it feel like an old traditional pub, but, then other things that did not. Like when we were there it was a lot of metal and rock music playing with skateboard videos being played on the TV. There is a beer garden area as well (when we were there it was raining, so we stayed to the inside). It is said this building is the oldest pub in Bristol and dates back to 1606. It was named after the regulars of the time, which were the rangers of Leigh Woods. There are also a lot of people that think that the pirate Blackbeard potentially used to make time to go to this bar as well. WARNING: this next gruesome tale we heard is just a speculation. It is said that the pub door was covered in human skin and throughout the years they have been putting layers and layers of paint over it. We don’t think it is true, but it is for sure a gruesome tale to be told!   

The Bristol Stable

Harbourside Market is located not too far from the hotel we were staying at and is right up against the water. You will find vendors selling all sorts of different items along with finding all different types of foods and drink restaurants, such as The Bristol Stable. 

We have to say that Bristol is known more for their cider varieties than for their beer. As a result, we went to The Bristol Stable because you can get a flight of ciders there. If none of the ciders on the flight intrigue you, then take a look at their extensive cider menu because there are so many to choose from. As you can tell from the picture, their cider options come in all different colors, flavors, and clarity. Figure out which one speaks to you! 

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