13 Best Free Things To Do in Bristol
Bristol, is England’s fourth most popular destination for visitors - and no wonder - it’s a fantastic city to explore, and no less interesting if you’re on a budget as there are loads of free things to do in Bristol.
Bristol is steeped in history - and its influence extends throughout the world - John Cabot set sail from here in 1497, and returned having discovered America. There are more than 30 places around the world called "Bristol" and they’re all named after this English city.
To help you get the most from your visit, we’ve selected 13 of the best things to do in Bristol for free - we hope you enjoy them:
Climb Cabot Tower
Built in the 1890s to commemorate John Cabot’s epic voyage, you’ll find Cabot Tower in the park on Brandon Hill.
The tower is made of sandstone, and it’s 150 feet high.
If you have a head for heights, and you don’t mind enclosed spaces, you can climb up the narrow stone steps to the viewing gallery near the top.
This is well worth the effort, because the views of Bristol from the top are truly spectacular - if the weather’s good, you’ll get some great photos.
Wherever you are in Bristol at night, look out for Cabot Tower - if you can see a flashing light - it spells out "Cabot Tower, Brandon Hill, Bristol" in Morse Code.
If you like modern art, then check out Arnolfini - the Centre for Contemporary Arts which is conveniently located in the heart of the harbourside.
With a total of five exhibition spaces, and a range of temporary exhibitions which may include visual arts, film, dance and more, there’s always something of interest to see.
You can enjoy the Arnolfini building and the exhibition spaces completely free.
This exciting modern museum lets you discover Bristol with interactive displays, photographs, film and an exciting collection of objects too.
The Bristol Places Gallery focuses on the physical city and shows how it has changed over time, showcases transport, and lets you explore housing and workplaces. Oh, and there’s a dinosaur too.
The Bristol People Gallery shows how people have built Bristol, and shows the city’s international trading roots, and the things that people have created here.
The Bristol Life Gallery explores how people have lived their lives in Bristol over the centuries, including leisure, work, socialising and fun.
The collection also includes several large working exhibits outside the museum building, including four electric cranes, the Fairbairn Steam Crane, two steam locomotives and several boats.
Clifton Suspension Bridge and Visitor Centre
Designed by engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, this famous bridge across the Avon Gorge opened in 1864. More than 330 feet above the water, and 1,352 feet long, it remains a beautiful and awe-inspiring structure even in the 21st century.
Although it’s a toll bridge, it’s free to walk across! You may feel the bridge move slightly as cars cross, or even sway slightly - don’t worry - it’s designed to do that!
Avon Gorge is a sight of special scientific interest with rare and interesting plants - you can see a selection of them in a flowerbed on the Clifton side of the bridge. In the summer, look out for the Peregrine Falcons as you cross the bridge.
It’s worth popping in to the visitor centre which is open every day - it’s a great place to learn more about the bridge and the people who built it.
If you’re visiting on a Saturday, Sunday or Bank Holiday between Easter and October, there are guided tours of the bridge - and they’re completely free!
The bridge is illuminated from dusk until midnight - and looks spectacular in photos.
Bristol Museum and Art GalleryBristol Museum and Art Gallery has three floors of fascinating artefacts and works of art to discover and enjoy - all for free.
On the ground floor you can visit ancient Egypt and meet the Mummies, discover the fascinating civilisation of Assyria, and see archaeological finds from around the world.
The first floor lets you explore the Natural World, from pre-history and the Dinosaurs, to UK and World Wildlife.
Go back further in time and discover Geology and Minerals, and see how Bristol itself has changed through the centuries.
On the second floor is the Art Gallery, with a fine collection of British and European paintings, Contemporary and Modern Art, Eastern Art including wonderful Chinese glass and ceramics, a fine collection of silver, and lots more.
Georgian House Museum
Find out about life in Bristol in Georgian times at the Georgian House Museum. This beautiful Georgian house allows visitors to contrast the luxurious life above stairs, with the hard work and basic conditions below stairs:
See the Dining Room, set for a formal dinner, the Drawing Room for entertaining important guests such as Nelson, Wordsworth and Coleridge and Pinney’s Study with his fine collection of books.
Below stairs you’ll see the kitchen where fine meals were prepared before being sent up to the Dining Room, the Laundry and the Housekeeper’s Room from where the housekeeper would have run the household, ordered the food and kept the accounts.
A fascinating glimpse into Bristol’s past as experienced by a wealthy household and their servants.
Check opening times on the website, as the Georgian House Museum isn’t open all year round.
Blaise Castle House Museum and Estate
Situated in a beautiful 18th century mansion, with slices of Bristol’s history from Roman times, Blaise Castle House Museum has something for everyone:
The Picture Room has a collection of paintings to enjoy. There’s a toy collection including toys from the 18th century right through to the present day. The costume collection covers a similar period, and consists of about 10,000 objects including dresses, fans, hats, shoes and more.
The Bristol at Home galleries let you explore the domestic gadgets and facilities that households in Bristol would have had over the past 300 years. The re-created Victorian School Room is always popular with kids.
Kings Weston Roman Villa is a scheduled ancient monument that gives a glimpse of life in Bristol during Roman times: There’s a genuine Roman bath suite, beautiful mosaic floors, and you can even see how their central heating worked!
There’s more than just the museum to enjoy. The estate is a great place to walk, there’s a large play area for children, and some great views of Bristol for the grown-ups - be sure to take your camera. Don’t forget to visit the castle folly in the woods on the hill.
Once again, Blaise Castle House Museum isn’t open all year round, so check the website for opening times.
The origins of this wonderful building go back to medieval times - it was originally an Augustinian Abbey founded in 1140.
Over subsequent centuries, parts have been added to the cathedral: The Chapter House in 1160, the Elder Lady Chapel in 1220, a medieval nave started in the 1530s but never completed. The organ dates from 1685, and the nave was finally completed in 1868 more than 300 years after work had begun.
Pevsner described the east end of the cathedral as “superior to anything else built in England and indeed in Europe at the same time” - high praise indeed.
If you were a fan of the BBC’s drama “Wolf Hall” you may recognise Bristol Cathedral - it was one of the locations used in the filming of the series.
You can enjoy a virtual tour of the cathedral here:
The Matthew is an accurate replica of the ship that John Cabot sailed from Bristol in 1497, and discovered the land we now call Newfoundland.
The ship now moored in Bristol sailed across the Atlantic in 1997 to mark the 500th anniversary of Cabot’s epic journey.
The Matthew offers public sailing trips, which of course are not free - but when the ship is moored in the harbour in Bristol, you can go aboard free of charge, chat to the guides, and discover the ship that discovered America!
Go Banksy Spotting
Everyone’s heard of the now famous street artist Banksy - his work appears around the world, and sells for hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Less well known is that Bristol is Banksy’s home town and quite a lot of his work is still available to view around the city.
You can find some of Banksy’s most famous works, including The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum and Well Hung Lover and several others.
VisitBristol have produced a guide to the Banksy artworks still on view around the city that forms a self-guided walking tour. It’s a great way to see some great street art and get to know Bristol at the same time.
If you want to spend some time away from the busy streets of Bristol, and perhaps have a picnic, read for a while or just do a spot of people watching, then why not head for Castle Park.
You’ll find Castle Park just of Castle Street in the centre of Bristol - it’s quite a small park - but has great views of the river.
Check out the ruins of St Peter’s church at the centre of the park, and nearby there’s a sensory herb garden.
Memorials in the park include The Normandy Garden of Peace - 5 silver birch trees commemorating the D-Day landings on 5 beaches in Normandy, and memorial trees for Anne Frank, and for the victims of the WWII atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
You can also just see the remains of Bristol Castle - though very little remains visible.
Bristol Docks / Harbourside
The Bristol Docks area, now christened "Harbourside", is a great place to explore, or simply while away a few happy hours soaking up the atmosphere. There’s been a lot of re-development in this area, and there are lots of cafes, coffee shops, museums and other attractions along the way.
There’s a signposted walk around the area which is about two miles long. As you’d expect, there are lots of ships and vessels of all shapes and sizes to spot.
You’ll see Brunel’s SS Great Britain - though unfortunately it isn’t free to get on board, you can still get a good look at this historic vessel - the largest ship in the world when she was launched in 1843, and the first iron-hulled steamship with a screw-propeller, and the first iron steamship to cross the Atlantic.
You’ll have a great time exploring this historic area of Bristol, and its many attractions.
Bristol Free Walking Tours
On Saturdays and Sundays only, Bristol Free Walking Tours are a chance to really get to know the city with a friendly local guide.
Covering many of the sights and attractions we’ve mentioned in this article, and many others, the tours leave at 10:30 and 2:30, last about two hours, and finish at the harbour.
Although the tours are technically free (so we can include them here) - they’re not subsidised or supported by anyone and rely on tips or a “pay what you think it’s worth at the end of the tour” model.
It would feel a bit mean to skulk away at the end of the tour without making some sort of contribution - but at least you can fit it into your own budget.
A great way to learn all about this wonderful and historic city from a knowledgeable and enthusiastic local guide.
So that’s it - 13 fantastic things to do in Bristol, completely free of charge.
There are lots of other free attractions and days out in Bristol, such as St Mary Redcliffe Church, Windmill Hill City Farm and The Architecture Centre - so you’re sure to find plenty of interesting things to do, all free of charge. Have a great time in Bristol!
If you’d like to know more about Bristol, check out our other articles:
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