So, you’re wondering: what is Bristol famous for? Well, we’re here to give you the answer.
Bristol is the 8th largest city in the United Kingdom. It’s located in the southwest of England and has a population of 724,000. Affectionately known by locals as ‘Brizzle’, Bristol is where history, art, and quirkiness meet in the British countryside.
Bristol is famous for its harbor, its blend of architecture, and its contribution to the arts and sciences. It’s known for its Clifton Suspension Bridge, the Bristol Balloon Fiesta, and its rich history involving swashbuckling pirates and North American expeditions.
Together, we’ll take a stroll through Bristol and show you what you need to know about this thriving city. We may even surprise you along the way!
1. Colonial history
Bristol’s famous beginnings shaped history both in Britain and the Americas. From as early as the 13th century, the location of Bristol harbor made it an ideal trading place. Between the 16th and 19th centuries, Bristol acquired most of its wealth through trading tobacco, sugar, rum, rice, cotton and most regrettably, slaves.
In 1499, Bristolian William Weston was one of the first Europeans to lead an expedition to North America. He landed in what is now Newfoundland, Canada.
Bristol made headlines recently when the statue of one of Bristol’s most prosperous slave traders, Edward Colston, was removed by protestors. Colston had several memorials dedicated to him including a school, hall and tower.
Today, you can walk across Pero’s bridge, named after George Pero, an African slave who lived and worked in Bristol for John Pinny, a slave-plantation owner and sugar merchant. If you want to learn more about George and John, you can visit the Pinny home at the Georgian House Museum.
2. Bristol: A pirate’s paradise
Did you know that Robert Louis Stevenson created Long John Silver for Treasure Island in Bristol? The Bristol accent became synonymous with pirates because it was home to some of the most fearsome pirates in history.
One in particular, Blackbeard, made Bristol infamous with his formidable past. Born in Bristol, 1680, Edward Teach gained the nickname Blackbeard by plundering the British Navy on a ship ominously dubbed Queen Anne’s Revenge.
Blackbeard made himself recognizable by stuffing smoking fuses in his hair and ruthlessly shooting his own seamen in the knees. Blackbeard the buccaneer met his end by five gunshot wounds and 20 sword stabs.
You can take your time discovering more about Bristol’s pirate era with Pirate Pete, Bristol’s very own Blackbeard representative who will take you on a tour of all the city’s piracy hotspots. Tickets cost £12 for adults and £6 for children.
3. The famous Bristol accent
Luckily, times have changed since Blackbeard’s day. Bristol was voted the U.K.’s kindest city in 2019 and the Bristol accent has made locals recognizable just through the dulcet tones of “arr!”
The famous Bristol accent can be glimpsed through popular culture, perhaps most notably Hagrid from the Harry Potter series. Although the giant appears as intimidating as Blackbeard, his accent endears him to fans all over the world.
The irresistible charm of the Bristolian accent will soon have you thanking bus drivers with a cheery “cheers drive” before long.
4. Cargo & Wapping Wharf
If Bristol’s historical criminal underbelly intrigues you, you’ll be glad to know that you can find it even in the trendiest parts of the city.
Originally, Wapping Wharf used to be a site for displaced shipyards and later in 1820, it became the site for the New Gaol. In 1833, the inmates of the New Gaol rioted and burned it to the ground. Although it was rebuilt, all that remains today is the gatehouse at the entrance to the wharf.
Today, however, Wapping Wharf makes Bristol famous by providing the city with its very own cluster of converted shipping containers. This district, known as Cargo, has independent cafes, shops and restaurants to suit every taste. You can sip handcrafted beer, eat delicious homemade pastries, and support local businesses in a unique urban environment.
Whether you’re a fussy eater or self-acclaimed foodie, you’ll find something at Cargo that will stop a rumbling stomach. We recommend you try out Carribean Croft for a taste of authentic Bristol-Caribbean food, or BOX-E if you fancy modern British.
There is a large vegan population in Bristol so all dietary requirements can be catered for. Vegans, try out VX.
5. Bristol’s own currency
Speaking of supporting local businesses, you can really experience Bristol differently by using the Bristolian currency. This quirky addition came in 2012 to encourage buying locally and it’s definitely a cool souvenir to bring back with you!
Available from the tourist information office at the quintessential Watershed, near Wapping Wharf, the currency operates like a voucher. Bristolian Pounds are equivalent to Great British Pounds (GBP) and can be exchanged in local businesses and on bus services in the city.
Every three years, the designs on the bills are replaced by submissions from locals, so you can collect them to remember the time you visited – and have something limited edition to show off.
6. Bristol International Balloon Fiesta
Held annually between 6 and 9 August, the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta is a celebration of hot air balloons in Bristol. Crowds as large as 100,000 people flock to see the mass launches of hot air balloons which look spectacular against the Bristol backdrop.
We recommend you experience it at 9.30pm when dark begins to settle in and the balloons glow to music before making way for a firework display.
The fiesta also made Bristol famous by breaking records. In 2013, 90 balloons landed in the former Cadbury’s chocolate factory, breaking the previous record of 73 in Keynsham, just outside of Bristol.
7. Clifton Suspension Bridge
The Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel called the Clifton Suspension Bridge his “first love” and you will know why when you see it.
The bridge links Clifton in Bristol to Leigh Woods in North Somerset and it’s approximately 1,352 feet long. Experience awe-inspiring views of the entire city by walking or driving across this historic landmark. If you’re afraid of heights, it’s best observed from below.
A place known for drawing dare-devils, the bridge has since become a symbol of Bristol because it is associated with the first modern bungee jump in 1979.
Although Brunel did not live long enough to see his vision complete, the bridge stands today as a vital connection between Somerset and Bristol, and is in use by over four million vehicles annually.
8. SS Great Britain
The SS Great Britain is another of Brunel’s designs that puts Bristol on the map – she held the title of the longest passenger ship in the world from 1845 to 1854. Ships used to be built either of iron or equipped with a screw propeller. The SS Great Britain combined these features and was the first ocean steamer to cross the Atlantic Ocean. She did this in exactly 14 days.
You can visit and step aboard the SS Great Britain which now operates as a visitor attraction and museum. She is located in the Great Western Dockyard and is well worth a visit for boat enthusiasts.
9. Explorers of North America
Bristol was very often the launch city for famous explorers from the past. Known in Bristol for having a shopping district named after him, John Cabot is one of Bristol’s greatest claims to fame. Born Giovanni Caboto, John Cabot was an Italian explorer who sailed from Bristol in 1497 aboard a small ship called The Matthew and claimed the title of first European explorer in North America.
Wherever you make the trip from, Bristol will make you feel like an explorer when you step aboard the replica in the harbor. You can even climb the mast to experience Cabot’s boat yourself, or just drink in the views from the water.
10. Famous Bristolians like Banksy
The street artist Banksy made Bristol famous by painting anti-authoritarian graffiti around the city. No one is quite sure where or who he is at the moment; he’s always been a figure of mystery – much like his birthplace.
His work is on display in major museums around the world, including New York and London. If you’re outdoorsy, we recommend taking a stroll in the city center and admiring his work from the sidewalk. If you prefer galleries, you can find some of his work at the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, located on Queens Road.
Bristolians will also be proud to tell you that two Game of Thrones stars hail from the West Country city. Maisie Williams, famous for playing Arya Stark, was born in Bristol in 1997. Jacob Anderson, who played Gray Worm, was born in 1990.
11. Temple Church
What else is Bristol famous for? Well, any Bristolian will tell you a must-see for medieval history buffs is Temple Church. It is located in Redcliffe, adjacent to Bristol Temple Meads, the main train station (also designed by Brunel).
When you see the ruins and iconic leaning tower, you can just about see the remnants of the previous church built by the Knights Templar in the 1300s. The Knights Templar was a catholic medieval military order which protected pilgrims in the Holy Land.
Much of the church was destroyed in The Blitz of World War Two. Its exquisite present form will give you the burst of imagination needed to imagine it in its prime. English Heritage is in charge of the site today and entry is free so stop by for your Bristol equivalent of the Leaning Tower of Pisa photo!
12. Drinking cider
The drink of choice in the West Country and especially Bristol is cider – and for good reason. Bristol and its surrounding areas are famous for their apple orchards. Don’t be afraid that some of them are on the stronger side; the average is 8.2%, though there are lighter varieties available.
Bristol is so famous for their cider that there’s even a local word for it, scrumpy. Grab yourself a glass at the historic cider house, The Orchard Inn, and experience the sweet apple goodness for yourself.
We hope we’ve answered your question about what Bristol is famous for. It’s never too soon to start planning your trip. Enjoy all that Bristol has to offer!