Visit Bristol – we share Ali Cook’s favourite local finds
Ali Cook is co-owner of Bristol Vintage, supplying and styling vintage crockery and props for weddings, parties, boutique events and photoshoots. We visit Bristol with Ali and she shares her favourite places to shop, eat, stay and visit in the city.
Where in Britain is it?
Bristol is one of the largest cities in South West England. It’s only 2 hours by car from London with links to Birmingham, the North, Dorset, Devon and Cornwall via the M5, as well as access to Europe & the US via Bristol International Airport.
Why should we visit Bristol?
You should visit Bristol because it’s a real creative hotbed, the City encourages promotion of local talent with spaces like The Arnolfini, Watershed, Paintworks, the Tobacco Factory and Spike Island and innovative groups like the amazing Invisible Circus call the city home. Bristol City Museum curates many cutting edge exhibitions, including the Banksy exhibition and ‘Art from the New World’. Bristol Old Vic, the Hippodrome and The Tobacco Factory Theatre have daily productions and there’s plenty of comedy at The Tobacco Factory, The Hen & Chicken andMetropolis. One of the largest media centres outside London, Bristol is home to the likes of Aardman Animations, BBC Bristol, Films at 59, Endemol and South-West Screen.
I love this city as there’s always something new and interesting happening but there are also masses of green spaces including Ashton Court with its deer park, Clifton Down, overlooking Clifton Suspension Bridge, al fresco drinking and eating by the river; great history in the form of buildings like Bristol Temple Meads Station, The Red Lodge Museum & Wigwam, St Mary Redcliffe Church, The SS Great Britain and John Cabot’s Boat, the Christmas Steps Arts Quarter and the recently restored Arnos Vale Cemetery.
There’s plenty for children to do including a visit to Bristol Zoo, the Blue Reef Aquarium & Imax 3-D Cinema, Bristol Ice Rink, At Bristol – the interactive science centre, and even a Pirate Walk! We’re also currently home to the “Wow Bristol!’ Gorilla Trail and you can spot the painted gorillas all over Bristol. Or if you want to escape the city for the day, the Georgian city of Bath is only 15 minutes away by train and we’re less than 40 minutes from the traditional seaside town of Weston-super-Mare or Clevedon with its beautiful pier, as seen in ‘Never Let Me Go’.
Will I find interesting local products to buy?
The Gloucester Road, home to Bristol’s Cultural Quarter The People’s Republic of Stokes Croft is a great place to see Bristol’s famous graffiti – an art form in this city rather than an eyesore. There are lots of individual shops including the fabulous Cox & Baloney, selling vintage and retro clothes, books and, of course, our own Bristol Vintage crockery. You can sit and play chess or have homemade cake while you peruse their wares. Stop off at Hart’s Bakery run by Laura Hart to buy her freshly made artisan bread, cakes and tarts and then spend a good hour wandering up and browsing the shops & bars. Oh and while you’re in Stokes Croft don’t forget to visit the famous Pieminister for one of their amazing pies – my favourite is Heidi Pie!
Clifton Village is another great area for an afternoon’s browsing – Clifton Arcade has some really interesting one-off shops including Clifton Vintage, with some really stunning vintage wares. You won’t be able to go into ‘Sense’ without coming out with something gorgeous for your home and you can find amazing gifts at I Love Crafty, Pod and About Face. I buy all my cards at Sky, who have the best selection ever.
St Nicholas’ Market is full of quirky stalls and outside markets include the Farmers Market (Wednesdays) and the Slow Food Market (the first Sunday of each month). Look out for Custard vintage clothing and alterations who always have something interesting and unique, then pop round the corner to Broad Street to visit the fabulous Elsie Riley boutique.
Where can I eat locally sourced food?
Bristol is a foodie’s paradise with so many fabulous independent restaurants, but it’s also at the forefront of the locally sourced and organic movement and there are lots of places to both buy food and eat it where provenance is really important.
When you’re in St Nick’s Market, make sure you visit Source, which not only sells incredibly fresh produce, but has a daily changing menu and serves one of the best breakfasts in the City. Along the river the Watershed arts centre also serves dishes made from fresh, local ingredients and Bordeaux Quay is the UK’s first eco restaurant to achieve a gold rating under the Soil Association sustainable catering scheme.
The Albion in Clifton Village is a beautiful Grade II listed building, which was completely renovated about 6 years ago and now offers great locally produce food. Just across the road the Primrose Café serves all day breakfast, lunch & afternoon tea (with out of this world cakes!) and turns into a bistro in the evenings.
Can I stay somewhere with a bit of character?
Bristol is full of great accommodation from top class hotels to quirky B&Bs but one of my favourites is Hotel du Vin. We treated ourselves for my husband’s 40th and stayed in their ‘Veuve Clicquot’ room with twin roll top baths & monsoon shower as well as dinner in the bistro, with its homegrown & local philosophy. The bar is the perfect place to sit and relax with complementary olives & pistachios reading or chatting.
If you want something a bit different, the locally based i-escape and Alistair Sawdayfeature some stunning properties, but the one I really want to try is the Tree House at Harptree Court from Sawday’s Canopy & Stars collection. Perhaps my next birthday!
What should I see, do or visit while I’m there?
My perfect day would start with a visit to The Lido – it’s a Victorian swimming pool which has been completely restored and renovated and is now home to an open air pool, hot tub, steam room & sauna, as well as treatment rooms – but, even better, there’s a fantastic café bar and a restaurant which has been getting rave reviews. You can’t beat an outdoor swim with the smell of freshly baking pizza – I’m in the heart of Bristol but in my head I’m on a Greek island soaking up the sun!
Next up I’d take the dogs for a walk at Ashton Court – it’s a massive estate, now owned by Bristol City Council and you can walk for hours if you choose to – through open fields, rose gardens, woods – the changing scenery is amazing. Followed by a quick shop at North Street in Bedminster, my home area with shops selling local, organic meat and veg, then a wander around Clifton Village and lunch at either the Primrose Café or The Albion (above) or a glass of wine at The Avon Gorge Hotel, with amazing views overlooking the Suspension Bridge. We could visit Bristol Observatory for the quirkiest views of the city and to see a piece of history.
A boat trip to Beese’s Tea Rooms for a cream tea is a perfect, lazy way to while away the afternoon followed by an early stroll along the harbourside with a visit to the newly opened M-shed then pre-dinner drinks at Goldbrick House or Hotel du Vin and catch a film or exhibition at The Arnolfini or Watershed Arts Centre and dinner at Bordeaux Quay. I’ve just realised that nearly my whole day revolves around eating – but that’s part of the appeal in living in such a food-centric city!
When is the best time of year to go?
For me, Bristol is best visited in the summer – there’s something on every weekend – festivals and events including the St Paul’s Carnival, Pride Bristol, the Bristol Harbour Festival, We The People Festival, The World Stage Festival, Organic Food Festival, theBristol Balloon Fiesta and the Kite Festival. Earlier in the year, if you like a bit of horror there’s the Zombie Walk and in November there’s the Orangery Christmas Fair, which always feels like the real start of the festive season to me. There are plans afoot to bring back the Ashton Court Music Festival next year, so fingers crossed that will go ahead.
If you’re planning on visiting Bristol I’d recommend checking out the event listings on What’s Hot in Bristol and pick up free listings mags – newly combined Folio & Venue &Clifton Life. Not only do they have all the local news but they’re a really brilliant read too!
For vintage crockery hire and boutique event styling, visit www.bristolvintage.co.uk
Photo Credit: River Avon & Clifton Suspension Bridge image courtesy of Destination Bristol / Dave Pratt
Would you like to write a Great Escapes feature? If your local area is a hive of talent and creativity and you’d like to share your address book secrets with our readers, we’d love to hear from you. Just send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.