9 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Bristol

Bristol is one of England's oldest ports, famous as the gateway to the New World following John Cabot's "discovery" of North America in 1497. To celebrate the city's role in the event, the Cabot Tower in Brandon Hill Park was erected on the 400th anniversary of the voyage. But Bristol's importance as a trading center was cemented during the English Civil War, when the Royalists made it the location of their West Country headquarters. These days, the city's noted for its role in the music and film industries, as well as cultural attractions such as the Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery and the Watershed media centre.

Shipbuilding has been a pillar of Bristol's economy for centuries, reaching its pinnacle with Brunel's SS Great Britain. Built in 1838, it was the first steamship to make regular Atlantic crossings, and is a huge tourist draw. In addition to designing the famous suspension bridge spanning the Avon Gorge, Brunel was also the engineer in charge of completing the Great Western Railway between London and Bristol.

1 Floating Harbour

Floating Harbour
Floating Harbour

The old Port of Bristol on the Avon River has been given a new and imaginative lease of life, with many wharves and warehouses converted or restored. Traditionally it was known as the Floating Harbour - named after the 80-acre site that enabled visiting ships to remain afloat around the clock. The area is now home to museums, galleries, exhibitions, and the Bristol Aquarium, as well as excellent walking and nature trails.

Location: Underfall Yard, Cumberland Rd, Bristol

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Bristol

2 St Mary Redcliffe

St Mary Redcliffe
St Mary Redcliffe Heather Cowper / photo modified

When Queen Elizabeth I visited Bristol in 1574 she described St Mary Redcliffe as "the fairest parish church in England". Built in the 13th century, the church is situated on the south side of the Floating Harbor and takes its name from the red cliffs on which it stands. With its slender clustered pillars and reticulated vaulting, hexagonal porch and richly decorated doorway, it perfectly displays the wealth of rich merchants like William Canynge, whose tomb is in the south transept. Also of note is the memorial tablet and tomb of Admiral Sir William Penn, father of the William Penn who founded Pennsylvania.

Address: 10 Redcliffe Parade West, Bristol

Official site: www.stmaryredcliffe.co.uk

3 Bristol Cathedral

Bristol Cathedral
Bristol Cathedral Rob Brewer / photo modified

Originally the church of an Augustinian house but elevated to cathedral status in 1542, construction of Bristol Cathedral spans almost 600 years. The east end, superbly rebuilt in the Decorated style by Abbot Knowle, dates from between 1298 and 1330, the central tower and transepts were completed in the 16th century, and the nave and towered west facade are from the 19th century.

One of the most interesting features of the cathedral is the rectangular chapter house with its late Norman decoration of zigzags, fish scale patterns and interlacing.

Location: College Green, Bristol

4 Brunel's SS Great Britain

Brunel's SS Great Britain
Brunel's SS Great Britain

The SS Great Britain, Brunel's most famous steamship, lives on at the same dock from which the great vessel (the world's first iron-hulled passenger ship) was launched in 1843. Located at Bristol's Great Western Dock, the ship is a testament to Brunel's engineering ingenuity. Today, you can stroll the ship's upper decks, or explore below decks and peep into the luxury cabins of First Class passengers.

The site is also home to the Brunel Institute and the David MacGregor Library, an archive of thousands of books, documents, plans and objects related to England's greatest engineer and inventor.

Location: Gas Ferry Rd, Bristol

Official site: www.ssgreatbritain.org

5 Llandoger Trow

The famous triple-gabled, half-timbered Llandoger Trow in King Street, built in 1669, is where Alexander Selkirk is said to have told the story of his shipwreck to Daniel Defoe, who immortalized the tale in Robinson Crusoe. The Llandoger Trow was also the model for The Admirable Benbow, the inn frequented by Long John Silver in Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island.

Carefully restored in 1991, the building is linked by an underpass to the Theatre Royal, home of the Bristol Old Vic and the oldest playhouse in England to have had its stage in continuous use.

Location: Llandoger Row, Kings St, Bristol

6 Clifton Suspension Bridge

Clifton Suspension Bridge
Clifton Suspension Bridge

No visitor should leave Bristol without seeing the famous Clifton Suspension Bridge, which spans the 260 ft deep Avon Gorge on the west side of the limestone plateau known as Clifton Down and Durdham Down. Measuring 702 ft between its piers, the bridge was completed in 1864 - 33 years after Brunel had first submitted his prize winning plans. Pay a visit to the visitor information centre to learn about the bridge's construction, or join a weekend behind-the-scenes tour.

Location: Bridge Rd, Leigh Woods, Bristol

Official site: www.cliftonbridge.org.uk

7 The Exchange

The Exchange
The Exchange Stephen Colebourne / photo modified

Facing Corn Street in the old city and adjoining the covered market, the Palladian style Exchange (built in 1743) is noted for its four tables, the brass "nails" on which Bristol merchants settled their transactions and gave rise to the expression "paying on the nail".

Other buildings worth visiting in the old city include 16th century St Stephen's Church; the neo-Classical Old Council House, constructed in 1827; Christ Church, built in 1790, and noted for its unusual clock; the beautiful Bristol Guildhall (1846); St John's Gate, originally part of the old city wall, famous for its figures of Brennus and Belinus, mythical founders of Bristol; and Christmas Steps, an ancient alleyway paved in 1669 and now lined with antique and souvenir shops.

8 Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery

Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery
Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery

Several of Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery collections are of special interest, including the oriental collection, the collection of Old Masters and the section devoted to Brunel and his many technical achievements. One of the few museums to have been awarded designated status by the government, this is one you'll want to spend time exploring. Also worth seeing is the nearby Red Lodge with its old furniture and fine Elizabethan room.

Location: Queen's Road, Bristol

9 Cheddar Gorge

Cheddar Gorge
Cheddar Gorge

Cheddar Gorge is just 18 miles from Bristol, and an excellent day trip. Highlights of this National Nature Reserve include its dramatic 450 ft cliffs and stunning stalactite caverns. Other attractions include the spectacular Gough's Cave with its hidden chambers, as well the soaring chambers of St Paul's Cathedral and the towering spires of Solomon's Temple. You need a degree of fitness to tackle some parts of the gorge, including the 274 steps up the side of gorge and the 48 more to the top of the Lookout Tower.

Official site: www.cheddargorge.co.uk
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