Before jumping into the blog post below, I should let you know that The Bristol International Balloon Fiesta occurs annually during the second week of August. Due to my recent travels it took a bit to get this post up.
We got to the city on Saturday afternoon and started exploring immediately after checking in to our hotel. I didn’t plan too many things ahead of time seeing as it’s a pretty small city, so I decided to be a bit more spontaneous this time. I love making plans before a big trip, but it’s always nice to reserve a day or two to just get lost in the city and discover your new surroundings. The only set plan I had when I arrived was to walk to the Bristol Balloon Fiesta, and I made sure to pick a route that led passed the Clifton Suspension Bridge and all the Banksy pieces to be found in the area.
Of course I turned to Google maps to chart out a rough plan of how to get there. Needless to say, I immediately noticed the main shopping square (Cabot Circus), so we decided to check it out. I’m not sure why I thought going there on a Saturday afternoon would be a good idea -especially during the festival – but luckily it wasn’t as crowded as London’s Oxford Street, where you can’t even walk around comfortably without bumping into people every step of the way. Before we got to the shopping square, we stopped at a little castle in the park; this turned out to be St. Peters Church in Castle Park. It’s very small and you can’t go inside. It was bombed during World War II and now acts as a memorial. It was never renovated after the bombings but it is quite a cool attraction in the center of the park and should make your list of things to do in Bristol.
We continued our walk around Bristol and stopped in Nelson Street where you can still see some art work from the 2011/2012 art event See No Evil. From here, we got to our first and last Banksy piece, the Naked Man, located on Park Street. After a little detour around College Green, a fantastic public space with a lot of flowers, fountains , people relaxing on benches, the beautiful City Hall and the impressive Bristol Cathedral, we were supposed to see another Banksy Bristol piece on St. Georges Road, but as much as we tried, we couldn’t find it.
While the rest of our journey up to the Clifton Suspension bridge looked easy enough, Google maps failed to warn us about the big hills up ahead. You’re definitely in for a work out here; there should be a warning sign: “Get Ready for Intense Calorie Burning!” It was all worth it though, and when we finally reached the top, the view was absolutely breathtaking!
The Clifton Suspension Bridge spans the Avon Gorge and Avon River and opened in 1864. It has become Bristol’s iconic landmark and was also the first bridge used for modern bungee jumping by David Kirke and Simon Keeling in 1979. The Clifton Observatory offers the best view here!
When we finally got to the Bristol Balloon Fiesta we were on the lookout for big balloons but we couldn’t find any. Instead, there were lots of rides and different food and drinks stands, so we decided to relax, have a bite to eat and see what would happen. After a while we found out that the balloon show would start at 6pm, but nothing could be said for sure seeing as it was all dependent on the weather. We waited in anticipation with the rest of the crowd, eager to know whether the balloons would take off that day. It was a tense atmosphere full of mixed emotions, seeing as the balloons were unable to inflate or fly for the previous two days of the festival due to the weather. Fortunately for me, I got to watch them inflate and drift up into the sky at 7pm! It was an incredibly beautiful experience and I will definitely be looking out for these kinds of events in the future. I couldn’t stop taking pictures! There were so many colorful balloons floating gracefully over Bristol, it felt magical. Who knows, maybe one day someone will convince me to fly in one of those (but the chances of that happening are very low 🙂
We didn’t stay for the fireworks or the nightglow as we wanted to tune into Bristol’s nightlife for a bit. We walked back through Spike Island, a harbor area that has been popular ever since the pirates roamed Bristol. During that walk I realized that “Skins”, my favorite TV show from when I was a teenager, was filmed here. I had a major fan-girl moment and found this great article on Buzzfeed about some of the top Bristol locations used on the show.
When we arrived in the city center we found a fully-packed bar playing loud music, so we decided to check it out. It was called V – Shed. We stayed there for a while but it wasn’t really my kind of place. It was a WeatherSpoons pub, so a great place to go if you’re looking for cheap drinks but not much else. Another place we went to was called Start the Bus and we immediately loved it. It was kind of an underground bar with electronic / minimal music and reminded us of Berlin a lot.
We woke up on Sunday morning and went to look for breakfast. Going back to the mall, once again, wasn’t the best idea. We got some food in what looked like a great Italian restaurant but it wasn’t anything special at all. We decided to go back to the harbor after lunch and found they were offering little boat tours. We decided to go on a 45 min tour which only cost us £6 each. It didn’t take us around the entire city but we did get a great view of the Brunels SS Great Britain, a museum ship and former passenger steamship. It was the longest passenger ship in the world between 1845 and 1854. If you’re looking for fun things to do in Bristol, I highly recommend one of these boat tours!
Before heading back to the train station and leaving the city, we made a little stop at King Street for a pint in the sun.
It was an intense weekend with a lot of walking and sight-seeing but I definitely loved it and will be back. I would recommend a little weekend gate-a-way to Bristol to anyone!