Whether rain or shine, Bristol Harbourside has so much to offer. This thriving area of Bristol is jam-packed full with visitor attractions, adventure and water sports, and restaurants and bars, meaning you could easily spend a whole day – heck even a whole weekend – exploring its nooks and crannies. Lively yet laid-back, Bristol Harbourside blends its rich maritime heritage with modern, innovative facilities.
If you’ve never visited Bristol before, the city is really easy to access. I personally travelled into Bristol using National Express, the largest operator of scheduled coach services in the UK. National Express offer really cheap coach tickets and frequent services from over 900 destinations across the UK, meaning you can totally visit Bristol on a budget. Regardless of how you’ve travelled into the city, Bristol Harbourside is really central and easy to find. We only had to walk 15 minutes from Bristol Bus & Coach Station to Bristol Harbourside.
The times in this guide are just there to give you an indication of how long you can expect to be in each place. However, you can adjust these accordingly depending on your plans and interests. So whether you are a foodie traveller or a culture vulture, here is how to spend the perfect day on Bristol Harbourside.
9 am: Head for breakfast at Wapping Wharf
What better way to start the day than with some delicious breakfast at Bristol’s trendiest foodie hotspot. Situated right by the water, Cargo at Wapping Wharf is comprised of independent businesses housed in re-purposed shipping containers. Not only is the setting cooler than cool but Cargo also boasts a relaxed and informal atmosphere and some pretty tasty grub.
The best place to grab breakfast at Cargo is Pigsty, an eatery which is crazy about all things pork. Though they also have a fab selection of vegetarian options too! However, if Pigsty doesn’t take your fancy, Wapping Wharf is also home to a number of cafes and bakeries including Mokoko Coffee and Little Victories.
If you have time after breakfast, you might also like to explore everything else Cargo has to offer. Because, surprise, it’s not just eateries here! There is a yoga studio, a massage parlour, a gift shop and jewellers among many other containers ready to be explored.
10 am: Visit Brunel’s SS Great Britain
No trip to Bristol Harbourside would be complete without a visit to Brunel’s SS Great Britain, the world’s first great Ocean Liner. Designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, an English mechanical and civil engineer who also created The Clifton Suspension Bridge, SS Great Britain first launched in 1843. Now it’s your chance to explore this Victorian masterpiece, from the top of the rigging to the first-class dining saloon.
After over a century of travelling around the globe, the ship returned to Bristol in 1970. Here it underwent a lengthy restoration process to become Bristol’s no.1 visitor attraction. Exploring the ship and learning more about its history was even more enjoyable than I thought it would be. I couldn’t recommend a visit here enough!
11:30 am: Take a boat trip down Bristol harbour
Of course, the best way to see Bristol Harbourside is by boat! Whether you are visiting Bristol in summer or winter, you can find a variety of ferry trips and cruises to hop onboard.
If you don’t have long to spend at Bristol Harbourside, I would recommend hopping onboard a Bristol Packet cruise. The journey only lasts 45 minutes and is accompanied by an informative and entertaining commentary. Bristol Packet has a kiosk right beside Brunel’s SS Great Britain so you can easily buy tickets for the next boat trip.
12:30 pm: Learn more about Bristol’s history at M Shed
M Shed provides exactly what it says on the tin: “Bristol’s museum. Bristol’s stories.”. Films, photographs, interactive exhibits and displays tell the story of Bristol and its place in the world, from prehistoric times to the present day. With free entry, there is no excuse not to learn more about the lovely city you have been exploring!
2 pm: Embrace all things arty at Arnolfini
Arnolfini is one of Europe’s leading contemporary art galleries with exhibitions, live performances and indie cinema. Quite unlike your typical art gallery, Arnolfini’s ever-changing exhibitions are all about disrupting and challenging the norm. You won’t find any ordinary paintings here, folks.
Arnolfini is also home to one of the best specialist art bookshops in the country. Gaz and I are both huge bookworms so we had far too much fun browsing the bookshop. Oh and daydreaming about our future library. You will also find a lovely little cafe here serving coffee, cakes and sandwiches, salads and charcuterie platters.
3 pm: Grab lunch and browse Bristol Harbourside Markets
After all this exploring, you have probably worked up an appetite. If you have successfully managed to resist Arnolfini’s delicious cake, it is time to tuck into some globally-inspired street food at Bristol Harbourside Market. From ethically-sourced local food to vegan trucks and world cuisines, there is something to suit every taste bud. Gaz and I opted for the most delicious Argentine-inspired steak sandwiches from High Steaks. I think we both died and went to heaven. They were that yummy.
However, Bristol Harbourside Market isn’t all about the food. Foodies are met by makers from Bristol and beyond to sell clothing, books, art and more. The market runs from 12 – 2:30 pm on Wednesday and Thursday, and 11 am – 4 pm on Saturday and Sunday. This area of Bristol Harbourside is also home to Watershed, a popular arts cinema and digital creativity centre with a cafe and bar serving scrumptious food. If you have some spare time on your hands, this centre also warrants a visit.
4 pm: Get scientific at We the Curious
Located in Millenium Square, a great outdoor spot where children paddle in the fountains during the warmer months and there are free film screenings on Big Screen Bristol, you will find We The Curious. Fun for all the family, We The Curious is an interactive science centre, brimming with creative curiosity. It is also home to the UK’s first 3D Planetarium.
While this attraction was filled with children, there were also a lot of couples like us there. Plus, if you really fancy avoiding the noise of the kids, We The Curious hosts adult-only evenings too. Visiting We The Curious was one of the best parts of our day. We had far too much fun delving into the centre’s interactive games and exhibits!
Beside We The Curious, you will also find Bristol Aquarium. We personally didn’t have time to visit this attraction. However, if you are a sucker for all things aquatic you might want to switch one of the attractions out for the aquarium instead. Another great visitor attraction in Millenium Square is Locked In A Room, Bristol’s largest escape room experience, which is great for larger groups.
6 pm: Head to Bristol Harbourside’s restaurants and bars
After a long, jam-packed day of exploring, you’re probably ready to wind down with a glass of vino. One of the many great things about Bristol Harbourside is that it is home to some amazing independent bars and eateries. Believe me, you’ll have a hard time picking just one place to visit.
From an elegant French restaurant on a converted barge and burgers on a boat boasting craft beer galore to the UK’s largest restaurant and what has been voted the UK’s best restaurant, you are sure to fall head over heels for Bristol Harbourside’s food scene.
After you’ve stuffed yourself silly, it pays to take another walk back along Bristol Harbourside at night. The bright lights of the bars, pubs and boats reflect on the water, making the harbour look all kinds of pretty and oh so romantic! The perfect end to a pretty perfect day, I’d say.
This post was sponsored by National Express and Visit Bristol but as always all opinions are my own.