I am at the age now where a large proportion of my weekends are starting to be taken up with weddings, and not all of them are close to home in London. When an invitation lands in my letterbox (or email inbox because hello, have you seen how expensive wedding invites are?!) asking me to join one of my closest to celebrate one of the happiest days of their life, you can absolutely rely on me to come because lord do I LOVE a wedding. Even better if I get to travel and tag a bit of a holiday onto it as well. This year, I attended my cousin’s wedding in Devon, and we took the opportunity to stop over in Bristol on the way.
I’d heard that the South West city is full of my favourite things: street art, craft beer and independent eateries, and honestly, I fell head over heels with the place. It has such a great vibe; free of pretentiousness, it’s a city humming with creativity and a don’t-give-a-fuck attitude whilst also being incredibly friendly. 24 hours was definitely not enough, but as ever, I squeezed in as many places to eat as humanly possible and not one of them failed me!
Where to stay in Bristol
I’d seen Dave from Man Vs Globe stay at Brooks Guesthouse before even planning a trip to Bristol and had it saved away in the recesses of my brain in preparation. Right in the midst of St Nicholas Market, it’s a super central location but does mean it can be pretty noisy in the surrounding area at night, especially if you don’t have the luxury of double glazed windows because you’re staying in a caravan on the roof. You heard me. Harking back to my family holidays in the UK, we camped out in a refurbed 20ft ‘Rocket’. A little on the cosy side, but more than enough space for two people for two nights.
Find it at: Brooks Guesthouse, St Nicholas Street, Bristol, BS1 1UB
Start with breakfast
Regrettably, we didn’t take advantage of the food at St Nicholas Market purely down to time constraints, but the brunch scene in Bristol is vast so whittling down options is time consuming in itself. If you want to stay central, then Bambalan is a solid choice, despite it conjuring a repetitive Black Betty earworm. If it’s a carb-filled meal pre or post-boozing then you could do worst than the Big Bam Breakfast with all the usual suspects on the plate. I had the Dirty Beans: spicy baked beans, charcoal lamb, chorizo, eggs and sourdough which wasn’t as heavy as a full English and excellent fuel for a day’s street art hunting.
Find it at: Bambalan, Podium Level, Colston Tower, Colston Avenue, Bristol, BS1 4XE
Although eating in the centre of town isn’t the worst idea, when it comes to shopping, Bristol is full of beautiful boutiques and independent stores to find a unique gift or item for your home that you absolutely don’t need but can’t leave behind. Most of our day was spent in Stokes Croft finding street art (above and beyond the infamous poster boy of Bristol, Banksy), and the stores here, especially, are full of gems.
My favourite was Here Gallery and Bookshop where I fell deeply in love with a Yayoi Kusama illustrated version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Heading back into the centre of the city, near Colston Hall and past the hospital, I stumbled into another store I could have stayed in for hours: Blaze – a retailer stocking only local artists where I bought a beautiful Studio Ghibli print. Next door to Blaze was a wonderful mid-century furniture store too, the name of which I can’t remember, but ask the owner if you can see the collection out the back – and bring a van to get your perfect desk or dressing table home.
Find them at: Here Gallery and Bookshop, 108b Stokes Croft, Bristol, BS1 3RU
Blaze Studio, 84 Colston Street, Bristol, BS1 5BB
Drink craft beer
Add to the list of reasons why Bristol has shot up my ‘I could live here’ list: it is well-known for a number of nationwide loved beers being brewed within the city limits including Moor and Wiper + True. We stopped for a pint or two in the sun at Zerodegrees, a brewery that originated in Blackheath, London. Their black lager completely blew my mind; the same depth as a black IPA with a coffee undertone, but light and bubbly like a lager, it was truly unique and so refreshing to have an innovation in beer that isn’t just ramming random fruit into it.
For other chilled out pubs, I loved The Three Tuns as soon as I saw the sign outside with an excellent portrait of Nicholas Cage on it. The pub has a great selection of beer but channels a homely environment, with D&D evenings, a weekly pub quiz and live music nights. We sat outside by the roadside in the sunshine, but on a cold wintery night, I can’t imagine many places more cosy. We also made it to the bar that every Google search threw out: Small Bar. A much livelier atmosphere but not at the downfall of the beer selection, there’s 31 beers on tap but predominantly focusing on breweries from the South West so it’s easy to have a few halfs and try a couple whilst enjoying the vibe of the place.
Find them at: Zerodegrees, 53 Colston St, Bristol, BS1 5BA
The Three Tuns, 78 St George’s Road, Bristol, BS1 5UR
Small Bar, 31 King Street, Bristol, BS1 4DZ
A sweet pick-me-up
Now I’m not going to encourage you to drink your way around Bristol with only brunch in your belly, and we needed something to snack on between the first and second pubs so swung past Pinkman’s Bakery. You could tuck into all sort of sandwiches and salads, but once you see the doughnuts, that’s all you’ll care about. The chocolate pecan sourdoughnut was so fluffy and not heavy despite the rich filling. More than enough sugar to perk me up and get me walking again.
Find it at: Pinkman’s Bakery, 85 Park Street, Bristol BS1 5PJ
Stuff your face for dinner
A day of walking, interspersed with drinking, required significant fuel by the end, and on the recommendation of a fellow carb-lover, we bagged the last unbooked table at Burger Theory. Once our dishes started to arrive, we felt increasingly smug as swathes of people tried to find a space for their own dinner. The burgers are vast. I had the Karaage Chicken Burger: Korean fried chicken thighs, sticky chilli sauce, peanuts, spring onion and for some reason, I added extra bacon. My fiancé had the Moor Burger Please, which was a towering beast made up of beef patty, ale & bacon jam, Swiss cheese, dijon mustard, crispy fried gherkins and garlic mayo. I wish I’d worn stretchier trousers.
Find it at: Burger Theory, 37-38 St Stephen’s Street, Bristol, BS1 1JX
A coffee for the road
As we set off to drive down to Devon in the morning, we needed an obligatory coffee to set us on our way. After snapping a few pieces of street art in some nearby alleyways, luck showed us towards Full Court Press. The coffee here is so carefully selected and presented, and it’s not a case of just asking for your regular – you’re encouraged to pick which coffee bean you’d like, with guidance from the tasting notes and the expertise of the barista. I had an incredible cold brew with tonic – a combination I would never have chosen but was encouraged by the staff and the combination of chocolatey coffee notes and fresh cold fizz was like nothing else I’ve ever had!
Find it at: Full Court Press, 59 Broad Street, Bristol, BS1 2EJ
Bristol was a revelation. After getting close by previously with trips to Bath and Bradford on Avon, I just hadn’t seen why it would appeal to me anymore than any other city in the UK. But as my love affair with London starts to wind down (10 years working like a dog in the same city will do that to you), I’m open to where I could base myself in the future. In just 24 hours, Bristol has become one hell of a contender.