Executive Travel & Sightseeing

Bristol fashion: From Brunel to Banksy, this West Country city has it all

SAILING boats and barges sit quietly on the water, glass-fronted restaurants overlook a modern, redeveloped harbour, joggers pass along the quayside. It is a vision of Continental charm and glamour.

The harbour lies at the centre of Bristol’s bustling harbourside area
This is not Hamburg or Copenhagen though: I am spending the weekend in Bristol with my family. Our base is the Bristol Hotel on the Floating Harbour, ideally located, with fantastic views across the water.

The smart River Grille restaurant, where breakfast is served, faces the Floating Harbour at ground level. It is especially beautiful in the evening, with the twinkling lights of the caf©s and restaurants opposite.

The more casual Shore Cafe Bar sits above, with some equally postcard-worthy vistas and great sundowner cocktails.

Our two stylishly decorated rooms, in light brown with splashes of gold, interconnect. It’s ideal for our two excitable boys, Charlie, seven and Tom, five, giving them their own space to play and even their own TV.

The boys themselves are temporarily diverted from fighting over the remote control by a surprise delivery of marshmallows and hot chocolate (not on the menu but available on request). The treats disappear in a few seconds, fuelling them for some early evening exploring.

As we soon discover, almost everywhere worth visiting in Bristol can be reached on foot, making the city especially family friendly. The Bristol sits next to the Arnolfini arts centre, and is a short walk from harbourside attractions such as the SS Great Britain, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

There is also a multiplicity of restaurants, including Britain’s biggest, Za Za Bazaar. Seating more than 700, it lies directly opposite the hotel, a short stroll over Pero’s Bridge (a walkway opened in 1999 linking historic Queen Square with Millennium Square).

A vast food court modelled on an Asian street market, it is a must for gourmets and families: you pay one price (£14.99pp Monday to Thursday evening, £16.99 Friday and Saturday) and have an hour and 45 minutes to feast to your stomach’s content from a huge range of buffets: Far East, Tex Mex, Indian, European, salads and sushi.

As darkness descends we stroll to Millennium Square, where Bristol Aquarium and At-Bristol science centre are among the attractions.

We visit both the following day. Among the many displays in the latter is a Wallace & Gromit “film set” donated by Aardman Animations which is based in the city. Charlie turns into a mini Cecil B. DeMille as he “directs” a scene, altering the lighting via a sophisticated control panel.

A more complex exhibit allows children to make their own animation and even email the resulting masterpiece home.

As Charlie’s head is already among the stars it seems only appropriate that we venture into the planetarium, a giant silver globe forming part of At-Bristol science centre.

Reclining in the dark, we are treated to a splendid tour of the winter night sky. The boys enjoy identifying the different-shaped constellations, especially the “Greater Dog” Canis Major which contains the sky’s brightest star, Sirius, or the “dog star”.

Next door, Bristol Aquarium’s creatures keep us entertained for a morning, including a giant Pacific octopus, a species that can reach more than 15ft in length.

Bristol has got something for everyone; whether you are after peace and quiet or a lively night out

 

With science and nature covered, there’s just time to dip into Bristol’s history on a Bristol Packet boat trip around the Floating Harbour, which was designed by Brunel to replace the easily-silted up port.

Picking up and dropping off at Wapping Wharf along the redeveloped Harbourside, (with an alternative pick and drop off just up from The Bristol Hotel) the 45-minute trip in a glass-sided barge is a brilliant way of learning about the city’s history, notably its links to the slave trade, and the birthplace of Edward Teach, aka Blackbeard the pirate.

As we chug back into port our guide points out a large ship and prominent landmark, Thekla. Permanently moored, it is a former freighter-turned-nightclub and is decorated with artwork by Banksy (he is from Bristol).

The stencil of a skeleton, we are assured, is “now worth more than the entire ship”.

WE SAVE the best until last; SS Great Britain was the first iron-hulled, propeller-driven ship to cross the Atlantic.

Built in Bristol and launched in 1843 she resides in the Dry Dock where she was built and immaculately restored. Our trip ends with a wonderful dinner in the hotel’s River Grille.

I order an incredible rib eye steak and my wife enjoys a Bath Gem Battered Hake. We finish off with delicious West Country cheeses.

That’s the thing with Bristol; it seems to have the perfect combination of everything you need for a great holiday.

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