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Discover Bristol, the B-City

Discover Bristol, the B-City

Bridges, boats, balloons, Brunel and Banksy. This is Bristol, the city of the five ‘B’s and an ideal city for a day trip from London.

The harbor is the new stage of the Western ‘capital’. Here you can find wonderful museums, an aquarium, a 19th century ship, nice promenades and tours on boat.

But Bristol is famous also for its tiny center, with historical markets, new malls, independent shops, a splendid cathedral and young people crowding every corner.

I started my visit from the M Shed, the new history museum of Bristol that tells the story of the city.

The 1950s transit shed has been trasformed. Provoking and interesting, M Shed challenges the perceptions of what it has meant to live in Bristol over the centuries thanks to the experiences of the people who shaped the city.

Over 2,000 years of Bristol’s history are here, free to the public. From the trading past to Bristol’s role in the transatlantic slave trade, from the war-time wounds to the industrial heritage, from the unions to the suffragettes: everything you have to know is exhibited here.

After the M Shed, I took a look at the harbor. Several companies organize boat trips. It feels like you are beside the sea, but this is only an estuary, the river Avon, which changes everyday because of the tides.

You can jump on and off the boat from several stops. The one near SS Great Britain is perfect to discover this iconic sail and steamship designed by one of the great Victorian engineers who built the British Empire – Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

After having carried emigrants and soldiers and then abandoned as a wreck, the SS Great Britain has come back to Bristol, and now sits, beautifully restored, in the dry dock where she was built.

The first class dining saloon was once admired by Queen Victoria. Here you can smell everything: from the freshly baked bread to the toilets and the steerage. Every smell has been reproduced perfectly.

Several activities and events take place at this ship, every day. And over 200,000 visitors have been here last year.

Brunel’s Clifton Suspension Bridge, soaring over the Avon gorge, is another celebrated landmark. Bristol is famous for its hot air balooning, and if you are lucky you may see one, two or more gracefully floating overhead, making this stunning view complete.

Then, I jumped on another boat to go to the Bristol Aquarium, which showcases native and tropical marine and freshwater creatures.

The Bristol harbor pool, with local fish, is very interesting. Here you can find a life-size recreation of a sunken ship, as you can find coral seas displays, home to tropical sharks. And you can have a meeting with hundreds of piranhas.

For lunch, I tried the café at the M Shed museum. Sandwiches and homemade cakes, natural juices and salads. And whether it’s all really homemade or not, the atmosphere is really that of a country house.

In the afternoon, I went to the city center. The old market is full of independent shops and stalls. Here I bought some vintage clothes and some Bristol memorabilia.

Then I decided to have a stroll in the Bristol gay district. Frogmore Street, just off Park Street, is full of lively bars and clubs. The Queen Shilling is Bristol’s longest established gay venue. The Pineapple is home to great events, like an annual street party every August. You can also try OMG and Bent.

But gay life in Bristol is everywhere. In the Old Market area there’s the Old Market Tavern. Then, The Palace, The Lounge, Bristol Bear Bar, The Retreat, a festish bar The Den and R7. Everyone can find his or her place in Bristol.

Before going back to London, I wanted to find out why Bristol is labelled as the ‘City of the Street Art’. So, I headed to Nelston Street, in the city center, now the most ambitious permanent street art project ever to take place in the UK, called See No Evil.

The most famous Bristolian artist is Banksy whose grafitti has become iconic all around the world. Not much is known about him, but I can confirm he went to Bristol Cathedral School at around the same time as GSN’s editor, Tris.

The ‘Banksy’s Sons’ have created a wonderful example of ‘new’ arts. Banksy’s legacy is everywhere and you can understand why his paintings are valued millions of pounds.

It’s called ‘guerrilla art’ but despite’s Bristol’s creative edge, it’s too laid back for anything that aggressive. So sit back and enjoy one of Britain’s most relaxed and fun cities.