Bristol is bursting with things to do for families. This pint-sized city has one of Britain’s top zoos, exciting museums with interactive exhibits and a bevy of kid-friendly activities on its historical waterfront.
The vast Bristol Hippodrome theatre, seating just shy of 2,000 people, has been entertaining Bristolians for over a century. The candy-coloured domed auditorium, complete with pillars, stalls and lashings of rococo plasterwork, makes a cheery setting for family-friendly shows such as Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Hairspray and School of Rock. Come at Christmas to enjoy its legendary pantomime. Bristol Hippodrome is in the centre of the city, with a wealth of dining options located nearby.
Take a short ride from central Bristol on the no 8 or 9 bus to one of the best zoos in Britain. Standout animal attractions at Bristol Zoo include Gorilla Island, with a family of lowland gorillas ruled over by Jock the silverback; Penguin Coast, where you can watch the playful critters zipping about above and below the water; and a heated reptile house that plunges visitors into the sultry rainforest amid dwarf crocodiles, terrapins and iguanas. The Hide Restaurant at Bristol Zoo has an impressively full kids’ menu and colouring-in sheets; there’s also the Hungry Monkey kiosk and picnic area.
Continuing the animal fun, Bristol Aquarium is a great way to entice kids to the city’s happening harbourside area – which has smart dining and cultural options to keep adults entertained, too. An underwater tunnel gives you a crab’s eye view of watery wonders including sleek sharks, ghostly gliding rays and gaudy-hued fish such as striped-oriental sweetlips and traffic-light orange clownfish. Bristol Aquarium’s C-shed cafe has high chairs, kids’ meal deals and lots of Lavazza coffee.
SS Great Britain
From beneath the waves to above them… also on the waterfront the restored SS Great Britain steamship is Bristol’s top attraction and a brilliant way to stir up kids’ historical imagination. The chance to try on 19th-century sailors’ garb on board helps with the time travel experience, as do recreated sounds and smells of a bygone seafaring life throughout the vessel, originally designed by that top-hatted genius of Victorian engineering, Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Several companies also offer harbour boat trips nearby if a visit to SS Great Britain really stirs the salty spirit among your crew.
We the Curious
Bristol does interactive museums very well, none better than ‘We the Curious’. The museum has lots of kid-friendly attractions, including a planetarium, put to good use with a 2D and 3D solar system exploration for kids depending on their age; the Blue Marvel show, starring our own planet Earth; and – good also for more grown-up family members – a full playing of Pink Floyd’s transporting 1973 album The Dark Side of the Moon in surround sound. You can enjoy sustainable, organic treats in the museum cafe too, with great views over Bristol’s Millennium Square.