Bristol’s harbourfront makes the obvious starting point for a city tour. This is where the inland port established its wealth through trading, including a strong link across the Atlantic with early colonial America. Today the youthful population of this city mainly visit the waterside district for its evocative historical atmosphere, shopping and dining.
On Great Western Dock, in the harbour area, a visit aboard the restored SS Great Britain steamship makes for one of the best things to do in Bristol. The vessel, designed by the British engineering genius Isambard Kingdom Brunel, gives you a taste of the life of a 19th-century seafarer and is great fun for the kids.
Inside, you’ll find a working model of the three-storey high steam engine that powered the ship on its 14-day crossings to New York, plus recreations of the surgeon’s quarters, a bakery and more, all complete with sounds and smells of the time, and you can even climb the ship’s rigging.
A symbol of the city and one of the most impressive things to see in Bristol, the 214-metre Clifton Suspension Bridge spanning the Avon Gorge is another striking legacy of Victorian engineering, also designed by Brunel. There’s a visitor centre telling the story of the structure, with free guided tours on the weekend. A visit to the cute Clifton Village nearby, with boutiques and independent cafes peppered about its Georgian streets, makes another good reason to go.
If you’re looking for kid-friendly things to do in Bristol, Bristol Aquarium has a giant octopus, piranhas and seahorses—as well as a sunken-ship display—on view through giant underwater tunnels. Continuing the animal theme, Bristol Zoo Gardens, a short ride from the city centre on the no 8 or 9 bus, is one of the best-known zoos in Britain. Here, you can visit a family of eight lowland gorillas, a miniature penguin colony and a whirring bug zone.