Visit laid-back Bristol, the city with the village feel

A stone’s throw from London and bordering the counties of Gloucestershire and Somerset, Bristol has been a long time favorite of big city weary creative. Bohemian and creative, it is the perfect destination for an invigorating injection of culture, good food and independent shopping.

Historically a maritime city that earned its money through the slave trade, the Bristol of today attracts people for entirely different reasons. It’s a creative mecca that has not only produced a wide range of artists and musicians, but also acts as a magnet for visionary souls in general – even discarded ones to some extent.

"Great shopping, great scenery and great social scene."

For many, the city is probably best known for its 1990s music scene (dubbed The Bristol Sound) boasting bands like Portishead and Massive Attack, and its related street art, with graffiti artist Banksy one of the main draws.
But it also has a reputation in the design, media, and film industries, with Aardman, famous for its animated films about Shaun the Sheep and Wallace & Gromit leading the way.

Last year, The Sunday Times named Bristol Britain’s best city to live in, thanks to “its great shopping, great scenery and great social scene.”

Bristol has many leafy and green spaces, College Green by the cathedral being one of them. Photo: Mauro Rongione.

Always something happening

“Bristol is fun and friendly,” says Martin Booth, editor of Bristol 24/7, a website and magazine that covers everything going on in the city. And he should know. Living and working in the harbourside, he is in the very epicenter of Bristol’s cultural and creative environment. Here in the old docks district, along the banks of the Floating Harbour, film and television companies nestle alongside arts centers such as Watershed and Arnolfini, as well as galleries, restaurants, and pubs. In the background, a row of pastel-colored houses winds along the cliff edge – a classic and oft-photographed view.

Booth guides us around the modern buildings of the harbourside, and Millennium Square and Lloyds Amphitheatre, where many of the city’s festivals are held. It’s not for nothing that Bristol is known as The City of Festivals. There’s always something happening, every week, all year round. Everything from special exhibitions of handmade bicycles to the major crowd-pullers in theater, music, and food. And people come from far and wide to be part of it. “I have friends who travel for hours,” says Martin.

He doesn’t get tired of it all, though. He has his favorites, of course, but he is clear about wanting to discover new things. “Like Morris dancing. There’s nothing like it and it certainly puts a smile on your face.”

If the harbourside is flourishing, you could also say the same of the nearby Old City – one of Martin’s favorite areas. As the name suggests, this part of the city has an entirely different character, with its narrow alleyways, cobbled streets, and houses dating back hundreds of years.

Bristol's Gloucester Road has a long stretch of mostly independent shops. Photo: Mauro Rongione.

“It’s starting to come alive with a lot of new bars, restaurants, and cafés. Three to five years ago, I wouldn’t go to the Old City, but now I love to hang out here,” he says. It is home to attractions such as the 18th-century St. Nicholas Market, a popular haunt for lunching locals, where the long lines often coil around the bright arcade. Business has also been given a boost with the many small independent stores that have moved here. Booth is pleased that he can once again find his local grocer here, driven out in the past by the large supermarket chains.

One thing is abundantly clear – Bristolians love their city. The large number of prosperous, well-patronized small stores and traders, and the city’s own currency – the Bristol Pound – very much symbolize the local patriotism. Or as Martin puts it, “I don’t always use the Bristol Pound, but it makes me proud.”

With just under half a million residents, Bristol is the largest city in south-west England, but despite its size, it really feels like a small town.

“It has a village feel but it’s still a city. You bump into friends on the streets; that’s what draws people here,” says Martin as he chats with the guests at Full Court Press café, a favorite among locals.

Text: Anna-Lena Ahlberg

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