Known for its lively arts and music scene, Bristol was named Europe’s Green Capital in 2015 and has long been recognised as an environmental role model. Our resident Bristol graduate Julia shares her sustainable guide to visiting this much-loved city.
Bristol is known for its thriving art and music scene and strong community of independent retailers but the city’s reputation as a leader in the fight to tackle climate change is also long-established. Last year, Bristol council declared a climate emergency and backed a commitment to be carbon neutral by 2030, the first UK city to do so; the motion, put forward by Green party council Carla Denyer, has now been backed by Nottingham city council too. It’s also a fairtrade city, the world’s vegan capital and the best place to live in the UK (outside of London) for people under 26 years-old, although I’d say it’s a city to be enjoyed by all ages.
As a student, I was inspired by the local community’s commitment to sustainability – be it supporting Bristol’s businesses through it’s own currency (I still keep a Bristol pound note in my purse as a good luck token), or innovative community-focused solutions to food waste like the Skipchen. Packed with green spaces and plant-based cafes, the South Western city is an ideal destination for a rejuvenating weekend away – and handily, it’s less than two hours from London by train.
Where to wander
Bristol is made up of characterful neighbourhoods, all with something unique to offer. Clifton Village is picture-perfect – Royal York Crescent provides an Instagram-worthy backdrop of terraced Georgian mansions and, of course, no trip would be complete without a walk over The Clifton Suspension Bridge and a picture from the Observatory which overlooks it. When you cross the bridge, rather than turning back continue walking for five minutes or so and you’ll reach Ashton Court, a historic park with beautiful grounds to roam around at your leisure with deers to be spotted too. If you visit in August, make sure to check the dates of the International Balloon Fiesta – one not to be missed!
Walk down the hill to Brandon Park and climb Cabot Tower for unrivalled views over the city, or take a trip over the river to Southville. North Street has delicious eateries and vintage shops – check out what’s on at The Tobacco Factory, a community hub with an impressive theatre programme. From there, meander along to the harbourside and the dockside cranes outside of the M Shed museum. In my first term at Bristol, thousands of people came to watch the cranes perform a choreographed “dance” to a Bhangra band and choir illuminated by bright coloured lights – when trying to explain Bristol, this is often the anecdote I draw on to try and convey the creativity and collabortive nature of the city’s community, and the way it very much thinks outside of the box…
Cotham Hill is packed with charity shops and pubs, making it a great spot for a Saturday afternoon mosey. Wander from there to St Michael’s hill and stop by the Highbury Vaults for a pint among university lecturers and arts students. Both roads have their own greengrocers, with many students opting to grab their fruit and veg on the way home from the library rather than stopping by bigger supermarkets from the usual plastic-wrapped offering.
Where to eat, drink and be merry
The only problem with dining out in Bristol is how to fit in all the food in just a short space of time. From markets to sit-down meals, there’s something to suit every palette and time schedule – my top tip is to download the Wriggle App to bag yourself exclusive time-limited deals at a great selection of local bars, restaurants and cafes. You might just discover somewhere new in doing so!
Boston Tea Party
A trip to Bristol wouldn’t be complete without a visit to this South West favourite, named Britain’s most ethical coffee shop. In June 2018, the chain banned single-use coffee cups from its cafes – to date, the scheme has saved more than 176,000 single-use cups from landfill. The cafes serve locally-sourced brunch and lunch delights, and leftover cakes are donated FareShare, a charity supporting 170 organisations across the South West delivering food services and support. My personal fave is on Park Street, the company’s flagship cafe with a beautiful terraced garden that’s a suntrap in summer and a cosy upstairs that’s perfect for hiding away with a book in winter.
Image: Boston Tea Party
The Thali Restaurant
A trip to Thali is a feast for the eyes as well as your belly, with bright colours and bold décor creating a fun and vibrant atmosphere. Using locally-grown and seasonal produce wherever possible, the restaurant’s ethos is inspired by the mantra ‘jugaad’, meaning do more with less. If you live locally, invest in a tiffin for a waste-free takeaway!
River Cottage Kitchen
Housed in a fully restored church, River Cottage Kitchen aims to use ethically produced ingredients sourced from suppliers that commit to maintain a positive environmental impact. The menu changes regularly and offers exquisite dishes for meat-lovers and vegans alike.
St Nick’s Market
Where. To. Begin. St Nick’s is a magical place to explore, and you absolutely must leave time to shop after lunch – with more than 60 stalls, you’ll be spoilt for choice. Serving everything from oysters to falafel, make sure you scout out all that’s on offer before picking where to graze.
Poco Tapas Bar
Delicious cocktails and tapas are served at this buzzing spot in Stokes Croft, with a monthly changing menu that draws on locally-available produce and delicacies. Stop by for a quick bite before dancing the night away at The Canteen over the road, one of the city’s most well-loved music venues.
Images: Thali Restaurants and River Cottage Kitchen
Bristol is packed with fantastic pubs; stop by The Apple, a moored boat with delicious Somerset ciders, before stopping along King Street to visit popular watering holes like The Old Duke and Small Bar. If brewing is more your thing, book a tour at the Bristol Beer Factory or Wiper and True in St Werburghs.
What to do
Catch a film
The Watershed is a multi-arts venue with an arthouse cinema showing a mix of the latest releases, documentaries and old favourites. Under 24’s get reduced tickets, making it a great choice for a cosy Sunday when you just need to get out of your student house… The Cube is a social enterprise in King’s Square with an eclectic programme of events, varied enough to please even the edgiest of arts students. Stepping into the auditorium is like going back in time for all the right reasons.
Shop, don’t drop
Whether you prefer vintage or charity shopping, there are so many opportunities to bag a secondhand bargain in Bristol. Gloucester Road is infamous as one of the best places to stumble across a gem, but the Clifton shops also have more high-end pieces if you’re looking for something special. Bulk buy from Scoopaway and for gifts, People’s Republic of Stokes Croft has brilliant collaged mugs and china – anyone for an ‘I Eat Swans’ mug?
Images: The Cube and People’s Republic of Stokes Croft
Take a dip
Soak away the week’s stress with a session at The Lido. A restored Victorian swimming pool, from 1850 to 1990 Bristol residents were able to enjoy this open air spot near to Clifton Village. After refurbishment, The Lido re-opened in 2008 and is a sanctuary amid the busy city. Book a spa session or stop by for a quick swim – it’s a real treat.
Dance the night away
There’s always something to see in Bristol – check Bristol247 for upcoming gigs and events. Whether you opt for a bigger name at Thekla (a former cargo ship moored at the harbouside), something more intimate at The Louisanna, or see what’s on at Crofter’s Rights in Stokes Croft, ask about and do your research before heading out for the night.
For more sustainable travel tips when visiting capital cities, read our With Love From guides for London and New York.
Planning an eco-conscious city break? Check out the most sustainable cities in the world to visit.