Bristol – Britain’s Nature City
Even as you arrive at Temple Meads – Bristol’s main railway station – Bristol’s natural location asserts itself. Through the end of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s majestic train shed, you’ll see colourful houses ranged vertiginously up a hill, in the charmingly-named district of Totterdown. Bristol is a city of gradients – and if you’re from a flat town, it won’t be long before you’re feeling the effects in your thighs.
The real must-see is Brunel's Clifton Suspension Bridge, 275 feet over the Avon Gorge and finished in 1864
As well as those hills, Bristol’s also a city of water. Once a great port – the biggest in the country – Bristol’s docks are still extensive, and following real improvements, the Harbourside has become the city’s new focus. After checking in to The Bristol, a short walk will reveal waterfront bars and restaurants, all part of a thriving refurbishment that has bought the harbour centre-stage. A recommended trip for all newcomers is to take a Bristol Ferry Boat out into the harbour and then onto the River Avon. Like in Venice, Bristol’s waterways are used for transport as well as sightseeing - while the event of the year is the Harbour Festival in July, when the area comes alive with music, dance and fun.
A short walk from Harbourside is the Old City, with a lively market, ancient pubs and the revived Queen Square, refurbished and rescued from insensitive 1960s planning, and once again an elegant hub with Georgian buildings. And if you get a taste for those Georgian buildings then you must climb Park Street to Clifton, where you’ll find some of the finest such architecture in the world: as good as nearby Bath.
While in Clifton, one can take an interesting tour of the BBC’s Natural History Unit, established here since the 1950s and again an indicator that Bristol is a city that’s close to nature. But the real must-see is Brunel's Clifton Suspension Bridge, 275 feet over the Avon Gorge and finished in 1864. Go on Sunday at 3pm, and you can join a free tour, starting from the toll booth at the Clifton end – if you can bear the heights, look down - you’ll probably see rock climbers scaling the craggy rocks to either side.
From the bridge, one can either head down a zig-zag path to the river, go up to the Downs, or cross the bridge to go to the Ashton Court estate, a great walk at any time of the year with 850 rolling acres of parkland with meadows, woodland and deer enclosures. It’s here, in August, that the legendary Bristol International Balloon Fiesta is held and it’s an extraordinary sight to see the multi-coloured orbs sail through the air over the Avon Gorge. Back towards town, take in Brandon Hill Park and the Cabot Tower – yet another panorama in a city full of them – and enjoy a drink back at the Harbourside. Your soul – and your calves – will be feeling that natural Bristol magic.
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