Bristol, England is not a popular tourist destination for Americans, however, it's time that this should change. Bristol has evolved into a cool, artistic center with much to recommend it for a family visit. Home of the famous street artist, Banksy and Aardman Animations, the creators of Wallace and Gromit, Bristol hums with creative energy. There is a great science museum, beautiful architecture, a fun Harbourside area with terrific restaurants, and lots of free events throughout the year.
Bristol’s slightly under the radar status means it’s less expensive than nearby Bath and it’s a great location for visiting other popular destinations like Stonehenge, Longleat Manor and Wookey Hole Caves.
Top things to do with kids in Bristol, UK:
Bristol’s Harbourside is a fun area along the water where many of the attractions are centered, plus open spaces, a pedestrian area and lots of good restaurants. We ate at The Stable, a cider pub that serves tasty pizzas, pies (the English sort) and 57 varieties of cider for the grown ups.
At-Bristol is an interactive science center featuring a fantastic planetarium and plenty of areas to explore every aspect of our world. Give yourself a few hours to explore the large range of hands-on exhibits and displays. One of the most unique is Animate It! developed in collaboration with Aardman Animations, which gives children the chance to make their own animations. Unlike the London Science Museum, you won’t be fighting the crowds here. Make sure to check the schedule for special programs.
Brunel’s ss Great Britain - Learn about Victorian history and engineering feats while discovering the sights and smells of life on board the first steam liner. The ss Great Britain is educational and fun for children and adults alike.
Bristol Zoo Gardens isn’t an attraction you’d cross the ocean for, but it’s a fine day out with the children. Little ones will enjoy Explorer’s Creek while those over five can walk the high ropes of Zooropia for a bird’s eye view of the grounds.
The Bristol Aquarium, is not the best one in England, but it’s conveniently located harborside and can entertain children for an hour or two. The octopus is a highlight. Unfortunately the IMAX theater is no longer running. Buy tickets online to save on admission.
M Shed is a new, free museum of the history of Bristol with interactive exhibits. Bristol has a fascinating history linked with the Americas thanks to its prominence as a shipping center. Children too young to care about history will enjoy climbing on old fashioned vehicles and other hands-on fun.
With its rich history of shipping, it’s no surprise that there are many opportunities for boat tours in Bristol harbor. Bristol Ferry Boats can take you from Harborside to Brunel’s ss Great Britain or stay on for a full tour of the harbor. They also offer special cruises, like a children’s storytelling ride and rides to the Avon Gorge. Bristol Packet Boat Trips also offers harbor tours with commentary and other day trips. From M Shed you can take tours on an historic tug boat, fire boat or other historic ships.
Banksy, one of today’s most famous street artists, grew up in Bristol. His works are fun, provocative and you can find some of his most famous pieces around the city. Take a free walking tour or just discover the artworks on your own using this Banksy Bristol app.
St Nicholas Market is the oldest market in Bristol, established in 1743. Browse the stalls for books, trinkets and sweets, but the highlight is the food hall which has several delicious eateries. My favorite is Pieminister which offers award-winning pies that should not be missed.
Queen Square is a small, stately park surrounded by period buildings near the Harborside. There’s no playground, but it’s a pretty place with grass to play.
The Clifton Suspension Bridge is really a sight, spanning high above the Avon Gorge. You can walk across the Clifton Suspension Bridge for a great view. On the Clifton side is a small park and playground and Ashton Court Estate on the other is an 850 acre park with many activities including a miniature railway, horseback riding and two deer parks.
Special Events - This summer Bristol hosted Gromit Unleashed, placing 80 artist decorated Gromit statues around the city. It was a wonderful way to make walking around the city fun with kids as we raced from Gromit to Gromit at different destinations. We also participated in an affiliated special workshop at At-Bristol led by an animator from Aardman Animations, which was a huge treat.
Bristol is a lively city with many events and festivals. Make Sundays Special during the summertime turns a large portion of downtown into a pedestrian area with markets, puppet shows and other fun activities. There are also tons of children’s theater, museum programs and festivals to make your visit memorable. Check Visit Bristol to see what’s going on.
Where to Eat
The local farm to table trend is alive and well in Bristol with many family friendly restaurants that offer wholesome children’s menus rather than typical bland basics. The Stable, which I mentioned above, offers small pizzas on their children’s menu served with a side of crudité to add a bit of health. Crayons and activity sheets help keep little ones occupied while they wait.
Spyglass is a popular floating Barbecue restaurant that offers a Kids Pirate Menu and lots of fun. Kids eat free promotions make it even more palatable, but the homemade ice cream, a dress up box and Gromit themed menu are always popular.
Za Za Bazaar is a global buffet offering foods in a dozen ethnic flavors. Kids will find plenty to like, especially the dessert buffet, and eat half price.
Where to Stay
The Marriott Bristol Royal is a luxury hotel perfectly situated just steps from all the attractions of Bristol. You will feel truly royal walking through the grand Victorian marble lobby or resting in any of the gorgeous sitting rooms. The hotel offers an excellent full English breakfast buffet and an elegant afternoon tea as well as dinner. Kids will love the gorgeous Roman-style swimming pool, while parents can use the gym. Families can stay in a two queen bed room and rates are very reasonable for the level of convenience and amenities making this Marriott Bristol Royal a great value. Book a room at the Marriott Bristol Royal or other hotels in Bristol from our affiliate, hotels.com.
Disclosure: Mommy Poppins Travel worked with Visit Bristol to research this article. We were provided with some entry to local attractions, meals and accommodations. We planned our own itinerary and all opinions are based on our experiences.