The county of Bristol in southwest England is home to the most populous city in southern England outside London. In 1961 poet John Betjeman called it: "The most beautiful, interesting and distinguished city in England." Nowadays, it’s Britain’s wealthiest, happiest city – according to a survey by MoneySuperMarket.
With a population of around 449,300, Bristol city borders North Somerset, South Gloucestershire and the historic cities of Bath and Gloucester. It’s one of Britain’s most popular tourist destinations – voted one of the world's top ten cities by travel publishers Dorling Kindersley. The Sunday Times also named Bristol the best city in Britain to live – and it won the EU's European Green Capital Award. It’s also one of England's six government-designated ‘science cities’.
Archaeological discoveries in Bristol's hilly landscape indicate the presence of Neanderthals – then Iron Age forts and Roman villas were built here. The county later became an embarkation point for early explorations: In 1499, a Bristol merchant became the first Englishman to lead a voyage to North America. (The Port of Bristol has since moved to Avonmouth’s Severn Estuary and Royal Portbury Dock.)
These days, Bristol's economy thrives on creative media, electronics, defence and aerospace industries; its redeveloped city docks are ever-evolving heritage and cultural centres. The city has two universities – and a popular music scene led by the likes of Massive Attack and Portishead. The local dialect – ‘Bristolian, Bristolese, Brizzle’ or ‘Bristle’ – is spoken by long-time residents, known as ‘Bristolians’.
Road: The M4 motorway connects the city from London to West Wales; and the M5 from Birmingham to Exeter. The M49 and M32 are also accessible.
Rail: Bristol’s two principal railway stations are Bristol Temple Meads, which serves First Great Western’s high-speed trains to London Paddington and local, regional and CrossCountry trains; Bristol Parkway has a high-speed First Great Western service to Swansea, Cardiff and London Paddington and CrossCountry service to Birmingham and the northeast. A less frequent service to London is also operated by South West Trains.
Air: Bristol International Airport in Lulsgate operates EasyJet, Ryanair, Thomas Cook, Thomson Airways and BMI Regional flights.
Bus: Public transport consists primarily of a FirstGroup bus network. Other providers are Abus, Wessex and Wessex Star. (The forthcoming rapid transit system MetroBus should provide faster services.)
Cycle: Bristol was designated England's first ‘cycling city’ in 2008 – and is home to Sustrans, the sustainable transport charity. The city has urban cycle routes and links with National Cycle Network routes to Bath, London, Gloucester, Wales and southwest England.
Water: In the city centre harbour, Bristol Ferry Boats, Bristol Packet Boat Trips and Number Seven Boat Trips provide leisure and commuter services.
Bristol is “the UK’s happiest and wealthiest city and a magnet for relocating Londoners” – according to The Daily Telegraph. The newspaper recommended various areas for potential residents, saying: “Royal York Crescent is one of the city's grandest terraces.”
Other highlighted areas included the listed Georgian terraces, Regency crescents and garden squares of Clifton. The Leigh Woods was a corner of suburbia “set among woodland, botanical gardens and the … Ashton Court Estate.” Redland was mentioned as a hotspot while Hotwells and harbourside feature “prime addresses [that] are the period terraces of bright-painted Clifton Wood houses”. The Stoke Bishop suburb was named “hotspot number two”.
The Bishopston and St Andrews area “combines lively street life with a family-friendly community, and terraces of solid Victorian houses”. A local estate agent described Southville as “Bristol’s Notting Hill”. Developments in Redcliffe and the city centre were mentioned. Montpelier was reported as “the most popular area with buyers moving from London”. Kingsdown was “its more sedate neighbour” – albeit “with cobbled streets, larger, finer Georgian houses, garden squares and some the best views”. Totterdown was seen as a good area for first-time buyers.
Bristol is arguably the shopping capital of the southwest. A £500 million shopping centre – Cabot Circus – opened in 2008 amid predictions that the city would become one of England's top retail destinations. The Mall at Cribbs Causeway also offers favourite brands all in one place. But shopping here comes in all shapes and sizes.
Take a leisurely stroll around the posh boutiques lining the Regency streets of Clifton Village. Or head to Bristol Shopping Quarter – and choose high-street staples or one-off items. For retro and vintage stuff, explore the alternative shops of Stokes Croft and Gloucester Road – the latter boasts Europe’s longest street of independent shops.
Park Street & The Triangle is a student mecca with some of the trendiest shops around. For local history, try the traders in the cobbled Old City; Old Market, too, is fascinating. There are year-round markets, like St Nicholas Market and the weekend Harbourside Market. At Christmastime, the Mile of Markets stretches out from Bristol Shopping Quarter. And the magical Christmas Steps Arts Quarter, dating back to the 1600s, showcases eight streets of silversmiths, design shops and booksellers.
Sport: Bristol City and Bristol Rovers are the city's main football clubs. Bristol Rugby (rugby union) and Gloucestershire County Cricket Club are also based in the city. Rugby league is represented by the Bristol Sonics. There’s also the Bristol Flyers basketball team; Bristol Aztecs American football club; and Bristol Pitbulls ice hockey team. Bristol sponsors an annual half-marathon; its athletic clubs include Bristol and West AC, Bitton Road Runners and Westbury Harriers. The county has also staged the Tour of Britain cycle race.
Culture: The Bristol Old Vic occupies the Theatre Royal, England’s oldest operating theatre; The New Vic studio theatre is in Coopers' Hall. The Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery and M Shed museum are operated by Bristol Museums, Galleries and Archives, which also runs three historic houses: the Tudor Red Lodge, the Georgian House and Blaise Castle House. Graffiti artist Banksy is probably a Bristolian – many of his works grace the city. The Watershed Media Centre and Arnolfini Gallery are housed in dockside warehouses. The oldest gallery is at the Royal West of England Academy.
Music: The city’s largest live music venue is Colston Hall. Others include the Bristol Academy, The Fleece, The Croft, the Exchange, Fiddlers, the Victoria Rooms, Trinity Centre, St George's Bristol and several pubs.
Events: The Bristol International Balloon Fiesta, a major UK hot-air ballooning event, is held each summer at Ashton Court. There’s maritime fun at the Bristol Harbour Festival. Upfest is Europe’s biggest urban paint festival. For music-lovers there’s Brisfest, BBQ, Grillstock and Bristol Folk Festival.