Stepping out onto one of the most iconic bridges in the UK isn’t something for the faint-hearted, and I hear one fellow visitor say “don’t look down”.
But to not take a peek over the side of the Clifton Suspension Bridge to the dramatic Avon Gorge 331ft below would be no fun at all.
The Isambard Kingdom Brunel-designed landmark has been attracting visitors from around the world for over 150 years and has become a symbol of the city of Bristol.
And, peering over the fence at the view towards town and the tiny cars on the shoreline below, you begin to feel a little sad that Brunel died five years before its completion, never to see his engineering marvel in all its glory.
The sight of the bridge high above the city skyline is a great reminder of Bristol’s heritage. On the streets, though, there’s a modern, vibrant and bustling city for my travel companions and I to explore.
The first bit of excitement on arrival comes from a surprising source – the bus into the city centre from the airport.
In a bid to beat the congestion on the roads, there’s a bus-only route with crash barriers and chicanes, which feels rather like a Grand Prix track. I leaned forward in the top deck through each twist and turn with childlike glee.
The beauty of Bristol is that most of it can be done by foot as many of the city’s attractions are handily located in the centre, with the bridge just over 15 minutes’ walk away.
There’s an ancient castle within a grassy park ideal for picnics, and for something a little more 21st century, there’s We The Curious, a fascinating hands-on science centre.
Back up at the bridge, if you’re feeling mischievous you can join thousands of visitors over the years whose backsides have created a polished strip of rock that’s now become a popular slide.
Had there not been a crowd watching and a genuine fear of flying off the end and into the gorge, I might have been tempted to give it a go myself.
On our saunter back towards the town we find more from our old friend Isambard down by the river. It turns out he wasn’t just good at bridges but could make a pretty good boat too.
Moored in the harbour is the grand steamship SS Great Britain, which once took British travellers across the Atlantic to New York, and even further afield to Australia.
Included in the admission price for the museum ship is a ticket for Being Brunel, a brilliant neighbouring exhibition which takes you into the life and mind of the man voted number two in the list of greatest ever Britons.
Back to the present day, and the city’s streets feel very much alive as we explore the centre of town. We sample some street food at the waterfront, with black pudding INSIDE a sausage roll particularly piquing my interest.
Along the main shopping streets is also the vibrant St Nicholas Market, packed with unique gifts, vintage clothing, fresh farm produce and gourmet confectionery.
Something you definitely notice as you walk along is the amount of elaborate graffiti pieces. Indeed, Bristol is where a young street artist named Banksy (you may have heard of him) first began to rise to prominence.
You can either join a walking tour round the street art hotspots or, as we did, head online to find an interactive map of where to gaze at the works of art and try to figure out what deeper meaning has been infused by the mystery man’s spray can.
The best place to while away an afternoon in Bristol is down by the waterfront. We visited a variety of different bars and pubs to sit and watch the world go by, including stepping onto the converted canal boat The Grain Barge.
By night, the city’s nightlife is bustling and there are plenty of drinking holes to sample delights from the local area and beyond.
For rum fans, Bristol & Bath Distillery is well worth a visit. It serves over 150 varieties from around the world, as well as their own concoctions – which were particularly refreshing.
One final local institution that deserves a mention is the glowing sight at the top of Queens Road of the wonderfully named kebab stand ‘Jason Donervan’.
It’s been there for over 20 years and the Aussie actor it’s inspired by apparently loves the idea. Not quite enough to have sampled the delicacies on offer, however.
I’m in the same boat, Jason, but maybe I’ll give it (and the slide) a go next time, as I’ll definitely be returning to Bristol.
Bristol hosts an annual hot air balloon fiesta. The biggest event of its kind in Europe, the 2020 edition will take place between August 6 and 8. Over 100 balloons take off at dawn and dusk, and also put on a famous light and music show.
Fly to Bristol from Glasgow, Edinburgh and Inverness with easyjet.
For tourist information head to visitbristol.co.uk
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