With our lovely harbour at the heart of the city, it’s no surprise that Bristol is awash with water-based things to do. These range from a leisurely cruise on a boat tour right up to a day of adventure on a canoe or stand up paddleboard. Here are eight of Bristol’s best water-based activities to inspire the water baby in you.

Surf at The Wave

Ride perfect waves all year round at this 200-metre long surf lake, based on the edge of Bristol in Easter Compton. The cutting-edge Wavegarden Cove technology – the first of its kind in the world – provides consistent waves ranging from 50cm to 1.8m high, meaning both complete beginners and elite surfers can get on the water and enjoy a session that matches their ability.

When you’re surfed out, there’s a first-class café with a view of the lake, plus a playpark, glamping accommodation and lots of tranquil outdoor space. Even if you don't fancy getting in the water, soak up the lakeside atmosphere from their cafe, which has an outdoor terrace where you can watch all of the action. 

A surfer riding a wave at The Wave inland surfing lake near Bristol - credit The Wave
Image: The Wave

Enjoy aquatic activities at Mendip Activity Centre

There are activities to suit all ages and energy levels on this private river close to Mendip Activity Centre, just a short journey from Bristol. Go kayaking, canoeing, paddle boarding, or have a go at raft building!

A group of people kayaking at Mendip Activity Centre, near Bristol - credit Mendip Activity Centre
Image: Mendip Activity Centre

Spend the day Sailing with All Aboard Watersports

Take your pick from a range of activities with All Aboard Watersports in Bristol's harbour, including sailing, kayaking, canoeing, rowing, paddleboarding, powerboating and more. They have a fully accessible lift which offers level access to the water can can offer Paddleability and Visual Impairment Friendly rowing.

A group of boats with pale blue sails in the water - Credit All Aboard Watersports
Image - All Aboard Watersports

Tot up lengths at Bristol Lido

Originally a Victorian swimming pool, Bristol Lido in Clifton dates back to 1850. Today, the 24 metre pool is heated at 22-25 degrees so perfect swimming conditions are guaranteed, whenever you visit. Non-members are welcome to swim and make use of the sauna, steam room and hot tub during two-hour sessions.

With spa treatments and an award-winning restaurant and poolside bar on offer too, you can easily spend a whole day at the lido, doing as much or as little swimming as you fancy. Just remember you need to book and slots fill up fast, so it's one to plan in advance!

Outdoor swimming pool and glass-fronted restaurant
Image: The Lido

Go stand up paddleboarding

Stand up paddleboarding is one of the most popular activities to have a go at on the Floating Harbour’s historical waterways. SUP Bristol plan experiences, provide the equipment and show you the ropes. They run taster sessions during the week, so you can test the waters (literally) and see how you like life on a paddleboard.

On the weekends, set off on one of their 2.5-hour long harbourside adventures, which are a chance to admire some of Bristol’s iconic sights as you perfect your paddleboarding skills. It’s a great way to see the city from a new angle, even if you’ve lived here for years!

If you really want to test your balance, see if you can steady yourself enough for sun salutations and downward dog in a yoga on the water class.

Paddleboarders in front of Hotwells and Grain Barge, Harbourside - credit SUP Bristol
Image: SUP Bristol 

Head out on a canoe

You can also glide along Bristol’s waters in a Canadian-style canoe. Steadier than a paddle board, canoeing with the Adventurous Activity Company can be a relaxing experience and with two or three of you in one boat, it’s a fun choice for couples and groups to do. Spend some time learning the basics before setting off on your own or stick with the Adventurous Activity Company crew for a fully guided tour. 

If you enjoy wildlife spotting, there's also the option to do a canoe safari at WWT Slimbridge Wetland Centre. Gently paddle your way along this kilometre-long route and see if you can spot dragon flies, warblers, ducks and maybe even water voles if you're really lucky!

A group of men in a canoe on Bristol's Harbourside - credit Adventurous Activity Company
Image: Adventurous Activity Company

See Bristol by boat

If you want to spend time on the water but with all the hard work taken care of, a boat trip is your best bet. The variety on offer means everyone can find one they’ll enjoy. History enthusiasts will love sailing on The Matthew, a replica of the boat used by John Cabot in the momentous discovery of Newfoundland.

On top of their usual ferry services, Bristol Ferry Boats regularly run trips to riverside venue Beeses for live music and host private boat parties. You can also ride with Bristol Packet Boat Trips to Beeses, simply cruise around the harbour with commentary, or join one of their cream tea cruises

A view of The Matthew replica ship passing through Bristol's Cumberland Basin with the Clifton Suspension Bridge in the background - credit Nick Greville
Image - The Matthew, credit Nick Greville 

Spend a day in Coastal North Somerset

Grab a bus or train out to the North Somerset coast to enjoy the beautiful views across the Bristol Channel.

Portishead Open Air Pool is a community-run outdoor pool with fantastic views across the estuary and out to sea. Just down the coast at Clevedon, there is the Marine Lake where you can swim, crab, zorb or row a boat in 15,000 square metres of water. The more energetic might consider a dip in the Marine Lake or Open Air Pool after walking the coast path between the two towns (approximately 5 miles/8km long).

The open air swimming pool in Portishead, near Bristol
Image: Portishead Open Air Pool

Just north of Weston-super-Mare is Sand Bay, a quieter beach than in the town itself. In Weston you can sometimes struggle to get as far as the sea at low-tide, but there is the local Water Adventure Play Park for the little ones; open throughout the summer season, as well as the Marine Lake next to the main beach.

Cool off with an open water swim

On scorching hot days, there's only one thing on everyone’s minds: how to cool down! Cromhall Quarry in Wotton-Under-Edge is officially a diving centre but open water swimmers are welcome on certain days. The former limestone quarry and Site of Special Scientific Interest regularly hosts triathlons and other sporting challenges. You can also enjoy open water swimming at West Country Water Park.

You might also like: