Bristol’s past is awash with nautical goings-on. Ever heard the saying ‘ship shape and Bristol fashion’? That goes back to when sailors here had to keep their cargo neat and tidy, on their impeccably crafted ships, to prevent them tipping over when the tide went out as Bristol has the second biggest tidal range in the world.

The city's significance as a trading port goes back to Anglo-Saxon times, and since then its played host to some of the finest and most fearsome characters of maritime history, from Samuel Plimsoll – a social reformer who devised the Plimsoll line, which improved safety at sea by indicating the maximum amount a vessel could be submersed under the weight of its cargo, to Blackbeard – a pirate who lit fuses in his hair to strike terror wherever he roamed. You can read more about Bristol’s colourful history here, or continue on to immerse yourself in the city’s many seafaring attractions…

Ships ahoy! 

Image - Jim Cossey

Bristol’s maritime history means there are boats aplenty to enjoy year-round. Hop aboard The Matthew, a replica of the ship John Cabot accidently sailed over to North America whilst trying to find Asia. Don’t worry, you won’t suffer any of the hardships or hunger the 15th century crew would have. In fact, sign up for one of their fish & chip trips - accompanied by sea shanties - and your experience will be quite the opposite.

At engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s handsome ss Great Britain – the world’s first great ocean liner – you can see what it was like for the pioneering Victorian passengers who took those longs trips over to Australia. Will you travel first class or steerage? You can also learn how the boat was built in Bristol, returned ceremoniously in 1970 and restored to its former glory.

For a cool way to get around, make like the locals and jump on one of the handy ferries that shuttle people to and fro across the Floating Harbour run by Bristol Ferry Boats and No 7 Boat Trips. You can also take a longer journey under Clifton Suspension Bridge on an Avon Gorge Cruise or enjoy a leisurely float along the River Avon to beautiful Beese's Bar & Tea Gardens with Bristol Ferry Boats, Bristol Packet Boat Trips and No 7 Boat Trips. All of the above, plus Avon River Cruises, also offer private hire.

And if you want a really unique way to see the Harbour’s sites – check out SUP Bristol. Their Harbourside Adventures on stand up paddle boards will take you past all the classic Bristol sites such as Brunel’s ss Great Britain and The Matthew, and if you’re lucky you might even catch a hot air balloon gliding overhead.

Museums with maritime connections

Image- Underfall Yard

To understand Bristol’s ship building past, present and future head to Underfall Yard’s new hands-on visitor centre. Part of a working boatyard, you’ll get a real sense for the nuts and bolts of the industry. 

Make sure you take a look around social history museum M Shed, too, to learn about the lives of those who worked on the docks in the days when Bristol was a bustling port city. Housed in an old transit shed, it has some distinctive cranes outside, now synonymous with Bristol’s Harbourside – they still work, and you can even ride in one! Three historic boats reside at M Shed: The Pyronaut, John King and the Mayflower – the oldest steam tug in the world. 

At The Georgian House Museum, you can step inside a sugar plantation owner’s home from 1790. Eleven rooms spread over four floors reveal what life was like above and below stairs and offer a glimpse into Bristol’s history of slavery.

If you’ve got kids in tow, head to Bristol Aquarium – set atmospherically in a sunken ship. As well as various permanent tanks with sharks, piranhas and all manner of weird and wonderful ocean life, special events include Shipwrecked Storytelling and Mermaid Mondays. 

Boat bars, clubs & restaurants

For casual dining, Three Brothers Burgers on Welsh Back serves up some epic – you guessed it – burgers. Try the Blue Brothers Burger, topped with caramelised onions and Alex James from Blur's Blue Monday cheese! 

When it comes to drink - whether you want a leisurely afternoon pint in the sun or a late night boogie below deck, Bristol’s got you covered. Soak up views of the Harbourside from the top deck of the Grain Barge. Run by Bristol Beer Factory, it’s also a great place to sample some top local brews. Or, if you’d prefer local cider it’s got to be The Apple – brace yourself for their house special, the super strong Old Bristolian. Meanwhile Thekla has a legendary reputation for its late night club nights and live gigs. For more ideas, see our page devoted to food and drink on boats.

Pirate walks & treasure trails

Image - Pirate Pete 

Join the notorious Pirate Pete on an eye-opening one-hour walking tour of the Harbourside – via Bristol-born Blackbeard’s secret lair! A great storyteller, Pete will have you gripped with his swashbuckling tales and insight into the city’s turbulent past.

Or take the self-guided Treasure Island Trail - pertinent to the Robert Louis Stevenson classic novel which was set in Bristol. Make sure you duck into the timber-framed Llandoger Trow on cobbled King Street for a quick rum, this old pirate haunt has some strange stories to tell...

Harbourside hotels

If you want to wake up in view of Bristol’s colourful boat life treat yourself to a luxury stay at The Bristol. This contemporary waterfront hotel is supremely appointed near all the great Harbourside attractions such as Arnolfini art gallery, Bristol Aquarium and We The Curious Science Centre. For a budget option here you can also try YHA Bristol

For Victorian splendour, wander over to the Bristol Marriott Royal Hotel – right next to Bristol Cathedral and within striking distance of the Harbourside. And then there’s Radisson Blu – check into one of the top floor rooms for some awesome views over the water.


The Matthew
Historic Ship
The Matthew Bristol

Based in Bristol’s floating harbour for much of the year, the Matthew is popular for harbour tours as well as longer sailing trips.

Brunel's SS Great Britain
Historic Ship
Brunel's SS Great Britain in dockyard

Voyage back in time at Brunel’s SS Great Britain, the world’s first great ocean liner.

Bristol Ferry Boats
Bristol Ferry Boats

Explore Bristol's Harbourside by ferry, go on a trip with friends or colleagues, or simply get from A to B without worrying about traffic

Clifton Suspension Bridge
Historic Site
Clifton Suspension Bridge credit Chris Hartley

The world famous bridge and the iconic symbol of Bristol, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel in 1831 and completed in 1864 after his death

Bristol Packet Boat Trips
Boat Trip
Bristol Packet City Boat city boat tour

Enjoy harbour tours and river trips with Bristol Packet Boat Trips with public timetabled trips and private hire available.

Avon River Cruises and Boat Trips
Boat Trip
Avon River Cruises and Boat Trips

Avon River Cruises offer private hire boat trips in Bristol on the Silver Salmon – travel in comfort and style all year round.

SUP Bristol - Stand Up Paddleboarding
Outdoor Activity/Pursuit Centre
SUP Bristol Stand Up Paddleboarding in groups

Try stand up paddleboarding with SUP Bristol and see Bristol Floating Harbour from a truly unique angle. Explore the vibrant and historic Harbourside with SUP Bristol's expert and enthusiastic instructors to show you the ropes.

Underfall Yard
Heritage/Visitor Centre
Underfall Yard Bristol Harbourside

Underfall Yard – the heart of Bristol’s harbour since 1809 and the machines that powered a port.

The Georgian House Museum
Historic House/Palace
The Georgian House Museum exterior

One of the most complete 18th century town houses surviving in the UK, offering a glimpse of life hunderds of years ago.

Bristol Aquarium
Children in tunnel at Bristol Aquarium

A spectacular aquarium near Bristol's Harbourside that provides an amazing underwater adventure from the British coast to exotic tropical seas

Three Brothers Burgers
Three Brothers Burgers

Three Brothers Burgers is situated right in the very heart of the 'Beermuda' triangle on Welsh Back, Three Brothers Burgers offers a selection of burgers and dogs with craft beer, shakes, sundaes and floats.

The Grain Barge
The Grain Barge

Friendly bar/restaurant on historic converted barge in a beautiful Harbourside location.

Bristol Beer Factory Beer Tasting
Bristol Beer Factory Brewery

Bristol Beer Factory brew to unite people and communities over world-class beer. If you have a passion for pints with pals, join them for a BBF Tasting.

Night Club

Thekla is a multi-award winning, world famous, unique live music venue and club event space on board a German cargo ship, moored in Bristol’s city centre.

Bristol Pirate Walks
Walking Tour
Pirate Pete

Join Pirate Pete for a one-hour guided walking tour of Bristol's historic harbourside, with tales of discovery, slavery and piracy.

The Bristol - a Doyle Collection hotel
The Bristol's Conferencing Facilities

The Meetings & Events Centre features 9 luxurious and well-appointed rooms which can cater for 4 up to 500 people.

Arts Centre
Arnolfini at Bristol Harbourside

Arnolfini is a centre for contemporary arts based on Bristol’s Harbourside. The organisation is dedicated to producing and presenting visual arts, performance, film, music and events.

We The Curious
Science Centre
We The Curious exhibitions

We The Curious is a state-of-the-art visitor attraction, offering an amazing world of hands-on discovery for you, your friends and family.

Bristol YHA
Bristol YHA Youth Hostel exterior

YHA Bristol is in an impressive refurbished warehouse on the quayside in Bristol's historic harbour area set in the heart of the city.

Bristol Cathedral
Bristol Cathedral West End

Much more than a fascinating building, being a fine example of a hall church, it is a centre of Bristol's history, civic life and culture.

Bristol Marriott Royal Hotel
Bristol Marriott Royal Hotel exterior

Explore vibrant Bristol city and harbour by staying at Bristol Marriott Royal Hotel. Located on College Green, a 20 minute walk or 10 minute car journey from Bristol Temple Meads Train Station, as well as a 5-minute walk from Bristol Beacon.