Reconnect with family and friends, find the perfect presents and make the most of the jolliest time of the year with our #MerryBristmas advent guide. It’s full of festive things to do in Bristol all through December.

1. Find the Christmas Adventures illuminations

The Christmas Adventures illumination trail is spreading festive joy around the city once again in 2021. Spot Christmas lyrics and film quotes lighting up iconic buildings and locations – we’ve got the lowdown on where to find them together with facts about the lyrics and their Bristol connections. 

Download your trail map, see how many you can find and enjoy other Christmassy activities along the way. Snap your favourite projections and share them on social media using #ChristmasAdventures and #LoveBristol too.

'Ding dong merrily on high' illumination on All Saints' Church Bristol

Image - Bristol Adventures

2. Make your merry way around Christmas markets

There's nothing quite so merry as savouring the street food, meeting the makers and soaking up the atmosphere of a festive market.

We’ve rounded up some of the best on offer this year, including the German Christmas market in Broadmead. It’s made a very welcome return for 2021, filling Bristol Shopping Quarter with the irresistible smell of bratwurst and mulled wine, with stalls aplenty selling everything from edible treats to handcrafted toys. Discover five reasons why a visit this year is a must.

Jager Barn Bar at Bristol Christmas Market

Image - Bristol Christmas Market

3. Experience Bristol at Christmas with GWR

Make your visit to Bristol as relaxing as possible by travelling with Great Western Railway. You can hop on a direct train from a number of major cities, with free Wi-Fi, plug sockets at every seat and an at-seat trolley service once you’re on board. Plus, it means you’re free to enjoy a festive tipple or two!

As well as alighting at Temple Meads for easy access to the city centre, make the most of the Severn Beach Line for Bristmas adventures in neighbourhoods like Clifton and Gloucester Road. This handy guide from GWR will help you plan the perfect yuletide day out by train.  

Illustration of GWR train at Temple Meads by Bex Glover

Image - GWR and Temple Meads, credit Bex Glover & Stuff Advertising

4. Step into a Victorian Christmas at Brunel’s SS Great Britain

Did you know Brunel’s historic ship first set sail in 1843, the same year A Christmas Carol was published? See how festivities on board would have looked at that time during the SS Great Britain’s Victorian Christmas Weekends.

The ship will be brought to life with seasonal sights, smells and sounds from the time, with a cast of 19th century characters to interact with. There’s even a chance to meet Old Father Christmas as you’ve probably never seen him before – dressed in green, Victorian style.

Old Father Christmas in Victorian green robes with little boy at SS Great Britain

Image - SS Great Britain, credit Adam Gasson

5. Get merry on King Street

With its cobbles, historic buildings and twinkly festive lights, King Street looks pretty as a Christmas card at this time of year. Admire the lights in between stops at the many watering holes along the 17th century street – from urban pub and microbrewery King Street Brew House, to the storied Llandoger Trow, to legendary jazz venue The Old Duke. 

Illustration of people drinking under the Christmas lights on King Street

Image - King Street, credit Bex Glover & Stuff Advertising  

6. Go on a wintry wander around the Harbourside

Make the most of any crisp wintry days with a stroll around the Harbourside, which looks especially picturesque when there’s a chill in the air. A walk here will take you past some iconic Bristol sights, namely Brunel’s SS Great Britain, Banksy’s Girl with the Pierced Eardrum and Underfall Yard. You may have seen the latter on screen recently – it featured in BBC series Showtrial.

If the colourful houses in the distance capture your attention, make your way up to Cliftonwood for a closer look.

Illustration of the colourful houses in Cliftonwood, Bristol

Image - Colourful houses, credit Bex Glover & Stuff Advertising

7. Be wowed by wildlife photography at M Shed

Immerse yourself in this year's most remarkable nature photography and photojournalism at M Shed’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition. There are 100 powerful photos included, which capture everything from curious underwater species to majestic soaring birds. The rest of the museum tells the story of Bristol and its people – even life-long locals can learn something new about their city.

Don’t rush off without exploring Wapping Wharf, just behind the museum. Grab a bite to eat at the restaurants of CARGO, which include Seven Lucky Gods, Cargo Cantina, Woky Ko and Gambas. Then sip on hot spiced cider from The Cider Box in between gift shopping at the likes of Bookhaus, Frankly, Beer Necessities and Longwell Records. Prepare an epic Christmas cheeseboard with help from The Bristol Cheesemonger too!

Time your visit for 1pm on Saturday 11 December to catch carols from the South Bristol Salvation Army.

Christmas tree and lights at CARGO, Wapping Wharf

Image - CARGO at Christmas, credit Jon Craig

8. Hit the shops at Cabot Circus

Find high street shops galore as well as a giant Father Christmas under the huge shell-shaped glass roof of Cabot Circus. The three-storey Harvey Nichols, Hotel Chocolat, Yankee Candle and Pandora are just a handful of the stores that are ideal for gift shoppers. 

When dinner time arrives, there’s a host of much-loved chain restaurants to choose from, such as The Real Greek. Or head over to Quakers Friars for modern German fare at grand café-style restaurant Klosterhaus.

Families will want to experience The Enchanted Snow Maze in Quakers Friars, sure to be the snowiest place in Bristol this Christmas.

Enchanted Snow Maze in Quakers Friars

Image - Enchanted Snow Maze in Quakers Friars

9. Get your skates on at Avon Valley Adventure and Wildlife Park 

Whether you’re a complete beginner or looking to show off your skills – everyone is welcome to glide around Avon Valley’s 500-square-metre, real ice rink, powered by renewable energy. Sessions are available between 11am and 9pm, with a DJ and special lighting effects creating the atmosphere.

There are heaps more festivities happening at the adventure park day and night too. Meet their resident reindeer, explore the Enchanted Village, follow the light trail, visit the Christmas shop and more.

Ice skaters at Avon Valley Adventure Park

Image - Avon Valley Adventure & Wildlife Park

10. Meet the animals of Bristol Zoo and Wild Place Project

Both Bristol Zoo Gardens and sister site Wild Place Project are open every day in December, except Christmas Day, so there’s plenty of time to squeeze in a wintry visit to these awesome animal attractions.

Wild Place is inviting you on a wild winter adventure around the conservation park. Wrap up warm and go in search of giraffes, zebras, gelada 'baboons', cheetahs, meerkats and ring-tailed lemurs, as well as reindeer Holly and Molly.

Over at Bristol Zoo, you’ll find 300 animal species, a giant Christmas tree and glittering lights, best enjoyed with a hot chocolate from The Hide in hand. On Saturday 11 December, carol singers will be delivering festive tunes on the terrace, with mulled wine and mince pies to tuck into while you watch. 

Reindeer at Wild Place Project

Image - Wild Place Project 

11. Eat, drink, shop on Park Street

Christmas shopping is made easy on Park Street, with a choice of indie boutiques, much-loved high street brands, and vintage and retro shops. Stop off at Averys Wine Merchants on nearby Culver Street to stock up on festive fizz, and make time to explore products from talented designers in the Guild, an independent department store and gallery. 

All shopped out? Make a beeline for the bars and restaurants of Park Street instead. There are Sri Lankan street food dishes with a festive twist on The Coconut Tree menu and Roman-style pizzas at Pizza on the Park, while expertly crafted cocktails await at speakeasy Hyde & Co. Or for delicious daytime eats, hit the Woky Ko Lunch Bar.

Follow up dinner with a concert at St George’s Bristol. Whether you fancy a rousing folk show or traditional carols, they have festive performances lined up all through the month.

Sri Lankan style split sprouts and cashews from The Coconut Tree

Image - The Coconut Tree

12. Enjoy the thrill of live sport

Football or rugby fan? Book yourself a ticket for a match at one of Bristol’s sports stadiums, where the cheers roar as loud as ever in December.

At Ashton Gate Stadium, you can catch Bristol City FC (AKA The Robins – a fittingly festive nickname) take on Derby County and Huddersfield Town, while Bristol Bears play Scarlets in the Champions Cup.

While fixtures at Gloucestershire County Cricket Club are a long way off yet, you can raise a toast to them over Christmas with their new range of spirits. Choose from a London dry gin, vodka or spiced rum. A perfect present for cricket-obsessed loved ones.

Rugby ball, bike, cricket ball and football illustration

Image - Bristol sport, credit Bex Glover & Stuff Advertising

13. Spend a supersonic day at Aerospace Bristol

Turn your attention away from Christmas and onto something completely different for a few hours at Aerospace Bristol. This museum celebrates Bristol’s amazing aviation achievements and is also home to the last Concorde ever to fly, which you’re free to step aboard.

Add extra family fun to your supersonic day out by using the Aerospace Adventure app to learn facts, answer questions and earn a place on the leader board.

You can also buy your Christmas tree from Aerospace Bristol up until 19 December. For every tree sold, Frenchay Forestry will make a donation to Bristol Aero Collection Trust.

Dad with kids looking at a plane at Aerospace Bristol

Image - Aerospace Bristol

14. Get gift shopping all wrapped up in Broadmead

If you can tear yourself away from the delights of Broadmead’s Bristol Christmas Market, you’ll find more festivities happening inside The Galleries shopping centre. Christmas blockbusters including Arthur Christmas, Elf and The Muppet Christmas Carol will be playing in the Pop-Up Cinema every weekend up until 19 December.

The Pop-Up Shop is also back for its fourth year. Find gifts such as beautiful illustrations, handcrafted homewares, stationery and jewellery from over 80 talented local makers, artists and designers there.

Get the rest of your Christmas shopping sorted across the rest of Broadmead, from picking up party food from M&S to stocking fillers at one of the UK’s largest Primark stores.

Illustration of people Christmas shopping in Broadmead

Image - Broadmead, credit Bex Glover & Stuff Advertising

15. Go street art spotting on the Robin Robin Mural Trail

Can you find all 11 murals in the new Robin Robin trail? To celebrate the launch of their new festive film, Aardman has teamed up with Netflix and Upfest to create the trail, with adorable interpretations of the characters from artist Alex Lucas. Save the map and hit the streets of Bedminster to spot the pieces.

If you’re feeling inspired to track down more Bristol street art, check out the guided and self-guided tours on offer.

Robin Robin Mural Trail map

Image - Robin Robin Trail Map

16. Discover merry marine activities at Bristol Aquarium

Bristol Aquarium is celebrating Christmas by offering fun and immersive experiences, with extra talks and workshops including a squid dissection and a colourful predator talk. There’ll be arts and crafts, a treasure trail and a meeting with Charlie, the clownfish mascot too. Plenty to keep the little ones entertained, with speciality Christmas drinks in the café for grown-ups.

Octopus illustration

Image - Bristol Aquarium, credit Bex Glover & Stuff Advertising

17. Find unique indie gifts at St Nicholas Market

The oldest market in the city is buzzing with festive cheer in the lead up to Christmas, open every day until Christmas Eve. Work your way through the warren of stalls and shops inside the market, selling fashion, accessories, books, records and food. Outside, the Christmas market stalls offer handmade crafts as well as delicious street food to fuel your shopping mission.

St Nicholas Christmas Night Market

Image credit: Chris Bahn

18. Eat, drink and be merry at Bristol’s bars and restaurants

Seek out cosy pubs for winter, plan festive get-togethers at the city’s finest cocktail bars, and eat your way through Christmassy menus and seasonal dishes at the scores of restaurants. Everything from fancy festive afternoon teas at Bowood Hotel to Pieminister’s (Broad QuayStokes Croft and St Nicholas Market) scrumptious seasonal pies awaits.

Festive pies and sides from Pieminister

Image - Pieminister

19. Check out Grayson's Art Club at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery

End the year with an arty experience reflecting on the nation’s experiences throughout the recent unprecedented times. Grayson Perry has chosen artworks from his hit TV show, Grayson’s Art Club, to showcase in this brand new exhibition.

From photography to ceramics, there’s a mix of pieces from the public, established artists and celebrities, with each one a powerful and personal response to the pandemic.

Illustration of Banksy's Pot Paint Angel

Image - Paint Pot Angel at Bristol Museum, credit Bex Glover & Stuff Advertising

20. Grab a ticket for festive theatre and panto

Theatre fans are in for a treat this Christmas in Bristol. Lesley Joseph, Rob Rinder and Andy Ford are taking to the stage in Snow White at Bristol Hippodrome; Bristol Old Vic present a fresh spin on swashbuckling legend Robin Hood; Redgrave Theatre has a spectacular production of Cinderella in store; and Tobacco Factory Theatres is taking the yellow brick road to the Emerald City for Oz.

For something completely unique, check out The Wardrobe Theatre’s typically bonkers festive offering – Little Women in Black. You can read our review here.  

Four March sisters in Little Women in Black at The Wardrobe Theatre

Image - Little Women in Black, credit Jack Offord

21. Plan a floating adventure for 2022

For an experience gift that is sure to impress, treat them to a voucher for a hot air balloon ride. Bristol is the ballooning capital of Britain, making it an unbeatable location to hop in a basket and take off on a magical sky-high adventure. Both Elite Air and Bailey Balloons offer vouchers.

Illustration of Bristol hot air balloons by Bex Glover

Image - Hot air balloons, credit Bex Glover & Stuff Advertising

22. Add some wonder to your Christmas at We The Curious

Swap sipping mulled drinks and wrapping presents for a day of asking questions and testing ideas at We The Curious. Ground floor exhibition Project What If is completely inspired by questions from the people of Bristol, with interactive exhibits based around themes like rainbows, the soul and invisibility. Don’t miss the 3D planetarium for a journey to the outer reaches of the universe.

When you’re ready to get back to the festivities, you’re in the perfect place, as the Vintage Winter Wonderland is just outside on Millennium Square. Get a unique view over the harbour on the Observation Wheel, ride vintage dodgems and the chair-o-plane, and savour festive tipples and treats.

Project What If exhibits at We The Curious

Image - We The Curious, credit Lisa Whiting

23. Take a pew for celebrations at Bristol Cathedral

Attend one of the Christmas services and concerts at Bristol’s stunning Cathedral. Carols by Candlelight (17 & 18 December) is a highlight in their yearly calendar that’s sure to leave you with a warm festive glow. It sells out every year, so get your tickets quick.

There’s more enchanting music by candlelight on 4 December, in a Viennese Christmas Concert featuring works by Tchaikovsky, Brahms and Strauss.

The Cathedral is also hosting its first ever Muddy Christingle Trail on 18 December, with games and quizzes around College Green.

Choir singing by candlelight at Bristol Cathedral

Image - Bristol Cathedral Choir, credit A Campbell

24. Admire Clifton’s magnificent Christmas tree

All of Clifton Village glitters at Christmas time thanks to a covering of dazzling lights, but shiniest of all is the magnificent Christmas tree standing at the centre of the Mall Gardens. Make sure you stop to admire it in between shopping in the suburb’s fantastic independent shops. There’s late night shopping, carols and mulled wine on Saturdays in December too.

Get more Christmas tree envy at Treefest. Running from 2 to 5 December, a collection of creatively decorated trees will be on display inside beautiful medieval church St Mary’s Redcliffe, with performances by local musicians and singers too.

Clifton Christmas tree

Image - Clifton BID 

We couldn’t squeeze everything into this jam-packed advent guide – so to discover even more festive things to do in Bristol this December, click here. 

More ways to have a #MerryBristmas: