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. 

Woman surfing in the barrel at The Wave
Image - The Wave, credit Image Cabin

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!

People on canoes
Image - Mendip Activity Centre

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!

The Lido in Clifton, Bristol
Image - Bristol 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.

SUP paddleboarding
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!

Canoeing in Bristol Harbour
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 on one of their city docks tours with commentary, or join one of their cream tea cruises

The Matthew ship in Bristol
Image - The Matthew, credit Shawn Spencer Smith

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 Lido 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 lido after walking the coast path between the two towns (approx. 5 miles/8km).

Portishead Lido
Image - Portishead Lido

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.

Sand Bay beach
Image - Sand Bay

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 do open water swimming at West Country Water Park.

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SUP Bristol - Stand Up Paddleboarding
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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.

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Adventurous Activity Company canoeing trip Bristol

A range of outdoor activities in central Bristol, including climbing, abseiling, canoeing and orienteering.

The Wave
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Drone shot of The Wave

The Wave is an inland-surfing destination where everyone can surf and bodyboard on consistent safe waves every day of the year.

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Bristol’s most unique spa destination, featuring a pool, hot tub, steam room, sauna, spa, restaurant bar and terrace

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.

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

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.