Christmas markets, winter wonderlands, enchanting light trails, festive events and experiences, not to mention the magnificent theatre productions – Bristol is brimming with exciting things to do this Christmas.

Everyone's welcome to our place this Christmas. Here's our round-up of what’s on this season to get you into the #MerryBristmas spirit! 

Jump on board First Bus to explore festive events, markets, restaurants and more across the city this Christmas, and if you're coming from out of town, find out why you should experience Bristol by train with GWR

Merry Bristmas banner

1. 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 Bristol Christmas Market (open until 23 December) in Broadmead. Browse over 35 stalls selling seasonal treats, crafts and one-off gifts, as well as the popular Jäger Barn Bar and the private, cosy igloo pods and ski gondolas. New this year at the market is an impressive 15-metre tall Big Wheel and the Candy Escape Room, which can be booked for groups of up to eight people.

Bristol Christmas Market
Image - Bristol Christmas Market

Bristol Pop-Up Shop at the Galleries (until 24 December) is back at The Galleries with gifts from over 80 local makers, artists and designers. Bristol Beacon is hosting the Made in Bristol Gift Fair on 25 – 26 November and 9 – 10 December with over 200 local creatives showcasing their artisan products.

Vintage Winter Wonderland is also back on Millennium Square until 2 January. 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.

Bristol Pop up shop
Image - Bristol Pop-up shop in The Galleries

2. Explore the light trails

Start off your Christmas light spotting in the city centre, by seeing the latest installations on Park Street, Park Row and Malborough Street, as well as along the harbourside on Welshback, Narrow Quay and King Street. New for this year you'll also find Christmas lights adorning Victoria Street and Temple Gardens.

The breath-taking Enchanted Christmas light trail at Westonbirt Arboretum features interactive displays where you can witness the wonder, hilarity, and general commotion from the playful elves in the forest. Relaxed sessions are also available.

Enchanted Christmas at Westonbirt
Image - Enchanted Christmas at Westonbirt

You can also see the iconic Wookey Hole Caves decked out with over 100,000 lights for their Winter Wonderland, transforming them into an enchanting underground adventure land. Visit Santa’s North Pole grotto where every child will get to meet Santa and take home a present, watch a spectacular Christmas-themed circus show inspired by the Grinch, or enjoy a Christmas film in the 4D cinema.

Wookey Hole at Christmas
Image - Winter Wonderland at Wookey Hole

Watch a brand new type of festive light show at the Seat Unique Stadium in December, as a 500-drone swarm create a 3D cinematic aerial show in Evolution.

Watch a tale of time and space told through hundreds of drones flying in unison, from the humble beginnings of single-cell organisms to the awe-inspiring reign of the dinosaurs. Tickets have already sold out for several of the shows, so be quick!

Child watching drone show
Image - Evolution Drone Light Show

Shining bright until 7 January, The Festival of Light brings C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, as well as Cinderella; Peter Pan; The Wizard of Oz and may more to life. Featuring more life-size lanterns than ever, the much-loved 15 metre Enchanted Christmas Tree, the iconic winter safari, Santa train and fountain display set against the historic backdrop of Longleat House.

Longleat Festival of Light, credit: Lloyd Winters
Image - Longleat Festival of Light, credit: Lloyd Winters

3. Shop local with the Love Bristol Gift Card

Whether you're looking for the perfect Bristol-themed gift, or want a flexible way to shop locally, The Love Bristol Gift Card and Night Out Gift Card are just the thing! Available to buy online as either a physical or digital card, the cards can be used at over 160 businesses across the city, from artisan shops to restaurants, bars, hotels and more. 

Love Bristol Gift Card at Park Street

Image - Love Bristol Gift Card, Park Street credit: Bristol BID

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 on 2 - 3 and 9 - 10 December.

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 BritainImage - SS Great Britain, credit Adam Gasson

5. Find the giant Elf on the Shelf®

Take part in a larger-than-life game of hide and seek across the city centre! Until Sunday 24 December, an enormous 15 ft tall Elf on the Shelf® will appear atop several of the city’s buildings - keep an eye out for clues for the latest location on our social media (or Redcliffe & Temple BID’s Instagram and Facebook) throughout the month!

Elf on the Shelf outside Temple MeadsImage - The Elf on the Shelf ®

6. Go on a wintry wander 

Make the most of any crisp wintry days with a good stretch of the legs, whether you choose to explore Bristol's parks and gardens, or National Trust properties near the city.

Or why not take 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. If the colourful houses in the distance capture your attention, make your way up to Cliftonwood for a closer look.

Newark Park National Trust
Image - Newark Park National Trust

7. Discover the story of Bristol at M Shed

Discover the story of story of Bristol and its people at harbourside museum M Shed – even life-long locals can learn something new about their city. Entry is free

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 and Gambas. Enjoy craft beer and proper pub classics at Junction in between gift shopping at the likes of Bookhaus, Beer Necessities and Fig.1. Prepare an epic Christmas cheeseboard with help from The Bristol Cheesemonger too!

christmas lights in Wapping WharfImage - Wapping Wharf

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 Coal KitchenThe Real Greek and Côte Brasserie in Quakers Friars.

Greek dishes
Image - The Real Greek

10. 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. Make sure you pop into former rock 'n' roll venue and new all-day dining destination The Granary.

Interior of The Granary restaurantImage - The Granary

10. Meet the animals and Santa at Bristol Zoo Project

Bristol Zoo Project is 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. Step into Festive Woodland, meet Santa or watch a Christmas Choir performance by Bristol Rock Choir.

Green Santa with Child Festive FablesImage - Bristol Zoo 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, Japanese noodles and nibbles at Yakinori, and Roman-style pizzas at Pizza on the Park, while expertly crafted cocktails await at speakeasy Hyde & Co. If you've got a sweet tooth, head to the award-winning Swoon for indulgent hot chocolate and gelato sundaes.

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 throughout the month.

St George Bristol Handel's Messiah - A Soulful Windrush CelebrationImage - St George's Bristol Handel's Messiah

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) or up at The Memorial Stadium you can watch Bristol Rovers FC, with both playing fixtures throughout the festive period.

Bristol Rovers players
Image - Bristol Rovers

13. Spend a supersonic day at Aerospace Bristol

Aerospace Bristol celebrates Bristol’s amazing aviation achievements and is also home to the last Concorde ever to fly, which you’re free to step aboard.

The museum is hosting a range of festive activities, including a workshop where you can create your own aerospace-themed festive decorations. You can also deliver your Christmas wish list to the North Pole in an imaginary flight inside a real Bristol Freighter! Head along to their Festive Family Fun Day on Sunday 3 December to visit the Christmas Workshop, listen to some live music, browse for gifts in the museum shop and enjoy some festive treats. You can even pick up a Christmas tree while you're there!

Dad with kids looking at a plane at Aerospace Bristol

Image - Aerospace Bristol

14. Create memories with a festive experience 

Give the gift of unique and fun Bristol experiences. We've got a huge range of experiences for you to choose from across the city, whether the person you're treating is outdoorsy, a foodie or loves getting crafty.

Yuup is your go-to place for one-off local experiences, from pottery making and dance classes to foraging walks. See some of their Christmas experience highlights here.

Christmas crafts
Image - Yuup

15. Get your skates on 

Take a festive trip to one of Bristol's local ice rinks at Avon Valley Adventure and Wildlife Park and Icescape at the Tropicana in Weston-super-Mare.

Icescape weston super mare

Image - Icescape at the Tropicana in Weston-super-Mare

16. Discover merry marine activities at Bristol Aquarium

Bristol Aquarium is celebrating Christmas by offering a range of festive activities - wander round the aquarium before enjoying a hot chocolate and taking a snap with their Christmas tree. Make sure to take a peek inside the Undersea Grotto to get a gift from Charlie the Clownfish.

Bristol Aquarium Charlie the Clownfish CREDIT James BeckImage - Bristol Aquarium, credit: James Beck

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.

Stalls will remain open until 8pm twilight shopping on 2 December. St Nickholas Market will be visited by Father Christmas himself on the day, which will have free family friendly activities running too!

St Nicholas Christmas Night Market Image credit: St Nicholas Market, 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 SS Great Britain, Harvey Nichols and Old Down Estate, to Pieminister’s scrumptious seasonal pies awaits.

Harvey Nichols afternoon teaImage - Harvey Nichols afternoon tea

19. Catch a show at the Christmas Spiegeltent

Bristol's pop-up Christmas venue is boasting another line-up of festive entertainment throughout December, from baby disko (25 November) to children's entertainment from Junior Jungle (2 December), live music from Laid Blak (3 December) and Family Cabaret & Disco (9 December), Baby Disko on 25 November and 16 December and a Craft Beer Festival on 17 December.

The Christmas Spiegeltent
Image - The Christmas Spiegeltent

20. Grab a ticket for festive theatre

Theatre fans are in for a treat this Christmas in Bristol. A brand-new production this year by Bristol Old Vic, Arabian Nights features daring heroines, captivating songs, and a timeless story of wonder and hope.

Arabian NightsImage - Bristol Old Vic

For panto fans, David Suchet, also known as Poirot is this year’s star of Bristol Hippodrome production of Peter Pan. Expect laugh-out-loud moments, stunning sets and a trip to Neverland like never before. Or head up to Clifton to see Rapunzel at the Redgrave Theatre.

Bristol HippodromeImage - Bristol Hippodrome

Pay a visit to Tobacco Factory Theatres in South Bristol to see Charles Dicken's Oliver Twist reimagined, or enjoy locally-themed theatrical production, Noel West.

For a slightly darker Christmas classic, Bristol Old Vic will be showing Stephen Sodheim’s timeless masterpiece, Into The Woods until 7 December.

Into the WoodsImage - Bristol Old Vic Theatre School

Get involved in this year’s festive shows at Bristol Improv Theatre: I Saw Mommy Killing Santa Claus and The Show That Must Not Be Named Christmas Special.

If you're after something a bit different from your usual festive theatre show, The Wardrobe Theatre will be showing BS2 Santa, as well as Kid Carpet's Noisy Navity.

Kid Carpet Noisy Nativity
Image - Kid Carpet: Noisy Nativity

21.  Watch some Santa-tainment at Cribbs

From 1 December until Christmas Eve, Santa and his happy huddle of festive elves will be running free story sessions to songs and TV shows at The Mall at Cribbs Causeway. You will also be able to follow a Mog-themed interactive Christmas trail around the shops.

Santa and elves

22. Meet Father Christmas

There are plenty of opportunities to meet Santa face to face this Christmas, whether it's in his grotto, on a steam train or on a ferry in the harbour

Visit Santa's cabin and toy factory at Avon Valley Adventure and Wildlife Park throughout December, take a trip to his grotto at Wookey Hole, or choose whether you want to meet the Grinch or Santa at The Grand Pier in Weston-super-Mare. There are also opportunities to meet the jolly man in red along at Breakfast with Santa at Slimbridge Wetland Centre.

Wookey Hole Santa
Image - Santa at The Grand Pier

23. Take a pew for sacred celebrations

Attend one of the Christmas services and concerts at Bristol’s stunning Cathedral. Sing your favourite carols at the Family Carol Service and meet Charlie the Donkey or, share the wonder of Navity at Toddler Carols. The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols will take visitors on a journey from God's creation to the manger in Bethlehem.

St Mary Redcliffe will also be hosting Christmas services and events throughout December. Enjoy the Family friendly services ‘Christingle’ and ‘Crib service’ and listen to a performance by the band of the Salvation Army.

Bristol Cathedral and St Mary Redcliffe will also be hosting Midnight Mass and Christmas Day services.

Choir singing by candlelight at Bristol CathedralImage - 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.

Get more Christmas tree envy at Treefest. Running from 7 - 10 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 treeImage - 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: