Views over Redcliffe - Image Carolyn Eaton

Views over Redcliffe - Image Carolyn Eaton

Harbourside

About Bristol Harbourside

Bristol's history as a trading port stretches back to 1051 when it was listed in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. By the 14th-century, the city was trading with Spain, Portugal and Iceland, and ships were also leaving Bristol to found new colonies in the New World. Bristol's history as part of Transatlantic slavery is well documented. Read more here

In 1809, Bristol was transformed by the opening of the Floating Harbour to overcome the challenge of the second highest tidal range in the world. Over the next two centuries the harbour grew as a busy commercial port and has now transformed into an amazing destination for leisure, business and residence. Visit M Shed for its excellent permanent exhibition on the history of Bristol.

Attractions Galore

There's plenty of fun to pack into a Harbourside visit, including a ferry boat ride (or a walk!) to Bristol's award-winning attraction, Brunel's SS Great Britain. Isambard Kingdom Brunel's engineering masterpiece, was the world's first great ocean liner and offers plenty to explore, from the sumptuous surrounds of the first-class dining saloon and the cramped bunks in steerage, to the iron hull under the glass 'sea' and the massive turning engine. 'Go Aloft' offers a unique opportunity to climb the ship's rigging and see Bristol from the yardarm. Free audio tours are available on board in several different languages.

Learn more about life underwater at Bristol Aquarium, which is home to native and tropical marine and freshwater creatures from around the world, all living in naturally-themed habitats.

Right next door is We The Curious, where over 300 hands-on exhibits beckon the inner-explorer to be unleashed. Present a weather forecast, walk through a tornado or learn more about the stars in the Planetarium at this hub of fun discoveries. We The Curious is also home to Animate It!, where visitors can become animators for the day and see models and props, including a set from Aardman's Wallace and Gromit animation, A Matter of Loaf and Death.

Cultural Highlights

Internationally-renowned contemporary arts rub shoulders with the history and heritage of local people in the Harbourside's thriving cultural attractions. Bristol's Harbourside renaissance began in the mid-1970s with the opening of the Arnolfini, which has become an internationally-renowned contemporary arts centre presenting dance, theatre, performance, literature, film and visual arts. The regeneration continued with the launch of Watershed in the 1980s. Both venues have helped to shape the creativity and innovation at the heart of Bristol's cultural identity.

On the other side of the harbour, Spike Island is a gallery and artist working space with a popular cafe, and offers an exciting programme of exhibitions, family activities and discussions in its expansive space, which was formerly a tea packing factory.

One of the best ways to embrace Bristol's maritime culture is by taking to the water. The Matthew, is a replica of the boat used by John Cabot when he discovered Newfoundland in 1497. It was built in Bristol to mark the 500th anniversary of Cabot's voyage and hosts trips around the Harbourside alongside longer sailing voyages.

The history of Bristol can be further explored at M Shed, which shares the city's amazing past through the objects and stories of the people who have made the city what it is today. Underfall Yard at the western end of the Harbourside is a working boat yard where visitors are welcome.

Where to eat and drink on the Harbourside

From pizza and steak to Asian street food, the Harbourside serves up a global platter of flavours. There are many bars and restaurants around the Harbourside and Millennium Square, including Steak of the Art, a gastro gallery of great food, cocktails and art. The Stable serves award-winning pizzas and more than 60 types of cider while locally-brewed beer can be sampled at venues including The Grain Barge, Watershed Cafe Bar and No.1 Harbourside.

The modern River Grille restaurant at The Bristol Hotel offers fantastic views across the Harbourside, as does Britain's biggest restaurant, Za Za Bazaar, which serves up a variety of buffet-style global cuisine inspired by the atmosphere and buzz of Asia's night markets.

Wapping Wharf is a thriving new quarter in the historical and cultural heart of Bristol where people can shop, eat and relax by the city’s glistening waterfront. This new community-focused neighbourhood on Bristol’s historic harbourside is home to an eclectic mix of independent shops including a Better Food Co. and Corks wine shop, as well as a florist, jeweller’s, a cycle shop, yoga studio, cheesemonger, bakery and much more. 

You can browse what’s on offer by strolling down tree-lined Gaol Ferry Steps or taking a walk through the city’s first retail area made entirely of converted shipping containers, named CARGO.

Wapping Wharf is brimming with an amazing array of foodie options whether you prefer fine dining or street food, offering an incredible selection of cuisines from around the world, so you’ve got plenty of choice if you need a bite to eat or something refreshing to drink during your shopping trip. 

Those cycling through the city should stop at Mud Dock Cafe and Cycleworks on The Grove for their excellent seasonal food, served in a stylish renovated warehouse, before taking a browse of the shop.

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