Whether you’re exploring its thrumming cultural centre or its storied past as a vital port to all points west, Bristol offers so much to see. Can’t work out what to visit in the city first? From music venues to modern art, we’ve picked out some of the best things to do for your stay in Bristol below.<o:p></o:p>
Many cities around the country boast at least one venue that has hosted some of the biggest musical names on their ascent to stardom. To the list of The Windmill and 100 Club in London, The Adelphi in Hull and Glasgow’s seminal King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, add The Fleece in Bristol. An old Victorian wool hall, The Fleece is the West Country’s premier music venue. From top 40 mainstays such as Ed Sheeran and The Killers to legends such as Oasis, The Strokes, Ash, and PJ Harvey, the list of international stars that have graced The Fleece’s stage goes on and on. The venue still boasts live music seven nights a week and offers fans a chance to catch bands on the way up in a very intimate setting.
If there’s one place in the UK that can lay claim to the title of graffiti capital, it’s Bristol, mainly thanks to the city’s most famous and elusive son, Banksy. And though his works are dotted around the city, he’s not the only purveyor of impressive street art in Bristol. Upfest celebrates the city’s rich street art scene with its annual graffiti festival and its gallery on the corner of North Street, opposite North Street Green. The gallery is a popular destination for those looking to own a slice of urban art as it is for those looking to create their own artwork as well. The festival is held every July and offers fans a chance to watch international artists create stunning artworks live.
If you want to truly get to know Bristol as it is and was, M Shed is the place to start. This museum in an old transit shed on the Harbourside is free to enter (as are all the museums in the Bristol Museums group) and has a wide range of diverse exhibits covering topics such as art, industry, technology and music, which all tell the story of life in the city both in the past and present. The exhibits take you on a journey through Bristolian life from prehistoric times right up to today through films, photos, artefacts and personal accounts. There are even working exhibits outside on the dock, including trains, cranes and steamboats, that visitors can ride on.
Centrespace is a unique gallery, operating as a cooperative that endeavours to uncover the best up-and-coming art in the area. There is no hierarchy here, and little attention paid to celebrity or commercial appeal. Anyone can apply to have their work shown in the gallery, a policy that has resulted in Centrespace exhibiting some of the most individual and refreshing contemporary art around, which is produced primarily by those who are in the early stages of their careers. Pieces cover painting, sculpture, illustration, photography, film and performance, and a warm welcome is always on offer (providing you can find the gallery, that is – it’s pretty well hidden down an alleyway that connects Small St to Corn St).
While The Cube is a cinema in name (or ‘microplex’ in their own words), it is not the kind you’d show up to on a Saturday night expecting to see the latest Marvel movie. Instead, the offerings here are slightly more leftfield. The schedule is a mixture of world cinema, documentaries, rediscovered cult classics and independent films. It’s not just a cinema either, as it regularly hosts performance art, cabaret, kids events, music and stand-up comedy too. The building itself is just as interesting as the events it holds, having had former lives as an illegal gambling den, a glass-recycling depot, and a school for the deaf and dumb.
There aren’t many music venues on barges, which is part of what makes the Thekla such a popular spot in Bristol. Moored in East Mud Dock, Thekla was an old cargo barge that had a second lease of life as a floating theatre, and then a third lease as a nightclub before finally reaching its current role as one of the city’s most beloved venues. The main room holds 400 people and has hosted many top indie bands from around the world. If a band’s got guitars and are critically adored, then you’re pretty much guaranteed that they’ll have played the Thekla. There’s live music most nights of the week and club nights Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
Georgian House Museum
Step back in time at the Georgian House Museum, the former home of sugar merchant and slave plantation owner John Pinney. The house was built for him in 1790 and has been painstakingly restored to how it would have looked and operated at the time he lived there. The six-storey townhouse is an example of 18th Century opulence above stairs and the less glamourous life of those below stairs, highlighting the dividing lines in society at the time. There’s also an exhibit commemorating Pinney’s slave Pero and detailing his life. The house is free to enter, as is the nearby Red Lodge Museum, which charts 400 years of history through one building.