A city shaped by bridges & boats for at least a thousand years

Exploring The Past in Bristol

Bristol straddles the River Avon and is the largest city in the South West of England. Founded in the 11th century, it has a unique history as a major port which incorporates centuries of marine trade. The city recalls swash-buckling tales of pirates and privateers, and a controversial past – due to its association with African slavery during the 17th and 18th centuries.

A view of the hull of the SS Great Britain at the dry docks in Bristol

The SS Great Britain is a top tourist attraction located at Bristol’s historic Harbourside.

Today, the ‘Harbourside’, which was once the city-centre port, is a bustling tourist spot. Here can be found a wide variety of bars, restaurants, shops, and cultural establishments housed within former 19th century warehouses. The historic Victorian steam ship ‘The SS Great Britain’, and the ‘M Shed’ museum are further examples of fun and informative attractions to visit. Away from the harbour, Bristol’s medieval past can be seen through stunning architecture – including the Gothic Revival style of ‘Bristol Cathedral’, and the only surviving old city entrance at ‘St John’s Gate’. Also not to miss is the ‘Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery’. This fine building contains everything from contemporary art, to treasures of archaeology and Egyptology. The artefacts range anywhere from Early-Modern to Roman times, and even further back to the age of the dinosaurs.

Thanks to the famous street artist know as ‘Banksy’, Bristol has also become a world-famous hub for street art which can be seen around various parts of the city – further adding to its reputation as a place of cultural expression. Combine this with a thriving music scene, annual festivals, and a wealth of history – then it becomes clear that Bristol is a diverse destination for every kind of visitor.

‘Blackbeard’, Pirates & Privateers in 18th Century Bristol

As a young boy, I was fascinated by tales of swash-buckling pirates … three decades on and not much has changed. So where better to discover stories of real life pirates than Bristol – a city where echoes of the name ‘Blackbeard’ are still heard today. What happened here at Bristol’s docks and harbour during the 18th Century? Why do locals speak of historic pubs in reference to pirates? Who was the legend known as ‘Blackbeard’? With my detective hat firmly on, I visited Bristol to find out … Continue Reading >>

Jason Summers

Archaeology Travel

A historic ship in the Bristol harbour.

Recommended Guided Tours of Bristol Landmarks & Historical Sites

Two-Hour Guided Tour of Bristol, from Blackbeard to Banksy: an expert guide will show you the main sites in Bristol’s historic harbour, covering over 1,000 years of history. The tour begins at the 12th century cathedral and goes on through the ages to deal with the more recent past, including the physical effects of the blitz during World War II and the vibrant street art scene in the city today. A great introduction from which you can go off and explore Bristol on your own.

Or, start deeper and take a more in depth, Customised Tour of Bristol with a Local Guide: choose a length that suits you, from two hours to six hours, and allow a local guide to show you the city according to your interests. Note that these tours are not lead by historians or experts, but knowledgeable and passionate locals who know the city well.

Or take a Self Guided Tour of Bristol’s Craft Beer Scene: taste seven locally brewed craft beers and real ales in four different venues – all within walking distance of each other.

Please Note: Tickets for the tours we recommend are sold via the GetYourGuide, not Archaeology Travel. One of the reasons why we recommend GetYourGuide is because they allow you to cancel your reservation up to 24 hours before the start of the activity, and still get a full refund. We may earn a commission if you purchase a ticket, but this never be added to the cost of your ticket – read more about the select services we recommend in our Code of Ethics.

A view inside the interior of Bristol's Medieval Cathedral

Bristol Cathedral

Bristol’s stunning medieval cathedral is a grade I listed building which stands proudly in College Green. It originally dates back to the 12th century, but saw further phases of development during the 14th, 15th and 19th centuries. The nave and western twin towers represent fine Gothic Revival architecture. While a visit inside offers the chance to see the beautiful vaults and columns of the East Lady Chapel, various memorials and a historic organ. Photograph © Visit Bristol. [Website]

Part of the Egyptian exhibition on the ground floor of the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery

Bristol Museum and Art Gallery

The Bristol Museum and Art Gallery is housed in a glorious Edwardian building and contains 19 galleries across 3 floors. The exhibitions comprise natural history, art, archaeology and geology from around the world. The ground floor contains the Archaeology and World Cultures collections, with a play and learn space for under 7’s. The first floor ‘wows’ with geology, dinosaur and wildlife galleries – the second floor hosts art galleries. Photograph © Bristol Museums. [Website]

A view of Cabot Tower from Brandon Hill in Bristol.

Cabot Tower

Built in 1897 AD, Cabot Tower stands 32 metres tall. It is located in the beautiful grounds of Brandon Hill – the oldest park in Bristol. The tower is constructed from red sand stone and covered with cream stone from Bath. It was designed by the Bristol architect ‘William Venn Gough’. Since its renovation, visitors can once again climb the spiral staircase within and enjoy fantastic panoramic views across the city and historic harbourside photograph © Visit Bristol. [Website]

The Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol

Clifton Suspension Bridge

The Clifton Suspension Bridge is world renowned – and a Bristol icon. The historic structure was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel in 1831. Yet it was only completed in 1864, following the acclaimed engineer’s death. Crossing over the scenic Avon Gorge, the bridge joins Bristol to North Somerset and is funded by tolls. Its design incorporates a 300-metre-long wrought iron bar, vertical suspension rods, and huge stone towers. Photograph © Chris Hepburn. [Website]

Inside M shed at Bristol's Harbourside, and a vintage bus from the city's past

M Shed

The M Shed museum is set within old warehouse buildings along Bristol’s popular Harbourside. The various exhibitions take visitors on a journey through the city’s history from prehistoric times to the present day. It is a fantastic hub of information with the Bristol Places, People and Life galleries. There are further delights – read about the working exhibits, and visit the adjoining L Shed which houses industrial and social history collections. Photograph © Visit Bristol. [Website]

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SS Great Britain

The SS Great Britain – a legendary maritime vessel designed by the acclaimed Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel. First launched in 1843 from Bristol’s floating harbour, she was a giant – the largest in the world. Powered by steam and built with an iron hull, this was the first screw-propelled luxury ocean liner, to carry passengers across the Atlantic. Today, Brunel’s SS Great Britain stands proudly at Bristol’s dry dock… Read More >>

The medieval church of St John on the wall and view of the city gateway in Bristol.

St John on the Wall & City Gateway

St John on the wall is the only surviving church built into the city walls of Bristol during medieval times. The historic city gateway and church are located in Broad Street and date to the 14th century. Originally, the Gothic gateway was just a single arch but two side entrances were installed in 1820 AD. The church interior contains numerous effigies and monuments, and an early vaulted crypt beneath. Photograph © Churches Conservation Trust [Website].

A look inside one of the rooms in the Georgian House Museum in Bristol.

The Georgian House Museum

The Georgian House Museum is a six storey 18th century townhouse on George Street. It allows visitors to explore a typical plantation and slaver-owner’s house as it would have appeared in the late 1700s. The building contains 11 rooms in total, ranging from formal dining and drawing rooms to the basement pantry and servant’s quarters. There is also an exhibition about past house owner ‘John Pinney’ and his slave ‘Pero’. Entry is free. Photograph © Bristol Museum. [Website]

The Great Oak Room at the Red Lodge Museum in Bristol.

The Red Lodge Museum

Originally a Tudor house, The Red Lodge Museum provides 400 years of history under its roof. Built around 1580 AD, the building was also used as a Victorian girl’s reform school. Free entry offers the chance to explore the house’s 7 rooms over two floors. The ‘Great Oak Room’ is one of the oldest rooms in Bristol, while the ‘Print Room’ and ‘Parlour’ are fine Georgian examples. There is also an Elizabethan-style knot garden outside. Photograph © Bristol Museum. [Website]