With 2 fantastic universities and a great location in a historic part of England, Bristol is a popular destination for international students.
As the largest city in the south west, there’s also lots to see and do — and thankfully it doesn’t have to be expensive! Here are our top things to do on a budget in Bristol.
1. Spend the day at the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery
You could easily spend a whole day in this fascinating museum and gallery! Based in a beautiful building opened in 1823, Bristol Museum and Art Gallery is home to a range immersive exhibitions covering the last billion years of the Earth’s history. These include Egyptian mummies, fossils and vehicles dating back to 1900.
The art gallery also displays paintings by the famous artists known as the ‘Old Masters’ and modern artwork by local graffiti artist Banksy. It’s a great place to come to study, or simply spend a rainy day, as entry is free.
2. Hang out in Millennium Square
If the sun’s out, why not head to Bristol’s Millennium Square? This futuristic public square has lots of benches where you can sit and sunbathe, or enjoy a drink or a snack from one of the nearby cafés. There’s also interesting modern art to look at, including a giant mirrorball!
The square is also home to Big Screen Bristol, a huge film screen run by We Are The Curious. It broadcasts from 7pm–11pm every night, and you can tune in to catch everything from live screenings from the Royal Opera House to popular sports tournaments, like the tennis at Wimbledon.
Finally, Millennium Square is a great place to go to beat the heat as you can cool down by splashing around in the fountains and water features. In fact Millennium Square was recently host to Bristol’s biggest ever water fight!
3. Head to the harbour
Bristol Harbour is one of the city’s main cultural and entertainment hubs. As well as being home to Millennium Square and its quieter cousin, Queen Square, it’s also where you’ll find a hive of activity like a bustling market, street food stalls, restaurants and bars.
What could be better on a warm summer’s evening than enjoying a drink by the water? The harbour is an especially good place to go if you like gin, as here you can try artisan gin flavoured with orange blossom and star anise, or enjoy prosecco with a shot of sloe gin, a local speciality!
4. Meet some farm animals
It might surprise you to learn that Bristol has 2 city farms! St Werburgh’s City Farm is a community project based right in the heart of the city. Here you can see sheep, goats, chickens and pigs, and even learn how to grow vegetables or look after animals yourself.
There’s also an award-winning café that sells organic, locally grown food — the ideal place to stop for lunch!
On the south side of the city, you can visit Windmill City Farm. You’ll be able to see and learn about a number of different farm animals, and even buy eggs laid by the farm’s chickens and ducks.
Windmill City Farm runs numerous events throughout the year, like wool-spinning demonstrations, and picnics, so there’s always something fun to get involved in.
Admission to both the farms is free, although they do both appreciate a donation if you are able to give one.
5. Explore the Georgian House Museum
The Georgian House Museum is an 18th-century townhouse that has been restored to look exactly as it would when it was first built for its wealthy owner, John Pinney.
There are 11 rooms to explore over 4 floors, including the kitchen, where the servants would have worked preparing meals, to the elegant rooms where the family lived and entertained visitors.
There’s also a small display dedicated to the life of John Pinney, and his servant, Pedro Jones. The Georgian House Museum is open from Easter until the end of October, and entry is free.
6. Smell the flowers at University of Bristol Botanic Garden
You can still surround yourself with nature, even in the middle of the city, by visiting University of Bristol Botanic Garden.
Here, you’ll be able to enjoy beautiful flowers and a scenic pond, as well as visit the glasshouse to find succulents, orchids and the popular Giant Amazon Waterlily. There are also informative displays where you can learn about the prehistoric plants that dinosaurs ate, and see the garden’s collection of rare and threatened plants.
You can attend informative workshops throughout the year, and join interesting events too, like herb walks and exhibitions about the insects that live in the garden. You may have to buy a separate ticket for workshops and events.
Entry to the garden usually costs £7, but is free for University of Bristol students!
7. Visit Clifton Observatory
Built in 1766, Clifton Observatory offers fantastic views over the city of Bristol and its famous landmarks, like Clifton Suspension Bridge.
There’s so much more to do there though than just take in the views. You’ll also be able to explore Giant’s Cave, a natural cave formed in the limestone of St Vincent’s Rocks.
Or, create a personalised view of Bristol using William West’s camera obscura, a feat of engineering that has been on top of the tower since 1828, and one of only 3 working camera obscuras in the UK.
Tickets to see the cave or the camera obscura cost £3 each, or you can buy a ticket that gives you access to all the attractions at Clifton Observatory for just £5!
8. Take a sightseeing cruise
One of the best ways to see the sights along Bristol’s attractive harbourside is by taking a trip on the Bristol ferry.
The regular ferry is a popular method of getting around the city, and has stops in the city centre, Millennium Square, and Wapping Wharf, among others. It makes a great alternative to travelling by bus, and a student ticket costs just £1.40 one way!
If you’d like to take a longer trip, the Bristol ferry also runs longer boat trips with live commentary. You could take the Brunel’s Bristol Boat Tour and learn more about the famous engineer while passing sights like Clifton Suspension Bridge; or go on a leisurely trip all the way down the beautiful Avon Gorge.
Prices for daily cruises are £8.
9. Go on a walking tour
If you’d prefer to stretch your legs while seeing the sights, why not take a walking tour? There are so many different options you can choose from, depending on your interests.
For example, you can download the free app, GPSMyCity, and choose from 12 self-guided walks, including the Bristol Museums Walking Tour, Famous Bristol Statues Tour, and the Banksy Tour in Bristol, where you can find all the best artworks by Bristol’s most famous street artist.
If you’d like to take a tour guided by a local expert, there are also plenty to choose from, such as the Haunted and Hidden Walking Tour, which takes you to some of Bristol’s lesser-known and most-haunted spots. There is also the Bristol Pirate Walk, where Pirate Pete will tell you all about the city’s maritime history.
Prices for the different tours vary, but start from a very reasonable £6 with an NUS card!
10. Learn more about the city at Bristol Open Doors
Have you ever walked past an interesting-looking building and wondered what was inside? Bristol Open Doors is your chance to find out! For 3 days every September, buildings and other spaces that are usually closed to the public open their doors to let you inside.
Plus, local historians are on hand to give tours and explain all about the history of some of Bristol’s best-loved landmarks, so you’ll have the chance to see another side of the places you thought you knew, too. You can check their website for the full programme of events.
11. See a show at the Tobacco Factory Theatre
The former tobacco factory is one of the most beautiful buildings in Bristol. Although it’s no longer a working factory, you can still go inside as it’s now a theatre instead.
The theatre stages a wide variety of performances, from opera to pantomime, and brand new plays to classic works by Shakespeare, so there’s something for everyone! Prices are very reasonable too, starting from £12 and going up to about £18 for the very best seats.
12. Get inspired at Arnolfini
Located on the waterfront, Arnolfini is one of Europe’s premier contemporary arts centres. Arnolfini has 3 floors of galleries where you can see a range of exhibitions and modern art installations by some of the most famous artists and photographers in the world.
Arnolfini also hosts regular events like talks and poetry readings, and it has one of the best specialist art book shops in the UK, stocking more than 100 magazines and periodicals on art, design, literature and film.
You can also buy books to help you with your studies or a gift or a postcard to send back home.
Arnolfini was even a finalist in Art Fund’s Museum of the Year competition in 2016, so it really is one of the best! Admission to Arnolfini’s galleries is free, as are most of the special exhibitions and talks, although you may have to purchase a ticket for very popular events.
13. Walk along Clifton Suspension Bridge
Clifton Suspension Bridge is easily Bristol’s best known and best-loved landmark. It was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, widely recognised as one of the word’s best ever engineers, and has been attracting visitors from all over the world for 150 years.
The bridge itself is stunning to look at, and is Grade I listed, meaning it is considered one of the UK’s most important historical structures. You’ll also have fantastic views across the beautiful Avon Gorge. It’s the perfect backdrop to take a photo to remember your time in Bristol!
It costs £1 to cross the bridge in a car, but walking along the footpath is free.
14. Relax in Castle Park
Even though Bristol is a lively city, it still has plenty of green spaces for you to relax in! One of the best of these is Castle Park. This large, grassy park is the perfect place to relax on a sunny day. You can bring a picnic to share with friends, or enjoy listening to free music from the bandstand.
There’s also lots to explore in Castle Park. It’s named after Bristol Castle, which was once the largest Norman castle in England, built in the 11th century for first Earl of Gloucester. Although it was demolished in 1656, you can still see the remains of the walls and the underground chambers.
Elsewhere in the park, you can find the remains of an Anglo-Saxon church, a sensory herb garden and a beautiful bronze drinking fountain designed by the artist Kate Malone.
15. Have fun at Bristol International Balloon Fiesta
Bristol is home to many festivals, but Bristol International Balloon Fiesta is easily the most famous. In fact, it’s been one of Bristol’s biggest free events for more than 40 years! Over 4 days every August, you can watch 130 hot air balloons crossing the sky over Bristol — it really is amazing to see!
You can also take part in a lot of other activities during the festival, such as model aircraft displays and balloon tethering displays. You’ll find a wide variety of food stalls and bars as well as fairground rides and live music to enjoy, meaning it’s almost impossible to be bored!
Study in Bristol
If you’d like to study in the beautiful city of Bristol and explore all of the attractions above and more, we can help. Kaplan works with 2 fantastic universities in the city: