A guide to Bristol Old City – things to do and places to eat


Bristol’s Old City quarter is one of the best places to soak up Bristol’s history as a thriving port, where ships from all over the world would arrive laden with wines, rum and sugar to be unloaded on the quayside. Peek through the doors of the elegant buildings of Corn Street and you’ll see the lofty banking halls that reflected the city’s wealth and importance, now turned into bars and restaurants that you can enjoy. Stroll along the cobbled streets by the river and have a drink in the old pubs that were a favourite haunt of sailors and pirates.

I love writing about my favourite things to do in Bristol, so when I was asked by the alcoholic soda brand Crooked to share some of my favourite spots, I decided to create my personal guide to Bristol’s Old City.

Castle Park in Bristol

Let’s start from Bristol’s Harbourside

My weekend walk around Bristol’s Old City started at the fountains on St Augustine’s Parade, which are easy to find opposite the Hippodrome. As you stand on this spot, the harbourside is straight ahead, but you may not realise that the water once extended much further into the city. Where you are standing would once have been a busy quayside with a forest of masts, as ships unloaded their cargo from all over the world. You’ll get a feel for the narrow cobbled alleyways of past centuries in Bristol if you walk up Christmas Steps which once led up the hill from the harbour.

Read More: 10 cool things to do in Bristol Harbourside

Fountains in the harbourside Bristol Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Fountains in the Harbourside Bristol

Corn Street – the heart of Bristol’s Old City

From the fountains you can walk up Corn Street, into the heart of Bristol’s Old City, the place where where much of the business and commerce took place. Be sure to look up at the impressive buildings that were built by the banks and financial institutions of Bristol, now transformed into bars and restaurants. You can still get a feel for the wealth if you pop into some of them, like Cosy Club, The Commercial rooms, Pizza Express and the Sansavino Hall of the Harbour Hotel, which are all former banking halls with lofty skylights and decorative plasterwork.

Corn Street in Bristol Old City Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Corn Street in Bristol Old City

Corn Street is now pedestrianised and still buzzing, although less with commercial activity and more with a lively bar and restaurant scene as well as regular street markets. As I wandered through on a weekend there was a flea market selling antiques, vintage clothes and collectables and you’ll also find the Farmer’s Market on Wednesdays and the Street-Food Market on Tuesday and Friday.

If you reach the end of Corn Street and turn left into Small Street, you’ll find more impressive old buildings, many associated with the law courts and chambers – with narrow openings leading through to courtyards and alleyways that look positively Dickensian.

Competition! If you’d like to win a city break to Bristol worth £1,000 you should check out the competition at that Crooked are running (more info on their website shortly) All you need to do is pick up a can of Crooked in your local store and share a picture of the Crooked can on Instagram with the tag #CrookedReality – its running until the end of August 2018 and in addition to Bristol you could visit Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow or Sheffield.

Bristol Old City Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Bristol Old City

We’ll explore this street in a bit but first it’s time to visit St Nicholas Market, which was the old Corn Exchange. This is where the merchants came to trade and outside you can still see the metal tables where they made their deals, known as The Nails – it’s where the expressions “to pay on the nail” came from.

Read More: 25 Fun things to do in Bristol with your friends

St Nicholas Market – quirky shopping in Bristol Old City

Inside the Corn Exchange the room is packed with stalls of small traders and there’s a festival feel with a waft of incense in the air, silver jewellery and colourful scarfs and clothes on sale. This is the place that local businesses selling handmade or specialist items start out, so you’re bound to find something unique and unusual.

St Nicholas Market in Bristol Corn Exchange

St Nicholas Market in Bristol Corn Exchange

On the far side of the Corn Exchange building is the Glass Arcade which comes alive around lunchtime as locals come to buy their lunch from their favourite food vendors. Each stall sells something different, from salads and fresh juices, to sausages and pulled pork, to Caribbean, Moroccan and Portuguese flavours. The market’s open on Saturday but closes on Sunday and in the evening, so the market is best for a lunchtime visit.

St Nicholas Market in Bristol

St Nicholas Market in Bristol

Ahh Toots in St Nicholas Market in Bristol Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Ahh Toots in St Nicholas Market in Bristol

Where to go for lunch in Bristol Old City

The streets around St Nicholas Market are packed with unusual cafés, bars and restaurants so even when the food market’s closed there’s always something good to eat. If you want to get a taste of the fantastic food in Bristol, try the Eat Walk Talk food tour which is a great way to dip into Bristol’s food culture, as the tour stops at different places around the Old City so you’ll always get a different flavour.

While I was out exploring on at the weekend I tried out a couple of places that would make great lunchtime stops. At the end of St Stephen’s Street is Tuk Tuck, a small café that sells Asian street food to eat at their inside tables or order to take out and perhaps eat in Castle Park.

TukTuck in Bristol with Crooked Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

TukTuck in Bristol with Crooked

I ordered the Korean Bimbimbap bowl of cooked rice topped with lightly cooked vegetables, shredded chicken, egg and some hot sauces to mix in to taste. It was very tasty and excellent value at only £6.80 so my whole lunch with a can of Crooked Midnight Stage (blood orange and passionfruit) was just under £11. There are lots of other dishes such as Japanese gyoza dumplings, Kimbap ( a Korean version of sushi), Thai red curry and lots of veggie and vegan choices on the menu too. If you enjoy Asian food there’s plenty of choice in Bristol Old City so look out for Eatchu and Chilli Daddy in St Nicholas Market or Pho on Corn Street as well as Dangun on St Nicholas Street recently opened by the same owners as Tuk Tuck.

TukTuck in Bristol with Crooked

TukTuck in Bristol with Crooked

Another place I’d been wanting to try for ages is Burger Theory, which is on St Stephen’s Street and I’d heard they serve some of the best burgers in Bristol. There’s a bit of a burger culture in Bristol (and we’re not talking Macdonalds!) with lots of places that serve juicy pink beef patties served with tempting toppings. If you’re out and about in other neighbourhoods of Bristol look out for The Burger Joint, Asado, Squeezed and Oowee if you love a proper juicy burger.

Burger Theory in Bristol with Crooked2

Burger Theory in Bristol with Crooked

Burger Theory brand themselves as The Creative Burger people and they make all their burgers, sauces and pickles on site, using locally sourced and high welfare meat. The place had a nice atmosphere and relaxed vibe, with an outside area of tables too. I ordered a Down n Dirty burger (£8.95) with a juicy beef patty topped with crispy bacon, melted cheddar, pink pickled onions and dirty burger sauce and a choice of brioche, Italian herb, seeded wholemeal or gluten free bun.

At Burger Theory they stock the Crooked Mother Moon which is their peach and pomegranate flavour and the Dayglo Skies raspberry and lime flavour, both of which they told me were especially popular in summer. I was really happy with my super juicy burger oozing with cheese and toppings and in danger of splattering the front of my shirt, just as you’d hope for in a good burger.

Competition! If you’d like to win a city break to Bristol worth £1,000 you should check out the competition at that Crooked are running (more info on their website shortly) All you need to do is pick up a can of Crooked in your local store and share a picture of the Crooked can on Instagram with the tag #CrookedReality – its running until the end of August 2018 and in addition to Bristol you could visit Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow or Sheffield.

Burger Theory in Bristol with Crooked

Burger Theory in Bristol with Crooked

Street Art in Bristol Old City

After a great lunch I continued my wander around Bristol’s Old City Quarter along Small Street (which I mentioned is where the law courts and legal chambers of Bristol were traditionally based). Heading down Small Street will take you to the old gate and part of Bristol’s medieval city wall where you can pass through the arch under the church of St John in the Wall.

Read More: Bristol Street Art – so much more than Banksy

Street art in Nelson Street Bristol 2 Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Street art in Nelson Street Bristol

Street art in Nelson St Bristol Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Street art in Nelson St Bristol

Beyond the city gate is Nelson Street, where you’ll find quite a few impressive street art murals that were created as part of the See No Evil Street Art Festival that took place in 2011 and 2012. The festival was a popular celebration of Bristol’s street-art culture and was later replaced by Upfest, the Urban Arts festival that takes place in July in the Bedminster neighbourhood south of the city.

Streetart in Bristol Old City Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Streetart in Bristol Old City

Streetart in Bristol Old City

Streetart in Bristol Old City

If you enjoy Street Art you should visit the Upfest Gallery on North Street and see the murals created during the festival when international street artists come from all over the world. Stokes Croft is another area where you can see Bristol’s famous Street art scene and is around 10 minutes away from the Nelson Street murals. It’s also worth taking a street art tour with Where The Wall who will take you past the best street art murals that you may not find as a visitor and tell you the stories of each piece and the artists behind them.

Street art in Nelson Street Bristol 3 Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Street art in Nelson Street Bristol

Castle Park in Bristol Old City

As you walk back along Small Street you’ll be heading towards Bristol Bridge, the original bridge across the river which gave Bristol it’s name of Brigstowe – the place by the river. Old drawings show that the medieval bridge was much wider than the current stone bridge, with shops along both sides and houses closely packed along the river.

Castle Park sculpture in Bristol Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Castle Park sculpture in Bristol

This part of old Bristol was so heavily bombed during the war that the houses overlooking the river had to be demolished and instead the area was made into Castle Park. In the centre of the green space sits the shell of the church of St Peter’s church, left as a memorial to the civilians who lost their lives in the bombings. The park is a beautiful place to walk or relax on the grass in summer and popular spot for locals working in nearby offices to come in the lunch-hour or after work.

Read More: Free things to do in Bristol

Garden in Castle Park Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Garden in Castle Park

Physic Garden in Castle Park Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Physic Garden in Castle Park

Behind the church are stone sculptures as part of a water feature and running along one side is a Physic garden, modelled on the medieval gardens that would be packed with herbs and medicinal plants used in cooking and healing. The scented garden is at its most beautiful at this time of year, with the roses and poppies blooming among the tangle of herbs and summer wild flowers.

Bristol Bridge and Castle Park Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Bristol Bridge and Castle Park

If you want to explore across the river, the snaking footbridge, named Castle Bridge was recently completed to connect Castle Park with the Finzels Reach development on the other side.

Old Inns and Warehouses in Bristol Old City

After enjoying a wander in Castle Park (it’s a good place for a picnic) you can walk back to Bristol Bridge and continue along the cobbled street by the river known as Welsh Back. Along this stretch are several boats and barges made into restaurants, such as The Glass Boat which is a French style brasserie, Three Brothers serving burgers, craft beers and cider and The Apple, specialising in ciders.

Bristol Harbour Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Bristol Harbour

This quarter of Bristol Old City was once full of warehouses and was a favourite drinking spot for the sailors who landed in Bristol’s harbour. You may notice the blackened timber beams of the Llandogger Trow that was built in the 17th century and is thought to be the inn mentioned in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island where the young hero Jim Hawkins comes across a pirate’s treasure map. There are information signs around here for the Treasure Island Trail which follows the Bristol places mentioned in the Treasure Island book.

Llandogger Trow in Bristol Photo Hreatheronhertravels.com

Llandogger Trow in Bristol

On a summer evening it’s a great place to sit ourside on the wooden tables between the pubs and you may hear some jazz wafting from The Old Duke which is just opposite.

Competition! If you’d like to win a city break to Bristol worth £1,000 you should check out the competition at that Crooked are running (more info on their website shortly) All you need to do is pick up a can of Crooked in your local store and share a picture of the Crooked can on Instagram with the tag #CrookedReality – its running until the end of August 2018 and in addition to Bristol you could visit Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow or Sheffield.

Old Pubs in Bristol Old City Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Old Pubs in Bristol Old City

Along King Street you’ll see old buildings from different centuries, from the Georgian Bristol Old Vic Theatre that’s currently under renovation, to Victorian decorative brick warehouse buildings. Many have swing arms at the upper windows that would have been used to hoist cargo up into their lofts. There are plenty of historic pubs and bars here if you want to spend an evening supping ale or West Country cider.

Old Warehouses in Bristol Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Old Warehouses in Bristol

Queens Square in Bristol Old City

Set behind Welsh Back is Queens Square, with grass, gravel walks and a central statue of King William III, surrounded by shady mature trees and elegant Georgian buildings that are now mainly used as offices. This area was marshy land in medieval times, but once it was drained the square was laid out in the 1720s, with houses built by wealthy Bristol merchants. In the 1820s many of the houses were destroyed during the Bristol riots, but were later rebuilt and the square is now a pleasant place to walk and admire the old houses or sit with a picnic, often also hosting festivals and events.

Queens Square in Bristol Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Queens Square in Bristol

At one corner of Queens Square you’ll find the Hole in the Wall pub, another favourite sailor’s haunt that was mentioned in Treasure Island and was known for having two entrances and a round “Spyglass” window, so that someone could keep watch for press gangs who might try take the sailors by force while they were drinking.

The Hole in the Wall in Bristol Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

The Hole in the Wall in Bristol

Walking back across Queen’s Square, you’ll find yourself back by the the harbourside where we started our walk around Bristol’s Old City. There’s lots to see in Bristol’s Old City and I hope that my guide has helped you dip into the city’s past as a bustling port and thriving commercial centre, while having a bite to eat and a drink or two along the way.

About Crooked Alcoholic Sodas

While I was out and about in Bristol Old City I tried some of the Crooked alcoholic sodas. My choice was the Midnight Stage which is a mix of blood orange and passionfruit and I found it fruity and light with a natural soda taste. The other flavours available are raspberry and lime Dayglo Skies or peach and pomegranate Mother Moon.

These alcoholic sodas are 4.7% alcohol, which about the same as a mid-strength beer or cider but I found the alcohol taste was quite subtle. They are made with natural ingredients and are not as sweet as some other alcoholic sodas, so are ideal if you want something light and fresh and I could imagine drinking these at a summer picnic or festival.

If you try them be sure to drink responsibly and remember although the colourful design may have a youthful feel, these are not suitable for under 18s. Find out more on the Crooked website | Twitter @CrookedBevCo | Instagram @CrookedBevCo | Facebook

Competition! If you’d like to win a city break to Bristol worth £1,000 you should check out the competition at that Crooked are running (more info on their website shortly) All you need to do is pick up a can of Crooked in your local store and share a picture of the Crooked can on Instagram with the tag #CrookedReality – its running until the end of August 2018 and in addition to Bristol you could visit Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow or Sheffield.

This article is brought to you in partnership with Crooked but all tips and opinions are as ever my own.

Crooked in Bristol Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Crooked in Bristol

More information for visiting Bristol Old City

To help plan your visit to Bristol’s Old City check out the website BristolOldCity.co.uk for more information on what to do, where to eat and stay in Bristol Old City and you can also use the Visit Bristol website for lots more information on things to do in Bristol.

Where to stay in Bristol Old City

If you’re looking for a place to stay in Bristol’s Old City Quarter there’s plenty of choice and here are a few that I’d suggest to suit all budgets. Click here to check prices and book for more hotels in Bristol.

Designer Hostel in Bristol – The Bristol Wing

This recently opened designer hostel is in an old police station and they’ve kept the quirky utilitarian feel with murals on the wall to reflect the police theme. There are both dorms and private en suite rooms available and the hostel is also part of a social project and adjoins The Kitchen where you can have breakfast and other meals

The Bristol Wing Website |  Read this review from RTW Families

The Bristol Wing

The Bristol Wing

Apartments in Bristol – SACO Apartments

The SACO Apartments are ideal for families or for longer stays with modern studio, 1, 2 and 3 bedroom serviced apartments. There are two locations close to Bristol’s Old City Quarter at Broad Quay by the Harbourside and at West India House close to Bristol Bridge

SACO Apartments Website | Check Prices and Book | Read this review from Tinbox Traveller

SACO Apartments West India House Photo SACO Apartments

SACO Apartments West India House

Boutique Guest House in Bristol – Brooks Guest House Bristol

Brooks Guest House is one of my favourite boutique guest houses within St Nicholas Market, with a courtyard garden and silver rocket caravans on the roof that you can also stay in.

Brooks Guest House Website | Check Prices and Book | Read this review from Me and B make Tea

Brooks Guest House in Bristol

Brooks Guest House in Bristol

Mid-range Hotel in Bristol – Mercure Bristol Grand Hotel

The honey stone hotel on Small Street has recently gone through a complete refurbishment, with rooms that are contemporary but nod to the hotel’s Victorian heritage, as well as a bit of street art thrown in through their collaboration with Upfest.

Mercure The Grand Website | Read my review | Check Prices and Book

Mercure The Grand Hotel in Bristol Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Mercure The Grand Hotel in Bristol Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Luxury Hotel in Bristol – The Harbour Hotel

For luxury take a look at The Harbour Hotel on Corn Street, a boutique hotel formed from two old banks. The rooms are colourful and individually designed, with luxurious bathrooms and some with roll-top baths. In the old bank vaults is the hotel’s urban spa and you should definitely have a cocktail in the Gold Bar and dinner in their Jetty restaurant specialising in seafood.

The Harbour Hotel Website | Read my review | Check Prices and Book

The Harbour Hotel in Bristol Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

The Harbour Hotel in Bristol

If you want more hotel options: click here to check prices and book for more hotels in Bristol.

This article includes affiliate links – if you choose to buy through these links I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Pin It

Read a guide to Bristol Old City

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here

Click to subscribe to our monthly newsletter, news and reader offers

Subscribe to Heather on her travels newsletter

Top