Look, we love London. It’s up there with some of our favourite cities in the world. Every time we’re in the country, we spend time in London. Recently, however, our attention was pulled west, to Bristol. And I gotta say, after a month living in the harbour city, I can confidently say that Bristol is the perfect alternative to visiting London. I’m not saying Bristol is better than London (I can’t imagine the hate-mail we’d receive by that statement); though I’m not not saying that either.
Bristol, while only the fraction of the size of greater London, packs a heavy punch. And, at least in our minds, is a formidable contender when picking favourites. Perhaps you’ve already been to London a few times and are looking something a little different — or to visit somewhere new. Next time you’re in England if you’re looking for a laid-back alternative to the big city, without having to go far, head to Bristol.
Bristol is Cheaper than London
Bristol isn’t cheap per se, we’re still in the UK after all; but when up against London, you’ll be saving a ton.
Hotels and hostels options are plentiful and are often considerably cheaper. That doesn’t mean you won’t cross a handful of budget-blowers, they’re just not as common as in London. As well, value for money is typically much higher, as demand is generally lower. As far as transportation goes, Bristol buses are actually cost a little more ( £2.50 ) than in London ( £1.50 ), for a single trip anyway. However, when taking into consideration the size of London, you’re typically taking either multiple buses or the tube. And even if paying with an Oyster card, you’re looking at £2.90 for a single ride — £4.90 and up if paying cash.
Bristol, on the other hand, is quite compact. Even if you do require a bus, it’s rarely more than a single trip.
Almost Everything is Walkable
As mentioned earlier Bristol is considerably smaller than London, so already it’s going to be easier to get around town. On top of that, the majority of sights, restaurants and attractions in Bristol are all centrally located. Other than a handful of locations, everything you’ll want to see is within a twenty-minutes walk from the main harbour.
Better Day Trips from Bristol
Two of the most iconic day-trips that most visitors to London will partake, are considerably closer to Bristol.
Bath, with its famous architecture, ancient Roman baths and World Heritage status, is only 18 kilometres east of Bristol. And the monolithic Stonehenge, shrouded in legend and mythology, is a mere 30 kilometres farther.
As well, nearby Cheddar, with its limestone caves and delicious cheese is only an hour drive south. A short drive northwest, you’ll find yourself in another country altogether at Cardiff, the capital of Wales.
Blackbeard is Cooler than Jack the Ripper
There’s no argument that either one of these two fellas was a saint. One is a notorious pirate, the other a serial killer.
Before becoming the most infamous of all the pirates of the Caribbean, Blackbeard was known simply as Edward Teach. Bristol born and bred, Teach — if that’s even his real name — became a privateer during the War of the Spanish Succession. Eventually turning to piracy at war’s end, the rest is epic history.
Jack the Ripper, on the other hand, hid in the shadows of London and murdered prostitutes. Pretty much a huge dickhead.
If I had to pick which town’s local baddie I’d like to down a few pints with, I know who I’d choose.
It has a Massive Street Art Festival
Never have I visited a city that embraces street art culture as much as Bristol. Wandering the streets of Stokes Croft, taking in all the incredible graffiti, it comes as little surprise to learn that Banksy himself (herself?) is a Bristol native.
Artists from all over the world flock to Bristol in order to share their spray-can skills. The scene is so prominent, in fact, an (almost) annual graffiti festival takes place just across the harbour from downtown. Each summer, UpFest showcases amazing artists, both local and foreign, in the neighbourhood of Bedminster.
Aside from the stunning art itself, what really impressed me is the UpFest shop. Found on Bristol’s famous North Street, it sells not only art, books and clothing, but high-quality spray paint and other graffiti-related tools!
One thing to note, just like in 2014, UpFest is taking this year (2019) off, to give volunteers and fundraisers a rest. The festival will return with a bang in 2020.
By no means does London have a shortage of green spaces. There are a bunch of lovely spots to kick back in the grass and sip Pimms under the sun. Even Richmond Park, with its famous deer, is relatively accessible to the centre of town.
Bristol, however, above and beyond its city parks, is completely surrounded in the rolling green hills of the English countryside. The two largest natural areas are mere minutes away from the Bristol harbour.
Just across Avon River, beneath the shadow of the Clifton Suspension bridge, are dozens hiking trails through the vast gorge. And if it’s the Richmond-esque deer you’re after, go for an early hike up into Ashton Court. Catch dozens of large-antlered fallow deer warming themselves as the sun breaks through the morning fog.
Bristol is Laid-Back
Nature may be at arms reach, but unlike in London, you won’t feel the urge to escape Bristols chilled-out vibe. Bristolians are awesome. They’re so friendly and easy going. I’m not sure if people are just raised differently here or if the city imparts something that reverberates through its residents. I know we felt pretty calm and carefree during our stay.
Of course, like anywhere else, it has its share of pretentious hipsters and those seemingly angry for the sake of being so. But compared to London, and most other cities for that matter, Bristol is as easy going as it gets.
Along with many towns in Latin America, Bristol is one of the most vibrant cities we’ve encountered. The prismatic street art splashed across town is one significant contribution. But there are so many other aspects that brighten the city.
Rows of houses, lining entire streets, are painted in vivid orange, yellow, turquoise and teal. Even the older, brick-lined streets, often feature brightly-hued doors of red, blue and green. Colourful houseboats line the harbour and come evening, subtle lights accent its otherwise grey cranes.
Bristol has More Pubs Per Capita than London
This one actually surprised me a little. Bristol has a lot of pubs, but London has an absolute shitload. Then again, London has something else that Bristol does not: a ginormous population.
Now, I didn’t exactly put in hours of research gathering these numbers. This is a fun article, not some in-depth, investigative piece deciding which is the better city to raise your family (though if you are using this blog as a metric for family planning, I’m sorry).
London as roughly 3500 pubs and a population of over 8.7 million. Bristol, on the other hand, with a population hovering around half a million, has only 270-ish. Throw those numbers through a calculator and you’ll find that Bristol has approximately 1 pub for every 1852 people. In London, each pub must be shared by nearly 2500 other people.
And I know what you’re saying, “But not everyone drinks.”
This is England, everyone drinks at the pub. This is a fact (it’s not a fact, but these days I figure I should mention so just to cover my ass).