Bristol is the place to be if you ever venture over to the southwest of England. Many who visit the UK focus on the bustling urban hubs of culture and nightlife, such as London, and may have a glance at somerset (the stunning city of Bath in particular) and the lovely coastline of Cornwall before calling it a day in this southwestern region. But to miss Bristol would be a travesty! I’m slightly biased as it’s where I’m living and have been for the past couple of years, but once you’ve experienced its seasons and what each month brings, you fall a little more in love with the city.

st nicholas market bristol

From the frigid cold winters to the balmy summer evenings, Bristol is constantly buzzing with life, laughter and music whatever the weather, making it an exceptionally fun city to live in! It’s affordable, scenic and a community that constantly strives to connect and celebrate the city.

With a cold snap in the air and the festive lights twinkling around the Christmas markets, it’s time to tempt you over to the city in all its wintery splendour. The people of Bristol don’t let the minor issue of cold weather get in the way of having a good time!

1. Explore St Nicholas Market

We all love a good market. Whether it’s selling local produce, vintage wares, sweet treats or gifts for loved ones, St Nicholas Market is the place to head to if you like to have a good rummage! Situated in the Old City, the area of Bristol’s city centre that survived the bombing in World War II, wander the Covered Market and the Glass Arcade, and the weekend market stalls that line Corn Street.

st nicholas markets bristol sophie saint

Pick up some genuine leather bags or intricate silver jewellery for a Christmas gift, or just feast upon the famous delicious falafel wraps of Eat A Pitta or the nation’s favourite pies from the pie connoisseurs of Pieminister. There’s nothing that’s more hearty and warming than a top notch British pie, and you will not be disappointed by these! They’ve brought out some lovely festive pies, including the Christingle which is a vegetarian dream of roast parsnip, west country cheddar, leek and chestnut – one of the many pies to win a Gold Star in the 2015 Great Taste Awards.

pieminister bristol pies

2. Go Ice Skating!

Millennium Square just off the Harbourside is usually populated with roller-skaters or skateboarders trying their tricks, but every Christmas an outdoor ice rink appears for everyone to have a go at! Sure, it may not be cold enough in the UK to skate on a beautiful frozen lake, but this rink is made of real ice so you can try and pretend to be out in the wild. There’s nothing more Christmassy than donning a pair of skates and whipping around the ice whilst carols play in the cold winter air.

bristol @bristol ice rink skating

Buy a ticket in advance to make sure you get some time on the ice and head down on the evenings on the weekend to shoop along to pumping music – it definitely makes for a unique night out! The ice rink is brought to Bristol by At-Bristol, the interactive science centre which also contains the only 3D planetarium in England - why not take a closer look at the stars after a skate in the evening?

ice skating Bristol sophie saint

3. Get Some Christmas Shopping Done

Bristol makes for a pretty good destination to get some serious shopping done. Traipse the streets from the huge shopping centre of Cabot Circus where all your high street needs are met, through Broadmead where Primark looms menacingly, besides the long train of German Christmas Market stalls where delicious mulled wine beckons you, through to steep Parks Street’s independent shops and boutiques. Whether you’re searching for something unique or something basic, you can be sure to find it in this city.

bristol shopping st nicholas market

Make sure you visit the Spiegaltent in WaterFront Square when it comes to town from 27th November to 19th December. This huge tent mimics the old Spiegaltents originally built in Belgium in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and are designed to be travelling ballrooms. The mirrors lining the walls allow for sneaky eye contact to be made, so head on down for acrobatics, dancing, live music, craft beer and see who catches your eye for the mistletoe!

bristol shopping sophie saint

4. Snuggle Down In The Cosy Pubs

The English sure know how to do a darn decent pub and you will notice a huge amount of pubs in Bristol that are usually pretty busy – they make for the best way to relax after a hard day pounding the streets hunting for the perfect gift. Most of the pubs serve pretty high quality pub grub and many host live music when the sun goes down so when night falls, jam yourself into the warmth among the crowd and enjoy a good dance when the band starts up!

king street kongs pub bristol

If you’re after the perfect roast lunch to warm your cockles, then go southside to The Old Bookshop, or go north to wander up Gloucester Road and take your pick of cosy pubs! My personal favourite is The Cadbury, hidden in the depths of Montpelier, as it will always have a roaring fire in the winter and quality ales on tap. If you’re in the city centre, King Street is the place to be as you will find some fantastic craft beer spots, such as The Beer Emporium, and you can pop into The Old Duke for some live jazz.

the old duke pub bristol live music

5. Bop To Some Live Music

Bristol has a pumping music scene; literally every genre is taken care of in this city! From dubstep to reggae, house to techno, jazz to blues – the list goes on and you’ll be sure to find a spot to your taste.

party in bristol sophie saint

Great venues, such as, the majestic Colston Hall to the grimy skatepark-by-day Motion, attract big names, but be sure to check out the listings of the smaller, intimate venues as they get some corkers performing too. The Fleece, Start The Bus and The Louisiana are some of the venues you should check out if you’re heading over to Bristol this winter, and also check out The Thekla as who doesn’t want to see a band on a boat??

6. Float On A Boat

Talking of boats, you should know that there are a host of restaurants and pubs that are floating on the river that runs through Bristol’s centre. Back in the day, Bristol was a bustling trading port which saw many ships pass through during trading with Spain, Portugal and Iceland.

It’s success as a port dates back to 1051, but it became transformed into a Floating Harbour in the 14th Century to cope with the challenge of the second highest tidal range in the world. This meant that ships could remain afloat during tidal changes, and now boats are tethered to the land providing unique dining experiences.

bristol glassboat river boats sophie saint

Under The Stars is as near to a pirate ship as you can get and you can dine on pizza and tapas under the twinkling fairy lights (and stars) on the deck, or go below to the cosy dining cabin. If you fancy a top-notch burger, head to the Three Brothers boat or get a bit more fancy at the neighbouring Glassboat. Check out their winter menus or Christmas feasts to enjoy a festive meal with a twist!

under the stars bristol boat sophie saint

7. Be Part Of The Community At The City Farms

It’s not all about eating, drinking and dancing, although these things are pretty hard to avoid in Bristol! There are plenty of wholesome things to get up to which don’t involve expanding your waistline, including the city farms. The lovely neighbourhood of St Werburghs holds a quaint mini-farm amongst the 13 acres of community allotments and this area reflects the heart of Bristol.

It contains this animal oasis, a community garden, locally grown produce and training days to engage people to lead a more sustainable lifestyle. The city farm is a charity that helps the disadvantage and gets them involved in the community, which is a lovely example to all city’s in the UK.

st werburghs city farm bristol image via @StWerbsCityFarm

Pat a goat and watch the bunnies frolic, and if you are gagging for a pint head to the on-site pub for a brilliant roast lunch and a beverage. However, if you are wanting to supersize the animals and see some pretty cool wildlife, then head to the famous Longleat Safari Park which is about an hour outside of Bristol. It will be worth the journey and there’s tons of fun festive thing going on if you have some lil’ kids to entertain.

8. See In The New Year In Fantastic Speakeasy Bars

If you know where to search, you’ll be able to find the city’s enigmatic speakeasy bars. They’re hidden in secret spots dotted around the centre and once you know where to look, you’ll be heading back these places every weekend as the taste of the quality cocktails will haunt you.

Search for a grand stone doorway with a thistle in the glass above the wooden doors, and ring the bell to The Milk Thistle. Fingers crossed you can get in, but if you get in the door you’ll be transported into a decadent and opulent den of leather chesterfield couches, ornate vintage mirrors and twinkling chandeliers. Dapper waiters will attend to your table as you recline and drink in the atmosphere and your poison. This new year’s eve, join the crew at The Milk Thistle for a Victorian ball with string quartets and Madeiras.

milk thistle bristol cocktails sophie saint image via

If you like The Milk Thistle, then you’ll love Red Light. This sexy underground bar can be found at the bottom of Park Street – the entrance is lit by a red light and marked by a pay phone. Pick up the phone and wave to the security camera before the doors open and you can descend into the depths of the ‘adult drinking den’. These cocktails are incredible (dare I say, better than Milk Thistle) and you’ll be smug knowing you found one of Bristol’s best hidden watering holes.

9. Explore with a Walking Tour

If you’re new to the city, brave the cold weather outside and get involved with one of the many walking tours available! It’s a top way to explore the city and notice the little things that could easily be overlooked when traipsing the streets. Learn from the people who know best and go with the Bristol Highlights Walking Tour which will show you everything from the harbourside to the tall peak of Park Street.

banksy bristol walking tours sophie saint

Alternatively, go with The Ultimate Bristol Walking Tour as they’ll show you the artistic side of the city, including the famous Banksy works of art! You’ll be surprised how much of it adorns the city and you’ll also cop an eyeful of other local street artists who are making waves in the graffiti world. This tour will also walk you through the old pirate haunts and smugglers tarvern from way back when it was a bustling sipping ports. It turns out Bristol was a pretty popular place with pirates back in the day!

king street street style bristol

10. Clifton Suspension Bridge Fireworks

If you’re in Bristol, you should definitely check out the iconic Clifton Suspension Bridge. Situated north-west to the city centre, this grand and architecturally beautiful bridge spans the mammoth Avon Gorge giving spectacular views of the surrounding land. It opened in 1864 and is a Grade I listed building – a top bit of historical sightseeing! Walk across to take in the plunging depths of the gorge below, and do make sure you head that way on New Year’s Eve! It’s the perfect spot to watch the city’s fireworks across all the different neighbourhoods. Wrap up warm and perch from this high point to watch the night’s sky come alive with explosions and sparkles as you welcome the new year.

Clifton_Suspension_Bridge,_Bristol image via wikimedia

Bristol sure has a lot going for it in the winter – there’s plenty of ways to be entertained despite the cold weather! If you’re interested in Bristol’s buzzing community during these cold months, then just wait until summer. The whole place lights up in golden west country sun and the festival spirit is reborn- Keep doing what you’re doing, Bristol! You make me smile.

all photographs by Sophie Saint, unless stated otherwise.

Sophie Saint was one of the original travelettes, from 2009 – 2017. After fleeing the UK with ink barely dry on her graduation certificate, she traversed the world with a backpack and spent a few years living in Melbourne – one of her favourite cities in the world.

She finally returned to the UK after a few years where she now whiles time away zipping off for European escapes, crocheting and daydreaming of owning her own hostel somewhere hot to live out eternal summers. See what she’s up to over on her blog and instagram: @saintsonaplane