Bristol, England – Impressions

For the second day of my weekend in the South West of England, I explored the city of Bristol.

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Bristol is a busy little city and has been rated as one of the UK’s most popular tourist destinations. It was also the port from where the first European since the Vikings to land on North American soil. But, was also the starting point of the Bristol slave trade which took an estimated half a million people from Africa to slavery in the Americas.

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Bristol’s Floating Harbour
Situated on an arm of the River Avon, the Floating Harbour has been sectioned off with water locks to make the water level constant. This has changed the harbour a great deal, it is no longer the great port it once was – that has moved to another location along the River Avon – but is now home to many smaller vessels. On the sides of the port, the warehouses have all been converted to various other uses, such as museums, food halls and bars. There is now also a regular harbour ferry service.

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Bristol Cathedral
Built as an Abbey in the 12th century, it wasn’t converted to a cathedral until Henry VIII’s rein in 1542. The inside of the building was built in the gothic style with a grand choir section in the centre and long Nave to the East. Unfortunately, you cannot climb the towers, as you can in Bath, but the architecture of the insides are far superior to that other cathedral.

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Bristol Museum and Art Gallery
Like many of the cultural locations in Bristol, the museum and art gallery is free to the public. It is larger than I expected, and as I was a little short on time, I was forced to rush through many of the exhibits. Over four floors, there was so much on offer: From ancient Egypt to Assyria, dinosaurs, geology, minerals, gemstones, and much more. All this along with art from French painters, a history of silver objects, ceramics and eastern art. Well worth a visit, but give yourself plenty of time.

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Cabot Tower
The tower was constructed, on Brandon Hill, in the 1890s to commemorate the 400th anniversary of John Cabot’s voyage from Bristol to set foot on the land that would eventually become Canada. The tower is free to the public, offers great 360º views across the city, but can be very busy on the thin sets of stairs.

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M Shed – A Museum of Bristol
Along the banks of the floating harbour, one of the transit sheds on the dock has been converted into a museum dedicated to Bristol. It holds more than 3000 artefacts exploring life and work in the city over the years. It has three main galleries devoted to Bristol Life, Bristol People and Bristol Places. It includes tributes to the likes of Massive Attack, Wallace and Grommit, and other local artists. Like many other cultural areas in Bristol, it’s free.

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Brunel’s SS Great Britain
The SS Great Britain was the largest ship afloat when it launched in 1843. She was the first iron steamer to cross the Atlantic two years later, it took her 14 days. For 30 years she carried thousands of immigrants to Australia until she was retired to the Falkland Islands to be used as a warehouse and coal hulk. She was scuttled after almost 100 years of service only to be raised in 1970, repaired and towed back to Bristol where she was built. She’s now a museum piece.

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Bristol Street Art
Like many cities around the world, Bristol has its fair share of street art, and not just walls littered with graffiti. Of course, with Banksy as a local street artist, the others have a lot to live up to. I’m not the greatest Banksy fan, but if I had time, I might have taken some of the handful of self-guided tours around the city looking at the remnants of his work. I liked this one, although it’s not one of his.

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Bristol was an interesting and very busy place. I wish I had more time to explore.

Next month, my first trip into Ireland for a long weekend in Dublin.

The World Wanderer.

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