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9 Fun Things To Do For Free In Bristol

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Did you know that virtually all of Bristol's museums are free to access? Or that its highest vantage point doesn't cost a penny to ascend? For today's blog we searched out the city's best free things to do, many of which will prove to be popular all-round activities come summer. In addition to our own research we contacted Mary Cook, director of the Bristol Insight Bus Tour (formerly City Sightseeing Bristol), who also chipped-in with her favourite suggestions.

1, Climb to the top of Cabot Tower (Brandon Hill Park, Great George Street, Harbourside, Bristol BS1 5RR)

Cabot Tower actually serves as the architectural 'cherry on top', so to speak, of a stunning natural attraction located right in the heart of Bristol city centre. On a warm sunny day head along to Brandon Hill, a gently sloping parkland that serves as Bristol's premier picnic spot and children's play area. While the hill itself provides spectacular views across the city the finest panoramas can be found atop Cabot Tower. This 32-meter high Neo-Gothic landmark has four viewing platforms oriented towards their respective cardinal detections. Ascend its 108 steps with a good quality camera in-hand and snap some cracking shots of nearby Bristol Cathedral and Harbour. Access to the tower is completely free.

2, Take a Bristol walking tour with M-Shed (Princes Wharf, Wapping Road, Bristol BS1 4RN)

It seems almost natural that in our port-modern world all former centres of industrial activity should become quirky cultural hotspots. Bristol Harbour proves to be no exception with the presence of the M Shed on Princes Wharf. This museum housed within a former dockside transit shed has fast risen to become one of Bristol's most cherished visitor attractions. Inside you'll find numerous colourful displays, each exploring a different aspect of the city. There's one that focuses on Bristol's physical makeup, along with the people and events that shaped it. There's one that hones in on famous local figures, such as Nick Park, Hugo Weaving, Lee Evans and Banksy. And one that explores how life has developed in the city from past to present.

Not only does the M Shed feature indoor exhibitions, but it also operates a fantastic selection of outdoor attractions. What to see a working steam locomotive right in the heart of Bristol? Or a restored set of functioning electric cranes? M Shed's volunteers work hard to keep these traditions alive and present them to the public for free. We would, however, recommend that you give them a small donation.

What we like most about M Shed here at CityXplora is their free city walking tours. Check out the link in the title above to find out when you can join one of their journeys into the Old City, the Floating Harbour, Redcliffe and more.

3, Explore Bristol Museum & Art Gallery (Queens Rd, Bristol BS8 1RL)

Bristol Museum and Art Gallery really is a bit of everything. As well as explorations of Bristol's own history it boasts hundreds of artefacts from ancient civilisations, amazing natural history displays, and sprawling galleries filled with art from across the world. On its ground floor you'll find 3000-year-old Egyptian sculptures, decorated sarcophagi and mummies; ancient Assyrian reliefs, and a gallery filled with exciting temporary exhibitions. The first floor features wonders from the natural world, including rare mineral collections, taxidermy wildlife from across the British Isles, dinosaur fossils, and an exhibition tracing Earth's development over the past 1 billion years.

Upon reaching the second floor galleries you'll find yourself in a wonderland of precious paintings, metalwork and ceramics. From pieces by old Italian and Dutch masters to blown glass from China and Japan, it's all on display here.

4, Revisit the late 18th century at the Georgian House Museum (7 Great George Street, Bristol, Avon BS1 5RR)

It's no secret that Bristol used to play an important role in the Transatlantic slave trade, in fact, the Georgian House Museum was once owned by slave plantation owner and sugar merchant John Pinney. His former residence now serves as an intriguing window into the lives of upper and lower class citizens during the late 18th century. The displays on the bottoms floors reflect the lives of the servants, while the upstairs rooms are filled with the trappings of the masters. You'll also see the quarters of Pero, John's personal African slave.

5, See Tudor Bristol at the Red Lodge Museum (Red Lodge, Park Row, Avon, Bristol BS1 5LJ)

A visit to the Red Lodge Museum is essentially a trip across 400 years worth of history. Like in the Georgian House the exhibition spaces are spread out across a number of rooms, each expertly restored to their original glory. The Great Oak Room and the Original Lodge both represent the most complete, entirely Tudor, living spaces in the UK. There's also a room dedicated to family life in Georgian England, and one to schooling in the Victorian era. Not only will the designs and architecture transport you back, but so will original artefacts and a host of hands-on summer activities, such as dress-ups, storytelling and crafts.

6, Enjoy contemporary art at the Arnolfini Art Centre (16 Narrow Quay, Bristol BS1 4QA)

The Arnolfini contains everything a culture vulture needs to have a great day out. Most of its contemporary art exhibitions, talks, workshops and live performances are free to access, with a little something for every age group guaranteed to be on display. Casual visitors will also appreciate its child friendly café bar and its spacious harbourside terrace.

7, Visit the Bristol Architecture Centre (16 Narrow Quay, Bristol, Avon BS1 4QA)

Bristol's Architecture Centre is a place where design innovations, art displays, and fun family activities all combine into one free attraction. This year (2015) they'll be exploring the city's 'green' credentials with a series exhibitions, workshops and events. Check out the title link above to find out what family tailored events they'll be running in the coming months.

8, Take a walk around key Bristol landmarks (Various)

In addition to our own research we spoke to Mary Cook, director of the Bristol Insight Bus Tour (formerly City Sightseeing Bristol). She and her professional staff are experts on their home city and are actively involved in its promotion on a daily basis. Mary's top recommendations involve an appreciative stroll around St Mary Redcliffe Church, Bristol Cathedral and the famous Clifton Suspension Bridge. The first two provide free entry and only ask for a small donation in return, while the Clifton Bridge is one that Mary confidently cites as 'the' best thing to do for free in Bristol.

9, Lounge about in Castle Park (Stop 16, Bristol Insight Bus Tour)

Mary also linked us to a few more suggestions by the Bristol Insight team, and this one caught our eye the most. Castle Park's location makes it an ideal spot to mingle with Bristol locals. Its southern end lies along the banks of the Floating Harbour while its northern edge faces Cabot Circus (Bristol's largest shopping centre).

During a visit you'll encounter the remains of Bristol Castle, a Norman-era fortification built during the reign of William the Conqueror. Next to St. Peter’s Church in the centre of the park there's a sensory herb garden that's sure to titillate the nose on a breezy day. And spread throughout the rest of the park there exists a number of interesting memorials. The most conspicuous of these is the Normandy Garden of Peace, where five Silver Birch trees commemorate losses during the 1944 landings. You can also find memorials to Anne Frank and the victims of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Photo Credits:

  • Bristol M Shed © Quintin Lake.
  • Bristol Museum & Art Gallery © Chris Bahn.
  • Georgian House Museum © Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives.
  • The Red Lodge Museum © Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives.
  • All Arnolfini Pictures © Jamie Woodley.