The Latest From Bristol

Since I moved to the UK, I have found that everywhere I go, people tell me that Bristol is the place to be. It certainly sounded like my dream city: a university town with amazing food and drink options and artsy vibes. Appraisals of Bristol border on cliché, which means the city must continuously evolve to live up to these expectations. When I finally travelled there, I was armed with several National Geographic Traveller (NG) recommendations and hopefully I came away with a few new ones for you.

  1. Wake the Tiger Amazement Park

Outside of the city centre is Wake the Tiger, an immersive art experience and my first NG-certified stop. The lobby is set up as a sample flat display—after witnessing the pitch for a comically awful capitalist real estate venture, performed by two members of the team, you step through a “portal” to a Meridia. In this whimsical sci-fi setting, an advanced civilization is embarking on fascinating research to save the planet, such as collecting the dreams of everyone in the world to source new ideas for environmental preservation. Entrants are given their own task and set out to explore the ethereal production design, with several stops I wish I could return to every day to meditate.

  1. Cocktail Bars

The other NG recommendation I tried was The Milk Thistle, a prohibition-style bar. I had to circle the block a few times before I found the simple black door and rang the buzzer to be invited in. Wanting to limit myself to one drink, I settled for a “First of Many”, a refreshing mix of cucumber and melon topped off with two sour watermelon gummies skewered by a toothpick. I planned to return the following night, not realising that they would be closed—thus, I was robbed of my chance to try the lime-and-hibiscus-flavoured “Crimson Tower” or the Hendrick’s Gin-lemon-raspberry concoction, “Poseidon’s Mercy.” 

So, Sunday evening I ended up at the Bristol and Bath Rum Distillery, the self-proclaimed “home of Dead Man’s Fingers Rum.” There are at least 200 bottles of Dead Man’s Fingers on the shelves behind the bar, where they mix enticing cocktails in a spooky factory-turned-nightclub setting. 

  1. Italian Restaurants

Food recommendations were where the travel magazines failed me—all the places they featured were nowhere near where I was staying, so I was on my own. I usually default to Italian food when in a fix, and ended up having the best carbonara I have tasted since Rome at Giuseppe’s, “one of the South Bank’s oldest family-run Italian restaurants”, which was very fancy for a relatively reasonable price. Recommended by local bartenders was Molto Buono on the famous Park Street, with a welcoming rustic décor and amazing pizza. You might also try out Sonny Stores, another highly recommended local stop—and let me know if it was worth the extra money for a cab!

  1. Walking Tours

I joined the “Blackbeard to Banksy” tour for an overview of everything Bristol: its maritime lore  (being the home of Blackbeard and the place the shipwrecked sailor who would become the inspiration for Robinson Crusoe washed up), its agitational politics (protestors tearing down the Colston statue prompted the removal of other monuments to enslavers and colonists), and of course, its street art (which claims Banksy as the prodigal son). The walls of almost every building in Stokes Croft are adorned with bright sea creatures and floral bursts – among other works of art. There are some walking tours which focus exclusively on street art. Other options to learn more about Bristol include a ghost tour, or the self-guided tour of the University of Bristol campus.

  1. Shopping in Clifton

Everyone I saw was wearing some carefree outfit suited for a music festival, courtesy of the Park Street and Stokes Croft charity shops and retro boutiques. Some more costly but equally fairycore-meets-vintage charity shops and boutiques can be found in Clifton, if you can make the walk up the hill (or just take the bus).

After a stop at one of the cafés or bars in Clifton (I recommend a croque monsieur and mojito at Primrose Café), the obvious choice is to go up to the Clifton Observatory for the iconic view of the Clifton suspension bridge. After almost two days of non-stop sightseeing and shopping, this brought a nice moment of clarity and relaxation.

Among the many changes over the years, this view is one of Bristol’s constants, which alone is worth going back for another visit. I could certainly return to The Milk Thistle again and again, until I’ve tried every cocktail on the menu.

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