10 Fun Things to do in Bristol With Kids
Iconic landmarks, world-famous ships, Banksy’s street art, family-friendly festivals, exotic wildlife…it often feels to me like Bristol is an outdoorsy playground for fully-grown and little kids! As well as being an independent city with a green heart, there’s always masses of things for families to do. Here are some of my go-to favourites.
This free four day family-friendly festival takes place in the sprawling green grounds of Ashton Court Estate every August. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of the sight of seeing over 100 brightly-coloured balloons soaring over the city – it’s utterly breathtaking.
The magical ‘Night Glows’ can be seen on the Thursday and Saturday night of the festival, when the balloons’ burners are ignited in time to music. While the hot air balloons are the stars of the show, there’s plenty to keep families entertained in the day, including fairground rides and aerial displays.
One of the most important historic ships in the world, Brunel’s SS Great Britain is still as impressive a sight to behold as she was when she was first launched back in 1843 by her designer, Victorian engineering genius, Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
As an honorary Bristolian myself, one of my proudest moments was when my 2-year old blurted out – “look mummy, Brunel’s ship!”. But the SSGB is more than just a pretty monument, the award-winning family attraction has been restored to her former glory and is alive with the sounds and smells of an actual Victorian passenger vessel – from pungent fish in the kitchen, to the ‘earthy’ animal quarters, the ship comes alive as you explore the decks.
Alongside the ship is a museum, Being Brunel, dedicated to the mind of the man behind the ship’s creation (as well as Bristol’s famous Clifton Suspension Bridge and the Thames Barrier, to list other things on his rather impressive CV). Look out for special kid-friendly, Victorian-themed events in the school holidays.
Focused on firing the curiosity of the young, this interactive science centre has hundreds of hands-on exhibits to get kids of all ages excited about why and how things happen in the world around them.
From shooting parachutes into the sky, to giant bubble blowing, an immersive womb experience to a special Animate it! exhibit created in collaboration with Bristol’s Aardman (of Shaun the Sheep and Wallace and Gromit fame), it makes a fascinating family day out.
Don’t miss the chance to journey deep into our solar system in the UK’s first 3D planetarium, located in a gigantic silver ball – it’s most definitely a highlight.
Believe it or not, Bristol Zoo is the fifth oldest zoo in the world! Set in 12 acres of beautifully-kempt gardens, this place has saved me many times in the ‘need to entertain children’ stakes.
It’s particularly good with toddlers as they can roam free, in relative safety, although there’s tons to do for all ages. The attraction is laid out into various zones including a 180 degree Gorilla viewing house, a Twilight Zone filled with nocturnal animals, Aquarium, Bug World, seals and penguins, cute tree kangaroos, lions, a butterfly house and oodles more.
There’s also an aerial ropes course, ZooRopia for slightly older kids, a splash park (which really comes into its own in warm weather), a childrens’ adventure playground, activity centre, daily talks and interactive restaurant, The Hide, all onsite. Wildlife lovers should also check out sister Wild Place Project, located just outside Bristol, off the M5 near Cribbs Causeway.
Bristol’s city farms
St Werburgh’s City Farm and Windmill Hill City Farm are free to enter (although donations are welcome) and a great place to get kids interested in learning about farm animals. There’s something quite lovely about discovering goats, pigs and chickens roaming in the middle of a city.
Both farms are strongly community-minded, Windmill Hill has a huge allotment area, whose produce is often featured on the nutritious, delicious, onsite cafe menu. In each farm you’ll also find a childrens’ playgrounds for the kids to muck about it in.
You get a lot of bang for no bucks at Bristol’s free museums. The big ones include Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, filled to the rafters with interesting exhibits as well as an interactive kids discovery area (go early to this bit to avoid the crowds!).
M Shed tells the story of the city and its people through quirky historic paraphernalia in a converted 1950s’ dockside transit shed, while Blaise Castle Museum is located in a 19th century mansion on a huge estate. Inside you can discover costumes and toys from days gone by before wandering the grounds – you’ll find gorge walks, a folly castle and beautiful views, plus a gigantic kids’ playground.
You can’t visit Bristol and not marvel at Brunel’s iconic bridge. Spanning the dramatic cliffs of the Avon Gorge, there are breathtaking views to be gawped at from every angle. On the city side, the best viewpoints are near Clifton Observatory and the green patch of grass on Sion Hill, just along from The Avon Gorge Hotel by Hotel du Vin.
You have to pay to cross over the bridge by car (£1 each way), but it’s there’s no toll for pedestrians to stroll over and admire the far-reaching vistas. Don’t miss the nearby natural rock slide (polished smooth by generations of gliding bottoms) – I don’t recommend going down it while holding a child though – you need your arms and it’s pretty bumpy!
There’s also a ‘Giant’s Cave’ – named after the mythical Bristol giants Goram and Ghyston. People over the age of four can clamber down steep steps to the cave – a little balcony halfway down the cliff face of the Gorge for even more spectacular views.
Cabot Tower, one of the city’s most famous landmarks, sits in the gorgeous grounds of Brandon Hill Park. The tower was constructed to celebrate the 400th anniversary of John Cabot’s voyage from Bristol and subsequent discovery of North America on The Matthew (a replica of which can be see on Bristol Harbourside) in 1497.
Steep, winding steps lead to the top of the tower, but climbing them with young kids can feel a bit precarious. For those that dare, the reward at the top is stupendous 360 degree views over the whole city. Within the park, there’s also a lovely childrens’ playground at the bottom of the hill, tame squirrels and far-reaching Bristol-scapes.
Bristol Insight’s open top buses
The Bristol Insight open top double decker buses provide a great introduction to the city. Even as an ‘expert’ on the city, whenever I’ve taken a tour I’ve gleaned tons more knowledge about Bristol.
Stops are located at most of Bristol’s main attractions (and some offer discounted entry with a bus ticket, while others can be used in conjunction with Bristol Ferries) and you can hop on and off as you please while learning fascinating facts about the city.
Free child-friendly Bristol festivals
Family-friendly festivals take place throughout the year in Bristol and most of them are free to enter. I’ve already mentioned Bristol International Balloon Fiesta, but there’s also Bristol Harbour Festival, which celebrates the city’s maritime heritage, Bristol Pride (the UK’s largest pride festival), Upfest (Europe’s largest live street art and graffiti festival), Bristol Food Connections and The Downs Festival, to name a few!