Bristol Neighbourhood Guide: the City CentrePosted on: 16 Jan 2023
We’re working our way through Bristol’s multitude of vibrant neighbourhoods, highlighting just a few of the best spots and features that make them tick.
What better place to start than the City Centre?
Read on for our guide to all the nightlife, food, shopping, cultural and historical highlights of Bristol’s busiest area…
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Bristol City Centre is one of the most congested areas in the city in terms of pubs, clubs, bars, and music venues, making it the prime destination for a good night out.
Drinkers are spoilt for choice when gracing the ancient cobbles of King Street. The historically significant street boasts as many as ten bars. On one end is The Llandoger Trow, where Daniel Dafoe met the man on who he based his legendary fictional castaway Robinson Crusoe in the early 1700s.
Opposite The Llandoger is lauded jazz hangout The Old Duke (pictured below). With spacious outside seating and esteemed jazz artists and local bands on its cosy stage in the winter, this is one of Bristol’s top watering holes.
Other destinations include the well-stocked King Street Brew House, specialised cider boat The Apple, underground bar The Beer Emporium, Kongs, The Famous Royal Naval Volunteer, Small Bar, King William Ale House and the Bristol Old Vic theatre bar.
The City Centre also enjoys a myriad of brilliant clubs and music venues of all shapes and sizes. The largest, SWX, boasts a capacity of 1,800 people. Back in the summer of 2021, the Nelson Street venue was forced to close due to a fire, only reopening back in September 2022.
Since then, SWX (pictured below) has welcomed a range of massive artists including Eurovision runner-up Sam Ryder, math rockers Black Midi, 2000s icons Sugababes and alt-pop queen Natalie Imbruglia.
Moving away from one of the city’s more mainstream spots, Bristol is also an epicentre of independent, alternative culture and has the venues to prove it. Both The Lanes and Strange Brew are just around the corner from SWX and much smaller in size.
The Lanes is a boutique bowling alley, bar, club, music venue and diner all in one with a busy schedule and a massive courtyard, perfect for hot summer evenings.
Strange Brew is one of Bristol’s newest independent mid-sized venues. A DIY bar, live music venue (max 330 capacity), café, record shop and exhibition space, it is a venue at the forefront of Bristol’s burgeoning progressive music scene.
The City Centre is also the heart of the city’s diverse restaurant and café scene with a multitude of independents to choose from. Not least in St Nicholas Market where foodies can indulge themselves in authentic Moroccan dishes from Moorish Café, modern Asian fusion meals from Woky Ko, traditional Kurdish food at Matina, vegan and veggie treats from Royce Rolls Cafe and a whole lot more besides.
Not far, on Baldwin Street, is student favourite Chilli Daddy. With first-rate spicy Szechuan street food (favourites include paojiao chicken noodle hotpot and tofu noodle hotpot with wild garlic dumplings) at reasonable prices - this is one of central Bristol’s hidden gems.
If you’re looking for a forward-thinking café that breaks the mould of your average coffee hangout, Dareshack (pictured below) is the spot for you. Perfectly located on Wine Street, the relatively new venue is a creative hub that boasts a multi-use rehearsal and performance studio, exhibition spaces and co-working spaces as well as a fully equipped kitchen and speciality coffee bar.
Beyond food and drink, the city centre also houses some of Bristol’s most vital arts spaces, from theatres to cinemas. The largest theatre, Bristol Hippodrome, is also one of the UK’s biggest, regularly welcoming all the major musical productions from around the country and beyond.
Bristol’s other leading theatre, Bristol Old Vic (pictured below), is another renowned performance space with an international reputation as one of the most forward-thinking in the world. The UK’s longest continually running theatre was redeveloped back in 2018 with a new studio space and the beautiful state-of-the-art auditorium added.
Another artistic hotspot, Watershed, was founded in 1982 with an ethos of promoting new ideas and creating enjoyable experiences. The cultural cinema has since established itself as one of the UK’s leading art form organisations, accommodating a café, bar and conference/events space as well as presenting a diverse programme of films, events, festivals, artist commissions, workshops and conferences.
Bristol is a city steeped with history and the centre of the city is the perfect microcosm of this. The name ‘Bristol’ comes from the Saxon ‘Brigstowe’ meaning ‘place of the bridge’ and, while no one knows where the original stood, the current Bristol Bridge was opened way back in 1768.
Since then, the structure has remained the city’s key bridge (okay, other than that one) and was even the subject of the Bristol Bridge Riot of 1793 when locals voiced their resentment of bridge tolls, eleven people were killed and as many as forty-five injured.
Just next to Bristol Bridge is Castle Park, where the ruins of Bristol Castle can be found. Built to defend the city during the reign of William the Conqueror, the castle was demolished in 1656 under the orders of Oliver Cromwell and later destroyed completely during the Bristol Blitz.
Another site of historical interest in the area is, of course, Bristol Cathedral. One of England’s great medieval churches, it was founded as Augustinian Abbey in 1140. The Cathedral boasts various features of historic interest, not least its intricate and patterned stone walls.
The grand building has acted as a filming location for several popular television series including award-winning BBC shows Wolf Hall and Sherlock.
So, there it is, 365Bristol’s guide to Bristol City Centre. It’s impossible to round up all the nightlife, food, shopping, cultural and historical highlights in less than 1,000 words but please get in contact with us here and let us know your favourite hangouts or locations.
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Stan is a born and bred Bristolian, recently graduated from studying English Literature in Sheffield. His passions are music and literature and spends the majority of his time in venues all over the city immersing himself in Bristol’s alternative music scene. A lifelong Bristol City fan, Stan’s Saturday’s are spent watching his team both home and away.