Bear with us while we explain to you all the reasons you should add Bristol to your travel bucket list. Reasons that may sway you away from places like London and Manchester. It may not seem likely, but we promise there is more than you think to do in and around this city. So much, in fact, you might run out of time. Travelling to this lovely city is easier than you imagine. Only a short train-ride from London, or from its very own airport, Bristol is a hub from which you can explore the south of England and even beyond into Wales. Listen up while we share with you all the things to love about Bristol and beyond.
The city of Bristol itself has a fascinating history. The very first bungee jump took place from the Suspension Bridge in Bristol. Even if throwing yourself off perfectly functional structures is not your thing, it’s cool to know it all started there.
Bristol is home to the world’s largest hot air balloon manufacturer. Not sure what to do with that information, but we like it. And each August, the city hosts Europe’s largest hot air balloon fiesta.
It was the home of the pirate Blackbeard (maybe he left some treasure buried somewhere in the city). Bristol has its own currency. Easter eggs were invented here. The first women ordained as Church of England priests were ordained at Bristol Cathedral. The city even has its own leaning tower, known as Temple Church, which leans at 2.7 degrees (not far off Pisa).
Simply put, it’s a cool place to visit. Despite being a modern city, Bristol’s history dates back thousands of years and is filled with an eclectic mix of events and historical sites. Maybe you’ll time your visit and partake in the hot air balloon fiesta. Perhaps you’re braver than we are and will take a dive off the Suspension Bridge. Or perhaps the allure of its collection of museums, cathedrals, and historical buildings is drawing you in.
Bristol is definitely a city worth visiting, which is why we’ve recently opened it up as a new departure destination for tours. From here, a whole new section of England is open to explore, not to mention Wales.
With as much history as there is in Bristol, you’ll soon realise there is even more of it on its doorstep. It was difficult for us to decide which amazing historical sites to choose for our small-group tours. If only there was more time in a day. More days in a week. More paid annual leave to take. Oh, if only.
So, we narrowed it down to some of our favourite, must-visit sites, all within a day or so from Bristol. Here are some of the top historical places you can visit on one of our tours:
An oldie, but a goldie. And we mean oldie, since Stonehenge was supposedly constructed somewhere around 3000 BC to 2000 BC. For this reason, Stonehenge is now a protected World Heritage Site. We head there on our 1-day Stonehenge & Cotswold Villages tour from Bristol, where you can decide for yourself who built the stone circle.
Fun fact: Stonehenge has been excavated on many occasions and on one, in 1923, an archaeologist found something unusual hidden among the stones. A bottle of port. Not there by accident, believe it or not. Back in 1802, antiquarian William Cunnington kindly left the bottle there for future excavators. Sadly, the cork had since decayed, and the contents were mostly dried up. But it’s the thought that counts!
Some believe it’s a landing site for aliens. Others insist the Romans had something to do with it. Or perhaps magic and giants were involved. There’s no need to make up your mind, though. If you’d rather believe it was somehow all three of these things, we say go for it.
Most people have heard of Stonehenge, but not of Avebury. It’s a real shame, since we absolutely adore this site, which is why we take you there right after Stonehenge on the 1-day Stonehenge & Cotswold Villages tour.
Fun fact: At certain angles, at particular times of the day, people claim they can see faces in the stones. Some suggest they are reflections of the people who built the stones, while others claim it’s merely a trick of the eye. Thoughts?
Unlike its popular counterpart, Avebury is the largest stone circle in Britain and actually consists of three circles in total. Within its limits lies the quaint village of Avebury. There’s something incredible magical about that, isn’t there?
Calling all Arthurian fans. Better known as King Arthur, Camelot, and the Knights of the Round Table. Let’s not forget Merlin, who possibly had something to do with Stonehenge. But that’s another story...
Glastonbury is a fantastic hub for history lovers, especially those with an interest in King Arthur. Forget the festival, trust us, it’s the history you want to go for. The Arthurian Legend doesn’t end on a particularly happy note, what with Arthur dying at the hands of his son and all, but that battle is said to have taken place in Glastonbury.
Fun fact: If you’re a practicing pagan, many people believe Glastonbury Tor was the site for pagan rituals. It’s still used today, so why not give it a go?
Then there’s Cadbury Castle, an Iron Age hill fort, that may just hide the remnants of Camelot from the world’s eyes. Wander up to the amazing Tor, which overlooks the landscape and town below, where you’ll be able to see the hill fort.
There’s even Glastonbury Abbey, thought to be the burial place of King Arthur. In 1191, the monks of the abbey were digging in an old cemetery during the rebuilding of their monastery when they unearthed a lead cross. The Latin inscription on it read Hie Jacet Sepultus Inclytus Rex Arthurus In Insula Avalonia, which is translated into English as ‘here lies interred in the Isle of Avalon the renowned King Arthur’. The monks dug deeper and found two human skeletons, one male and one female, which they assumed to be those of Arthur and Guinevere.
Glastonbury is bursting at its history-seams, not to mention being a lovely little town filled with great shops and food to boot. We head there on our 1-day Flavours of Somerset & Glastonbury tour from Bristol.
King Arthur fans may get a kick out of our The History and Sites of King Arthur blog.
Wales is an absolutely beautiful country, one that often gets overlooked when people visit the UK. But with all that it has to offer, we adore showing it off to travellers. One place we love in particular is Tintern Abbey in the Wye Valley.
From dramatic limestone gorges to its rich historical sites, no wonder the Wye Valley was classified an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty back in 1971. And Tintern Abbey is part of that beauty. This gothic masterpiece has become an icon of the area. Even after 500 years of sitting in ruin, the abbey stands strong.
Fun fact: The Wye Valley is considered the birthplace of British tourism, as well as the birthplace of the industrial revolution.
Founded back in 1131 by Cistercian monks, the abbey started out as little more than a timber building. But by 1269, thanks to the patronage of wealthy lords, the monks were able to bring the masterpiece you see today to life. Sitting snuggly along the beautiful River Wye, we make a stop here on our 2-day Stratford-upon-Avon, Oxford & the Cotswolds tour from Bristol.
5. Carreg Cennen Castle
Honestly, no trip to the UK is complete without gazing upon a dramatic castle. Enter Carreg Cennen Castle, perched high on a rocky outcrop overlooking the River Cennen in Wales. Protected by limestone cliffs to the south and rock-cut ditches to the west, this striking Welsh castle has a dramatic history.
This poor fortress must have whiplash, since for about 500 years it changed hands between the warring English and Welsh countless times. It was damaged time and again, in many battles including the Glyndŵr rebellion and even the famous Wars of the Roses.
Fun fact: At one point the castle was owned by a man known as The Lord Rhys. Supposedly, around 1248, his mother granted the castle to the Norman English... to spite her son. Her plan failed and Rhys ended up capturing the stronghold anyway. Still, kind of puts “go to your room” into perspective, doesn’t it?
Today, the castle sits in ruins, which makes it even more striking and dramatic, in our opinion. There is even a cave underneath the castle that can be accessed by the public... if that’s your thing. We head there on two of our tours out of Bristol, our 3-day The Mountains & Coasts of South Wales tour and our 4-day South Wales, Cotswolds & Oxford tour.
Another one for you King Arthur fans out there. According to legend, Tintagel Castle is where Britain’s most famous ‘fictional’ king was born. Today, you can find the ruins of this once-beautiful castle on a rocky island connected to the mainland by a narrow causeway.
Fun fact: Below the castle is a large tunnel known as Merlin’s Cave, which can only be accessed at low tide. Legends say that Merlin still wanders these caves and, if you’re brave enough to journey inside, you’ll hear his voice. Perhaps casting a spell on you. Better get one of your own ready.
There’s even a bit of evidence, depending on who you ask. In 1998, archaeologists found pottery and glass fragments from the fifth and sixth centuries at Tintagel Castle, along with a 1,500- year-old stone bearing an inscription in Latin that translates to ‘Artognou descendant of Patern[us] Colus made this’. There is much speculation that Artognou could be Arthur himself.
We visit Tintagel Castle on our 4-day Cornwall, Devon & Stonehenge tour from Bristol.
Forget about manmade structures. We’re here to tell you about one of our favourite woman-made structures, the incredible Minack Theatre.
The story of Minack Theatre truly is a wonderful one. And we have a woman called Rowena Cade to thank for this impressive site. Born in 1893, Rowena moved to Cornwall in the 1920s and bought the Minack headland for £100. At first all she did was live there, building her home, Minack House, which you can still see today.
But in 1929, Rowena took to acting and was part of an open-air production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. With the continual success of this production, Rowena and her troupe realised they needed a proper and practical place to perform in the future. So, Rowena offered her cliff garden for their upcoming performance of The Tempest.
Fun fact: All the seats in the theatre are made of concrete... except for one. On the second row is a very special seat made of granite. Rowena placed it there as a memorial to her friend and gardener Billy Rawlings, who was vital in the theatre’s construction. We’re not crying, you’re crying.
So began the construction of the Minack Theatre. Rowena and her helpers used hand tools (and the occasional stick of dynamite) to create the magnificent theatre we see today. And with unbeatable views of Porthcurno Bay and its host of sub-tropical gardens, Minack Theatre truly is an incredible place to visit.
Today, over 200 live performances are staged at the theatre, including plays, opera, music, musicals, and even children’s events. We'd love to take you there ourselves on a new tour from Bristol, the 4-day Cornwall, Devon & Stonehenge tour.
So, that’s our spiel. How did we do? As we said, Bristol itself is a must-visit city and beyond the city limits is a wealth of adventure, history, and beauty just waiting to be discovered. What are you waiting for?