Bristol is famous for its world-class nightlife and live music, epic restaurant scene, and era-defining modern street art. It also offers a variety of fun activities that are completely free. Bristol’s world-class museums, iconic landmarks, charming streets, green spaces, and public parks are all incredible attractions that travelers and locals can visit for free.
Access to free entertainment makes Bristol an affordable travel destination. It’s easy to slot these free activities in your travel itinerary alongside some of the other activities like restaurants and nightlife. It also makes it one of the more family-friendly destinations as these free activities are budget-friendly and don’t require too much planning.
Whether you’re looking for an inexpensive afternoon, family outing, or just a way to kill some time during a layover, there are so many fun activities that are completely free. Before you head out on the town, make sure you drop off your bags at a Bounce luggage storage in Bristol. That way, you'll keep your hands free and save your back while you tour the sights. Here are the best free things to do in Bristol:
Located right in the gorgeous and bustling Bristol harbour, this museum has been repurposed from a massive transit shed from the 1950s. This museum is focused on over 2000 years of Bristol history. You can learn about the residents of the area during every era of the city’s existence, and even before the waterfront and surrounding hills were settled.
Because admission to the museum is free, anyone and everyone will have access to 150 restored films, and thousands of artifacts that dive into the city’s past and explore everything from the town’s founding to the complexities of eras like the Bristol’s involvement in the transatlantic slave trade. The industrial era is one of the most fascinating parts of Bristol’s history, especially given M Shed’s location near the harbour and docks.
M Shed is entirely free to the public, which makes it the perfect stop for families and curious travelers looking for a fun activity. This might be the most iconic Bristol Museum, and one of the most respected in the UK.
Clifton Suspension Bridge
Free or not, Clifton Suspension Bridge is a must-visit attraction in Bristol. Fortunately for budget travelers, families, and everyone else, this iconic Bristol landmark is completely free to walk across, take in the breathtaking views (and Instagram shots), and enjoy the breeze off the water.
Isambard Kingdom Brunel first designed this bridge back in 1864, and his creation has become Bristol’s most iconic landmark since its completion. Even better, you’ll have an incredible vantage point of the river, the surrounding cliffs, and the Bristol cityscape. A few highlights of the area are the Avon Gorge Hotel, the nearby Leigh Woods, which is one of the best hiking spots in Bristol, and the Clifton Observatory.
Part of Bristol’s floating harbour and marine system, The Underfall Yard is a boatyard with a visitor center that is free to tour and enjoy the scenery. It’s entirely free to tour the landscape of the boatyard and there are hundreds of displays and exhibits that tell the history of Bristol’s shipbuilding industry, and even the process. Britain’s maritime tradition is perhaps the best in the world, and Bristol’s boatyards and harbour are key testaments to its rich history. Not only is this a fascinating aspect of Bristol to explore, spending time by the water is certainly a good time!
Climb Cabot Tower and Enjoy Brandon Hill Park
This is easily one of the best free things to do in Bristol. Whether you’re looking for something free, or just an essential Bristol activity, you have to hit up Cabot Tower and Brandon Hill for the scenic parkland, the historic importance of the landmark, and the famous views. Originally built in 1897 to celebrate John Cabot’s transatlantic voyage from Bristol to North America, this tower is an unmissable piece of the city’s maritime history.
Cabot Tower is perched atop Brandon Hill’s gorgeous landscape, which just so happens to be the oldest and most beloved park in Bristol. The surrounding area is gorgeous, but the park’s vantage point allows you to see most of the Bristol city centre and Harbourside.
Located near Park Street, the most famous thoroughfare in the West End neighborhood, there is plenty to do and see near Brandon Hill. The park has a children’s play area for the family, which makes it one of the best activities for kids in Bristol. The park boasts acres of beautiful pathways and lush greenery that clashes beautifully with the cream Bath stone of Cabot Tower. The whole scene makes for one of the most gorgeous places in Bristol, and absolutely worth the short trek from the city centre, Shopping Quarter, or the Temple Meads Train Station.
Check Out Amazing Modern Art at Arnolfini
Another outstanding activity located in the Bristol Harbourside, Arnolfini International Centre for Contemporary Arts is free to enter. This gallery and arts centre is the beating heart of Bristol’s creative landscape, and it’s one of the best collections of fine and modern art in the southwest. Their rotating programming is outstanding, so check their calendar to see which showcases or exhibits are being promoted. While entry is free, the on-site bookshop and gallery store are worth checking out. It’s not a run-of-the-mill gift shop, you’ll find incredible books, prints, and other valuable items that are perfect for art enthusiasts.
Make sure to enjoy the Harbourside while you make your way to Arnolfini. It’s one of the most vibrant and bustling parts of Bristol, and there are countless events throughout the summer that are worth checking out, including Bristol Harbourside Festival, farmer’s markets, and other fun happenings that are usually completely free to enjoy.
Banksy Walking Tour
Most people associate Bristol with its most famous (infamous?) street art provocateur, Banksy. Being the most iconic voice of the medium, Banksy is famous the world over for creating subversive and haunting imagery throughout cityscapes around the world. But Bristol is where it all started. There are murals all over the city that display Banksy’s street art, and exploring Bristol's neighborhoods, especially Stokes Croft, in search of this epic street art is one of the best free things to do in an afternoon. You can download the Banksy App to make things easier, but here are a few of the most famous murals in Bristol to check out:
Grim Reaper - Originally painted on the side of the Thekla (a moored boat in Bristol Harbour that now operates as a nightclub) this mural was moved to M Shed to protect this priceless work of street art from weather damage.
The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum - Another reason to head to the Harbourside is one of the newer works from Banksy. It was first discovered on the side of a building on Albion Docks back in 2014.
Well Hung Lover - Frogmore Street is located near College Green and Park Street and is easily Banksy’s most famous hot spot for putting up his provocative murals. Located on the side of a sexual health clinic, this mural is one of Banky’s most iconic and provocative images. The surrounding area is also great to explore for shopping, with a number of stylish boutiques, vintage shops, and designer stores to explore. There are also excellent restaurants and cafes nearby.
Paint-Pot Angel - While Banksy might not make art that would necessarily fit in the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, this mural is one of the main attractions in this storied institution. Paint-Pot Angel was one of the standouts works from the iconic ‘Banksy versus Bristol’ exhibition from 2009. Given the location, you definitely should stick around after viewing this work and check out the hundreds of amazing pieces of art in the museum’s halls.
Valentine's Day Mural - Located in the Barton Hill neighborhood of East Bristol, the image of a girl firing a catapult of red flowers onto the side of a house is one of Banksy’s most recognizable and surreal works. The overtly-political and hauntingly gorgeous mural is a stark reminder of how skilled Banksy is at combining beauty and grit.
Mild, Mild West - Head to Stokes Croft, which is Bristol’s trendiest neighborhood. Located next to one of Bristol’s most iconic music venues, The Canteen, Banky’s Mild, Mild West can be viewed from the Jamaica Street intersection alongside countless other works of colorful graffiti. The intersection, and neighborhood in general, function as an outdoor gallery for some of the UK’s best street art. Once you’ve seen everything you’d like, explore the neighborhood’s outstanding restaurants, shopping, cafes, and nightlife.
Bristol City Museum & Art Gallery
Whether you just stumbled in to check out Banksy’s Paint Pot Angel or you are a hardened art enthusiast looking for your fix, this is a truly amazing Bristol museum to check out. Bristol Museum & Art Gallery seeks to tell humanity’s story via displays of artifacts, information, and other means that illustrate our history throughout every era of our existence. From our origins, through our evolution, all the way through the various civilizations, and into our modern world, the museum’s 19 galleries showcase thousands of amazing archaeological and historical objects.
There are also priceless works of art, and not all of them are by Banksy! The museum itself is incredible, being a beautiful Edwardian building located on stylish Park Street. If you are a Bristol local, there is an amazing collection of artifacts and information about the city’s history and cultural heritage. Admission to Art Gallery Bristol Museum is free to enter, which makes it the perfect way to spend an afternoon before treating yourself to dinner, or kill some time after you went on a shopping street on Park Street.
Blaise Castle House Museum
While you’ll have to leave the city centre, the Blaise Estate near Henbury is most certainly worth the trip if you’re interested in Victorian architecture. The opulent history of England is well-preserved, and Blaise Castle House Museum and Estate are all gorgeous landmarks, and they are all free to tour. The grounds and house have been turned into the perfect 18th-century time capsule, chock full of cookware, furniture, toys, clothes, and other artifacts that perfectly illustrate what life was like for the British elite.
Another reason why Park Street is a can’t-skip area of Bristol, College Green is one of the most historical and beautiful green spaces in Bristol. This pleasant park has the perfect lawn to set up a sunny picnic, and plenty of lush greenery to provide a shaded place to read a book or relax with friends. There are dozens of events held at College Green, including art exhibitions, and live music performances held around lunchtime throughout the warmer months.
Located on the green are Bristol Cathedral (famous for its stained glass windows), City Hall, and the Central Library. All of these gorgeous buildings are open to the public, and exploring them provides a context for how Bristolians have spent their leisure time for centuries. At the very least, they offer some indoor shelter if the weather interrupts your picnic on College Green.
International Balloon Fiesta
Whether you’re a local or a fun-loving traveler, the International Balloon Fiesta is one of the most fun completely free things to do in Bristol. The event is held annually on the first weekend of August and is the largest congregation of hot air balloons in Europe.
Up to 130 hot air balloons might not seem like a lot, but this colorful assembly soaring above makes for an incredible sight, and experiencing this is all completely free. When the sun goes down, the ‘Night Glow’ event takes place, with dozens of balloons illuminated across the night sky creating a surreal and beautiful image.
There is a festive atmosphere, and many locals use the event as a means to get together and socialize, but the fairgrounds are expansive enough that you can tuck away in a shaded corner for a picnic and be able to see the entire show. If you’re looking to visit Bristol during the summer, this is an event worth checking out.
Georgian House Museum
This six-story townhouse was built in 1790 for a wealthy sugar merchant and plantation owner named John Pinney. It has since been restored and now operates as a museum documenting life in the 18th century, particularly that of slave-owning elites and the complexities of the time. The story of Pero Jones, a slave living on the Georgian House plantation, is told throughout the estate, and a footbridge in Bristol’s floating harbour was named after him.
While the Georgian House Museum is open to the public, a donation can be made to the historical society that preserves the house and grounds.
Bristol Harbour Festival
Every summer, the already bustling Bristol Harbour turns into an amazing festival of live music, street food, circus performers, markets, and countless boats. It’s one of the standouts on a busy summer calendar, and the third weekend in July is always the city’s busiest, with over 250,000 visitors (many of them on yachts or sailboats) descending upon the harbour for an afternoon of entertainment, sunshine, and local food and drink. The music is curated by Thekla, one of the best Bristol nightclubs, and many local businesses have a presence at the festival. The SS Great Britain is open to all visitors, along with other iconic Bristol landmarks. Because of the local flavors, unbelievable scenery, and vibrant crowds, this is one of the best free things to do in Bristol.
The best part about planning a trip or weekend in Bristol is that regardless of whether or not each activity is free, it’s certainly uniquely “Bristol” and undoubtedly fun. However you plan to enjoy your time exploring Bristol’s many parks, museums, and neighborhoods, let Bounce take care of the luggage!