The beauty of Bristol’s buildings
I’ve called Bristol home for nearly 4 years now, before that, I would visit from Cardiff regularly, scanning the shops on Park Street or enjoying one or two drinks here on a Saturday night (some things never change).
My love of history, old buildings and photography have been prevalent since I was a little nerd in primary school; demanding to see castles on family holidays and taking photos of all of the local scenery and streets. Bristol is the perfect city for me to indulge all of those hobbies and more.
It’s one of those cities that never gets boring. You think you’ve explored a lot of it, and are pretty familiar with it, then you look up and notice something that you’ve never spotted before.
I’m always finding new parts of the city that catch my eye, especially the buildings. I’ve shared a selection of some of my favourites from around the city…
1. Ashton Court Manor House
The Grade I listed manor house at Ashton Court is surrounded by 850 acres of vast landscape, where you can find two deer parks, flower gardens and some of the best walking routes.
The building itself shows a rich history shaped by its owners, each wanting to make their mark and introduce different architectural styles to the structure which dates from the 15th century.
The stables have been put to good use as the Courtyard Café, which is a well worth a visit to rest after walking around the extensive grounds.
From one manor house to another, Tyntesfield is a Gothic revival National Trust property that is full of picturesque charm and history. The interior has been beautifully preserved and restored and even has its own chapel.
During Autumn, the exterior is draped in red ivy which is hard to miss as you walk up the main path towards the house from the visitors building.
Be sure to explore the grounds as the gardens are perfectly maintained and impressive during any season.
3. Blaise Hamlet
Why settle for one pretty cottage when you can see nine of them all surrounding a lush green?
The cottages were built in the Picturesque style in 1811 for retired employees of the nearby Blaise Castle Estate.
Each cottage is unique and looks like it’s straight off a quaint English chocolate box.
The cottages are owned by the National Trust and still occupied by residents so please be respectful when you visit and stick to the path surrounding the green!
4. Temple Church
Bristol’s very own leaning tower is often missed. Set in Temple Gardens just off Victoria Street, the ruined church is in the most peaceful setting that you’ll find in the city centre.
The church was bombed in 1940 leaving it little more than an empty shell, the wonky tower survived mostly unscathed. Be sure to read the history of the building on the signs dotted around the church.
5. Wills Memorial Building
Wills Memorial is one of the last gothic buildings to be built in England. The ornate building’s most notable feature is hard to miss; standing at 215ft, the bell tower is home to Great George, England’s sixth largest bell.
If you book yourself on to the tower tour, you get to meet Great George, find out more about the building’s history and enjoy some amazing views of the city.
6. Bristol Museum & Art Gallery
There’s something so satisfying about a museum that is an exhibit itself – Bristol Museum is a great example of this.
The interior is a work of art, with its high curved ceilings, Edwardian features and vast entrance hall.
The museum is home to a range of exhibitions on natural history as well as local, national and international archaeology.
On the upper floor, the art gallery contains works from all periods and places, many of them by well-known artists.
7. Bristol Cathedral
Located on College Green, it’s hard to miss this impressive building. With parts of its structure dating back to the 12th century, it’s really grown with the city, expanding right up until the 19th century.
Inside you’ll find ornate vaulted ceilings and stonework, detailed stained-glass windows, and if you’re lucky, you might catch the organist or choir in action.
8. The Hatchett Inn
What kind of list would this be without the mention of a good old British pub? The Hatchet Inn is apparently Bristol’s oldest operating pub. With its traditional Tudor exterior, it really stands out against the neighbouring O2 Academy.
The Hatchet Inn is subject to local legend and a dark hidden secret; under all the layers of paint, it’s said that the door is covered in the skin of a hanged convict.
Gives you something to think about as you’re sipping your pint…
9. St Nicholas Market
Technically made up of a few buildings, there is no way that St Nick’s was being left off the list, it’s practically Bristol law to take a photograph every time you walk through.
The market is home to many independent retailers including jewellers, haberdasheries, second-hand bookshops and record stores to name a few. You can even grab your lunch there from one of the many stalls in the glass arcade if all that shopping has built up an appetite.
10. Everard’s Printing Works
Quite possibly one of the most unique buildings in Bristol, the Art Nouveau style former printing works has been a bit forgotten over the years.
The exterior is the largest decorative Carrara marble tile facade in Britain and celebrates the likes of William Morris and Johannes Gutenberg.
Currently vacant and undergoing development work, Everard’s printing works is set to be given a new lease of life becoming the entrance to a new swanky hotel.
Watch this space.
11. Llandoger Trow
This King Street icon is the second Tudor pub on the list and the other contender for the oldest operating pub in Bristol, that was until it closed in 2019.
Although you can no longer get your pints in here, it’s still worth the visit to nose through the windows and see why it was rumoured to be the inspiration to Robert Lewis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.
See if you can spot one of the alleged 15 ghosts that haunt the building while you’re there.
12. Easton Jamia Masjid
This former old church hall was converted into a mosque in the early 1980’s and underwent a major facelift over two decades later to create the impressive transparent dome and gold detail that you see today.
It’s one of the larger mosques in Bristol with a capacity of over 600 and celebrates the mix of traditional and modern that St Mark’s Road is so well known for.
13. Clifton Observatory
Not only does this building have an iconic view of the suspension bridge from the outside, it’s also the entrance to one of the most unique viewpoints over the gorge from Giant’s Cave on the inside.
If that still doesn’t float your boat, head to the top of Clifton observatory to view one of the three remaining working camera obscura in the UK and see the city from a whole other perspective.
14. The Granary
The Granary is one of the best-preserved examples of the Bristol Byzantine architecture style that was hugely popular around the mid to late 1800’s.
This unique style fell out of fashion as quickly as it came in, so there are only a few remaining examples around Bristol.
This building has had many uses over its history going from a granary, to offices, to a nightclub and a restaurant amongst others.
15. Bristol Old Vic
Previously known as the Theatre Royal, this King Street icon is the oldest continually operating theatre in the English-speaking world.
Built in 1764, Bristol Old Vic has seen many changes over the years (most notably its recent refurbishment in 2018) but the heart of the theatre has always stayed the same.
In the theatre itself, there are reminders of its past with some of the original features on display. If history & theatre is your jam, you can learn more on one of the regular theatre tours.
16. Cabot Tower
Situated on Brandon Hill, the tower is now the focal point of the green space. It was built in 1897 to commemorate the voyage of John Cabot from Bristol to what is now Canada, and has been a must-see attraction in the city since.
The best way to get that vantage point over the city is to climb the 109 steps to the top. The view is very much worth it.
17. St Peter’s Church
Much like Temple Church, St Peter’s church and its many surrounding buildings were pretty much destroyed in the Bristol Blitz. The church shell & tower still stands tall in Castle Park and serves as a memorial to the 1299 people killed in the raids.
While you’re near the church, take a wander through the physic garden over to the stonework that was once part of Bristol Castle.
18. Underfall Yard’s Pump Room
Underfall Yard is the maritime heart of the floating harbour; it’s been given a new lease of life following funding in 2016 allowing the general public to peek inside the inner workings of the machinery that maintains the area.
Part of the Pump Room is now the visitor centre and home to Pickle café. Sitting with a cup of coffee overlooking the harbour is a must on any Bristol to-do list (it’s also a great area for dog-spotting.)
19. Bristol Hippodrome
Bristol Hippodrome has been standing since 1912 but its history is almost as dramatic as the performances it hosts.
Surviving through two world wars, in 1948, a fire almost destroyed the building, burning through the stage and the rear of the building.
Luckily, it was restored to its former glory and remains one of the major theatres in Bristol and one of the largest theatres outside London.
20. Bristol Colour
Number 20 is a great excuse to chuck in a wild card. Not one building, but many. Bristol is a colourful city; the pastels in Totterdown & Kingsdown, UPFEST murals in Bedminster, the bright colours of Clifton Wood and the artistic murals in Stokes Croft & St Pauls (to mention a few).
It would be impossible to choose one favourite colourful building, so it’s a good excuse to get out, wander around and try and see them all (scroll through #bristolcolouruk for some inspiration.)
…. If you’d like to see more, or to share your favourite buildings with me, feel free to follow my Instagram at @zfjsutton