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Exploring Bristol by Land and Wave

With some of the UK’s most talented street artists in residence, centuries of history to dig through and winding waterways leading to remote corners of the West Country, Bristol is a city worth exploring. The question is, where best to start?

Bristol Walking Tour

Every day at 10.30am and 2.30pm, a young fella by the name of James can be found outside the Victoria Rooms (at the bottom of Whiteladies Road in the city centre) wearing a bright green t-shirt and a natty backpack. He’s a tour guide with two main aims; sharing insight into the city’s history and heritage, and sharing the love for his hometown.

college green
James in action on College Green 

James leads curious city-walkers up the hill into Clifton, over to the Clifton Suspension Bridge, down Park St to Cabot Tower, onward to College Green then across to the Floating Harbour — actual route may vary — all the while shedding light on the hidden corners of this amazing city. With a flip-book full of images from Bristol’s colorful history to hand, he brings the past to life with enthusiasm.

You don’t need to book to join James’ informative and relaxed tours. He doesn’t charge for his services, you simply pay what you think his tour was worth. Walks take place whatever the weather, and last around two hours.

clifton walking tour
Bringing Clifton’s history to life

Bristol Packet Tour

We’ve all seen ‘em… gorgeous boats of all shapes and sizes cruising along Bristol’s busy Floating Harbour. But do you ever wonder where they all go?

Bristol Packet is one of the city’s more traditional boat companies. Established in 1973, they run four boats from the Floating Harbour out along the waterways. You can follow the harbour past the lock gates toward the Bristol Channel — passing under the Suspension Bridge and following centuries of maritime history — or inland along the pretty Avon River to Beezy’s Tea Rooms.

Bristol river
Fine River Avon views from the bow of Tower Belle, on route to Beezy’s Tea Rooms for a pint.

Perhaps the best thing about Bristol Packet is the boats themselves, and the stories they tell. Bagheera is a sleek sightseeing vessel from Amsterdam, with cozy café-style seating and picture-windows.

bagherra boat
Via David McKelvey

The Flower of Bristol is a purpose-built boat bolted together in the early eighties right here in Bristol, with panelled saloon for up to 50 people. Redshank is a traditional narrowboat with a roll-down canopy and bags of character.

And then there’s Tower Belle… perhaps the most beautiful of all the boats in the fleet. She was constructed in the roaring twenties up in Newcastle-upon-Tyne (presumably as part of the War effort). Banked and abandoned on London’s Eel Pie Island, she was eventually rescued and brought to Bristol by lorry before being restored to her former glory. She now takes pride of place on the harbour, beaming elegantly at all who pass.

tower belle
Tower Belle, built in the twenties and once banked on the Thames

All of Bristol Packet’s varied vessels boast full bar and WC facilities, and are available for public, private and educational trips.

Further reading

For more details on James’ Bristol walking tours
For more details on the Bristol Packet’s boat tours
For more scribblings from @cjcallaghan

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Chris Callaghan

The author Chris Callaghan