Bristol – A city built on its maritime past

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by Jenny Speller (courtesy of

Bristol Cathedral

Bristol, a maritime city in South West England, has successfully blended its unique history with modern living to create an energetic yet relaxing place which clearly feels good about itself.

Its spacious, green, the people are friendly, there are restaurants, cafes and bars all over town and excellent theatre, dance, music and visual arts at a host of venues.

Bristol has imaginatively transformed its unique water feature into a focus for city life. You can criss-cross it on footbridges Venice-style and walk along the quaysides. On Harbourside are stylish modern bars, cafes and restaurants offering daytime and evening menus with a range of international cuisine, or you can just watch the world go by over a cappuccino.

Along Princes Wharf, beside the old dockyard, is the Industrial Museum which charts the citys maritime and industrial past and a remarkable ship—Brunels SS Great Britain—in dry dock. Launched in 1843, she was the worlds first iron hulled steam propeller-driven ocean liner. She carried more than 15,000 passengers on 33 round the world voyages before being converted to cargo. Brought back to Bristol after being beached for 33 years in the Falkland Islands she is undergoing extensive conservation. You can explore the ship and visit the Maritime Heritage Centre which has exhibitions of original artefacts and films on her history and conservation.

Alongside is a working replica of The Matthew, the ship in which John Cabot sailed to Newfoundland in 1497. Also for maritime fans, the Bristol Packet Company runs harbour cruises at least every weekend through most of the year in covered, heated boats and occasionally to the spectacular Avon Gorge, spanned by Brunels Clifton Suspension Bridge (a major city icon), then out to the Bristol Channel.

The city has retained much of its historic charm and elegance with Tudor timber framed buildings, cobbled streets and many elegant Georgian houses and squares. Its worth stopping for a drink at the Llandoger Trow the 17th century inn reputedly the Spyglass Inn in R.L. Stevensons adventure, Treasure Island.

Christmas Steps and St. Michaels Hill area are steeped in history with lots of specialist individual shops. St. Nicholas Market has dozens of stalls with just about everything you could want from antiques to the latest fashion and a Farmers Market and Flea market. Broadmead is a massive modern shopping and leisure complex with over 400 stores.

If you have a car, its well worth heading to Westonbirt Arboretum near Tetbury, where the autumn foliage colours are breathtaking and attract visitors from all over the world.

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