I shout from the (cyber) rooftops about Bristol for a living (see the Visit Bristol website) – it’s a great gig as I think this city is rather wonderful, and there’s certainly not a shortage of things to write about. On any given day, whatever fancy may behold you, whatever new craze your kiddo may be into, you can find it in Bristol. Historic landmarks, wall-to-wall trampolines, open top buses, world famous ships, Banksy’s street art, West End theatre, family-friendly festivals…you name it, Bristol’s got it. The city is popping up on ‘must visit’ lists all over the place, so if you’re after fun family activities, here are 11 of the coolest things to do with young kids in Bristol:
One of the most famous events on the city’s event calendar, the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta in August is a spectacular four days of free family fun. Watch hundreds of balloons launch at dawn and dusk from the grounds of Ashton Court Estate and soar over the city. Special night glows take place on Thursday and Saturday evening, when the balloons are illuminated in time to music. There’s also tons of family entertainment, live music, food stalls and jaw-dropping aerial displays.
Previously known as the At-Bristol Science Centre, this place has re-branded with a rock hard focus on electrifying human curiosity. Inside you’ll find two floors of interactive, mind-blowing, hands-on fun. Watch your skeleton dance, blow giant bubbles, journey to the stars in the UK’s only 3D Planetarium, step into a tornado, try your hand as an Aardman animator, snap your shadow, build a giant lego wall, the list goes on! You can easily spend the whole day here and they’ll give you wrist bands so if you fancy popping out for lunch and coming back, it’s no problem (there’s also an onsite cafe). Look out for ‘Toddler Takeover’ days when entry is discounted or book a babysitter and leave the kids at home for their brilliant ‘adults only’ after-hours events.
One of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s greatest creations, this magnificent ship sits on Bristol Harbourside, ‘floating’ on a glass sea. The ship is alive with sights, sounds and smells of life on the ocean in Victorian times – from the animals onboard to first class passengers. See how you would have fared as a Victorian sailor and climb the rigging with Go Aloft! Your bravery will be rewarded with epic Harbour views. Brand new museum Being Brunel has just opened alongside the ship. It tells the story of the great engineer in a similarly exciting and immersive way. Events and activities take place all year round with lots going on during school holidays.
You can’t visit Bristol without seeing its most iconic attraction, the breath-taking, Brunel-designed Clifton Suspension Bridge. Spanning the Avon Gorge and looking back towards Clifton, the rolling Mendip hills and leafy Ashton Court Estate, it’s one of the city’s most picturesque spots from whatever angle you view it. Snap a selfie, pop into the Visitor Centre for a bit of history and have a go on the nearby natural rock slide – polished smooth by years of sliding botties – before strolling into Clifton Village for something to eat.
I could rave about Bristol Zoo all day, it’s one of my favourite places in the city. With a toddler and a pre-schooler, the zoo has everything a mama could want, whether it’s pouring with rain, blazing sunshine, or if you just need to get out of the house to inject an ounce of sanity into your day…it’s hard to beat.
With beautiful blooming pathways (the flower beds are a riot of colour whatever the season) and a big grassy picnicking space, it’s an easy place to herd wild toddlers. The splash park alone is worth the ticket price in summer. Shallow water ways, bridges, pools, basking crocodiles (wooden) – it’s every toddler’s dream. There’s also a play area, sandpit, ride-on vehicles and ZooRopia, which gives older kids a chance to challenge themselves up high. And of course there’s the animals. Watch seals and penguins frolicking from underwater tunnels, get up close to lemurs, hear lions roaring, find Dory and Nemo in the aquarium, brave bug world, watch gorillas roam overhead, butterflies flutter past your face and investigate a rat-infested house in the twilight zone, plus loads more!
Following the phenomenal success of the Grand Appeal’s ‘Gromit Unleashed’ and ‘Shaun the Sheep’ arts trails around Bristol which saw oodles of Aardman’s decorated Gromits and Shaun sculptures pop up around the city, comes Gromit Unleashed 2. This time, three beloved characters – Wallace, Gromit and Feathers McGraw will take the city by storm from 2 July to 2 September 2018. The trail will feature lots of exciting new interactive additions which are yet to be revealed. Download the app, round up the family and hunt out the statues!
A short hop over Clifton Suspension Bridge is the humongous estate of Ashton Court. Brilliant for cycling, horse riding, kite flying, scooting, mountain biking, dog walking, running, hot air ballooning and generally being at one with nature, it’s hard to believe you’re so close to a city (although there are lovely views over it from here). On certain weekends between March to October (plus a Santa special in December), you’ll also find a wonderful mini railway run by Bristol Model Engineers – a firm favourite with families. Take a picnic and make a day of it!
Brandon Hill surrounds one of Bristol’s most famous landmarks, Cabot Tower. It’s a beautiful, hilly park with a lovely playground and stupendous views gazing down over Bristol’s Floating Harbour and out to the countryside beyond. And a lot of squirrels. I know this because I was once paid to go ‘squirrel fishing’ by a well-known Bristol TV production company. It involved placing a nut on the end of a hand-made ‘fishing rod’ to try and coax the little creatures over. We needn’t have made things so complicated, they’re so tame here that they’ll come and eat right out of your hand – to the squeals of delighted children. If you’re feeling energetic afterwards, climb the steep winding steps to the top of Cabot Tower for some phenomenal views.
For the purposes of entertaining pre-schoolers, you could jump on any First Bus and just cruise up and down Gloucester Road for a bit, my girls would definitely consider that a good day out. However, if you’d like to make it infinitely more interesting, then find one of Bristol Insight’s open top buses to take a ride on. Stops are located at most of Bristol’s main attractions (and some offer discounted entry with a bus ticket) and you can hop on and off as you please while listening to fascinating facts about the city. It’s a great introduction if you don’t know Bristol that well and highly educational if you do!
Let little legs ping, boing, leap and launch themselves in every direction at the world’s largest indoor trampoline park, Airhop. There are special ‘Mini Airhopper Takeover’ sessions for under 5s which run on weekdays out of school holidays (10am-12pm) and at weekends (from 9am-10am). Kids have access to a dodgeball court, foam pit, wall to wall trampoline court and sensory toys. It’s the most amount of fun you can have in midair.
11. See a show
Bristol is brilliant for kid’s theatre and there are always lots of family shows to be found at the city’s many cultural venues. You’ll find awe-inspiring West End and Broadway productions like Wicked, War Horse and the forthcoming Matilda at Bristol Hippodrome. Bristol Old Vic regularly puts on family shows, Dragonbird Theatre always sell-out their interactive play adventures around the city – so book early! Historic music venue, Colston Hall presents concerts from all genres of music. A family favourite is their Hoo-Ha festival featuring CBeebies Andy Day in August. They’re also well-known for their live orchestral accompaniments to classics such as the upcoming Gruffalo and Room on a Broom and Indiana Jones. It’s also worth keeping an eye out for Kidcarpet and checking out the What’s On pages for Tobacco Factory Theatres and Redgrave Theatre who put on lots of family shows. In the summer holidays, see hidden caves and spy holes, and discover the dark and dirty deeds of Long John Silver on a Treasure Island story walk (Bristol has strong connections with the tale), down on Bristol docks.
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