Exploring Bristol and showing it off to friends and family is one of my favourite things to do. Especially when you get to do awesome stuff for FREE. If you’re looking for some family entertainment, are visiting the city on a budget, or simply want a bit of good ol’ West Country inspiration, read on for my top free family days out in Bristol.
Bristol Suspension bridge
They might not give two squawks about Brunel’s engineering prowess exhibited in Bristol’s famous landmark bridge, but I can guarantee the lovely wooden park right next door will tickle their fancy. Snuggled in front of the rocky wall of the Avon Gorge with scenic picnic tables it’s one of the prettiest parks around. Whizz down the natural rock slide (polished smooth by generations of gliding botties) if you’re still adventure-hungry afterwards. The views are fandabbydocious.
This really is a joy for little ones. Tons of space to wander off in every direction but the one chosen by their parents and they look so tiny against the huge high ceilings of this beautiful building. Dinosaur bones, aeroplanes hanging from the ceiling, colouring tables, a South West Wildlife wing full of birds, owls, swans, (all classified by my one-year-old simply as ‘duck’). A fenced off children’s play area with interactive puzzles, dressing up costumes and a stage to perform to music is a fantastic addition. Completely geared up for young’uns, you’ll find feeding and changing rooms, a cafe and buggy-friendly lifts. Check their website for exhibitions.
St Andrew’s Park
One of Bristol’s greatest parks with a lovely play area for kids. Popular with dog walkers (the kid’s area is a dog free zone), so if you’re little one is a canine fan then it’s a great chance to spot a few. The park comes into its own in summer when the free lido is filled with water for kids to splash about in and ice cream sellers wander the walkways. A lovely little kiosk at its centre sells refreshments.
Millennium Square Water Fountains
Down near the city centre, close to the Floating Harbour there are fountains and water features to be found, perfect for paddling on a hot, sunny day. You’re also right next to At-Bristol and the giant disco ball lookalike, the Planetarium.
Another harbourside institution, the Arnolfini offers free family activities all year round. From film screenings and ride-on trains, to story time and art workshops it’s a fantastic place to eat, drink, learn and be merry.
What a delicious wide-open green space right on the city’s doorstep. Acres of grass and woodland are open to the public for free and cyclists, horse riders, balloonists, golfers and families come here in their droves. Deer wander in their own fenced-off areas and if you pick a good day the Miniature Railway will be running. The Balloon Fiesta and Kite Festival are also great ones to catch.
So. Much. Spaaaaaace to run wild in! It’s no wonder it’s been called ‘Bristol’s green lung‘. Pack a picnic and laden yourselves with scooters, push-cars, kites, balls, trikes and anything else you can think of to enjoy the great outdoors. The cafe next to the water tower is a great spot for refuelling or grab an ice cream van at the Sea Walls end – where there’s gorgeous views down the gorge in both directions.
The play area here is immense, the castle or ‘folly’ is an interesting little historical perk and the brook-side walks inside the gorge are dreamy. A lovely vast area of green which makes me love Bristol all the more. Free parking onsite.
From prehistoric times to the present day, the story of Bristol is told here through interactive displays and quirky paraphernalia. Kiddy favourites are a real-life double decker bus, life-size horse and suspended hot air balloons. There’s also a cafe next door and killer views from the roof.
Following the success of the ‘Gromit unleashed’ arts trail which saw oodles of decorated Gromit dogs pop up around the city, over 100 sculptures of Aardman’s Shaun the Sheep will be hitting Bristol in a child-friendly arts trail from 6th July to Monday 31st August 2015. Download the app, seek out the statues and capture your little one posing in front of each one you find.
Hundreds of squirrels frolic in the gardens surrounding this grade-II listed tower – which, if open – has unforgettable panoramic views of the city from the top of its winding steps. There’s a delightful little water feature, children’s play area and steep grassy hill sides, perfect for rolling down.
Over the bridge, opposite Ashton Court Estate is a lovely patch of woodland. If you have a doggy or a child to walk, let them run their little leggies out here. Although a nature reserve managed by the National Trust, it’s open free to the public. There’s a variety of colour coded pathways and mountain bike trails to choose from and stunning views across the gorge to the suspension bridge.
The waterfront in Bristol is always buzzing. Take a walk along the harbourside and boat spot – The SS Great Britain and The Matthew are pretty special – and the latter often invites passers by onboard for a free look around. The Arnolfini (art’s centre and gallery), fountains and M Shed are nearby. Catch a ferry boat back from whence you came – there’s often fare deals on Living Social.
St Werburgh’s (north of the river) and Windmill Hill City Farm (south of the river) and Community gardens are perfect for pottering about and learning about farm animals. St Werburghs has a children’s play area, a Gaudi-meets-hobbit gnarly tree cafe with outside deck serving fresh, wholesome, mostly organic food whilst Windmill Hill feels slightly larger and offers activities such as goat walking! It also has a lovely child-friendly cafe. Local allotment holders trade their produce for something to eat or drink – last time we were there someone exchanged a bag of homegrown plums, just lovely.
I can’t believe how many years I lived in Bristol without knowing about this little gem. Green spaces, picnic spots, riverside walks, cafe kiosk, a ridiculously good play area for kiddies complete with pirate ship. What more could you want?!
One of only two camera obscuras open to the public in England. Leading from the observatory and camera obscure are steeps steps, winding and wending down through the rock to Ghyston’s (the Giant) cave, bringing you out on a little balcony overlooking the gorge and Bristol Suspension bridge. Better for slightly older (than toddlers) children.