My recent trip to Bristol for a two-day, spring city break almost resulted in the shortest travel review ever; it rained (a lot). Thankfully, I discovered the ultimate wet weather activity just a stone’s throw from where I was staying at Brooks, a boutique guesthouse in the Old City, which is essentially the medieval heart of modern-day Bristol. On the opposite side of the narrow, cobbled alleyway that leads to Brooks, is St Nicholas Market. Established in 1743, it’s the city’s oldest and best-loved market, and, as it’s under cover, it was a welcoming refuge from the unseasonable storm raging outside.
Carla Brooks, who owns the guesthouse where I stayed, had assured me that it was one of the best places to eat in Bristol. Reminiscent of the street food stands you find across South East Asia, the stalls are simple wooden shacks offering tempting fare from around the world. There are tables and chairs, or, in some cases, bar stools outside them and you can happily hop from one stall to the next, sampling as you go. Although it was a miserable Monday afternoon when I called in, the market was doing a brisk trade.
If you’re feeling virtuous, you can pick up a freshly-squeezed fruit and vegetable juice bursting with vitamins before heading next door for an authentic Moroccan tagine or to the stall opposite for the most amazing vegan falafel served in pitta bread with traditional accompaniments. You can dine on everything from locally-sourced sausages and award-winning pies to authentic Indian food that’s tastier – and way cheaper – than you’ll find in any restaurant.
The Rolls Royce stand is something of Bristol institution, having served its famous rolls – which come with a variety of vegan and vegetarian fillings – since 1979. Round the corner at The Chocolate Bar, you can select the handmade truffles of your choice from the vast selection in the counter and enjoy them with a pot of speciality tea as you watch the world go by.
This vibrant and colourful market also houses stalls selling everything from second-hand books and vinyl to vintage clothing, gifts and household goods. As with the food, there are influences from around the world; vintage Japanese kimonos are sold alongside incense and crystals. It’s a real Aladdin’s Cave.
During a brief respite from the squall, I explored the maze of narrow cobbled streets surrounding the market. The Source, a food hall and cafe, serves great food and wine, and has impressive fish, meat and cheese counters where you can buy ingredients to take home with you. However, after the bargainous delights of the market, the prices seemed a little steep.
I followed the course of the River Avon towards the main shopping area, which includes The Galleries and Cabot Circus shopping centres, where you’ll find high street stores together with independent shops and boutiques. The latter is the more impressive of the two, thanks to its contemporary design and more upmarket selection of shops. As I strolled by the river, even the appalling weather couldn’t dampen the cheery appeal of the brightly-painted Victorian terrace houses of the Clifton area, which sit jauntily on a hillside overlooking the city centre.
After a day spent dodging the rain, Brooks was a cosy and restful retreat to return to. The friendly and welcoming staff couldn’t have been more helpful, booking taxis for me, patiently giving me directions and advising on the best places to visit. My room was light, airy and comfortable, with a stylish, contemporary look and feel, and a sleek en-suite shower room. A fantastic breakfast is served in the ground- floor dining area, where there’s also a comfortable lounge with bi-fold doors that open out onto the courtyard area (when the weather is good). You can watch from your table as the team in the open-plan kitchen cook the hot breakfast of your choice fresh to order. An extensive buffet is set out for guests to help themselves to. I opted for the Eggs Florentine from the specials board and a pot of freshly made coffee. Both were delicious.
Bristol is the European Green Capital for 2015 in recognition of its progressive and environmentally-aware approach to city living. It’s the first UK city to win the accolade and many Bristol-based businesses, including the guesthouse where I stayed, are proudly promoting their green credentials. A programme of celebratory events is taking place throughout this year.
The following day, as my whistle-stop tour of Bristol neared its end, the wind and rain finally stopped and the spring sunshine decided to make an appearance. I was determined not to miss out on seeing one of the city’s most iconic sights, so hopped in a taxi and headed out to view the Clifton Suspension Bridge, an awe-inspiring, 150-year old, Grade I-listed structure spanning the Avon Gorge. I also managed to squeeze in a visit to the riverside area known as The Harbourside to see SS Great Britain, which is said to have been the world’s first great ocean liner. Designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the civil engineer who was also responsible for the Clifton Suspension Bridge and the Great Western Railway, it’s now an award-winning visitor attraction.
Once the city’s docklands, The Harbourside teems with restaurants, bars, galleries and other attractions, thanks to a major regeneration project. Floating on the River Avon at the heart of this rejuvenated area, SS Great Britain is a magnificent sight not to be missed. The Harbourside is an area of Bristol that I intend to explore further on my next visit. I’m hoping the weather will be kinder upon my return.
• Lucy stayed at Brooks Guesthouse: http://www.brooksguesthousebristol.com/
For more information about Bristol European Green Capital for 2015, visit www.bristol2015.co.uk
To find out more about The Harbourside, visit www.harboursidealive.co.uk
For ideas on places to stay and visit in Bristol go to www.visitbristol.co.uk