One of the city’s most iconic sights since the 19th century, Clifton Suspension Bridge Bristol is a must-see, must-photograph, must-’gram spectacle to behold. Whatever angle you choose to peruse the magnificent Avon Gorge-spanning bridge – whether that be crossing the bridge itself, or gazing at it from ancient woodland – you’ll be treated to an unfailingly photogenic display. So what are the best ways to see the Clifton Suspension Bridge? I’ll tell you 11 of them!
1. See Clifton Suspension Bridge Bristol from the water
A replica ship of the Caravel sailed by John Cabot in 1497 (when he ‘discovered’ North America) imbues Bristol Harbourside with olde worlde pirate-y vibes, where it’s docked. For a unique experience that’ll send you hurtling back to the sailing ship glory days of yore, The Matthew runs 3-4 hours trips down the River Avon, underneath the Clifton Suspension Bridge and beneath the towering cliffs of the Avon Gorge to Pill and back. It’s a fantastically memorable way to view the bridge and snap some cracking shots of its underbelly!
*Side note, if you want to take young kids, do make sure they can handle such a long trip.
Bristol Packet Boat Trips’ Avon Gorge Cruise
Cruise underneath Brunel’s spectacular feat of engineering on a timeless Art Deco-era passenger boat with an open deck for maximum bridge-gawping. Hear about the origins of the Floating Harbour and Bristol’s famous Bridge as you float underneath on a 3.5 hour trip (March-November, tide dependent).
All boats have a fully licensed bar, WCs and facilities for playing your own music through the onboard PA system and catering and welcome drinks can be provided by arrangement, so it’s a great option for a special group outing.
*Not recommended for under 6s.
2. From Clifton Observatory
Perched on the edge of the Avon Gorge, just a short walk away from Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol, is Clifton Observatory. The observatory houses a cafe with rooftop terrace for the ultimate in scenic bridge-gazing drinking spots, as well as a Camera Obscura above and a ‘Giant’s Cave’ 27 metres below.
The Giant’s Cave (so-named after mythical Bristol giants Goram and Ghyston who, according to folklore, are said to have created the gorge while fighting over Princess Avona) is reached via a steep, narrow tunnel carved out into the cliffs of the gorge. The path opens out onto a yellow balcony half way down the cliff face, to stupendous views of that gurt bridge and the Avon Gorge. Under 4s are not allowed down to the Giant’s Cave.
You don’t have to go into the observatory for views though at all, right outside there’s a large area of grass where you can soak up those Clifton Suspension Bridge views to your heart’s content.
3. From the Avon Gorge by Hotel du Vin
Another one of Bristol’s prime bridge-snapping, beverage-consuming positions. When the weather’s good, people flock to the outdoor terrace of the Avon Gorge by Hotel du Vin for its dramatic cliffside views over the gorge and iconic bridge.
If conditions are right, there’s a high chance of hot air balloon sightings from the Ashton Court Estate launch ground just across the ravine. Of course, as it’s a hotel, you can of course stay here – treat yourself to a gorge-side room with a balcony for long, dreamy views across to the bridge (even better if you’r not in labour, like I was at the time!)
4. See Clifton Suspension Bridge from Leigh Woods
On the opposite side of the bridge to Clifton Village is Leigh Woods, a National Trust protected area of woodland that it is free to enter. It’s a beautiful wooded spot with mountain bike and buggy-friendly trails, natural play areas (there’s a basket swing, balance logs, hollow log tunnel and little roundhouse) and tree-peeping views of Clifton Suspension Bridge Bristol.
Head for Nightingale Valley (see here for the map) for sensational views of Brunel’s engineering masterpiece.
5. From the Bristol to Pill cycle path
From Leigh Woods, if you venture in the opposite direction to Nightingale Valley, down to Paradise Bottom, you’ll reach the Bristol-Pill cycle path. The route skirts the edge of the River Avon from the Create Centre, next to Brunel way and the Cumberland Basin (another epic bridge-glimpsing spot if you don’t fancy taking on the whole route) in Bristol all the way to Pill (and onto Portishead if you’re feeling really adventurous). Needless to say, if you follow the path you’ll end up journeying underneath the bridge, with some magnificent views to boot.
6. From The Downs
Durdham Downs, otherwise known as ‘Bristol’s green lung’ is a 400-acre patch of parkland in the upmarket Clifton/Redland area of the city. The Sea Walls end of the Downs are a line of cliffs edging the Avon Gorge. From this viewpoint you can see all the way down the gorge to Clifton Suspension Bridge on your left and the Severn Bridge in the distance on your right. There’s often an ice cream van parked here for a tasty treat to accompany your landscape-gazing.
7. From the Portway/Bridge Valley Road
On the other side of the River Avon, running practically in parallel with the Bristol to Pill cycle path is The Portway. A major road, it’s not quite as peaceful as it’s traffic-free counterpart, but if you’re on a bike, running (the Bristol half marathon often incorporates this bit of tarmac) or driving, you can count on some epic bridge views en route.
8. See Clifton Suspension Bridge Bristol from Cabot Tower
Cabot Tower was built to honour the 400th anniversary of John Cabot’s voyage from Bristol and subsequent discovery of North America on The Matthew in 1497. It’s one of Bristol’s other most well-known landmarks and has some serious gawp-worthy views from the top.
For those that can manage the steep, winding steps up to the top, (climbing them with young kids can feel a bit precarious and it’s not for those with a fear of heights or enclosed spaces), the reward is jaw-dropping 360 degree views over the whole city, Clifton Suspension Bridge included.
9. On Clifton Suspension Bridge itself
There’s nothing quite like getting up close to the beast of a bridge itself. Cyclists and walkers can travel across the bridge for free (it’s a £1 if you’re driving) and drink in those epic, slightly vertigo-inducing views of the gorge all the way out to the Mendip Hills beyond.
If you’d like to take your adventures one step further, you can take a hard hat tour down into the bridge’s vaulted chambers of the red brick abutments on the Leigh Woods side of the bridge.
While you’re there, I’d also recommend popping into Clifton Suspension Bridge Visitor Centre (also on the Leigh woods side) to discover all you need to know about this history of the bridge.
10. See Clifton Suspension Bridge Bristol from a hot air balloon
The most expensive bridge-viewing option for sure, but in my opinion, the most unbelievably special and unforgettable way to see the beauty that is Clifton Suspension Bridge. I’ve been lucky enough to fly over Bristol in a hot air balloon twice and both times were equally magical.
From above, Bristol appears to both shrink instantly – the houses looking not unlike the pieces of a monopoly game. The city seems to stretch for miles in all directions, and from a tiny basket dangling in the sky, you have unparalleled birds-eye views of the bridge against its dramatic gorge backdrop (wind dependent of course). Utterly breathtaking.
There are several companies in Bristol where you can buy a hot air balloon flight ticket – Elite Air, Bristol Balloons, and Baileys Balloons. Flights are also bookable during Bristol International Balloon Fiesta.