Yes I’m a bonafide sun-worshipper, but when the nights draw in, top-to-toe sparkles become acceptable daywear and Bublé starts crooning out his festive tunes, I’m more than happy to fully embrace the cosy, glitter-bedecked Yuletide season. If you like Christmas (pronounced Bristmas in these parts) and you’re heading in the direction of the South West, here’s my 3-day, family-friendly Bristol Christmas itinerary for 2019.
*Disclaimer: I was given the keys to the city! Well… gifted a media pass to all the city’s attractions, plus a selection of festive events and activities as part of Visit Bristol’s #MerryBristmas campaign.
Day 1: Bristol Christmas activities – start the day with a sour-doughnut!
Start the day off right with breakfast at Pinkmans Bakery on Park Street. Voted one of the top 25 bakeries in the UK, all their food is lip-smackingly good, but their sour-dough-nuts are to die for. I would give one of my body limbs for their chocolate brownie-flavoured sour-dough-nut with it thick chocolate mousse middle. The baked treats are best enjoyed on one of the long tables surrounded by their festive decorations or (my preference) at home by the fire with a glass of 6 O’Clock Gin!
Day 1: Mid-morning – head to Millennium Square Winter Fair for festive fun
From Pinkmans, it’s a picturesque stroll past independent shops and cafes down to Bristol’s very own winter wonderland, Millennium Square Winter Fair (17 Nov – 6 Jan). There’s plenty to keep little (and big!) kids entertained here for a festive day out – zoom down the Helter Skelter, ping up and down on the trampolines, gaze over wintry city views from the Sky View Wheel, whirl round on the cheery carousel or venture into the pop-up Apres Bar for mulled beverages, raclette and alpine vibes. On certain dates, Millennium Square’s Big Screen will be showing al fresco festive movie classics such as Polar Express and Home Alone. You can’t get more Christmassy than that.
For top Bristol Christmas outdoor fun, take a twirl on the ice rink next to We The Curious, which feels extra festive thanks to the 3D Planetarium’s close resemblance to a giant silver bauble. For young kiddos un-surefooted on the ice, a double-seated banana is a great way for grown-ups to whizz them around the ice, or if they’re a bit more confident, penguin skate aids can also be hired (but both need to be booked in advance). Crazy to think this was the same spot Bristolians flocked to in order to escape the heatwave in the city in summer!
After all that merriment, you’ll need to refuel, and festive food is the best way forward. Believe it or not, Yorkshire Pudding Wraps are a Bristol Christmas thing at this time of year and you can get your mitten-ed hands on one from the Winter Fair or Bristol’s Christmas Market (8 November – 23 Decembre 2019).
Watch my family-friendly Bristol Christmas activity-packed day at the Winter Fair here:
Day 1: an aquatic afternoon on Bristol Harbourside
Down on the Harbourside, you’re in the perfect location for visiting some of Bristol’s fantastic family-friendly attractions. Bristol Aquarium is home to hundreds of sea creatures such as Gloria the octopus, tiger sharks (a combination that blew my toddler’s mind), neon jellyfish (which blew my mind) and stingrays (perfect for Moana fans) among hundreds of others water-dwelling creatures.
Winding walkways let you gaze down into tanks full of exotic fish and turtles, while under-tank tunnels place you in the midst of the underwater action. There’s even a Bristol Harbourside scene reflecting the aquatic life that lives in the water right outside the front door. The Aquarium will be having a coral reef themed Christmas (Christmas Reef geddit?) with extra festive-workshops and activities during the school holidays (21 December-5 January 2020).
Day 1: afternoon on Bristol Harbourside
Brunel’s SS Great Britain is a short, fun Bristol Ferry Boat ride away from Bristol Aquarium. Time it right and you could combine your ferry ride with one of their Santa sailings (selected dates from 8-24 December). Ferries leave from Cascade Steps and drop you right outside the magnificent ship – where you’ll find one of the most fascinating, immersive visitor experiences.
Come Christmastime, Brunel’s SS Great Britain and dockyard will be given a festive Dickensian makeover (7-8 December 2019), complete with Victorian characters and falling snow. Visitors can make their own Victorian Christmas card, join in with traditional Christmas carols (12.30pm and 2pm), meet Mr Brunel, stock up on festive food and drink at the Harbourside Kitchen and pick up Victorian-style stocking fillers from the Gift Shop. Don’t miss the Victorian Christmas Trail (1-31 December) or the Dickensian Improvised Christmas Tale (8, 9, 21 & 22 December 2019). Bristmassy!
Bristol Christmas activities for kids at Bristol Aquarium, Brunel’s SS Great Britain and Bristol Ferry Boats – watch now!
Day 1: Festive evening on Bristol Harbourside
End the day with a stroll back along Bristol’s Floating Harbour towards the festive lights of Wapping Wharf. Duck inside Bristol Cider Shop to defrost your cockles with a Christmassy mulled cider to see you on your way home. There are also lots of lovely independent eateries here (some based in trendy refurbished shipping containers) if the kids are flagging or you need to soak up the alcohol!
Day 2: Bristol Christmas activities – morning at the zoo
At this time of year, family-friendly activities are mostly dictated to by the English climate. However, if the weather outside is frightful, Bristol Zoo Gardens is so delightful! It’s a great day out for families on chilly, even rainy, wintry days as there are indoor exhibits where you can thaw out your frozen bones in-between exploring the beautiful gardens and spotting animals outdoors. It’s a totally different experience from summer when visitors flock to the zoo’s splash fountains and gardens to lap up the sunshine.
Last Christmas, Bristol Zoo hosted Sunday Cinema film screenings Frozen and Elf, plus a Narnia-themed Santa grotto (again I’m there – I spent a lot of time trying to get through my wardrobe when I was younger) or you could snap up an Experience Day as a pressie for your animal-loving favourites. Boom.
Day 2: Bristol Christmas option 2 – We The Curious
If you don’t fancy braving the elements, We The Curious on Millennium Square, is a thrilling indoor extravaganza of interactive scientific discovery and a neon lover’s Instagram dream. My toddler could barely believe her eyes at the world of hands-on fun laid out before her and excitedly pelted it round discovery after dazzling discovery for hours! Hurtle through space in the Planetarium (over 6s can experience the 3D-ness), twirl in hurricanes, blow bubbles as big as your body, photograph your shadow, create your own animation, go inside a womb (!) and SO much more. Everything is wonderfully engaging – the only downside is trying to drag your enthralled kids out of there when it’s time to leave.
Day 2: lunchtime – Bristol Christmas festive feasts
But at some point, leave you must – to tick off your Bristol Christmas bucket list! Next up is street food and mulled beverages from Bristol Harbourside Christmas Market (every weekend from 23 November – 22 December 2019), underneath the covered walkway by Watershed. Tuck into your yuletide treats while tapping along to live ditties or head up Park Street for heavenly festive-flavoured winter gelato from Swoon, near College Green. Mince Pie or Panettone Gelato are sure to keep your Christmastide tastebuds tantalised! Quirky, colourful Bambalan has a twinkly outdoor winter terrace and is a perfect spot for laid-back grub with city centre views.
For an extra injection of yuletide spirit, check out one of the beautiful carol services at Bristol Cathedral. Some of the most popular family-friendly concerts include Carols by Candlelight (7.30pm, 20 & 21 December), Carol Service and Blessing of the Crib (dressing up as shepherds, wise men and angels encouraged for both kids and adults!), Shoppers’ Carol Service and Toddler Carols.
Round off a Christmassy day with a kid-friendly show at the theatre. I’ve got my eye on Boing at Bristol Old Vic (29 November – 5 January 2010) and The Snow Queen at The Redgrave Theatre (18-21 December) for my little ones.
Day 3: Bristol Christmas day out – Wookey Hole Caves
The great thing about Bristol is that as capital of the South West, it makes a great base for short festive day trips out of the city to beautiful countryside and fantastic West Country attractions that have been spiced up for Christmas.
Wookey Hole (a 45-minute drive from Bristol) decorate their famous caves with thousands of fairy lights for their festive season, turning it into a magical twinkling grotto (with a few Santas and reindeer thrown in for good measure). I was surprised how much my kids (aged four and two) enjoyed the caves – or perhaps they were on their best behaviour, 100% convinced of the legendary Witch of Wookey’s existence… Guided tours take you through the spectacular caverns and then you’re free to explore above ground, where you’ll find a giant gorilla, fairy garden, animatronic dinosaurs, 4D cinema, circus shows, soft play, Victorian-style arcade and as part of the Christmas festivities, a chance to meet Santa and his elves.
- Discover more Christmas light festivals near Bristol here
Day 3: Bristol Christmas Days out – other options
Slightly closer to the city centre, not far from Wild Place Project and just a stone’s throw from The Mall at Cribbs Causeway (who also have their own family-friendly ice rink and winter wonderland), is Aerospace Bristol. Inside it’s like Christmas for aviation-mad youngsters and engineering enthusiasts – helicopters, aeroplanes and engines sit alongside interactive exhibits and historical memorabilia from over a century of powered flight. Of course, the star of the show is that beautiful old bird, Concorde – the last of her kind to be built and fly (in Bristol, I might add). Last year they took a Yuletide singalong to new heights with Carols under Concorde.
Day 3: Bristol Christmas refuel
If you’re in search of festive nourishment after all that adventuring, head back into the city along Gloucester Road (Europe’s longest row of independent shops, bars, cafes and restaurants) and hunker down with some Yuletide grub inside Pieminister on Stokes Croft or Broad Quay. Their Christmas feast is hard to beat – festive flavour sensations on the menu include pigs in blankets, Mistlemoo (steak, bacon and port) pie, a stuffing ball and mini Yorkshire pudding ‘stick’ and mince pie ice cream sundae. Ding dong merrily on pie!
Day 3: Evening – Christmas light festivals
Christmas means adorning as many things as possible in twinkly lights and I am all for it! There are some magical Christmas light festivals near Bristol each December that won’t fail to get you in the snuggly spirit! Click here to read my post on the four best places to see enchanting yuletide lights.
This is but a mere smidgen of family-friendly festive events that are taking place in Bristol over Christmas. For the full round-up (and some excellently written blogs…), check out www.visitbristol.co.uk/Christmas.
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