If you know where to find the best free attractions and easy-on-the-wallet entertainment, visiting Bristol with kids needn’t cost too many of your pretty pennies! From fascinating museums to historic towers, city farms, brilliant play parks and of course, that mother of a bridge, you can experience some of the best things the city has to offer for no money at all. Here are my top free things to do in Bristol with kids.
Free things to do in Bristol
1. Ogle Clifton Suspension Bridge
Young kids might not give two squawks about Brunel’s engineering prowess, demonstrated in one of Bristol’s most famous landmarks, Clifton Suspension Bridge, but it doesn’t half make for some smashing photographs. Spanning the width of the Avon Gorge, whatever direction you come at it, there are jaw-dropping views from every angle.
You have to pay to drive over the bridge by car (£1 each way), but it’s free for walkers to cross and admire from each direction. There’s also a free visitor centre packed full of history about the bridge on the Leigh Woods side. Check out where to find the best viewpoints of the bridge.
2. Slide down Clifton’s natural rock slide
Don’t miss the natural rock slide polished smooth by generations of whizzing bottoms, located right next to Clifton Suspension Bridge. I don’t recommend going down it with a child on your lap though…it’s a back killer and you definitely need two hands!
3. Climb up Cabot Tower and Brandon Hill
At the top of Brandon Hill Park is Grade II* listed Cabot Tower, one of the city’s most famous landmarks. It was built to mark the 400th anniversary of John Cabot’s voyage from Bristol and subsequent discovery of North America on The Matthew in 1497.
It’s possible to climb to the top of the tower, although be warned the steps are very narrow and steep inside, so it can feel a little precarious with young kids! However, you’ll be rewarded with gob-smacking 360 degree views over the whole city from the top. If you’re not one for heights, fear not, the views from Brandon Hill down below are pretty epic too! There is also a childrens’ playground at the bottom of the hill for an extra blast of fun.
4. Walk around Bristol Harbourside
It’s possible to do a circular walk around Bristol’s Floating Harbour, one of the city’s most exciting spots. There’s loads to look at on the way, including some of Bristol’s most famous attractions, Brunel’s SS Great Britain, The Matthew, Pero’s Bridge and the rainbow-coloured houses of Cliftonwood.
My daughters love spotting paddleboarders and leaping along the sleepers of the old railway track, where an old steam train occasionally runs (see the Bristol Museums M Shed website for dates), which can be ridden for a small fee.
If little legs get tired, Bristol Ferries stop at several points around the Harbour, and can whisk you off to your next destination for just a few pounds.
Free things to do in Bristol
5. Stroll around Ashton Court Estate, Bristol
Ashton Court Estate is a whopping 800 acres of woodland and green open space, just a hop across Clifton Suspension Bridge. Mountain bikers, horse riders, golfers and families flock here for countryside ventures close to the city. Fallow deer are easy to spot wandering in fenced-off areas and there are gargantuan redwood trees to admire. The estate is a pretty scenic picnic spot, with views gazing back over the city.
If you’re visiting between March and October, check ahead to see if the Miniature Railway is running (90p a ride, 10 rides for £8) – it’s brilliant, cheap fun.
6. Explore Arnos Vale Cemetery
It might seem an odd recommendation to take your kids to a cemetery in Bristol, but this Victorian heritage site, set among 45 acres of woodland is a beautiful place for a walk. Hunt among the trees to find the fairy doors, or stroll all the way to Arnos park and its playground next door.
During school holidays, Arnos Vale Cemetery often hosts forest schools and other sessions for kids, including interactive stomping storytelling and film screenings (which all book up quickly, so get in early!)
7. Picnic in University of Bristol’s Royal Fort Gardens
Just off Tyndall Avenue, this city garden is great for picnics in a central location. Kids will love ducking in and out of the mirror maze structure and rolling down the hilly lawn. Go exploring to discover public artwork, Hollow, created by artist Katie Paterson with architects Zeller & Moye, which houses a mini forest of 10,000 unique tree species from nearly every country in the world.
8. Track Bristol’s giants at Blaise Castle Estate
Blaise Castle Estate encompasses vast open areas, dreamy forested gorge walks with babbling streams, pretty ponds and a folly castle sitting atop a hill. It’s said Bristol’s Giants left their mark here and if you look closely you’ll find Goram’s Chair and footprint stomped into the rocks.
There are also two huge playgrounds which cater for younger and older kids as well as a museum in the mansion house, which is free for the public to enter.
9. Marvel at Blaise Hamlet
Just across the road from Blaise Castle Estate, is a National Trust protected hobbitesque hamlet of nine 19th century houses, set around a village green. While there’s not a huge amount of ‘kid stuff’ to do there, it is lovely for a quick, picturesque stroll around if you’ve been visiting Blaise.
10. Wander around Kings Weston Estate
Close to Blaise Castle is Kings Weston is another mighty green estate (it takes about an hour to walk between the two). This mansion house, surrounded by gorgeous parkland was actually designed by the same dude who came up with the plans for Blenheim Palace. The gardens here were once so famed across Europe, they drew lords and ladies from far and wide.
There are lovely views across to the Severn Bridge and Bristol Channel, plus lots of wooded trails, open green space and a water fountain, which kiddos love to splash in. Park next to the house itself or in the Shirehampton car park.
11. Gaze over the city from Stoke Park Estate
During lockdown we visited Stoke Park Estate park almost daily. Each time, we discovered something new, including an animal sculpture trail, a duck pond, winding woodland trails and panoramic city views.
Despite the proximity of the M32, you can often feel like you’re walking in deep countryside here. There are acres of trees to explore, which are particularly pretty with wild garlic and falling blossom in spring, and if you go far enough, you can connect up with Snuff Mills.
12. Play in Leigh Woods | National Trust
Close to Clifton Suspension Bridge is Leigh Woods, a National Trust protected area of woodland that it is free to enter without membership. There’s a range of colour-coded pathways to explore depending on how far you want to walk, although for kiddos I’d recommend incorporating the natural play areas (there’s a basket swing, balance logs, hollow log tunnel and little roundhouse) as little leg motivation.
13. Run free on The Downs
Durdham Downs (or just, ‘The Downs’ if you’re a local) is a 400-acre area of flat green space between Clifton and Henleaze. It’s great for walking, scooting, cycling and generally running wild and free. One end, Sea Walls, has some pretty stupendous views of Clifton Suspension Bridge and Avon Gorge, and come autumn you’re guaranteed some cracking conker action.
14. Ramble around Troopers Hill Nature Reserve
The first time I visited Troopers Hill, I fell instantly in love with the place. This burrow-like nature reserve has some of the most stunning views over a very green-looking Bristol. Paths run higgledy piggledy over the hillside, all the way up to the tower (with cubby hole to crawl in), down into the woods and out onto a green, where there’s playground and football goals too.
15. Discover dinosaurs at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery
You get a lot of bang for no bucks here. The Bristol museum building itself is really quite beautiful and it’s filled to the rafters with interesting exhibits – literally. An aeroplane and Pliosaurus hang from the ceiling, Chinese dragons snake along the walls and there are several floors to explore.
Kids will especially love the wildlife displays, dinosaurs and small children’s play area where they can dress up, construct an ancient vase and get hands-on with various puzzles. There’s plenty to keep adults interested too – look out for the statue covered in spilt paint – a throwback to when infamous Bristol-born street artist Banksy commandeered the museum back in 2009.
The museum is free to enter and completely geared up for families – you’ll find feeding and changing rooms, a great café serving light bites and kids’ ‘choose 5 items’ lunch boxes and buggy-friendly lifts. The museum regularly runs free family events and special exhibitions, so keep an eye on their What’s On page for up-to-date information.
Free things to do in Bristol
16. Visit M Shed
The story of Bristol and its people is told at this free-to-enter M Shed, a converted 1950s’ dockside transit shed. Interactive displays and quirky paraphernalia detail the city’s history from prehistoric times to the present day.
Kid favourites include a double decker bus, life-size horse and suspended hot air balloons as well as a blown-up map view of Bristol covering the floor, where locals can seek out their houses using a magnifying glass. During the holidays, they offer train and crane rides along the dockside as well as Pyronaut trips on the water. Head upstairs for killer panoramic views over the Harbourside from the roof.
17. Discover the secrets of the Floating Harbour at Underfall Yard
Underfall Yard is a working historic boatyard at the Spike island end of Bristol Harbour. Inside there’s a free visitor centre with interactive displays and a giant map of Bristol’s floating harbour and water system. Outside, there are always boats strung up, so you can get a fascinating view of their underbelly.
18. Get a glimpse of 18th century Bristol at The Georgian House Museum
This 18th century, six-storey townhouse has been restored to its former glory. Originally owned by John Pinney – a rich slave plantation owner and sugar merchant, it is also where the enslaved African Pero Jones (who is commemorated by Pero’s Bridge, the trumpet-esque footbridge crossing Bristol’s waterfront) lived. The Georgian House Museum offers a fascinating insight into the life and times of Georgian Bristol.
19. Discover the secrets of Red Lodge Museum
Behind an unremarkable red door on Park Row sits an Elizabethan house with an intriguing history, Red Lodge Museum. Once a 16th century ‘royal party house’, later a Victorian reform school for girls, it’s also home to three of the oldest rooms in Bristol and the last complete Tudor room in the UK. There’s also an Elizabethan-style knot garden, where guests would have entered the garden over 400 years ago. The lodge is open from April until the end of December.
20. Play pirate ships on The Matthew
The Matthew ship is a replica of the caravel in which John Cabot sailed across the Atlantic and discovered North America, in 1497. With its masts and general olde worlde ship appearance, it exudes some pretty strong pirate-y vibes that kids will love. Moored on Bristol Harbourside, just outside M Shed, it’s free to hop aboard and fascinating to look around.
21. Meet farm animals at Bristol’s free city farms
Bristol’s city farms are a brilliant budget day out option. St Werburgh’s City (north of the river) and Windmill Hill City Farm (south of the river), are both free to enter and are great for learning about farm animals. Both are heavily community-minded, have lovely cafes serving wholesome food (using produce from a nearby allotment or the farm itself), and playgrounds for the kids to muck about it.
22. Clamber about at one of Bristol’s playgrounds
Playgrounds are some of the best free things to do in Bristol with kids. The city is home to a whopping 400 parks and gardens and many of these have brilliant playgrounds. From play areas with huge outdoor paddling pools, jaw-dropping city views or nestled deep in beautiful woodland, there is a fantastic selection to choose wherever you are staying in the city. I dedicated a whole blog post to Bristol’s best kids’ playgrounds here.
23. Boogie on down at a free Bristol festival
Bristol has more family-friendly festivals than you can waggle your glittery tail-feather at and the best part is, most of them don’t cost a penny to attend. From maritime celebrations at Bristol Harbour Festival, to encounters with nature and breathtaking balloons – you’ll find all sorts to wow your kids with in Bristol.
24. Be blown away by Bristol International Balloon Festival (August)
On the second weekend in August, Ashton Court becomes a sea of colour and activity when the visually-spectacular and free Bristol International Balloon Fiesta makes itself at home in the grounds. Over 100 hot air balloons take off (weather permitting) at dawn and dusk and there are also special balloon night glows, fireworks, aerial displays and fairground rides over the course of the four-day festival, making it one of the most eye-poppingly pleasing event.
Spotting balloons in Bristol soaring overhead at other times of the year is also a great free family activity!
25. Boogie on the dockside at Bristol Harbour Festival (July)
Bristol Harbour Festival is an annual, free, family-friendly dance, music and arts spectacle that takes place along the dockside, from Underfall Yard all the way to the Cascade Steps, Thekla and Queen Square. As well as live music and entertainment, there are also comedy shows, aerial acts, circus acts, arts and crafts, a dance village, food markets and a whole lotta maritime fun.
26. Celebrate love at Bristol Pride (July)
Dress up in all the colours of the rainbow for the UK’s biggest Pride festival. Loads of free fun is put on for youngsters of all ages during Pride Day, for example Drag Queen Story Time, kite-making and Super Pirates who create colourful and wildly fun play areas.
27. Watch live graffiti art at Upfest
Europe’s largest live street art festival, Upfest, sees 250 artists descend on the city to create spectacular murals on city walls. Along with the live graffiti display, there are music stages, food and drink stalls, and loads for families, including kids workshops, a doodle wall and lots of free arty fun.
Image source – Upfest
28. Party at St Paul’s Carnival (July)
One of Bristol’s most iconic festivals, St Pauls Carnival, celebrates the best of the city’s Afro-Caribbean culture. It’s free to attend and showcases the area’s creativity, diversity, music and arts, with plenty of yummy street food to keep you dancing all day long. Don’t miss the carnival procession itself (midday), starring thousands of spectacular costumes, brightly-coloured floats and musical performances.
29. Discover a hidden city with Bristol Open Doors (September)
Produced by The Architecture Centre as part of nationwide Heritage Open Days, Bristol Open Doors lets you peek behind the city’s normally-closed doors to discover fascinating buildings and spaces. The events takes place over the course of a weekend and offers visitors unique behind-the-scenes access and one-off experiences at landmarks across the city.
Free things to do in Bristol
30. Open your mind to contemporary art at Spike Island
Spike Island is an international centre for contemporary art and design, located near Bristol Harbourside. The Gallery is free all year round and hosts extremely popular monthly Baby Art Hour sessions as well as family-friendly Open Studios events with brilliant exhibitions, events, demonstrations, art work for sale, and street food.
31. Reimagine the world at Arnolfini
One of Europe’s leading centres for contemporary art, Arnolfini, on Bristol Harbourside, hosts family-friendly events throughout the year. From Shadow theatre to a ‘Fluffy Library’, be sure to check their What’s on page for free family activities, particularly during school holidays.
32. Seek out Bristol street art
Bristol is the hometown of street artist Banksy and there’s plenty of his work around the city that you can hunt down. Go at your own pace by downloading the Banksy Trail app, following this self-guided tour of his artworks, or join a tour.
It’s not just Banksy who has decorated the buildings of Bristol. The city’s walls are an ever-changing gallery of jaw-dropping art and there’s always wonderful new pictures to discover. My two particularly love finding pictures of animals – Montpelier, Stokes Croft, Nelson street and North Street in Bedminster are always a good bet for this.
33. Take on the Treasure Island Trail
This mile-long trail around Bristol Harbourside highlights the city’s connections with Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. The route takes you to eight ‘Black Spots’ that tell the story in sequence, from King Street to M Shed. Find the spots yourself or download the app for £1.99.
34. Get crafty at Bristol Cathedral
Don’t worry, I realise taking kids to a place of quiet reflection is not often top of anyone’s agenda, but Bristol Cathedral runs a number of popular events throughout the year which are a godsend (pun intended) for parents. ‘Crafty Cathedral’ often takes place during the school holidays and the Christmas nativities are full to bursting in attendance terms.
Bristol Cathedral is free to visit and open to the public 365 days a year. As well as exploring the building, there are gardens out at the back, free exhibitions and free lunchtime concerts to enjoy.
35. Head to the seaside on a day trip from Bristol
One of the best things about living in Bristol is that the coast is an easy day trip away from the city and you can escape to the seaside in under 90 minutes. Here’s a list of the best beaches to visit near Bristol.
36. Swim in Clevedon Marine Lake for free
Take to the water in the pretty seaside town of Clevedon, just a short hop down the M5 from Bristol. The 15,000m² Clevedon Marine Lake fed by the Bristol Channel is a great spot for a refreshing scenic dip, or spot of paddleboarding.
37. Explore the city on foot for free
Walking around Bristol is free, and the city is the perfect size to explore many of the main attractions or glorious green open spaces on foot. There are plenty of buggy-friendly routes, if you’ve got tiny ones in tow too.
38. Pedal the Bristol to Bath Cycle Path
Travel between two exhilarating West Country cities on the The Bristol to Bath Railway Path, a 13-mile off-road route which is open to walkers and cyclists. Discover some fascinating history on the way, spot wildlife and visit intriguing places just off the path, such as Bitton Railway station. Once in Bath, lock up your bike and wander the pretty streets – there’s tons to see in this UNESCO World Heritage City.
If the round-trip is too much for little legs, you can always hop on the 13-minute train back from Bath to Bristol Temple Meads.
39. Read a book for free at a Bristol library
There are brilliant libraries all over the city, and most of them offer free singing sessions for babies as well as a wealth of books to borrow. Bristol Central Library located in an impressive building near Bristol Cathedral is bright and colourful and has a huge pirate ship for kids to sit inside.
40. Watch a movie on the Big Screen in Millennium Square
We The Curious’ Big Screen in Millennium Square often brings al fresco, cinematic joy to the masses with outdoor screenings of classic movies, festive favourites or sports, such as Wimbledon. And it’s free!
41. Recharge in Queen Square
There’s something distinctly ‘London’ about Bristol’s Queen Square. Maybe the regal statue at the centre? The backdrop of handsome townhouses? Either way, it’s a great patch of green for a picnic close to the city centre and a lovely place to add onto your Harbourside stroll.
42. Discover interesting artefacts at St Mary Redcliffe
On her visit to Bristol in 1574, Queen Elizabeth I supposedly called St Mary Redcliffe Chuch, ‘the fairest, goodliest and most famous parish church in England’. The gothic church is over 800 years old and a masterpiece of Gothic architecture.
All kinds of interesting artefacts hide within its walls, such as a giant whale bone (brought back to the city by John Cabot after his N. American expedition), carved bosses, beautiful stained glass, a world-famous organ and a perpendicular piece of tramway embedded in the grass outside.
43. Contemplate nature at Luke Jerram’s Palm Temple
Hidden away in the unappealing concrete buildings of University of Bristol’s Chemistry department courtyard is a glorious, gleaming, kaleidoscopic rainbow gem, known athe ‘Palm Temple’, by artist Luke Jerram. Originally commissioned to celebrate the 600th anniversary of the dome of Florence Cathedral, it urges visitors to contemplate nature using an ‘extinction bell’. The bell tolls once, 150 to 200 times a day to indicate the number of species lost worldwide every 24 hours. An important, if not bleak message, the artwork is anything but, and looks particularly stunning on a sunny day.
NB. if travelling with a buggy, go via Cantocks Close. And if not, have a look at the rainbow stairs leading to Royal Fort Gardens – an Instagrammer’s dream!
44. Parade down Royal York Crescent
You’re probably familiar with Bath’s Royal Crescent – it’s been used in Bridgerton alongside a whole host of other TV and film productions. But did you know that Bristol has some pretty good Georgian crescent game too? Royal York Crescent in Clifton is the longest terrace in Europe (yes, bigger than Bath’s!) It sits rather handsomely, quietly pondering some wonderful Mendip-reaching views over the city. You won’t find a number 13 though, suspicious architects only added a 12a and 12b.
Free things to do in Bristol
45. Learn something unusual at a free small museum
Home to iconic landmarks and big world-class attractions, Bristol also has its share of smaller, unusual and fascinating museums, many of which are free to enter. Check out George Müller Museum, Glenside Hospital Museum, Frenchay Village Museum, Thornbury and District Museum and Yate and District Museum, Palestine Museum Cultural Centre and Kingswood Heritage Museum (0-11s are free, otherwise entry £3) are all free to visit.
46. Saunter around Backwell Lake
Pack a picnic and head to Backwell Lake to watch the swans and geese (and depending on the season, their cutie cygnets and goslings too), grey herons, pipistrelle bats and rare dragonflies. Circling the lake doesn’t take very long, so it’s manageable for younger kids. On hot days an ice cream van will usually rock up in the nature reserve’s car park to everyone’s delight.
47. Visit the goats on Purdown
No need to leave the city to spot farm animals, you’ll find free-range goats up at the BT Tower in Stoke Park! The furry beasts have been added to the landscape up at Purdown’s old WW2 gun battery to munch and manage the land as part of the Street Goat Project. As an added bonus, you’ll be treated to some epic views of the city from up here too.
48. Seek out the whales at Bishops Knoll
Bishops Knoll is located almost directly opposite Leigh Woods, on the other side of the Portway. It encompasses a large area of ancient woodland, a forgotten arboretum and ruins of a 19th century hidden ornamental walled garden, and is Bristol’s very own secret garden. The strangest sight you’ll see here are the wicker whales (formerly of Millennium Square) ‘swimming’ through a sea of grass.
48. Splash about in Millennium Square fountains
“Mummy is this my dream? Because it’s my best day ever” were the exact words my child uttered when I took her to the free water splash park next to We The Curious (Bristol’s excellent interactive science centre), one boiling hot September day.
There are fountains and water features galore – perfect for splashing in and staying cool in the heat in Bristol. Pitch up and paddle – there’s plenty of space for little ones to go nuts – just check the water beforehand, these are city centre fountains after all.
49. Potter around Abbots Pool
This picturesque lily pad-topped Abbots Pool, surrounded by woodland and bright purple flowers (in May) was once part of a series of pools used by medieval monks to farm for fish. Swimming in the pool isn’t allowed, but there are lots of walks through woods to open green fields that are perfect for summer picnics or autumn leaf-crunching. A blooming beautiful spot.
50. Free things to do in Bristol: jog on in a junior park run
Get the weekend off to a great start with a free 2k event for juniors (4 to 14 year olds). The Bristol park runs take place every week at Kingsweston (Sundays 10am), Windmill Hill (Sundays 9am), Page Park (Sundays 9am). Just make sure you register beforehand.