Visiting Bristol with kids needn’t cost the earth if you know where to find the best free attractions and easy-on-the-wallet entertainment. From fascinating museums to historic towers, city farms, brilliant play parks and of course, that mother of a bridge, you can still experience some of the best things the city has to offer for no money at all! Here are my top 10 free things to do in Bristol with kids…
Free things to do in Bristol
1. 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, the bridge makes for some jaw-dropping views from every angle. On the city side, the best viewpoints are near Clifton Observatory and the green patch of grass on Sion Hill, just along from The Avon Gorge Hotel by Hotel du Vin.
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. Don’t miss the nearby natural rock slide (polished smooth by generations of whizzing bottoms) or The Giant’s Cave – so-named after the mythical Goram and Ghyston from Bristolian folklore – it’s only a few quid to enter (but due to the steep steps down is only suitable for over 4s). The cave leads out onto a little balcony halfway down the cliff face of the Gorge for even more bedazzling views of Clifton Suspension Bridge.
2. Ashton Court Estate
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 gargantuan redwood trees to admire. There’s also a couple of cafés if you get peckish, although the estate is a pretty scenic picnic spot ,with views gazing back over Cliftonwood’s multi-coloured houses. If you’re visiting between March and October, be sure to check ahead to see if the Miniature Railway is running (90p a ride, 10 rides for £8) – it’s brilliant, cheap fun. On the second weekend in August, Ashton Court becomes a sea of colour and activity when the visually spectacular (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.
You get a lot of bang for no bucks here. The 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 our 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 family events and special exhibitions so keep an eye on their What’s On page for up-to-date information.
4. Free museum: M Shed
The story of Bristol and its people is told at this free-to-enter museum, 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.
Blaise Castle Estate sprawls 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 (them again) 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 kids’ playgrounds which cater for younger and older kids as well as a a museum in the mansion house which is free for the public to take a gander. Look out for their ‘fairy walks’ and other free activities for youngsters during the school holidays.
6. Free attraction in Bristol: Cabot Tower and Brandon Hill
At the top of Brandon Hill Park, surveying the land below, 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 from the top over the whole city. If you’re not one for heights, fear not, the views from Brandon Hill down below are pretty epic too! There is also a really nice childrens’ playground at the bottom of the hill for an extra blast of fun.
7. Free attraction in Bristol: The Matthew
This 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. It’s moored on Bristol Harbourside, just outside M Shed, is free to hop aboard and fascinating to look around. If you’re happy to pay a bit more for a Floating Harbour-faring adventure, you can also climb onboard for a special fish and chips or afternoon tea cruise – check their website for dates.
8. Bristol’s free city farms
St Werburgh’s City (north of the river) and Windmill Hill City Farm (south of the river) are both free to enter and are perfect 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 childrens’ playgrounds for the kids to muck about it.
9. Free things to do in Bristol: Kids’ playgrounds in Bristol
Kids’ playgrounds are some of the best free ways to entertain the kids in Bristol. The city is home to a whopping 400 parks and gardens and many of these have brilliant children’s play areas. From playgrounds 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. Discover Bristol’s best kids’ playgrounds here.
10. Free child-friendly Bristol festivals
Family-friendly festivals take place all year round in Bristol and most of them don’t cost a penny to enter. One of the most famous and eye-poppingly pleasing is the Bristol International Balloon Festival – mentioned above. However, other great ones to do with kids are Bristol Harbour Festival, celebrating the city’s maritime heritage, Bristol Pride (the largest Pride Festival in the UK), Upfest – Europe’s largest live street art and graffiti festival and The Downs Festival. Be sure to check ahead to see what’s on during your stay.
What’s your favourite free activity in Bristol to do with kids? Let me know in the comments below!
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