Bristol is one of the best UK city breaks for families, having lived here for many years, we’re always thanking our lucky stars for how much child-friendly entertainment we have on our doorstep. As well as brilliant attractions, historic landmarks and child-captivating theatre shows, there are year-round family-friendly festivals, plenty of playgrounds, baby cafes, wide-open green spaces and budget-friendly activities. Here are the best family-friendly attractions to see in Bristol with kids.
1. Experience life as a Victorian sailor aboard Brunel’s SS Great Britain
One of the most important historic ships in the world, Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s SS Great Britain sits on Bristol Harbourside, ‘floating’ on a glass sea. Restored to her former magnificence, the ship is now an interactive museum alive with sights, sounds and smells of life on the ocean in Victorian times – from the stench of a fish kitchen, to the whiff of animals on board, it’s great fun exploring every nook.
You can also see how you would have fared as a Victorian sailor and climb the rigging with Go Aloft! (for an extra fee), although our two kids, at 3 and 6 are too young for this yet. Bravery is rewarded with epic Harbour views. Being Brunel, a museum that examines the life of the ingenious engineer, is next door (and included in the ticket price). It tells the story of Brunel in a similarly exciting way, letting visitors go ‘inside’ his mind and have a go at drawing a perfect circle in a moving train carriage. Check what’s on at the ship if you’re visiting Bristol with kids during school holidays, their themed events (like the Victorian Christmas Weekend) and fun activities are great fun.
2. Meet the animals at Bristol Zoo Gardens
I could rave about Bristol Zoo all day, it’s one of my favourite places in the city and I’ve been a member since my two were tiny. Whether it’s pouring with rain or blazing sunshine, it’s a fantastic family day out in Bristol with kids.
With beautiful blooming pathways (the flower beds are a riot of colour whatever the season) and a big grassy picnicking space, I love it because it’s a safe place to herd free range children from toddler age and up. The splash park alone, with its shallow water ways, bridges, pools and basking (wooden) crocodiles is worth the ticket price on a hot day. There’s also a play area with sandpit and ZooRopia, a high ropes course for older kids.
And of course there’s the animals! Our favourite things to do are watch the seals and penguins frolicking from underwater tunnels, get up close to the cuddling lemurs, hear the lions roaring, find Dory and Nemo in the aquarium, wander around bug world, watch gorillas roam over our heads, hope for butterflies to land on our heads and investigate a rat-infested house in the twilight zone.
3. Fire your curiosity at We The Curious, Science Centre
We The Curious is Bristol’s science centre with an objective of electrifying human – and especially kids’ – curiosity. Capital city-dwelling family members of ours have declared it better than London’s Science Museum! Inside you’ll find two floors of interactive, mind-bending, hands-on activities designed to get all ages excited about how and why things happen in the world around them.
From shooting parachutes in the sky, to watching your skeleton dance, sending messages through giant whisper dishes, blowing giant bubbles to building a giant lego wall and trying your hand as an Aardman animator, it’s a thrilling day out.
One of the highlights is journeying deep into the solar system in the UK’s first 3D planetarium, located in Bristol’s recognisable gigantic silver ball (although under 6s have to stick to 2D shows).
You can easily spend a whole day here and the attraction will give you wristbands so if you fancy popping out for lunch and coming back, it’s no problem (although there is also an onsite cafe). Look out for ‘Toddler Takeover’ days when entry is discounted.
*Check out this virtual tour of the ground floor. Listen to the general ambience, find out about the exhibits – including entering a womb (with sound clip!) and visiting a collection of edible plants – to get you excited about a future visit
4. Fuss over fish at Bristol Aquarium
If you were familiar with Bristol a few years ago, you may remember the big curved building down near the waterfront that used to house the old IMAX cinema. This has been transformed into Bristol Aquarium, an exciting underwater world that takes visitors on a journey through exotic marine waters to Britain’s coastline, freshwater creatures, mangroves, rainforest pools and more. Our favourite parts of the attraction are the re-creation of Bristol Harbourside and neon jellyfish!
In school holidays, you can often meet a real-life pirate or mermaid or take part in specially-themed activities. It’s all based indoors and there is a cafe with little play area for kids to play in while you have a coffee.
5. Explore fascinating exhibits at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery
This free museum is often my go-to on a rainy day in Bristol with kids. The beautiful building is filled from floor to ceiling with interesting exhibits. On the ground floor we’re big fans of the local wildlife displays, Ancient Egyptian artefacts, a couple of pieces by Banksy, the interactive play area for young kids and the spectacular Pliosaurus hanging from the ceiling.
There are several floors to explore – upstairs houses dinosaur skeletons and a vast selection of taxidermied animals – Alfred the gorilla (previously resident of Bristol Zoo), a giraffe, zebra and even a stuffed dodo (not real…although I confess I had to double-check). There’s also a gypsy caravan, a treasure trove of Chinese and an art gallery.
The museum regularly runs family events and enthralling exhibitions so keep an eye on their What’s On page for up-to-date information.
*Bristol museum are currently doing all they can to make their collections available online for audiences to enjoy from their sofa! Click here to find out more.
*You can also take a peek inside in this 3D virtual tour. A couple of key exhibits are marked, like Banksy’s ‘Angel with a paint pot’ and the Egypt and Assyria Galleries. While it’s mainly aimed at people wanting to hold an event there, you can still get a sense of the interior.
This converted 1950s transit shed is now a (free-to-enter) Harbourside museum that showcases Bristol’s social history. Kids love the interactive exhibits, including an old-fashioned double decker bus, air raid shelter, giant aerial map of the city and an old-school shop. Head upstairs for killer panoramic views over the Harbourside from the roof, or feed your tummy (as well as your mind) in the onsite cafe.
On certain dates, you can take a ride on an old steam train which trundles up and down the length of the Floating Harbour, from just outside M Shed (and only costs a few quid to ride). Equally occasionally, you can have a go on one of the working cranes, take to the water on a Pyronaut or the Mayflower (believed to be the oldest surviving steam tug in the world).
7. Experience the iconic Clifton Suspension Bridge
You can’t visit Bristol with kids and not check out its most iconic attraction, the breath-taking, Brunel-designed, Clifton Suspension Bridge. Spanning the Avon Gorge and looking back towards the architecturally-aesthetic Clifton, rolling Mendip hills and leafy Ashton Court Estate, it’s one of the city’s most picturesque spots from whatever angle you view it. Snap a selfie, pop into the Visitor Centre for a bit of history and have a go on the nearby natural rock slide – polished smooth by years of sliding botties.
Perched on the edge of the Avon Gorge, gazing over one of the best views of Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol, is Clifton Observatory. As well as being a breath-taking viewpoint, the family attraction hides a Giant’s Cave (so-called after mythical Bristol giants Goram and Ghyston who, according to folklore, are said to have created the gorge) and a Camera Obscura.
Under 4s are not allowed down to the Giant’s Cave, which descends 27 metres into the rock, opening out, some might say slightly terrifyingly, on a yellow balcony in the middle of the cliff face.
Above ground, there’s also the 360 Cafe with a roof terrace where you can soak up those bedazzling views over cake and coffee.
*Order a copy of one of the Bristol Giants children’s books to learn about Goram and Ghyston’s city adventures.
Yet another attraction in Bristol that you can simultaneously visit and kick yourself that you’re in the middle of a city. Entering this gorgeous little nature oasis is like stepping into tropical climes, some kind of Jurassic age and an English country garden all at once. Hunt down a dinosaur skeleton, sculptures, medicinal plants, an African Rondavel, giant lilies, many beautiful flowers and people revelling in the peaceful vibes.
10. Ride the miniature trains at Ashton Court Estate
A short hop over Clifton Suspension Bridge is the humongous estate of Ashton Court. Brilliant for cycling, horse riding, kite flying, scooting, mountain biking, dog walking, running, hot air ballooning and generally being at one with nature, it’s hard to believe you’re so close to a city (although there are lovely views over it from here).
Bristol Model Engineers run the miniature railway here on certain weekends between March to October (plus a Santa special in December). It’s a firm favourite with local families. Take a picnic and make a day of it!
11. Feed squirrels on Brandon Hill and climb Cabot Tower
Brandon Hill surrounds one of Bristol’s most famous landmarks, Cabot Tower. It’s a beautiful, hilly park with a lovely playground and stupendous views gazing down over Bristol’s Floating Harbour and out to the countryside beyond. And a lot of squirrels.
I know this because I was once paid to go ‘squirrel fishing’ by a well-known Bristol TV production company. It involved placing a nut on the end of a hand-made ‘fishing rod’ to try and coax the little creatures over. We needn’t have made things so complicated, they’re so tame here that they’ll come and eat right out of your hand – to the squeals of delighted children. If you’re feeling energetic afterwards, climb the steep winding steps to the top of Cabot Tower for some phenomenal views.
The was constructed to celebrate the 400th anniversary of John Cabot’s voyage from Bristol and subsequent discovery of North America on The Matthew (a replica of which can be seen on Bristol Harbourside) in 1497.
Steep, winding steps lead to the top of the tower, but climbing them with young kids can feel a bit precarious. For those that dare, the reward at the top is stupendous 360 degree views over the whole city.
12. Climb on board 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 adore. It’s moored on Bristol Harbourside, just outside M Shed, is free to hop aboard and fascinating to look around. Look out for Floating Harbour-faring adventures, they often run special fish and chips or afternoon tea cruises and school holiday pirate pantomimes – check their website for dates.
13. See Bristol with kids on an open-top bus** NO LONGER IN SERVICE DUE TO THE PANDEMIC
For the purposes of entertaining pre-schoolers, you could jump on any Bristol First Bus and just cruise up and down Gloucester Road for a bit, my girls would definitely consider that a fun day out.
However, if you’d like to make it infinitely more interesting, then seek out one of Bristol Insight’s open top buses to take a ride on. Stops are located at most of Bristol’s main attractions (and some offer discounted entry with a bus ticket) and you can hop on and off as you please while listening to fascinating facts about the city. It’s a great introduction if you don’t know Bristol that well and you’ll always learn something new if you do!
14. Watch a children’s theatre show in Bristol
Bristol is brilliant for kid’s theatre and there are always lots of family shows taking place at the city’s many cultural venues. You’ll find awe-inspiring West End and Broadway productions at Bristol Hippodrome. Bristol Old Vic regularly puts on kids shows and Dragonbird Theatre always sell-out their interactive play adventures around the city – so book early!
Historic music venue, Colston Hall presents concerts from all genres of music, a family favourite is their Hoo-Ha festival in August. They’re also well-known for their live orchestral accompaniments to classic movies.
The Wardrobe Theatre is noted for being a great independent restaurant, onsite bakery, outdoor drinks venue, live music hub and theatre all rolled into one. Family-friendly performances take place throughout the year in their intimate venue (you can read my review of Soup Soup Theatre’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice here)
This mile-long family-friendly trail highlights the city’s connections with Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, Bristol’s maritime heritage and other literary associations. To follow the route, download the app to be led around eight Black Spots dotted about Bristol’s Floating Harbour from King Street to M Shed.
If you’re in Bristol with kids during the summer holidays, it’s possible to witness the story brought to life on a Treasure Island story walk with Show of Strength Theatre Company.
Blaise Castle House Museum on the vast Blaise Estate is located in the mansion house and contains a dressing up area, fascinating old-fashioned toys and an old school room.
Outside the museum walls are sprawling green grounds, forested gorge walks 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 can find ‘Goram’s Chair’ and his ‘footprint’ stomped into the rocks. The children’s playground in the grounds is one of the largest in Bristol.
*Use Google Expeditions to access Bristol Museums’ wider collection. Once downloaded, search ‘Blaise Castle House Museum’.
17. Feed the animals at Bristol’s wholesome city farms
St Werburgh’s City Farm and Windmill Hill City Farm are a fantastic place to take kids keen to see farm animals. There’s something quite lovely about finding goats, pigs and chickens roaming in the middle of a city.
Strongly community-minded, both farms have lovely cafes featuring wholesome food and locally-grown produce on the menu as well as childrens’ playgrounds for kids to mess about in.
18. Step aboard the last Concorde at Aerospace Bristol
Ideal for plane-mad youngsters and engineering enthusiasts, this aeronautical museum houses historical memorabilia from over a century of powered flight. On display are engines and planes of all kinds from over a century of powered flight.
Of course, the star of the show is that beautiful old bird, Concorde Alpha Foxtrot – the last of her kind to be built (in Bristol, I might add) and fly. You can go aboard the legendary plane, peek into the cockpit and get an insight into what supersonic jet travel would have been like for passengers. The family attraction also has an outside play area and a cafe.
*As the museum is currently closed, Aerospace Bristol are bringing you lots of fun activities and videos to enjoy at home.
19. Marvel at wildlife in acres of space at Wild Place Project
Wild Place’s new Bear Wood has returned four ‘extinct’ British species – European brown bears, lynx, wolves and wolverine -to UK woodland for the first time in hundreds of years. It’s incredible to get so close to the animals while strolling along a raised walkway through the trees and venturing into 180-degree, floor-to-ceiling glass viewing areas. From here, you can watch the animals clambering along branches or trotting through the forest in what feels like a very natural enclosure.
There are many other animal habitat-themed zones and exotic beasts wandering the wilds here too, including cheetahs, giraffes, zebras, eland, geladas and okapi. My daughters would spend the entire time scampering shoeless along the Barefoot Trail if they could, but it’s also amazing to get within an arm’s length of a lemur, talk to giraffes almost face to face or run free in the vast green meadow. There’s also a number of play areas, plus an indoor Fun Fort (handy if the weather isn’t playing ball).
Adrenaline-loving families can test their nerve on the ‘Leap of Faith’, an outdoor climbing adventure. The course takes around an hour to complete and includes a giant 25ft swing.
A few miles outside Bristol, this countryside attraction is home to big zoo animals including tigers, rhinos, giraffes, bears and elephants as well as smaller animals, like bunnies, goats and guinea pigs (which you have the opportunity to pet at certain times of day.
As well as wildlife, there are adventure playgrounds (including a very unique-looking elephant slide) giant maze and ginormous indoor soft play complete with beehive maze, slides, ball pit and ride-on tractor area. The zoo has been criticised for its creationist undertones, although these are fairly discrete nowadays and it’s easy to enjoy the animals and kiddy entertainment.
21. Get back to nature at National Trust Tyntesfield
This handsome gothic-style Victorian mansion sits in beautiful National Trust-protected grounds, surrounded by countryside. There’s acres of space to explore with kids, plus a natural play area, logs to balance on and excellent family-friendly activities that take place all year-round. From themed trails and storytelling to a magnificent pumpkin display, Victorian Christmas and family workshops, it’s a gorgeous place to escape to for a nature-filled day.
*Tyntesfield will be adding stories, activities and related content to this page regularly, so even if you can’t visit at the moment, you’ll be able to learn a little bit more about this special place.
Half an hour away from Bristol, set in a beautiful riverside park, Avon Valley Adventure and Wildlife Park has tons of family entertainment for a day out with kids. Visitors can meet animals of all shapes and sizes, watch animals racing, hop on tractor and train rides, play in the adventure parks, take a mini jeep for a spin, head out on the boating lake and go wild in the soft play.
During school holidays, the attraction puts on enchanted trails (we’ve got up close to an actual unicorn before! Well…a pony with a rainbow mane, but still!), lambing events, meet and greets with beloved characters like Peppa and a Christmas extravaganza among other things.
*The attraction has opened a ‘Drive Thru Farm Shop’ next door to Avon Valley Adventure & Wildlife Park. Shop from the safety of your car from 10am-3pm to get your next fresh Fruit, Veg, meat and other items! Click here for more info.
Travel back in time to the golden age of steam travel. This exciting locomotive adventure take you along three miles of track through spectacular South Gloucestershire countryside (mainly at weekends and during school holidays). Throughout the year the attraction runs themed events, rangin from Hound of the Baskervilles, to Teddy Bear’s Picnics, Wizard Adventure Weekends, Chocolate Sundays and their popular Santa Specials!
24. The Wave Bristol
Bristol has always been ‘cool’ in my eyes, and then they went and built an inland surf lake. Gnarly, rad, epic, pumping, sick, The Wave Bristol is all the surf adjectives …and family-friendly! There are 6 different surfing areas and kids over 6 years old can have a go at catching a wave. Beginner lessons are available (and encouraged if you’ve never surfed here before) and prices include the use of a surfboard and wetsuit, plus optional hood and boots if you would like them. All you need to bring is your swimming costume and a towel!
Booking is essential, so do plan ahead rather than drop in on the off-chance – you need to be onsite at least 90 minutes before your surf session starts. If you’d rather just soak up the stoke than dip your toes in the water, it’s £5 to visit the lovely cafe/bar, onsite surf shop, viewing deck.
Let little legs ping, boing, leap and launch themselves in every direction at the world’s largest indoor trampoline park, Airhop, based out at Cribbs Causeway. Under 5s can get involved in special ‘Mini Airhopper Takeover’ sessions which run on weekdays out of school holidays (10am-12pm) and at weekends (from 9am-10am). Kids have have a ball launching themselves into a foam pit, racing around a dodgeball court and jumping on wall to wall trampolines.