Bristol is the southwest’s largest and most populous city and is one of the most popular UK short break destinations for tourists and travellers. It is remarkably cosmopolitan and has a huge amount to offer, from a broad selection of shops, to a host of varied restaurants and eateries of all different styles and cultural influences.
The city’s word-famous nightlife and music scene is perhaps only outclassed by its history, much of which can still be seen today. Here is a brief look into its past, the reason why, despite its relatively small size it is still an important cultural centre in this ancient nation.
The Early Years
The city dates back to 1155, the year it was given a royal charter. It was granted county status in 1373. For most of the last millennium it ranked among the top four cities of the country in terms of population and economy, after London and alongside Norwich and York, until the rapid rise of the West Midland cities (Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester) during the Industrial Revolution.
Bristol, a maritime city
For most of its life, the city’s wealth was linked to maritime trade. Wool, wine, fish and grain were brought in through links to other medieval settlements, mostly in Wales, Ireland, France, Spain and Portugal. The city’s importance grew after our navel expeditions began to head west. England’s first venture to the Americas originated in Bristol when John Cabot set off across the Atlantic to find a new source of cod after their usual fishing spots in Iceland were closed off by an alliance of North European states known as the Hanseatic League.
After the discovery, a network of trade routes was set up, linking the Old World to the New. These exchanges built Bristol up in wealth and size, its location in the southwest making it the ideal centre for transatlantic trade. The city flourished during the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries.
After the rapid rise of Liverpool in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries (in which its population grew from 7000, to over 700,000, largely due to immigration), as well as the abolition of the slave trade (in which Bristol, sadly, played a large part), the city’s share of maritime enterprise dropped. It fell behind its Midlands competitors and took up the new Industrial processes for manufacturing slowly in comparison. By the turn of the Twentieth Century, however, Bristol was a leading city in tobacco and paper manufacture and engineering.
The work of one of our nation’s most famous Bristolians can be seen all over the city. Isambard Kingdom Brunel contributed so much to the great engineering achievements of the Victorian period including the Great Western Railway and the SS Great Britain, the first ever propeller-driven ocean-going ship. Perhaps his most famous achievement still stands tall and majestically over the city now, the famous Clifton Suspension Bridge, which had the longest span of any bridge at the time of construction.
The city is one of the most attractive in the country and historic and iconic landmarks can be seen dotted all over. Bristol, only a few years ago, was voted in the world’s top ten cities to visit by the renowned travel guides, Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness series.
The Old Quarter, based around College Green and the Cathedral, is where you’ll find much of the city’s historic heritage. A sit down on this peaceful green square, looking up at the impressive surrounding architecture, the famous slope of Park Street and the majestic tower of Will’s Memorial in the background, is truly magical.
The relatively modern Millenium Square is only a stone throw away from the Old Harbour, the city’s corner that pushed it into greatness. This old hub of maritime success is now a cultural hub and hosts many festivals and events. This is because the city’s expansion forced the active port farther down the Avon and along the coast to the Severn Estuary.
The city now excels in creative media, as well as electronic and aeronautical engineering. It has a modern and popular shopping scene, some areas, notably Broadmead and Cabot Circus (named after the aforementioned navigator), even giving London a run for its money. There are numerous famous festivals hosted by the city that see people visiting from all over the country and beyond. The International Balloon Festival and St Paul’s Carnival, a jovial celebration of the settlements extensive Caribbean roots and cultural influences are two of the best known and most popular.
So, if you’re ever stuck for a place to go, no matter what kind of trip you‘re after, Bristol really does offer it all. For accommodation options, Best Western Hotels offer a good range and choice.