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Arts and Culture in Bristol

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Bristol’s long history is abundantly evident as you wander past exquisitely preserved historical buildings and world-class museums. Saying that, the city is by no means stuck in the past – there’s also a very active performing arts community, comfy independent cinemas, and one of the UK’s most thrilling live music scenes.

 

Mesmerising museums

 

Bristol’s museums shine a spotlight on everything from naval aircraft to mental health issues. But here’s one blockbuster attraction that every first-time visitor to the city should set aside a few hours for.

 

Bristol Museum and Art Gallery

 

Housed in an Edwardian Baroque building, this eclectic museum is crammed with an array of Italian and Dutch Old Master paintings, and one of the best collections of Far Eastern glass, ceramics, and carvings you’ll find outside of Asia. There’s an equally strong showing for natural history, with one of Britain’s best-preserved dinosaur skeletons, and a fascinating display of taxidermy animals, including Alfred the gorilla, a former resident of Bristol Zoo who became a famous mascot for Bristol.

 

Queens Road, Bristol BS8 1RL. Tel:+44 117 922 3571

 

Bristol Museum and Art Gallery website
Performing arts

 

Bristol has venues offering everything from cutting-edge experimental theatre to touring productions of smash hit West End musicals. The real jewel in the crown, however, is the city’s internationally acclaimed repertory theatre.

 

Bristol Old Vic

 

Conceived as an off-shoot of the world-famous London Old Vic, Bristol’s major repertory theatre company is today firmly established in its own right as one of Britain’s finest. Their home is the Theatre Royal, England’s oldest continually-operating theatre, which dates back to the mid-18th century. The company produce an incredible year-round programme of plays, encompassing everything from Shakespeare classics to ground-breaking contemporary drama and crowd-pleasing family shows.

 

King Street, Bristol BS1 4ED. Tel:+44 117 987 7877

 

Bristol Old Vic website

 

Cinema

 

In addition to the multiplexes you’d find in any British city, Bristol boasts one of the most vibrant independent cinema scenes you’ll encounter outside of London. There’s a lovely selection of quirky venues devoted to showcasing the very best in non-mainstream film, and a whole host of festivals and special events throughout the year that shine a spotlight on up-and-coming talent.

 

Watershed

 

Billing itself as a “cultural cinema and digital creativity centre”, Watershed is a sheer paradise for arthouse film aficionados. Housed in beautifully re-purposed harbourside warehouses, it boasts 3 state-of-the-art screens, a lovely bar and café, and a cutting-edge media studio. Its diverse programme encompasses world cinema, reissues of classics from the archives, panel discussions, regular themed festivals, and much more besides.

 

1 Canon's Road, Harbourside, Bristol BS1 5TX. Tel:+44 117 927 5100

 

Watershed website

 

Historical buildings

 

There are landmarks galore in this grand old city, including a number of splendid Georgian buildings. Head to the Old City to marvel at the handsome Palladian Corn Exchange and 17th century Llandoger Trow pub, or swing by the West End to visit this hidden gem.

 

The Georgian House

 

Experience a taste of 18th century Bristol life by visiting this stunningly preserved family home, which was built in 1790 for a local sugar merchant and slave plantation owner. The interior is presented as it might have looked at the time, and is packed with antique furniture and art. In stark contrast, the cramped housekeeper’s quarters convey the sense that life could be much more of a struggle for those further down the social ladder.

 

7 Great George Street, Bristol BS1 5RR. Tel:+44 117 921 1362

 

The Georgian House website

 

Blaise Castle

 

It’s not just the exterior of Blaise Castle that’s eye catching. Described by none other than Jane Austen as “the finest place in England”, this handsome 18th century mansion rests on sprawling acres of parkland and landscaped gardens, and within its walls you’ll discover sumptuous oil paintings, antique toy collections, a recreated Victorian schoolroom, and more than 10,000 items of clothing dating back to the 1730s.

 

Henbury Road, Bristol BS10 7QS. Tel:+44 117 903 9818

 

Blaise Castle website