The lights are twinkling in the trees, the baubles are up and the Christmas Markets are in full swing. Yes, Christmas in Bristol is well and truly here! At this time of year, I’ve often been feeling the festive spirit in Germany – in recent years it’s been Heidelberg and Coburg, but this year I’m happy to be in Bristol, exploring all that my home town has to offer. Sometimes you take the best things in life for granted, when they are sitting right under your nose!
1. Christmas Markets in Bristol
Christmas markets? You may have visited them in Germany, but we have plenty in Bristol too! On walking through Bristol’s shopping quarter last week I was definitely feeling the festive spirit. At the centre of it all there’s the Jägerbarn, where the shoppers of Bristol were taking a break for a steaming mulled cider, amid the Christmas baubles and wooden carved figures of giants, elves and reindeer. The wooden chalets selling food and gifts stretch up towards the Cabot Circus shopping centre and there are stalls selling local crafts at the Broadmead end. More info: Xmas-Markets.com
But that’s not all – there are plenty more seasonal markets around Bristol for you to enjoy.
Harbourside Christmas Market – under the covered walkway in front of the Watershed, look out for the Maker’s market, featuring 45 stalls selling creative gifts and there’s a street-food area in front of the cascades. It’s there every weekend in December up to 23/24 December. More info: TheHarboursideMarket.co.uk
St Nicholas Market – The indoor St Nick’s Market is a great place to stock on unique gifts from Bristol’s indie traders, but the outdoor markets along Corn Street will also take on a festive flavour in the run up to Christmas. For the best of Bristol food and gifts, the market stalls are there daily from 13 Dec until Christmas eve, with the Street Food Market on Tuesdays and Thursdays in December and the Bristol Farmer’s Market every Wednesday in December. More info: St Nicholas Market website
Millennium Square – there’s a winter wonderland with carousels, a skating rink and Ferris wheel in Millennium Square, near the harbourside. I’m not normally a great one for fairground rides, as I have a low threshold for scary experiences, but I really enjoyed a few turns on the Ferris Wheel, especially the view over the harbour and lights of the square looking so colourful down below. Yes, I was the one saying “Can we go on it again?”
For a full list of Bristol Christmas Markets, including some of the neighbourhood one day events selling local crafts and good, check out the Visit Bristol list of Christmas Markets
2. Christmas shopping in Bristol
But for atmosphere, you can’t beat Clifton Village, where the elegant Georgian townhouses and stylish boutiques make a charming atmosphere and plenty of opportunity to shop for that party frock or pair of sparkly heels. The Christmas lights are up and the 50 ft Chrismas tree towers impressively over the Mall Gardens, but the prize for over-the-top Christmas decorations has to go to The Ivy, which every year surrounds its honey-stone portico with garlands of decorative greenery and twinkly lights. More info: DiscoverClifton.co.uk
If you’re looking for something a bit more arty in the centre of Bristol, explore the area around the aptly named Christmas Steps, where the Christmas lights have been turned on and you can get a flavour of medieval Bristol. The steps once led down to Bristol’s Harbourside where merchants ships from around the world unloaded their cargo onto the quayside and into sugar warehouses, like the one that is now Hotel du Vin.
The Christmas Steps Arts Quarter is now full of small independent businesses on the steps and Colston Street at the top, and it’s worth continuing up the steps to Perry Road for the art galleries and other creative businesses there. If you need a break after your shopping adventures, a glass of excellent wine with small plates is recommend at Le Poivrot wine bar on Colston Street (open Tues-Sat from midday) More info: ChristmasStepsArtsQuarter.co.uk
Read more: Hey Visit Bristol with Me
3. Foodie ways to get festive in Bristol
It seems that minced pies and mulled wine are everywhere and now is the time to savour them, before the Christmas flavours are swept away with the diet books and clean eating of January. Bristol’s favourite gelateria is Swoon, who prove that ice cream is not just for the summer holidays with their elegant gelato cakes that are perfect for your Christmas table. Be sure to try a scoop of their seasonal flavours of mince pie, mulled wine or pumpkin and amaretto when you pop into their gelato bar on College Green.
For something that will warm away the winter chill, Bristolians love to head for Pieminster who have several branches around the city, serving their award winning pies. The most recent opening is on Broad Quay, where I tried their Festive Christmas feast of a Christmas pie with mash, red cabbage and a festive garnish stick, followed by a pudding of choice. Mine was the very tasty Deer Santa, with venison, bacon and red wine although I could have also chosen from Mistlemoo (steak and port), The Cracker (turkey and cranberry) or Christingle (veggie parsnips, chestnut and cheese)
Around the harbour there’s plenty of foodie action at Wapping Wharf with small independent food businesses housed in old shipping containers, where you can taste local food inspired by world flavours. For a trio of great restaurants run by the Sanchez family head for the Bathhurst Basin, in the new development of the old General Hospital, where you you’ll find the Michelin Star Casamia, Paco Tapas for a taste of Andalucia, and the Pi-shop Pizzeria.
I loved the relaxed but stylish atmosphere of Pi-shop pizzeria and was mesmerised by the shiny copper pizza oven in the centre of the open kitchen. There’s something here for everyone, from a Daiquiri cocktail for Mum to a classic Marguerita for any junior fussy eaters, but I loved the speciality pizzas best, with a tasty Aubergine, ewe’s curd and basil or the Carbonara with cured coppa ham, parmesan and a proper runny egg yolk on top.
Finally, for a festive drink in Millennium Square be sure to stop in at Après Bar (conveniently next to the ice rink), Bristol’s only pop-up Après ski-theme bar. Try the mulled cider and chat with your mates in their winter snug or cosy alcoves, surrounded by twinkly lights, vintage ski posters and sheepskin throws.
Read More: Joyful Bristol at Christmas
4. Christmas gifts and festive treats from Bristol
We Bristolians love to support our independent businesses and there’s so much creative stuff going on around the city that there’s really no need to look elewhere. Here are a few ideas for Christmas gifts that are born and bred in Bristol;
For lad-about-town in Bristol – Your West Country lad-about-town will enjoy getting stuck into a Cider tasting kit (£39.50) from the Bristol Cider Shop on Christmas afternoon in front of the telly. The kit includes ten award-winning ciders and cider brandys, a tasting glass and cider tasting guide with background information about each of the ciders. There are lots of other cider related gifts that can be delivered in the UK and vouchers are available for their cider tasting events in the shop at Wapping Wharf.
For girl-about-town in Bristol – For the most colourful nails in town, treat her to a cute mani at the new Gossip Nail bar in Old Market at Glitch Salon, where you can have your nails done while listening to live music with a cocktail or two. (Gel polish from £20)
For Aunty Bristol – Guiberts have been making luxury handmade chocolates in Bristol since 1910, and Aunty Bristol is sure to love the box of oh-so-English Rose and Violet Creams (£10) that she finds under the Christmas tree.
For Mama Bristol – Treat the lovely lady in your life who’s been slaving over a hot turkey, to a little bit of me-time after Christmas, with a voucher for a spa day at the gorgeous Harbour Hotel and Spa. The spa is a luxurious urban retreat, set in the old Bank Vaults, with a mood lit pool, sauna and relaxation areas. She’ll enjoy a relaxing spa day, morning or afternoon (£65-140) which includes a massage or treatment, then you can meet her for a lunch in the Jetty Restaurant or a cocktail in the Gold Bar afterwards – or buy a spa gift voucher so she can decide the date later.
For Papa Bristol – For a different perspective on Bristol, a balloon flight will give you a bit of adventure without breaking into a sweat and can be enjoyed in the spring when the weather gets warmer. Both Bristol Balloons and Bailey Balloons offer gift vouchers (£110-£140), and Mama Bristol can always be invited to enjoy the glass to bubbly as a celebration when you land. If you want to get a feel of what it’s like to drift over Bristol in a balloon, read my article about the Bristol Balloon Fiesta.
For the Bristol Christmas tree – No Bristol Christmas tree is complete without a Bristol Blue Glass bauble or ornament – you can find their stall in the Broadmead Christmas market or their shops on the Bath Road or near St Nicholas Market.
For more ideas, check out Shonette’s Bristol Foodie Christmas Gift List
5. Christmas in Bristol with the family
SS Great Britain – There’s always plenty to see and do on Bristol’s leading visitor attraction, so it’s a great choice to keep the family entertained over the school holidays or as a treat for the grandchildren. Look out for the Victorian Christmas weekend on Sat 9 and Sun 10 December 2017 when the dockside will be transformed into a festive winter wonderland with Victorian characters and falling snow. There will be craft workshops, Christmas carol singing and you can meet Mr Brunel to tell you his stories from the ship.
M-Shed – This free museum on the harbourside, is a great place to visit with the family over the Christmas holidays with personal stories and objects that highlight Bristol’s past and present. More info: M-shed website
Bristol Aquarium – The aquarium in Millennium Square is always a popular day out, with 40 displays of tropical fish and those from our shores, an underwater tunnel and Urban Jungles with terrapins and freshwater fish. There’s a special Christmas Fishes event on 16 December, and we always love saying hello to the cute seahorses. Family Ticket £47 (10% off if booked in advance) More info: Bristolaquarium.co.uk
We the Curious (formerly At Bristol) – The hands on science centre has recently relaunched and describes itself as an indoor festival, where you can ask questions, get creative and test things out. Family ticket £43.40. More info: Wethecurious.org
Ice Skating in Bristol – Right in front of We The Curious, you’ll also find the seasonal ice rink in Millennium Square where I got on my skating boots and tried ice skating for the first time in years. After a few turns clinging on to the side of the ice rink I got my confidence back and really enjoyed it – definitely one to make part of the getting-in-the-mood-for-Christmas ritual in Bristol! Adults £8.50 Child £6.50 More info: We the Curious ice rink website
6. Christmas in Bristol with the animals
Away in a manger and all that! Animals are a big part of the Christmas story so a visit to some of Bristol’s animal attractions at Christmas seems quite appropriate.
Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm just outside Bristol have a History and Mystery Christmas light trail around the zoo with information points about the Christmas story giving clues for the family Christmas quiz. I visited the zoo recently and was impressed by the amount of space around the zoo as well as the range of activities in the play areas and animal experiences.
There are two African elephants, with an elephant experience daily at 1pm, when Janu and M’changa come inside to try their favourite snack of Christmas trees. You can also see giraffe, rhino, lions and tigers at the zoo as well as lots of smaller domestic and farm animals with chances to feed, pet and stroke them (not Khan the tiger of course). Each Saturday up to Christmas (9,16,23 December) there are choirs and nativity events at the zoo and of course you’ll want to take the little ones to visit St Nicholas and his elf helpers for an edible treat. (Online tickets for Saturdays Adults £13.50, Children £9)
Bristol Zoo Gardens – As well as being able to see all the animals, there are animal shaped Christmas lights, Christmas craft activities and Santa’s Grotto from 2-23 December (£1 additional charge) Online tickets Adults £10, Children £5 – may be variable depending on time/ season
Wild Place – Run by Bristol Zoo, Wild Place is on the edge of Bristol, offering wildlife discovery and outdoor adventures with seasonal themed trails and play areas. Wild Place is home to lemur, giraffe, cheetah, zebra, eland and you can see Santa in his yurt from 2-23 December. Online tickets for winter Adults £3.94 Child £3.26 – additional charge for Santa’s Yurt
If you’d like to take the kids to the farm over the Christmas holidays St Werburgh’s City farm is open daily 9am-4pm (free) and there’s a winter fair on 3 December. Windmill Hill City Farm is open daily 9am-4pm (free) and has a Christmas Fair on 9 December.
7. A Theatrical Christmas in Bristol
Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a visit to the panto or Christmas show, preferrably with lots of cheesy Bristol jokes that only us locals will understand. For something a little less raucous there’s generally a Hans Christian Andersen remake on offer to keep the little ones happy.
The Hippodrome’s Christmas show this year is Aladdin (9 Dec – 7 Jan) featuring a beautiful love story, flying carpets, a wish-granting genie and a lamp packed full of spectacular family entertainment.
Bristol Old Vic is showing The Little Match Girl (13 Nov – 14 Jan). Inspired by the beautiful Hans Christian Andersen tales, we follow our heroine through other happier stories, that light up each time she strikes her match – the Princess and the Pea, Emperor’s New Clothes and Thumbelina.
Tobacco Factory Theatre has two Christmas productions, with Beauty and the Beast ( 13 Nov – 4 Jan), a retelling of the French classic fairy tale and The Ugly Duckling (10 Dec – 14 Jan) where Hans Christian Andersen’s much-loved story comes to life with enchanting live music and fantastical invention.
8. A musical Christmas in Bristol
We always try to fit in a visit to St George’s Brandon Hill for one of their concerts in the week before Christmas, from the community choirs where we always seem to have a friend performing. The choirs are pleasingly colour co-ordinated, often looking as if they’ve chose all the colours from the Quality Sweets tin. The music is a mixture of reworked pop favourites, carols and foot-tapping Christmas oldies, with some comic moments and high jinks thrown in, usually led by choirmaster David Ogden. This Christmas look out for Gasworks Gala on 17 December and the various David Ogden choirs on 20,21 and 22 December.
At the Colston Hall there are Christmas concerts to suit every age and taste, from School Choirs (5/6 Dec) to English Christmas Music (16 Dec) to Paddington and the Snowman (17 Dec). On Bristol’s harbourside you can also find Christmas at the Spiegeltent (24 Nov – 23 Dec) with live music, cabaret, Christmas parties and kids discos.
9. A spiritual Christmas in Bristol
There’s plenty of fun and celebration at Christmas, but in our household we try not to forget the spiritual dimension – that this is a Christian festival that originated with the birth of a baby who was to be the saviour of mankind. We like to go to Midnight Mass with our extended family and fit in a carol service during Advent.
Bristol Cathedral – Our beautiful cathedral on College Green is even more special during Advent when there are Advent services on all the Sundays in December. Throughout December the cathedral holds carol services including Carols by Candlelight, Shoppers’ Carols on 19 December and a Festival of 9 lessons and carols on 23 and 24 December, as well as the Christmas eve and Christmas day Eucharistic services of Christmas.
10. Where to stay in Bristol for your festive break
There’s still time to book a cheeky weekend in Bristol to get into the Christmas spirit, eat some great food and shop for unusual and thoughtful gifts, so if you’re looking for a hotel in Bristol, I can highly recommend;
Hotel du Vin (Old City) – luxurious and stylish, set in an old stone sugar warehouse, with dark wood, a wine theme and French style bistro.
Harbour Hotel and Spa (Old City) – a luxurious hotel and spa, that was formed out of two iconic bank properties in the heart of Bristol’s Old City. The decor is quirky and contemporary, there’s an excellent seafood restaurant in The Jetty and the underground spa features some of the old safe doors in what was formerly the bank vaults.
The Bristol (Harbourside) – The perfect harbourside location with a 1960s modernist façade and boutique-style rooms that overlook the waterfront – ideal for both weekend and business travellers.
Brooks Guest House (Old City) – A boutique guest house in St Nicholas Market with cosy, contemporary rooms, or try the fully insulated and iconic silver Rocket caravans on the roof (don’t worry, they also have a bathroom!)
Berkeley Suites (Park Street) – Luxuriously furnished suites in a Georgian Townhouse, with an ingenious kitchen in a cupboard, separate living area and perfectly situated at the top of Park Street for all the best shops in town. Read my review of Berkeley Suites
The Avon Gorge Hotel (Clifton Village) – Overlooking Brunel’s Clifton Suspension Bridge, in Clifton Village, this historic hotel has recently renovated many of its rooms in contemporary style.
Check out more Hotels in Bristol to plan your pre-Christmas break
Thanks to Visit Bristol for hosting some of the activities mentioned in Bristol – you can check out their listings of Christmas Things to do in Bristol and follow the conversation on social media #MerryBristmas