Start with a heart-pounding view from the suspension bridge atop Clifton Village, Bristol’s most picturesque neighborhood. Admire the bewitching Georgian and Regency-style row houses throughout, then book a “Swim and Lunch” package at the Lido spa ($54) to enjoy fresh smoked salmon on sourdough or Turkish poached eggs. Don’t forget to wait 30 minutes before your dip in the open-air pool flanked by retro shuttered changing booths.
Follow Park Street down the slope back into the city center, noting the neo-Gothic Wills Memorial Building before window-shopping amid the eclectic row of boutiques. Fopp offers a deftly curated selection of books, music, and films at bargain prices. The Bristol Guild is stocked with locally made ceramics and glassware. There is plenty of street art to discover as well—like Banksy’s Well Hung Lover at the intersection with Frogmore Street. If you’re wandering around in late June, as we were, you may catch the annual Naked Bike Ride, the theme of which is “as bare as you dare.”
Bristol’s docklands have been lovingly overhauled into a hive of public projects, like prim parks and inventive sculptures—don’t miss the metal tree made from solar panels that also charges your phone! Tour the SS Great Britain, an impeccably preserved passenger steamship from the mid-1800s, then check out Watershed, a haven for artists across all media that doubles as an indie movie theater and café. Sample the brownie—made from a secret recipe that uses espresso beans to enhance the rich flavor.
Hidden in a metal-lined basement bank vault, The Ox is so much more than simply Bristol’s best steakhouse. Sure, the mains are superlative—and the waiters offer a crash course on beef cuts and cooking styles—but the side dishes and savvy cocktails make this meat house one of the best bites in Britain, and the National Restaurant Awards agree. Slather your rib-eye in the homemade béarnaise, and cut through the heaviness with the savory burned carrot salad (see page 87 for the recipe). Wash it down with the Quick Fix (Tanqueray gin, lemon, rhubarb syrup, rosé vermouth), the signature cocktail.
Owned and operated by the Ox clan, The Milk Thistle hides its sprawling space behind an unmarked, speakeasy-style door. Once inside, climb the Escher-like staircases to find four floors worth of large lounges with dark-wood moldings, gilded oil portraits, and taxidermic game. Try the Long Walk Home (brandy, sherry, chocolate bitters) or the Plum Bum (whiskey, Somerset Pomona, plum syrup). Reservations are recommended.
Get your gay on in the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it “gay village,” where you’ll find Bent and Queenshilling directly across the street from each other. Cheap swill and electro-pop thump tracks come in different iterations depending on the evening (revenge of the ’90s, anyone?) and draw in a steady stream of the local folk until dawn.