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The biggest city in the West Country, Bristol ranked after London, among the wealthiest cities in England between the 13th and 18th centuries. As a thriving port city it stood at the center of a maritime empire that once spanned the globe; a point of first contact with the exotic worlds beyond these isles.
Settlement of the area has been dated back to 60,000 years ago, and the Normans built one of strongest castles in southern England here, by what was then called Brycgstow. Remains can still be seen today.
The many expeditions undertaken by Bristol merchants included the voyage of John Cabot in 1497. Even greater growth and prosperity came with the rise of the American colonies and Britain's role in the slave trade. The Seven Stars pub still exists, where abolitionist Thomas Clarkson collected information about this trade, in the efforts to abolish it. Today the docks are mostly given to tourism, but there are plenty of diversions here, from museums to stores to restaurants. At night, the quayside is a nightlife destination.
Cary Grant fans might want to stay at the Avon Gorge Hotel. The Hollywood star, who grew up in Bristol as Archibald Leach, resided here when visiting his mother. Hotel windows, and the White Horse pub terrace, have good views of Brunel's Clifton Suspension Bridge -- considered to be among the world's finest.
The historic Old Vic Theatre, home to famous theater year-round, also does elaborate open-air summer productions in the streets. Brunel’s ss Great Britain, "the ship that changed the world" as the world’s first great ocean liner, is one of the harbor sights. From the Kings Weston Roman Villa to the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, there's plenty more to see around the city.
Here in the area’s largest city, the gay community is friendly and diverse, with over half a dozen gay bars and clubs and a sauna, many along Old Market Street or West Street. Bristol Pride is held in July with a week of activities.
See our map & listings section for Bristol area gay and gay-friendly businesses.
Bristol International Airport has flights from around the continent, and a few from farther afield. There are some direct flights from the U.S., so you may not have to change planes in London. Buses and taxis are your best bet for getting downtown.
Bus/coach companies such as National Express connect London and many other cities in the UK.
Bristol Temple Meads is the main rail station at the city center with regional and national rail links. GWR (Great Western) operates local and regional rail services, plus intercity services that include several London stations. CrossCountry has intercity routes from Bristol to London, Manchester, Glasgow and many other UK destinations. South Western Railway runs seven trains a day between Bristol and London Waterloo, via Salisbury.
Central Bristol is made for walking or cycling, and you’ll see many locals doing just that. For bus service around Bristol and surrounding towns see the First Bristol website.
To get to the town of Cheddar, of eponymous cheese fame, take a National Express bus/coach. Britain's largest Gorge, the underground river Cheddar Yeo at Gough's Cave, and impressive limestone cliffs are all nearby.
Passenger trains of the Severn Beach Line run from Bristol Temple Meads to Severn Beach, with nine local stations along the way.
Just 15 minutes away by train from Temple Meads station, the city of Bath has Roman Baths, High Tea and "the waters" in the Pump Room, plus the impressive Georgian archetecture from the city's heyday as a fashionable resort spa.
The Bristol Ferry Boat Company and Number Seven Boats operate passenger ferry boat services on Bristol Harbour at the center of Bristol with stops at Bristol Cathedral and the Watershed Arts Centre, among other landings.
Currency and Money
The British pound is the currency. ATMs are sprinkled throughout the downtown area at banks and shopping areas. Consult your home bank before departure, for possible British partner banks to save on debit card withdrawal fees.
Media and resources
Pride West has club listings along with details on pride celebrations and other community news, and OutBristol Magazine has info on Bristol and other nearby towns. LGBT Bristol is another local gay website. LeatherWest magazine and website is the place for the scoop on the region's leather/fetish community and upcoming events.
ShoutOut, "out of the closet and into your ears," can be heard on BCfm radio, 93.2, Thursdays 7pm local time. Listen to them live or to the previously aired program archive online.
The Order of Perpetual Indulgence Bristol is the local branch of the worldwide order of queer sisters, eradicating guilt and working for the expiation of stigmatic guilt, and the promulgation of universal joy.
Visit Bristol, the website of the local Tourist Information Center, has general-public information about lifestyle, food, drinks, film, music and local performances.
Bristol Bear Bar (2-4 West St), Old Market, nightly bear bar, attitude-free, everyone welcome; art exibits, every Saturday theme party nights.
Old Market Tavern (29 Old Market St), Old Market traditional pub open from 11:30am, outdoor patio, lounge, food and drinks, bear events, WiFi. Twisted last Fridays/month uniform, leather, skin and sports nights.
OMG (1-2 Frog Lane), biggest and busiest gay club in the South West, straight-friendly, men and women, dancing; mostly young crowd.
Phoenix (1 Wellington Bldgs, Champion Sq), Cabot Circus in Portishead traditional pub since since 1850, home-syle food, quality local ales, sports on TV, sunny beer garden/patio, live music, WiFi.
The QueenShilling (9 Frogmore St), fashionable gay club, karaoke, dancing on weekends; young men/women mix, student nights, bands, monthly drag shows, WiFi. Psycho:Drama each 2nd Friday rock, indie, electro punk, queercore alternative LGBT party.
Toto’s Wine Bar (125 Redcliffe Way, Waterfront), lunch and dinner, paninis, tapas to full meals, Sunday roasts, TV sports bar/lounge; LGBT special events.
CLOSED: Bent (4 Frogmore St), video jukebox, cocktails, gay/ mixed men; Gin Palace (1 West St), locals' gay pub, drag cabaret, karaoke, men/women mix; Pineapple (37 St Georges Rd, Brandon Hill), men/women mix, student nights; Proud (53 Old Market St), mixed neighborhood party bar, karaoke, movies; The Retreat (16 West St), weekend gay bar/ grill; dancing, drag cabaret, karaoke.
Amour Ami, every couple of months LGBT-friendly House, Techno, Acid House, Disco, and 90s dance parties; "RuPaul meets Party monster."
BLUF Bristol gay leathermen's gear socials are mostly monthly fetish parties. Union is "the social night for leathermen of all tribes... with the horny atmosphere of a men’s leather event." UK Leather Pride 2019 will take place in Bristol, March, 15-17.
Horseplay at The Loco Klub (Temple Meads), unique one-off parties; frisky mix of cutting edge underground dance music with a dusting of glitter and sleaze. Mixed queer crowd, cheap beer, a haze of smoke and lasers - see their facebook.
The South West Rubber Men sponsor fetish events throughout the year - see their website for details.
Lads Locker Room (19-21 West St), men's steam and dry sauna, Jacuzzi, cruise area and maze, full bar, adult shop, smoking area, free WiFi. Formerly Village Sauna.
CLOSED: Elite Retreat (1 Alfred Street St, Phillips), men's steam, sauna, massage, roof garden terrace, pool table.
Hotels & Guesthouses
Avon Gorge Hotel (Sion Hill; 44-117-973-8955), 75 rooms in Clifton, restaurant/cafe and White Lion Pub, casual to fancy dining, terrace bar with Clifton Suspension Bridge views.
The Berkeley Square Hotel (15 Berkeley Sq; 44-117-925-4000), Clifton, boutique art hotel, private members club, Square Kitchen restaurant breakfast, fine dining, and Sunday roasts; cocktail lounge, art gallery.
The Washington Guesthouse (11-15 St Paul's Rd; 44-117-973-3980), budget rooms, home-feel, 10 minutes walk to central Bristol ideal location, WiFi,full breakfast and discount rates at Racks Restaurant.
Well Cottage Guest House (The Common, Patchway; 44-145 485-5767), self-catering rooms and cottage, big breakfasts, patio, enclosed garden area, WiFi.
Restaurants, Theaters and Museums