Last updated: June 2020
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Walk One is a walk for the uninitiated. It will introduce you to ‘mainstream Bristol’, including the main city centre streets and leisure destinations, as well as several of the city centre’s most prominent landmarks. Although the emphasis of most of this series will be on uncovering some of the less well-known but still fascinating parts of the city, this walk will introduce you to the better-known parts of the city centre first, so as to put the rest of your explorations into context.
This isn’t a long route, but there’s a lot to see and the second half includes a steep climb. As such, allow plenty of time.
Terrain: Largely flat, with one major climb. Includes steep steps (avoidable with detours).
Main Attractions: Floating Harbour, Bristol Hippodrome, Colston Hall, St. Nicholas’ Markets, Bristol Old Vic, Queen Square, Bristol Aquarium, We The Curious science centre, Bristol Cathedral, College Green, Park Street shops, Georgian House museum, High Cross, City Museum and Art Gallery, University of Bristol, Red Lodge museum, Christmas Steps shops.
Refreshments: Available throughout.
Starting point: Centre Promenade
Getting there: Widely accessibly on foot or by bus. 20 minutes’ walk from Temple Meads Station. Multi-storey car parks at Berkeley Place, Trenchard Street, Harbourside, Prince Street, Queen Charlotte Street, Nelson Street and Rupert Street.
Approx. Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Approx. Distance: 2.6 miles
Our starting point for this walk is the southern end of the Centre Promenade. The Centre Promenade is a large, linear open space which was formed when part of the Floating Harbour, which originally extended all the way up to Quay Street, was covered over in stages between the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Centre Promenade is not the true centre of historic Bristol; its name derives from an abbreviation of ‘Tramways Centre’, which is how the area came to be known when the area was first covered over and became a focal point for the city’s tram network. The true centre of Bristol is at the top of Corn Street, which we will get to later.
These days, the Centre Promenade is a popular meeting spot for Bristolians visiting the city centre. It is also home to an excellent street food market on certain days of the week.
The highlight of the Centre Promenade is its long view over the Floating Harbour to the horns of Pero’s Bridge, the old electric cranes of M-Shed and the countryside to the south of the city, as well as the bubbling fountains and the so-called ‘Cascade Steps’ leading down to the water’s edge.
If you explore the Centre Promenade in more detail, there are several other things to see. To one side, on St. Augustine’s Parade (named after the parish church since demolished), you will find the Hippodrome theatre with its bold neon sign, Bristol’s answer to London’s West End. At the far northern end of Colston Avenue one finds the Cenotaph, Bristol’s main war memorial. There is also a series of statues, including Neptune and noted politician Edmund Burke. You may also find an empty plinth where a statue of the controversial philanthropist / slave trader Edward Colston was torn down during the recent Black Lives Matter protests.
At the bottom of Colston Street you will find the copper-clad foyer of the Colston Hall; the concert hall is closed for refurbishment at the time of writing, and it has been announced that when it reopens, it will have a new name. Also look out for the grand portico of St. Mary-on-the-Quay church on Colston Avenue, and the ornate, slender tower of St. Stephen’s Church on St. Stephen’s Avenue. On Bordeaux Quay, adjacent to the Floating Harbour, you will find the Watershed Media Centre occupying an old transit shed.
The Watershed café bar is a pleasant and informal place to stop for a drink or a bite to eat with good views of the harbour. There are a number of other bars and eateries nearby.
When you have finished exploring the Centre Promenade, make your way to the middle point where Baldwin Street crosses the space (1) and take the semi-pedestrianised Clare Street, which exits the Centre Promenade heading northeast just beside the busy Baldwin Street junction.
The next stretch of this walk brings you into the heart of the Old City and Bristol’s old banking district. Corn Street and the narrow streets to either side, which follow the contours of the old city wall, are still dominated by the imposing banking buildings that line them, although many have found alternative uses as the Corn Street area has made a successful transition to a new role as a focus for dining and drinking.
Corn Street offers a number of choices for food and drink, including the popular San Carlo Italian restaurant.
At the top of the hill one reaches a second pedestrianised stretch of the street. Here you will find a cluster of interesting historic buildings, including the Old Council House (now the registry office); Christchurch at the top of Broad Street; All Saints Church, with its distinctive tower and cupola; and the fine Corn Exchange (2). The crossroads at the top of Corn Street is, in fact, the true centre of the mediaeval city of Bristol and originally home to the civic High Cross, but bombing in the 1940s and subsequent re-planning by the council have led to the focus of the city centre splintering to several more peripheral locations.
Take narrow All Saints’ Lane, to the left of the Corn Exchange, and make your way down the hill towards busy Baldwin Street.
The Corn Exchange and the lanes to either side of it are home to St. Nicholas’ Markets, a treasure-trove of small market stalls selling stock as diverse as flowers, textiles, jewellery and second hand books, and also a great many popular street food outlets. Take a moment to explore the market stalls and see what’s on offer. The best time to visit is on a Saturday, when the market stalls spill out onto Corn Street itself, or Wednesday, when the street is home to the Farmers’ Market.
The street food outlets in and around the Glass Arcade offer a wide variety of snacks and meals from all over the world.
Bristol’s main destinations for high street retailers, Broadmead and Cabot Circus, lie further to the east along Wine Street. We’re not going to make it over there on this particular walk, but be sure to try out Walk Three ‘The Eastern Arc’ later on if you want to pay a visit to the shops.
Steps to the rear of the market on St. Nicholas’ Street will take you down past St. Nicholas’ Church to Baldwin Street and Bristol Bridge (3).
Walkers needing to avoid the steps can take a detour via St. Nicholas’ Street and High Street.
Bristol Bridge, the historic crossing-point that gives the city its name (historically ‘Brigstow’, or ‘The place by the bridge’), is dominated by St. Nicholas’ Church, whose stonework bears noticeable scars from shrapnel damage during the Blitz. We’ll be visiting Castle Park, which also borders the bridge, in Walk Two ‘The City Docks’.
Cross Baldwin Street, without crossing the bridge, and make your way down the quayside opposite St. Nicholas’ Church.
Welsh Back is the name given to this stretch of the quayside (the name dates back to the area’s trading connections). Here you will find a number of popular restaurants and bars, some of which are on boats.
Food and drink options around Welsh Back include burgers at Three Brothers, cider at The Apple or a sit-down meal at Loch Fyne fish restaurant on Queen Charlotte Street – among others.
Looking across the Floating Harbour, you will see an interesting array of buildings both historic and modern on the waterfront, many of which have a robust warehouse-like design. As you pass the slipway on the left, you may be converged upon by swans and seagulls, as this is a popular feeding spot.
The end of King Street is marked by an ancient and picturesque timber-framed pub known as the Llandoger Trow (at time of writing, the pub is closed). Opposite, the Old Duke is known for its live jazz. Stop for a drink if you’d like. From this point, the church of St. Thomas the Martyr can be glimpsed between buildings on the far side of the Floating Harbour.
Head away from the quayside along King Street, crossing Queen Charlotte Street.
King Street, with its cobbles, Victorian lamp posts and diverse range of buildings including examples from the Mediaeval, Georgian, Victorian and modern periods, is a significant architectural and historic set piece in the heart of Bristol. The tall colonnaded Coopers Hall sits alongside the modern entrance to the Theatre Royal, more commonly known as the Bristol Old Vic, which is said to be the oldest continuously operating theatre in the country. Complementing the faded West End glitz of the Hippodrome, the Bristol Old Vic is the principal home for dramatic and comedic theatre in Bristol, whether home-grown or performed by touring theatre companies.
King Street offers a range of pubs and restaurants. All are worth a visit, but The Raj is a very good Indian restaurant and the Cathay Rendezvous is an excellent Chinese.
Turn off by the King William Ale House (4) and double back along the street to the rear.
Little King Street is an atmospheric cobbled back lane that will lead you back to Queen Charlotte Street. Prominent on Queen Charlotte Street is the Granary, a fine Victorian warehouse of polychromic brick that is a splendid example of the “Bristol Byzantine” style popular in the Victorian era. The Granary is now home to a restaurant and modern flats for ‘loft style living’.
Turning right at the Granary you will enter Queen Square, a fine Georgian residential layout now occupied primarily by offices, which provides a welcome contrast to the more densely developed parts of the Old City. What the square lacks in architectural unity is more than made up for by the quality of the green space with its gravel pathways and avenues of mature trees, and the square is well used by office workers and visitors to the city centre. What is even more remarkable is that, until 1999, the square had a busy dual carriageway running diagonally through it, a part of Bristol’s inner circuit road that was built in the late 1930s. The road is now just a memory, although at the northwest corner the scars remain. Don’t miss Rysbrach’s notable equestrian statue of King William III at the centre of the square, or the fine view of St. Mary Redcliffe church that can be obtained by looking from the centre of the square out to the southeast corner (see Walk Three ‘The Eastern Arc’).
Head diagonally across the square and exit via Royal Oak Avenue.
Royal Oak Avenue and Farr’s Lane will bring you to the Floating Harbour at Pero’s Bridge (5). As you cross the bridge, a look back to the left will reveal a collection of interesting historic buildings converted to modern uses, including a Youth Hostel, the Architecture Centre, and the Arnolfini art gallery in a converted tea warehouse. To the right, Pero’s Bridge affords views back to the Watershed and the Centre Promenade. Bordeaux Quay, on the far side of the Floating Harbour, is home to a number of popular bars and restaurants occupying converted or replica transit sheds.
The Arnolfini café bar is a good place to stop for a drink as you can sit on the quayside. Za Za Bazaar is a popular ‘all you can eat’ featuring food from across the world.
Across the bridge, Anchor Square is the heart of Bristol’s modern Harbourside development. This first phase was built for the Millennium and occupies a mixture of new and converted buildings. The We the Curious science centre with its mirror-clad planetarium remains open and is a great attraction for the young ones. The engaging Bristol Aquarium occupies another side of the square.
Exit Anchor Square to the far right and cross busy Anchor Road.
Steps up from Anchor Road will take you past Bristol Cathedral to emerge on College Green.
Walkers wishing to avoid the steps can take a detour via Anchor Road and College Square to rejoin the main walk at the Raja Rammohun Roy statue (6).
College Green is another key green space in the heart of Bristol, and has a major civic role, being home to the imposing crescent-like edifice of City Hall (completed in the 1950s). Doing its best to stand proud opposite City Hall is Bristol Cathedral; if the doors are open, pop in for a visit to its spacious, peaceful interior and don’t miss its charming gardens hidden behind the cloisters.
To the west of the Cathedral, leading to College Square, is the ornate Norman Arch, and beyond that the architecturally interesting Central Library. The south side of College Green is bookended by two statues, namely Queen Victoria and Indian social reformer Raja Rammohun Roy (6), who was interred in Arno’s Vale Cemetery after his death in Bristol from meningitis (see Walk Eight ‘Bedminster, Totterdown and Arno’s Vale’). Finally, don’t miss St. Mark’s Church, also known as the Lord Mayor’s Chapel, a deceptively small-looking church set into the terrace of shops across the busy road to the east of the green.
Proceed to the north corner of the green, next the main road. Begin making your way up the steep hill, which is this walk’s only major climb.
Park Street is a grand Georgian street that climbs the hill towards Clifton. The street began its life as affluent merchants’ housing, before gradually taking on a retail role during the mid to late 19th Century. In a rare example of sensitive post-war reconstruction, many of the buildings that you see in Park Street today are replicas, built after large parts of Park Street were destroyed during the Blitz. Today, Park Street is a fashionable alternative destination for clothes shopping and bars, at the top of which is the imposing tower of the Wills Memorial Building (completed 1925 in the Gothic Revival style), which is home to the University of Bristol.
The side turnings to the left as you climb Park Street afford glimpses of substantial Georgian and Victorian terraces. Great George Street, about half way up the hill, is a particularly fine example that is home to the St. George’s concert hall and also the Georgian House, a free museum furnished to resemble a merchant’s house of the Georgian period.
At the top of the hill, you may wish to take a detour up Berkeley Avenue to visit the corner of Berkeley Square, which contains the remaining fragment of Bristol’s High Cross, featuring statues of four kings. This, is in fact, part of a replica, which stood on College Green until it was removed for the construction of City Hall, whereupon it was vandalised in storage. The original Mediaeval High Cross, which stood at the top of Corn Street, survives intact at the Stourhead estate in Wiltshire (National Trust).
On Queens Road, just above the Wills Memorial Building (7), you will find the City Museum and Art Gallery, as well as Brown’s Restaurant, which occupies the ornate Italianate building in which the museum was originally situated. Beyond is a busy shopping area known as the Clifton Triangle, which we will come back to in Walks Four ‘The Northern Edge’ and Five ‘Introduction to Clifton’.
If you’re getting hungry, the Park Street area has plenty of food options. Brown’s is a vibrant and welcoming brasserie with a wide menu. Try Pizza Express in Berkeley Avenue if you have a taste for Italian.
At the top of Park Street, turn right onto Park Row.
Park Row is a busy road following the contours of the hillside to the north of the city centre. Landmarks on Park Row are fairly minor, but include the Jewish Synagogue and various interesting University buildings on the upper side. You will also find the Red Lodge, a Jacobean house that has retained many of its original interior features and now operates as a free museum.
Beyond, Perry Road affords great views across the city centre to south and east Bristol. Panoramas like this are not uncommon in Bristol, with its distinctive hilly terrain (try Walks Four ‘The Northern Edge’ and Six ‘The Clifton Hillside’ to uncover more great views). Perry Road is home to a number of galleries and shops of niche interest that are well worth a visit, as well as the Zero Degrees microbrewery, which was built on the site of the city’s horse tram stables.
Zero Degrees on Perry Road is a fun microbrewery that also does excellent pizzas. If it’s just a drink you’re after, you may also like to try The Bristol Yard on Colston Street.
The next stage of this walk, the descent from Perry Road to Lewin’s Mead, involves several flights of steep steps. Walkers can detour via Colston Street (passing 8) and Host Street (rejoining at 9) to avoid the steps, although not without missing out on a certain amount of Mediaeval charm.
Otherwise, turn right down the steep steps next to Zero Degrees.
Below Perry Road, on Colston Street, you will encounter further artsy shops and the Gothic fancy of the Foster’s Almshouses in red brick and dark stained timber (8).
Below Colston Street, Christmas Steps is a narrow, stepped street. This quaint and atmospheric Mediaeval thoroughfare is a unique set-piece in the heart of Bristol. A self-styled arts quarter, Christmas Steps is lined with further small businesses like those up on Perry Road and Colston Street. At the bottom of Christmas Steps, a row of ancient timber-framed buildings includes the remains of St. Bartholomew’s Hospital (9) with its enticing archway leading to a garden behind the buildings.
Bear left and walk beneath the modern office building to reach an open area on Lewin’s Mead.
There’s no need to linger in the concrete jungle of Lewin’s Mead, so head for the pedestrian crossings to negotiate the dual carriageway, but don’t miss the historic buildings of the Hotel du Vin and former Lewin’s Mead Unitary Chapel at the foot of the hill, the sinister Cloaked Rider statue nearby, and the statue of philanthropist and abolitionist Samuel Morley that stands on the traffic island.
Cut through Christmas Street, opposite the bottom of Christmas Steps, to reach Nelson Street.
On Nelson Street, one finds St. John’s Gate, which is the largest surviving fragment of the original city wall, and your gateway back to the comparative peace and quiet of the Old City. The church to the left of the gate is St. John’s on the Wall, below which is a drinking fountain that was the original outlet of St. John’s Conduit, a Mediaeval tunnel that brought a supply of fresh water into the city centre from Brandon Hill, up beyond Park Street. The modern office buildings, meanwhile, double as an outdoor gallery for street art.
Step through St. John’s Gate to reach Broad Street.
Broad Street is historically the quietest of the four main streets of the Old City, being home principally to offices and lawyers’ chambers. The street retains something of that character today. However, don’t miss the Edward Everard building on the northeast side with its unique tiled façade. Originally a printing works, the Everard building is now part of an office complex. As you approach the finely detailed rear façade of the Guildhall on the right, side turnings to the left provide you with glimpses of further historic corners of Bristol in John Street and Tailor’s Court.
At the top of the hill, turn right into Corn Street, passing the Corn Exchange (2) for a second time, and then turn right again to reach Small Street.
Small Street is home to Bristol Crown Court and the front entrance to the Guildhall, both of which have an imposing presence in the street.
Tucked away on Small Street, Urban Tandoor and Beirut Mezze are decent restaurants serving Indian and Lebanese cuisie respectively.
Look for an archway on the left just before Small Street emerges on Colston Avenue.
Leonard Lane is a little-known Mediaeval byway that once ran just inside the city wall. In between the backs of a few less than inspiring modern buildings are pockets of historic interest and, bizarrely, an art gallery. You will emerge once again on Corn Street, next to Stanford’s, one of the longest-established businesses in the area and a mecca for lovers of maps, travel and walking.
Emerging on Corn Street once again, turn right and right again to reach St. Stephen’s Street.
St. Stephen’s Street once ran just outside the city wall. Take the leafy footpath to the left for a closer look at St. Stephen’s Church (10). A short walk along St. Stephen’s Avenue will then return you to the Centre Promenade, completing your first Bristol walk.
In Walk Two ‘The City Docks’ we get to know the many faces of the Floating Harbour a little better.