Bristol

Bristol

Bristol is booming. The South West’s centre of culture, employment and education is a magnet for families, businesses and creatives who are attracted by its distinctive and unique identity and energy. The ‘birthplace’ of America, it boasts a balloon festival, beautiful buildings, and a buoyant job market – and it’s home to Banksy, Beth Orton, drum and bass and Brunel. Find out more about moving to Bristol, and why it’s considered by many to be one of the UK’s best cities.

What’s Bristol like for families?
Things to do in Bristol
Doctors and hospitals in Bristol
What are the property prices like?
Bristol schools and nurseries
Shopping and the town
Getting around
What's planned for Bristol’s future?

What’s Bristol like for families?

Stunning cityscapes, street art, city farms, festivals, award-winning museums, an excellent music scene, two universities, good employment opportunities and easy access to the South West and Wales – no wonder Bristol has just been ranked third in a UK cities quality of life survey.

My favourite park in Bristol is St Andrews – a park you can spend a long day in. North Bristol is SO close to The Downs, vibrant cafe life and independent shops. Always something going on around here.

It ’s a cafe culture kind of a place, and a broad range of independent shops and markets make it feel quite different from anywhere else in the UK. Proximity to the Downs, and a wealth of green spaces within the city itself, means it’s a no-brainer for active families. The relaxed vibe, combined with a history of creativity and free-thinking, are also compelling reasons to consider a move Bristol-wards.

Things to do in Bristol

Bristol families really are spoiled for choice when it comes to things to do. In terms of dedicated kids’ spaces, there are plenty of soft play centres where younger ones can burn off excess energy while their grown-ups enjoy a cuppa and catch-up. Jump Bristol (Cribbs Causeway) offers massive adventure play-frames, huge inflatables, indoor football pitch and toddler zone in England’s largest indoor soft play space. For children with special needs, Hop Skip and Jump offers a well-equipped play and support centre, with two sensory rooms, games and music areas.

I think Bristol Zoo Gardens is really good for little ones – not too big, and there's a good playground and water splash area for when they get bored of the animals. The animal shows on the lawn are good too.

Windmill Hill City Farm is a local gem where activities are mostly free. The play area, Stick Man trail, gift shop and mini potters’ shed make for hours of entertainment, and the recently expanded, award-winning café serves a healthy, child-friendly menu with dinky portions for little ones. Added bonus: Essential Maintenance beauty treatments on site. Brilliant idea!

For parents and tots’ fun, Little Badgers Forest School runs midweek outdoor woodland adventures and really magical learning experiences for one to four-year-olds and their carers. Take babies and toddlers on a morning Story Stars themed sensory and messy play adventure, with sessions across Bristol and beyond. End the week on a musical note at Mainly Music (Cairns Road Baptist Church in BS6), £3 per family drop-in sessions for babies and toddlers.

We The Curious is a family science centre, home to the UK's first 3D planetarium. With hands-on activities, plus free workshops and shows on offer, it’s got something to interest everyone from toddlers to tweens and teens – although it can get very busy during the school hols. For an immersive journey through a century of aviation achievements and artefacts, head to Aerospace Bristol and be amazed by the majesty of Concorde Alpha Foxtrot, the museum’s supersonic attraction.

Balloon Fiesta

Family-friendly annual festivals include the Bristol Harbour Festival and four days of free fun at the Bristol Balloon Fiesta in August. Upfest, Europe’s largest urban paint festival, is a great day out for the whole family, with lots of creative workshops and activities for the kids. The city has a well-deserved reputation as a musical hub, with a rich indie heritage and music festivals throughout the year. In August, Hoo-Ha! at Colston Hall offers three days of interactive shows, awesome activities, and musical fun for all the family.

If you're a fan of the theater then be sure to visit Bristol Old Vic, the oldest continuously working theatre in the English speaking world and a heritage destination. It has a wide range of shows that will suit all ages and tastes – plus a backstage bar for drinks, sweets, cheese and charcuterie boards, ready for you to enjoy before the show.

Bristol Aquarium is wildly popular with children, with daily talks, feeding demonstrations and an underwater tunnel bringing them up close and personal to various water dwellers. It's also home to an exhibition space, showcasing fantastic photography throughout the year. Check out what's on ahead of your visit, and if you're really lucky you might get to meet a mermaid.

For urban cool, download the Banksy Bristol Trail app. It’s a great interactive map guide to his remaining pieces, packed with info on the elusive street artist, his work and his formative years in the 80s/90s alternative art scene.

Bansky

Places to eat in Bristol

Families are particularly well catered for when it comes to nosh – the vast choice of eateries in Bristol means there’s something for even the faddiest of kids. Bocabar, a local institution, with its slouchy sofas and twinkling fairy lights, is family food central; its laid-back vibe and spacious premises make for a chilled place for family meals out.

Likewise, the Gloucester Old Spot ticks all the boxes for a family friendly pub. Toys, games and a safe, enclosed play garden keep the kids safe and entertained, allowing parents to chat over lunch and a pint. It gets very busy at weekends, so do pre-book. If you manage to sneak away for a grown-up hour or two, A Cappella in Totterdown is great for a snug, intimate pizza; Michelin-starred Casamia is proper posh and specializes in seasonal British-sourced ingredients

Cinemas and theatres in Bristol

The Wardrobe Theatre is a cool creative space where anything could happen, while the family-friendly Bristol Hippodrome is one of the country's top provincial theatres. Theatre Bristol, with its strong community ethos and support for local film creatives, has an edgy energy, and many of its eclectic range of shows and workshops are aimed at families.

Bristol has the full range of cinema chains, but for date night niche cinema and a more left-field vibe, head to The Watershed, The Orpheus Cinema or The Cube (Avon). The weekly Cinébabies sessions at The Watershed deserve a special mention for offering culture-deprived new parents the chance to catch up on the latest film releases while their babes-in-arms sleep, feed or burble.

Doctors and hospitals in Bristol

Healthcare in Bristol is generally good, and local families are well-served, with 55 local GP practices. Main city hospitals are Southmead Hospital (CQC rated requires improvement) and University Hospitals Bristol Main Site BRI (CQC rated outstanding). South Bristol Community Hospital specialises in outpatient services, with on-site Urgent Care Centre for the treatment of minor illnesses and injuries. Spire Bristol Hospital, Nuffield Health Bristol and The Chesterfield Hospital Bristol Bupa Health Centre provide private healthcare locally.

I had my first baby at Cossham Hospital and I would advise it to any mother to be who wants a natural birth. The rooms are lovely and the midwives are amazing!

For women, local maternity and gynaecology services are good. Cossham (CQC outstanding), Southmead and St Michael’s Hospitals all offer midwife-led birth centres.

Comprehensive NHS dental services are supplemented by the University of Bristol Dental Hospital for dental emergencies. Bristol Eye Hospital provides specialist ophthalmic services.

What are property prices like?

There's plenty of variety when it comes to houses for sale in Bristol. It offers everything from swanky, supersized properties to starter homes for families and singletons, and runs the gamut of affordability and architectural styles. It’s got a well-deserved reputation for beautiful Victorian and Georgian terraced houses – but there are waterfront studios and apartments, ‘exclusive townhouse developments, new dockside terraces, and traditional semis to be had too.

The average price for a Bristol property is £268K, lower than for most other UK cities. Be warned though, prices have rocketed recently – with typical house prices now more than ten times the average salary, it’s an increasingly expensive place to buy and live in. Clifton, Leigh Woods, Stoke Bishop (BS9) and Westbury-upon-Trym properties command high prices. Hotwells, Southville, Montpelier and Kingsdown are cheaper and popular with the ex-London crowd.

Bishopston and St Andrews (BS6) are family friendly communities straddling Gloucester Road, and are handy for the city centre too. Housing here is mainly terraces of solid Victorian properties, some within the popular Redland Green and Cotham School catchment areas. The area average house price is £390K – but larger, more decorative homes in prime streets sell for upwards of £550,000.

If you’re looking for a neighbourhood with an arty, edgy vibe, Totterdown, near Temple Meads Station, is one of Bristol’s best budget options for young families and first-time buyers. Real gentrification is just around the corner though – already a three bedroom terrace sells for around £350,000.

Keynsham – something decent with parking for 450k. Two great state secondary schools, Hayesfield and Wellsway, and several primary schools.

For something less urban, Fishponds, Keynsham (less than 10 minutes to Temple Meads by train), Nailsea and Portishead (on the coast) offer good family housing stock with easy access into Bristol and out to surrounding areas.

What about Bristol schools and nurseries?

Be warned that Bristol childcare provision is expensive and there’s an acute shortage of places for under-fives. It’s worth keeping your options open – and register with your preferred choice childcare providers sooner rather than later.

My DS was on the waiting list for nursery for pretty much a year… If you have your heart set on a particular one, it's worth getting registered sooner rather than later, because any nursery can go from having a space available to having months-long waits.

Caerleon Child Care Bristol, rated Ofsted good, is great for parents who work out of town and regularly commute via Patchway. The Windmill City Farm Nursery (Ofsted good) offers early years childcare for children aged 9 months to five years old – it’s very well thought of by local BS3 parents but the waiting list is long. Outstanding Woodland House Nursery is remarkable for operating a ‘beach school’ – giving little ones the opportunity to paddle, create sand sculptures, lighting fires, driftwood structures or just enjoy the feel of sand (or mud!) between their toes. Priority for places is given to University of Bristol employees.

Beach school

Bristol has plenty of good primary schools but secondary schools have a more variable, albeit improving, reputation. The best in both categories tend to be very oversubscribed, with small catchment areas.

Bristol has good primary school provision, though parents need to do their homework thoroughly. Many primaries in Bristol are over-subscribed and some residential areas fall into catchment area ‘black holes’.

Standout primary schools include SS Peter and Paul RC Primary (Redland), Victoria Park Primary (Bedminster) and Waycroft Academy (Stockwood). Places at Bishop Road Primary School, Elmlea Junior School (Westbury-on-Trym) and Stoke Bishop CofE Primary School are also very sought after. Bishopston, Gloucester Road and St Andrews all have good options for primary-school-aged children. The family-friendly appeal of the area makes for stiff competition for places.

Loads of families have moved here and there are nowhere near enough primary school places to go around, especially for some well-thought-of ones like Bishop Road and Sefton Park.

Colston’s Primary School, rated good by Ofsted, gets a good local press from parents: “I want to get my own children into Colston’s…the main thing…is the happiness of the children there…the whole bunch seemed somehow brighter than at other schools.”

Bristol secondary schools are a hot dinner party topic for local parents. There are some excellent state secondary schools in the city, but many of the top-performing ones have admissions selection criteria which slash the odds of obtaining a place.

St Bede’s and St Mary Redcliffe are popular faith schools. Entry to Redland Green and Cotham Schools (both Ofsted outstanding) “is dependent on having an affluent postcode”. Bristol Cathedral School selects on musical ability. Colston Girls, one of Bristol’s most oversubscribed schools, operates a lottery/banding system and language aptitude selectivity.

Bristol Metropolitan Academy in Fishponds is one of the top three performing schools in the South West for its Progress 8 score (0.36). Opened in 2012, Ofsted ‘good’ Bristol Free School’s first cohort took GCSEs in 2017, and its early promise means it’s gaining in popularity among BS9 postcode parents.

Many families choose to bypass Bristol state secondary schools and apply a bit further afield. Eight feature in The Sunday Times Top 500 State Secondary Schools Guide 2018: Gordano, Backwell, Thornbury’s The Castle School, Winterbourne International Academy, Chew Magna, Oldfield, Bradley Stoke Community College, and Wellsway. This four-bedroomed property is in catchment for Gordano, with an asking price of £389K.

Bristol has the highest number of independent schools outside London. The Downs School, Bristol Grammar School and Clifton High are good co-ed options. Bristol Grammar is an academically high-achieving local public school. Clifton College (boys from 3-18) offers a traditional boarding and day school. Queen Elizabeth Hospital School (boys only, with girls in the sixth form) is another popular choice. Redmaids High School and nearby Badminton School offer girls-only education, the latter with boarding facilities too.

Prep schools Torwood House and Silverhill both have nurseries attached. Gracefield Preparatory School is an independent primary school in Downend, educating girls and boys aged 4-11 years old. The Downs School offers co-educational pre-prep and prep school education a short drive away in Wraxall.

Talk to local parents about Bristol's schools and nurseries

Shopping in Bristol

The shopping capital of the South West, Bristol offers a veritable shopping smorgasbord, from pop-ups selling locally designed fashion and quirky independent boutiques, to heaving malls packed with high street fashion staples.

The city centre’s Bristol Shopping Quarter encompasses super chic Cabot Circus/Quakers Friars (for Harvey Nicks, House of Fraser, Cos, All Saints et al ), The Galleries and Broadmead for high street shopping, and the Arcade, a Grade II Georgian shopping arcade which has recently been restored to its former glory. Head to Clifton Village and Clifton Arcade for upmarket independent retail therapy, including hand-crafted pottery, jewellery and homeware.

Tucked away near the B.R.I. is the Christmas Steps Arts Quarter, with a fascinating selection of shops, galleries, studios and creative outlets scattered around eight steep streets. Gloucester Road is another buzzy centre for quirky small shops and eateries – and for something completely different, Cargo at Wapping Wharf is a retail yard full of converted shipping containers.

Christmas steps

Amble up Park Street for clothing and footwear boutiques, record stores and more, and stop by the Bristol Guild Gallery, the city’s flourishing independent emporium of fine design. Its cafe is a calm oasis in the hustle and bustle of one of Bristol’s busiest streets.

Cribbs Causeway Mall, just off the M4/M5 interchange, offers out of town shopping for favourite fashion brands under one roof – its late hours (8pm daily except for Sunday) mean it ’s particularly useful for last-minute shopping dashes.

Bristol has a thriving market scene. Old, St Nicholas and weekend Harbourside Markets are all well worth a visit. At Christmas time, a magical Mile of Markets stretches from Bristol Shopping Quarter right down to Harbourside.

Monthly BS5 Market is a one-stop shop for fruit and veg, street food, artisanal alcohol and scrummy cakes. For foodies, Temple Quay Market has the best Bristol street food. Ethically inclined eco-warrior? Then Tobacco Factory Market’s your destination for food, drinks, craft and art with a conscience.

Getting around

Bristol is commutable for people working in London, Cardiff, Exeter and anywhere in between. Regular inter-city services link to London via Bristol Parkway (an hour and 20 minutes) and Temple Meads (105 minutes). This year a new high-speed rail service will knock 22 minutes off the journey time to London Paddington. Trains to Exeter take less than an hour, Bath can be reached in 12 minutes and Cardiff is 40 minutes away.

The Severn Beach Line is a local train service that runs every 45 minutes Monday to Saturday and hourly on Sundays. It connects the city centre, from Temple Meads, to Avonmouth (28 minutes) and Severn Beach (37 minutes), via Redland, Clifton Down, Sea Mills and Shirehampton.

Both National Express and Megabus operate cheap coach travel connecting Bristol with major UK towns and cities. Popular routes include Birmingham, London Victoria and Plymouth.

You can get a bus from pretty much anywhere to/from the city centre, but connecting two outlying points is much less easy on public transport.

Major arterial road links are good, with M4, M5, and A4 all serving the city. 4.4 mile long M32 links London and South Wales to the heart of Bristol’s centre, although it gets congested in rush hour.

Bristol Airport, eight miles out from the city centre is convenient for domestic, European and international flights. Airlines flying direct to and from BSI include Aer Lingus, BMI Regional, British Airways, EasyJet, KLM and Ryanair.

Park and Ride buses are a cheaper and quicker alternative to driving into Bristol. Heavy traffic, costly parking, residents-only parking areas and many 20mph zones, make driving a chore. Park & Ride services run every 20 minutes from Portway, Bath Road and Long Ashton.

Transport in Bristol

The cheapest and easiest way to commute or sightsee your way around the city is by bike. Bristol was named England’s first cycling city way back in 2008 and the tradition lives on. The sixteen mile Bristol to Bath cycle path is a fantastic off-road, flat terrain route connecting urban city centres with picturesque countryside. A mainly traffic-free pathway makes it ideal for family cycle rides.

What's planned for Bristol’s future?

Bristol Temple Quarter Enterprise Zone, one of the largest urban regeneration projects in the UK, is being developed in the heart of Bristol, around Temple Meads Station. The aim is to create sustainable and flourishing leisure, residential, transport and work hubs with community cohesion at its core.

The new MetroBus network will provide direct routes to key destinations across the city, speeding speed up journey times, relieving city congestion and reducing pollution levels.

A major world-class performance arena is on the cards. The Bristol Arena will host an eclectic mix of music, comedy, sports and family events and exhibitions. No timeframe as yet – its location (Temple Meads vs Filton Airfield) is still to be agreed.

Plans to build 105,00 new properties over the coming 20 years will help balance supply and demand locally. Quality and more affordable homes will go up across 12 sites including Backwell and Yate.

In welcome news for shoppers, plans are being explored to redevelop the Broadmead shopping area, in a style design similar to nearby Cabot Circus.

Talk to local parents on the Bristol Talk board

If all this has whetted your appetite, find out more by asking Mumsnet users who live in Bristol for the nitty gritty. Hop over to the Bristol Talk board and start a thread – or browse what Bristol parents are talking about right now.