What to do in Bristol this Christmas

Home to around 400,000 people Bristol is the largest city in the South West of England and just a short drive away from neighbouring Bath, with its historical spa baths dating back to Roman times.

So whether you fancy lights and colour, quiet contemplation or a retail bonanza, here are some of our favourite things to do in Bristol over the Christmas holidays.

What to do in Bristol this Christmas
What to do in Bristol this Christmas

1. Celebrate the Solstice

If you’re well and truly tired of Christmas commercialisation and want to get away from the busy throngs of shoppers why not experience the ancient ritual of the solstice celebration at Whiteladies Road cocktail bar On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (HMSS) (no tuxedo required). On the shortest day, 21st December, they’ll be offering cocktails inspired by Stonehenge from 4.30 pm. Look closely into your Green Manalishi cocktail and you’ll even spot a tiny chip of ancient stone, swirling amongst Bacardi Carta Blanca, aloe vera and lime.

2. Winter Wonderland at Cribbs Causeway

The Mall at Cribbs Causeway is an obvious destination for many at Christmas due to its huge number of shops and department stores. But why not step away from the world of retail and onto the South West’s largest outdoor ice rink, which comes in at a whopping 1,000 sq meters. This is the centrepiece of the Mall’s Winter Wonderland, which also features a new enchanted Ice Castle (with one Santa Clause resident) and a number of vintage fairground rides.

3. Bath Skyline Walk

It’s all too easy to put on a couple of pounds during the season of festivities, fine food and bottomless drinks, especially when you combine the excess with too many hours in front of the TV. Why not get outdoors and enjoy a brisk walk with stunning views of ancient rolling meadows and deep green forests. The 6-mile walk of the Bath Skyline is just a short meander away from the city centre and ideal for exploring with the family (sulking teenagers optional).

4. Gourmet Picture Company at Royal Victoria Park

You’ll get to enjoy a classic film in absolute luxury when you visit the Gourmet Picture Company at Royal Victoria Park. Enjoy the finest catering from Tom Kerridge and Rick Stein, with three-course meals on offer plus ice-cream in the interval. Films on offer include Die Hard and Elf and you’ll get to relax on sumptuous sofas while you take in the sparkling interior. Just leave the kids at home for this date-night treat. Tickets cost from £45.

5. Grayson Perry exhibition at Bristol’s Arnolfini

Visit “The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever” (their name, not a genuine fact) at Bristol’s Arnolfini until 24th December to see the works of Grayson Perry being exhibited outside of London for the first time. You’ll see more than 25 ceramics, prints, tapestries and more which combine contemporary themes with fine art and crafts. Again, the event is free and it’s a great way to bring some quiet inspiration and creativity to an otherwise hectic time of year.

6. Absorb some History from Over the Pond

Want to know how the Americans celebrated the festive season? Then it’s time to check out this seasonal exhibition at the American Museum in Bath called “A Little Party Never Hurt Nobody”. It’s a richly visual extravaganza inspired by the jazz age and gives visitors a wonderful glimpse into the glitz, decadence and celebrations of the time. You’ll see how decorations ranged from a Gatsby-like Christmas tree wonder in Central Hall, through to rather more low-key festivities in the average 17th century mid-Western home. Head down fast as it’s on show until 17th December, with activities on offer such as Christmas card making and a choir.

7. Treat the Kids at Bristol Zoo

The little ones will love the Santa’s Grotto experience at Bristol Zoo which is running until 23rd December. During the month, kids will meet the big man himself, get a little gift and also get to see the zoo’s attractions in all of their glory, with elves running the show and providing guided tours. Look out too for holiday illuminations, tasty food treats and themed arts and crafts, not to mention the various animal attractions of course. Super saver tickets cost as little as £15 per adult when booked in advance online.

If you’ve got a newer addition to the family then check out this article about what to do this Christmas with your newborn.

8. Bristol Christmas Market

No Christmas in Bristol is complete without a visit to a Christmas market and Broadmead and Cabot Circus’s annual Christmas Market gets bigger with every year. You have until Christmas Eve to revel in the seasonal ambience, with more than 40 independent chalets packed with delicious food, artisan gifts, mulled wine, decorations and plenty more. The markets are open from lunchtime onwards and tend to get busy, so head down early if you can. Go hungry too as the food stalls are wonderful, serving everything from German sausages through to apple strudel. And don’t forget the Mulled Wine.

9. Attend a Masquerade Ball

The Spiegeltent has become a hugely popular alternative venue for Bristol revellers at this time of year. The quirky pop-up on the waterfront features a fantastic action-packed calendar of events and activities over the festive season. Look out for the Masquerade Ball on 16th December, cabaret, dance fixtures, live entertainment, music, fine food and more. The ambience is beautiful and celebratory and the pop-up showcases the city at its best. Christmas parties are being thrown on the 13th and 20th.

10. Christmas Carols at Bristol Cathedral

Everyone loves the magic of Christmas carols and Bristol Cathedral is throwing its doors open in welcome on the 15th and 16th for an evening of candlelight song and reflection in this stunning and historic place of worship. Everyone is welcome and the atmosphere is legendary; a perfect way to begin the Christmas wind-down. Advance tickets have sold out but if you turn up on the night you may be able to get a ticket to watch from the transept. Well worth the effort and a way to celebrate Christmas the traditional way.

Whatever your perfect way of celebrating the best season of the year, you’ll certainly find plenty of options for doing so in style in Bristol this year. Wrap up warm, gather friends and family, switch off the digital screens and go and experience some of what our fine and historic city has to offer.