Harbourside is the area on the north of the Floating Harbour which has its roots firmly in the history of Bristol. The harbour itself is known to exist since the 13th century and the area is where much of the wealth of Bristol was earned through port trade across the world that was also built on the Atlantic slave trade. The port used to house docks for boat building, lined with warehouses to store the variety of goods that were then transported all over the country.
Today much of this history is hidden amongst modern apartment buildings and converted warehouses that now house art galleries, museums, media centres, cafs, restaurants and bars. There are several hotels in this part of the city with harbour views as well as the YHA hostel and the Bristol Backpackers Hostel. Harbourside has now become one of the main social centres in Bristol City Centre and has the feel of a modern, cosmopolitan European city. It is a gorgeous part of the city where sitting out in one of the street cafes watching the world go by is a must.
The Tourist Information Centre, Explore at Bristol, Arnolfini Arts Centre, Watershed Media Centre, The Architecture Centre are all within easy walking distance. The Harbourside area also makes a good point for exploring the city as it leads off uphill to the West End or over to the Old City and St Nicholas Markets.
Along Princes Wharf on the south side of the Floating Harbour the Museum of Bristol will be opening in 2009. Also on the south side is SS Great Britain. This side is also the launch point for boat trips up the Avon to the Avon Gorge and under the Clifton Suspension Bridge or if you don't fancy the walk along the docks you can take the regular ferries that cross the water. You'll find a great choice of boat trips available along the waterfront.
Cruises aboard the paddle steamer the Waverley and the Balmoral depart periodically from Cumberland Basin for a true traditional boat trip. Check the website link right for up-to-date timetables. The annual Bristol Harbour Festival is naturally centred around this area too. It is a weekend long event featuring a wide range of entertainment including street entertainers, music and dance stages, water based events and a huge firework display.
The West End of Bristol houses the theatres: the Hippodrome, Colston Hall, St George's, as well as Bristol's City Museum and Art Gallery and the Georgian House. The University of Bristol's grand historic buildings tower over Park Street on which are a series of funky independent shops, cafes and restaurants. As you'd expect around the university there is a good choice of places to eat. Just below Park Street is Frogmore Street with a few clubs, pubs and bars that form part of Bristol's gay scene, and Bristol's Ice Rink. The Ice Rink is open all week.
West End has two areas of greenspace, College Green and Brandon Hill. College Green is popular with lunchers and makes a good stop off to admire Bristol's Cathedral. The cathedral dates from 1140 when the Abbey of St Augustine was founded. You can enter the cathedral for a look around or join one of the open tours that are available during the day.
The cathedral is open from 8am-6pm every day. There is also a gift shop and refectory that serves light meals, teas, coffees and homemade cakes with a garden in which you can site. For a good panoramic view of Bristol take a hike up the spiral staircase inside the 105 feet Cabot's Tower on top of Brandon Hill. The red sandstone tower was built in 1867 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of John Cabot's 1497 voyage to Newfoundland in America.
John Cabot was a Venetian navigator and explorer who is credited with being one of the first early Europeans to land on North America which he did on board The Matthew in 1497. You can see the Matthew down at the Floating Harbour along with SS Great Britain.
Broadmead is the centre for shopping in the heart of Bristol City Centre. The Mall Galleries is the big shopping centre full of the usual high street names. All around Broadmead you'll find a mix of high street chain stores, independent shops and boutiques. In between the shops is a huge choice of restaurants, pubs, clubs and cafes. There are reputedly 300 stores in Broadmead so you're bound to find something to suit. Broadmead is open seven days a week.
For a more independent shopping experience don't miss the varied stalls that make up St Nicholas Market. There have been markets held here since medieval times when traders used to conduct business in the street on flat topped pillars called "Nails". You can still see these in Corn Street today. The Nails would be struck when a sale was agreed which is probably where the phrase to "pay on the nail" came from. The Corn Exchange was built in 1743.
Today the markets have remained in the Exchange Hall, the Glass Arcade and the Covered Market as well as stalls lining Corn Street. The markets are home to a huge collection of independent retailers from funky light shops to alternative clothing, fair trade products, gifts, food outlets and ethnic clothing. There are pubs and cafes lining the streets so you can watch the throngs pass by in comfort. This is all set in the heart of the old city among some fine historic buildings.
The markets are generally open Monday to Saturday but St Nicholas Market is also held on the first Sunday of the month. The Farmers Market take place every Wednesday. The Slow Food Market, a revolt against fast food where you can buy fresh local food from the producers themselves, happens on the first Sunday of every month.