Things to do in Bristol city centre with children

Bristol is a city that truly has it all. Shopping, restaurants, nightlife and plenty of attractions to keep children entertained. Better still, much of it is accessible on foot. We headed to Bristol for the morning on a National Express coach. It’s just an hour from Cheltenham, ideal for popping into the city for brunch and a spot of shopping. If you’ve got a bit longer to spend there, here are a few ideas for things to do with the kids. All of these are accessible on foot from the bus station.

SS Great Britain

The iconic SS Great Britain is in a dry dock in Bristol’s Great Western Dockyard. We spent a day there over the summer and learned so much about this fascinating ship. Visitors can board the ship itself and see recreations of what life would have been like on board. From the cabins in various classes to the grand dining room where first class passengers would have eaten and been entertained.

Children stood next to SS Great Britain

Additionally, it is possible to go underneath the ship in its dry dock, see its structure and learn about its history. The dockyard museum tells a tale of the SS Great Britain over the years. From its design by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and launch in 1843 by Prince Albert, right through to the day it finally came back to Bristol to be displayed in the dry dock. Anybody aged 10 years old and over can take part in Go Aloft, climbing the rigging and edging out over the main yard to take in the view of the city. At certain times, other activities take part onboard, including the incredible Invisible Circus that performed during our visit.

invisible circus acrobat on SS Great Britain

We the Curious

Formerly known as At-Bristol Science Centre, We the Curious is a fantastic, hands on science museum located on the harbourside. Visit the planetarium to learn about the solar system and get hands on with more than 250 exhibits covering all aspects of science. The first floor is a sensory experience with light, sounds, animation, bubbles and a space gallery. The ground floor has a greenhouse, hands on kitchen, science installations, human body exhibits and the open city lab. Do check what’s on during your visit because workshops and other activities take place every day.

Bristol Aquarium

Located on Anchor Road, Bristol Aquarium is a brilliant way to break up a shopping trip. Over 40 displays contain water creatures from sharks to seahorses to piranhas and everything in between. See fish from UK waters and all around the world. A huge botanical house is home to exotic trees and plants, as well as rays, amazon pools, terrapins and fish. Talks and feeding take place every day and the aquarium are actively involved in conservation and breeding programmes for aquatic species.

Boat rides

Bristol’s waterfront area offers a variety of boat rides. From scenic river cruises to trips on board historic ship the Matthew, built in 1497. Visitors can also take a brewery tour, dine onboard a canal barge or take a short ferry journey.

We strolled around the waterfront area, enjoying the scenery and learning about the history of the area and its boats. Then, we hopped on a ferry back to the city centre. It cost £7 for a short journey and added a little bit of excitement to our walk. To find out more about boat trips in and from Bristol, head to the Visit Bristol website.


For all the exciting activities in Bristol city centre, the thing my girls wanted to do the most was to go shopping. We took an early coach from Cheltenham, leaving at 8.20am. So, by just after 9am, we were at the coach station in Bristol. From there, it was a short walk to the waterfront restaurants for brunch.

Bristol city centre has everything you need in close proximity. From small, specialist and boutique shops to high street fashion. We needed to get some winter coats for the girls and Libby wanted to buy a present for her friend. Considering how stressful shopping with the children can be, it was actually quite a relaxing experience. We browsed in a few shops and they chose what they wanted to buy. Then, we popped into one of the many city centre cafes for a hot drink and a snack before getting back on the coach.

Bristol’s history and scenery

One of the things I love about Bristol is that the city is outwardly proud of its heritage. Historic ships are docked in the waterfront area, each one with a sign explaining its history. For a really immersive experience, I would definitely recommend a day onboard the SS Great Britain. Even without this though, it is possible to learn about other fascinating ships. Like the John King tug built in 1935 to tow cargo ships from the docks to the mouth of the Avon. These days, it takes passengers on harbour trips. The Mayflower is also on display, the oldest Bristol-built ship still afloat. Visitors can take a trip on the Mayflower during summer months.

Aside from ships, the history of the waterfront area itself and its small railway track are fascinating. Additionally, it is well worth visiting the beautiful Edith Well, one of the oldest sources of drinking water in Bristol. Its water supply allowed the development of Saxon Bristol and it was located next to St Peter’s church. Just seeing it against the backdrop of the city centre is like stepping back in time. For a few more ideas to keep children entertained in Bristol including a special app for Banksy spotting, head over to Kiddy Charts.

Travelling to Bristol with National Express

Like many families, we are becoming notably more aware of our environmental impact. This is particularly true when travelling. Taking a National Express coach is one of the most environmentally friendly forms of public transport. It generates up to five times less carbon dioxide per passenger than the average car journey.

The coaches are comfortable with air conditioning and free entertainment via the National Express Vuer app. There are both power sockets and toilets on board to make the journey more comfortable. Wheelchair lifts are available on most services, these should be booked in advance. Unlike taking the train, every passenger is guaranteed a seat.

National Express discount and terms and conditions

National Express fares are already incredibly reasonably priced, with many journeys starting from just £5. For a further discount, enter the code NDPLUTONIUM20 at the checkout. The first 100 people to use this code will get a 20% discount on the fare. The terms and conditions of this offer are below.

1) This offer gives a 20% discount off Adult or Child ticket prices for a National Express journey on the UK mainland.
2) The discount is available for up to 2 people travelling.
3) The fare must be standard or fully flexible.
4) This offer is not valid during certain peak periods, including Easter/Christmas/New Year and some Public/Bank holidays.
5) Bookings must be made at least 3 days in advance of outbound travel.
6) Discount is not available through National Express Coach Stations, kiosks, Contact Centre or on-board ticket machines.
7) Discount cannot be used in conjunction with any other offer including discount Coachcards.
8) Discount is not valid on airport journeys, European services, Festivals & Events services, any services operated a third party coach or bus company, or where accommodation, admission or ferry travel is included within the fare.
9) The offer excludes any booking fees, any ancillary’s and any postal charges that may apply.
10) Discounted tickets may be amended, subject to the type of fare chosen, but are not refundable.
11) No cash or other alternative to this offer will be given.
12) All tickets are issued and all passengers are carried subject to National Express’ General Conditions of Carriage, available online and at all National Express outlets.

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  1. Bristol is such a great city to explore. We’ve enjoyed doing the Shaun the Sheep and Gromit Unleashed trails there although I’d like to go back with more time to explore some of the other things the city has to offer. The SS Great Britain is on my list for a later trip.

    1. Oh you’ll love the SS Great Britain. It is such a lovely city to explore and I’m sure the trails are a great way to do it, we loved seeing the Wallace on the front of the boat left from the last trail!