For the outdoors enthusiast, cities aren’t always the most appealing prospect. I get it – you’d rather be ensconced in nature than checking out the latest cocktail bar. But remember, there are always exceptions to the rule.
Take my home town of Bristol, for example. Located in the south-west of England, it’s one of the country’s most populated cities. Yet despite its urban sprawl, there’s plenty of outdoor activities to keep you entertained.
So without further ado, here’s my active guide to Bristol. The following seven activities should put a spring in any outdoor adventure lover’s step.
Bristol has running routes galore. Like it flat and fast? No problem. Hill training on the agenda? Oh, there are hills a-plenty. Muddy woodland tracks more your thing? Got it. Whatever you’re after, Bristol has a running route to suit you. Even better, lots of them encompass some of the city’s best spots.
The 4km route around Bristol Harbourside is a firm favourite, with good reason. You’ll be treated to some of the best views in town and there’s not a hill in sight! The Downs, known as Bristol’s ‘green lung’, also offers 400 acres of grassland to galivant around. At the southerly end you’ll find panoramic views across Avon Gorge and the iconic Clifton Suspension Bridge.
If it’s trail running you’re after, make your way to Leigh Woods National Nature Reserve. It’s a woodland haven just moments from the city.
Grab yourself a belay partner and check out the slick limestone walls of Avon Gorge. It’s extremely close to the city, sitting just below Clifton Village and the Downs. For something a little more rural, take a 40-minute car journey over to Cheddar Gorge. The north side of the Gorge is owned by the National Trust and is typically open year-round to climbers.
For indoor climbing, take your pick from Red Point Bristol, The Climbing Academy and Bloc Indoor Climbing Wall.
It may be hilly, but Bristol is actually Britain’s first cycling city. There’s a network of bike routes across the region, making it a popular mode of transport amongst locals. A classic route is the Bristol to Bath Railway Path. With 13 miles of car-free tarmac, this is fun day out for all the family. If you can’t face cycling the return journey, you can always hop on a train at Bath.
Another off-road option is the Chocolate Path. From Greville Smyth Park, follow the path along the south-side of the River Avon. It passes under Clifton Suspension Bridge and continues all the way up to Ham Green. Thicker tyres are recommended!
If you want to swap a road bike for a mountain bike, you’ll find a selection of downhill and cross-country trails in Leigh Woods and Fifty Acre Wood. If you’re new to the sport, start at Ashton Court Estate and try the Nova trail first. It’s a blue beginner route, with optional red intermediate sections. Bike hire is available from Pedal Progression.
To take things up a notch, haul yourself (and your bike) over to Rowberrow Warren on the Mendip Hills. It’s a 35 minute drive from the city centre and offers a range of technical downhill tracks and wide, open moorland. Just be aware of horse-riders and hikers.
Stand-up paddle boarding
For a different perspective of Bristol’s famous harbourside, book a paddle boarding session with SUP Bristol. They’ll show you the ropes of stand-up paddle boarding before guiding you round the local waterways.
If you want to take your own SUP or kayak for a spin, you’ll need to buy a licence from the Bristol Harbour Office first. Life jackets are mandatory.
If you know anything about Bristol’s geography, you might be surprised to see surfing on this list. But since The Wave opened its doors in 2019, surfing is now on Bristol’s doorstep – and you don’t have to go anywhere near the muddy waters of the Bristol Channel!
Using ground-breaking Wavegarden Cove technology, this inland surf lake is just eight miles from the city centre. The facility produces over 1,000 artificial waves per hour and caters to beginners and pros alike. Surf lessons are also available.
Bristol is surrounded by countryside, with the Cotswolds to the north-east and the Mendips to the south. You need only drive a short distance before you’re enveloped by green fields, rolling hills and country lanes.
To explore this bucolic region by horseback, check out Tynings Trekking Centre or Shipham Riding, both in Somerset. They offer hacks on the Mendip Hills, where you’ll saunter amongst towering trees and enjoy frenzied gallops across the open moors.
Want to know more? Just get in touch. Alternatively, the folks over at Visit Bristol will be happy to help.