In a prime position on the waterfront, The Bristol Hotel makes a bold self-titled claim as the place to stay in Bristol. First opened in the 1960s, the hotel is now recognized by the Royal Institute of British Architects as a prime example of the Modern Architecture movement.
The 187-room hotel is a member of The Doyle Collection, a carefully selected collection of eight Irish family-owned luxury and city hotels located in central London, Dublin, Washington DC, Cork and Bristol.
The protesters who toppled the statue of slave trader Edward Colston in the waters off the docks briefly reignited Bristol’s reputation as The Wild, Wild West. Today, Bristol, with its laid-back vibe, is more often known as The Mild, Mild West after the Banksy mural.
A neighboring NCP car park makes parking easy. Alternatively, The Bristol Hotel is a ten minute walk from Temple Mead train station. A warm welcome at reception provides us with a map of the city center and ensures that the best of Bristol is within easy reach.
High up on the sixth and top floor, our deluxe room overlooks the Bristol skyline, with water views to the right. An exceptionally well-upholstered burgundy armchair looks out onto those views. Touchscreen climate control is very effective. Although this is only March, the warm spring temperatures require air conditioning.
Opposite the large double bed dressed in crisp white sheets and a burgundy blanket is a large wall-mounted flat-screen TV with Chromecast and Sky Sports.
Low-level night lighting is almost de rigueur in high-end hotels these days, and the spacious bathroom makes it a must. In the shower over bath you can choose between an overhead shower or a hand shower.
A high-tech control panel responds quickly to regulate flow and temperature. The toiletries are from Temple Spa.
The light-filled River Grille, a waterside conservatory with tall floor-to-ceiling windows, is the main attraction at The Bristol Hotel. For dinner, try to get one of the window tables so you can watch the daylight fade over the harbor. Then watch the colorful night lights sparkle on the water.
A Josper grill allows chefs to grill with precision over charcoal. Tender steaks made from 28-day-aged West Country beef are the heart of the menu. The shellfish come from the Devon fishing port of Brixton.
Bristol is creatively pushing plant-based recipes. Vegan meals at River Grille include a super grain salad with the option of adding vegan halloumi or vegan mozzarella. As an alternative, there are options of celeriac steak and grilled vegetables over focaccia. The texture of the vegan burger is so impressive that it is hard to believe that it is not meat.
Shore Café Bar is an alfresco harborside venue offering tapas-style small plates and lighter fare, as well as a drinks menu ranging from coffee to cocktails. The fourth floor houses a fitness room that includes treadmills, bikes, dumbbells, and medicine balls.
Go online to reserve a space for a free tour of M – Shed. Housed in a former wharfside warehouse, the museum is a four-minute walk from The Bristol Hotel. The exhibitions show Bristol’s past through its places, people and objects. As well as sensitively dealing with Bristol’s role in both the slave trade and its abolition, M–Shed also celebrates Bristol’s current heroes: young carers, pioneering robotic engineers, graffiti artists and autism activists. Through June 5, 2022, M–Shed is displaying 100 entries from the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Contest.
On the SS Great Britain, learn how Isambard Kingdom Brunel originally planned a paddle-driven ship until a propeller-driven ship docked in Bristol. The Archimedes inspired Brunel to change his plans midway through construction. The result was a ship that sailed more than a million miles powered by a single propeller. A tour of the ship reveals what a floating village was like with a barber, butcher, doctor and stables. Even in First Class, berths were comfortable in an era when 5′ 5″ was a good height.
The Being Brunel exhibition illustrates how the enterprising engineer was driven by a desire to improve the journey from London to New York. Brunel aspired to a Great Western railway from London to Bristol so smooth that travelers could travel at 45 mph without spilling a drop of their coffee.
Watch the Ravioli Ray being fed at the Bristol Aquarium. Learn how 60-pound shape-shifting octopuses can squeeze through a two-inch-diameter hole. Although this aquarium is where SeaWorld meets Kew Gardens.
At the top of the dome, a greenhouse creates Amazonian conditions, showcasing a colorful array of South American plants. Neighbor “We Are The Curious” takes a challenging and interactive approach to science. Visitors are encouraged to ask questions, test ideas, and work toward answers.
Other nice touches
The front desk provides a free bag of hand sanitizer and baby wipes to each guest upon check-in. A chocolate bar from the hotel is the next welcome gift.
Hanging “Do Not Disturb” signs on bedroom doors is so 20th century. Instead, the hotel has a quote from Van Morrison to display: “I’m taking some quiet time with my quiet friend.”
Rooms start from £99 including breakfast. For hotel guests the exit charge from the neighboring NCP car park is £9.
The best part
The Bristol Hotel is located in the heart of Harborside, between Bristol’s historic cobbled Narrow Quay and elegant Queen Square. Less than a minute away, the Arnolfini Contemporary Art Gallery is the closest must-see attraction.
Beyond the harbour, Bristol has much, much more to keep visitors entertained: the Clifton Suspension Bridge, The Old Vic, The Street Art Trail and a visit to The Old Vic theatre.
the final verdict
The Bristol Hotel is a quiet and luxurious base for exploring the bustling harbour. Exhibits Doyle’s spirit of service of true warmth and thoughtfulness.
Not surprisingly, the staff is smiling. Not only do they work for a much-loved family business, but in recent years Bristol has been hailed as Britain’s happiest city and the best place to live.
Disclosure: Our stay was sponsored by The Bristol Hotel and Visit Bristol.