Michael Edwards stays at the heart of Bristol’s regenerated docklands
Skateboarders and e-scooters rattle across the railway lines that once carried quayside trains. Joggers run the waterside trails. Walkers head for bars, cafes, galleries, museums, shops and restaurants.
In days gone by, ships brought the world, ideas and goods to Bristol. Now, in this Bristolian harbour renaissance, there is a bohemian and cosmopolitan whiff to the docks again. This is the second regeneration of Bristol’s docklands.
After the Luftwaffe had flattened Bristol’s docks during the Second World War, the docks were rebuilt. The Bristol Hotel, on the cobbles of Narrow Quay, merely yards from Queen’s Green was part of that reconstruction. Now, the hotel belongs to the Doyle Collection, a carefully curated collection of eight Irish-family-owned luxury and urban hotels also located centrally in London, Dublin, Washington DC and Cork.
Back in the 1960s there may have been Brutalist hints to the hotel. Over the years as the trees have grown and more lights have shimmered on the river, the facade has mellowed. Now the hotel is recognised by the Royal Institute of British Architects as a fine example of Modern Architecture.
Within the 187 spacious rooms, there is a sense of calm. Amongst the cream and neutral tones, there are occasional flashes of rich burgundy from table lamps, a bed throw and a very comfortable armchair looking out across Bristol’s skyline and the waterside.
That “The” makes an entirely justifiable claim that The Bristol Hotel is “The” place to stay in the West Country’s capital. A mere ten-minute walk from Temple Mead station and a neighbouring NCP car park certainly give this Doyle Collection hotel a head start. It really is in pole position for exploring the regenerated Bristol Docklands.
In fact, it is less than a minute to the Arnolfini Gallery. As well as contemporary art exhibitions, a bookshop with some challenging titles that you are unlikely to find in your local bookshop and a cool cafe, the Arnolfini Gallery epitomises the rebirth of Bristol’s docklands.
The Bristol Hotel’s River Grille gives views across the river towards Millennium Square. Tall floor-to-ceiling windows flood the conservatory-style restaurant with light. As the name suggests, it is a restaurant where locally sourced steaks, cooked on the chef’s Josper grill, take top billing.
Bristol was one of Britain’s first cities to lead the green revolution. The River Grille and the neighbouring Shore Cafe stay on-trend. Across their two menus, there are many plant-based alternatives: celeriac steak, roasted vegetables on focaccia and probably the best vegan burger in the west.
Looking out across the docklands the sheds have been repurposed. V – Shed houses cocktail bars whilst M – Shed is the place to start explorations. Once M – Shed was a staging post for goods unloaded from the quayside. Now, with free entry, it is a museum that tells the story of Bristol’s people, places and objects.
Bristolians’ rebellion against slavery, opposition to racism and sexism once saw the city presented as The Wild, Wild West. Now after Banksy’s street mural of a teddy bear threatening three riot police with a Molotov Cocktail, it is more often seen as The Mild, Mild West.
Until 5th June M – Shed also displays 100 astounding entries for the World Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition.
Just off Millennium Square, Bristol’s Aquarium not only presents marine life, it also shows some of the habitats around the world’s waters. At the top of the dome, a hothouse showcases Amazonian vegetation. It is worth visiting the website to plan a visit around the talks and fed sessions at the coral seas, the bay of rays and the Amazon River.
There is no doubt that Isambard Kingdom Brunel shaped Bristol’s destiny. Alongside the restored SS Great Britain, a ship ahead of its time, the Being Brunel exhibition shows the influence of an innovative engineer who was also a daring entrepreneur.
Brunel’s determination to speed the journey from London to New York brought the Great Western Railway to Bristol to connect with his revolutionary single propellor driven SS Great Britain. A tour of the ship tells of the diversity of crew and passengers: a butcher, cricketers headed for Australia, a doctor, emigres, first-class passengers and a stable hand to look after the horses.
Bristol’s docklands bring together past and present. Brizzle, in the local lingo, is looking good. In recent years, Bristol has received a string of plaudits: best British city to live in, Britain’s happiest city and best place to live for under 25s. Centre stage, The Bristol Hotel, with a homely warmth, is at the heart of the action.
Tell Me More About The Bristol Hotel
The Bristol Hotel, Prince Street, Bristol, BS1 4QF
T: 0117 923 0333
Rooms from £99 per night which includes breakfast.