Bristol is characterised by its lively harbour and quirky town centre, often packed so tightly with cyclists, pedestrians, buskers and cars that it’s difficult to get anywhere without dipping, ducking and diving your way through the streets.
It’s a gorgeous place to visit at all times of year, and when the sun shines, you truly do see a different side to its otherwise grey and fairly industrial look. But, like most of the UK, Bristol is no stranger to days (and sometimes even weeks) of rainfall…
Don’t be disheartened though, as there are loads of great things to do in Bristol when it’s raining! Whether you’re new to the area or you’re visiting for a few days with your partner/family/kids/colleagues/dog or whoever, there’s something here to take your mind off the pitter patter of rain. Enjoy!
Explore one of Bristol’s best museums
Museums don’t have to be stuffy and outdated – and both the official Bristol Museum and more contemporary M Shed prove that. You might go for the shelter, but you’ll stay for the exhibitions! Both museums are fun and free to explore, and they each hold great exhibitions throughout the year.
If you’re visiting Bristol Museum, pop next door to the Wills Memorial Building to see if there are any cool events on. If you’re lucky, you might get to poke your head inside for a glimpse of one of Bristol’s prettiest buildings! Alternatively, if you’re visiting the M Shed, grab a coffee or bite to eat at Whapping Wharf, a small village of shipping containers with everything from Greek food to yoga studios and craft ale on offer.
Go stargazing at the planetarium
Any Bristol local will navigate themselves and offer directions around the city centre by referencing the ‘big silver ball’ in Millennium Square. It’s only if you live here that you’ll know what’s inside the big silver ball: a planetarium. It’s a brilliant planetarium, too. Part of We the Curious (another great place to visit in Bristol when it’s raining, especially if you’re travelling with little ones), the planetarium lets you explore the skies and stars above us – without getting wet! Check their website for their events calendar and book in advance to confirm your spot.
Grab a hot drink in one of the city’s cosiest coffee shops
Bristol is full of independent coffee and cake shops, so much so that going to Starbucks or Costa is seen as a little weird. Whether you’re trawling through the wonderful boutiques of Stokes Croft or wandering through the quaint streets of Southville, you’re sure to come across a pokey little den with a stack of board games, jungle of hanging plants and most importantly, great coffee. I’m always on the hunt for the best oat milk latte in Bristol, and along the way I’ve developed a real love for Albatross Cafe, Little Victories and Pinkmans Bakery!
Pretend you’re in Italy with a trip to Swoon Gelato
You don’t need great weather to enjoy Bristol’s best gelateria. A trip to Swoon Gelato is a must if you’re visiting the city centre, especially if you’re on a date. It’s open until 10PM, so it’s the perfect place to grab desert after dinner on Park St and watch the world go by. The gelato is really great – not cheap, but great! – and if you’re lucky, you’ll find more than one vegan option. The Lotus biscuit flavour is 100% my favourite, so vegans, get yourself to Swoon Gelato next time you need a pick-me-up!
Enjoy a movie at one of Bristol’s quirkiest cinemas
From art house films to blockbuster classics, you can catch whatever you’re in the mood for at one of Bristol’s many cinemas. Of course, you have the standard Cineworld, Vue, Odeon and Showcase to choose from, but there are also some slightly quirkier options if you’d prefer. Two of the best are the Watershed (located on the waterfront, typically shows indie films and serves alcohol) and the Everyman Theatre (feels very Hollywood glam, more expensive than other cinemas but worth it for the red velvet love seats and pizza).
Get competitive at one of the city’s games cafes
Stuck in the rain with a friend? Get yourself to one of Bristol’s games cafes for a coffee and a competition. There are a few to choose from, but the shop with the prettiest location is Chance & Counters. You’ll find the cafe on the Christmas Steps (and trust me, these look beautiful when it’s dark and gloomy outside) and like a beacon, its cosy interior will draw you in. Chance & Counters has a huge collection of board games to play, plus a menu of tasty-looking snacks and drinks to choose from. Visiting on a Sunday? You could always pop over to the Christmas Steps pub once you’ve finished for a glass of wine and a vegan roast dinner!
If you’re in the mood for a few drinks, then there’s no better option than RePlay. This is a real hidden gem that you’ll find on Cheltenham Road, making it the perfect pit stop for your next rainy day bar crawl. For great games, friendly staff and the heartiest portion of vegan dirty fries in Bristol, this is where you want to head.
Try your hand(s) at indoor climbing
This is definitely one of my favourite rainy day activities. It’s fun, competitive and best of all, it’s a real workout! Bristol also has a few different climbing centres to choose from, so whether you want to rock climb or boulder (my go-to exercise), there’s something to keep you busy. For keen boulderers, I’d recommend The Climbing Academy. It’s a welcoming spot with two floors of climbing walls and a team of friendly staff on hand to sign you in and give you advice. There’s also a cafe serving hot drinks and sandwiches, which is ideal after an hour on the wall!
Go bowling (and grab a pizza!) at The Lanes
The Lanes is one of those places that you’ve probably walked past a thousand times on your way into town but have never thought to pop in. From the outside, it looks pretty unassuming. Go inside, however, and you’ll see why The Lanes is one of the most popular venues in Bristol. What you’ll find depends on the time of day, but head there as the evening turns into night and you’ll spot an eclectic mix of people sharing pizzas, dancing to live music and…bowling. Next time the weather turns, book a lane for you and a few friends and enjoy bowling strikes at the coolest alley ever.
Bounce away at one of Bristol’s indoor trampoline parks
Feeling active? Then pull up your (non-slip) socks and head to one of Bristol’s indoor trampoline parks. From Freedog to AirHop, there are a good few trampolining centres to choose from! It doesn’t matter what age you are; sometimes, there’s nothing better than acting like a five year old and bouncing your troubles away. This is also the perfect activity to brighten up a gloomy day, whether you’re jumping alongside your partner, friends, kids or just the stranger next to you.
Head underground to Redcliffe Caves
If you can’t escape the rain, then heading underground might just do the trick! It wasn’t until last year I found out that Bristol had a series of caves and tunnels located underneath Redcliffe, and since then I’ve been lucky enough to visit twice for two different exhibitions. While they’re currently closed, wandering through the dark passageways of the Redcliffe Caves is such a fun thing to do in the heart of Bristol that I couldn’t not put it on the list.
Despite the temporary closure, it’s absolutely worth keeping an eye on the Redcliffe Caves or Visit Bristol website for upcoming events. There are usually loads of great things going on down there, including art installations and horror film screenings.
Do you have any other ideas to add to the list? I’d love to hear them!
P.S. If you’re exploring the city with someone you want to impress, don’t forget to check out my Five Unique Date Ideas In Bristol!