Monday, 23 April 2018

Exploring Bristol with National Express.*

bristol harbourside waterfront river avon

I've visited quite a lot of places in the UK, but one place that I've always had my eye on but never managed to get to is Bristol. I don't know how this is possible - at some point or another all three of my cousins have lived there, so I have no real excuse for not visiting. Last week that finally changed, and I made my way south to my new favourite city.

One of the problems we have in travelling long distances is that I don't drive. Asking Blair to give me an 800-mile lift is a tiny bit cheeky. I also am terrified of flying and only ever do it when it's unavoidable. A mid-week jolly to the West Country doesn't quite fit the bill. As for the train - pah! Have you seen the prices?! Unless you can book months in advance it was approaching £400! Not ideal. Thankfully, the lovely people at National Express offered us the chance to try out their coaches, which link more than 900 destinations - including airport services that go direct to the terminal doors, and even European cities like Paris, Amsterdam and Dublin. We booked our journey and before we knew it, we were off!

national express coach
national express coach

As a student I often took coach trips between Aberdeen and Edinburgh, but they were nowhere near as fancy as the National Express fleet. National Express are the largest operator of scheduled coaches in the UK, offer thousands of tickets for £5 or less (plus booking fee), are rolling out a seat reservation policy, and allow you to take two 20kg suitcases plus hand luggage for no extra fee - find me a plane that does that! Alongside this they have Coachcards with great savings for disabled passengers, over 60s and Young Persons (16-26). Most importantly, one coach can take up to a mile of car traffic off the road, reducing congestion and pollution. So it's cheaper, more environmentally friendly, and it meant Blair didn't have to drive for hours? Sounds pretty good so far...

national express coach

National Express invest so heavily in their fleet that the average age of their coaches is less than 5 years, and it shows. The coaches have comfy leather seats, USB plugs and power sockets(!), air-con and come with access to the VUER app, an onboard entertainment system offering access to tv, films and magazines. I was pretty impressed with the standard of the coach - this was very much an upgrade on my student experiences! I also really enjoyed the VUER app; it gave me access to Hayu and Now TV, both of which I don't get at home. I should say that the wifi coverage for this app was slightly temperamental, and it did cut me off from my Kardashians-marathon a couple of times, but still! A coach journey with airplane-style entertainment is pretty awesome.

bristol city hall

The one thing I would say is that perhaps we were slightly ambitious with how long a journey we undertook. Edinburgh to Bristol takes over 11 hours at the best of times, and we were slightly delayed due to some works on the M6 (obviously no fault of National Express!). Thankfully those plug sockets meant we constantly had full phone batteries to keep us occupied, but by the time we arrived we were definitely feeling a little stiff. However, the coaches do offer the opportunity to step off and stretch your legs at some stops, and I have to say that the service we received from the drivers was impeccable.

bristol banksy street art graffiti
bristol banksy street art graffiti
bristol park street

Anyhoo, we made it to Bristol - and what a city that is! Perhaps it was the beginning of the heatwave that put me in a particularly good mood, but I really loved Bristol. It has its own unique and quirky vibe, with a blend of gorgeous architecture, an enviable array of independent shops and cafes, and tonnes of street art (yes, we did spot a Banksy or two). The sun shining made it easy for us to wander the streets, and it definitely helped us experience the city's culture - although if I'd known how hilly it is I might not have been so keen on walking everywhere...!

bristol clifton suspension bridge
bristol clifton suspension bridge observatory

While on our short trip we had to hit the 'biggest' tourist attractions, of course, so we made our way up to the Clifton Suspension Bridge. I am terrified of heights so walking across a 150-year-old, 250-foot-high bridge did give me the fear, but the view is definitely worth it. This bridge was a marvel in its day: at the time of its construction it boasted the longest span in the world. I'm not remotely interested in engineering, but the visitor centre is really engaging: there's lots of information on the story of Isambard Kingdom Brunel and how the bridge was finally built after overcoming financial and political issues.

bristol ss great britain
bristol ss great britain

We also spent some time at another of Brunel's creations - the ss Great Britain. This huge, iron-built ship had a 1000 horsepower steam engine and, controversially, a screw propeller rather than traditional paddle wheels. Basically, it revolutionised steamships and was totally ahead of its time. Launched in 1843, she made journeys across the Atlantic, later spending 30 years taking emigrants to Australia, before acting as a cargo ship, carrying coal and other exports between England and America. Sold to the Falkland Islands Company, she was used as a coal bunker before being scuttled and abandoned in 1937. In 1970 she was rescued, placed on a pontoon and brought back to England by tugboats. As she re-entered Bristol she was taken off the pontoon, so that she floated fully as she passed under Brunel's Clifton Suspension Bridge. She is now back in the dry dock where she was originally built.

bristol ss great britain
bristol ss great britain

The ss Great Britain is a really great day out. There are some really interesting exhibitions about Brunel and his previous works, and about the construction and life of the ship herself. For me, one of the best parts was stepping below water-level into the dry dock, so you could see the ship's hull up close. It was quite nice to think that she was in the same place she was built, as if she was 'back home' at last. I also really enjoyed being onboard the ship and seeing what the accommodation was like for her passengers. Turns out even first class has tiny beds - but their dining room looks a bit nicer!

bristol the matthew

We also quickly stopped at the Matthew, a replica of a ship that explorer John Cabot sailed to Newfoundland in 1497. This doesn't look big enough to cross the Atlantic (although my husband just did it in a much smaller boat so he'll probably scoff at me for that) but I did enjoy the pirate-y vibes it gave me!

bristol harbourside waterfront river avon
bristol harbourside waterfront river avon ferry boat

The rest of the time we spent wandering around and enjoying the atmosphere of Bristol. One of my favourite parts of the city was the Harbourside area. This was traditionally the heartland of industry and shipping in Bristol, but is now a very cool district full of bars, cafes and culture. We met up with one of my cousins here and had the loveliest time exploring in the sun. We took a Bristol Ferry Boat up the River Avon which I would highly recommend doing on a nice day as it's a great way to see the city from a unique perspective. We spent the afternoon having drinks at the Grain Barge bar - a converted boat that has a whole upper deck acting as a beer garden. Yes, I obviously got sunburnt, because I am a walking Scottish cliché. It was such a nice place to relax and watch the world go by. In fact, the whole vibe of the Harbourside is so relaxed, you'd have a hard time believing you are in the middle of a bustling city.

bristol clifton georgian architecture
bristol clifton georgian architecture

Over the course of our trip we also spent some time exploring the luxurious surroundings of Clifton, filled with beautiful Georgian architecture and boutique shopping, and also ventured over to Stokes Croft, a very bohemian and creative-feeling area that is absolutely full of amazing street art. We had dinner at the Canteen in Stokes Croft with my cousins, and sat outside admiring the breakdancing Jesus mural (Google it!) and a Banksy piece. The food was delicious and really reasonably priced, and there's live music in the evenings - definitely a spot to try if you're in the area!

bristol full moon hostel street art
bristol street art graffiti

Overall I absolutely fell in love with Bristol. I'm not great with new places, I find it really hard to settle and feel comfortable due to my anxiety, but I felt very peaceful there. It felt like absolutely everyone was having a great time - soaking up the sun, congregating on the harbour walls or spread out on the grass in front of the city hall. Everywhere you look there's something to catch your eye, and tonnes of things to do. Our two days there didn't do it justice and I'd love to go back and see even more.

bristol wills memorial building tower
bristol cathedral

Thank you to National Express for getting us there! To get more information about travel or to book your own getaway with National Express, check out their website, Twitter, Instagram or Facebook pages!

bristol clifton suspension bridge observatory

Have you been to Bristol? Or is it on your to-visit list?

*This post was in collaboration with National Express. I was gifted travel in return for an honest and genuine review. All opinions are my own.
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10 comments

  1. Gosh, what a long way to go on a coach!! Good job they kept you entertained. I'm glad you had a fab time in Bristol - all the street art looks amazing, and I think sunshine always makes for a good trip away! :)

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    1. It was a fair old way to go, but it was worth it! Such an amazing place to visit :) xx

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  2. Bloooody hell what a long way!!! You packed loads into your time in Bristol though and I'm so pleased you got the weather for it - its an incredible city and the sun makes it look its best for sure! Next time you'll have to pop over the river to cardiff........

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  3. These photos are gorgeous, I’ve never been to Bristol but it looks lovely! That is a REALLY long journey. I bet Scotland is gorgeous but it’s such a long way to everywhere. I’ve never been on a National Express coach but it’s something I’d definitely consider they look so comfy!

    Jenny
    http://www.jennyinneverland.com

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  4. That is almost as bad as our 13+ hour trip back from Cornwall on the coach last year, I feel your pain! Ahaha.

    The photos in this are gorgeous - especially the one of Blair on the coach! I’m glad you had such a fab time though, the bridge looks beautiful. Bristol is somewhere I’ve never been and I might have to add it to my UK bucket list now.

    I definitely need to travel to a few more places this year.

    With love, Vee xo

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  5. I love your photos of Bristol! It looks like such a lovely city. I completely understand what you mean about just enjoying the vibe of a city - I love to just wander and do this as well. Also a big fan of the National Express - they are so convenient and offer such good prices!

    Amy x
    www.whatamysays.com

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  6. Wow, Bristol looks absolutely stunning, you certainly lucked out with the weather - look at those skies! I’m so glad that you finally made it to your dream UK city destination, next time make it Leicester though, yeah? ;-)

    I definitely feel your pain with train prices, they really are extortionate so the coach seems like a way better option! I have travelled on National Express coaches a few times in the past, they’re definitely the cheapest way of me getting to London and it’s very nice to sit back and have someone do the driving for you! I also took the coach when I went to Leeds for the bloggers awards and again when Chris and I went to Sheffield for a cheese festival, on every occasion it was a good experience with National Express and I’m glad that was true of your journey too! The VUER app is fab on-board, I’ve used it a few times and it helps wile the hours away!

    As for Bristol itself, the harbour side area looks beautiful, I’d have loved to go onboard that pirate-y ship although I’m not sure I’d be up for sailing the Atlantic in it... Leave that one to Blair, eh! Maybe on your next trip to Bristol you’ll have to take me with you! Although since National Express do coaches to the continent as well, we could even go a bit further afield! I had no idea that they offered services to Amsterdam, that’s something I’ll be seriously looking in to!

    Abbey ❤️ http://www.abbeylouisarose.co.uk

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  7. It's been years since I used National Express but they certainly didn't look like that the last time I travelled by coach, wow! Your photos of Bristol are gorgeous, I know you were lucky (or not if you got burned?!) with the weather but you have the most amazing eye for a lovely shot - as your Instagram feed also bears witness! We go to Bristol quite frequently because of the Aquarium and We The Curious centre, both of which Flora loves. A harbour cruise is on our list to do this summer, even more so now I've read your write up :) And I love that you snapped my favourite Banksy shot - how cool is it that someone has graffitied his graffiti? Fab review, Beth, next time please make it over to Bath as well! xx

    Lisa | www.lisasnotebook.com

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  8. I love National Express! I used them in January when I went to Cardiff. I have never had a bad experience with them...

    Your photos are lovely - I now want to go and visit Bristol for myself.

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  9. I've never been to Bristol but the photos you've take there look lovley, it seems the town has a great history! I will definitely be having a nose on the National express website to see whether they depart from my area :)

    Kate | http://www.katelovesx.co.uk/

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