Some things just go together: rhubarb and custard, Dolce and Gabbana… and Bristol and Bath. The two south-west cities are a mere 13 miles apart, but aesthetically and vibe-wise, they are polar opposites. The ying to the other’s yang. While Bath oozes tranquility and history, Bristol boasts boundless energy and excitement – the perfect combination to keep you and your children entertained and engaged over a long weekend.
We chose Bristol as our base, staying at the Radisson Blu, which is well-prepared for young visitors. Children are presented with an activity pack on arrival, complete with colouring pages, pencils and a word search, to keep them occupied while you settle into the room.
There are interconnecting rooms available, as well as travel cots, and the floor to ceiling windows have spectacular views over the harbour.
Find out more at radissonblu.com
What to do in… Bristol
Brunel’s SS Great Britain
Petite pirates will be enchanted by this majestic ship that dates back to 1843 and is one of the most important historic ships in the world.
You can spend hours exploring below deck, the first class quarters, the kitchens and the dining rooms. It’s all laid out exactly as it would have been back in the day, complete with hollering chefs, clucking chickens and even a vomit-scented medical room that gore loving youngsters will love. Check out the captain’s cabin to see how the master of the ship lived, then head up to the top deck where the bravest among you can climb the rigging for unrivalled views of the city. If you really want to embrace the nautical theme, travel there by ferry boat from the centre of Bristol.
Tickets are £14 for adults, £8 for children aged 5-17, free for under-5s. Various family tickets available. ssgreatbritain.org
If you’re more of a land lover, M Shed could be right up your street. Housed within a 1950s dockside transit shed, it’s an innovative museum that tells the history of the city through the stories of people who helped shape it.
There are regular chances to ride on the working exhibits – trains, boats and cranes – and you can pick up a Family Explorer kit to take a look at things through binoculars or a magnifying glass. The museum currently has 12 skeletons from Bristol and London on display, from across 2,000 years of history, each with its own story to tell.
Free entry, find out more at bristolmuseums.org.uk/m-shed
If you’ve got a budding Steve Hawking on your hands, you do not want to miss all that this science centre has to offer. Think live shows, the UK’s only 3D planetarium and countless interactive activities. I visited on a school trip aged 10, and it was just as magical this time round.
Even science-phobic youngsters will find something to pique their interest – the hands-on activities are miles away from the mind-numbing school lessons.
For summer 2017, the centre is hosting the Festival of What-If?, a six-week celebration of what it is to be curious that will be tackling some of children’s big questions in life.
Entry from £15.30 for adults, £9.90 for children, under-3s go free. at-bristol.org.uk
Discover the wonders of the deep, including sharks, seahorses and breathtaking tropical fish, as well as checking out the giant botanical house, known as the Urban Jungle.You can find hundreds of exotic plant and tree species from around the world – there’s much more to this place than simply trying to find Nemo (though that is an ideal way to keep children entertained!.)
Entry costs £14.75 for adults and teenagers, £9.75 for children aged 3-12, free for under-3s. bristolaquarium.co.uk
What to do in… Bath
The Roman Baths
This should be the first port of call for anyone visiting Bath for the first time.Travel back in time 2,000 years to get a feel for what Roman lives were like, from the kinds of people you’d find in the baths to how they dealt with thieves back in the day.
The baths are the site of Britain’s only hot spring, and not only is it a sight to behold, it’s super hard not to want to dive in and luxuriate in the waters.Costumed characters roam about the place ready to answer any questions young visitors might have, and you’re also armed with an electronic guide which tells you all about what you’re seeing. There’s a children’s setting on there too, keeping the information light and engaging for those under 10.
Entry from £15.50 for adults, £9.80 for children aged 6-16, under-6s go free. romanbaths.co.uk
Bath City Sightseeing Bus Company
After a busy morning walking Bath’s beautiful cobbled streets, you’ll be ready to take the weight off your feet and be driven around what is undeniably one of the most breathtaking cities in the country. The Bath City Sightseeing Bus Tour takes about 50 minutes and you can hop on and off at either 17 or 21 stops depending on which route option you pick, making it the perfect way to discover the city and the iconic attractions with children.
On the bus you’ll be joined by a knowledgeable and enthusiastic tour guide, ready to tell you all about Bath’s rich history, as well as interesting, bizarre and often surprising facts about the city. We were all chuckling away at the anecdotes the whole time.
Tickets from £15 each. citysightseeing.com
The Edge is a 10 minute drive out of the centre of Bath, but a world away from its history, fusing together family workshops, plays and many many more activities into an art and creativity hub. This summer, The Brutalist Playground exhibition takes up residency – a quirky take on the sprawling concrete playgrounds from the post-war era, recreating the playgrounds from foam materials, for people young (and young of heart) to play on to their heart’s content. Just try and keep us off the merry-go-round!
The centre has different activities each and every weekend, so be sure to check out what’s on when you’re in the area.
Free entry, edgearts.org
The American Museum
Housed at Claverton Manor, just a short walk from The Edge, is the American Museum in Britain – the only museum outside the United States to showcase the decorative and folk arts of America.The permanent collection includes more than 200 historic American quilts, exceptional pieces of Shaker furniture, Native American objects, and 200 historical maps of the New World starting from the 12th century and stretching through the Renaissance.
If that sounds a bit stuffy, it’s really not – there are lots of chances for kids to handle cool objects and dress up as a pioneer, pilgrim or cowboy. You can also borrow a Museum Explorer Backpack to enhance your trip around the exhibits – there are three types, designed for different age groups. The grounds in which the museum is set are spectacular – think rolling hills and green fields as far as the eye can see – so let the children have a run around while you drink in the views.
Entry costs £12 for adults, £6.50 for children aged 5-18, under-5s go free. Family ticket (2 adults and up to 5 children) £28.50. americanmuseum.org
The Egg Theatre
Round off your day in Bath with a visit to The Egg, an award-winning theatre for young people at Theatre Royal. It hosts a fantastic programme of shows, including events at the National Trust’s Prior Park. We saw a mesmerising outdoor performance there that involved us traversing the grounds, which had been transformed into an enchanted forest, complete with tree acrobats and a harpist. The children in the audience were absolutely enthralled, and even the adults couldn’t help but be swept up in the magic of it all.
Find out what’s coming up at theatreroyal.org.uk
- Travelling between Bristol and Bath could not be easier.
- We caught the train, which took just 12 minutes, but you can also take the bus. First Bus offers group ticket across the two cities which gives you unlimited travel from just £13 a family.
- Hiring bikes is another option and you can take pit stops at the Avon Valley Railway, a beautifully restored Victorian station, and Warmley Waiting Room, a sweet café in an old station waiting room with a Tardis ‘Dr Who’ Loo.
- Allowing for traffic, driving takes about 45 minutes, while if you’re in no hurry, take a look at the various cruises available along the River Avon.