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Bristol May 2011

One of the UK’s best kept secrets, Bristol is a modern eco-city that’s bursting with culture and picture-book charm. This month Mayfest (5-15 May, mayfestbristol.co.uk) takes place – an annual festival of contemporary theatre in collaboration with the legendary Bristol Old Vic. Anna Rutherford is our city guide

PARK STREET

This famous shopping strip leads elegantly down towards the town centre. Best travelled from top to bottom due to the incline, don’t forget to look back over your shoulder at the spectacular architecture – and occasional hot air balloon – as you descend.

SLEEP Pleasantly located at the foot of Park Street is the Marriott Royal Hotel (College Green, tel. (0)117 925 5100, marriott.co.uk, rooms from €114/£100). Nestled beside the cathedral and looking out on to a green, this charming Victorian hotel has the unbeatable combination of a central location and a swimming pool.

EAT At the top of Park Street stands one of Bristol’s newest imports, Jamie’s Italian (87/89 Park Street, tel. (0)117 370 265). Eating out is still a priority in this recession-beating city, and celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s imaginative dishes have set the locals talking. The shell-roasted Brixham scallops are the current foodie favourite.

CULTURE Just across the road from Jamie’s is the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery (Queen’s Road). With its extensive natural history collection and a Bristol biplane hanging in the foyer, this attraction is a guaranteed hit with the kids. The museum grabbed the world’s attention in 2009 when Bristol artist Banksy staged a top-secret takeover. His exhibition was a surprise not only to the city but to most of the museum’s staff. Visitors in May should drop by for the Wildlife Photographer of the Year (until 5 June).

TIP Near the bottom of Park Street, as Frogmore Street passes beneath you, look to the left to see Banksy’s 2006 gift to the city. This notorious piece of graffiti, featuring a naked man hanging out of a window, was famously saved by a public vote.

WELSH BACK

The River Avon winds its way through the city centre, bringing life and character. During the warmer months, the water coaxes both locals and visitors down to the quays, and Welsh Back adopts a European-style café culture from May to September.

SLEEP Tucked at the water’s edge is the Mercure Bristol Brigstow Hotel (5-7 Welsh Back Queen Quay, tel. (0)117 929 1030, mercure.com, rooms from €92/£80). With rooms overlooking the Avon, it’s ideal for business or pleasure.

EAT What better way to experience the harbour than to dine out on the water? The Glassboat (Welsh Back, tel. (0)117 929 0704) is a lovingly converted barge serving seasonal Mediterranean cuisine with expansive river views.

CULTURE A stone’s throw from Welsh Back stands the Bristol Old Vic (King Street). Housing the UK’s oldest auditorium, the theatre and its artistic director Tom Morris produce award- winning shows. Daniel Day-Lewis and Jeremy Irons learned their craft here, at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School.

LATER Drop into the unofficial theatre bar at Renato’s (33 King Street). Wallpapered with posters from shows gone by and popular with both cast and crew, Renato’s is a friendly, bohemian late-night hangout.

CLIFTON

Anyone with a weakness for costume drama has to discover Clifton. Set against the backdrop of the Avon Gorge and Brunel’s iconic suspension bridge, it couples spectacular Georgian architecture with breathtaking natural beauty.

SHOP The promenades of Clifton Village are dotted with exclusive boutiques, specialist shops and delicatessens. Drop into Chandos Deli (6 Princess Victoria Street) to sample the extraordinary cheese collection, or head down to the Clifton Cellars (22 The Mall) and top up your wine rack.

EAT The Clifton Sausage (7-9 Portland Street, tel. (0)117 973 1192) sits at the heart of the village. Rustic and simple, with plenty of vegetarian options and fine local ales, the Sausage serves up good grub in relaxed surroundings.

TIP For panoramic views of both bridge and gorge, head to the terrace of the White Lion Bar (Sion Hill).

INFO

Bristol International Airport is 13km south of the centre.

Bus Bristol Airport Express Flyers run every 15 minutes from the airport and call at the various city centre stops, including the train and bus stations. A single fare is €8/£7.

Taxi A taxi to the city centre costs about €25-€30/ £20-£30 and takes around 30 minutes.

Tourist office The Bristol Visitor Information Centre is at E-Shed, 1 Canon’s Road (tel. (0)117 946 2200, visitbristol.co.uk).