Bristol: Green And Pleasantly Off-Beat

8 August 2015
Read Time: 2.9 mins

When guerrilla artist Banksy labelled one of his most notorious pieces The Mild Mild West, he was being ironic. Bristol's not mild.

Sure, it's environmentally friendly, revelling in its tenure as European Green Capital, but you can scotch notions of a worthy, yoghurt-knitting place. That Banksy masterwork depicts a teddy bear lobbing a Molotov cocktail at riot-shielded policemen.

Bristol's a bit tasty, in both senses of the word. It's got attitude, plus an enviable array of restaurants celebrating the best local ingredients.

Bristol's Big Green Week (actually a fortnight each June) offers a host of tours, concerts, fairs and feasts.

At the rejuvenated harbourside, I mingle with stalwarts of the green movement at the City Ideas Studio, a temporary hub for events and exhibitions tied into the European Green Capital title. I ask what is it about the city that's nurtured this alternative, environmentally aware spirit.

"Bristol's slightly dysfunctional," offers Phil Haughton of the Better Food Company. "The slave trade, then the wartime bombing of the centre, obliterated part of its soul. That created an interesting energy affecting how people organise, allowing grassroots stuff to become more meaningful."

How The Grim Becomes Green

Whatever the reason, Bristol is now wall-to-wall one-offs with a green conscience. I could walk in any direction for examples but I set my compass north, ducking first into St Nicholas Market. The rear of this Grade I-listed Georgian exchange is crammed with food stalls peddling organic falafel and free range sausages.

 The old city is being renewed (images Getty)

Beyond, I traverse a formerly grim stretch that's been transformed by the See No Evil street art project. In 2012, the monoliths of Nelson Street were daubed with spectacular graffiti, and though some buildings (and paintings) are being taken down, there's plenty still to admire; Wherethewall helps you find the best with urban art tours.

On a side wall alongside the Canteen Bar, a sustainable restaurant and social space, I make out Banksy's graphic declaration of un-mildness. Graffiti seems to encapsulate the Bristol attitude. It's our city, it says. We'll paint it in hues to reflect our passion for the place – in every colour, but always green.

Within sniffing distance of St Nick's Market is Brooks Guesthouse a solicitors' office converted into sleek boutique accommodation, with rooftop glamping in 'retro rockets' – Airstream-style caravans. Doubles/retro rockets from $A160/200, including breakfast.

Over in Southville, the plain exterior of The Greenhouse belies the welcoming comfort of this award-winning B&B. Doubles from $A230 (two-night minimum stay, Fri-Sun).

Eat in a cemetery – or camp in a church. Holy Nights: Camping In A Church

Take a dip – it's just up the road. Choosing A Stroll Over A Dip In Bath

Stay Alive At A Cafe In The Cemetery

Hop over Brunel's bridge for Leigh Woods, a National Trust nature reserve which overlooks Avon Gorge. Until September 6, you can wander amid the abandoned fishing boats of Luke Jerram's melancholic art installation Withdrawn.

Arnos Vale Cemetery is part Victorian Gothic fantasy, part overgrown nature reserve. Its Atrium Cafe serves seasonal dishes and indulgent homemade cakes.

Poco, a tapas cafe-bar in artsy Stokes Croft, has won awards for its ethical eats. River Cottage alumnus Tom Hunt aims for zero waste – easy to achieve with food this delectable.

 Brunel's bequest

Birch, a relative newcomer to the Southville restaurant scene, has a small menu with dishes that change daily according to what's in season. Open Wednesday to Saturday, 6-10pm.

Hidden on the outskirts of Stokes Croft, Sky Kong Kong serves whatever its chef, Wizzy, decides to conjure up using veg from her allotment, organic local produce, and inspiration from her Korean heritage. Open Tuesday to Saturday, noon to 10pm.

The Bristol region was an early adopter in the micro- and craft-brewing boom.

Tipples To Tempt In The Beermuda Triangle

In the cavernous vaults of the Beer Emporium in the city's 'Beermuda Triangle', you'll find 24 keg and draught beers plus more than 380 bottled varieties.

Milk Thistle, behind an anonymous city-centre door, puts a twist on the prohibition speakeasy trope with the style of a gothic gentleman's club.

 We'll paint them any colour we like

The indie shops around the Christmas Steps, Gloucester Road and Stokes Croft are hot spots for intriguing prints, ceramics, jewellery and other crafts. Stokes Croft China, at the Seller's Gallery on Jamaica Street, specialises in quirky, Bristol-themed mugs.

Community collective Made in Bristol creates art, jewellery, T-shirts and homeware. Based in the Lab Shop on Harbourside during Green Capital year, it is open Friday to Sunday, 10am to 6pm. (Open every day during school holidays.)

Isambard Kingdom Brunel left Bristol a three-part legacy: the Great Western Railway; the Clifton Suspension Bridge; and SS Great Britain. The world's first iron-hulled, screw-propeller passenger steamship was completed in 1845; today, in permanent drydock alongside the Floating Harbour, she's an immersive walk-through museum.

Nearby M Shed reveals how the population shaped the environment and traces diverse storylines from the city's history. It's closed on Mondays.

Visit your local Flight Centre or call 131 600 for more advice and the latest deals on travelling to Bristol.

This article was written by Paul Bloomfield from The Independent and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

Paul Bloomfield

Paul Bloomfield is an award-winning writer, editor and photographer.