by Spike Island

Bristol is a city constantly buzzing with activity, from an impressive number of popular festivals occurring throughout the year to a food scene that leaves even the most seasoned foodie spoilt for choice. Rumour has it that internationally celebrated graffiti artist Banksy hails from Bristol, with several of their works as well as that of other street artists scattered around the city. Beyond street art, the city boasts tons of contemporary art organisations and venues that champion inclusivity and education.

One such organisation is Spike Island, an international arts centre dedicated to celebrating the very best in contemporary art. A short walk from the harbour and other Bristol attractions SS Great Britain and the M Shed, Spike Island is free to visit. Every year, they programme up to ten exhibitions in their museum-sized gallery spaces, and commission new and innovative work from contemporary artists at key stages of their career. They also host a series of talks, film screenings and workshops that can deepen your engagement with the artworks on display, introduce you to a new writer or thinker, or help you develop a new skill. Spike Island also provides a home to a community of over 70 artists, designers, makers, arts organisations and creative businesses.

In addition to Spike Island, the following are a selection of cultural hotspots to see and events to attend, as curated by Jane Faram, Communications Manager at Spike Island.

Art Trail

Spike Island

A great place to discover and connect with art, feel inspired and learn something new – especially if you’re a fresher in Bristol. Exhibitions are always free to enter, and the café is also a warm and welcoming space with free WiFi. Take advantage of concessionary tickets (or often free tickets) to their regular talks, workshops and more, all year round within the unique building (a former tea packing factory) which is also home to a dynamic community of over 70 artists, makers, companies, designers, and UWE Fine Art studios.

Caraboo Projects

Established in 2018 by a group of recent Fine Art graduates – but it’s already firmly on Bristol’s art map. Their regular programme of ambitious exhibitions and events are well worth a look, ranging from drawing workshops, screenings, and scratch labs for artists.


Arnolfini is located right on the harbourside and opened way back in 1961. Since then it has since presented pioneering visual art, performance, dance, film and music through exhibitions and events. It has just announced a brand new programme for 2019-2020, following a new partnership with UWE Bristol. It also has an exceptional bookshop and a bar hosted by Bristol Beer Factory – and when the sun comes out, its waterside area is famously magnetic for summer socialising.

Bristol Museum and Art Gallery

The Bristol Museum and Art Gallery house a broad range of collections, from rare birds’ nests to African sculptures, and presents contemporary exhibitions including recently Andy Holden and Peter Holden’s exhibition Natural Selection which explored the intertwined themes of nesting and creativity in birds. Coming up is an exhibition of modern sculpture and another exploring witchcraft and superstition in the modern age.


The RWA (short for Royal West of England Academy) offer free entry to Bristol students so you can enjoy an interesting mix of contemporary and historical exhibitions, including an annual Open Exhibition.


As you probably know, Bristol is a city filled with street art. Some are well renowned such as the Banksy pieces (including one at the back of Spike Island) and every year the street art festival Upfest refreshes the walls of Bedminster’s shops and houses.


Upfest is Europe's largest live street art and graffiti festival. Don’t miss the very recently painted and internationally applauded portrait of climate change activist Greta Thunberg on the wall of the Tobacco Factory. The festival returns in summer 2020.

Royal Fort Gardens

Open every day of the year.

The University of Bristol has some incredible spaces to explore including Royal Fort gardens which is home to two public art pieces definitely worth seeing: Hollow by Katie Paterson (open during daylight hours. Opening times may vary during the summer months and holidays are at the discretion of the University of Bristol) and Follow me by Jeppe Hein.

Arnos Vale Cemetery

Yes, we are recommending a cemetery! Arnos Vale is a 45-acre leafy and tranquil escape from the city – it’s one of Britain’s best examples of a Victorian garden cemetery, free to visit, has a delicious café, and also an eclectic events programme including yoga and ‘murder mayhem and mystery’ tours.

Sweet study spots

Redland Library

A warm and welcoming community library in the Cotham area of Bristol, offering free space to work with WiFi and a small range of computers that are open access. It’s a nice place to go for a new perspective if you fancy a change from the university scene.

There are so many great cafés around Bristol to nestle in and get through your reading. Here’s a short selection, all with an arty-ethos, offering free WiFi and good coffee:

The Canteen at Hamilton House

Toast Room on Bedminster Parade

Exchange Café on Old Market

Café Kino on Stokes Croft

Rough Trade

Hosting a nice and small café/bar, this independent music store is located right in the city centre and is a great place to quietly read, write, and then catch some live music.

Alternative and art cinemas

Always offering a diverse programme of film screenings, the Watershed (located right by the harbour) often have live Q&As with directors and artists. And in the heart of Stokes Croft, the non-profit cinema Cube Microplex is run by a passionate community of volunteers. The uniquely intimate space also hold different events like live storytelling, comedy and music. Keep your eyes peeled for artists’ film and video screenings at other arts institutions, including Arnolfini, Spike Island and The Brunswick Club.


The Cube Microplex

Adornments for your calendar

Open Studios at Spike Island

8 to 10 May 2020

10,000 people flood through the doors at Spike Island to see behind the scenes of artists’ studios. Adding to the buzz of the weekend, there’s a programme of performances, installations, workshops and talks, and some of Bristol’s best street food traders host pop-ups.

Bristol New Music

April 2020

Bringing together an exciting array of eclectic artists presented venues across the city, the festival promises to return in spring.

Encounters Film Festival

September 2020

This is the UK’s leading short film, animation and virtual reality festival. It’s well worth exploring the programme and discovering the work of filmmakers from around the world.

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