Great West Way Travel Magazine
DYNAMIC CITY CULTURE
If you're an urban adventurer, exploring the cities of the South West, out of England's buzzing capital, couldn't be easier via the Great West Way... take a journey to discover the bright lights beyond London
Take a journey to discover the bright lights beyond London
VISITORS HAVE BEEN travelling the Great West Way, visiting cities and embracing the varied culture at each place, for hundreds of years. Take your time to enjoy the diversity of each city, with its own artisan produce, independent shops, artists, museums, bars and restaurants.
A twin-city break Bristol to Bath (or Bath to Bristol) is just 12 minutes by train. Your Great West Way City Culture journey could begin simply by hopping on a train at London Paddington to Bath, (1 hour 11 minutes), or you might prefer to fly directly to Bristol airport, with direct services from over 100 destinations across Europe.
From here you could take the Airport Flyer Express Link to Bristol City Centre, Bristol Harbourside, Bristol Temple Meads Station, Bristol Bus Station, or Clifton.
Unlike many a metropolis, in Bath the pace of life is gentle. Or should that be genteel. For Bath is a dignified, fashionable sort of place. It has been since its most famous former resident, Jane Austen's day. Given that so much of the handsome golden architecture from the
Regency period remains, you might wonder if anything has changed. But spend a day here and you'll realise it's as contemporary as it is classic.
Given the compact layout of the city, and its UNESCO World Heritage status, a self-guided walking tour is highly recommended. So grab a flat white and a croissant at one of the hip cafés in the centre - Colonna & Small's perhaps - and take a leisurely stroll to get your bearings. Without too much ado you should pass sights including The Circus, Pulteney Bridge, Bath Abbey, Bath Assembly Rooms and the arc of golden homes synonymous with the city: the Royal Crescent. The latter was specifically designed to give city residents the feeling of living in the countryside.
Treat yourself to a leisurely lunch at one of Bath's cafés or a tour of Bath's culinary delights with Savouring Bath. There's a buoyant foodie scene in the city so you won't be short on options. Amid the selection of vegan Indian wraps, Filipino chicken boxes and modern British salads, you're bound to find a favourite.
Fully energised, it's time for some culture. Bath is blessed with some amazing museums. Highlights include the Fashion Museum (where you can dress up), the Jane Austen Centre (where you can meet Mr Darcy) and some very respectable art, design and history museums in the form of The Holburne Museum, Victoria Gallery and No 1 Royal Crescent - a time capsule back to the 1770s.
Some more niche options include Bath Museum of Architecture, the Museum of East Asian Art and the American Museum in Britain - the only American folk art museum outside the US is in an elevated position on the outskirts of the city.
If you're here in the summer, have a torchlit dinner at the Roman Baths. Then, tired and happy, relax back at your hotel.
There are some really interesting places to stay in Bath, ranging from the University of Bath campus in summer, just a short bus ride from the centre, to the literarythemed Tasburgh House where Jane Austen once slept.
As the ‘capital of the Southwest', Bristol has a very different feel to Bath. In some ways it more closely resembles London, with its distinct, characterful neighbourhoods to explore - from the leafy avenues of Clifton Village to the graffiti-splashed streets of Stokes Croft. Since one of Bristol's most famous sons is Banksy, start your day with a Bristol Street Art Tour.
Or, better yet, arrive early enough for brunch at one of the Harbourside cafes, and then go on one of the weekend walking tours. Choose between a heritage tour, where you explore the history of the city, or a street art tour, where you are taken to see a mix of brand new and wellpreserved artworks - including some Banksy originals.
If your legs are in need of a bit of a rest Bristol Insight will show you around their wonderful city from a seat on one of their lovely bright red buses!
You could then take a leisurely stroll around the Regency streets of Clifton Village and visit its stylish boutiques. Or head to Bristol Shopping Quarter and flit between High Street staples and one-off wonders. If retro and vintage tickle your fancy then leave some time for exploring the alternative shops of Stokes Croft and Gloucester Road – the latter boasts Europe's longest street of independent shops!
Bristol does street food lunches very well. So, depending on what day you're visiting, some options to try include St Nick's Market, The Harbourside Market and the Tobacco Factory Market. Vendors inevitably change, but there'll always be a great mix of global cuisine to try, from Jamaican curried goat to Nepalese momos. You could also check out Cargo, a cool new container development at Wapping Wharf where you can get delicious bites to grab and go, like chip-stuffed Greek wraps, fresh Indian curry boxes and melty cider and cheese toasties. When you're suitably stuffed, discover Bristol's other famous son: Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Although the Victorian engineer may not seem to have much in common with Banksy, he too was a
brave pioneer. You can visit one of his most remarkable achievements, the SS Great Britain - the world's first great ocean liner - and get a feel for how the passengers from steerage to first class experienced long voyages across the Atlantic. Included with your ticket price is the new Being Brunel exhibition, an immersive experience which takes you inside the brain of the man himself.
If you have time, venture up to Clifton Suspension Bridge - another of his projects that, sadly, he didn't live to see finished. The arts are alive in all their guises in this creative, cutting-edge city. After dinner at one of Bristol's many independent restaurants, seek some of it out. Depending on your tastes, you could catch some theatre at the Bristol Old Vic - the oldest continuously open theatre in the English-speaking world, even throughout its exciting recent renovations. You could also enjoy live music, see stand-up comedy or do something thoroughly subversive like go an immersive dining experience in a mystery location. Local go-tos for experimental entertainment include Old Market Assembly and Tobacco Factory Theatres.
If you have time, venture a little off the Great West Way to find Salisbury, a city that embraces everything arts and culture. Visit Mompesson House, the 18thcentury property featured in the all-star film version of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility (1995). There's also Salisbury Playhouse, Salisbury Museum and Salisbury Cathedral - or pop into the Old Sarum Airfield Museum where you can sit in more aircraft cockpits than anywhere else in the UK! And of course those sacred stones aren't too far away… If you're heading north, don't miss the learned university city of Oxford. Of course, it's not all lounging around in the the Bodleian Library, pretending to study. Discover some of the city's more unexpected attractions, like the Pitt Rivers Museum, full of alarming anthropomorphic artefacts, or The Eagle and Child pub, where C.S. Lewis and J.R.R Tolkien used to meet and swap stories. There's also bikes, board game cafés and strange sculptures to find - including a curious headless shark.
Did you know? Bristol has its own currency, the Bristol Pound, which helps boost local businesses. You can buy the colourful notes at the Tourist Information Centre on the Harbourside...
Or that Reading is the UK's largest town much thought of as a defacto city? Soak up the energetic atmosphere at The Oracle Shopping Centre, or visit the independent and craft stores in the nearby streets or Harris Arcade