First published 07.06.2018; last updated 08.01.2023
Bristol has a huge number of pubs and a decent number of breweries. If you’re in town for a few days or hours, where should you go to drink?
We’re asked for advice on this all the time and decided that, rather than keep typing up the advice in emails and DMs, we’d give it a permanent home.
We haven’t been to every pub in Bristol, although we’re not far off having been to 281.
We’ve visited most of those in the city centre, and most several times.
In general, Bristol pubs are pretty easy to find, and fairly easy to read.
Chain pubs look like chain pubs, craft beer bars look like craft beer bars, and so on.
You won’t go too far wrong following your instincts.
There are lots of hidden gems in the suburbs and up side streets, too, so do explore.
And if you want to keep things loose there are some decent crawls with varied and interesting pubs:
- St Michael’s Hill – Zero Degrees, The Open Arms, The Robin Hood, The White Bear (sometimes), Beerd, The Highbury Vaults.
- Gloucester Road – too many to list but start at The Inn on the Green and keep going until you’re done, or in town.
- Kingsdown – The Hare on the Hill, The Hillgrove Porter Stores, The Kingsdown Vaults, The Green Man, The Highbury Vaults.
- King Street – Small Bar, The Royal Naval Volunteer, The Beer Emporium, Llandoger Trow (German lager specialists), The Old Duke (jazz), among others.
- Bedminster – there are a lot of pubs in Bedminster, from very down-to-earth to super-crafty. Standouts The Old Bookshop (see below), Alpha Bottle Shop & Tap, and the Bristol Beer Factory taproom.
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Our former local
We’re very fond of the The Drapers Arms, 447 Gloucester Road, Horfield, BS7 8TZ, and find it hard to be objective but here are some facts and figures: it is a former CAMRA local pub of the year; serves at least five local ales direct from the cask; is open from 5pm to 9:30pm on weekdays, and 4pm to 9:30pm on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. It usually opens at midday when Bristol Rovers are playing at home on Saturday. It’s a bus ride from the city centre, or about an hour’s walk.
A while ago we talked about the importance of giving straightforward answers. With that in mind here are a couple of quite different pubs we’d particularly recommend if you’ve got a couple of hours spare in the centre, between trains and meetings.
The Barley Mow, 39 Barton Rd, St Philips, BS2 0LF – definitely a pub, but modern; large range of sensibly chosen keg beers; several cask beers, often including Moor and Bristol Beer Factory; a short walk from the central station at Temple Meads. It can get busy around rush hour.
The Llandoger Trow, King Street, city centre, BS1 4ER – a Bristol classic that nearly shut and has now been revived. It has a great range of German and Czech beer; decent cask ale, often from out of town, as well as local stuff; and interesting keg beers, usually including a sour beer or two. If you can’t find something to drink here, you’re being fussy.
The Bank, 8 John St, city centre, BS1 2HR – our suggestion for a central, old-school, back-street pub. On an alleyway next to a churchyard along the line of the old city wall this small pub has the feel of a local boozer despite its central location. Small range of local ales. (But busy on Sundays when it serves its famous roast.)
We’re talking here about the kind of place with only one, two or three hand-pumps, one of which is permanently dedicated to Bass, Courage Best, Butcombe, or something along those lines; which is, or feels, antique brown; and which, if you’re lucky might have ham rolls in clingfilm or a pork pie to eat.
The Merchants Arms, 5 Merchants Road, Hotwells, BS8 4PZ – a small, basic 19th century beerhouse with partitions, pork pies and soft light through etched windows. Check whether Bristol City are playing at home, though, because it’s tiny and gets busy on matchdays.
The Kings Head, 60 Victoria Street, BS1 6DE – it nearly shut for good, now it’s back under the ownership of local brewery Good Chemistry who know what a good pub should feel like. The interior is historic with mirrors and gilded signs. The beer is a small but pleasing mix of cask ales (Fyne Ales Jarl has been spotted) and keg. They also have 1930s-style ten-sided pint glasses.
The Orchard, 12 Hanover Place, Spike Island, BS1 6XT – a genuine backstreet pub hidden away behind the SS Great Britain. It specialises in cider (hence the name) but also has decent beer and a vast range of good value bar snacks. The photo above is from a few years back. In 2023, if anything, it’s even more ‘pubby’.
The Open Arms, 24 St Michael’s Hill, Kingsdown, BS2 8DX – formerly The Colston Arms. A multi-room pub, one bare, one fancy, with a great pint of Butcombe and a varied crowd heavily seasoned with medical types.
Highbury Vaults, 164 St Michael’s Hill, Kingsdown, BS2 8DE – a characterful, truly broken-in Young’s pub with invariably excellent Ordinary, alongside other beers. Wonderfully cosy in winter, decent yard for summer drinking. Formerly the flagship pub for defunct brewery Smiles.
For beer and other things
Hillgrove Porter Stores, 53 Hillgrove Street North, Kingsdown, BS2 8LT – a Dawkins house and one of our favourite pubs with an atmosphere of Bohemian decay, plenty of beers to choose from across all formats, and (slightly out of leftfield) very superior Japanese nibbles from Kansai Kitchen.
The Hare on the Hill, 41 Thomas St, Cotham/Kingsdown, Bristol BS2 8LX – a few doors down, a warm corner pub with local cask ales, local keg craft and a fridge full of Belgian and German stuff, to boot. A favourite of ours.
The Swan With Two Necks, 12 Little Ann St, St Jude’s, Bristol BS2 9EB – relaunched in 2019 with a light facelift. It still feels as if it’s on a backstreet in Manchester or Birmingham, surrounded by factories and flats. The keg list is stronger than the cask but there’s always something good to drink and a cool, laidback atmosphere.
The Volunteer, 9 New Street, Old Market, BS2 9DX – a pub you’re unlikely to stumble upon, tucked behind blocks of flats, with an atmosphere somewhere between hip and hippyish, and a small but varied range of draught beers.
Grain Barge, Mardyke Wharf, Hotwells, BS8 4RU – a pub on a boat with views over the water and across to the SS Great Britain. A long-time favourite of ours with a range of Bristol Beer Factory beers on cask and keg, and in bottles, plus guests. Lots of eating goes on but isn’t compulsory.
Strawberry Thief, 26 Broad St, city centre, BS1 2HG – a somewhat convincing attempt to recreate a Belgian cafe in Bristol helped no end by the view out over the Art Nouveau Everard Printworks building. Mostly imported beer so can be pricey but there are bargains to be had, and more mainstream local ales and lagers if Tripel isn’t your thing. (Notes.)
The Portcullis, 3 Wellington Terrace, Clifton, BS8 4LE – a pub with an even more convincingly Belgian atmosphere that could have gone in a couple of other sections in this guide: it’s also a ‘proper pub’ and ‘neighbourhood standout’. Extremely cosy with a well-chosen range of Belgian beer on draught and in bottles, plus cask ale from people like Dark Star.
The Elmer’s Arms, 53 Old Market St, Bristol BS2 0ER – sort of a micropub, sort of a bar, with beers from people like Lost & Grounded and usually some hip mid-20th-century music occurring. Here’s more about our experience drinking there.
Snuffy Jacks, 800 Fishponds Road, Fishponds, BS16 3TE – another of Bristol’s four micropubs, looking out onto a busy artery road. It has a bank of guest ales, tending towards the pale’n’hoppy on our visits, and a good atmosphere when busy. Hours limited: 15:00-22:00, Weds-Sat, 12:00-17:00 Sun.
The Good Measure, 2b Chandos Road, Redland, BS6 6PE – the in-town tap for local brewery Good Chemistry. Minimal but not sparse, with a small but carefully chosen selection of keg and cask beers, often including things like Timothy Taylor Landlord – a real statement of intent alongside the hazy IPAs.
The Old Bookshop, 65 North St, Bedminster, BS3 1ES – looks like a cafe with lots of light but has an astounding range of beers from Belgium, Germany and the UK. They’re not cheap but they’re served with such reverence that it feels like good value. The Indian street food is good, too.
The Plough, 223 Easton Road, Easton, BS5 0EG – a large backstreet pub just off the Bristol-Bath cycle path. Hippy vibes, St Pauli obsession, pickled onion monster munch, and a sensible beer range for the location.
The Annexe, Seymour Road, Bishopston, BS7 9EQ – a strange pub in a permanent temporary structure behind its twin pub, the Sportsman. Social club tendencies but very pubby nonetheless with an outstanding line-up of classic ales: Hophead, London Pride, Landlord as standard, and occasional guests. Good value pizzas, all the sports.
The Oxford, 120-122 Oxford Road, Totterdown, BS3 4RL – community local, cult favourite, and Good Beer Guide regular. Students and elderly ska-fans on one memorable visit, with Bristol Beer Factory milk stout on cask.
BrewDog, 58 Baldwin St, city centre, BS1 1QW – it’s a BrewDog bar, with all that entails, but the beer range is wide, the service efficient, and the view positively Parisian.
Zero Degrees, 53 Colston St, city centre, BS1 5BA – the interior might be rather sterile but the beer is simply very good these days, especially the takes on classic Continental styles. The view from the roof terrace is pretty spectacular, too.
The Old Fish Market, 59-63 Baldwin St, city centre, Bristol BS1 1QZ – a flagship Fuller’s pub in central Bristol which is corporate-feeling but has great beer and is well run.
Taprooms aren’t really our thing, and if you’re in town hunting beer you’ve probably already scoped them out, but our personal favourites are…
- Good Chemistry, 2 William St, Bristol BS2 0RG, weekends only, seasonal opening – feels more like a pub than the average taproom.
- Lost & Grounded, 91 Whitby Rd, Brislington, Bristol BS4 4AR, weekends only – unusual focus on lager and Continental beer styles.
Finally, here’s most of that in the form of a Google Map (last updated 2018):
Don’t like our list? Write your own!