Bristol’s entertainment scene is the best in the south-west. In terms of music, it’s normal for a major city to host big names, but what makes Bristol different is that they have half a dozen venues that have all hosted some of the biggest stars in the world. On top of that, they boast one of the best provincial theatres in the UK, which pulls in productions from the West End and Broadway. You can hunt down the city’s magic shows, comedy clubs or watch one of the city’s professional football clubs.
Entertainment in Bristol
The world-famous five-day Glastonbury Festival is the highlight of the calendar year when it comes to music. It attracts people of all ages from every corner of the UK and beyond. If you’re going to Glastonbury, when the festival’s finished, why not visit us in Bristol to keep the fun times going? Our Bristol South hotel is less than an hour away from Worthy Farm and a great base for you to explore the city and its live music venues.
Colston Hall is the cream of the crop. The iconic concert hall in the heart of the city centre first opened its doors in 1867, with the finest classical musicians in the world taking to its stage. It enjoyed a spell of hosting wrestling matches in the mid 20th century, then in the 1960s, it became one of the most important rock venues in Britain. Colston Hall’s list of past performers is a who’s who of era-defining musicians: The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Queen, Bob Marley, Lou Reed, Elton John, The Who and Pink Floyd. Now you know why its nickname is ‘Bristol’s home of music’.
Around the corner from Colston Hall is Bristol’s O2 Academy. It goes head to head with the Anson Rooms at the University Students’ Union in the second tier of Bristol’s live music venues. Both fit between one and two thousand people, both run popular club nights and both have hosted some huge names, including Kendrick Lamar, Gorillaz, Radiohead, David Bowie and Amy Winehouse.
The Fleece is one of the city’s gigging institutions. The venue itself is the former home of Bristol’s wool market, hence the name. It’s a miracle that it’s still standing today, as the vast majority of its neighbouring buildings were destroyed during the bombings of WWII. But it survived to become a fantastic pub and live music venue hosting Oasis, Pulp, Nirvana and Emeli Sandé. Plus, it’s just a couple of minutes’ walk away from our City Centre (Finzels Reach) hotel.
Thekla is another top place to check out. It competes with The Fleece for touring up-and-coming bands. It’s a venue unlike any other, starting life as a cargo ship. It then became the Old Profanity Showboat, hosting cabaret, comedy, plays, musicals and poetry events. Then, in the 90s and early 2000s, it transformed itself into a legendary underground nightclub – a cornerstone of Bristol’s drum and bass scene – with incredible club nights still running to this day. As far as live music goes, bands like Massive Attack, Portishead and The New York Dolls have all performed in the ship’s hull.
We’ve got one last live music venue to tell you about. It’s unlike any of the others we’ve mentioned. St. George’s Bristol is a Georgian church built in the 1820s, which has been used as a music venue since 1999. The world’s best classical, jazz, blues, folk and world music artists have played at St. George’s to sample its incredible acoustics and unique atmosphere. In fact, the acoustics are so good that it’s often used for BBC recordings.
If you like your drama and musicals, Bristol boasts one of the best provincial theatres in the country. The Bristol Hippodrome on St. Augustine’s Parade is less than a mile from our Bristol City Centre (Lewins Mead) hotel and has a stellar reputation for staging major West End and Broadway productions. It’s actually been nicknamed Bristol’s West End Theatre, having hosted Cats, Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera, We Will Rock You, Dirty Dancing and many, many more.
The theatre itself is a masterpiece of design by Frank Matcham, the most eminent theatre architect of the Victorian Era, and has a dome built into the roof above the stalls, which can be opened to reveal the sky above. If you want to find out more about the city’s most famous theatre, be sure to read our dedicated Bristol Hippodrome page.
Eminent actors also enjoy treading the boards at the Old Vic, which is nestled between the pubs of the ‘Beermuda Triangle’ on King Street. As far as celebrity testimonials go, the Old Vic’s is up there with the very best – Daniel Day-Lewis, who you could argue the case for being the greatest actor of all time, described the Old Vic as ‘the most beautiful theatre in England’. It also happens to be the longest continuously working theatre in the English-speaking world, and recently celebrated its 250th birthday. It’s the home of the revered 350-actor-strong Young Company, and is one of the best theatres around for nurturing new talent and promoting original productions. Plus, door to door, it’s little more than a minute’s walk from our Bristol City Centre (King Street) hotel.
Away from the hustle and bustle of Bristol’s city centre, south of the River Avon, you’ll find one of the city’s hidden gems, the Tobacco Factory Theatre. It’s an entirely independent theatre, which means it has the freedom to put out an exciting and far-reaching programme of productions. So, whether you want to see the classics, something more contemporary, a family show, comedy, opera, music or even puppetry, the Tobacco Factory has something for everyone. It also has a fantastic café bar, runs quiz nights, workshops, talks, and – as we mentioned on our page dedicated to Bristol shopping – has an excellent Sunday market.
Bristol’s fringe scene wouldn’t be the same without The Wardrobe Theatre. It’s a tiny 100-seater studio venue built by artists for artists. It has an uncanny ability to fund and showcase some of the most exciting talent in the city, and because of its size, you really couldn’t be much closer to the action. One of The Wardrobe’s most popular nights is their Story Slam, which takes place on the third Sunday of every month. Throughout the night, audience members take to the stage to share a true, five-minute story from their lives. You’ll laugh, you may cry; some stories cause outrage, and sometimes there simply are no words. People often talk about the catharsis of theatre, but it’s rare to experience such a potent example as Story Slam.
Video guide to Bristol entertainment
Smoke and Mirrors is a fantastic pub, comedy club and magic theatre hidden behind the Bristol Hippodrome. Every Monday, it hosts the ‘A Bunch of Japes’ comedy show, which brings some of the country’s best up-and-coming comedians to the heart of Bristol’s theatre district. As the name suggests, Smoke and Mirrors’ real raison d'être is magic. It’s the UK’s only boutique magic theatre and pub, and has hosted some of the most talented magicians in the world. Every Friday and Saturday night, you can attend The House Magicians Comedy Magic Club. It’s supremely entertaining and incredibly popular, so be sure to book your tickets in advance.
Comedy clubs don’t get much better than the Comedy Box. It’s been showcasing the rising stars of the national comedy circuit since 1994. Take a look at its list of past performers, and you’ll see household names like Peter Kay, Al Murray, Sarah Millican, Omid Djalili and Bill Bailey. The Comedy Box still takes place at its original venue; the upstairs events room of the Hen & Chicken pub in Southville. However, it also books comedians to perform at the Tobacco Factory Theatre, the Redgrave Theatre and the Old Vic, and at the very least, there’s a show on every week.
Another of Bristol’s popular regular comedy clubs is Riproar Comedy, which takes place on Friday and Saturday nights at Pryzm –the city’s largest nightlife venue. Ex-Bristol University student Matt Lucas – soon-to-be-world-famous star of Little Britain – was actually one of the club’s first gigs, although he had a night to forget and was nearly booed off the stage. In fact, the likes of Catherine Tate, Jimmy Carr, Alan Carr and John Bishop have all performed at Riproar Comedy, before their careers skyrocketed.
If you’re staying in the city in June, and you enjoy your comedy, you shouldn’t miss the Bristol Comedy Garden. It’s a fantastically funny five-day festival on the lawns of Queen Square in the absolute heart of the city. You’ll get to enjoy some of the best comedians in the country, a selection of Bristol’s best street food, plus pop-up bars and top coffee vendors.
The city’s sporting action mainly comes in the form of two professional football teams. Bristol City FC was founded in 1894 and play their matches at Ashton Gate. Only ever on the cusp of greatness, the closest City have come to a major trophy was in the early 1900s, when they were runners-up in the First Division (now the Premier League) and also finished as runners-up in the FA Cup.
Alternatively, you can watch the less competitive, less expensive Bristol Rovers. Founded in 1883, they play their matches at the Memorial Stadiumin the suburb of Horfield.