Arise, Bristol: for you are officially the most sustainable city in the UK. The artsy and diverse southwestern stalwart’s commitment to sustainability saw it grow from a Fair Trade city back in 2005 to twice being named the UK’s most eco-friendly in 2020 (by Good Move and Compare the Market). The title considered carbon emissions, green spaces, recycling and Green Party seats. Even thinking of the end of life, Bristolians can choose an environmentally friendly funeral at the bucolic 100-acre Memorial Woodlands at Earthcott Green – part burial ground, part nature reserve.
If you’re not a resident, Bristol makes for a pleasingly green city break. Arriving by train from London, electric Great Western trains whizz you to Temple Meads station in 90 minutes. Wherever in the UK you’re travelling from, you’ll arrive to the not-too-shabby sight of the castle-like Gothic Revival station added on to Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s grade I-listed original.
Bristol’s food scene reflects its diverse population that speaks an impressive 91 languages. From West Indian to Somalian and Lebanese, fine-dining to market stalls, it’s all here. The city speaks to ethics as well as ethnicity with a feast of meat-free, organic and high-welfare meat-serving independent places to eat. Unsurprisingly, Bristol achieved Gold Sustainable Food City status, thanks to restaurants such as zero-waste Poco Tapas Bar on Jamaica Street, dishing up seasonal, 90 per cent British and organic food in a recycled, reclaimed and natural setting.
The city’s newest quarter, the derelict shipyard turned independent business district, Wapping Wharf, is home to venues with a firm focus on sustainability. Close to the harbourside, adding charm to the humble shipping container, Root is an atmospheric space with an outside terrace draped with fairy lights and a world music soundtrack. Inside, the dark green ceiling nods to the glut of leafy veg you’ll find on the menu – 80 per cent of it sourced locally in summer, and always including local dairy, oil, cider and beer. Scan the QR code to reveal a small-plate-led menu spanning mainly vegetarian dishes, from malty linseed bread and beetroot chunks layered with slithers of apple and toasted hazelnuts, to warm dumplings filled with creamy ricotta and curly kale. Here, sustainability encompasses the working environment, with most of the easy-going but attentive staff, along with head chef Rob Howell, having been here right from opening day.
The small but growing raft of eco-hotels include the glamorous Bristol Hotel on Harbourside, whose stellar environmental efforts include low energy consumption – ¬its new lifts generate their own electricity – and waste (zero landfill), water recycling and staff who use public transport, cycle or walk to work. Sustainability aims include equality and diversity inclusion.
Sizing up to the city’s high eco standards, Leonardo Hotel opened last summer on Temple Way, a 10-minute walk from the station. Built from sustainable materials that reference the local industrial heritage, the red-brick and rust-coloured metal building is certified by Breeam, the international standard for sustainable construction. Light sensors keep energy use low and rainwater is reused in plush rooms with zero-waste toiletries. The inviting open-plan ground-floor space includes reception, workspace, bar and restaurant serving vegan and veggie breakfasts with on-trend mid-century modern-style pieces defining the use.
Sustainable Fashion Week takes place in Bristol this September for the second year running, which is fitting given the city’s plethora of places for second-hand clothes shopping. Urban Fox, Pink Flamingo, Clothing Xchange, Beyond Retro, Something Elsie and Vintage Thrift Store, to name a few, mix in with bog standard high-street stores in Broadmead, Park Street, Cabot Circus and, naturally, Wapping Wharf.
Which is where Frankly resides, turning a slender industrial unit into a prettily decked-out den of ethical gifts and accessories. Moving from online only to this hub of like-minded business, owner Helen Sims created a home for the candles and notebooks that hail from Bristol, some helping local charities, along with vegan soaps, recycled beads, and stationery created from fruit pulp.
Here also, Better Food sells everything from organic fruit and veg to ethical household goods with a wall devoted to refillable pretty much everything. As you’ve either walked or cycled here, rest up in the café, which serves Bristol-made Wogan coffee and uses metal straws and recycled plastic for takeaways.
Think of a green-themed activity and you can do it here, from visiting one of the city’s four urban farms to cycling – yes, Bristol is the UK’s first cycling city providing free-to-use bike pumps dotted around – and even surfing. Thirty minutes out of Bristol, The Wave is an artificial surfing lake powered by green energy, with safari-style accommodation meaning surfers don’t need to hop on an emissions-heavy flight to get catch a wave.
Housed in a former train depot, We The Curious was the first science centre in the world to declare a climate emergency, with a pledge to be carbon neutral by 2030. It has one of the UK’s most advanced low-energy installations, sustainable measures include the rooftop beehives and the largest photovoltaic (array of solar panels) system in the city. Firmly rooted in its locale, the Harbourside science and arts centre does an excellent job of entertaining all ages in an inclusive way. It drew 10,000 questions from Bristol residents for the permanent Project What If, where interactive displays pose and answer questions from “do dogs have souls?” to the increasingly relevant “will we ever find a way to prevent being ill?’”
Fares from Paddington to Bristol Temple Meads start from £20.40 one-way on GWR.
Hotel Leonardo Bristol has doubles from £109 B&B; jurysinns.com/hotels/bristol/leonardo-bristol-city