What is Bristol’s Old City?

If there’s one thing that Bristol isn’t short on it’s history, and a huge amount of the city’s past can be discovered within the historical boundary of the Old City.

In medieval times Bristol city was centred around the crossroads of Corn Street and High Street, and this is where the edge of the Old City now lies. If you wander around this area today you can see plenty of medieval architecture, particularly the churches of St Stephen and St Nicholas. There is also an array of Georgian and Victorian buildings in the Old City such as The Exchange and the old bank buildings on Corn Street and Clare Street. The most obvious, and perhaps most breathtaking, example of historical architecture in the Old City is at the remaining entrance of St John’s Gate.

Trade has always been an integral part of Bristol, from wool and leather in the 18th Century to tobacco and chocolate in the 20th, and certain key imports have been immortalised in road names around the Old City: Wine Street was given its moniker in the early middle ages when wine was the biggest import in Bristol, coming in from France, Spain and Portugal, and Corn Street was named in the 13th Century as it was where corn was traded (a corn exchange was also held on the street from 1813).

Today trade is still a huge aspect of the Old City. St Nicholas Market, home to a brilliant array of independent traders, can be found in The Exchange building. Corn Street and Clare Street are filled with bars and restaurants galore such as Cosy Club, San Carlo and Franco Manca. The Commercial Rooms, which can be found in a grand 17th century building that was originally a gentleman’s club, also takes pride of place on Corn Street. The Bank Tavern has stood tucked away on John Street since the 1800’s and has survived “an alarming number of riots, two world wars, Bristol City Council town planners and Thatcher”, whilst The Rummer is a contender for the cities oldest running inn, dating back to 1241. If it’s a late night you’re after head to St Nicholas Street for The Mother’s Ruin and Mr Wolf’s – two institutions in the Bristol nightlife scene, or The Doghouse on St Stephens Street for underground music events on the weekend.

The best way to discover the Old City today is on foot, however without the original walls to guide you it is easy to miss some of the hidden lanes and alleys. Luckily, The Walled City Walk has been put together which combines a convenient route with plenty of information on the area and its history. If you’re feeling more daring keep your eyes peeled on the Explorer’s Connect website, a not-for-profit organisation run by adventure-seekers who have hosted canoe tours of Bristol Old Cities underground waterways in the past.