Bristol is a brilliant place to both live and visit. Bristol has great connections, history, big green spaces like the Downs and Ashton Court, superb shopping, fab food and a buzzing nightlife. It even has an international airport! I’m originally Bristolian so a teeny bit biased but if it’s good enough for The Sunday Times who voted Bristol the UK’s best city to live in, then it can’t be bad!
When it comes to seaside days out however, Bristol slips down the list. Despite its esturial river and seafaring history, Bristol is not known for its beaches with a boat trip round the docks as close as most visitors get to the sea. People often just jump in the car and head a few hours south down to the sand and surf paradise of North Devon instead. For families who could do without the hassle of planning and long car journeys however, there are actually plenty of seaside options right on Bristol ‘s doorstep, including the second longest stretch of golden sandy beach in Europe!
Surprised with gorgeous sunshine recently whilst visiting relatives in Bristol, a trip to the beach was very much on our and our toddler’s mind. Too hot to travel far and with only a few hours of the late afternoon to spare, we decided to consider the options closer to home and in doing so, were reminded of just how many options there are all well under an hour from Bristol city centre.
Traditional British Bucket & Spade Beach Fun at Weston-Super-Mare
Our first thoughts were of Weston-Super-Mare. Only a 30 minute drive from Bristol or 20-30 minutes on a direct train from Bristol Temple Meads, Weston-Super-Mare has long been the staple seaside resort for Bristolians. Weston-Super-Mare has all the old-fashioned traditional British beach resort entertainment – an amusement arcade on the Grand Pier, donkey rides on the beach, plenty of ice-cream and a good stretch of sand. I can still clearly remember my Grandad taking me on the beach donkeys as a child – these days they are still going strong and when not on the beach can be found taking their holidays at local petting farms.
At low-tide you have to be careful and paddling is off limits – where the sea goes out the sand of the beach gives way to mud-flats hence the local nickname ‘Weston-Super-Mud’. The mud-flats are dangerous and people and boats alike have come to grief getting stuck in these in the past.
Sand dunes & space at Burham-on-Sea
More one for an out-of-town beach, we headed a little further down the M5 from Bristol to the beach at Burnham-on-Sea. In my opinion, Burnham-on-Sea is a smaller, prettier seaside resort than more functional neighbour Weston-Super-Mare. The town itself has an attractive seafront with plenty of sand from which dogs are banned year-round. There is also a pleasant promenade for pushchair strolls, a traditional pier and boating pond. If easy access to restaurants, shops is your thing then there is no need to go any further. Burnham-on-Sea is a 40 minute drive from Bristol or the same journey by train. The train station is not in central Burnham-on-Sea however so do allow for a short bus ride to the seafront.
The beach at Burnham-on-Sea is definitely sandy – I can attest to that after being roped into a sprint triathlon here by my husband. He failed to mention until I had already daftly agreed to take part that the run was on the beach. Somehow I managed to get round the course but let’s just say that the ‘sprint’ part of the title most definitely did not apply to me!
For a bit more of a wild beach feel, follow the beach north from Burnham-on-Sea to Berrow or Brean Sands. The beach from Burnham up to Berrow and Brean is around 7 miles long in total – the second longest stretch of continuous golden sand in Europe, meaning you can still find a space on a busy summer’s day to escape Bristol .
We parked at the beach car-park at Brean, opposite the Pontin’s holiday resort. During the daytime here you can park on the beach itself but we arrived after the gates had closed (at five) so parked in the first bit of the car park the land side of the dunes. This section of the beach offers more natural beauty, with the best sunbathing spots tucked up in the shelter of the sand dunes. It is as close to a Devon beach as you will get near Bristol. There are designated play areas marked out by wooden posts at the back of the beach although families should be away dogs and horse-riders are permitted on this section of beach.
At six in the evening on the hottest day of the year so far, we had the beach practically to ourselves and could let Roo run free without worrying too much about the sun or her getting lost. Sadly the tide was out meaning no paddling or swimming. Like the rest of this stretch of coastline, the mudflats are exposed at low tide and are too dangerous to approach the sea on. If you are going to the beach here then do check the tide times before you go to avoid disappointment.
Seaside strolls and entertainment at Clevedon
For seaside strolling and a run-about for the kids close to Bristol, Clevedon is a great spot. A 25 minute drive from Bristol and with regular bus connections, it is easily accessible.
Clevedon is home to the only entirely intact Grade 1 pier in the country which has been recently restored. The promenade at Clevedon is great for a stroll with a pushchair or there is a slightly more challenging walk (for challenging read ‘it has some uphill section and a few steps’) around the headland at Poets Corner which we tried out last summer – you can find the full walk description here. There are great views back over Clevedon and the Bristol Channel.
There is no real beach at Clevedon but for the kids, marine lake provides sheltered salt-water swimming and a place to sail toy boats. The park at Salthouse Fields behind it gives room for a run-around and even a ride on a miniature train in the summer months making it a fun family trip out from Bristol.
Parks, pubs & posh pads at Portishead
Twenty minutes drive from central Bristol is the trendy town of Portishead. I remember Portishead as a bit of a sleepy place when I was growing up but these days it has seen a lot of regeneration. The marina is now a popular spot for wining and dining with plenty of reaturants and pubs to choose from. If the rumours are true then its bustling night-life has been lent a helping hand by several Bristol professional footballers who are reputed to have taken up residence in the posh new pads overlooking the waterside.
Again, Portishead has no beach to speak of but does offer an eclectic seaside vibe and wonderful views over the Bristol Channel. Once you’re done with checking out the fancy yachts in the marina and treating yourself to a gourmet fish and chips, there are the more traditional pleasures of Portishead Lake Grounds to enjoy. With fantastic sea views, plenty of room to run and even a pitch and put, the Lake Grounds have plenty to offer young families. As a child I particularly remember hankering after a remote controlled boat to sail on the lake here – these days you can still take your toy boats or hire the real thing to take for a row. For land-lubbers you can buy seed to feed the ducks, try out the trampolines, grab a snack at the cafe or explore the playground.
Where are your favourite beach and seaside days out near Bristol? Let me know if I’ve missed anywhere!