Bristol is wonderfully placed for great road trips. It’s nestled in countryside comprising rolling hills and plunging gorges, with some of the UK’s most famous monuments and landmarks to visit. This is the place to go to explore the beauty of the west country. Wales isn’t far away either – you can take a drive over the River Severn and be there in short order. But you don’t have to go all the way there. Here are some attractions that you can easily reach for day trips with your Bristol hire car.
1. Berkeley Castle
- Distance from Bristol: 20 miles
- Travel time from Bristol: Just under 30 minutes
- Suggested route: Take the M5 directly north
- Great for: History buffs / General tourists
This is one of the most fabled historic castles in England. Built in the 12th century, its walls have seen a lot since then. Sir Francis Drake was in residence here for a while, and it’s also where King Edward II was imprisoned after Mortimer invaded England in 1326.
The current generation of the Berkeley family still lives here, so only a portion is open to the public, but there’s a lot of history to explore inside, nonetheless. The castle was also used as a filming set for TV period dramas, such as Wolf Hall and Poldark.
SIXT’s top tip: Have a look at the events programme at the castle. There’s usually plenty going on, including Medieval sword fighting exhibitions.
- Distance from Bristol: 13 miles
- Travel time from Bristol: A little over 30 minutes
- Suggested route: Take the A4 onto Bath Road
- Great for: All tourists
It would be remiss to consider day trips from Bristol and not make the drive to one of England’s most historic and attractive cities, Bath. You’ll virtually stumble over Roman ruins, including the famous baths themselves.
The entire city was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the 1980s, with its well-preserved Georgian buildings and the ornate Bath Abbey, renowned for its stained glass windows that are more than 400 years old.
SIXT’s top tip: English literature aficionados can visit The Jane Austen Centre, in the middle of Bath, also in an old Georgian townhouse.
3. The Cotswolds
- Distance from Bristol: 55 miles
- Travel time from Bristol: About 1 hour
- Suggested route: Travel straight through on the M5
- Great for: Nature lovers / General tourists
The Cotswolds is an area home to some of the prettiest little villages in south-west England. You can take a day trip and drive through them all, stopping to stroll around, grab a bit to eat, or shop for souvenirs.
Castle Combe Is your typical Cotswolds village, a favourite place for shooting period dramas. It’s home to some old traditional English pubs. Bourton-on-the-Water is known as the “Venice of the Cotswolds” and has lots of fascinating little boutiques.
SIXT’s top tip: Make sure to visit the village of Lacock, where you’ll find several Harry Potter filming locations.
- Distance from Bristol: 35.5 miles
- Travel time from Bristol: About 1 hour
- Suggested route: Drive via the A37 onto the A362 and the B3092
- Great for: All tourists / Families with kids
Travel south from Bristol and you’ll get to the town of Stourhead. It draws thousands of tourists every year to its famous landscaped garden, which is surrounded by a gleaming lake. It’s picture-perfect scenery, especially in autumn, when the trees treat you to an exhibition of red, gold, and orange hues.
A woodland walk winds around the lake, filled with delights for children. There’s a magical grotto and recreations of classic Roman temples for them to explore.
SIXT’s top tip: If you’re a classical literature or movie fan, make sure to visit The Temple of Apollo – it was used in filming Pride and Prejudice.
5. Longleat Safari & Adventure Park
- Distance from Bristol: 29 miles
- Travel time from Bristol: About 50 minutes
- Suggested route: Drive along the A36
- Great for: Wildlife-lovers
This is an ideal destination for a day trip if you’ve hired a car in Bristol. You get to drive yourself through the whole park, with the freedom to stop and watch whenever something catches your eye.
If you don’t feel like doing more driving once you arrive, you can simply park and hop onto one of the safari buses that will take you through the entire park. If you time your visit over Christmas, you can also see the Festival of Light in Longleat itself.
SIXT’s top tip: While you’re there, visit Longleat House, which has kids’ attractions on its grounds, a maze, and a museum.
6. Brecon Beacons
- Distance from Bristol: 38 miles
- Travel time from Bristol: About 55 minutes
- Suggested route: Drive along the A421
- Great for: Nature-lovers and hikers
If you do want to visit Wales, you could drive to the nearest city of Newport. Rather continue to the Brecon Beacons, though. It’s one of the most rugged areas of the country, known for its excellent and sometimes challenging hiking paths.
Here you can hike to the highest peak in South Wales on the Pen y Fan route, or take a more relaxed option and walk to Pontsticill Reservoir with its picnic spots alongside the azure water.
SIXT’s top tip: Visit in August to catch the iconic Greenman Festival for live music, arts and culture, literature, and much more.
7. Cheddar Gorge
Distance from Bristol: 19 miles
Travel time from Bristol: Just over 30 minutes
Suggested route: Take the A38 directly there
Great for: All tourists / Hikers
Cheddar Gorge, in the town of Cheddar, is a great place to walk through the Somerset countryside or to take on tougher hikes. You can take the gorge trail all the way, or go straight to the giant caves for which the gorge is known.
This is also the site where the oldest human skeleton in Britain was found, the 9,00-year-old Cheddar Man. Cheddar Gorge is also known for the feral goat herd that roams the area.
SIXT’s top tip: Small quaint shops line the river through the town, and here you can buy locally-made ice cream or fudge, and of course, lots of cheese.
8. Slimbridge Wetland Centre
- Distance from Bristol: 26 miles
- Travel time from Bristol: About 35 minutes
- Suggested route: Take the M5, then the A38
- Great for: Nature-lovers / Families
There’s a lot to do for families with children at Slimbridge Wetland Centre. There’s always something interesting on the go, whether it’s a talk on the local birdlife or the giant Lego trails that the kids can follow. It’s a great place to mix education with nature.
The lakes are home to many types of water birds, including swans and a variety of ducks, which makes a wonderful backdrop as you stroll along. There’s plenty of wide-open space to explore.
SIXT’s top tip: Visit in winter to witness the spectacle of around 30,000 wintering geese, ducks and swans roosting and feeding.
- Distance from Bristol: 50.5 miles
- Travel time from Bristol: about 1 hour 20 minutes
- Suggested route: Follow the A36 south-east
- Great for: All tourists / History buffs
Salisbury is one of the most historic towns in the region if not the whole of England. It’s certainly one of the most significant, not least for the famous Salisbury Cathedral. Inside you’ll be able to view the best preserved original Magna Carta.
The Salisbury Museum is another must-see attraction, and you can also visit Mottisfont Abbey and Garden. Military history aficionados can go to the Rifles museum, housing artefacts such as a cannonball from the US War of Independence.
SIXT’s top tip: For a really special experience, have lunch at The Haunch of Venison pub. You’ll be eating in an establishment that’s over 700 years old.
- Distance from Bristol: 44 miles
- Travel time from Bristol: Around 1 hour 10 minutes
- Suggested route: Simply get onto the A36 and follow it
- Great for: All tourists
You might say we’ve saved the most illustrious tourist attraction that you can reach on a day trip from Bristol for last. Few need an introduction to one of the most fabled and mysterious ancient monuments on the planet.
These monoliths have baffled humanity since they were rediscovered, and all sorts of mythical experiences are associated with possibly the most famous stone circles in all of history.
SIXT’s top tip: You don’t have to pay the entry price to see Stonehenge itself. You can just walk through the surrounding countryside and get a great view if you don’t want to touch the stones.