Weather threatening a downpour during your upcoming visit to Bristol? Don’t worry, there’s plenty to do in and around town when the heavens open, including a whole host of indoor and under-cover family attractions that are sure to appeal to old and young alike.
Straddling the River Avon in southwest England, Bristol has earned a world-spanning reputation for its progressive culture and outstanding maritime heritage. But bars, restaurants, and art galleries aside, there’s no shortage of family-friendly activities here, many of which are ideal for those rainy-day visits.
So, where should you head to when the rain clouds gather? Here’s our complete guide on things to do in Bristol for families when it’s raining.
Where else to start than Bristol Aquarium? Sure, we may be biased, but for our money, this is the best family attraction in Bristol for wet weather days – or any day for that matter!
Fully covered and brimming with colourful marine animals, Bristol Aquarium is sure to delight the little ones, helping them forget all about the drizzly conditions outdoors. And with seven unique exhibits to explore, there’s certainly plenty to keep you all occupied, no matter how long the showers last.
From the Sunken Shipwreck to the Bay of Rays, each zone of Bristol Aquarium is designed to mimic habitats found in our seas and oceans, all while showcasing the incredible animals that live there. Expect to see everything from the smooth-hound shark to the Atlantic wreckfish, before paying a visit to the Learning Lab to get up close to the aquarium’s cute-as-a-button nursery displays.
Tickets to Bristol Aquarium are available to book in advance on our website and it is possible to pay on the door if you’ve experienced a sudden downfall! If rain is forecast during your visit to Bristol and you’re keen to visit the aquarium, we’d strongly advise you to prebook, as lots of people may have the same idea.
If you’re looking to stay clear of the bad weather for a good few hours, heading to the theatre for a mid-afternoon matinee is always a great option. And it just so happens that Bristol is home to one of the largest and most successful theatres outside of London – the irreplaceable, irresistible Hippodrome.
Opening its doors in 1912, the Bristol Hippodrome instantly became one of the largest theatres with one of the largest stages in the country. Since then, it’s earned a reputation for its award-winning stage shows and musicals, many of which come straight from London’s West End to the affectionately named “Bristol West End Theatre”.
Recent big-name shows to grace the boards of the Hippodrome include The Lion King, The Mousetrap, Shrek the Musical, and Annie, with tickets still available throughout 2023. There are, of course, plenty of child-friendly matinee showings too – ideal if you need to keep the kids occupied when the weather has taken a turn for the worse.
Check out the official Bristol Hippodrome website for further information and to book your tickets.
Bristol Museum & Art Gallery
If you’ve done Bristol Aquarium and are keen to keep the engaging, kid-friendly fun coming, the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery should be next on your rainy-day hitlist. Located in the heart of the city, this expansive visitor centre offers a huge array of exciting exhibits, many of which are interactive – enough to keep even the most restless of young daytrippers busy.
Remarkably, Bristol Museum features over 20 unique gallery spaces, each packed to the rafters with incredible objects and exhibits. While younger visitors may not find every gallery as exciting as the last, there is still enough here to occupy families for hours on end.
Young dino enthusiasts are well catered for here, with the ferocious and frankly terrifying “Sea Dragons” exhibit offering a snapshot of what might have been found swimming off Bristol’s shores millions of years ago.
Elsewhere, a dedicated exhibit for under-fives called Curious offers a perfect blend of performance, games, and interaction, while the Egyptology collection is ideal if the kids are currently covering the Pharaohs in school.
The Georgian House Museum
Immersive visitor attractions like Bristol’s The Georgian House Museum are always a huge hit with children, so we’d definitely recommend a visit whether it’s raining or not. This impressive site offers a life-like look at what a Bristolian manor house looked like in the 18th century, with a collection of expertly preserved and recreated rooms to explore.
Downton Abbey fan? The Georgian House Museum may have a familiar feel. Because while it can’t match the grandeur of Highclere Castle – Downtown’s original filming location – it has the same upstairs, downstairs feel. Visitors can tour the house’s grand upper chambers which were once home to Bristol’s well-heeled gentry, before descending to the lower levels where the cooks, cleaners, and chambermaids spent much of their time.
The Georgian House Museum has 11 explorable rooms in total, spread over four floors in their original configuration. Families can enjoy wandering from room to room imagining what life was like all those years ago, with special exhibits that tell the story of some of the house’s former and at times infamous inhabitants. This includes John Pinney, the original owner of The Georgian Museum, who made his fortune as a sugar merchant and slave owner.
One of our favourite family attractions in Bristol – aside from our aquarium, of course – has to be M Shed. This charming museum tells the story of Bristol from its earliest origins right up to the present day, with a wonderful collection of interactive exhibits for families to enjoy. And best of all? Much of it is under cover – ideal for those rainy afternoons that can make city breaks tricky for those with young’uns in tow.
M Shed consists of three unique galleries, each shining a light on Bristol’s curious and compelling origins. Your journey begins in the prehistoric period, with a spectacular Thecodontosaurus skeleton to marvel at, before you move through history, learning the story of the city’s proud maritime past.
Of course, the attention spans of younger visitors can wander quickly, so to solve this, M Shed offers up plenty of exhibits that keep the fun and stimulation coming. That includes working cranes, trains, and boats that can all be ridden and explored, moving audio and visual shows, and tons of interactive displays that encourage viewer participation. The result of all this leaves a lasting impression, making M Shed a must-visit destination whatever the weather.
Flying Saucers The Painting Pottery Cafe
Should the rain show no sign of letting up during your family holiday in Bristol, you and the little ones can while away a relaxing and creativity-packed hour or two at Flying Saucers The Painting Pottery Cafe.
This unique visitor centre tells the story of Bristol’s rich pottery-producing past, before encouraging you to get creative with your own wares. Visitors can spend a couple of hours designing and painting their own traditional Bristolian pottery piece, which, once fired by specialists in the cafe’s on-site kiln, is perfectly usable and the ideal souvenir to remember your trip.
No skill, tools or specialist knowledge are required to paint and design your own piece of pottery. The cafe provides everything you’ll need, and the helpful staff are always on hand to help or provide inspiration. There’s no upper or lower age limit on who can get involved in the pottery design, either, so the whole family are welcome to join in and show off their creative side.
Of course, spaces are limited at Flying Saucers, so if it’s something you’re keen to try during your visit to Bristol, it’s worth booking in advance. Pottery painting sessions are available to book in two-hour slots, ideal if the weather’s starting to look a little grim. Visit the official website to learn more.
Whatever the weather, Bristol is a fantastic place to visit for a day, a weekend or even a week, with so much to see and do indoors and out. Keen to add Bristol Aquarium to your travel itinerary? Access up-to-date visitor information about the aquarium and book your tickets.