Student life @Bristol
The University of Bristol Union (Bristol SU or BSU) located on Queen's Road is a founding member of the National Union of Students and is amongst the oldest students' unions in England. The union oversees the two media outlets of the university, the Bristol University Radio Station (BURST) and the student newspaper Epigram. In terms of student life, the union is responsible for the organisation of the annual freshers' fair, the co-ordination of Bristol Student Community Action, which organises volunteering projects in the local community, and the organisation of entertainment events and very large number of student societies. Previous presidents have included Sue Lawley and former Liberal Democrat MP Lembit Öpik. There is a separate union for postgraduate students, as well as an athletic union, which is a member of the British Universities & Colleges Sport. In distinction to the "blues" awarded for sporting excellence at Oxford and Cambridge, Bristol's most successful athletes are awarded "reds".
Culture and the Arts
From the Royal West of England Academy (RWA), Spike Island and Arnolfini to numerous smaller galleries, Bristol has a thriving art scene. A major feature is the element of surprise: Banksy’s unannounced exhibition at the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery made world headlines, and temporary galleries have a habit of springing up overnight in disused shop spaces, thanks to an initiative by Bristol City Council.
Bristol is a major centre of media production, so naturally it has a large screen or two. The city is well served by several multiplexes, plus a few smaller first-run cinemas like the Orpheus. The Watershed began as a place to see arthouse films, and has now evolved into a cultural and media venue; Arnolfini, just across the river, regularly screens foreign and independent films; and the Cube in Kingsdown presents obscure, not-so-obscure, and cult movies.
The Bristol Old Vic is the oldest and best-known of the local theatres, but it has some serious competition in the form of the Tobacco Factory, which has mounted a series of critically acclaimed Shakespeare productions and brings high-quality, independent touring companies to Bristol with new and often unusual shows. Open-air productions have become a feature of the summers – plenty of Shakespeare, but also street theatre and productions drawing on local history.
Bristol has several major museums, from traditional Victorian (Bristol Museum and Art Gallery) to 21st-century interactive (M Shed, the At-Bristol science centre, and the award-winning SS Great Britain). On a smaller scale are Blaise Castle House Museum, the Red Lodge, and the Georgian House – three historic houses where the past comes to life.
Bristol’s live music venues host every genre of music imaginable. Colston Hall has everything from symphony orchestras to solo singer-songwriters; the Fleece, the Thekla and the O2 Academy specialise in indie and alt rock acts; the Folk House and St Bonaventure focus on traditional folk and roots music; and St George’s offers an eclectic mix of classical, jazz, pop, folk, world music and everything in between
The Harbour festival
The Bristol Harbour Festival, which marked its 40th anniversary in 2011, began as a celebration of the city’s maritime heritage – and now encompasses much more. Besides the hundreds of sailing boats, tall ships and old-time craft that gather in the Floating Harbour, there are music stages, a dance stage, street theatre, water displays, food stalls, and sundry other attractions – all on, or near, the Harbourside.
The moving image gets its own spotlight at several annual events in Bristol. The Watershed holds a number of festivals and special seasons every year, including Bristol Encounters and Afrika Eye, and is one of the partners in the Slapstick Festival of silent comedy.
Bristolian palates are well served by a number of annual events that celebrate good food. The Soil Association holds its Organic Food Festival on the Harbourside every autumn; the Love Food Festival invites people of all ages into the countryside to learn about locally sourced produce and how to grow and cook their own food; and Vegfest Bristol, one of Europe’s largest vegetarian and vegan festivals.
Literary and arts festivals
Need some mental stimulation? The Bristol Festival of Ideas runs throughout the year, presenting a dizzying range of artists, writers and public figures. Jonathan Miller, Jon Ronson, Germaine Greer, Richard Dawkins, Kristin Hersh... the list is virtually endless, and everyone has their own favourite. Then there’s the Bristol Poetry Festival, the Bristol Festival of Literature, and the University’s own InsideArts festival.
Caffeine – the student’s friend – is in plentiful supply all over Bristol, with hotspots clustered around the University precinct. You’ve got your tried-and-trusted international chains, of course, and regional outlets like the Boston Tea Party, but there are also smaller-scale, more local affairs that fly the flag of independence: Café Sazz in Bedminster, Café Kino in Stokes Croft, and dozens of others.
To say that clubbers are spoiled for choice in Bristol would be putting it mildly. Close to the University precinct is the Bunker, open six nights a week and almost always packed to the rafters. Closer to the city centre is Motion, something of a legend on the underground scene and responsible for an autumn-long season of live music and DJ sets.
Pubs and bars
Bristol’s nightlife has been going strong since at least the early 17th century, when pubs such as the Llandoger Trow and The Hatchet Inn first opened. Younger establishments have sprung up in every quarter, from the classy hangouts on Park Street and the Harbourside to the older, wood-panelled pubs on St Michael’s Hill, Gloucester Road and elsewhere.
Bristol’s eateries are as diverse and international as its inhabitants: the city’s neighbourhoods often spring surprises on you in the form of funky little outposts of world cuisine. Fancy trying Greek, Polish, Nepalese, West African, Lebanese...? Close to the University are a gamut of restaurants, including famous names such as Jamie Oliver’s Italian, Wagamama, Ask, and Pizza Express.
Whatever your musical bag, Bristol has a venue for it. Some, like the Bristol Folk House or the Old Duke jazz pub, specialise in particular genres; others cover the whole spectrum. Foremost among the latter is Colston Hall, which since 1867 has hosted the likes of Sergei Rachmaninov, Paul Robeson, Duke Ellington, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, and Portishead.