Bristol, as anyone who lives there will tell you, loves Bristol. Aside from possibly Glasgow, I'd struggle to think of a part of the UK that is more self-congratulatory about just how sick it is. Then again, it is pretty sick. It's the city I grew up in, and even though I now live in London, it still possesses a smug hold on me. Whatever happens to me in this world, it's with alarming and inevitable regularity I find myself slumped on a Megabus,sliding off the M32, past Ikea and into the city centre, texting my mum "be with you in 5 mins".
The obvious point: Bristol has an amazing musical heritage. It's built on soundsystem culture, nurtured trip-hop, fostered dubstep, and in recent years has birthed a wealth of contemporary, and game-changing, house and techno stretching from Julio Bashmore to Livity Sound.
Bristol also has a lot of hills which, while making cycling a bit of a pain in the arse, does mean that 90% of the time you can get somewhere with a pretty great view of the city. I wonder whether this is one of the reasons it's so easy to fall in love with the place—a reminder that every wild and weird thing that is constantly going on in every club and corner is part of one wonderful whole.
It's tough to single out one club, obviously. Lakota deserves an honourable mention, if for nothing more than its place in Bristol-lore, and up and comers like the Small Horse or the Island definitely deserve your attention for the calibre of their lineups. Likelihood is you'll end up being dragged down Park Street at least once or twice, for a night of expensive Sambuca shots, lads in paint-remover-strong aftershave and girls called Tash who are studying Russian Literature dancing to "In Da Club". Try to keep these trips few and far between—they are more fun that way.
All that said, based on scale of ambition, and sheer scale, your best bet has got to be Motion. The venue lives inside an old skate park, tucked away in the murky reaches of Bristol's docks, and is a constant source of massive parties and brilliant lineups. Marble Factory, its sister venue, houses smaller one-offs for the heads, whereas Motion itself plays host to everyone from Ben Klock to Kurupt FM. It's also a weird building, as all clubs should be, full of enough back-corridors and dimly lit corners to get lost in for a whole weekend if you're not careful.
A Really Good Pub
Look, the real issue with pubs is that you normally have to choose between the sort of silent morgues the elderly litter—supping milky pints as they wait for the axe to finally fall—or polished, nouveau-rustic hellholes with a longer list of olive variations than they have beers on tap. The Christmas Steps manages to neatly sidestep all of these problems. It's a 'cool pub', if you want to call it that, but in no way compromises on that cosy-enough-to-be-your-local feel. It's a relatively new addition to Bristol, but manages to tick every box you'd want—while adding a few boxes you didn't realise you needed, and then ticking them as well. It's got great semi-regular DJs, an impossible music quiz and a great menu as well.
A Record Shop
Easy-peasy. Idle Hands. The record shop—also a label—is a sort of spiritual successor to Rooted Records, the store managed by Tom Ford (AKA Peverelist) which closed in 2010. It's a completely independent venture, and while it might appear a bit intimidatingly headsy from the outside, you'd struggle to find someone as knowledgeable behind the counter than Chris Farrell, who now runs the place. It's conveniently nestled in Stokes Croft as well, which is where you'll be spending all your time now you bloody student.
A Gig Venue
The Exchange in Old Market is definitely the place to head for gigs. It's a proper, sweaty, small venue with a healthy roster of touring acts and local bands. That said you'll probably end up at the O2 Academy on Frogmore Street more often than not. Over the years the venue has played host to everyone from The Darkness to Odd Future.
A Decent Restaurant For Someone On a Budget
Biblos on Gloucester Road is perfect spot for falafel wraps done well, and can either be a sit-down spot or a takeaway. For a really amazing Indian dinner, head to Thali Café in Clifton.
A Museum You Can Take the Person You Got Off With On the First Night
The Arnolfini is a really great spot. Overlooking the harbour, it's always got a couple of a really great exhibitions on—normally either abstract art or local history—as well as a cinema tucked away upstairs. There's also, and this is crucial because nobody actually goes to museums and galleries to look at the exhibitions, a great café overlooking the harbour.
A Place to Drink Coffee in Between Lectures Because You Will Suddenly Decide That You Drink Coffee Now Even Though You'd Rather Have a Squash
The Costa in Tesco's Golden Hill is pretty good but if you want some fancy bollocks then best bet is probably the Bristolian on Picton Street. A perfect spot to take a book, or some work, order a coffee, sit, drink it, smoke a fag, get a headache, need a shit, drink a massive glass of tap water, then leave.
A Truly Local Spot That You'll Feel Really Smug Knowing About
The Memorial Stadium is tucked away at the very top of Gloucester Road and is home to the only real football team in the city: Bristol Rovers. Rovers, or 'the gas', play with heart and dedication and are backed by an army of supporters famed for their devotion and spirit. Tickets for the Thatchers terrace are reasonably priced and I personally can't think of a better way to spend a Saturday afternoon before a big night out. I also can't personally think of any other football teams in the city, so definitely make sure it's Bristol Rovers that get your support now you're here.
If you don't like football then check out The Cube. A small, independent cinema tucked away in Stokes Croft. It's always got a great selection of new and old movies, and the tickets don't cost £40 or however much big cinemas do now.
A Good Bookshop
There are plenty of good bookshops in Bristol, but I'm going to go out on a limb and recommend a library. The Central Library in Bristol city centre is one of the most peaceful places to sit with a book. For an actual shop, you insatiable capitalist, there is also the ominously named Last Bookshop on Park Street. The selection is a bit all over the place, but who can complain when all books are £3 or less.
A Place to Laze About the Morning After the Night Before
The Durdham Downs (the Downs) is a massive green space. As such it's perfect for kicking footballs, or lying on the ground staring at the clouds. It's close enough to civilisation for regular trips to the shop for bananas and ice-creams or whatever, but big enough that you'll feel a million miles away from whatever dark, thudding room you were in last night.
Nearby, underneath the famous Bristol Suspension bridge is Slippery Rock. I don't really know what it is, just a bit of rock that's all sort of smooth and shiny. You can slide down it on your bum. It's better than it sounds. Really though, the best thing about it is the view you get over the River Avon. It'll be full of kids on the weekend, but hey, you're a student now! That means you can get out there and do whatever you want in the middle of the day while everyone else is working! Bloody students.
Bristol has a bit of a reputation as a university dominated by Hooray Henrys but that couldn't be further from the reality of the city itself. It's a cosmopolitan, ever-changing, community-led place that supports ten-times its population's worth in amazing club culture.