13 of Bristol's best nightclubs, music venues and pubs

From a nightclub on a former cargo ship to a legendary jazz pub, there's a side to Bristol nightlife for everyone. Here's a taste of what's on offer.

“I had a great night out in Bristol” is a phrase you hear over and over again when chatting with people who pass through the South West’s largest city. Whether they’ve ventured here to catch a favourite band play, sample the underground club scene or hop between quirky pubs and bars, Bristol caters to all when it comes to nightlife.

Many Bristol club nights have a casual air to them. That said, there are also upmarket cocktail joints and swanky bars aplenty if you’re in the mood for a more sophisticated affair. Here’s a taste of the clubs, pubs, bars and music venues on offer by neighbourhood.

Stokes Croft: One of the liveliest parts of the city

Stokes Croft is a creative and colourful pocket of Bristol, where you can marvel at some of the city’s best street art. Stroll up the main street and you’ll pass a myriad of independent shops, restaurants representing all corners of the globe and plenty of places for a drink and a dance.

Lakota: Enjoy a legendary Bristol nightclub experience

Lakota has a stellar reputation among music heads and ravers looking to party in true Bristol fashion. Open since the early ’90s, the club is spread over three floors and four rooms, with an atmosphere and decor in keeping with graffiti-covered Stokes Croft’s colourful and lively spirit.

Line-ups often star internationally renowned acts, as well as up-and-coming talent from Bristol and beyond, with club night themes ranging from house to psytrance to jungle. Whatever genre is spilling from the speakers during your night here, expect to indulge in one too many cans of Red Stripe, get home later than you expected and work up an impressive step count from non-stop dancing.

The Canteen: Sample free live music five nights a week

The Canteen is at the heart of Stokes Croft, with an always buzzing terrace out front overlooked by a Banksy mural. This is one of the most reliable places for a great night of live music in the city. There are gigs on five nights a week, with the most upbeat, high energy acts reserved for Fridays and Saturdays.

It’s usually free entry (except after 9.30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays). But look out for the collection bucket being passed around the crowd and add a donation if you’re enjoying the band. The Canteen has two sister venues in the city that are also well worth swinging by – The Old Market Assembly (more on that further below) and No.1 Harbourside.

Full Moon and Attic Bar: Eat, drink, dance and sleep

You can’t miss The Full Moon. As you enter Stokes Croft, its facade instantly stands out thanks to a head-to-toe galactic mural by local street artist Cheba. Made up of a pub, beer garden, a few food outlets, music venue and hostel, you could easily have a brilliant night from start to finish without even leaving the site.

The Full Moon is a great spot for large groups as you can usually grab a picnic table or two in the huge courtyard, which has its own bar. When you’re ready for a boogey, make for the pub dance floor where DJs play every Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Or see what’s on in the Attic Bar, a much-loved music venue in its own right, hosting stellar Bristol club nights and live bands.

Old City: Cool venues in a historic district

Full of impressive architecture and winding streets, the Old City covers the Medieval heart of Bristol. Unsurprisingly, this part of the city lays claim to some of Bristol’s finest historic pubs. Combined with an interesting mix of bars and music venues, from dive bars to swanky speakeasies, there’s plenty to keep you occupied after dark.

Mr Wolf's: Go for the live music, stay for the late-night DJs

Mr Wolf’s is one of the liveliest and friendliest bars in the Old City, and the city as a whole for that matter. Weekend evenings usually kick off with live music, from punky rock acts to infectious funk bands and everything in between. DJs then take over until the early hours, spinning genre-spanning bangers that keep you on the dance floor much later than intended.

Depending on which night you’re in town, you might also be able to catch an open mic, live comedy, often on the rooftop bar, or a pub quiz. They also mix a mean cocktail.

The Old Duke: Listen to jazz, blues in historic setting

It might hark back to the pub’s 18th-century origins, but in recent decades The Old Duke’s name has become a nod to late, great jazz musician Duke Ellington. That should give you a sense of the live music you’ll catch at this renowned venue, one of many welcoming boozers lining the cobbles of King Street.

The small stage here hosts a fine array of talented jazz and blues musicians, attracting a big crowd on Friday and Saturday nights, when the place is always packed. Consider a weeknight visit if you’re after a more laid-back evening.

Basement 45: Join the D'n'B aficionados at this cavernous club

Basement 45 is a few minutes’ walk from the Old City on Frogmore Street, a hive of nightlife in itself with two gay bars, Bristol’s oldest pub and the O2 Academy. The club is, quite literally, part of Bristol’s underground scene – a subterranean venue located in former cellars.

Made up of three compact spaces with low ceilings, this is a sweaty and intimate club best known for blasting out drum and bass courtesy of respected local, national and international DJs. They’re by no means purists, though, with everything from house to jungle and even emo nights making up the listings, too.

If a night out here leaves you feeling inspired to get behind the decks, the owner also offers DJ lessons.

The Clockwork Rose: Sip cocktails with a steampunk twist

From a frozen cocktail bar to speakeasy-style drinking dens, there are all manner of quirky cocktails joints in Bristol. Among the most unique in theme is The Clockwork Rose, Bristol’s only steampunk cocktail bar and the watering hole of choice for fictional airship captain Sebastian Commodore.

The bar’s elaborate backstory is mainly brought to life in the creative “libations and intoxications” on offer, with each drink inspired by the captain’s adventures. Feel free to pick the brains of the award-winning bartenders, who are always happy to recommend a cocktail you’ll love.

Harbourside: Buzzing venues on the stunning waterfront

In recent decades, Bristol’s Harbourside has transformed from industrial working docks to a buzzing waterside destination. Perhaps best known for its excellent restaurant scene (Wapping Wharf is a dream for foodies), it’s also got more than its fair share of waterfront watering holes.

Thekla: Dance the night away on a floating nightclub

Thekla is a German cargo ship turned nightclub, rescued from near ruin and brought to Bristol’s Mud Dock in 1982. Ever since it’s been one of the city’s most iconic nightlife venues, starting out as a home for left field theatre, cabaret and music.

Today, Thekla is especially popular with students and fans of indie and alternative music, with the ship’s atmospheric hold a memorable place to party to live bands and DJs. Thursday’s indie night Pressure and Saturday’s Pop Confessional have long been staples on the weekly Bristol club night calendar – events dedicated to house, soul, disco, jungle and more are spread throughout the rest of the month.

The Apple: Down a pint of the West Country's favourite tipple

Continuing the theme of Harbourside bars on boats, The Apple is a cider pub on a converted Dutch barge permanently moored on Welsh Back. You can expect a top-notch selection of ciders on the menu, ranging from fruity numbers to the notorious Old Bristolian. The latter is an eye-watering 8.4 percent, served in half pints only – for your own good!

The Apple is a favourite stop for pub crawlers drinking their way around the harbour and King Street. It’s particularly popular on hot days, when cider-thirsty punters flock to its enormous terrace for a pint in the sun.

Arnolfini: Relax on one of Bristol's best al fresco terraces

The Arnolfini Harbourside bar is another popular al fresco hangout in Bristol. With an unbeatable location right by the water and views across the harbour, don’t be surprised if you have to queue for a spot on the deck on sunny days and busy bank holidays.

While it’s part of the contemporary arts centre (come during the day to explore the gallery and bookshop), award-winning brewery Bristol Beer Factory manages the bar, so a good pint is guaranteed. They also serve a selection of hearty burgers, ideal for lining the stomach at the start of the night.

Old Market and St. Philips: Bristol's gay village and its brewing capital

An independent and historic corner of Bristol, Old Market is also known for being the city’s gay village, with many businesses run by and for the LGBTQ+ community. Meanwhile, neighbouring St. Philips is an industrial suburb with a surprising number of great places to drink, if you know where to look.

Motion: Hit a bucket-list club for dance music fans

Motion is the jewel in the crown of Bristol’s club scene. It’s the city’s biggest nightlife venue by far and is regularly name-checked on lists of the best clubs in the country and beyond. The cavernous building is a former Victorian warehouse that, pre-Motion days, was turned into a skate park. With its industrial feel and maze-like rooms, it’s the perfect place for a rave.

The club nights and day parties at Motion showcase world-class dance music, with a diverse mix of live music on the bill over at the adjoining Marble Factory, too. Because of the quality of the acts, events often sell out in advance despite the mega capacity. Scour the listings way in advance to avoid missing out.

The Old Market Assembly: Experience eclectic music, theatre in a former bank

Formerly a Victorian bank, The Old Market Assembly impresses before you’ve even made it to the bar. Tip your head up to take in the grand windows, vaulted ceiling, white pillars and mezzanine.

Grand as the architecture might be, the venue offers a down-to-earth welcome, attracting a friendly crowd with proud links to the LGBTQ+ community. They throw a great party on weekends, often welcoming DJs and bands as well as drag acts and cabaret.

Fringe arts hub The Wardrobe Theatre is also based here and curates a cracking programme of theatre, comedy, storytelling, improv and more. Closer Each Day, the fortnightly improvised soap opera, is something of a local cult classic.

Exchange: Discover new favourite bands

With gigs every night of the week, this no-frills music venue manages to squeeze an incredible array of bands into its programme. Home to two stages – one in the main room upstairs, one in the small and rather sweaty basement downstairs – Exchange leans towards the heavier rock, alternative and indie side.

As well as the consistent stream of interesting acts, one thing that makes Exchange special is being the UK’s first community-owned music venue. With its own record shop, recording studio and cafe, plus regular community events, it’s become a pillar of the local music scene.

Kavita Ashton

Kavita is a freelance writer in Bristol, who covers travel and lifestyle content. She also works for the local DMO, Visit West. When she's not writing about things to do in the region, she enjoys exploring it for herself, especially the food and drink scene and green spaces.