What is it like to live in Bristol England as an expat? In this Expat Interview, Chelsea shares her expat life in Bristol England. She discusses her moving procedure, good and bad things about Bristol, the cost of living in Bristol and more.
1. About Bristol
Bristol is a midsized city located in southwest England (about 2 hours from London by train). It’s home to the famed graffiti artist Banksy (you can find many of his pieces around town), the cartoon Wallace and Gromit, some of Brunel’s greatest feats of engineering (the Clifton Suspension Bridge and the S.S. Great Britain), an international hot air balloon festival, and a top-notch university (The University of Bristol).
It’s a very livable city and, in addition to having a fascinating history of its own, it’s close to some of the top attractions in the U.K. such as Bath, Stonehenge, Salisbury and more. Regardless of whether you move here or not, it’s certainly worth a visit during your next trip to the U.K.!
2. What was your procedure for moving to Bristol?
We were living in Copenhagen for my husband’s job (he works for a healthcare software company called Epic) and an opportunity arose at Epic’s Bristol office. My parents and I own a small travel company called Euro Travel Coach which allows me to work from home when we’re not leading small group tours, so I had the flexibility to move wherever.
Our options were essentially to move back to the States or to move to Bristol. We weren’t ready to move home yet, so we decided to move to Bristol! We had actually never visited the city prior to moving here in December of 2017.
3. Why did you choose to live in Bristol?
Epic has essentially made Bristol their European headquarters, so most of their projects in Europe (with the exception of a few in Scandinavia) are staffed out of their Bristol office. My husband is currently working with the University College of London. London’s only about an hour away by train, so we’re quite lucky that he doesn’t have to travel to far to get to his customer.
We had conversations with some of my husband’s colleagues who were staffed out of the Bristol office to see what their experiences living in Bristol were like, and we heard a lot of positive feedback, which ultimately helped us make the decision to move here!
4. How did you prepare for moving to Bristol?
I did a lot of research on where we should live in advance of our move. It was important to us to have an apartment lined up when we arrived as Epic only provides one month of temporary housing.
After reading about the different neighborhoods in Bristol on sites like visitbristol.co.uk and bristolpost.co.uk, we decided that we wanted to live either in Clifton or Southville – both have lots of great independent shops, restaurants, pubs and coffee shops.
Food and drink are important to us, so it was important to us to have easy access to these things and we also wanted to be within easy walking distance of my husband’s office, which is located downtown.
I compiled a long list of potential apartments in these neighborhoods, but because our passports were tied up with immigration, we weren’t able to travel to Bristol to see them for ourselves.
My parents – who recently retired from their university jobs to travel and run Euro Travel Coach – came to the rescue and went to Bristol to view flats on our behalf. I think they saw 10-12 over the course of three days.
At the end of it, we snagged an amazing place in Southville, which is more up and coming, diverse, and significantly less expensive than Clifton. We love our neighborhood and our flat – all the time and effort that I put into researching where to live really paid off.
5. What is the cost of living in Bristol?
After living in Copenhagen for a year and a half, the cost of living in Bristol seems very reasonable….though that’s a pretty low bar for affordability as Copenhagen is one of the most expensive cities in the world. Here is what we pay for basics:
At a regular grocery store (Coop, Tesco, Sainsbury, Waitrose, etc.), prices are slightly higher with what you’d pay in a mid-sized city in the States. For reference, a carton of eggs typically costs between £2-3 pounds.
We buy a lot of our groceries from smaller independent shops, and though the prices are slightly higher (except at the greengrocer, where I find the vegetables to be less expensive than at the grocery store), I generally find that the quality is much better.
A loaf of bread from my local bakery costs around £3-4, a chicken leg from my butcher costs £1.50, and prawns from my fishmonger cost £8 for 20.
b) Transportation in Bristol
My one gripe with Bristol is that public transportation is not great. The buses are owned by private companies and are unreliable and the rail system is limited and not easily accessible from where we live.
We don’t have a car and we walk most places since often time it takes just as long to take public transportation as it does to walk.
When we need to get somewhere over a mile away, we usually take an Uber (£6-12 for most places within Bristol, £15-20 for a trip to the airport).
When we do take a bus, it’s about £2 per person. A round trip to Bath on the train costs £5-8 and a round trip to London costs £40-60+ (depending on rail cards and the time you’re traveling).
c) Apartments in Bristol
We have a two bedroom flat that costs £975 per month (I will say that it is the cheapest two bedroom that we looked at; most were closer to £1,200).
Most of our friends pay between £800-1,500 for a one or two bedroom flat in the city center and the surrounding neighborhoods.
One thing that adds to the price of apartments here is the council tax – don’t forget about it when you’re selecting your apartment as it raises your monthly costs significantly. Utilities typically cost between £200-300 per month.
d) Paying tax in England
Taxes are high (still not as high as Copenhagen, but again…low bar) and vary based on your tax bracket. Learn more here.
e) Dining Out in Bristol
I generally find dining out to be quite reasonable. We can usually go out for a nice, sit down meal for less than £100 or a more casual/pub meal for about £50.
Local craft beer will set you back £4.50-7+ per pint, while a standard cask ale or lager will be around £3-4.
6. What are the difficulties of living in Bristol?
We moved to Bristol in the dead of winter, which was difficult emotionally. We were in a new place, with very few friends, and it was dark and rainy all the time (not that the weather was much different from Copenhagen, but never the less).
Also, we spent way too much time inside binging Netflix, and not enough time exploring and meeting new people. Eventually, I joined MoveGB (a fitness network similar to class pass) and started going to yoga classes regularly.
My husband and I also started training for a 10k. Once we started exercising and forcing ourselves to get out of the house, we found we had more energy to hang out with people and do things that brought us joy. This year we’re focused on maintaining that energy and not falling into a winter funk!
7. Did you experience any discrimination in Bristol?
I’ve found everyone to be very welcoming and kind! I frequently get asked where I’m from as it’s obvious from my accent that I’m not from around here, but people are just genuinely interested and I’ve never felt discriminated against in any way. Aside from the occasional awkward conversation about Trump with Uber drivers, it’s been great.
8. How to overcome culture shock in England?
Since we were previously living in Copenhagen, we didn’t really experience culture shock when we moved to the U.K. – it felt much more like home than Denmark did.
Sure, we had to get used to certain British phrases and words (why are all the vegetables called something else here??) and we struggled to know where to purchase certain necessities like tools for around the house…but we ultimately figured it out, which was part of the fun of living here.
9. What do you like about Bristol?
Bristol is a great size (about 450,000 people) – it has everything you need, but doesn’t feel too big.
The city has a lot of character – something Bristolians are very proud of. I love all the amazing small businesses around town, but if you love Zara or H&M, you can find those types of stores here as well.
The food scene is pretty incredible for a town of this size. There are a ton of restauranteurs and producers that care deeply about the quality of their food and where it is coming from, which I really respect and appreciate.
There is also a great craft beer community here, which means a great pint is never far away. Overall, it’s just a fun city to live in with a great, young vibe.
10. Are there any bad things about Bristol that you don’t like?
Mostly just the public transportation (or lack thereof).
11. What are your favorite things to do in Bristol?
Well, you’ve probably figured out from some of my previous answers that we love going to restaurants, breweries, and pubs. We often find ourselves in Wapping Wharf, a previously derelict area by the river with a bunch of shipping containers that have been converted into small businesses and restaurants.
Every Sunday we go to the Tobacco Factory Market and pick up some street food for lunch as well as a loaf of bread, hummus, and other locally produced goodies. We also enjoy seeing movies at the Everyman Theater, which is kitted out with comfy velvet couches.
On occasion, we’ll see live music at one of the city’s many venues such as Colston Hall or 02 academies.
12. Where do you recommend to visit in Bristol?
We love taking visitors up to the Clifton Suspension Bridge – it’s quite a magnificent feat of engineering – and showing them the S.S. Great Britain, a massive steamship from the 19th century which has been converted into a fascinating museum.
St. Mary’s of Redcliffe is a beautiful church with a fascinating history. It’s free to enter and definitely worth a visit. The M Shed Museum is also worth a stop. My favorite way to experience the museum is with a behind the scenes tour – you basically get to explore the museum’s massive storeroom, which has all sorts of fascinating antiques and rarities relating to Bristol’s storied history.
If you’re here at the right time, Upfest (a street art festival) and the Bristol International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta are both pretty incredible and worth a special trip.
13. How to make new friends in Bristol?
To be honest, most of our friends are colleagues of my husband. We have met a few people at breweries as well.
14. Do you hang out with locals or foreigners mostly?
Mostly other Americans.
15. Where is your favorite place in Bristol to hang out with friends?
During the summer, we often go to the Arnolfini, an art space with an attached bar/café. In the summers, they open another bar outside and have picnic tables set up along the river. It’s a great place to spend the afternoon.
We also meet up at breweries fairly frequently, our favorites love Left Handed Giant, Good Chemistry, and Wiper and True. We also love entertaining, so we often have our friends over to our flat for dinner or drinks.
16. A memorable experience in Bristol
The first time I visited my greengrocer, he looked at me like I had bugs crawling out of my ears when I asked for zucchini and shallots. Now I know that I should have asked for “courgettes” and put the emphasis on the second syllable of the word “shallot” (he thought I was asking about some kind of potato).
I have also learned that I pronounce tomato incorrectly (should be to-MAH-to) and I shouldn’t use the words arugula, eggplant, cilantro, and romaine – it’s a rocket, aubergine, coriander, and cos respectively.
It also took me a long time to figure out that when we are out at a restaurant and the waitress asks if we want any “pud,” she’s referring to “pudding,” which (in this context) means dessert.
17. Did you change your perspective about Bristol after living here?
As I’ve gotten to know the city better, I’ve only grown to love it more.
18. What are your advice and tips for moving/ living in Bristol England?
Do your research on where you’re going to live. If we didn’t love our neighborhood so much, I don’t think we would enjoy living here as much as we do.
19. Would you recommend others to live in Bristol?
Absolutely! Bristol is a great city to live in and it’s relatively easy to get to continental Europe, which is a major bonus if, like us, you love to travel. It’s also close to London (you can get there in less than two hours on the train), where you’ll find an abundance of entertainment, restaurants, and culture.
20. What have you learned from living abroad?
I’ve learned that generally, people have more in common than we may think, that the world is massive and fascinating and exploring it is always worthwhile, that my Danish pronunciations are absolutely terrible, and that even though we share a common language, the U.K. and the U.S. have different names for vegetables.
More about Chelsea
Chelsea Ball is one-third of Euro Travel Coach, a family run business focused on making travel dreams come true. She along with her parents, Greg and Betsy Ball, are dedicated to “coaching” people through planning amazing European adventures as well as creating custom itineraries, leading small group tours, and blogging about their own travels. Don’t forget to follow Euro Travel Coach on Facebook, Instagram & Pinterest!