Clifton was recorded in the Domesday book as Clistone, the name of the village denoting a 'hillside settlement' and referring to its position on a steep hill. Until 1898 Clifton St Andrew was a separate civil parish within the County Borough of Bristol.Various sub-districts of Clifton exist, including Whiteladies Road, an important shopping district to the east, and Clifton Village, a smaller shopping area near the Avon Gorge to the west.
Although the suburb has no formal boundaries, the name Clifton is generally applied to the high ground stretching from Whiteladies Road in the east to the rim of the Avon Gorge in the west, and from Clifton Down and Durdham Down in the north to Cornwallis Crescent in the south. This area corresponds roughly with the city wards of Clifton and Clifton East, although the former also includes the river side suburb of Hotwells.
Clifton is one of the oldest and most affluent areas of the city, much of it having been built with profits from tobacco and the slave trade. Situated to the west of Bristol's city centre, it was at one time a separate settlement but became attached to Bristol by continuous development during the Georgian era and was formally incorporated into the city in the 1830s. Grand houses that required many servants were built in the area. Although some were detached or semi-detached properties, the bulk were built as terraces, many with three or more floors. One famous terrace is the majestic Royal York Crescent, visible from the Avon Gorge below and looking across the Bristol docks. Berkeley Square which was built around 1790 is an example of Georgian architecture. Secluded squares include the triangular Canynge Square. The ABC Cinema on Whiteladies Road was closed and converted into offices and gymnasium in the 1990s, but there are now plans to reopen it as a cinema. Clifton Lido was built in 1850 but closed to the public in 1990, it was redeveloped and opened again to the public in November 2008.
Clifton ward, which includes Hotwells, has a population of 10,452 in 5,007 households, according to adjusted figures for the 2001 census. On the same basis, Clifton East ward has a population of 9,538 in 4,741 households. In Clifton ward, 27% of the adult population (aged 16 to 74 years) is in full-time education.
Immediately north of Clifton is Durdham Down, a relatively flat and open area, used for recreation purposes. On the western edge of Clifton is Clifton Down, a less open/more wooded area, adjacent to the gorge. Clifton is home to many buildings of the University of Bristol (such as Goldney Hall, Victoria Rooms and the Wills Memorial Building); Isambard Kingdom Brunel's Clifton Suspension Bridge; the Roman Catholic Clifton Cathedral; Christ Church, Clifton Down; Clifton College; Clifton High School; the former Amberley House preparatory school; Queen Elizabeth's Hospital School, The Clifton Club; Bristol Zoo; The Royal West of England Academy; and BBC Bristol.
Clifton is served by Clifton Down railway station, located in Whiteladies Road on the local Severn Beach railway line, and by frequent bus services from central Bristol. It has road links to the city centre and outer western suburbs, and across the Clifton Suspension Bridge to Leigh Woods in North Somerset. Between 1893 and 1934, it was connected to Hotwells by the Clifton Rocks Railway. Royal York Crescent in Clifton is used as a location in the film Starter for 10.
Part of the background to Philippa Gregory's historical novel "A Respectable Trade" - dealing mainly with the slave trade in late 18th century Bristol - is the start of construction at Clifton, then a far area outside the city limits as they were at the time. In some passages characters debate whether Clifton could ever become viable and whether investment in real estate there would not be too risky - questions which were evidently quite relevant at the time though to the modern reader the answers are obvious.
The 1978 children's paranormal drama "The Clifton House Mystery" - produced by HTV; was set in the Clifton area. The plot revolved around a family moving into an old house; and subsequently finding a long-dead skeleton in a hidden room. After some unexplained incidents, they become convinced that a ghost connected in some way with the Bristol Riots of 1831 is haunting the house. The plot is based on the story of the real-life Thomas Brereton, a Dragoon commander who committed suicide after being court-martialled for his lenient approach to suppressing the rioters; although the ghost is named "George Bretherton" in the TV series.
The area featured in the late 70's/early 80's British TV series Shoestring which was set in Bristol. It starred Trevor Eve as a radio reporter and part time sleuth.