I’m sitting outside Little Victories coffee shop, sipping a flat white from a dainty blue cup and casting an eye over a nearby row of shiny steel shipping containers. The historic Floating Harbour area of Bristol used to be a grubby hive of dockside industry where outsiders feared to tread.

But these days, it’s a network of urban waterways flanked by museums, galleries and boutiques selling wares that range from small-batch chocolate bars to furniture fashioned from logic boards. And those shipping containers? They’re the new CARGO 2, a hip hub of restaurants and artisan shops.

I first fell in love with Bristol 15 years ago; curious about the city’s now-infamous homegrown street artist, Banksy, I had travelled there to check out the provocative artwork he was spray-painting on local walls. Since that first trip, I’ve returned many times, and with each visit I’ve found a 450,000-strong community that never stands still.

Forward-thinking yet still a little gritty, Bristol was recently named the UK’s leading Smart City (outside London) in recognition of its creative tech companies, tide of digital innovators and welcoming vibe for those with ingenious ideas to incubate.

New visitors to Bristol will experience a historic destination that’s always deploying fresh ideas to its attractions—clever touchscreen introductions to the 13th-century harbour at the recently restored Underfall Yard area; modern touches to the Bristol Old Vic, the UK’s oldest continuously working theatre; and the newly opened Aerospace Bristol, a state-of-the-art aviation museum housing a legendary Concorde airplane.

Another must-see is the M Shed, a repurposed dockyard building with an eclectic, local-focused museum that includes exhibits on the clay animation series Wallace and Gromit (another Bristol creation). Just outside the building is a replica of the Matthew boat that carried explorer John Cabot to Newfoundland from here in 1497.

It’s a reminder that Bristol was an innovator long before its Smart City accolade. Which is why the 2018 opening of its newest museum, Being Brunel, will celebrate 19th-century engineering genius Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s ships, bridges and railways while also aiming to inspire the next generation of Bristolian visionaries

Getting there: WestJet flies to London Gatwick 10 times a week from Calgary and Toronto.

Bristol is one of our must-visit destinations of 2018