Bradbury's English Derbyshire-born, steel-industry father Cambridge graduate Michael Bradbury and Greek mother were in the Republic of Ireland when Bradbury was born. The family returned to Britain, where she attended primary school in Edith Weston, Rutland, followed by King Edward VII School in Sheffield, where her father worked for British Steel and her mother ran a fashion business. Bradbury attended acting classes, and took part as a child in theCrucible Theatre's stage production of Peter Pan, starring Joanne Whalley and Paula Wilcox.
Bradbury left school at 16 after O-levels and worked in advertising in various capacities, including a stint with the family business.
Bradbury started as a TV presenter with Chrysalis TV, followed by L!VE TV, before making the transition in 1996 from cable TV to terrestrial with GMTV as their Los Angeles correspondent. She has since presented Watchdog,Top Gear, Accidental Heroes,Wainwright Walks and Railway Walks for the BBC, as well as Rough Guide for Channel 5. She has also presented Wish You Were Here...? for ITV and anchored Exclusive! for Five.With Tim Vine, she presented the launch of Channel 5 in 1997.
With co-host Arkin Salih she hosted the BBC's Are We Being Served?, which examined customer service in the UK and ran for six programmes in the summer of 2006.
From 2008 to 2011 she presented four series of Kill It, Cook It, Eat It on BBC Three. The first series concentrated on commercially farmed animals such as chickens, pigs, sheep and cattle. The second series featured hunted wild game such as ducks, rabbits, deer and grouse. The third series focused on fast food; a group of six people went through the process of killing, cooking and eating animals. The fourth series focused on how animal products from the first series are used outside of the meat trade. Bradbury was joined by young consumers to uncover the animal origins of many of western society's favourite things as body parts were transformed from abattoir to shop floor.
From 2 March 2009 Bradbury temporarily stepped down from BBC One's Watchdog following allegations in the press concerning irregularities in her Virgin Atlantic frequent flyer account. (Anita Rani stepped in to co-present the show with Nicky Campbell.) On 15 April 2009, Bradbury was cleared of any wrongdoing in the investigation, and it was confirmed that she would return to present Watchdog, which she did on 20 April 2009.She did not have to repay £20,000 worth of Air Miles, as incorrectly reported in several papers – her account (and several others) had been tampered with by an employee who was later arrested and charged. In April 2009 it was announced that Bradbury would present the re-launched primetime Countryfile with Matt Baker. Anne Robinson returned to Watchdog after an 8-year absence.
From November to December 2011 she presented a series called That's Britain! with Nick Knowles, focusing on the good, the bad and the ugly in Britain. She presented with Hugh Dennis a four-part BBC One documentary series The Great British Countryside, which began in February 2012. She has co-presented (with Richard Hammond) a programme about the wildlife of different countries called Planet Earth Live in 2012, which has aired on BBC One.
In August 2007 she presented Ultimate Britain – Climbing on BBC One, with rock climber Tim Emmett. Bradbury's lifetime ambition to be a 'real' rock climber was achieved when the pair successfully ascended Cornwall's Commando Ridge, Crackstone Rib in the Llanberis Pass, and the Old Man of Stoer.
That year she also presented Wainwright Walks on BBC Four, in which she followed the mountain routes of the renowned fell walker and guidebook author Alfred Wainwright. The series was later repeated on BBC Two and ran for two series. Her appearance in this and the Railway Walks series earned her the title of "Walking Man's Totty". On 20 July 2009 her series Coast to Coast started on BBC Two.
In December 2010 she presented another walking-themed series, Julia Bradbury's German Wanderlust on BBC Four in which she explored Germany and its Romantic movement through a series of walks across the country.The series was repeated on BBC Two in January and February 2011. She presented Canal Walks with Julia Bradbury in May 2011.
Another walking programme, Julia Bradbury's Icelandic Walk, aired on 11 May 2011 on BBC Four. Her challenge was to walk the 60 kilometres of Iceland's most famous hiking route, which includes the newest hills on Earth. This route ends at Eyjafjallajökull, the volcano whose copious eruptions of volcanic ash brought air traffic across Europe to a standstill in April 2010. She also presented a new series in May 2011, following the routes of some of the UK's canals.
In January 2013 she appeared in a special series of The Great British Bake Off.
Bradbury has also presented on radio for BBC London 94.9, and Radio 5 Live. She crossed NUJ picket lines to present Radio 5 Live's breakfast programme on 15 July 2011. She presented the programme with Ian Payne who also broke the strike.