Abstract Upward directional unsteady-state solidification experiments were performed with both a hypomonotectic Al–2.0 wt% Bi alloy and a monotectic Al–3.2 wt% Bi alloy. Besides, the monotectic composition (3.2 wt% Bi) was directionally solidified under downward transient heat flow conditions, which enables the effects of melt convection on the final microstructure to be evaluated since the collective downward movement of Bi-rich particles is favored in such case. This is due to the density differences between the two coexisting liquid phases. The thermal parameters such as cooling rate, growth rate and thermal gradient were experimentally determined by data collected from cooling curves recorded along the casting length. The monotectic features observed in the Al–3.2 wt% Bi alloy castings, i.e. the interphase spacing and Bi-rich particles diameter were correlated with the growth rate and thermal gradient. The cell spacing was experimentally determined for the Al–2.0 wt% Bi alloy as a function of both the cooling rate and tip growth rate. These experimental data were compared with the main predictive cellular growth models from the literature. A comparison between upward and downward unsteady-state solidification results for the interphase spacing and Bi-rich particles diameter has also been conducted.