Two very different cities, mere minutes apart by train.
Bristol is cool, edgy, sprawling, modern, creative.
It’s a little London with a big character, and attracts nearly double Bath’s visitor numbers.
Banksy grew up here, but of course.
And you could go to a different bar, restaurant or club every night of the year – the variety is enormous.
Then there is Bath – genteel, compact, steeped in history.
It has a quieter, more reflective atmosphere, and yet it is a big draw on the UK tourist trail – this year its Christmas market ranked second only to London’s, and the Roman Baths alone welcomed 1.2 million visitors in 2016.
Both cities have something to offer, but no-one could claim to love both equally – you’re either a Bristol lover or a Bath fan.
Bristol is fine for the occasional night out, but I am wholeheartedly and head over heels in love with Bath – here’s why:
Both cities have their share of spas – but Bath is the only place in the country where you can see naturally occurring hot spring water, rich in minerals, rise directly from the source.
Bath is THE wellness city; its association with wellness goes back to 863BC when King Bladud cured his leprosy in these very waters. Fast forward nearly 3000 years and people still visit to take the waters.
Bigger isn’t always better. Bristol might offer more choice, but, despite missing a few essential stores (Zara, Warehouse – sob) Bath is a lovely place to shop.
The shops are closer together and right by the train station, making them easier to reach than in Bristol where the shops are a 15-minute walk away.
And the coffee shops are plentiful, so you can intersperse shopping with a cuppa and a Bath Bun.
Socialising and entertainment
It might not have Bristol’s wide array of pubs and clubs, but Bath is still one of the best and most interesting cities in the country to spend time with friends.
There are multiple spas, a central cinema, a skyline walk (the country is so close), indie bars, ancient pubs, cocktail bars, a fall-back Wetherspoons – and a couple of clubs to finish the night.
There’s something for every friendship group.
Bath is nothing if not traditional, and some of its best entertainment can be found at The Theatre Royal, which hosts a variety of classic and modern plays, and the tiny characterful Little Theatre cinema, great for indie films.
Komedia and Chapel Arts are the places to go for live music and events.
Bath is ripe with the spectres of former city dwellers and visitors, from the Roman soldier who still marches through the city at night, to the phantom monks of Bath Abbey.
Bath has a reputation for snobbery, and I have encountered it myself – but I have also met some of the warmest, kindest and most interesting people here.
Walk up to the Jane Austen Museum and meet Martin Salter (you can’t miss him – he’s dressed as a Georgian) if you want to experience true Bathonian charm.
Heritage and architecture
Bristol has a varied architecture including a Norman castle, Tudor and Georgian houses, and the beautiful Gothic cathedral.
However only in Bath do you feel as though you are truly walking the streets of a different era.
The honey-coloured stone used widely by the Georgians is used in buildings old and new.
Whole swathes of original Georgian architecture – The Circus and The Crescent being the most obvious examples – remain intact, so that tourists and locals wandering the streets can easily kid themselves they are walking into the past.
This city was founded by King Lear’s father, King Bladud, then went on to become home to Celts, Romans and various illustrious Georgians.
Art and museums
View artwork by famed Georgian painter Thomas Gainsborough, and marvel over delicate 300-year-old ladies’ gloves in Bath’s richly stocked galleries and museums.
A compact city, Bath has two very good art houses – The Holburne Museum, and the Victoria Art Gallery – and several museums, including the unique Fashion Museum where you can view pieces by Dior, McQueen and older artefacts like the aforementioned gloves.
Bristol might have a greater number of museums, but nearly all of Bath’s museum’s are very close together, so you can fit more art and history into your day.
Wildlife and nature
Due to Bath’s small size (its population is only around 90,000), the countryside is very close.
You can see the skyline of the surrounding hills from many of the rooftops in the centre of the city, and unlike Bristol you don’t need to drive to reach the countryside – Bath’s most famous country walk begins on Bathwick Hill, a short walk from the city centre.
Bath isn’t for you if you prefer big cities with hundreds of pubs, bars and venues.
Nor is Bath for you if you want to actually live in the city; many of Bath’s employees (including myself) commute in from surrounding towns because they can’t afford the astronomical rents or mortgages on Bath’s properties.
In 2017 the average Bath property rose in value by £87,169 – first time buyers have no hope.
But despite the fact I can’t actually afford to live in Bath, its character, beauty, history and identity still hold me to ransom. And if I do get bored of it?
Well, Bristol is only a ten minute train journey away.