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September 24th, 2019
Only 13 miles apart, Bath and Bristol make the perfect city-hopping destination. Bath’s refined air, ancient spa history, stunning architecture and literary connections combined with Bristol’s edgy independent spirit, penchant for colour, historic engineering prowess and maritime heritage ensure a fascinating, highly-contrasted escape that makes for the ultimate city break.
Discover Bath and Bristol’s creative geniuses
Bristol’s adopted son, the Victorian genius, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, has left his mark on the city. He counts iconic landmark, Clifton Suspension Bridge and revolutionary ship, the SS Great Britain in his portfolio. The ship, now restored to her former magnificence, now sits on Bristol Harbourside, alongside museum ‘Being Brunel’, which offers intriguing insights into the life and mind of one of Britain’s most brilliant brains.
Bristol also has an impressive claim to aeronautical fame. The first ever supersonic plane, Concorde, was designed, built and tested in Bristol and the last one ever to fly is now the show-stopping centrepiece of Aerospace Bristol. Inside visitors can see a display of the city’s aviation history from the earliest contraptions to sleek examples of the supersonic jet age.
Architect John Wood was the brains behind Royal Crescent (as well as Bath Assembly Rooms and hugely influential on the completion of the Circus) - a spectacular sweeping arc of buildings, considered to be one of the finest examples of Georgian architecture in the world. No.1 Royal Crescent, now a museum, offers a glimpse of 18th century life of both high society upstairs and how it would have been for those toiling below. If impressive Georgian terraces are your thing, Bristol’s Royal York Crescent is believed to be the longest in Europe.
Follow in the footsteps of literary heroes and heroines
Jane Austen lived in Bath from 1801 to 1806 and you can find out more about her at The Jane Austen Centre, which chronicles the life and works of the famous writer and her family. Retrace her steps and discover the places that inspired two of her novels Persuasion and Northanger Abbey and stand on the spots where the films of her books were shot.
Other authors closely associated with Bath include Charles Dickens, Henry Fielding and Mary Shelley who wrote Frankenstein as a teenager while living in a Bath boarding house.
Bristol has strong connections to Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel, Treasure Island. Eight planter barrels make a fun family-friendly trail around Bristol Harbour and divulge facts about Long John Silver. Look out for special Show of Strength Theatre Company story walks when Treasure Island’s pirates are brought to life.
Georgian Bristol attracted key figures in the Romantic Movement and Robert Southey and Samuel Taylor Coleridge both got married at St Mary Redcliffe Church, while Thomas Chatterton and William Wordsworth also lived and worked in the city.
Literature lovers mustn't miss Bath’s Jane Austen Festival (September), Bath Children’s Literature Festival (end of Sept -Oct), Bristol’s Shakespeare Festival (July) or Bristol Literature Festival (Oct).
Feel re-invigorated at an open-air spa
Bristol’s refurbished Victorian lido offers serenity and relaxation behind its Cliftonian walls. Feel revitalised in the open-air pool before winding down in the outdoor hot tub, steam room and Scandinavian-style sauna. Spa and dine packages mean you can eat at the glass-fronted poolside restaurant once suitably blissed-out.
No visit to Bath is complete without a soak in the UK’s only naturally warm, mineral-rich waters. Bathe and gaze over spectacular views of beautifully-preserved Georgian architecture from the open-air rooftop pool of Thermae Bath Spa. There’s also a meandering lazy river, multi-sensory Wellness Suite, Infrared room, Ice Chamber, Celestial Relaxation Room and Experience Showers for serious soul-nurturing.
Ok, you absolutely cannot get into (or even touch) the thermal waters of The Roman Baths - an astonishingly well-preserved spa complex - but you are given an incredibly insightful look at how Roman folk would have gone about their spa business. From animated maps to screened displays of toga-less people going for a dip, entry to the ancient changing rooms and a sample of that famous ‘eggy’ mineral-rich water, visitors are fully immersed in a spa experience from days of yore.
Combine the two with the Spas Ancient and Modern special package which includes a ticket to the Roman Baths, voucher for a two hour spa session at Thermae Bath Spa and a voucher for a three course lunch or Champagne afternoon tea in the Pump Room.
Cross Bath, now owned by Thermae Bath Spa, stands where the Celts revered their goddess Sulis and is now recognised as an official sacred site. Back in the day, it was believed to have miraculous healing powers, so take your swimming costume and see for yourself!
Spend a night at the theatre
Theatre has been at the heart of the two cities’ cultural lives longer than anywhere else in the country. Bristol Old Vic and Theatre Royal Bath are two of the oldest continually-working theatres in the English-speaking world. And there are many more in the two cities!
Bristol Hippodrome regularly features productions from The West End, while Tobacco Factory Theatres’ programme is known for comedy, opera and re-imagined Shakespeare. More intimate venues like Redgrave Theatre, the Alma Tavern and The Wardrobe Theatre are at the heart of the city’s thriving fringe theatre scene.
Look out for open-air theatre on the city streets with Bath’s Natural Theatre Company and Show of Strength Theatre Company for a chance to witness the cities’ history brought to life before your very eyes.
- See our suggestions for pre-theatre dining in Bath, Bristol and beyond here.
Discover the splendour of sacred and spiritual buildings
Bath Abbey has been a site of Christian worship since 757 AD. The first King of all England, King Edgar, was crowned here in 973 AD and the ceremony set the precedent for the coronation of all future Kings and Queens of England. Take a Tower Tour to learn more about its fascinating history and gaze over the city from the rooftop.
Bristol Cathedral is said to be one of the finest examples of a hall church in the world and has some of the most important medieval architecture in Britain. Throughout the year there’s an exciting programme of activities, including concerts, exhibitions, atmospheric film screenings and workshops.
Stargazing in the cities
Back in 1781, William Herschel discovered the planet Uranus using a telescope of his own construction at home. His 18th century house is now the Herschel Museum of Astrology, which celebrates the wide-ranging Herschel family achievements in astronomy, science and music.
Inside Bristol’s We The Curious, you can be whisked away to the stars in the UK’s first 3D planetarium. As well as thrilling journeys into space, the interactive science centre is filled with hands-on exhibitions, encouraging all ages to quench their curiosity, test out new ideas and get creative.
Listen to live music
As well as two leading classical musical festivals, Mozartfest and Bachfest, Bath is home to one of the leading professional orchestras in the South West, Bath Philharmonia. Treat your eardrums to acoustic folk, roots, reggae and ska at Chapel Arts Centre, up-and-coming bands at Moles, free live music at The Bell pub and some of the biggest names in music at Komedia.
Bristol’s thriving live music scene really took off in the 1990s with home-grown bands Massive Attack and Portishead. These days there are a long list of cult venues that play live music every night of the week (The Old Duke, Thekla, The Canteen, The Fleece to name a few), iconic concert halls like St George’s Bristol and Colston Hall with jam-packed programmes of classical, jazz, blues, folk and world music, plus an eclectic selection of music festivals head-lined by musical legends.
Appreciate some art
Bristol is the birthplace of Banksy and his legacy, along with the city’s ever-changing, cutting-edge graffiti culture, have bolstered its reputation as ‘the street art capital of Europe’. Join a tour with Where the Wall, Graft or Blackbeard to Banksy, to discover Bristol’s street art hotspots and delve deep into the city’s fascinating history.
Photography lovers should add a visit to Paintworks - a creative quarter in Bristol - to their list. There you’ll find The Martin Parr Foundation, a gallery and archive founded by the prominent photographer. Just next door is The Royal Photographic Society, dedicated to promoting the art and science of photography, their exhibitions are accompanied by an exciting education programme of talks, workshops and screenings. For the best in contemporary art in Bristol, head to Harbourside venues, Arnolfini or Spike Island.
Bath’s Holburne Museum features paintings from Gainsborough, Zoffany and Stubbs, and is starting to make a name for itself for contemporary exhibitions. Victoria Art Gallery houses over 1,500 treasured pieces, including a display of British oil paintings from the 17th century to the present day.
Meanwhile, The Edge is a cultural hub, whose exhibitions and events are informed by the context and research of the University of Bath. Their year-round programme promotes the fusion of science and art.
Have fun at a festival
If ever there was a city that loved to shimmy on down, cider in hand at a festival, it’s Bristol. The city seemingly has a festival for everything - take your pick from food, film, cider, music, slapstick comedy, Shakespeare, literature, circus, craft beer, cocktails, coffee, Cary Grant, street art, nature, maritime fun, chocolate, that world-famous hot air balloon fiesta and that's not all!
Bath’s festival calendar is pretty impressive too. Film, classical music, literature, Jane Austen, comedy, food and drink and carnival colour all fill out the city’s packed event listings, plus many more!
Find out more
- For more inspiration on planning a dual Bristol and Bath city break, take a look at our themed guides.
- Work out your itinerary with help from our themed itineraries.
- Find out more information about each city by visiting Visit Bristol and Visit Bath’s websites.