DOCKLANDS VERSUS Clifton? Clifton versus Docklands? Restricting options to these admittedly obvious alternatives is unnecessarily narrow and ultimately self-defeating.

Clifton and Clifton Village form the core around which several other attractive communities offer spacious, handsome properties at prices that, considering the area's recent history and likely future, represent good value.

All of Bristol is buzzing. The docklands area is at the beginning of a major new phase of mixed-use redevelopment, major companies have located their headquarters in central Bristol, and the Ministry of Defence has relocated thousands of people to the city. Bristol University students, many of whom are well-heeled or know a parent who is, ensure that the Clifton area hums with constant activity and isn't noticeably scruffy.

"Trendy Clifton has a mix of Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian houses and is the unofficial centre of Bristol," says Julian Notts, regional director of Andrews Estate Agents. "In Clifton itself, many of these houses have been converted into flats, and historically Clifton has tended to maintain its value." High points of this part of town are the Suspension Bridge and the zoo.

Clifton Village and Cliftonwood have Georgian and Victorian homes "set on narrow hilly streets with pubs virtually on every corner. The area offers spectacular views and, at Dowry Square, some grand 17th century houses," says Notts.

Slightly further out are quieter, more affordable areas. "Cotham and Kingsdown have easy access to Clifton, some listed homes, and fewer students," Mr Notts says. Near the Downs are St Andrews Park and Bishopston, where large (five and six bedrooms) Victorian houses and an enclosed playground cater for families. On the far side of the Downs, Sneyd Park contains some relatively new apartment blocks as well as dormitories and large period houses.

"These areas are fairly self-contained. Someone who lives in Clifton Village may never need to go to Bishopston, for example, or might be unfamiliar with St Andrews Park," Mr Notts observes.

Mike Kendall of Allen and Harris Estate Agents says: "It is too late to get onto the major bandwagon which saw large price rises in the last 18 months. But for landlords, there's never a shortage of tenants." Prices in Bristol as elsewhere are starting to hit the skids, but the long-term prospects are bullish.

Mr Kendall, a former Londoner, moved to Bristol 11 years ago and finds: "There's enough going on that I never miss London. Bristol has more energy than Bath, and in 10 minutes you can be in the country. The architecture, the greenery, the hills, it is like a mini San Francisco."

The Low-down

Prices: Studios and one-bedroom flats can go for as little as pounds 60-75,000, and two- and three-bedroom flats can start at pounds 100,000 and rise steeply. But the rooms in the period houses tend to be huge. Double bedrooms, en-suite, are not uncommon. Houses are harder to come by.

Entertainment: Some residential areas are purely residential: quiet and even pub-challenged. But the entertainment and leisure areas more than compensate, with an abundance of pubs, clubs, comedy joints and restaurants.

Things to do: Name it. Art. Culture. Clubs and pubs. Rock-climbing. Bicycling. Hot-air ballooning. Even bird-watching.

Bird-watching? We are not talking robins and finches. Ravens occasionally build nests on the cliffs.

Whiteladies Road: Whiteladies as in white ladies? Yes, the street name harks back to Bristol's involvement in the slave trade, which also explains...

Blackboy Hill: This road is a continuation of Whiteladies Road and is a major shopping, dining and hanging-out thoroughfare, not some obscure back street (like Old Jewry in London).

Floating Harbour: One of several major waterside areas containing homes, offices and leisure facilities, museums, and the SS Great Britain. The harbour is "floating" in the sense that it has no tides. Bristol Harbour was created in the 13th century when the Frome was diverted. In the early 1800s, the Frome and Avon Rivers were diverted to form this harbour which is parallel to and just north of the Avon in central Bristol.

SS Great Britain: The first of the great steamships was launched from Bristol in 1843. It served as a luxury passenger liner, a ferry carrying troops to the Crimea and India, and a cargo ship. Before rescue and relocation to Bristol, it had been abandoned in, of all places, the Falkland Islands in 1886.

Estate agents: Allen & Harris: 0117-973 1295; Andrews: 0117-973 2551; Halifax: 0117-986 4815; Maggs & Allen: 0117- 949 9000.